Ode To An IBM Selectric

I am no Luddite – I love my technology products,  the sleeker the better. But even the tech porn that is Apple cannot match the wondrous sensory experience provided by my first typewriter, the IBM Selectric.

It was metal, the pinkish red color of watered down blood.  It assumed a place of permanent importance on my desk, slightly right of center, surrounded by  thin white strips of a pre-White Out era product called CorrectoType. Permanent, because it was too heavy to move, unless you were actually moving (like, to college) or you wanted to kill someone by smashing them over the head with it (a manner of death that I have yet to see in a horror movie but expect to see, soon, as Gen X-aged directors take the bloody reins of the genre).

You’d think its color might make it ridiculous, its weight render it hopelessly old-fashioned.   When my dad bought it lo these thirty years ago, it was already on its way to dinosaur-dom.   The world was rapidly moving on – my mom’s latest typewriter was a sleek plastic Smith Coronas with LED windows, auto-correct and memory chips.

But somehow the Selectric refused the irrelevancy time foists on most machines.   It was stolid, and confident;  it exuded importance rather than self-importance.  This was partly because of its heft, sure, but mostly because of  its sound.

Press the rocker-shaped on/off key at the left edge of the chassis and it jolted to life with a THHHRUMMMmmmmmmmmm that leveled off to a baritone humming, a humming that counterpointed your typing and, when you weren’t typing, your very thoughts, so that, as long as the Selectric was on, there was a sense of urgency about what you were writing, (or not writing, as the case may be).

That sense of urgency transferred the importance of the Selectric to the importance of whatever it was you were writing, and you sat taller as you typed, damned if you didn’t sit taller.

The keys made a nice chunky metallic rapping sound against the white bond paper.  Hearing oneself type was like listening to an army of hammers marching  double time down a quartz-flecked highway.  When you typed fast, it was the very sound of progress, the sound of a conquest glimpsed over the next rise, where banners waved and bugle notes sounded in clear bright air.

When you typed slow, it made your words, nay your very thoughts seem measured, ponderous and weighty.  When I picture them writing, I see Edith Wharton as the quilled pen type, but I see Churchill as an IBM Selectric II type – and no damnable CorrectoType.

And when you were finished, and hit the far end of the rocker key, the Selectric did nothing so mundane as turn off, or go to sleep.  It went silent, silent with a sudden silence that bespoke the end of a trying but successful journey.  Its silence was as meaningful as the sound of its  keys marching in mechanical humming counterpointed lockstep, a sound that made you feel accomplished, and contemplative.  A sound that made you feel protective of the future works yet to be produced.

You’d turn it off and you’d rise from your seat, crack your back, and carefully cover the bloody courageous thing with its gray plastic shroud and leave it to sit in restorative quietude as you went off to read your words to the world.


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