The Day I Acquired a Typewriter

Image courtesy of Pinterest
Since I don’t have a smart phone: photo courtesy of Pinterest

I have known since fifth grade that I want to be a writer. I waffle back and forth between thinking I am a writer, and I will be a writer. Today, I am a writer. On Wednesday, I may be less certain that I am on the writer’s path. But for today, I am convinced. I have had many tools over the years. These tools have included Ticonderoga pencils, spiral-bound notebooks, blue Bic pens, any scraps of findable paper that had a blank margin to scribble a few words, a computer keyboard and flash drive, and last but not least: a typewriter.
A 1939 Remington Rand Portable #5 Typewriter, to be specific.
I bought it for forty-five dollars in the dim basement of an antique store in Columbiana, Ohio. My roommate and a friend were browsing in the main area above me in the warmth of cloth-covered books and tapestries with eaten corners. Below them, I tunneled through old shutters and junky boxes of VCR tapes and plastic dishes with nerdy cartoon characters. My eye caught on a red pot with a carved wooden handle. My mother has one like it. I crouched to inspect it, but was drawn to the square suitcase about the size of two shoe boxes that sat just behind the pot.
My mother has old suitcases, too.
It was near Christmas time, and I was trying to spend money wisely on something I knew my practical yet antique-loving mother would appreciate. And in the end, I discovered a nice set of Pyrex bowls from a set she has been collecting for the last seven or so years.
But all that is peripheral: only the suitcase matters. It sat on the cold, damp concrete floor of that basement, looking rather upside down. Most old suitcases don’t open in the middle of themselves. They have a deep bottom half and a shallower upper half. This square little case had a well worn handle attached by two metal rings and nailed leather strips. The shallow half was on the bottom, when anyone who knew anything should have laid it with the deep half down and the shallow up. I set the red pot aside, curiosity tingling in my fingers. Or perhaps that was a vestige of the OCD I have never been formally diagnosed with.
My brain whirred with orders connected to messages I see all the time: This Side Up. Fragile. Moving Boxes. Clearly Labeled. Must Right the Wrong.
I shook my head and ran my fingers over the texture of the leather case. The corners were rounded as happens when a square object is loved and lugged. I touched the two clasps on the side; lifted the price tag. $45. It was probably empty, and I definitely shouldn’t spend that much money on something so un-practical, but I should just look inside. What could it hurt? At the most, there might be a letter or something to hint at the story that always lurks in objects of this kind.
I pulled it out of the corner. Well, tugged. Something was in there, and it was heavy! I hefted it up and put it in a clear space on the floor, under a lonely light bulb with a dirty pull string. I turned it over, Right Side Up, and undid the side clasps, one by one. They’re the tricky kind where you have to double check your knuckles aren’t in the way otherwise you get cut. I have before; on one that my mom has. Clasps undone, I grabbed the handle, my heart racing just a bit, a very little bit, in case my hopes were getting too high – and opened the case.
Wrong Side Up.
I stared. Not the staring that people do in books when they’re incredulous; the kind that people do when they are looking at something that causes awe to bloom in their secret soul. Your eyes drink, and you breathe through your nose because somehow your mouth is too loud. You get shivery, as if a wayward bit of chill has blown down your shirt. Then suddenly, you blink, realizing you’ve gone and come back from another world. That kind of stare.
Have you ever seen a typewriter? An old one, I mean. They’re solid. And while I’ve seen pictures, I had never seen one in real life before, much less held one or touched one. But I knew immediately even from the crack the suitcase was open that this was a typewriter. The bottom black metal edge said REMINGTON RAND. The words typed white against the black were upside down; attached somehow to the shallow top, which, after all, was not in fact the top.
By now, all thought of Christmas shopping for my mother has been vacuumed away by the power of the typewriter.
I closed the suitcase and without bothering to re-do the clasps, held both halves together and flipped the suitcase over. Opening it for the second time was even more magical than the first.
The suitcase was dusty and dirty and the fixtures stuck from disuse, but the typewriter itself was glossy and beautiful.
People use that word an awful lot without knowing what it actually means. I’ve seen a lot of pretty things in life, but this machine: old-fashioned, heavy, unwanted, out-of-style, out-of-date, hunk-of-steel-and-metal, contraption of technology of another long-ago-day, was Beautiful. I type that slowly on my computer because it deserves to be said slowly, like tasting a perfect honey-dipped spoon, warm from the jar, sunlight somehow captured in the glaze of stickiness.
B e a u t i f u l
The concrete was damp; seeping through the weak soles of my Converse sneakers. Cold drafts hit my knees, exposed from the holes in my jeans. My sweatshirt sleeves were pushed up to my elbows and the tip of my ponytail was dusty from scrounging in several basements before this one. And yet none of it mattered – the horrid cast of the lonely light bulb, the spiders I’m sure crept along the edges of the dank room, the creaky stairs that terrified me going down, the piles of overpriced junk around me… I had found treasure.
The only thing that mattered was that amazing inky smell. Like every old writer in one deep breath. A smudging smell that slipped down your core and left residue; it called to something deep inside, left this trail, echoed one firm word: WRITE. My fingers twitched like they were already playing the writer’s song over the typewriter keys. Shift stands for the black; lowercase the white; the punctuation marks are the pedals that hold out the noise or cut it short. I would be able to make my own music, and on the Remington it would be just as beautiful as on a piano.
I could smell it. It wasn’t a dream.
So I touched it, still afraid maybe like leprechaun’s gold it would vanish if I confirmed it was reality. I didn’t want it to leave. Something as solid and chunky – yet elegant – like that isn’t allowed to leave reality. It has to stay and stay forever, unable to decompose or be hurt. The keys were round, each black with a silver raised ring framing the letter or symbol it is. A X ; 9 BACK SPACE & E K ? 4 B D A K O T A. I couldn’t help but touch each one in order. It called somehow to me. I depressed one completely. N.
The hammer popped up from a half circle of neatly organized hammers. The arms that held the type ribbon pushed it up high for the hammer to hit. There was no paper in the feed scroll, but I saw the letter anyway; the symbol shiny and inky on the bar. n. I looked at the keyboard. SHIFT, a round red button, sat in the left corner. I pushed it down with one pointer finger, and pushed n down with my other. SHIFT – the whole typewriter shifted its insides – n – the hammer came up faster this time because I was more confident – N.
Beautiful.
Natalie came down the stairs with Tommy close behind. “We wondered where you’d gone,” she said. “What did you find?”
I don’t think I said anything, but I know I grinned at them over my shoulder. Maybe I did say something: Look! or, I Can’t Believe It… or, A Typewriter.
Out of all the possibilities, I most likely breathed that last one out loud. I was so captivated by this machine. I turned back to it as they bent over my head to examine it. I rubbed the rows of keys lightly, not wanting to stop touching it. It had a special smell, a special feel, and it was definitely mine already, even though I hadn’t swiped my Visa card yet. Credit or debit? Sign here. Here is your receipt; would you like it in the bag?
“Does it work?” Tommy asked.
“I think so,” I said, pressing a quick succession of keys to show them. j r c h u showed up on the scroll bar in that funny almost invisible way.
“Don’t break it,” Tommy said.
I stopped before I pushed the bar back to the starting position. It hadn’t occurred to me that it might be a breakable item. It was so stalwart. I noticed the number 4 key was a little crooked and the M key sat just a fraction lower than the rest of its row. Heavy hands push harder in different spots.
“That’s so cool,” Natalie said. She’s a writer too. She knew how beautiful it was. “Are you going to buy it?”
Of course I was. But I pulled myself sharply by the back of my collar for just a moment to think about this decision like the adult my drivers’ license tells the world I am. For $45 I would get a typewriter and a case. My mother’s voice stating smart purchasing criteria probed my brain cells, turned to mush as they were by the enchanting power of the Remington Rand. What would I use it for?
I would use it to write.
“You’re sure it works; it isn’t broken at all?” Tommy asked, touching it. My hands clenched in my lap. I didn’t want him to touch it. Natalie hadn’t needed to do that. Why was he putting his hands all over it? But they didn’t know it was already mine. I thought about his question. I certainly couldn’t pay to have it fixed and restored professionally, even if it was in workable order at the moment. So was it worth spending almost fifty dollars on a hunk of metal – however beautiful and enticing it looked – just to have it sit somewhere in my room and collect dust particles on its glossy black paint and proud brand lettering?
The formality of thinking my already decided decision through, I closed the deep side of the case over the typewriter and pushed the clasps shut. One stuck a bit and I had to finagle it until it clicked.
“I’m going to buy it,” I said.
So I did.

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