Our good buddy Milvey leads a snake line into the gym. Gruber’s dad yells that he’ll join us soon as he finishes mopping up the ceiling and sweeping out the shells.
Hanging down from a backboard at each end of the gym are these large orange and black pennants that read: “The 21st Annual Iowa State/National Typing Championship Finals of Dubuque, Iowa. Organized in 1837.”
Henry McPeter, who ran the harness shop down on Brody Street right up until the day Hildy, his first wife, killed herself, thought it meant the finals were organized in 1837. Willie Stone, who worked the Y soda fountain, said he thought 1837 was the year the state got organized, as he didn’t see how the finals could go back that far. Stanley Owens, who handled reception at the Y, asked one of the ushers what was what, but all the kid seemed up for was to shrug his shoulders and look annoyed.
I counted 53 contestants. Except for Milvey, all of them were women. Quite a few were puffing away so it wasn’t long before you got this cloudy blue haze floating across the polished wooden floor. A few nervous Nellies cracked their knuckles. Up in the bleachers, friends and relatives cracked their knuckles back. Believe me, that is not the kind of sound you care to hear in a gym.
Finally the whistle blows. Our cheers get lost in the clatter of keys slapping rubber, ringing bells, and thrown carriages. The single pair of binoculars, rented to us by Nat who was down with the flu and couldn’t make the match, passed from hand to hand.
Stanley Owens unwraps two half-pints of Metter’s Blueberry Brandy. We take swigs and laugh and tell jokes about sex. Willie Stone sits in the back, tearing up newspapers and stuffing the shreds into brown paper bags.
Less than 45 minutes later, there’s this sight none of us was surprised to see. Chester Milvey’s standing on his chair, waving his hanky to let the judges know he’s done. Not just done! He’d won with time to spare! The other contestants kept doggedly typing away.
The man who might have spent the rest of his life as an express checker in a dumpy Midwest supermarket had double-handedly whipped the fastest typists in the entire state of Iowa!
The gun sounds. Our cheers rattle the windows. We throw up Willie’s shreds and yell: “Milvey! Milvey! Milvey!”
Milvey waits for the judges to get to his chair. Then, with a proud, carefree gesture, maybe just a little too proud, a little too carefree, Milvey whips the last page free of his typewriter, tearing it in half! Our good friend had forgotten to release his tension spring! Instead of coming in first, Milvey got himself disqualified!
He did a crazy thing then. Just to show you how much it got to him, Milvey stuffs both halves of that torn sheet into his mouth and then he begins to chew!
Nellie Post, only child of Ned and Nancy Post of Red River Falls, who came in second, captures all the honors: the traveling trophy, a bouquet of mixed carnations, and the adjustable Iowa State Championship Finals Typing Ring.
We try talking Milvey into taking the bus back with us. We had this shindig planned for up in his room at the Y. Milvey tells us to go on ahead and enjoy. He’ll catch up with us later.
We left Milvey standing in the parking lot, waving at Nellie Post, who was leaning against her automatic shift Volkswagen, one arm hugging the trophy along with the bouquet of carnations, while she struggled with both hands to close the clunky championship ring around her middle finger. Adding to the confusion was a herd of reporters taking pictures and asking the poor girl personal questions.
What happened next, I got from Ned. Shortly after our bus pulls out, Milvey walks over to Nellie’s car and locks himself inside. Nellie had to give him the carnations to get him to leave.
Two days later, on a misty gray morning, some of us pensioners and a few unemployed are hanging out down by Gruber’s Garage swapping tales and tossing coins when who should come straggling up the road back into town but our good friend Chester Milvey! Plain as day, you could see he’d done a mighty bit of traveling. His boots were scuffed and worn down at the heels making him walk bowlegged. His blue tweed two-button jacket was smudged and torn beyond repair.