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  • For sheer catharsis in writing, nothing beats a manual typewriter for completing this often emotional process. Adjectives held more descriptive promise when they were created by metal letters being pounded into the compliant paper. The who, what, when and where revealed by adverbs conveyed much more intrigue with the physical exertion of pounding them out on a rugged machine. Nouns, verbs, even prepositional phrases were rendered more eloquent on a manual typewriter.

    Plus, there was an added benefit of that wonderful sound (Ding!) that told the writer that he was at the end of the available space for a given line. When this Ding! occurred, just as Pavlov proved, it allowed for an emotional and physical release. The otherwise preoccupied typist (no doubt wrestling with the demons that must surely destroy him someday) was free to grab the metal return arm that was connected to the carriage and violently slam it to back to its starting point where it was poised to begin the next wrenching line. Ding!

    For anyone who is younger than 35 years old, a manual typewriter is a kind of self-contained word processing machine that does not require electricity to work. It looks a little like the keyboard of your laptop or PC and the letters used to create the words are arranged in the same fashion. However, with a manual (i.e. needs no electricity) typewriter, the pressure of the writer’s fingers on the keys forced the letters to hit an ink ribbon which left an impression of the letter on the page. Eventually the typewriter moguls added electricity to the machine and screwed up all of the fun of using it.

    For those who have grown up in the age of computer, the internet and iPads, this manual typewriter must sound like some Rube Goldberg contraption. To find out about a Rube Goldberg contraption just Google him. Ding!

    The place where I most appreciated a manual typewriter was the first radio station newsroom in which I toiled. It had 15 Underwood typewriters along three walls where those of us who valiantly upheld the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution plied our craft. Each of these machines was rugged and built to last. They could take the pounding that only some ham-handed, often hung-over reporter could inflict.

    The newsroom was a loud place to work for several reasons. There was a real life crime channel in the form of a police scanner squawking everything from the lurid to the banal, the constant clatter of the Associated Press wire machine and good-natured joshing that went on among the motley crew who worked this gig for minimum wage. There was also lots of typing on those Underwood typewriters. Ding!

    It was also smokey. I believe there was some law or regulation that said if you wanted to be a radio newsman, you had to either smoke cigarettes, cigars (or if you were old or wanted to appear sophisticated) a pipe.

    At the risk of waxing overly nostalgic, the newsroom which had only had these manual typewriters encouraged the reporters to literally hammer home a point. For example, if an automobile accident occurred in the area and there was minor damage to the vehicle and driver, the fact that a reporter had to bang out the story on this typewriter, encouraged him to bring more drama to the report by embellishing the facts, a tad:

    “The screeching sounds of 3 tons of Detroit steel colliding with a massive bridge pylon were heard throughout the city moments ago. They were the prelude to a life-threatening situation for one Austin citizen! While there are no reports of death at this time, countless law enforcement personnel have been dispatched and witnesses have reported lung-searing smoke plumes enveloping the entire central business district. We have reporters on the scene and will be bringing you up-to-the-second reports of this massive destruction of property and potential loss of life!”

    Nope. They don’t write ‘em like that anymore. I believe it’s because there are no manual typewriters.


    Photo by A.Young 2012
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