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Typewriter Love

Illustration for article titled Typewriter Love

I know writers who still use a typewriter. One close pal whose neighborhood experiences power outages several times a year recently wrote a story on a portable. He wanted to get comfortable with it case he loses power and can't use his electric machine.

Thought of this when I saw James Joiner's cool post over at the Atlantic, "The Hidden World of the Typewriter."

Check it out. And while you're at it, dig this 1997 Atlantic magazine story by Ian Frazier:

Mr. Tytell goes to his shop two or three days a week, depending on how he’s feeling. Customers who want to see him call his answering machine, and he calls back and sets up appointments. A sign on the wall that says


contributes to the doctor-patient quality of the visits. Plus he’s wearing a white lab coat and you’re not. Some customers arrive in limousines, which wait nearby until the sessions are through. Mr. Tytell has fixed typewriters for such people as Perle Mesta and the Archbishop of Lebanon and Charles Kuralt. Some customers climb sweating from the subway station and stop for a moment in the daylight of Fulton Street to switch the case containing the heavy machine from one hand to the other. Because of a mishap involving a romance novelist, a treasured typewriter, and the wreck of a parcel-service truck, Mr. Tytell now refuses to ship typewriters under any circumstances. Getting a typewriter repaired by him is a hands-on, person-to-person deal.

Several afternoons last spring I sat on a swiveling typing chair by the clear space on the table where Mr. Tytell lets people test their typewriters before taking them home, and he and Mrs. Tytell and I talked. “People get very emotionally involved with their typewriters,” Mr. Tytell said. “I understand it — I talk to typewriters myself sometimes. On the one hand, you have people who love a machine for whatever reason. On the other, sometimes you find a person with an extreme dislike, almost a hatred, for a particular machine. It’s funny how the two go together. Recently I got a call from a lady and she had a portable typewriter, like new, and she wanted it out of her apartment right away. It’s from a divorce or something; I didn’t ask. She’s not selling it, she says she’ll pay me if I’ll just come and take it away. Well, three hours earlier I had gotten a call from another lady; her husband had just lost a typewriter he loved, somebody stole it, and it was the exact same make and model this other lady described. So I went and picked up the machine, and when I got back, I called the other lady, and she rushed right down and bought it and carried it out the door. She was overjoyed.

“People hug and kiss me when I fix their typewriters sometimes. That call just now was from a lady I did a Latvian typewriter for — she was so happy I could hardly get her off the phone. I don’t know why, a typewriter touches something inside. A couple — she’s the secretary to the Episcopal Church in Manhattan — brought in an old Underwood for an overhaul, and I made it sing, and they came by the shop with coffee and cake to thank me, and the husband wrote me a poem in iambic pentameter. It’s called ‘Tytell, the Wizard King of Fulton Street.’ You see, people get carried away. They write me letters, they send me fruit baskets, they give me miniature typewriters made out of porcelain. Almost everybody I deal with is an interesting person of some kind. Here’s an invoice for a job I did for the only harp mechanic in the New York area, a guy who tunes and repairs harps, and he’s decided he wants to translate Homer from the original Greek, and he wants me to make a typewriter in Homeric Greek for him. That’s no problem — I’ve done ancient-Greek typewriters before. I even did a typewriter in hieroglyphics one time, for a curator at the Brooklyn Museum.”

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