If it’s Thursday, I must be a) sleep-deprived; b) cranky; and c) feeling the swamp-gas breath of the Reaper, thanks to the New York Times Thursday Styles section.
I know some of you can no longer access the copy, so allow me to describe. Today’s cover story starts with a scene-setter: Brooklyn hipsters gathered around strange machines at a flea market, snapping iPhone photos and tentatively touching them, like chimpanzees confronting a wind-up monkey. Finally, a “lanky drummer from Williamsburg” pays $150 and carries off his prize, which he says is “about permanence.” And what is this strange thing?
Whether he knew it or not, Mr. Smith had joined a growing movement. Manual typewriters aren’t going gently into the good night of the digital era. The machines have been attracting fresh converts, many too young to be nostalgic for spooled ribbons, ink-smudged fingers and corrective fluid. And unlike the typists of yore, these folks aren’t clacking away in solitude.
They’re fetishizing old Underwoods, Smith Coronas and Remingtons, recognizing them as well designed, functional and beautiful machines, swapping them and showing them off to friends. At a series of events called “type-ins,” they’ve been gathering in bars and bookstores to flaunt a sort of post-digital style and gravitas, tapping out letters to send via snail mail and competing to see who can bang away the fastest.
Seven years ago, when I was a-fellowshipping in Ann Arbor, we got into a discussion about typewriters. First we culled those who had never had to use one at work, then at all, and found our last man standing with our youngest member, 30 or 31, who had never fought with a margin setting or confronted a blank page that was actually a page. We never broke it down to manuals vs. electrics, as I’m sure I would have been at the other end, someone with strong opinions on exactly how a keyboard should feel, and favorite brands (Smith-Corona for manual portables; Royal for manual desktop, although of course the IBM Selectric changed everything).
God help me, I hope I would die before being caught at a type-in, one of those details that makes me wonder, as Roy Edroso once said, whether they assign pieces like this as hazing rituals for new reporters.
But that’s to be expected, right? As an essential tool of a writer’s life, of course we will develop strong opinions about our writing machines. There was a Royal at my college newspaper. Someone had written SUSIE on her with correction fluid, and she was the one everybody fought over. Susie had just the right feel on the keys, her Magic Margin function worked perfectly, and she had the sort of heft that would stand up to an angry editorialist banging out a few hundred words without hopping all over the desk. If I remember correctly, she was the Royal HH, seen in this fanboy array.
Susie put me off electric portables for good. When I was thinking of my next line, Susie was silent; she didn’t have that spinning-the-wheels hum they all brought to the table. And when I leaned forward to paint correction fluid on a page, her carriage didn’t jump out of place because my boobs touched the space bar.
This was my family’s home machine. Many, many letters to Deb were written on this one. When I had nothing to say, I would peer underneath and reacquaint myself with how the bell worked. (The last three spaces in the line raised the clapper up, up, up, and the fourth brought it down.) Something I learned en route to something else — carpal-tunnel syndrome did not exist when typists worked on typewriters. Something about stopping every page to roll in a new one, and stopping at the end of every line to hit the carriage return, was enough to keep the motion from being too repetitive.
There are other virtues, too, outlined here:
Why celebrate the humble typewriter? Devotees have many reasons. For one, old typewriters are built like battleships. They survive countless indignities and welcome repairs, unlike laptops and smartphones, which become obsolete almost the moment they hit the market. “It’s kind of like saying, ‘In your face, Microsoft!’ ” said Richard Polt, 46, a typewriter collector in Cincinnati.
Another virtue is simplicity. Typewriters are good at only one thing: putting words on paper. “If I’m on a computer, there’s no way I can concentrate on just writing, said Jon Roth, 23, a journalist who is writing a book on typewriters. “I’ll be checking my e-mail, my Twitter.” When he uses a typewriter, Mr. Roth said: “I can sit down and I know I’m writing. It sounds like I’m writing.”
In other words, no Google Brain. Before I get too nostalgic, however, I recall that while Susie sat there quietly, awaiting my next line, I would frequently light a cigarette. Tradeoffs, people.
OK. Time to blow off the Dentu-Creme nostalgia and hop to work. Much bloggage today, and it’s mostly pretty good:
Go ahead and put this on a window or tab you can tuck behind the others, because frankly the video is pretty lame. But for Opening Day, how can you resist Ernie Harwell reading “Casey at the Bat”?
By the way, here in Detroit it snowed just a dusting overnight. Fortunately, the home opener isn’t for another week. Doubtless we’ll see a blizzard.
For his thousands of fans, a picture of Coozledad with a chicken on his head. Pretty funny story, too.
Lake Superior State has its lame-ass Banned Words list, but Wayne State takes a more positive approach: Words we should use more often. I’m pleased to report all but one — “concupiscence” — is in fairly regular rotation in my own vocabulary.
Finally, an amazing look at the Gingriches, Newt ‘n’ Callista, in action as co-hosts of their own video series. Seldom has two people’s character showed so plainly in their physical bodies. Callista is 10 years younger than me, and looks old enough to be my grandmother. Short ad, but worth it. Discuss.
Me, I’m off to work.