This cross-stitch was a belated birthday gift from my mom, who said she used the color of my Olympia SM7 as inspiration. As I don’t have a display room or even nook for my typewriters, I’m not sure where to put it yet. But it’ll brighten up whichever wall it lands on.
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.
My Smith-Corona Electra 12 set the tone near the entrance, impressing people with its style and snappiness:
With its futuristic curves and spaceship smoothness, my Hermes 3000 felt right at home among the outer space books:
My Olympia SM7 (of surprise acquisition fame) took advantage of the store’s typing table:
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?):
The Electra 12: “It’s Electric!”
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.
I had the pleasure of seeing a photo of mine get the Ken Burns treatment on CBS Sunday Morning’s story this weekend about Tom Hanks, his new book, and his love of typewriters:
One of my colleagues got an advance copy of Hanks’ book at a library conference back in June specifically because she knew I’d love it—and I did, enough to write my first typecast review. For the accompanying image I thought pairing the book’s beautiful blue cover with my Olympia SM7 (acquired at the splendid Retro-Revolution in Madison, WI) of almost the same shade made sense and looked great:
Since I posted it far enough ahead of the book’s publication date, the photo (along with the images of my typewritten review) had time to climb up the ranks of Google Images under searches for “Uncommon Type”, which no doubt is how the CBS producer found it.
I knew Hanks’ book would give typewriters A Moment; I didn’t realize I’d be part of it! But I am happy to be. The book is out Tuesday: go get it and then get a typewriter of your own.