a little bit of everything and a whole lot of film

6 Dec 2020

The Typewriter and Me and then there's the Hermes 3000

It was my Dad who taught me how to type. I still remember that moment, clear as day. 

I was about 11 and I had just learned how to ride a bike (yes, 11). My chosen place to practice was the driveway of my Dad's office - all smooth pavement, no surprise bumps. After about 50,000 laps, I began to get bored and started bugging my Dad's colleagues (110 percent most likely trying to get them to buy me plastic balloons and watermelon bubbleyums from the corner store). So to get me to stop disturbing them and to keep me off the plastic balloons (which I now realised was probably mildly poisonous; you had to blow them through a little straw you see and then pop holes in them with your mouth. So much fun though), he sat me down on an empty desk and plopped a typewriter in front of me with a stack of copy paper. He sat next to me and told me to type a phrase everyone who has ever typed on a typewriter knows - 'The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog'. A phrase that contained all the letters of the English alphabet. Obviously, I typed those out one index finger at a time, trying hard to locate the letters which to my 11 year old mind looked completely crazy and all jumbled up. I asked him why they weren't in their proper order and he told me to spread my hands over the keys. 

"You're supposed to type with all your fingers, and those crazy keys make them easier. See," he laughs at me gently, as he places my right pinky on the letter P and my left pinky on the A. Papa, I typed out. He tells me to keep practicing and left me alone to get back to work.

I was hooked. 

I asked him to bring home a typewriter for me and he borrowed one from his office. I scoured magazines for penpal ads (Sunshine magazine, please come back). I had penpals from all over the world, but mostly from middle America. I sent out a mix of handwritten and typed letters - reserving the typewritten ones for poems and funny stories. I still remember one, Heather. She was 16 to my 11. I thought she was the most glamorous person ever, dotting her i's with tiny hearts, just like Stacey from The Babysitter's Club. My heart broke when she turned 18 and I got a letter from her, the last one she would ever send. She wrote that she was getting too old for penpals and that she was going off to college and would be too busy to write. I lost the typewriter when my Dad left us and moved away from home. Going into highschool, I was an angry, angsty little punk but still I kept writing. I'd write anonymous notes to crushes, used the school library's typewriters to leave more anonymous notes in between pages of books I'd borrow, wrote spells in my notebooks to try and hex the kids who called me weird. (Yo kids, I'm still weird as ever but weird is cool now so fuck you)

Come 1998 and that magical little thing called the Internet, I had forgotten about typewriters altogether and began to focus on meeting a Baz Luhrmann's Romeo to my Juliet. Still I wrote; I filled notebooks and journals with stories, both real and made up. I set up my MIRC, Yahoo chat, AIM messenger and joined soapbox forums (RIP Kittyradio), one of which taught me so much about the early aughts culture, considering I lived in a dusty, little town where nothing much happens let alone be able to know what's hot and what's not. 

Years passed and I found myself in the shimmering sand and shiny steel of Dubai where even just the thought of typewriters never crossed my mind until one day, in that new app called Instagram, I came upon a photo of a robin's egg blue Olympia SM-3 and all the memories come rushing back. I vowed to finally own one, the fact that typewriters were obsolete be damned.

A few more years passed and I find myself back in the tropics, in a time where everything old is new again and people were selling vintage/analogue collectibles for the price of your firstborn child. Never one to back down from a challenge, I set out on a mission to find a typewriter I could afford. I found one, a 1980s Korean specimen, refurbished and repainted a muddy Pepto Bismol pink. It kept me happy for a few weeks but YouTube, Google and Reddit tells me that my favourite writers wrote on Underwoods, Olympias, Olivettis, Smith Coronas, Royals and Hermes 3000s. I read up on all of them, watched documentaries and tutorials, pored over manuals. I was opened up to a world of typewriter fanatics - unwavering in their love and obsession for the perfect writing machine. I slowly but surely became one. I sold my typewriter to a friend who was happy to use it as a prop for her shoots. The search continued. Instagram, once again, led me to an Olympia, which I promptly bought even though it meant cutting into my grocery money. It was a dusty powder blue and if you squinted a little, it would look robin's egg blue, like the typewriter that I coveted many years back. Once again, I looked for penpals (shoutout to r/penpals!) and people to write to. I bought fancy papers and bottles of ink to supplement my typewritten notes with squiggles and flourishes. I daydreamed of finally writing a novel, typing away as a tropical storm raged against my screen windows, sprinkling my papers with smog coloured droplets, half finished bottle of whiskey by my side (damn you, Hunter S. Thompson). I sent out tons of letters to people all over the world but the only ones who wrote back sent emails in response. I felt deflated. I wrote thank you notes and letters I knew I would never send just to feel the keys underneath my fingers. I typed out my application letter on the Olympia when I renewed my UK visa - I often wonder how the consul in charge of reading the applications must have felt when he or she opened my application packet and saw a typewritten letter instead of a computer printed one. I like to think they smiled when they realised it was typewritten, I like to think it reminded them of better days gone by. 

Months pass and once again, on a mindless scroll through Instagram, I chanced upon a 1967 Hermes 3000. The typewriter that Sylvia Plath was known to have used last (albeit hers was technically, the curvier, earlier version). The typewriter that, in a letter to her mother dated September 10th, 1959, she said, "My typewriter is marvelous. I love it." I needed no further convincing. After bidding a comically bittersweet farewell to the Olympia, I waited impatiently for my very own Hermes 3000.

Butter. It types like pressing your fingers into ever so slightly warmed butter. 

I get it now. I get what Tom Hanks was going on about in that Variety video. I get what Sam Shepard was saying in California Typewriter (please watch it). Jack Kerouac wrote his final novel, Vanity of Duluoz, on an Hermes 3000. I get it. But.. Do I think typing on an Hermes 3000 will magically make me write like them? Absolutely not. I may be a serial daydreamer but I am not delusional. 

But I will keep writing. And I WILL write that novel one day. I will send out a hundred more letters in hopes that someone, someday, may respond to me, hopefully on an Underwood.


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