Bet you didn’t know that February was International Typewriter Appreciation Month. I didn’t, either, until just now. But typewriters have always played a major role in my life, for better or for worse.
My parents started dating (in part, I hope) because my mom typed my dad’s papers in college. His typewriter, it seemed, was always “breaking.” That’s what I told my high school typing teacher about my own machine, too. (Totally true. The key arms kept criss-crossing and sticking.) Mrs. Dunlop warned me I’d be sorry someday, because I’d never get a job if I didn’t learn to type.
Unfazed, I headed off to college with an adorable blue typewriter in a matching plastic case, which my roommate used to type my papers for a dollar an page. (And well into the night, I might add, as I handed off handwritten pages to her…or, if it was a truly desperate situation, dictated to her off the cuff.) Like father, like daughter, I guess. (Ironically, my non-typing dad kicked off a nearly-half-century career with IBM by selling typewriters.)
I did regret my keyboard-dodging proficiency when Mrs. Dunlop’s dark prophecy came to pass. After college, I decided to become an editor, but I didn’t get into the publishing prep program I wanted because I couldn’t type 40 wpm to save my life. When I made the rounds of various publishers with my resume, I never failed to flunk the 3-minute typing test administered by Human Resources. I had so many errors with my pathetic Hunt and Peck method, they outnumbered the words correctly typed.
I job-hunted by day and practiced by night (using that same, infernal high school textbook), until someone had mercy on me and hired me into the sales department. They quickly decided I belonged in Editorial and sent me to the editor-in-chief, who threw me to the wolves. Well, not exactly—just 4 crazy-busy editors who needed reams of author/agent correspondence typed. Pronto, with no mistakes.
I learned fast—but my troubles were hardly over. I’d put in my dues, painting poisonous correction fluid over typos on my original pages and the 12 (I kid you not) carbon copies behind them. But then brand new typewriters arrived, with correction ribbons and cartridges that just made things worse. When I met my friends after work—most of them had financial or legal jobs—my hands and clothes were still covered in ink and dandruff-like flecks of Wite-Out.
At the time, of course, I had no idea what fresh hell lay ahead: the word processor. I’m ashamed to say, I was the last editor to let go of my typewriter. Literally. They had to pry it out of my hands.
This past Valentine’s weekend, my husband surprised me with a night at the new Press Hotel in Portland, Maine. He knew I’d love it because the building housed the offices and printing plant of the state’s largest newspaper, The Portland Press Herald, from 1923 until 2010.
Two words: Way Cool. In the lobby, typewriters adorn an entire wall—and another is covered in vintage cases.
Near the entrance, a single Underwood typewriter is on display. Beside it are several thick, clean sheets of Press Hotel letterhead, in case guests feel the urge to send someone an actual note instead of a text. Of course I had to give it a whirl.
The newspaper’s former “city room” is now the Inkwell Bar and the rooms are furnished like 1920’s writer’s offices. The coffee tables and the upstairs corridors display 150 years of headlines (my fave: Elderly Lobster Set Free)
The silver-metal-lined walls of the narrow elevator channeled typewriter key arms—the same ones that foiled me in high school. (Did you know, by the way, that the QWERTY keyboard was created to avoid the letter bars crossing and sticking? It slows down your typing speed by mixing up heavily-used letters with lesser-used ones.)
But then the best part: As my husband and I stepped inside our room, I swear I actually felt the ghosts of journalists past—industrious, chainsmoking, mostly-guy writers, furiously typing against the clock. And I also caught a very definite whiff of the highly irresistible scent I’d known all my life.