I miss the sound of clicking-clacking typewriter keys.
My very first typewriter was an Underwood that I bought for next to nothing, a slow-motion engine like the one above whose keys would sometimes stick, freezing in midair before they could imprint a letter on the scrolled paper. The keys were small and round and perched aloft by long metal attachments. When you hit them, they sort of catapulted through the ribbon onto the paper. At the end of a line, you had to yank a metal flange so the carriage would return to the left margin, producing a clear audible “ding.” As it turned out, the ribbon couldn’t be replaced unless I could locate a time machine, so the Underwood and I had a short-lived romance, little more than a fling.
Nevertheless, with it I composed a few very bad poems, love poems or satiric poems in tiny typeset. Only a couple of the satiric ones survive, written in a self-invented fifteen-line rhyming stanza form I called the bonnet, in honor of my favorite bartender, Hartley Bonnet, who worked at Oliver’s Pub on Devine Street in Columbia. It was a private club, so you could drink on Sundays. Jimmy Buffett was a member. He was dating a girl from Columbia, whom I heard he eventually married.
I think my daddy provided me with my first electric typewriter, a throw off from his business, and after banging on the Underwood, I had a hell of a time adjusting to the gentle touch that the sensitive electric model demanded. At first, the keys would stutter when I banged them, a staccato hiccup that meant starting over, or positioning correction tape to efface my mistake, or if I had splurged and bought erasable bound paper, scrolling up, erasing the errata, repositioning the paper, and retyping. If I were writing a research paper, sometimes when I was typing a footnote, the paper would shoot out because I’d misjudged, typed past the bottom of the page, the last couple of strokes hitting the black cylinder where the paper should be.
Here’s what a typed page looked like:
And a close up of a correction.
I was typing the words to that soon-to-be abandoned novel when I lived in the Manigault House on East Bay Street, which was divided into three apartments, one upstairs and one downstairs in the main house. The third apartment, ours, was two stories on the back end and sported an upstairs porch overlooking the projects.
One day, my neighbor, whose name I didn’t know, asked me if I were a writer. “Well, sort of,” I said, pleased to think I may have possessed an author’s aura. “I’m working on a novel.”
He told me he could hear my typing through the walls.
When I landed a state government contract to crank out descriptions of various jobs you could get with an associate degree from the local community college, I went ahead and bought a Tandy computer and printer. This was early, in the days before hard drives, and this contraption sported ten-inch twin disc drives. The salesman assured me that ten-inch disc drives would be the wave of the future. One drive accommodated a ten-inch floppy disc that contained the word processing program, the other a blank disc for your writing. The printer was sort of like a typewriter and produced clicking sounds.
When I first started teaching at Porter-Gaud, I would type out my carbon-backed report cards and feed them individually into the printer, making me way on the cutting edge of technology.
Of course, I wouldn’t go back to those lesser technologies. In fact, I could if I wanted to; an electric typewriter is languishing in my attic. On the other hand, I think something is lost by not having to retype manuscripts after editing a page by hand, which encourages polishing, and you can make editing changes too rapidly without having time to digest the alterations. Of course, a meticulous, patient person can still edit the old way, but as this typo-plagued blog attests, I’m not that person.
Time’s winged chariot and all that jazz.
Speaking of jazz, here’s a video of the poet Eddie Cabbage accompanying some cool cats, including the late Vinny Youngblood, up on the porch in the upstairs Chico Feo Airbnb as Tim Brown looks on.