Wednesday, February 17, 2016

A Tale of Two Typewriters

A typewriter in the lobby of the Hotel National in Bern with a Swiss keyboard.

The typewriter that Rick used when he started his newspaper career. An American keyboard

I lied.

This will be more a My Life in Typewriters blog, but that doesn't have the nice alliteration of A Tale of Two Typewriters.

The summer I turned 15 my mother told me I was going to learn to type. It bore the same weight of being told to remain a virgin until I was married (this was the 1950s). Being a virgin, according to my mother meant that I could get a higher quality mate, and knowing how to type meant I would always be able to earn a living.

The second reason has proven to be true more than once, although I didn't appreciate sitting at the machine typing ghkj over and over and then hgjk using the corect fingers over and over when it was a beautiful day, a hammock and a good novel awaited outside.

Mother was right at least about earning a living. I would never have been hired as a cub reporter at the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune at 16 if I couldn't have typed. Those keys on the newspaper machine required power to strike.

And more than once I temped between jobs to keep money flowing.
 For high school graduation I was given a Hermes portable typewriter.
I loved its easy touch. It got lots of work outs especially at exam times. My method of studying was to retype my notes. It also produced countless papers. I even became proficient at estimating how much room footnotes would take.

Hermes eventually merged with Olivetti. I was thrilled when I moved to Switzerland and going thru  Yverdon by train saw the deserted plant where my typewriter had been made. The last time I was by the building it was being converted into what I guessed was an office complex.

 My first job was reporting on business development using an IBM proportional spacing typewriter.

It's touch was delicate. Had I used the same touch as I had with the non-electric typewriter, I'm sure I would have broken the machine. At one point I interviewed for another job with a man who claimed one needed three to five years to become proficient on the proportional spacing, something I'd learned in a morning. No way would I work for an idiot like that.

Later a friend and I started a home business. We lived within walking distance of at least eight major universities and colleges and by offering to type professors' papers we were never without some work for extra money.

We rented and IBM proportional spacing typewriter and invested in several golf balls giving our clients a choice of type. All was well until IBM upgraded its machines and the rental company insisted that we return our model for the new which would require buying new golf balls. 

We refused. 

They got nasty.

I wrote Tom Watson, IBM's CEO. Imagine our surprise when a few days later two VPs from IBM stood at our front door, a three-story townhouse in a middle-income area of Boston. They had flown in with instructions from Watson to make us happy. A call to the rental company not only confirmed we could keep the typewriter we had but it was ours forever and ever.

As they left, they asked if we were unhappy again, could we please contact them directly and NOT the CEO. I can just imagine their conversation flying back to New York about the wasted day.
Word processing with its cut and paste, self-correcting spelling, etc. was a joy. Because I worked for Digital Credit Union servicing DEC, my first computer was a Rainbow.

There were many word processing programs out there, some more complicated than others. A friend working temp knew them all and told one head hunter that "Word processing programs are like men's pr--ks, basically the same with minor differences."

In the 1990s, I had two Apple Macs, one for my Geneva flat bought across the border in France and one in Payerne where I spent weekends. They had different keyboards:

 French above and Swiss below.

I would move from one to the other in the same day when I changed locations. Rene, our good- hearted IT man, came into my office one day at a time when we were upgrading our system and all our computers. "I've good news. I can order you an American keyboard."

I thanked him and said no thanks. Three keyboards in a day, no matter how flexible I am, was more than I wanted.

I've had several laptops since then all with Swiss keyboards. My iPad stays with its American keyboard.

Scarcely a day goes by without my typing: I write journalistic articles, novels, blogs, emails, letters, etc. I claim I have verbal diarrhea of the fingers.

If I lived in the time of quill pens and ink wells I doubt if I would have ever written. Instead I've seen life thru technical developments that makes getting my words from brain thru to paper easier and easier.

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