Life Typewriters


My wife and I did a deep-clean over a long holiday weekend. After having some friends over, we realized how much of our place needed attention. I’m sure our guests noticed nothing awry during their overnight stay. The guts were the issue—the stuff only we knew was there, that sat wedged in a closet or stashed on a shelf months ago, when we didn’t know what else to do with it.

Jenny wanted to conquer the kitchen cupboards, the guest room closet, and the guest room itself. Amidst helping her with this, doing laundry, and sweeping, I resolved to clean a typewriter.

Since the beginning of the month, when my latent desire for these beautiful writing machines made itself known, I have accumulated eight typewriters: five Smith-Coronas, two Royals, a Brother-brand Kmart 100, an IBM Selectric from my grandma, and a Rover 5000 that’s cheap plastic but gets the job done. All have unique acquisition stories, designs, temperaments, and needs, both mechanical and cosmetic. To Jenny’s mild chagrin, they sit scattered around the apartment front room, clogging space on our only table and lounging on the couch or writing desk in various states of assembly.

Jenny has indulged my new typewriter phase, even taken pleasure in it, not only because she wants me to be happy, but also because it has in a short amount of time reminded me the value of things—of good and beautiful things. Until I got married, I had few things and liked it that way. I’ve been fortunate to enjoy living situations in my early adulthood that came with furniture and other essentials provided, whether it was in a campus dorm room (undergraduate and graduate) or a fully furnished room in an apartment or household. Save a chair or two in college, I’ve never had to even buy furniture, or anything bigger than a suitcase. My guitar and record player were, for a long time, my heftiest and most valuable possessions—and the record player my dad picked up off the curb.

The process of getting rid of things is not especially difficult for me. For my wife, who has many possessions despite being a very low-maintenance woman, it’s a different story. She has found great value in thanking her items as she places them in The Box, a la The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.

The quilt handmade years ago that has been sitting in a drawer unused for years: thank you for the warmth when I needed it.

The aqua blue vase that once held beautiful flowers but has sat beneath the kitchen sink: thank you for sustaining life when it needed it.

The artistic calendar we admired month by month last year but now has served its purpose: thank you for sprucing up time. May someone pillage you for your art and give you new life.

The Royal Futura 800 was up first because it needed the most care, having sat in my parents’ basement storage for nigh on a decade. I was pleased to find, once I got inside, that it was mechanically sound; the keys steadily struck the ribbon’s still-alive ink and returned line after line of black type. Its exterior, too, was in fine form, still shiny and without noticeable blemishes thanks to the protection its orange wooden case had provided. But its innards desperately needed a cleanse, the cat hair and dried padding crumbs and dust having accumulated over decades in its architecture.

I wiped, swabbed, and air-blasted everything I could inside the Futura, just as Jenny was gutting the guest closet. Typebars wiped down, old wrapping paper recycled; detritus beneath the basket shift eradicated, surplus knitting yarn boxed for donation. All things breathing again from the same domesticated air. Every nook and cranny reachable was being acknowledged and accounted for. The apartment and the Royal had, I think, grown weary of their burdens. They too were ready for the new year.

Our two-day marathon purge found its gentle resolution Sunday night, the alley dumpster fuller than before. The Futura reconstituted, its tiny screws holding it snugly together for the long haul, no one will know what had happened to it, how far it had come while staying put. They’ll just see a typewriter sitting in a room, in an apartment that also looks just fine, just as it did before. But we know better.