Friday, August 14, 2009

The Royal "Quiet Deluxe"

Well, the weeks of birthdays are past and I think we all got what we wanted.

First came Valery's birthday, the big Five-O. Next we saw a real birthday, that of the newest member of our family, Nora Mairead Caselli, who arrived on August 5. Then it was Stephen's turn, celebrating with Heather in San Francisco, now a free man for the first time in twenty-two years.

By contrast my birthday this past Wednesday was a very low-profile event, for which I am most grateful. Actually, the thing for which I am most grateful, truly, is the present I received from Valery and Maddie: a typewriter.

No ordinary typewriter, this. It is a Royal, a "Quiet Deluxe" model that was designed in the thirties by a famous industrial designer and manufactured right through to the sixties. This particular model was purchased in 1957. I know because the sales receipt was in the travel case, along with the original instruction manual and warranty card. It's in absolutely perfect condition.

I did some research on it and it turns out that this particular typewriter was Hemingway's favorite; it was the machine that was on his desk the day he committed suicide. It was also the preferred 'typer' of many famous authors and not coincidentally, the model that I actually learned to write on, way back in high school.

I was the co-editor of my high school newspaper, The Maroon, and spent many an hour in the publications office, banging out stories on one of the old typewriters that we had inherited from the school administration for our use. We had Underwoods and Royals and maybe even an Olivetti, but they were all manual, with sticky keys and no automatic eraser to save us from deadly typos.

I say I learned to write on those typewriters, but I learned to type on another machine, also in high school. I was only one of two guys who actually took typing as a class at Austin High in 1974, not because I wanted to be a writer, but because Lynda told me that if I wanted to be sure of getting a job someday, I had to know how to type.

Although I did indeed learn to type, I have never learned to touch type. Even now I am looking at my fingers and not the screen as I write. Of course, in typing class, looking at one's fingers was not permitted, so I really had to sneak in my looks to keep up with the rest of the class. It turns out that I actually got pretty good at it, running times of 50 or even 60 words per minute, but in a way, that wasn't very accurate because the sentence that we typed for the speed test was always the same, and with the requisite practice, I could bang it out fast without appearing to look at my fingers.

So, this was the first sentence I typed on my new machine:

"The one right way to do the job is to do it as ti ought to be done at the time it ought to be done."

That took about 2 seconds.

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