A few readers may remember Michael Nesmith, of the pop rock Monkees, 1960-70’s band, that captured the heart of the American public. Not only were their recordings hot, but their zany, situation comedy NBC, TV show, ran from 1966 to 1968, was equally captivating, joining Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, and Peter Tork. However, it was Nesmith’s mother, Bette Nesmith Graham, that left an “indelible mark” on the business world and millions of secretaries. Recent generations are clueless to “Mistake Out,” or “liquid paper.” Many of our generation used it at one time, albeit clumsily. There was nearly an art to using it. It rescued our typing miscues. She sold her first batch in 1956. Who couldn’t use a little “white out” sometime in life?
As electric typewriters came into widespread use after WWII, Bette Nesmith Graham, and innumerable other secretaries sighed a collective groan. The new machines certainly made typing easier. However, the carbon-film ribbons rendered it nearly impossible to make corrections neatly with a pencil style eraser. Given this predicament, Graham invented one of the most widely used office products of the 20th century. Weary of having to re-type an entire page, Graham was determined to find a more efficient way. Her idea resonated with secretaries nationwide.
The impetus for Graham’s breakthrough invention occurred when she observed painters decorating the Texas bank windows, where she worked, for the holidays. Rather than remove their mistakes entirely, the painters simply covered any imperfections with an additional layer. Apparently the quick thinking Graham, according to the Famous Women Inventors Website, mimicked their technique, by using a white water based tempera paint to cover her typing errors. The now famous inventor, sold her first batch of “mistake out” in 1956, once other secretaries discovered how well the invention worked.
The demand soon found her working full-time from her North Dallas home, to produce and bottle this magic elixir. Graham continued to experiment with the substance, until she achieved the exact combination of paint and several other chemicals. This refined product was renamed “Liquid Paper,” in 1958, and amidst, soaring demand, she applied for a patent and trademark. By 1967, her company had its own corporate headquarters, and automated production plant. Sales exceeded one million units per year. In 1975, she moved her headquarters into a 35,000 sq. ft. international operation in North Dallas. She sold her company to Gillette Corporation in 1980, six months prior to her passing, at age 56.
As magical as “white out” was, it had its detractors. For many, permitting the product to “dry” properly, then subsequently reposition the paper to align it properly in the typewriter was exasperating. Often the residue was a “magnified letter,” that appeared worse than the error itself. It demanded practice and patience. We’ll find parallels in our personal lives. One needn’t ponder long to think of an event that one would willingly “cover.” Some are merely embarrassing, while others are scandalous, and life altering. Would former President Bill Clinton use “white out” in his Monica Lewinsky triste? Given Clinton’s penchant for elicit affairs, there may be a “white out” shortage. What about us? What would we cover? Perhaps it didn’t break the 24/7 new cycle, but, someone’s heart-or trust.
Misstatements and political gaffes are a staple of our culture-making us feel better about ourselves. VP Joe Biden’s four decades of being on the public stage, has made him the poster boy of “stepping in it.” On the campaign trail, “Look, John‘s(McCain) last minute economic plan does nothing to tackle the No.1 job facing the middle class, and it happens to be, as Barack says, the three-letter word: jobs. J-O-B-S, jobs.” On August 23, 2008, he introduced the next president this way, “A man I’m proud to call my friend. A man who will be the next president of the United States-Barack America!” His absolute best, “If we do everything right, if we do it with absolute certainty, there’s still a 30 percent chance we’re going to get it wrong.” Joe’s aiming at a permanent place in the American political dictionary gaffes, and bloopers. Biden needed a boat-load of “white out.”
Our culture is adept at “cover-ups.” As New York Congressman, Anthony Weiner’s was “sexting” his private parts, we discovered such “cover-ups” turn into a malison. White washing sin never works. It’s a matter of time before it’s exposed. The outrage is still palpable regarding the generations of cover-ups by the Catholic Church of child molestation by Priests. The church as an institution, espousing moral underpinnings and confession, ignored its own teachings, protecting sexual predators, violating the rights of those they professed to serve, revealing their soft underbelly of corruption and hypocrisy in the church’s hierarchy. Bernie Madoff shocked Wall Street, and investors, when his “ponzi scheme” was uncovered.
Historians may agree that General Douglas MacArthur wished he had “white out” regarding the Korean War, to “cover” his over confident words in 1950. He announced, “I shall crush them,” and, “the resistance would end by Thanksgiving.” Neither happened. He hadn’t learned the lesson about predicting victory. Communist troops were driven across the 38th Parallel, and MacArthur called for North Korea’s Kim Il-sung’s surrender. Military intelligence sorely under-estimated the Chinese would field about eight to sixteen thousand troops. Our troops were over-run by more than thirty-thousand. November, 1950, was to be a moderate winter. It was one of the coldest in history. So cold, that rifles, mortars, and hand grenades routinely misfired. A gripping account by Martin Russ, Breakout, of the legendary battle of the Marines in North Korea, chronicled the fact that if anything could have gone wrong-it did.
It’s not “white out” we need. Most know it only prolongs the pain and agony for all ensnared in this insidious cycle. Truth frees us. (John 8:32) The French Revolution was not freedom-but freedom from restraint. Forgiveness is our need. Our impulse is to cover. Our human condition yearns for more than cover-up. We’ll need oracular intervention. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County, WY., resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org