When I was a little girl, I wanted a typewriter more than anything else in the entire world. I’m not sure what sparked my interest — I think I saw one in a catalog or something — but I knew that if I had a typewriter, I would be able to write the most wonderful stories in the world. They would be perfect and magical and everyone would clamor for me to make a book out of them. And because they were typed on a typewriter, making a book would be easy!
One morning, when I was probably six or seven years old, my mom woke me up and told me to hurry downstairs because she had a surprise for me. I instantly knew that she had bought me a typewriter and that it was sitting on the kitchen counter waiting for me to type on it. I hurried downstairs, but when I got to the kitchen there was only a rotten pair of jeans waiting for me. (To be fair, I’m sure they were perfectly lovely jeans and it was very nice of my mother to buy them for me, but those jeans will forever be tainted in my mind because of what they were not, which was a typewriter.)
Years later, my parents let me use their manual typewriter — a utilitarian, gray model from the 60’s or 70’s. I asked to use it so often that eventually they just gave in and said that I could keep it in my room. I used that machine for a long time — even after our family had a computer with a word processor that I could use for writing — but eventually the lure of the laser printer was too great and I stopped using the little typewriter.
Since then, I’ve done almost all of my writing on a computer. Computers are wonderful tools for writing. You can dump your thoughts onto the screen and then go back and swap one word for another, rework sentences, add whole paragraphs. And then if you change your mind, you can Control-Z until you’re back where you started. I love writing on a computer.
But there is something about a typewriter that is wonderful too. The legacy of typewriters can not be understated. Writers write on typewriters. When you think of a “writer”, do you picture some schmuck slumped on her couch typing on a Powerbook and switching windows every five minutes to check her Facebook stream? Or do you picture Hemingway in his Key West hideaway pounding out a terse short story while drinking stiff daquiris? One might be today’s reality, but the other has style, romance and far fewer distractions to contend with.
No, the lust for a typewriter has never quite left me.
And then on Christmas morning my husband gave me a typewriter.
And not just any typewriter: a 1939 Corona Silent in a beautiful, rare, dark burgundy color. I knew he was up to something because he was doing all sorts of mysterious things in the weeks leading up to Christmas — whispered phone calls, secret trips to Berkeley, and lots and lots of obviously fake hints about what he was getting me. (“It’s fleshy!”, “I’ll need four rolls of wrapping paper to wrap it!”) I honestly had no idea what he was up to. And as I unwrapped my smaller presents Christmas morning, I became more and more puzzled. “Why is he giving me white-out and pencils?” I thought. And that big, thick package the exact size of The Essential New York Times Cookbook? A ream of paper. “Huh — a little disappointing.”
But when I picked up my big present, I started to get an inkling. Something about he heft of the box was familiar. As I opened the case, I was sure there was going to be a typewriter inside but what I found was even better. It wasn’t just a typewriter — it was the most beautiful typewriter I have ever seen. It was obvious that it was very old, but it looked brand new. You see, my husband had ordered it online and then had it repaired and restored so it was in perfect condition. I was so happy and overcome by this — the most perfect gift for me, a gift I didn’t even know I wanted this much — that I started to cry.
I’ve been having so much fun typing on it the last few days. Typing on a typewriter is completely foreign to me now, but also very familiar. The ding at the end of a line. The delicious feel of the platen clicking up a notch as I push the carriage lever to the right. Plucking the type bars back one by one when I hit too many keys at once and they jam up in front of the type guide. But the best part is the clacking of the keys. I have to press so hard to make them type properly that my weak, sissy, laptop fingers are barely up to the task. Though the correct amount of pressure is coming back to me, my a’s and p’s are still little ghosts on the paper.
I love my typewriter and I can not wait to type on it for years and years to come.
And apologies to Amanda Hesser, but in retrospect, The Essential New York Times Cookbook would have been the disappointing gift.