We’ve, once again, been cleaning out our basement lately in anticipation of a quick uplift for Halloween. Whatever motivates you, right? I find it alternately a total dusty, dirty drag, and very exciting being all decisive and militant about getting rid of the amazing accumulation of crap that has seeped its way into the cracks down there. Liberating. When was the last time we played tennis with those sad, warped wooden rackets, anyway?
One thing I haven’t been able to part with yet, for years squatting passively on one of the shelves we just took to Goodwill, is a Smith-Corona typewriter. A manual, heavy-weight of a beast weighing in at over 30 pounds (not an estimate; we weighed it), my father handed this down to me when he went all computer, knowing I’ve long had a love of typewriters. I started typing in third grade when my sister was taking typing in high school. I kept stealing her textbook, ingeniously designed to open vertically, tablet-style, allowing it to be propped open to the side of the typewriter while one worked through the exercises. “The quick red fox jumped over the lazy brown dog.” “All good men shall come to the aid of their country.” I loved the clacking of the keys, the smack of the metal onto the paper. I was instructed to always put two pieces in every time to protect the precious platen. And God forbid if one were to accidentally type on that platen! I got quite proficient with a Q-tip and alcohol and delicately scrubbing off whatever inky word may have been shining up from the roll. Most likely “Lori Lori Lori Lori” that somehow went over the edge of the paper. When I got going too fast the greasy metal legs would get tangled up sticking together like a pack of robotic preying mantises (manti?).
In my middle school in 6th or 7th grade I finally took my own typing class. Amazingly the quick red fox was still at it! I’m sure it was the same book my sister had, and I was pretty much the quick red fox of the class jumping over all my klutzy classmates. Easy “A.” Later in junior high I was the teacher’s assistant (pet) for our journalism teacher, and I was responsible for typing up memos and such, using the unforgiving blue smeary mimeograph paper between sheets, not daring to make a mistake.
I took yet another class in high school, moving up to electric, also an easy “A.” I sat across from a girl later to become my sister-in-law, who happened to be an exceptional piano player, so she took to the keys naturally. We would compete against each other, our fingers flying, the room full of the cacophony of teenagers smacking keys, typewriters shuddering on desks, then hitting the return button at the end so the paper flew back over to the left in a blur, whipping the paper out (of course using the handle, not actually ripping the paper out…) when we were done and holding the page triumphantly over our heads, while on my other side one of the school jocks hunched over the typewriter, ape-like, scowling as his thick football-catching fingers covered the letters on the keys. Cute monkey, though. (I used to feel this way about Joe, actually, but he has improved considerably over the years.)
Around this same time I was on the newspaper and in graphic arts with Hannah and discovered the IBM Selectric typewriter, with different sexy font styles on little Death Stars filled with letters, numbers and punctuation that clicked inside where the ribbon used to go and dervished around on the page, words I created magically appearing as fast as I could think of them.For Christmas senior year I received a portable electric Smith-Corona for journalism and college the next year, in powder blue with that rough nail file like texture so pleasing to scrape your nails against while searching for the perfect word or phrase, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Now, I sit here clicking softly on the keyboard of the Mac, and the Smith-Corona sits on the dining table awaiting its fate after being lugged up from below. It’s an interesting specimen, as my father has painted the heavy metal body red, and taped up a stern writing reminder just above the Tab bar: DON’T CRITICIZE. DON’T CONDEMN. DON’T COMPLAIN. In the past the words would scream at me, each time I read them becoming a Furrowed Brow Moment, the words and I in an evil-eye stare-down, because despite the reminder to himself, and ever-so kindly handed down to me, my father is one of the most critical people I’ve ever known. As I’ve grown older, calmer, more mature and introspective I can now appreciate the irony. But as I stare at the faded words on the yellowed paper a little more I can sense my undercurrent of fuming at this particular typewriter, and feel myself nearing a condemning conclusion as to its fate.