04 May 2010

Writing the old-school way, one clackity-clack at a time

As I write this, my latest acquisition is sitting naked in the garage, doused with carburetor cleaner and deskbound.

Wait, that sounds bad.

It's not what you think. My latest acquisition is a lime green IBM Selectric typewriter that I found in storage at work yesterday. It weighs about 35 pounds, with the inner workings protected by two extremely thick steel shell pieces. It's solidly built, to say the least. I've got it sitting in the garage because it needed a good cleaning, as, according to the sticker on its underside, had last been professionally serviced when Nixon was still in office.

This isn't the first time I've brought home such a treasure. My habit of collecting typewriters has raised eyebrows. Walking out of work with my prize yesterday, I caught the curious eyes of one of my co-workers looking at me, and I cheerfully told her that the company had FINALLY bought the new laptop for me that I'd been begging for. She spat out a small laugh, and I was pretty sure I could see her hand reaching for the mace. I thought I was funny, anyway. In our old Eden Prairie office, I would bring a small one outside to write letters with, and I could see people from an adjacent office taking turns to look out the window at the anachronistic masochist and his infernal machine.

"What a weirdo!" I could picture them guffawing. "Doesn't he know that people haven't used those in like, 10 years?"

Yes, actually. Many people who have discovered my hobby have asked a very relevant question: "WHY? Why do you collect machines so completely obsolete that even Goodwill refuses to take them? Why do you want something that is so eclipsed by technological descendents that is it beyond even a joke, like the Eight-Track tape?"

Well, that's the point, actually.

Typewriters have many virtues. They don't get viruses. Some of them don't even use electricity. Yes, you can't go back and fix mistakes or rely on spell check, but those are probably good habits to develop anyway. There's a certain appeal in the rhythmic, syncopated sound of metal keys hitting one after another, as the genius flows out onto whatever paper is in the chute. It is instant, tangible creation, free from all of the unreality of the plastic keyboards and Internet fancy that has come to dominate our lives. Typewriters are like fountain pens or thank-you notes (two other concepts I enjoy on a regular basis). They don't allow you to "multi-task" (a term which represents a sick age of distraction from what one is doing in the name of alleged "progress"). No, if you are using a typewriter, that's all you are doing, because if you take attention elsewhere and make a mistake, you are going to be there for a long time.

Apparently, I'm not the only one who is interested in typewriters. There is a place in Richfield called Vale Typewriters that services all makes and models. I called the guy earlier today, and he told me that a complete chemical cleaning for my Selectric would be about $85. Ouch. That's $85 I don't have. So, I went out to the garage and found the carb cleaner.

I realize that computers and Internet give me the ability to reach a worldwide audience. But typewriters don't, and that's one of the reasons I like them. They sequester my thoughts from the larger world, creating a more intimate and tangible final product than the glorified set of ones and zeroes that this missive will no doubt be coded into for publication.

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