|Illustration by Mitch Handsone|
A man named King Fletcher taught typing at George W. Bush High School, in the high-desert hamlet of Himmler Terrace. Some of us kids were afraid to take Fletcher’s course, because we considered him to be dangerous. We didn’t know for certain that he had any family, but we were convinced nonetheless that he’d diced his wife and children and dumped their body fragments in the California Aqueduct, just a mile or so south of school. The only evidence of his crimes was the wildly evil expression that remained inert on the front of the King Fletcher head, an expression that seemed sufficient to convict.
Atop the head, always, was the King Fletcher hat. A straw barker’s hat with a prominent red-and-white Budweiser-insignia band. Budweiser, Budweiser, Budweiser, all around the man’s head. A walking advertisement, every day, serving Anheuser-Busch’s most loyal demographic group, the American high school student. As nothing seemed more important to King Fletcher than keeping this Budweiser halo in place, and as Himmler Terrace was situated in a permanently windy place, where the northernmost San Gabriels slope down to the high-desert floor, King Fletcher had to hold on to his hat with one hand whenever he walked across the sprawling George W. Bush High School campus. That left him with one free hand.
We the spawn of King Fletcher’s generation found this posture terribly interesting, and speculated that King Fletcher’s murderous madness was caused, at least in part, by shame for King Fletcher’s baldness. Not that we knew for certain that he was bald — no one had ever seen beneath the hat — but why else would he be so concerned about keeping his lid unflipped? Birthmark? AstroTurf? Feathers? Boils? Treasure-map tattoo? Ant farm? Sheet metal? Mirrored disco-ball chips? Perhaps a Plexiglas transparent dome through which the top-secret throbbings of the King Fletcher brain might be tragically revealed to the world via CIA satellites?
I wanted to learn to type, and King Fletcher was the only choice I had. Typing had saved my father’s life. After graduating from Glenville High School in 1944, my father and his friends headed down to the Army recruiting station, to enlist in World War II. While they were standing there, waiting to be processed, some naval officers showed up and announced that the Navy needed people who knew how to type. My father knew how to type, so he said goodbye to his friends and became a radar technician on a destroyer escort. That winter, all my dad’s high school friends and everyone else who’d been in line for the Army that day were killed at the Battle of the Bulge. But Dad lived on. Because the man could type.
King Fletcher marched up and down the aisles, barking out commands to his little army of key-tappers. Our commander in chief, a militant without a militia. “Eff-semi-kay-ell semi! Kay-eye-ell-ell.” (Semi was top-secret typing-lingeau for semicolon.) George W. Bush High School wasn’t much interested in preparing its students for college, as evidenced by the “Education Is Unpatriotic” banners that hung all over campus, and the matching bumper stickers that doubled as required parking permits. And Himmler Terrace was nothing if not patriotic: Out of a graduating class of about 500, maybe a dozen of us went on to a four-year college. Typing was mostly for girls, to prepare their delicate fingertips to be stumped down slowly over a lifetime of inputting whatever they’d be told by men like Fletcher, then to go home and use the surviving stubs to bake their families a nice meat loaf and slice up a Mrs. Wagner’s apple pie for dessert.
We worked on manual typewriters, which meant each key had to be pressed down about an inch and a half to create a mark on the page. It was hard work, but we had our youth. “Semi,” King Fletcher barked, wiping his nose on his Hawaiian shirt. (He always wore Hawaiian shirts.) “Semi-dee-jay-semi!” And all us little typers typed away, without question, whatever King Fletcher desired. “Kay-eye-ell-ell! Tee-aitch-ee! Jay-ee-dubya-ess! Ay en dee! En ee gee gee ee ar ess!” We were like little Fox News zombies: Tell us what to type, and we typed it. “Gee-oh-dee! Eye-ess! Oh-en! Oh-you-ar! Ess-eye-dee-ee!”
Then one bright and windy day at lunch, King Fletcher was walking across campus with a cup of coffee in one hand, the other hand flattened across the top of his Budweiser hat, as usual, his Hawaiian shirt shivering in the wind. A hundred or more of us were sitting there on the west lawn of Smith & Wesson Plaza, beside the gymnasium, talking, eating our petroleum-based lunches. The King Fletcher head faced forward as the wild, beady King Fletcher eyes darted to and fro, casting curses on any eyes that dared return their glare.
So when, at the last second, those eyes detected imminent collision between the King Fletcher body and the pert and giggling team of überdamsels Caroline Baldwin and Becky Baywood, King Fletcher’s hat-hand momentarily left its post, long enough for a desert gust to lift the hat, Budweiser insignia and all, up and away and send it scuttering across the plaza. King Fletcher dropped his coffee and went tearing after his lid, but it was too late. We saw at last what he’d been hiding: what would have been a normal bald head, but for what King Fletcher had grown beside it — the longest comb-over ever, ever. A 6-inch-wide phalanx of hairs had been grown several feet long, and apparently kept wrapped and sprayed against King Fletcher’s dome.
As King Fletcher chased down his hat, a great gust of wind descended from the mountains and set free this great matted comb-over. Flap! said the wind, and King Fletcher’s comb-over flapped. Flap-flap-flap! And the wind did fill the sail of hair and lift our King Fletcher high into the air. Above the gym he rose, higher and higher, sailing to the sun; we could barely make out his valediction: “Dubya-ee! Ay-ar-ee! Tee-aitch-ee! En-ay-zee-eye-ess! En-oh-dubya! Semi-semi-semi!”