I had arrived home one evening last week, from a long day’s work at the Fab - the chip-making factory where I work - greeted in our front courtyard by my wife, who whispered into my ear that our grandson was here, to stay the night, and that he had a present for me.
My grandson, The Line Writer, is going on 13 years of age, and is more like a son to us than a grandson. I stepped into the house, we greeted and hugged, and he led me down the hallway to my office, for my surprise.
I have six manual typewriters in my small collection, and keep one out on my side desk - covered by a colorful towel that matches the office decor when not in use - rotating them through periodically. One of my two Lettera 22s is in current rotation. Yet here was the Underwood Universal, sitting adjacent to the Olivetti, it's cover detached and resting behind it on the desk. My grandson just stood there, smiling, and pointed to a brown paper gift sack, sitting on the desk.
The gift sack was from Starbucks, an observation I made as a detective, sifting for clues. Yellow wrapping paper tufted out the top of the sack, a nice touch for a young lad. Affixed to the side of the sack was a small typed sheet of paper, with coffee cup ring stain included - another subtle hint, a stylish element he had observed on some recent typospherian blog, and which he was smitten by, having recently decided that a coffee cup ring stain on our typings should perhaps be some sort of trademark.
I could tell he had typed the note himself, and I also observed that he favored the old Underwood over the newer Olivetti. Perhaps it’s because of familiarity with the mechanics of one particular model over another; he had just used that same machine last week.
It’s funny how, in the world of manual typewriters, there never was established any kind of standard layout for the mechanical features, each manufacturer choosing instead their own unique way of operating the margin, carriage lock and release, platter release and back space settings. With the Lettera 22, for instance, you just have to know what that red button is supposed to do, as it isn’t labelled; neither is the margin override button, or the tab set and release lever.
It reminds me of a story my Dad used to tell, from the early days of the automobile, when each make of car had the controls in a different location. For example, the early Fords had the throttle located as a lever, just behind the steering wheel, that slid back and forth to control engine speed. A person got used to operating their car a certain way, and this in turn drove brand loyalty.
In the case of my grandson, he’s already decided that a 1930’s-era Underwood is just to his liking.
Inside the sack, under the tuft of bright yellow wrapping paper, was my gift, that day’s edition of The New York Times. I was thrilled.
We don’t subscribe to the local paper, getting our news instead from the Internet or, if we’re feeling especially tacky, the horrid local T.V. news with its incessant spectacle of crime, scandal and controversy. Yet, my grandson’s choice of The Times was particularly revealing, as he later made comment that he thought The Times had more real news. Interesting.
I freshened up from that long day of being bundled inside a cleanroom suit at work, and we sat in our courtyard, enjoying the day’s cooling air as sunset descended into evening, me perusing my gift until the light slowly faded. The oil lamp was finally lit, and another idyllic Albuquerque evening was upon us, yet another cherished gift.