Yep, it’s cold, brutal, boring February. But there is one bright spot, in addition to watching Groundhog Day on endless loop: It’s International Typewriter Appreciation Month! Maybe you already know that, because I first wrote this post many Typewriter Months ago. But because I owe a lot to typewriters–in fact, I might not even be here on this earth without one–I thought I’d share it again.
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 Mrs. Dunlop, my high school typing teacher, about mine, too. She 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 a page. I handed off messy, handwritten pages to her…or, if it was a truly desperate situation, dictated off the cuff. Like father, like daughter, I guess. Ironically, when my dad got out of the Navy, he kicked off a half-century career with IBM selling typewriters.
I did regret my keyboard-dodging proficiency when Mrs. Dunlop’s dark prophecy came to pass. After college, I wanted to be an editor, but I didn’t get into the Harvard-Radcliffe publishing prep program I wanted because I couldn’t type 40 wpm to save my life. I made the rounds of various publishers with my resume, never failing to flunk the 3-minute typing test administered by Human Resources. I made so many errors with my pathetic Hunt and Peck method, they outnumbered the words correctly typed.
After a summer of job-hunting by day and practicing by night, someone finally had mercy on me and hired me into their sales department. They quickly determined I belonged in Editorial and sent me to the editor-in-chief, who threw me to the wolves. Well, not actual wolves—just 4 crazy-busy editors who needed reams of author/agent correspondence typed. Pronto, with no mistakes.
I put in my dues, painting toxic correction fluid over typos on my original pages and each of the 12 (no lie) carbon copies behind them. I congratulated myself on my rapidly-improving skills, but then brand new typewriters arrived, with annoying correction ribbons and cartridges that just made things worse. When I met my friends for drinks after work—most of them had clean, lucrative financial or legal jobs—my hands and clothes were covered in ink and dandruff-like flecks of Wite-Out. (Yes, that’s how it’s spelled. Ask me how I know.)
At the time, of course, I had no idea what fresh hell lay ahead: the word processor. I was the last editor to let go of my formerly-detested typewriter. Literally. They had to pry it out of my hands.
A few Valentine’s ago, my husband surprised me with a night at the Press Hotel in Portland, Maine. He knew I’d love it because the building once housed the offices and printing plant of the state’s largest newspaper, The Portland Press Herald, from 1923 until 2010.
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. (I have this same typewriter at home, by the way.)
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 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.
As my husband and I stepped inside our room, I swear I felt the ghosts of journalists past—industrious, chainsmoking, mostly-guy writers, furiously typing against the clock. I also caught a very definite whiff of the highly irresistible scent I’d known all my life.
Ink. With a subtle note of Wite-Out.
Readers, are you a perfect typist, or do you think voice text is the best invention since stone tablets? (Also, if you happen to have a pitiful typo story, please share in the comments!)