A Man and His Typewriter
Blane had lived in Maryland just about his entire life. Except for a brief stint traveling in the navy he had live primarily in the Dundalk area. His parents had lived here and he always wanted to be close to them. Since he had never married, what little family he had was very important to him. Blane hadn’t gotten married for any pious reasons he just never found that person.
Now in his mid-seventies it looked like the married life wasn’t for him and that was ok. He had plenty of hobbies to keep him busy in his retirement. Namely his typewriters.
Remington, Royal, Underwood. He had every major brand. Blane considered himself a purist. He loved typewriters for their mechanical feat of engineering and didn’t bother himself with electrical typewriters. He had gotten through college on an old Remington Quiet Riter and erasable bond paper. That should be good enough for anyone. He thought of the electric ones as gimmicks.
He had devoted his basement to his hobby. Shelves to display them, desks to use them. He still regularly used an old underwood behemoth for correspondence with an old navy buddy. He had several file cabinets devoted to different weights and types of papers specifically for typewriters, including some rare discontinued sheets of onion skin.
In the back of the basement was a heavy wood workbench. Tools and parts knolled neatly on its weathered surface. Almost like a surgeon’s tray. Springs, ink ribbon, machined parts all neatly arranged just so. Not only did Blane collect typewriters, but he repaired and restored them. He loved the smell of the ink, and oil, but nothing was more satisfying than the click clack of a newly repaired unit. Repairing, restoring, and then selling typewriters are how he funded his hobby. This is how I met Blane.
We met at donut shack at 10 am on a Saturday. I was selling a typewriter on craigslist and Blane had reached out. His email was very formal, but straight forward. I could tell that he was serious. While I normally have the buyer come to me I knew he wouldn’t stand me up so we met half way. I was sitting inside with a cup of coffee with the typewriter next to me before he arrived.
When you sit in public with a typewriter in an age of laptops, you get three types of reactions. First would be the cool reactions. People love the tangible nature of typewriters. They want to reach out and touch the keys. Second would be the why reactions. People ask why would someone lug around an archaic typewriter when smartphones abound. This is normally where the hipster accusations come from. Third would be the weird reactions. Normally this reaction is just a double take with no verbal interaction. People look at you like you’re Amish, but are afraid that asking question will only make it weirder.
Blane walked in right as I was finishing my first cup of coffee. I figured it would be quick exchange, but he asked if he could buy me a donut. Donuts are like beers, when someone offers you one you don’t turn it down. We ordered and sat down. Blane was a large coffee kinda guy. Doesn’t matter how good or bad it is he just wanted a lot. A quantity over quality guy if you will.
Blane asked me where I had gotten the typewriter and I responded that I found it while at a yard sale one weekend a while ago. I had recently gotten one that was new to me which I liked more and decided to sell this one. The typewriter was sitting inside it’s carrying case which looked like and old suitcase. As I spoke about it I patted my hand on top of it almost like you would on a cars roof as you spoke about its capabilities. Truthfully I was proud of this little guy. It was the first typewriter I had fixed it. I had cleared a few jams and issues it had, replaced the ribbon, and oiled it top to bottom. I had given it new life.
I slid the case over to Blane who placed his hands on the clasps to open it.
“You know” he said “I went through college on a typewriter just like this”
“Really?” I responded
“Yeah I carved my initials on the inside of the case”
He popped the clasps and opened it up and twisted his neck to look inside the top of the case.
“Nope, damn, ah well I wasn’t expecting this to be it anyways”
We sat in silence and he typed away for a few moments and rans his own personal checks and inspections
“You see before I went off to school my parents bought me this exact model typewriter. Well several years ago before I got into collecting these I took it to the salvation army. When I started collecting I always hoped I would find it again.”
He adjusted the machine a few more times and then, when he was finally satisfied, he said:
“Ok I’ll still take it. Even if it’s not mine.”
He handed me the cash but we sat there for an additional hour talking. He told me about the navy and how his uncle used to own a house on the water in Severna park back when it was more like a summer home area.
Finally we got up and headed our separate ways. Myself with new cash in hand and Blane with another part for his collection.
About a year ago a friend gave me an old Royal typewriter. It has a few mechanical issues that are outside of my expertise so It sits next to my desk at home. My wife recently asked me to get rid of it, but I can’t bring myself to. I often wonder who it originally belonged to and if it still has a story to tell.