The communist's manifesto on computers

Many years ago, I did something that merited mention, and I was described in the dispatches as "a columnist for The Christian Science Monitor."

For reasons nobody will ever be able to explain, the "loop" that serviced the newspapers of the verdant State (or Republic) of Vermont made a most interesting correction about this, and I appeared in the Green Mountain Press as "a communist for the Christian Science Monitor." This is a happy situation I have never had to share with another, and I cherish this distinction with all my heart.

Later, much later, I was told the tag of "communist" was not altogether offensive in Vermont, where two or three Democrats in the Northeast Kingdom had embraced that persuasion rather than continue under the stigma of "Democrat." One of these gentleman, it was said, was Calvin Coolidge Slyinkpot, and upon becoming a communist he also changed his name to Charlie Stinkpot.

I was interested at that time in such matters, and I noticed that when the Vermont Legislature assembled, the Montpelier ARGUS began a daily column titled "Bills Introduced." Then in a few days it added two more columns, "Bills Passed" and "Bills Defeated." This seemed to me to cover most contingencies.

Not so! Shortly another column appeared, titled "Bills Reconsidered." "Yes, (I was told) nothing really happens in Vermont until everybody changes his mind."

As the unique communist for this newspaper, hardly anything has happened to me that I would describe as world-shaking. It has meant, pretty much, serene complacency in the bosom of a happy family that sits about wondering if this week Daddy will tell about the sweet peas, or will tackle the lively topic of how the new pig is adjusting.

In bucolic amnesty I perceive and report, and so far the bluntest admonishment I have had from a reader had to do with my inadvertent assertion that the vernal equinox was on Tuesday, when actually it was some other day. This taught me to be more careful, and after that I always used "on or about." That is, New Year's comes on or about Jan. 1.

The only major crisis in my communistic career came during the paper shortage in World War II. I had nothing to write on, and I was late with my customary article on October chow-chow. In the emergency I sent my dispatch on two shingles, using blueberry juice. Next day, the editors sent me several reams of copy paper I heard they stole from the War Production Board.

Things were bad all over. But I didn't skip the chow-chow, and I was nominated for the Pulitzer or some such. I guess it was the some such.

When my wife and I went to Europe in 1966 I made ready by preparing in advance a backlog of columns. Then one day I had a note from the editor who said I had 785 pieces ahead, and what did I have to say about that? I replied that I could stay longer than I thought. So we did. It was fun after we got back to pick up the paper and read something I'd written three years ago and didn't remember. I figured the editor wouldn't remember either, so I sent him the same piece five times.

I bring this up because a new era is upon us and I am told I will have a computerized way to proceed. Because of the pleasure of advancing age, I will benefit accordingly, and shortly I will have a horn to talk to. It will spell what I speak, correct things like January First, and squirt everything into Boston where the latest turnip quotations are eagerly awaited. So far I have managed to avoid everything connected with our computer civilization, and I am tempted to doubt some of this. I think I know a few words of stature and import not yet computerized, and if I say "ichthyologist" I'm going to find the machine writes "fishman."

WHEN I was new as a communist, I took my little Royal portable to the fix-it shop and asked the man to clean it. He said, "Is this the machine on which you type those delightful Monitor dispatches?"

"Yes, it is," I made reply. "It's the very one!"

So 17 years later when I returned to have the portable cleaned again, the same gentleman, now a senior citizen, said, "And you're still using the same old typewriter?"

"Yes, I am," said I.

"Here," he said, "Let me sell you something a little more up to date!" That's where I've been until now, when I am about to be computerized and wired into Boston.

If things work out, I shall offer for sale one used Royal 440 for which ribbons now cost $5 a piece, are hard to find, and last about 35 minutes. The one advantage I can guarantee is that the 440 knows almost everything and has never split an infinitive in 60 years. It never writes "you know" or "right now," and it inflects and conjugates such things as cabbage in four languages. It has been trained to do so.

At this time, may I relate a small pleasantry about Wilbur Teasdale of Pownal Center who invented a never-fail selfstarter for automobiles. On the dashboard of his Maxwell he had 14 buttons. He pointed at the first button and said, "This one will always start the car!" So when asked what the other 13 buttons were for, Wilbur said, "Backups." Something or other makes me think of Wilbur.

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