When I was nine years old I had a sky-blue portable typewriter that I’d labeled with a long strip of red plastic tape embossed with white capital letters. It said, “BROOKE’S TYPEWRITER.”
It amused me to tag a machine that made words with a machine that made words. I’d made the red label with my black and chrome Dymo Label Maker. There was something satisfying about squeezing out letters, one by one, the weight of the machine in my hand, incrementally naming and claiming something.
The tapes came in fun colors: red, green, plaid, wood grain, and a mod flower power design in purple and pink. My dad gave them to me: the label maker, the tapes, along with stacks of those peel and stick colored dots you see in office supply stores. Back then, he was president of the company that made them, which is why he lived in California and Mom and I lived in New York. They’d split shortly after he got that job, and they both remarried.
I was proud of my father. He’d gone to Harvard and worked on Madison Avenue. Mom loved telling the story about how he’d come up with the slogan “Indescribably Delicious” for the Almond Joy candy bar. Today Wikipedia says someone else came up with that slogan (a guy in Indiana who wrote it for a contest and won $10). So I guess Mom was wrong about that.
And now that I think about it, the label maker I used back then probably wasn’t this one. I’m pretty sure my first one was plastic. More likely, I’d seen this vintage chrome one in my Dad’s office during a visit a few years ago, made a fuss over it, and he’d given it to me. So, back before he died, when I was more like 49 than nine.
And I don’t think I did that thing about tagging the typewriter with the red label. It’s a thing I’d do, but I don’t think it’s a thing I did.
And I probably wasn’t living in New York when I got the label maker; I was probably living in Ohio, with my mother and the man she married. A guy named Dick.
And earlier this year, I learned from a DNA test that my mother wasn’t right about my father being my dad. It’s possible Dick was my real dad. But I may never know for sure.
At this point, my mother’s memory is as glitchy and tenuous as the words you get from this labeler of things.
Growing up in the 70s and 80s, kids like me would get jobs at places like Dairy Queen, and their boss would use a label maker to click out JOHN or SUSAN or HEATHER and affix it to a tag. I got one in black when I worked at Burger King, and another in brown at Baskin Robbins. It was a point of pride at first, your name on the tag, pinned to the uniform, making you official.
Til you left and turned in the uniform, and your name got peeled off and somebody else’s got stuck on.