Tuesday, September 10, 2013

The timbre of the typewriter

A friend and coworker, who knows of my love for manual typewriters, sent me this delicious ditty by Melissa Nelson. My hat is off to you, Melissa. My words would be meager compared to yours. 

Submitted for your approval...

I miss manual typewriters. Growing up, we had an old, stout, incredibly heavy portable Olivetti. It had cloth ribbons--cloth! And moreover, the ribbon divided horizontally into equal rows of black and red ink. RED INK was reserved for oomph. ALL CAPS is the new RED, kids.

And, when you reached the right margin of the page, you had to take your finger and whisk the carriage return lever, give it a good thrust, to send the carriage back to the left margin.

The sound of fingers and keys flying across a portable, non-electric machine was (and remains) unmistakable and cool. Not cool because it's nostalgic, but cool by very definition. It was nothing like the clicking sound of early computer keyboards or the muffled fingertip-toe we make today. Olivetti meant business. It bellowed "I'm getting this all down! Every word of it!"

The act of putting ink to paper was loud. Engaging. A partnership of unapologetic PDA (public dispensing of audio.) Remember that when the carriage went as far to the right as it could go, a bell went off? There was nothing like the percussion of being a whiz typist on a roll: frenzy to clatter to clamor to smoking, unholy hooves pounding, to building...building...buiiiiiiiiiiiilding to....DING! Repeat faster/louder on the next line. And the next.

It was just as fun to be conscious of the orchestral percussion as it was to be totally unaware, lost in the zone of what I was writing (until my Mom would reach her limit of invasive annoyances & yell, "Criminently, give it a rest!").

I used to love to try to decipher words and sentences left on a spent ribbon--the red was generally conservatively littered with the alphabet...but those ABC's sometimes actually wore holes in the black ink half. You could milk a ribbon for a very long time. You rewound them and used them again and again. Until you wore. It. Out.

If you're still reading this and wondering what prompted the post...I watched someone typing at their computer, stop, reach up and whisk their finger across the touch screen...and I flashed on the oddly similar motion of typing and whisking the carriage back to the left margin. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The End.

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