Keys in the Song of Love

The elevator that takes you up to the Gramercy Typewriter Company is as ancient as the machines they sell there, though nowhere near as cool.

The names ring distant bells: Royal, Underwood, Remington, Corona. Restored to original glory, they gleam like vintage showroom Buicks.

I visited the Manhattan store twice in December, both times looking for something real and rooted to plant under the Christmas tree. Kids seem always to want the newest and latest things. Parents dream of passing on the sturdy and meaningful things.

Can a business machine have meaning? These beauties did—at least to me.

If it’s been a while since you used a typewriter you will likely have forgotten the truly piercing sound the typebar makes when it strikes the ribbon. You will also probably underestimate the substantial downward fingerforce required to make the thing go.

You gotta really whump it.

*clickety-clack clickety-clack clackding ziiiiiiiip*

Gosh, I love the noise it makes. It’s elemental. The rhythm pricks something permanent in my pituitary.

No mouse click can produce the glee of slamming home the carriage at the end of a line. No ctrl+P comes close to the sweet satisfaction of tearing a finished page up and away from the cylinder, which is by the way known as a platen.

Get yourself one of these time machines and a long-lost vocabulary emerges from the slush pile of memory: bail bar, ribbon reverse, paper finger, cam. What masterpieces they are—of design, of utility. What a lost world. How familiar it remains.

My wife and I are doing our best to raise our kids in a pre-digital fantasy land. Homeschooling helps, but we don’t live in a biosphere. Our kids know what’s out there. They think they know what they’re missing.

Those of us enslaved to the false idol of “staying connected” understand that the digital world isn’t much worth missing.

Still, kids want the news and the latest. Our Clara is nearly 14. She takes some online courses, and is driven by the teenager’s natural desire for constant contact. We gave her an email account. But that’s about it—no social media and no smartphones for as long as we can get away with it.

So far, so good. Check back in a year or two. Pray we’re doing the right thing. It feels right. Who knows?

To call the Gramercy Typewriter Company a store is a stretch. There are two rooms, both cramped, one a workshop bramble of tools and parts, the other an office-showroom combo. Father and son run the place, restoring old machines with the same passion you find among fanatics of the Ford Mustang or Fender Stratocaster.

Everything is perfection. Everything is gorgeous. And everything works, reassuringly, like a dream. They are a little platoon of competence, pursuing a vocation abandoned by the big world—and making a go of it too.

The heart smiles.

Don’t take this for a commercial. I didn’t even buy anything from the Gramercy Typewriter Company. The fact of the matter is those guys are working the high end of the antique typewriter market. Too rich for Hennessey blood, and too good to boot.

But game respect game, as they say in the NFL.

I ended up snagging Clara a 1967 Smith Corona Super Sterling on eBay. This sucker is straight out of Mad Men, and fun for the whole family.

It has proved popular for post-Christmas thank you notes and group composition of a running story about a heroic mouse leading a band of rebels against a tyrannical king. We never did this before we had a typewriter.

Everyone has supplied a sentence to the story. The little ones dictated their contributions. The big kids played secretary. The parents sat back and enjoyed the old-time music.

*clickety-clack ding ziiiiiiiip*

From the January 2018 issue of Fairfield County Catholic

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