Chefs tell: Passing notes in retirement
Bill M. Perri of Hilton Head Island does.
And he says his slow, two-fingered ink-smacks on blank paper have saved his life.
“I would be a basket case without it,” he said, brushing the gray Brother SX-4000 electric typewriter in his bedroom at Indigo Pines senior living retirement center.
Perri is a 91-year-old World War II veteran who has lived to tell the story of hearing his own last rites read in his newer war against aging.
Everybody has a story.
This week, he typed a letter to the editor to thank the Staples office supply store on the island for helping him with his typewriter.
He said he shuffled into the store, his typewriter resting on the seat of his walker. He asked for help installing a new correctable ribbon. That’s a hard job after you’ve had a stroke that should have killed you.
Perri said: “They looked at me and were wondering: ‘Are you real?’ ”
But they treated him like a rock star. They set him up at no charge and helped him make a major shift in life — to an italic font.
“I write anything of interest in my life, good and bad,” Perri said. “My typewriter has been my lifeline. I can think. It keeps your mind alert when your body falls apart.”
Mostly, Perri writes short notes to the chef or other staff members at Indigo Pines, thanking them for a job well done or telling them a dish needed more oregano and olive oil.
His daughter, Paula Price of Bluffton, said he likes to order products that will add years to his life then mail them back with a carefully typed note.
He once clanged out a note to President Bill Clinton about the value of capitalism. He sometimes writes the stories of the seniors he lives with. Right now, he wants to write about a man who was hidden from the Nazis in Amsterdam and another who came to this country after a hard life in Germany, not knowing a word or a soul.
“Everybody has a story,” Perri said.
Perri’s story is one for the ages.
It could start with his father, who emigrated from Italy and became an American by raising his hand and reciting a pledge at Ellis Island. He landed in a world where a friend got a nickel for every hot dog he sold and saved 2 cents. And worked on the side shining shoes. And ended up a millionaire.
Perri’s father worked for the city of Los Angeles, ending up as a watchman at the city dump who brought home the good stuff and had Bill and other kids deliver it to people in the neighborhood in dire need.
Bill’s real name is Mario. But his father kept goats, and it was his chore to take them into a field after school. Other children called him “Billy Goat,” so his teacher pronounced his name would be Bill, and it was, even through the Navy. He joined shortly after Pearl Harbor, coaxing permission from his parents as soon as he turned 17. His principal wanted him to finish his senior year.
“I told him, ‘Where I’m going, you don’t need a diploma.’ I was a hot shot. When you’re 17, you’re not stupid, you’re naive. Very naive.”
He later left the University of Southern California without a degree, taking a job to help a dry cleaner drum up business. He went to the library to use a public typewriter and wrote up ads that seemed to work. But he left for a job in the space industry before going out on his own as a designer and manufacturer of furniture.
“I worked two jobs for about seven years with no vacations or any other extravagances,” Perri typed to the president in a letter his local newspaper also printed. “I started my business in 1963 with very little money. I had a wife and three children, also no insurance. It was touch and go, but we managed to get by.”
His business flourished. He said it went international after American Standard started promoting his bathroom furniture to help them sell bathroom fixtures. He lived in a large house, but now, after outliving two wives, he’s in a one-bedroom apartment, living independently, waking up in the middle of the night to sit at a desk beneath a map of Italy and put his thoughts on paper — one smack of good old ink and metal on paper at a time.