09 August 2010

The Kindness of Strangers and the Laughter of Little Boys

In one of my first posts, I described the delight of reacquiring a manual typewriter. Since then I have enjoyed typing letters to various pen friends.  Recently, I sent letters to my nephews which included a mention of how I was writing the notes on this machine called a typewriter. Their mother told me later that they had no idea what I was referring to!  So I conceived of a plan to introduce them to the wonderfulness of the typosphere.

But what machine to use?  As it happens I participate in an online group called The Portable Typewriter Forum.  I posted a general inquiry: what machine did they think would be good for some rambunctious man-children to learn on?  One gentleman with young children of his own offered me a Smith-Corona Clipper free for the shipping!  The deal was sealed - and I sent him some jars of homemade jam along with the check!

Wish he could have been a fly on the wall when I brought out the typewriters one evening recently! Actually, I made the boys bring them out (the Clipper and a Royal Quiet Deluxe). They were SO wiggly anxious and excited to see what I was talking about.

They came out to the car and each carried a case into the house. (I wanted them to see  how heavy they were even though people called them 'portables.') Then I had them open them up and asked if they could figure out how to get them out of their cases. With a few hints they found the release mechanisms. The Clipper proved to be a bit of a challenge with the release inside the lower edge of the 'keyboard' area.

Then we set them up on their dining room table and compared them. More wiggliness ensued - they wanted to use them NOW but had no idea how they worked. "Where's the plug?" "What button erases stuff?" etc. When I said you had to roll in the paper (using two sheets to protect the platen), they expected the paper to roll in automatically and just sat looking at me holding the paper ready to go in. It took them awhile to get the idea that THEY had to make all the parts move. Boy1 ended up using the Quiet Deluxe while Boy2 and I worked the Clipper.

Most exciting finds:
  • The shift lock key! The idea that you could make ALL the letters "change" at the same time!
  • No key for the number 1.  They first tried the 'i' key.  After a little more looking: "The L key!" They were so excited to have figured that out. 
  • All the symbols on the top row of number keys. When I reminded them about the Shift Key, oh man, they were so excited to know it would let them print out those things as well!
  • Making an exclamation point using the apostrophe key and period key.  The Back Space key was discovered then - they thought that was the most awesome thing!

After the initial introduction, Boy1 asked "Can I write a story now?" which he proceeded to do, two finger style for the rest of the evening, occasionally coming over to where Boy2 and I were using the Clipper to see what we were doing. Boy2, who just turned 6 and is still learning how to read, was more intrigued by the machinery and the sounds. The idea of the bell was he thought to be very cool! We had to lift the machine up so he could see it - and then he wanted me to type so he could see the bell actually work. Then we looked inside where the ribbon is. Boy2 is learning to play piano and thought the keystroke action SO cool.

Then Boy2 got a little bored until I said we should type a letter to his parents and HIDE it for them to find. So we typed up an exceedingly silly letter, made an envelope and stamp, typed the address. Now, where to hide it? They decided that under their Mom's pillow was the best place, so we all trooped upstairs and did that, after much discussion about if Mom and Dad would find it or just 'crunch it' when they came to bed.

Back downstairs to the typers . . . Boy1 returned to writing his story, laughing at how he could "make the dragon's words of magic" by typing the same letter over and over. Meanwhile, Boy2 and I started playing a game where we would take turns typing out strings of letters and then the other person had to "read it." Reading involved making the sounds of the letters (preferably loudly and dramatically!) - so the stranger the combinations of letters and the longer the list of letters, the funnier the sounds. (Exclamation points had to be made with a shoulder-shrug-hands-lifted-up and a surprised face.) We did this for about 45 minutes laughing like crazy the whole time.

When it was time for bed, each boy put a typewriter back in its case.  Then it was wash up time and upstairs for a reading performance of Boy1's story (he'd typed a page and a half's worth of a dragon and 'hero dude' adventure!). I followed up with a reading of Lion by William Pene Du Bois, a neat children's book from the 1950s about an angel artist who 'invents' the first lion.

So all in all, it was a HUGE success! Thanks again, Dan @TypeClack, for making some wee boys (and their Auntie!) very happy!



For those of you who grew up with computers from childhood, Chris Woodford at Explainthatstuff has written a good basic intro titled 'How Typewriters Work.'

To learn more about typewriters, their history, and their multitudinous forms, check out the links below:
  • Machines of Loving Grace
  • Typewriters by Will Davis
  • The Portable Typewriter Forum (a Yahoo! group)
  • The Typewriter Forum (a Yahoo! group)

    How to find/buy a manual typewriter - The proprietrix of the StrikeThru blog has a 7-part series of posting on locating decent-quality manual typewriters.  The first post is here.

    p.s.  In my experience, unless you are totally into high-level, fancy antiques, etc., a good, decent portable typewriter shouldn't cost you an arm and a leg. $35-$50 is a reasonable expectation, though they can often be found for less at Goodwill, estate sales, yard sales, etc. 

    What can get pricey is the shipping.  If you are buying via eBay - something that can work but that you need to be very careful and ask good questions of sellers -- know that some are plainly ripoffs and some are some superbly run sales.  Despite being made of metal, typewriters can break.  The carriage should be locked down, the key bars stabilaized, and all should be very well padded inside and out for shipping. 

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