Quiet Desperation

Lovers of classic machines are caught in a type warp


Watched a documentary about typewriters. Titled “California Typewriter.” Came out in 2016.

Numerous segments. Featuring typewriter loyalists: Tom Hanks, John Mayer, Sam Shepard. Others less well-known.

Hanks has a huge collection. Freely gives a typewriter to anyone who says, “Wish I had a typewriter.”

On their desk within 48 hours.

Had a typewriter in college. Wrote letters home on it every two weeks. Wrote all of my school assignments on it. Smith Corona. Had been my grandmother’s.

It was a manual typewriter with a black ribbon. Making corrections wasn’t easy. Sometimes I just used “x’s” through the incorrect letter or word.

There were correction tabs that could be placed between the keys and the incorrect letter or word, and by striking the incorrect word or letter, the coating on the tab would mask the errors.

There was correction tape, and there was liquid correction fluid.

No matter how corrections were made, it was unattractive and it was often a mess. The correction fluid can harm the mechanics of a typewriter.

Was liquid correction fluid invented by a Monkee’s mother? I’ll get to that story later.

As Hanks rightfully points out, there will never again be a factory that manufactures exclusive, high-end typewriters.

It would be a wasted investment.

The documentary might make you wish you owned a vintage typewriter. Some were works of art that didn’t work very well, but are still very collectible. Apparently.

I don’t know anyone with a typewriter collection.

Every other Friday during my freshman and sophomore years in college, I wrote letters home. I wrote them on my grandmother’s typewriter, handwrote the address on the envelope, handwrote my return address in the upper left corner of the envelope, and put a five-cent stamp in the upper right corner of the envelope.

Then I took the letters to a red and blue mailbox on Santa Monica Boulevard, dropped them in, and waited two weeks for replies.

In the time it took to write the last two paragraphs, I could have written an email to Jennifer to remind her that dinner’s at 8, sent it, petted the dog, and started a new column with, “Watched a documentary about typewriters.”

It’s a good thing we can send our thoughts and ideas and by email, isn’t it?

Isn’t it?

I receive four or five letters a year. There’s a reader who sends a handwritten letter — even more of a rarity — about twice a year, with comments about past columns.

Who can tell me exactly what the first six letters in the top row of a keyboard are? Bonus points if you know the purpose of the order.

Bette Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper in 1956. She was the mother of Michael Nesmith, one of the four Monkees.

A bottle of Liquid Paper came with a little brush. Sound familiar? You applied the correction fluid like nail polish.

If you weren’t very good at it, there would be a clearly visible and offensive white scab on the document, with a new letter or word on top.

Now look: In Microsoft Word, corrections are made for me. And I can easily rewrite an entire sentence.

For example: “I just watched a very entertaining and informative documentary that features a number of celebrities and others who discuss their obsessions with vintage typewriters.”

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.


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