Last Wednesday, I found a great Smith-Corona portable manual typewriter at Goodwill. I was shopping for something for a trip to a chess tournament being held in St. Louis. (I can’t remember what I originally was looking for. I know I didn’t find it, whatever it was.) It is definitely not the case that I need another item in my house. I have not the room. My son is intrigued but ambivalent, exclaiming, “For a while, there, I was thought we were caught in the world of typewriters and wood-burning guitars,” playing off a James Taylor quote he had rattling around in his very smart head. It is quite cool, a Smith-Corona Classic 12. It’s a portable, manual, vintage. It feels great. It is great.
It was almost not great. I tested it out in the store. Plunk, plunk. So many of these machines do not work, like the IBM Selectric I lucked into not long ago. Beautiful machine, but it’s electrical insides are scrambled and it knows not how to behave. This one felt great. Seemed to function great.
That is until I got it home and tried to type a word that had a K in it. The K did not work. Not a tragedy. I spent $7 and maybe I would be motivated to find someone who could repair this gem. The better idea was to try and fix it myself—a dangerous proposition, but it would be a true failing if I did not try.
I took off the metal plate on the bottom and searched the levers and hinges. Aha! The K was disconnected from its series of levers and rods. I figured out the mechanism for the failed connection, and with the help of two screwdrivers, made the reconnection. I could now write words with a K.
I now have a functioning manual typewriter. The typewriter I learned to type on was also a Smith-Corona, one of those gray, Studebaker-like, upright things that my mom had salvaged from the days when she was a student. I think I was seven or eight when I asked mom to teach me how to type. With three other kids, two of them quite small, and an outside-the-house job, She did not have a lot of time. She did the next best thing—or maybe the better thing. She sat me down at the kitchen table with her old Gregg typing manual and let me teach myself.
Years later, when I was in graduate school, I found another typewriter just like it at a yard sale.
I don’t know why I wanted that typewriter. It would be an odd way to reclaim my childhood. Regardless, the purpose it served was much different than was the allure as I passed the sale that early summer evening.
One purpose it served was saving the many recipients of my many letters from having to read my handwriting, which is still pretty illegible. The other purpose was to pound out the lingering adolescent angst that was the impetus or subject of most of the letters.
As you might remember from my first blog post “Stop Him Before He Writes (or at least tries),” I wrote about 380 personal letters one year. Many of them to a few women/girls for whom I felt enough affection to write so often, but never with the boldness to admit or hint, beyond the volume of mail they received, such affections. I would not admit because those affections were truly a transgression of what was supposed to be mere friendship or/and often with society’s color line.
Plunk. Thwap. Slap. It was a wonderful sound and feel to which I worked out so many of my frustrations. Social-political frustrations. Frustrations of internal and external religious and theological dissonance. Frustrations of what felt a lot like love in the midst of a fading adolescence.
This might be too reveling. Did you get any of those letters from 25 years ago?
Maybe you were not in my life 25 years ago. Maybe you are not a woman. Maybe your life was safely secluded from such attentions. Maybe you did get a letter—and maybe it was not one tainted with such emotions. Maybe none of that matters. Today, as then, all of the musings may be little more than the exercise in writing it turned out to be.
Maybe none of it matters and maybe it IS nothing more than an old writing exercise—or that is all I will admit to. That and one other thing—something that may be of value to you: being so subtle and guarded with displays of affection has made me very good at figuring out if a man is interested in being your friend or if he has a crush on you. I can tell you how deeply he is into your relationship. I can pick it up, in most cases, pretty easily. Sometimes I can tell without ever meeting him. It is how I knew with certainty, even a year before he asked her out, that a classmate from long ago was interested in my friend A. It is how I knew that even though my friend C was so worried that her latest boyfriend might break up with her, that I was sure he would not, certain; I could feel it, that he knew she was the best that he would ever meet (that she was the best that most people ever meet, even if the context of relationship is not a possibility) and he would not pass on who she was. And I had never met either of them.
I can tell by the smallest kind of attention that a man pays, letters, or anything else, especially something else, because no one writes letters, especially on a typewriter. I only wish that I could be so perceptive in the dynamics of my own life.
I do not plan to write 380 letters in the next year, but somehow, the acquisition of this machine seems to fit for the day. I have urged my son to pound out a few poems on our new piece of functional furniture. What will I write? And what will you think if a piece of mail comes to your door, written on dear Smith-Corona Classic 12?
I beg you not to over-think this one, but in the mean time, I will carry the burden as I worry that no one will ever want a letter from me again.
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