Was chatting the other day with an old newspaper hack I knew in the past when we worked for rival papers and we got into a discussion, as one does, decrying the changes in the information conveyance industry and what a shambles it has become when compared with what once it was. Well, I mean, so is my sex life, but that’s an entirely other matter.
“I’m thinking of trying to find a typewriter,” he said. “That would bring me closer to what I once was and maybe make me feel better about the journalistic world.”
Typewriters: Hear dream-sequence music here. Days of yore. When I started in the biz it was all about clattering typewriters – and scratches out, and whiteout and when cut-and-paste actually meant something literally. And the first page identified with a slugline to give the typesetter – a wizard named Shelley whom I adored for a host of reasons, not the least of which she was the fastest typist (sans mistakes) in the known universe – a place to slot it in for the compositors’ benefit. Shelley could also read the computer strips from the typesetting gizmo even though it only had puncholes and no letters.
But, the point of this is typewriters. A newsroom filled with pounding and clattering old Remingtons and Olympics and all manuals. The newspaper owner wouldn’t spring for electrics because he had fears that if there were a power outage the paper might not get out. The fact escaped him that if there were a power outage not of the rest of the equipment would work.
And those old typewriters really got to smoking and clattering as we got near to deadline and reporters, frustrated at times, would chainsmoke even more and rip out sheets that displeased and insert more – always three or four or five sheets of copy-paper at a time in order to extend the life of the rubber platen upon which the paper rested and the keys incessantly struck.
I, and most reporters, also had home typewriters. I still have two of mine. One is a very ancient Remington of about 1914 vintage that was originally my grandfather’s and I like to fancy is worth about $5 million as an antique. This relic served me through countless university term papers and even at home when I started newspapering. The other is a much more modern Smith-Corona that uses cartridge tapes in lieu of conventional ribbons. Nice, except they don’t make the effing things any more so it has been rendered kind of useless thanks to technology. I mean, why would the company trot out gear that’ll never be used any more by people like me who are sitting at electronic computer keyboards.
I also once had another home typewriter that literally wore out. I took it into the shop to be repaired. Yes, there was such a shop in Courtenay at one time. The guy told me to forget it. The thing was trashed through overuse. “These home portables are made for your Aunt Hattie to send a Christmas message to her sister, not for some reporter guy to pound the shit out of and use more in a week than Aunt Hattie would in a year,” or words to that effect.
Eventually the newspaper went computerized. We got ghastly, cumbersome, black-matrix gizmos known as Compugraphics — of which a fellow scribe reminded me the other day – and a new era had begun and we never looked back.
Sad, in a way. Maybe if I could find some ribbon cartridges I could haul out that still-in-perfect-shape Smith-Corona.