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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Typewriter Collecting and Looney Minds

One night I met a man who had gone to the mount and came back with a typewriter. Mount Ainslie, it was, in Canberra. An Underwood, I believe. “A fine old thing,” he said, “firmly welded (with rust)”.

This man - a novellist, by chance - and I had met at a time when my passion for typewriters was, happily - for my finances (not to mention my sanity) - undergoing one of its cooling phases. Still, I had looked forward, as always, to seeing yet one more blessed if decrepit writing machine in the metal, confident my desire to possess it would be nil. Other things were on my fevered mind.

This could be the last time,
Maybe the last time
I don’t know, oh no, oh no …

People who hunt and collect are often rightly regarded with some suspicion. This sort of pastime is, after all, closely related to hoarding and other psychiatrically-recognised branches of compulsive obsessive behavior. And, as such, it contains within it at least a modicum of madness. Well, slight mental instability, shall we say. Yet, as aflamed as I may get, totally manic I am not (at least not all of the time).

As this happened, the time when I met this man had been healthy in all regards. For one thing, among very many others, I had been able to contemplate from an increasingly detached and amused distance the fixations of other, like-minded souls. I had joined two typewriter collecting forums on Yahoo, both based in the United States. One member remarked, as if stipulating a prerequisite, “Looney minds think alike”. As bombarded as I felt each morning, working my way through dozens of emails, about the joys of working the Dvorak keyboard, using a Senatorial typeface, replacing typeslugs with playing card symbols, ratcheting platens and unscrewing escapements, it was nonetheless a delight to  sense a touch of humour coming through it all.

There was a flurry of indignant postings after a presumptuous eBay seller had listed his weekly “Top 40” typewriter offerings. “Upon whose authority are they superior?” was the question which formed the general consensus of opinion. These people didn’t like just any old non-Blickensderfer-owning interloper intruding on to their territory, the more so when there was the merest whiff of a commercial interest. The chastened seller, scurrying off into the ethereal mists, his hands trying to protect his head from the shafts of proprietorial righteousness, had the misfortune to mutter the words, “There's been a general tendency on this list to refrain from speaking about active eBay auctions”.

The temptation to scorn sarcasally proved, predictably, irresistible. “I served proudly under General Tendency” humphed a forum old hand. “There’s a Colonel of Truth in what you say,” said another vet. “We're going to have to get Corporal Punishment to look into some of these comments.”

Each day there seemed to be a fresh victim, willing and eager to offer him or herself up on the sacrificial space bar. “I've just recently gotten the wild hair to acquire a typewriter,” confessed one such naïve newbie. “Aside from dealing with distraction, the typewriter provides a sense of nostalgia and something else ... the thought of having one makes me want to write. In keeping with a New Year's resolution to refrain from being impulsive [Ed: Ha!], I've put it off and read a lot. I even joined this group.”

Quick as a flash came the response, “And a collector is born”. Another member added, “Indeed. We're so sorry … hope you can afford a bigger place. Let us know where to send flowers.”

The newbie, a senior in economics at the College of Management, North Carolina State University, went on, “Actually, I've collected a few things in the past. Trading cards, pipes, books. I actually have more than 50 middle-grade tobacco pipes of various shapes, finishes and origins and a wardrobe chest full of tinned pipe tobacco. And I'm getting married in June. My future wife has already made it plainly clear that I will need to liquidate all but the bare essentials. Hopefully she'll stay away from these wonderfully beautiful machines. Maybe smoking a pipe with a few open books while I type away late into the evening would be more soothing ... more Rockwellian than staying up late on the computer reading the Internet. Here's wishing for tolerance!”

Some of these amusingly misguided people thought of themselves as sage in their old age. One advised: “I've just celebrated my 68th birthday and over the years learned a thing or two about women. Most of my friends believe I've had more than my share, but actually I'm not done yet! Believe it or not, yours truly has had several long-term relationships, in spite of the fact women have told me I'm commitment phobic [Ed: typewriters aside, one presumes]. You must understand getting married is all about change … when I first began collecting typewriters, one day my girlfriend and I were walking around a local flea market when we came upon a dealer who had a beautiful Hammond Multiplex for sale. My girlfriend blurted out, ‘Why do you waste your money on stuff like that?’ We never did get married, but have been living together for 28 years now. However, this hasn't stopped the woman from trying to change me. I know she can't help herself. After all, she is a woman, but better than most.”

Oddly, at this point, an intruder offered: “When you are travelling alone, you may need girl friends. This site will help travelling people to find casual love or long-term. Before you travel to a city, you can browse girls' profiles, [girls] who live in or will go to that city. If there are nice girls, you can send an invitation to them. They will welcome you.”

To which, naturally, a devout typewriter collector was moved to ask, “Do they have typewriters?”

*Names have been omitted to protect the innocent.


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