The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘nostalgia’

Typewriter Tip-Tip-Tip

March 10, 2014 | by

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Photo: Dake, via Wikimedia Commons

Sometimes I like to think about what kind of sounds the people of a hundred or seventy-five years ago might have taken for granted, and those that are new—like the rattle of that stiff cereal bag, or a waking computer, of course—and those that will be extinct in our lifetime. When you play this game, you can catalog all the small elements of the sound track of a moment, and, because our knowledge is historical, place yourself in the larger context of all human existence. Or something. Anyway, it’s fun.

The Pop Chart Lab has just released a new chart, this one titled A Visual Compendium of Typewriters. It features sixty hand-drawn machines, ranging from the 1870 Hammond to ornate Triumphs to the sleek Smith-Coronas of the 1960s. I thought of sending it to my dad, who is a typewriter enthusiast—although he recently lent out the bulk of his collection to the Paris Review offices. He is trying to divest himself of stuff; both my parents are. But there are still a few typewriters here, at their house, and I spent a little while typing on them this morning.

A few years ago, my father gave me a very beautiful typewriter—an olive-hued second-model Royal Portable. At the time, he sent me the following note:

Sades,
I forgot to ask how you like the typewriter. I thought it was the best in my collection; not just the most attractive, but the one with the crispest action and, hardly to be underestimated, the most satisfying sound. In fact, all of this was confirmed by my just-concluded visit with the gentlemanly proprietor of Gramercy Office Equipment, apparently the last old-time typewriter repair shop in the city. (I went to him with my Olivetti Valentine, a machine so gorgeous it is in MoMA’s permanent collection, but one with a tendency to fall apart even when less harshly treated than was mine.) In any case, he had two Royals like yours on display, only in brown and blue. I told the guy and his son (his only employee) that we had a green one and they were suitably impressed, going on about its merits. I also procured from them a ribbon for the machine, and they said that if you had any difficulty installing it, you should bring it by. You might wish to do so anyway, because the place is the last of a dying breed, and should you be so inclined, they’ll talk old typewriters forever. They’re right across from your old stomping grounds at the Flatiron, at 174 Fifth Ave, between 22nd and 23rd, 4th floor.
Love,
P

If you go to that typewriter repair shop my dad recommended, you will hear a cacophony of typewriter sounds—a living anachronism. It’s not for effect, or to create the illusion of age like the ersatz sepia patina on a highball-slinging new bar, but because the machines are being serviced, and oiled, and tested, and tweaked, and there is nowhere else for them to go. Somehow, those sounds give me a greater chill than they would if the typewriters were being used in some attempt to evoke an earlier time; the functionality and utility of the sound is what is transporting.

“At the typewriter you find out who you are,” said that seriocomic sage of Washington State, Tom Robbins. Maybe; I hope not. But I recommend pecking away as a form of therapy if you are feeling overwhelmed. There is a reason the mechanism of the keys is called “action”—and sometimes taking action, however small, is very comforting. Even if, like me, you cannot really type.

 

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Prizes Make Books Less Popular, and Other News

February 21, 2014 | by

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Almanac

December 27, 2013 | by

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All this week, we are bringing you some of your favorite posts from 2013. Happy holidays!

“What would Ben Franklin make of this, if he were sitting here right now?” mused my father. We were driving on the West Side Highway. I was living with my parents following a breakup. This was fairly typical, topic-wise.

“I’d have to explain, Dr. Franklin, you are sitting in a conveyance known as a ‘car.’ These horseless carriages you see are also cars. They operate via combustion engines. Those lanterns you see there are powered by something called ‘electricity.’ And then, of course, I’d have to explain about movies. Dr. Franklin, those large posters you see are advertising something we call ‘films.’ You go into a large room and see a talking picture projected onto a screen by means of—”

“Why do you have to say ‘talking picture’?” demanded my mother irritably. “Why can’t you just say ‘movie’?”

“That would be too confusing. I have a lot of ground to cover, acquainting him with the modern world. And I’d say, Dr. Franklin, perhaps I shall take you to a moving picture. Would you like to see a comedy? A romance?”

“Take him to see a period piece,” I put in eagerly. “Then you could acquaint him with some of the historical events that occurred in the intervening period!”

“Good idea,” he said. “Now, Dr. Franklin—”

“Why are you calling him doctor?” said my mother.

“He was given an honorific by the Royal Academy!” said my father impatiently. “It was what everyone called him. It was what he preferred to be called! That’s common knowledge, Priscilla!

“Okay, okay.”

I suppose you could call this a low point. I lived in my childhood room. I commuted to and from my job every day via MetroNorth and spent most of my free time with my family. For the first time, I went to see a therapist. This was kind of a big deal, since no one in my family really did therapy. Once, in the eighties, my mom and dad had gone to a marriage counselor, who suggested they get divorced. Anyway, this woman and I hated each other on sight, and she told me I should disengage from my parents. This seemed impractical, under the circumstances. Read More »

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First Position

December 10, 2013 | by

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Once upon a time, I was part of a small army. The army was not made of soldiers, no, it was more like a children’s crusade, a throng of aspiring young ballet dancers that marched up and down New York City’s long avenues—Broadway, Seventh, Eighth—that were dotted, in those years, with so many studios. The School of American Ballet, feeder for the New York City Ballet, was the most famous, but there were others too and it was at John Barker’s studio on West 56th Street that I took classes six days a week for most of my high school life.

Weekdays, class was from 4:30 to 6:00; Saturdays, it was at 11:00 A.M. The studio itself was unremarkable: ruined wooden floor, bleached and pocked by the amber nuggets of rosin ground into its surface, long barres that lined three of the walls and full-length mirrors that lined the fourth. We spent about forty-five minutes at one of those barres, perfecting a series of exercises that had been born in the court of France and refined in the glistening winters of Imperial Russia. Pliés, tendus, and rond du jambs, all executed to the strains of Chopin. The barre was followed by work in the center: an adagio, and petit allegro. Then there were the big jumps, like grand jetés, and some point work, which allowed us the giddy sensation of rising up on our toes, defying nature and even, for a moment, mortality itself. Finally, there was the obligatory reverence, in which we curtseyed to our supremely difficult and demanding teacher.

After that we were free—until the next day, when the ritual began all over again. For it was a ritual, and, as such, had its sacred preparations. The brushing and winding of our hair into the tight bun, the sewing of ribbons on our ballet shoes, the donning of the requisite pink tights and black leotards were acts performed with both sanctity and love. The studying of ballet creates its own kind of religious order, and the girls who do it are akin to eager novitiates, fired by their all-consuming faith and their utter willingness to undergo daily mortification of the flesh. And as with any religion, the ballet hierarchy decreed that there was an established scheme of things and that a young dancer could have a secure and known place within it. When class was over, I once more joined the swarm of girls with turned-out walks and bony shoulder blades, girls who paraded down the street wearing the marks of their collective discipline: the buns, still wound painfully tight, the big, punishing bags weighed down with their heavy loads. We knew we were of a different tribe—recognizable and unique—and it filled us with pride. We were purified by our discipline, etherealized by our shining goal. Read More »

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My First Book(s)

December 6, 2013 | by

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There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. —Red Smith

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I wrote my first first book over the course of three months, from July 23 to October 23, 1979. Four weeks in, I turned eighteen. This was a novel, and not the first I’d attempted; in fifth grade, I had written forty pages of a saga called Gangwar in Chicago, inspired by The Godfather and taking place in a city where I’d never been. Setting the story in Chicago meant scouring the map in World Book for locations: Canal Street, I recall, was one. I chose it because I knew Canal Street in New York, and it seemed the sort of landscape in which a gang war could take place. To this day, I have never seen Chicago’s Canal Street, despite the twenty years I spent visiting my wife’s family in a suburb on the North Shore.

The other novel, the one I finished, was motivated almost entirely by a specific case of envy—of my friend Fred, who had spent the same summer working on a novel of his own. Fred and I were high school writing buddies, confiding to each other, as we wandered the grounds of our New England boarding school, that we both wanted to win the Nobel Prize. Now, he’d written a campus novel, tracing his difficulties as a one-year senior, parsing the school’s social hierarchy in a way that seemed enlightening and true. Fred was more serious, more focused; he not only knew what symbolism was but also how to use it. It made sense that he would write a novel, and that it would be good. A year later, he would write another one, and then we lost track of each other, until six or seven years later, when his short stories started to appear in magazines. Read More »

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Kimchi and Turkey

November 27, 2013 | by

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This Thanksgiving will be only the second time in thirty-six years I won’t be with my mother for the holiday. Last year was the first, when I spent it with my wife and her family. All day long I sat in her mother’s condo above the shores of Lake Erie—ice floes stretching to the horizon—and I thought about my mother, how she always labored over the turkey and dressing, deviled eggs, mashed potatoes, dumplings, corn, green beans, and three of four pies. That’s probably not that uncommon in a lot of homes across the country or in the Appalachian South where I was raised and where we like to serve two starches for every vegetable. But what is unusual is the sight of my mother, a Korean woman of five feet four inches, with beautiful salt and pepper hair, and a round face and almond-shaped eyes working away in the kitchen. Forty-three years ago she left Masan, South Korea, after marrying my father, and when she came to this country, after brief spells in Phoenix and Toledo, they settled in the hills of southeastern Kentucky. She was a vegetarian then but that was not a lifestyle decision. It was borne of necessity. Her family had never had enough money to afford beef, pork, or poultry, items considered expensive delicacies when she was a child, and her body had not learned to digest them. Rice (bop) was scarce and precious, as precious as cornmeal to my father’s family when he had been a child, and it was often the only thing she had to eat. And when there was no food at all, my halmuni still lit a fire and boiled water so that smoke would rise from their chimney and the other villagers would not know the family had nothing to eat.

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