I don't know how long it's been since I've eaten here, Devon Taylor says to himself, barely sipping at his coffee, basking in the steam's warmth against his cold face, cupping his cold, dry hands against the mug's heat. Outside Loser's Blend, crows cawed and pecked at debris along the curbside, while across the street busriders and pedestrians exchanged places. It had been a week since returning and he was still finding his place back in town. Portland had been fun, but wasn't for him. Something magnetic-like keeps drawing him back to Albuquerque, his home town.
He looks up from the wiggling reflections in the black coffee, past the rim of the cup and its rising steam, past the room's length and aromas, through the dingey window beyond, past the pedestrian and motor traffic on the street, past the skyline of cluttered buildings and crystal-clear sky beyond, past the rim of the world itself, his thoughts cloudy and indistinct.
A noise, close by, awakes him from his diffuse revery, something distant yet familiar. A typewriter. A goddamned typewriter.
Earlier, in a cloudy haze of confused thoughts and memories, he had arrived, ordered coffee and sat down oblivious to the world around him, automatically tuning out the typical coffee shop noises of the kitchen's clattering and the patrons' subtle but insiduous keyboard clickings, yet here it was, loud and insistent, seemingly louder now that he was paying attention to it, like neighbors' noises late at night in his cheap apartment - the more you tried to tune it out, the more you ended up paying undue attention to it, like some trick of the mind whose solution he had yet to master.
There it was again, that click-clacking and then the occasional but predictable 'ding' of a bell. He sets his cup down on the wobbly table and looks around at those seated about him.
There he is, the bearded figure at the corner table of potted plants adjacent to the window, typing up a storm, little turquoise-green machine set in front of him, his fingers in an elevated posture, arcing through space to find their target upon the dainty, mechanical keyboard. Click-clack. Ding.
Well, I'll be damned.
Curiosity being his constant weakness, and born out of an innate need for other people and some long-repressed fear of solitude - the last few years having taught him hard lessons of self-sufficiency while on the road - he persists against his normally shy nature, arising from his seat, coffee sloshing a little torus of brown liquid upon the worn formica, walking over to the corner table with the bearded man and turquoise typewriter and stands there, just stands there staring silently in disbelief.
The typing continues another 20 or so seconds and then abruptly stops, fingers hovering above keys, the bearded man looking up over the rim of his glasses like some school teacher from long ago, frozen in midsentence.
"Ah, don't mean to bother you, but I was just wondering..."
"The typewriter. You were wondering about the typewriter, right?" He lowers his hands to the table, then takes a sip of coffee from a tan mug crazzed with tiny fissures.
"I get asked this at least once per day. Goes with the territory; the price you pay, I suppose, for bringing out a typewriter into public. Name's Gene. Gene Willard."
A rough, harry paw is extended, which Devon hesitantly takes, reciprocating with the best manly handshake he can muster, like some ad hoc but persistent male custom or ancient tribal ritual, seemingly outdated and ackward but still seemingly necessary.
"Sit down," drawls Gene, making room on the table. "And go get yourself a refill of coffee."
Devon does as he's instructed, almost automatically, pausing only long enough to consider the ramifications of these unspoken rules of engagement, so oddly familiar to him, always playing the role of the passive one, born out of habit or insecurity - or necessity - only realizing, halfway to the counter, that his cup's still nearly full.
There is some indistinct latin guitar music playing from the little dust-encrusted speaker high up in the corner of the room, a spider's web connecting the speaker's faux-wood finish to the wall's rough plaster.
Devon is sitting across from Gene, sipping at his coffee and watching him finish his paragraph, little hammers flying up to smash ribbon against paper, mechanical linkages intricate and obscure busily at work, click-clack-thunk, the table vibrating in response as Gene slings the carriage back with a confident precision, thoughts forming letters, letters forming words, words forming sentences and paragraphs via the intermediary of fingers upon keys, ink upon paper, direct and physically real, words that only exist here, right now, in this dingey university-area coffee shop.
"Done," Gene proclaims, releasing paper from machine with a twist of a knob and a flurish of soft, mechanical clicks, holding it up before himself like a proud papa's newborn child, scanning it briefly before precisely folding it into thirds and stuffing it into an envelop, which he licks shut, then addresses with a fountain pen retrieved from somewhere deep inside the folds of his jacket.
"A letter," Devon declairs. "I didn't think anybody wroter letters any more."
"They don't. But I do. I'm not just anybody. It's something I prefer, ink on paper. Plus, I like these machines, the way they feel and sound, their industrial-like functionality. I suppose you could call me a hipster if you want, but I've been typing on machines like this way before there were hipsters."
"But you do see the practical benefit of a computer, right? I mean, if you had your choice between using the one or the other?"
"Given the choice, I'd prefer to type, which is why I'm here, typing this here letter to this danged arts foundation." Tongue in corner of mouth, he finishes addressing the envelop, then applies a stamp he retrieved from a little leather notebook, securing it with a solid press of his fist.
"So, you're an artist, I gather?"
"Well, not really. Or, I suppose you could call me that, though the term is really kind of meaningless. If a person's graduated from university with an arts degree, then you could call him or her a pedigreed artist. But if a person has no such pedigree, but creates art anyway, are they still an artist?"
"I suppose only their public can say for sure," Devon hypothesizes, his cup now nearly empty.
"And if you have no public? What then? Does art exist absent an audience? Is it intrinsic, does it exist on its own, or is it only the context between a creator and a participant? Weighty questions, no?"
Devon sits across the small table from Gene, both sipping their coffee and reflecting on these thoughts whilst outside on the sidewalk a group of skateboarders dismount and have a seat at a table to smoke and chat, and pigeons peck at specks on the sidewalk, oblivious to the turquoise typewriter at the table through the stained window.
Breaking the silence at last, Devon sets down the cup and introduces himself, exhanging brief biographies like two long-lost friends meeting for the first time ever.
Time passes, cups are drained and filled and drained again, while a seemingly never-ending stream of customers cycle in and through Loser's Blend.
"You don't suppose I could have a try at that thing do you?"
"Why sure. Always pleased to have the opportunity to set the hook."
"Set the hook?"
"You'll see. Here." And with that, Gene spins the little machine around, setting it in front of Devon, and gives him a brief lesson in typewriter operation.
And that was how Devon Taylor came back home, only to become a typewriter geek.
And if you were to stop by Loser's Blend yourself on a cold and blustery day, be very careful of what you pay attention to, because you might find Gene or Devon - or myself - sitting at some little corner table, typing up a storm with our click-clack-ding resonating upon the dingy, coffee-stained wooden floors, waiting for yet another long-lost, newfound friend to come home.
Post-Script: Another installment in a series of short stories that I've come to call the "Loser's Blend Mythos." The largest part of this mythos is a fledgling novelette set in a distopian, post-apocalyptic, cyber-punk future, but it's sat languishing for several years. I do need to get back to work on it. Oh, and in case you were wondering, the name Loser's Blend for the fictional coffee shop is based on a very real place called Winning Coffee, check it out.
This piece was written on my AlphaSmart Neo, a great stand-alone writing tool, the closest thing yet to a portable electronic typewriter minus the printing mechanism, with a "real" keyboard. Which is ironic, I suppose, given the subject matter of this piece being about manual typewriters. Which reminds me, did you all catch the NBC News piece Sunday night about the manual typewriter renaissance?
The little green typewriter mentioned in this story is, as most typewriter geeks can assume, an Olivetti Lettera 22, illustrated in the iPad Hipstamatic photo at the top.