Putting on a type-in last year was a lot of fun, so I was happy to be asked by the Evanston Literary Festival to host one again. This year it was at my favorite secondhand bookstore in Evanston: Squeezebox Books & Music. Rather than setting the typewriters at a table together for a shared typing experience like a traditional type-in, I scattered them throughout the store. This fit the space better and gave people some privacy, while also encouraging them to browse the whole place.
Overall it was much more low-key and intimate than last year’s. (The pouring rain probably didn’t help the attendance.) But my main goal for any PDT (Public Display of Typewriters) is to make it fun and educational for novices. On that account it was a success. I got to show several kids and young people the basics, which I hope radicalized them into the Revolution.
And my beloved Skyriter was kept company in the art books corner:
I also brought one to sell, another Skyriter my sister spotted online for $10:
It worked fine despite some scuffs and scratches, so I listed it for $80 hoping to get lucky. Squeezebox was kind enough to display it on their checkout counter. Towards the end of the type-in a young couple arrived toting a quirky, sticker-pummeled Sears portable and Remington Travel-Riter, not realizing the event wasn’t of the BYOTypewriter variety. But I was glad to talk shop with them, and even gladder when they bought the Skyriter. He uses typewriters for ASCII art and she’s an ESL instructor who likes to use them for class material, so it’ll be put to good use.
Finally, some snapshots from the day’s typings:
A lot of them were done by a pair of tween sisters who rotated through all the typing stations (hence the “weird dad” reference—perhaps they are Judge John Hodgman fans?):
Spent one of our last pre-baby Sundays repairing a typewriter, watching Jeopardy, and enjoying the snow. This caseless Olympia SM4, owned by a friend of a friend, was rescued from their deceased relative’s basement. It’s in fine shape mechanically. Just needed its metal polished, body scrubbed, innards dusted, and ribbon replaced. Now is (almost) as good as new:
I’m just gonna say it: Cookie Monster is the best Muppet in the Jim Henson Muppetverse. And not just because of his typewriter scene in Christmas Eve on Sesame Street, which I watched last night. Though I cannot endorse his flagrant destruction of a perfectly good fake typewriter, his GIF-worthy reaction at the end of his scene with Gordon is golden.
Also, I just now discovered his parody of “Call Me Maybe”, maybe the best pop song of the last 10 years:
Once in a while I stop by a nearby antique rental shop that is stocked full with all kinds of vintage junk. And in its musty, cavernous basement, among the rotary phones, LPs, radios, and TVs, is a wall of typewriters. I already sifted through most of them awhile back: varying conditions and styles, some just needing a good cleaning and others more in-depth work, and all of them too expensive ($100+) to buy outright.
This time, expecting to find the usual suspects collecting dust, I turned the corner and saw, uncovered in the noir-ish lamplight, a gorgeous 1961 Olympia SM7:
It’s very similar to my other Olympia SM7, just with a different color scheme and a larger typeface. Since it didn’t have a price tag, I took a pic and, expecting the worst, asked the woman at checkout (who wasn’t the usual proprietor) what she wanted for it.
She wanted $30.
Did she not know how the other typewriters were priced? Was she just happy to sell anything? I knew enough not to ask. When the typewriter gods offer an unconditional gift, accept it and appreciate your good fortune.
But before I bought it, I wanted to do a customary typing test. As I reached into my backpack for scrap paper, I noticed a piece of printer paper in the case beneath the typewriter. Almost a page long, untitled and single-spaced, it was a window into the mind of someone freshly out of a dark time, struggling with some heavy regret.
Was it by the typewriter’s previous owner? A recent store browser? It could have been just a creative writing exercise, but it felt genuine to me.
So before making this typewriter my own, I feel duty-bound to honor this anonymous person’s story by presenting the unedited transcript here. Thanks for typing, whoever you are:
How is it that something so tiny can have so much power, can bring so much happiness yet destruction and deep sadness. What was once an ancient medicine has brought my life, and my body, to its knees. It has healed me none and taken everything from me including my morals and dignity, and on top of all that it stole any happiness that it once gave, which I now see was no more than a false prophet.
The bastard that I speak of has gone by many names and has taken on many names and has gone by many forms. The one that I am most familiar with is Heroin. Maybe you have heard his name before. Odds are you have as he has been creeping his way out of the jungles and mountains around and into our American cities, slowly but masterfully working his way into the outlying suburbs and even further into our countryside.
We are a nation plagued by opioid addiction and at this point no one, no family, has become immune to it. You see this is a problem that does not discriminate. It attacks our mothers, fathers, and children, it attacks the rich and the poor alike and it doesn’t stop until you are dead or until you jump out of the ring with him, making a conscious decision to “give up” because you will never win this fight. He wins every time, leaving you only one choice, to admit defeat and choose to live without him, which really is not giving up, but knowing that you are powerless over him because in the end there is only one choice and that is to choose a life without him, so I am told anyway.
This is all very new to me. It’s taken fifteen years for me to realize that heroin is not my friend, as I had once thought. All those times that I can remember him being there for me, all those times that he had helped me celebrate, all those times that he was there to comfort me, it was all a lie and the bastard was stealing from me the entire time. As I sit here now it seems as plain as day. It seems like the warnings of who I was becoming from all those on the sidelines were right. I’m sitting here a defeated man, pieces shattered far and wide, alone.
I hope in the end for this to be a tale of triumph, but knowing the outline in my head I don’t know how a story of destruction, sickness, and loss can come to have a happy ending. Maybe it could serve as a cautionary tale, maybe I will just serve me the purpose of getting some of these things off my chest and onto paper, maybe this is just another selfish expedition on my part. Whatever it is I believe that it belongs on these pages.
In the new Phish song “More” frontman for the band sings a few lines that go “half of what I say is lies, and it takes so much to keep up this disguise, I see a doorway through the haze and I’m trying to get it”. This verse has spoken to me, as it reminds me of who I’ve become, a look into the mirror if you will.
Since I don’t have a Hermes Baby, our now un-Disneyfied toy typewriter will have to do as a stand-in. Excited for when baby’s hands will be strong enough to type. Perhaps I should start typing close to the womb so he can get used to the sound, and then maybe the clacking will be soothing to him. A man can dream…
Thank you again for your proposal. The emoji subcommittee has reviewed it, and has decided to decline the addition of “typewriter”. The statistics do not seem to justify the addition. The “office” category of emoji is already well represented and of lower usage than many other emoji. The “keyboard” emoji is also very close to this. ( https://emojipedia.org/keyboard/ )
Alas, it is not to be. I thank Richard for fighting this battle on behalf of the Insurgency. But perhaps instead of seeking legitimacy from within the Paradigm, we should invent a lo-fi typewriter emoticon that anyone can deploy at will. A simple but powerful symbol for the Revolution, a la the Mockingjay or the Bat-signal. This would also better align with the Insurgency’s principles.
My first attempt: ‘[:::]
This is more of a from-above view, whereas Richard chimed in with a good one that is more of a side view: ~/:::/º
The degree symbol isn’t very common (the Mac shortcut is Alt-Shift-8), though it’s a secondary character within the zero on iPhone keyboards. The bullet point • could be another option as it’s also in the iPhone punctuation menu.
But these are starting points. How can we make it better?
I heard from a neighbor friend that an older gentleman in our community was having trouble with his new typewriter. His advancing dementia made using his computer difficult, so his family got him a Royal Scriptor II from Office Depot to allow him to still write messages.
Let alone that electronic typewriters are not my thing, that the Scriptor was $300 was damn near offensive to me. I told my friend I’d be happy to help diagnose the problem, but also that I’d be just as happy to donate one of my typewriters. This would allow them to get their money back, avoid plugs and cables, and type on something that was made when people knew how to make typewriters.
My Royal Futura 800 seemed like a good option. I was considering selling it, but since I got it for free I thought it would be better to pay it forward. Like Andy’s toys in Toy Story, I think typewriters just want to be used. All the better by someone who will appreciate that use.
My colleague texted me a picture of a curvaceous mid-century Royal standard with no model name and with unknown functionality. Her mother was looking to get rid of it. I told her I’d probably just clean it up and resell it. That was fine with her, and the price of free was fine with me.
A mystery typewriter! Very exciting. When I popped open her trunk and lifted it towards my car, I suddenly remembered why I don’t collect standards. It was beastly, as cumbersome as a Selectric and longer than it was wide.
Without a clue as to the model name, I consulted the trusty Typewriter Database and found a photo of a very similar machine. It was the photo filename that told me this typewriter’s name, not, deceivingly, what I thought was the serial number but was actually some other parts number in front of the typebars.
Bow down to the Royal Empress:
Long will this gargantuan typewriter live! I could use it as a safe. The serial #MCP-11-8013175 (the P indicates pica font) would place it in 1964 or 1965. I’m not sure which since the other serials in that range seem to be a bit jumbled. It looks gray in the picture, but it’s more of a gray-green-beige mixture. Perfect for a bland office or, as indicated by a sticker on the back, hospital:
My preference is for portables, and not only because of storage limitations. But I can definitely see the appeal of standards like this one. If you don’t collect and just want a reliable desk typer, this Empress could rule over your writing spot until the next millennium. I’ll still be selling it, but I’m happy for whoever is made happy by it next.