When dinosaurs used typewriters
February 18, 2012
The people on this planet divide easily into two groups: those who learned to type on a typewriter and those who didn’t. The funny thing is that those in the first group would never go back, and those in the second don’t know what they missed.
At home in my study, sits the Remington Quiet-Riter portable typewriter that tormented me for many years. It’s name is the first giveaway to its true character. It is a name like Grape Nuts, a name for a product that is neither grapes nor nuts. It is so “quiet” that it could wake a college student in the next dorm room, so “portable” that it weighs in at 16.5 pounds (I weighed it myself a few minutes ago).
Although it may seem implausible today, I made it all the way through high school, junior college, senior college and into grad school without ever taking a typing class. We had a typewriter at our home, not a panty-waist portable like the Remington, a real typewriter. I bet that sucker tipped the scales at thirty pounds or more. My mom was a fine typist, but that old machine to me was simply a thing of wonder, a contraption that could only come to life in the hands of an artist.
So, when I hit Baylor Graduate School of Religion in the summer of 1974, I realized in a hurry that I was in trouble. In those grad classes, we had twenty-five to thirty page papers due one right after another. At first, I dealt with this problem by hiring the typing done. I would hand-write the paper and take it over to one of the other grad student’s house. His wife was a good typist. She charged by the page, or maybe by the word, or maybe by the individual letters in the words.
Regardless, my budget could only stand about one round of professional typing, so I went to plan B. At that time, my sister Jeanne was also at Baylor grad school. As I recall the sequence of events, she purchased the Quiet-Riter from George Washington’s mother, or someone about her age, who lived next door to her. Since she was about through with her studies by that time, I purloined the Quiet-Riter.
At that point, I had a typewriter, but lacked all of the skills necessary to use it.
Poverty proved a satisfactory teacher. I hunted and pecked, hunted and pecked some more. I am living proof that God gave us two index fingers for a purpose. The rest of the appendages are needless vestigial structures.
Those who never used a manual typewriter don’t understand that the most pernicious academic invention was the footnote. On a machine like the Quiet-Riter, a person would painstakingly type the entire page, only to face the ultimate challenge of those last couple of sentences, with a raised number, an underlined section, commas, semi-colons, colons. One mistake meant certain death, i.e., a person would have to re-type the whole page, only to face the final challenge again.
Corrections meant using white-out (a toxic white chemical akin to Agent Orange, but which stayed on your fingers for a full generation), and then having to re-align the paper so that it fit perfectly in line with the other words.
Did I mention that the roller that fed the paper on the Quiet-Riter was warped?
Anyway, I made it through grad school, one hunt-and-pecked paper at a time. Later, I rented a U-Haul and trucked the Quiet-Riter to North Carolina, where I typed a few more thousand pages on it, still hunting and pecking.
In law school, I hunted and pecked my exams on it.
Then, about twenty-five years ago came the greatest invention of the modern era–the word processor. I kept hunting and pecking, but I could fix my mistakes with a key stroke, insert italics, create block quotations at will.
Finally, about five years ago, when I decided I was going to get serious about this writing gig, I bought some typing CDs and enlisted my other eight fingers.
Anyone who wants to go back to the old days, can count me out if it means I have to type another page on the Quiet-Riter.
How about all you dinosaurs out there, does anyone want to go back?
I thought not.