Just Your Type | Page 78 | Newberry

Just Your Type

As long as we’re celebrating things this year (well, WHY aren’t you? Got something against champagne?) I would like to note that this coming summer marks the 40th anniversary of a moment I doubt my parents understood would be significant in American history. The actual date eludes me at the moment, but let’s let it rest at this: at some point in mid-1970, I was given my first typewriter.

I could wax philosophical about this device, a cast iron 1940 model L.C. Smith which made it possible for me to communicate at greater speed and without forcing people to decipher my handwriting, which launched a collection of rejection slips of mighty proportions (#5,000 should be in my mailbox around Halloween), and which kept me going until the Internet came along and I could reach the pinnacle to which every writer aspires: a blog. But I will not do so. I can’t have the greater Internet community knowing that a private citizen owns a collection of rejection slips that starts with one bearing a TEN CENT STAMP. I’d need to add bars to the windows and invest in attack chihuahuas.

Instead, I shall discourse on donations of typewriters to the Book Fair. We have not had as many as you might think. I was fortunate enough to duck a suggestion made a couple of years ago that we establish an Obsolete Technology section at the Book Fair. I understand the fascination of the idea, but I have enough trouble storing books without taking on your calculators, adding machines, and land line phones. As a matter of fact, we’ve been given more adding machines than we’ve been given typewriters. Still, I have learned things about typewriters from the few we have been given.

They do not sell. This is not the fault of the typewriters, but of the donors, who just cannot give them away until they are, in fact, unusable. I have a 1913 typewriter which would work if you replace a cast-iron bar in the back. (I checked; Ace does not stock spare parts for 1913 typewriters.) I was given a typewriter in which paper will not turn (okay if you want to type just one line). And I was once given a beautiful portable typewriter in what the donor forgot to mention was a faulty case. Picked up the handle, the case broke open, and the typewriter shattered on the concrete of the receiving room floor.

Children still adore manual typewriters. Typewriters clack. They click. You press a key and a piece of metal shoots toward the paper. If you press ten keys, ten pieces of metal jump upin a tangle. If you press really hard, the metal jumps faster and harder. There is something in this analog motion which gives joy a computer keyboard, try as it might, cannot duplicate. (You can, I’m sure, buy an app which will make your keyboard sound like a typewriter, but it ain’t the same.)

Most people, having taken a typewriter out of its case, cannot get it to fit back in on the first three tries. This includes me.

There are three kinds of people: the ones who, finding a typewriter and paper, will type “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”, the ones who will type “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their party”, and those who will type the first obscenity that comes to mind (and those aren’t exactly more new and interesting than the other two sentences.) There are a few anomalies who go for “When in the course of human events” or “Four score and seven years ago”, but otherwise….

Oh, wait. There is a fourth kind of person: the ones who ask, “I’ve seen one of these before, but where does the 8-track go in?” 

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