Monday, July 24, 2006

My New Love

Last week I was having to download about umpteen stupid idiotic forms in order to claim some savings bonds that bear someone else's name. I had to fill out forms to get forms, and fill out forms to order other forms and death certificates and court papers and blah-be-de-blah. My hand was almost falling off after only a couple of forms, since I type exclusively and don't even know how to write by hand anymore. I need to go back to school, maybe. Also, Arthur has my writing-hand wrist. (Arthur. Arthur Itis.)

Anyhoo, in a best effort to avoid the necessary task of filling out forms, I popped on eBay for a few minutes, amid dim and distant memories of the days when I had no computer, but a metal manual typewriter. A 1920, 35-pound, square black Royal monstrosity that three generations learned to type on. (It's like weight-lifting for those typing digits. Builds strong fingers one way.) My grandmother took it with her to Berkeley when Berkeley still had a teachers' college. I went down to check on the typewriter, and the entire scaffold of "cube shelving" in the closet COLLAPSED as I wrangled the demon out of there. Still in working order, but needing a new rubber cover on the platen. And full of cobwebs. And sort of not at all well greased. And the Standard #2 ribbon long gone. And a kid has broken the fabric carriage-return strap.

But eBay can rescue anyone from such dilemmas in mere moments!

I got sort of buggy about vintage typewriters as I was browsing. Instant hobby fun. Instant addiction. Collect them all! Oooh, you mean they have vintage adding machines, too?! I also found a blog on which a guy rhapsodized about a chance discovery of a tiny ancient typewriter repair shop, where he was sort of inducted into a reverent fraternity of the ancient machines. And eBay had a vintage ad with a girl saying, "This is the one I need for college, Dad!" She had spent the night with curlers in her gleaming hair, you could tell. (I love ephemera, but that's another post altogether.)

There were all kinds of cool type-related things on eBay, but the one that struck me was a 1949 portable machine called a Skyriter, by Smith-Corona. It looked just like something Mickey Spillane would have taken traveling on airplanes. Or Ingrid Bergman. That's actually what this model was designed for--typing on planes! It would fit on a tray table. The previous model Smith-Corona made was for typing on trains. I was smitten at once. One other person had bid on it--a whopping bid of $9.99. I noticed the auction was to end in one hour. I forget my maximum bid, but I sat sweating and nervous as the countdown progressed, fearing that terrible sinking feeling that follows you around like a cloud when you don't win something you really want.

The clock ticked until . . . Mine for $11.00. Hey, big spender! It turned out to be one of those things where the shipping is much more costly than the actual item, like the genuine police coat I won for a stage costume which weighed a ton and cost $16 to ship.

Well, it came today and I am just amazed. It takes me back and makes me so happy. I reminded myself that I am one mean typist. I am old enough that in my undergraduate days I had to type all of my papers, and as an English major that meant a lot of typing. It meant staying up until godknowswhattime (like four in the morning) to keep typing over all the pages that had errors. I also realized why people did not have phenomenal typing speeds such as 110 words per minute. You have to crush the keys with all your strength; the keys are on different levels. My other grandmother "graduated" with a certificate from secretarial school at the stunning speed of 32 words per minute. Every time I see that certificate I snort.

Lo, world, I can type on envelopes again! Hot diggity dog!

The machine is all metal, with plastic keys. A little smaller footprint than my laptop, and it has a self-cover, too; how cute is that. I was just itching for some of my mother's old-fashioned onion skin paper. Oh, and the goofball "wheel" style typewriter erasers that had the stiff little brush on the end! Then Kid 1 (14) and his best friend came over and stared at it as if it were a circus freak. Like a crosseyed calf eyeing a new gate. "What do you do with this? What is this thing? Why is it so hard to press the keys? How do you put the paper in? Does it have a backspace? When you hold the key down it doesn't repeat the letter, why not? How do you fix a mistake?" and on and on and on. Leave my baby alone! At one point I said, "It just got here! Don't break it before I even get to meet it!" and I popped on the cover and whisked it off to a safe place.

Oh, and one more thing. It is made of the same type of metal that my grandpa's ancient slide projector (not a carousel, much earlier than that) was made of. And it smells just like it, too--sort of a musty old-stuff smell, just like Grandpa's photography closet. It's funny how a smell can instantly connect you with something adored.

And you know what? I can still write when there's a power outage! Woot! Woot! When all of you computer users are having a fit, I can still hone my craft. As long as I have about a gallon of white-out. And guess what? I do. Because I am a vintage crap geek.

Now just gimme a crack at getting through airport security! **Stop her! She has a lethal weapon, an 11-pound metal typewriter! What if she hurls it at the captain through the cabin door? She can pull off the keys and use them like a pocket knife! We must suspect it, it has no electronic parts! What if there's a bomb under that lid?!**

Uhm, while I was waiting for Airborne to deliver my purchase, I, uh, finished filling out the forms by hand.

Next time! Go ahead! Do your worst! Keep the forms comin'!

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At 7/20/2007 3:10 AM, Blogger A Sly Little Fox said...

Oh, for the love of God... I had to make a blog in order to post a comment in your (literally!) one year old entry...

(Although... thanks for that, I suppose...)

A few years ago, I was lucky enough to inherit a Skyriter from an old pack-rat great aunt. Of course, it was over a year before I could lay my hands on some ink ribbons, but it was entirely worth the effort.

Too bad there's something wrong with the carriage; something's catching every time I try to slide it, which is a shame. (Actually, google sent me here as I was looking up how to repair it; I can't tell you how intrigued I am by this "Typewriter repair shop" you mentioned.

In any case, I guess I didn't really have anything to say, but it's nice to see someone else with my very same model, you know?

At 7/20/2007 9:12 AM, Blogger sputnik said...

Guess what--my Skyriter has that exact same carriage-return problem. Over time I've somehow learned a certain way of pushing it that it will accept, but it hangs now and then. If you are looking for ink spools, you can easily get them at (phone 703-534-3484). The part number is something like TW 15 (that's what it says on the box) and you can find the specifics under their "portables" list.

Have fun with your acquisition. My kid went through a phase of doing his elementary school homework on the Skyriter! His teacher got a big kick out of that. It's so funny to teach a kid all the things you forgot about typing non-electronically. He stared at the thing for an hour looking for the missing characters. Then he got upset because the keys cut right through the paper. I had forgotten to tell him to use double sheets.

I'm looking for that story about the repair shop again, too, but for the life of me I cannot find it.

Your next assignment is to find a ream of real onionskin paper. Good luck!

At 10/17/2007 8:38 PM, Blogger dreaminglily said...

Well this didn't help me find a cure for my ailing Remington Rand Model 1's spacebar lol (Won't push down, looks a little bent. My first one, just got it today :o)

But I am glad to have run across someone that also fell into the ebay typewriter trap lol Totally addicted now...

Now off to find a fix for a messed up spacebar...



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