Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Now I'm a Mad Man?

IBM Selectric I

Post-Script: Here's a bit of neophyte poetry from a then-22 year old sailor, serving on the USS Constellation (CV-64), somewhere in the western Pacific. Scribbled in a small notebook with one of those ubiquitous black US Government ballpoint pens, then typed on the red Selectric II that I had access to use. Back then, typewriters were not like cell phones of today. Not everyone had access to a typewriter. They were appliances. Big, heavy and usually fixed in one location, like a sturdy steel desk.

I was serving a temporary assignment as a Master-at-Arms to the enlisted dining facility (i.e. the aft mess decks), and in my senior chief's office was this typewriter. The Chief was a crusty old salt, with plenty of sea stories to tell. (The difference between a fairy tale and a sea story is a fairy tale begins with "Once upon a time..." and a sea story begins with "Now this is no shit...") After he'd retire to the chief's berthing area for the evening, I'd go back to the office and type my poetry. Not great stuff, at all. But I have three notebooks full of it.

The Chief had served in Vietnam, on a riverine patrol boat, and had seen action, with a nasty scar on his arm to show for it. He also wore a command ribbon on his uniform, the only enlisted man on our ship who'd been in command of a vessel. He also had other stories to tell, that aren't mentionable in polite company.


Typewriter ribbons, like these one-time-use jobs, are like razor blades or Polaroid film. An artifact of mid-20th century marketing. Sell 'em up front, then keep selling 'em consumables. I wonder what percentage of cost a firm endured in just IBM typewriter cartridges. Imagine how many a place like a law office went through in just one year. Bought 'em by the case, no doubt. And due to the quality of output these machines produced, it was probably well appreciated. I don't expect too much thought was put into conserving letters and words, like what I'd be tempted to do with this machine; especially with a stable of manual typewriters waiting in the wings. But I can imagine perhaps rough-drafting with some portable manual on a roll of cheap teletype paper, then editing and transcribing to the IBM, should top-quality output be desired.

As I was composing this piece in-machina, the thought struck me that it's really no louder than many of my manual machines; quieter than some, actually. Makes more of a low-frequency sound, rather than the high-pitched mechanical thrashing of many manuals.

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Blogger Bill M said...

IBM Selectric typewriters have always been my favorite after seeing my first somewhere while in high school before I saw the few we had in our typing class (I never got to use one there). Tey'd be the only electric I'd add to my collection if I had room for one. Like you, I love the precision of the machines and their printing. Plus there are plenty of golf balls to collect.

Nice poem.

2:52 AM  

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