Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Trick or Tool


I have been idly dreaming about having a small, vintage manual typewriter, as if that would help. I don't even know if I can still type on a manual machine and if I started using one would it wind up crippling me and what about that day job? I still spend eight hours a day on the computer and get paid for it. No matter how I lust after the sleek, shiny black vintage machines for sale all over the web, I'm not going to get one until I actually put my fingers on the keyboard and whack away for awhile; see how it feels.

 Although I had an ancient manual typewriter as a kid, I never learned to touch type until the late eighties on a computer keyboard. The whole notion is probably a pipe dream fueled by watching a couple of episodes of Band of Brothers last weekend. There were several scenes of a soldier pecking away at portable typewriter, so incongruous yet so ubiquitous during World War II.

I spent a lot of time over the weekend looking for an archive of the music that used to be on my Ipod. Last week I accidentally gave the poor little thing a lobotomy and thought that restoring it would be a click or two away. Hah! That restoration took the better part of the weekend but mission accomplished. I'm finding that sleeping with earbuds in and the volume turned way, way down on the playlist sinisterly entitled “sleepingpod” is has a canceling effect on my increasingly aggravating tinnitus. Some interesting dream trains have left the station as well.

In the middle of that file search I came across a long lost short story that I started back in the early '90s. To my surprise it still had legs, crookedy and wobbling, but legs. What started out as a harmless and common fantasy tale rolled quickly into Twilight Zone/Stephen King territory, no surprise to anyone who knows me. This file was created and saved in an ancient program called Lotus Word Pro (I still have the floppy discs somewhere) and had been clumsily converted to a more universal file type. There were many errors in that conversion; formatting was lost and a myriad of crazed hieroglyphs were randomly inserted in the text. It was also obvious that there was no spell checker in the house and/or the writer was somehow impaired.

Dropping this file into OpenOffice and starting to edit it just for typos and formatting was good for most of yesterday morning. What with the side trips and diversions that are all too available when working on a laptop with a great internet connection, the morning evaporated with little to show for it and now, Tuesday morning is well on it's way to history too. All this brought me back to thinking about what it would be like to use an old typewriter with just enough interference between the brain and the paper to check my pace and keep my thoughts in order, without the distractions.

My first typewriter was a behemoth from the thirties or forties that my mother dragged home from a yard sale. I really can't recall the make, something common like Remington or Underwood, but due to it's advanced age, ribbons for it were impossible to find. I bought fresh, replacement ribbons for whatever brand I could get cheap and then wind them by hand onto the large metal spools of my machine – messy but effective. It had trapdoors on the side for access to the ribbons and at some point, I allowed my pet rat to hide out inside the machine. We won't talk about the day that I idly tapped a key and snipped off the tip of his tail.

I typed my homework for fun which probably bothered my teachers. I don't know what they were expecting when they came across my typed papers in a stack of hand scrawled assignments but I rarely delivered if my grades were any measure of success. When I figured out that a C or B would keep me out of jail or the doghouse with my parents, that was good enough for me. Grading should be kept secret from kids as long as possible.

I also wrote letters, specifically, begging letters to all the missions to the United Nations for every flyspeck country that belonged to the UN and a few that didn't. I'm sure my name got on some government lists when I was eight or nine. 

What I was begging for was canceled postage stamps from their home countries and, man, where they happy to oblige. I think I must have created at least a handful of jobs for people working at carefully tearing off the colorful, beautiful stamps from letters sent from all over the world. I didn't really even have a collection РI had a hoard! I started out with the best intentions, like all those skipping down the road to hell, but the response to my letters was so overwhelming that I quickly became blas̩ about the stack of fat, brown envelopes that would be waiting for me when I got home from school. After a quick perusal for anything new or different, everything got tossed in the desk drawer but I kept pounding out letters and spending my allowance on postage.

Once I got tired of getting duplicates of stamps that I already had too many of, I turned to typing papers for classmates who would dictate to me over the phone or give me chicken scratch notes on legal pads. Bigger brains than mine who didn't have access to a typewriter abounded. Then again there were the papers that I corrected and finally, rewrote,  until a couple of teachers twigged and recognized my style scattered throughout the three fifth grade history and English classes. My career as a copywriter/editor was squashed by a short meeting with the principal where I promised to stop giving it away and promised myself to charge more and work more carefully.

All these years later and I'm still giving it away and someplace in a second hand store or, more likely, a landfill, there is a hulking, golden typewriter with the mummified remains of a rat's tail tip deep in it's bowels.

1 comment:

Jeannie said...

I own a typewritter like the one you have pictured. My Mom thought I needed it to train for a job as a secretary. Another of her dreams for me down the tubes. I hated typing. Now when I go to use it for artwork, my fingers are used to the laptop. Imagine your fingers lifting 5 pound weights and that is what it is like typing on that little sweetheart.