A woman and a typewriter walk into a bar . . .
I was in the middle of writing a post about handling emergencies at the cabin when I got distracted by a typewriter.
At home, I’ve established a nightly habit of typing a single page on a manual typewriter. It’s a physical act as much as a writing exercise. I like that it is neither as laborious as handwriting nor as unreal as keyboard typing. It somehow places me at just the right distance from my thoughts — not too close, not too far away. Also, it brings back my earliest, best memories of sleeping over at my grandparents’ house as a child, hearing my grandfather writing in his office late at night.
I decided to look for a manual typewriter here in Fairbanks to take to the cabin. It seems like we’re always hunting for something unusual while we’re here — one year it was 120 film for a Diana camera, another time it was a hard-sided, vintage suitcase for transporting a rifle (we’ll come back to that in another post), once it was a camper shell and then a side-view mirror for our old pickup truck. We take well to these challenges. For the typewriter, we first checked Value Village, where I found a perfect pair of purple jeans for $3.99 but no typewriters. Then I checked Craigslist and, in all of the Fairbanks area, there was one listing.
The typewriter sat snug in its original case on the front porch of a tiny cabin at the end of a rutted gravel road in North Pole. It was surrounded by two friendly pitbulls, several dozen rusted out cars, and a nice young woman who seemed happy to have the cash. I paid the agreed-upon price without asking too many questions and then I climbed back into the truck with a beautiful 1949 Royal Quiet De Luxe typewriter, the same brand favored by Ernest Hemingway, as the story goes.
This 70-year old machine is perfect, except the Q-key is sticky, the margin release is misaligned, and it needs a new ribbon. These are minor issues. Instead of taking it to the cabin this year, I’ll carry it home on the plane — the TSA list is silent on the matter of typewriters, though it covers trophies, televisions, and tattoo guns — and then I’ll take it to California Typewriter in Berkeley, where I had my 1970s Adler tuned up. I’ll bring one or the other back to Alaska next year. Probably the Adler because I can’t imagine that I will ever want to stop staring at this one. It’s a beautiful thing.
By the way, there’s a cool documentary film about typewriters. Tom Hanks is in it. And Sam Shepard. And Kenneth Alexander, the man in Berkeley who fixed my Adler. But really, the typewriters are the stars.
More about Alaska soon. I hope.