Ode to the Typewriter


Los Angeles. -- I admit to a romantic attachment to the typewriter. I admit to assisting two Underwoods, three Olympias, four Olivettis and two Royals to huddle in a corner of my garage as if hiding from the Internet. I will never sell them, even though I've been offered as much as $1 apiece.

These are old and dear friends who have gone with me on stories in Saigon, Belfast, Rome, Addis Ababa and elsewhere, and they can continue to feel safe. Particularly secure is the one that has not been unwrapped since the movers packed it in 1967.

So has the time really come for the world to say goodbye? Say it isn't so, Smith-Corona, the 113-year-old company that has just filed for bankruptcy.

The laptops and home computers are on the verge of a complete and total victory, and perhaps they deserve it.

I'm not one to stand in the way of progress but at the same time, I don't want to be disloyal to old friends. They should be honored and remembered.

Did my Royal ever ask me to identify myself before it went to work? Did my Olympia portable ever interfere with the guidance system of an ICBM?

Customs officials never looked twice at those worn leather cases, although a colleague did attract a bit of attention with his Gucci case. You could drench those portables with coffee and they would love it, ask for more and continue working. They thrived on ashes, never coughed and never flinched during a power failure.

The only thing you plugged them into was your brain. And if reporters came down with pain from what is now called RSI, they didn't know it, and usually attributed the discomfort to an abundance of elbow bending. But that's another story.

The typewriter crowd loved the rhythm of the things. They clicked and banged, and one could tell by the sound and fury who was working and how hard. To watch a writer hunt and peck with two fingers was a joy to behold -- and to hear.

There is just too much silence today. I could be playing computer solitaire at this very moment. Who would know?

As for that "spell check" on the modern mechanisms, who needs it? Typewriters forced us to stop and spend time with a book called a dictionary. You had a break, your eye wandered, and while looking up the spelling of "loupe," you might well stop for a second or two and review the meaning of "love," just across the page.

Perhaps above all, typewriters allowed for a separation of the senses. There are those of us who like to write, those who like to read and those who like to watch television. Now we write, we read, we watch, all at the same time. My Underwood would be underwhelmed.

And how sad it was to call a few secretarial schools in the Yellow Pages only to find not a single one offered lessons on a typewriter. "Maybe a junior college somewhere," I was told. I understand.

What a joy it was to know my friends. What a joy it is to know that mine are safe and secure. And what a joy it was recently to wander into Hemingway's home in Key West and see his Royal sitting there, a monument to what those wonderful, simple machines can produce.

I know it's wrong, but I like to think that if Ernest had had a PC, "The Sun Also Rises" would not have been the same.

Good luck, Smith Corona.

Alvin Shuster, formerly foreign editor of the Los Angeles Times, is now senior consulting editor.

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad