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  • Sometime in the Fall of 2010, I decided I wanted a red typewriter. I’d seen a mid-century design exhibit at MoMA, and fell in thrall to a 1969 Olivetti typewriter. The plastic Valentine, designed by Ettore Sottsass and Perry King, was perfectly emblematic of its moment: outrageously red with exposed orange spools, totally lightweight, and lacking the gravitas of its predecessors. It was sleek, whimsical, pop art in its own plastic container. It was a nod to the future imagined in that moment, if it had been white it might’ve made a cameo in Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.

    But it was also a typewriter. Analog, self-contained. I knew I needed to write after Andrew died, desperately wanted to. But my laptop reeked of work and offered too many distractions, too many tabs and windows to the outside world. It demanded too much here and now. My journal on the other hand felt like a 19th century sentimental novel, wispy and whiny. Cloying in its anxious search for the deus ex machina and the double marriage that tied everything up. Also I couldn’t stand the sight of my own handwriting.

    This writing would be hard and private and needed to keep a whole lot of mess contained. I wanted a machine that respected and replicated that process.

    For weeks I searched eBay for the Valentine, made a number of bids but always lost. One day on a run I noticed Berkeley Typewriter. I’m not sure how I’d not seen it before, only a mile from my house on one of the most trafficked streets in Berkeley. But there it was, open early on a Saturday morning. So I went in slightly sweaty and unprepared. There was my coveted Olivetti Valentine in the window. In sharp and perfect condition. With a seriously hefty price tag. I was determined though to have a typewriter. Red. Olivetti Valentine.

    What is pleasing to the eye though is not always pleasing to the touch. When I slipped the paper in and rolled it to attention, it was exactly as I’d imagined: sleek, lightweight and lacking gravitas. It was a Fiat Spider. I realized I wanted a first generation Ford Falcon.

    There was, not in the window, a Smith-Corona, American made, bright plastic keys that when I typed “hello,” yielded to my tapping with a hello of its own, but not overly eager. It was c. 1954, and an office model, both elegant and straightforward. I imagined rows of secretaries, not unlike my grandmother in her middle years, striking out a corporate symphony. For more than two weeks, I kept coming and going to visit, to check out other models. But this typewriter was persistent. And consistent. And it was red.

    So a few days before my 38th birthday, I laid down my money and bought it. By this time, I’d become friendly with the store’s owner—I knew about his picky Russian girlfriend, how much he loved his modest house deep in East Oakland, and all the reasons NOT to buy a typewriter on eBay. He gave me a good deal with a warranty and a copious set of directions. Too heavy to walk the mile home, Michael fetched me in the car. I set my red typewriter up on the desk in my bedroom and began to type.

    In the first months, I managed to type only a few short pages. Unlike our amicable meeting in the store, the keys were now quite resistant. And though I sat at the typewriter every night and felt like I’d written so much, it turns out that I produced very little. The typewriter was hard and difficult and didn’t lie to me about how arduous writing would be.

    with thanks to evie shockley for the brilliance of titular wordplay
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