Walk into our home at any given time my fifteen-year-old son Will is home and you are likely to hear the distinctive sounds of typing emanating from his room at the far end of the hallway.
Typing. As in metal keys striking paper rolled around a cylindrical tube called a ‘platen.’ The steady, rhythmic click-clack-clack-click is tangible, loudly audible proof of two key things my son has inherited from dear old dad: a passion for storytelling, and my old portable, electric typewriter.
The 1977 vintage, brown and tan Montgomery-Ward (made by Smith-Corona) beauty was a high school graduation gift from my parents, and along with the Samsonite brief case I got from my brother, my most prized possession heading into my new life as an adult.
Thirty-four years later, the typewriter is still humming along (and boy, it still hums loudly) and at this stage of the game has more miles on it than any vehicle I have ever owned.
And now, after a few years of down-time in attics and garages, it is happily back in action. Not that Will is some sort of Luddite – far from it; he is as wired and technologically savvy as most any teen I know, and is still far more likely to be found multi-tasking in front of the laptop on Facebook while simultaneously texting friends and listening to music on his PSP.
Except when he really feels his creative juices flowing. As Will says, “I just like writing with it. It’s cool.”
Indeed it is.
My plans post-graduation from Denver South High School were to return to my hometown of Minneapolis to spend a year at Brown Institute of Broadcasting, emerging a year later as a full-fledged, certified radio announcer: the typewriter a logical and well received parting gift. I had made the he 1,000 mile jaunt across Colorado, Nebraska and Iowa on into Minnesota solo the previous five summers via bus, but this time would be different; my little onion-paper ticket was of the one-way variety, with no reminders from my parents about keeping the second part in a safe place.
Leaving home just two week’s post-graduation night, I was set to conquer the world as the next Edward R. Murrow or Charles Kuralt. I had spent the past couple of summers watching the Midwest scroll by and filling up a few notebooks with a wide array of poetry, short story fragments and perceived witticisms. Now I could really go to town and actually type my manuscripts.
The Smith-Corona came encased in a brown plastic, impact resistant case, which nicely squeezed (with a hard shove) underneath the seat in front of me on most any Greyhound Scenicruiser. The case also had a front ridge that dipped down in front, following the slope of the keyboard, and that little ridge made for a perfect footrest.
It was also my typewriter security system, for I prized that shiny, humming-when-plugged-in gem, and feared it disappearing to some while I slept through central Nebraska. Truth be told, it took a good, strong yank to get the thing out from beneath that seat so any potential thief would’ve had to work at it – waking me in the process and (I imagined) incurring my writers wrath.
Being electric, the brown beauty needed to be plugged in to function, so I couldn’t use it on the bus – though on one late-night layover in the downtown Omaha Greyhound Depot, I surreptitiously plugged the thing in and tried to use it in my lap. The sheer ‘portable’ bulk of the thing and the heat it generated made for a quickly abandoned writing session.
Just ahead of my time with the whole ‘laptop’ concept, I guess.
Back on the bus, typewriter under seat again, I returned to putting pen to notebook, looking ahead to my arrival at my grandfather’s apartment, where I could translate notebooks of road jottings into profundity via pica-type neatness.
Whatever my year ahead at Brown Institute might hold, I knew that I was bound to heed the advice of my father – and take a job wherever one was offered as I graduated with my certificate in radio broadcasting. The idea of trying something new – someplace new – while I was young and unattached was not only sound advice, it fit with my vagabond, Kerouac spirit.
The typewriter has been with me every step of the way since, professionally and personally
Our first stops were my grandfather’s apartment, where I was to live for the next year, and our friends Ivar and Lila’s place on Horseshoe Lake – my traditional summer home-away-from home. I have fond memories of typing away using a T.V. tray in Gramps’ living room – my bedroom during that glorious time we spent as roomies – and of committing the joy of ‘The Lake’ to paper from the small table in Ivar and Lila’s guestroom…the room with the eastward view of many sublime sunrises over Huxtable Point.
And that was just the first year I had it.
From there it was on to small radio stations in Nevada, Missouri and Marshalltown, Iowa and then back to Minnesota: outpost stations in Brainerd, St. Cloud, Luverne, Rochester, Little Falls, Minneapolis – sounds a lot like a P.A. boarding announcement at the Minneapolis bus depot.
It’s not just the miles and locales; the thing has been used to type up a little of everything; radio scripts of all kinds, poems, short stories, resumes, job and loan applications, holiday letters, love letters…the list is a long one. It has typed on plain paper, resume paper, postcards, triplicate carbon forms, mailing and file-folder labels and on pilfered, obsolete rolls of United Press International teletype newsprint ala Jack Kerouac.
Alas, a great-American novel has yet to emerge, but we’ve had fun trying.
Okay, it aint Hemmingway’s moleskin notebook but it’s mine – and now my son’s, at least on loan. I am looking at the case as I type away at my laptop. A weathered, wrinkled Greyhound ‘baggage identification tag,’ its elastic band having long ago lost its stretch, still dangles from the handle of the dusty, scuffed case. The metal clasps that hold it shut show some rust, but the M sticker on the left latch and the L sticker on the right are worn, but legible.
From the back of the house, I can hear Will, click-clacking away on the old Monkey-Wards/Smith-Corona as I use the laptop – his keystrokes drowning out mine from three rooms away. And that’s all right by me.