I WRITE on a manual typewriter, but don't bug me about it, okay? I know that recently certain machines have been developed that produce manuscripts more efficiently than a manual typewriter ever could. When these machines began to take over, people constantly asked if I used one; for a while that was the fact about me people seemed most interested to know. When I replied that I didn't, people usually became vexed, or in some cases nearly enraged. The arguments that followed were of a pattern. Those in favor of the new machines described their many advantages, never failing to include the ease with which the new machines could move paragraphs around. I defended myself with explanations that started out mild and reasonable and quickly descended to a whiny "I just don't like them!" None of this got anybody anywhere. Then one day a champion of the new machines pinned me down on the subject, extolling them, as usual, and finally confronting me with the inevitable question: Did I use one? My panic began to mount as I saw what lay ahead -- the arguments, the rebuttals, the recriminations. I took a deep breath. "No ... I mean, yes!" I replied. Satisfied, the prosecutor moved on to other topics, as my heart rate returned to normal.
Then suddenly that question was not around anymore. No one has asked me it in years. I guess the victory of the new machines has been so complete that there's no longer a need to hunt down resisters. Why bother? Time will take care of us. Meanwhile, I continued to write on the same Olympia portable manual I had bought with my first paycheck from Oui magazine, in Chicago in 1973. I liked it so much that when I got a little money I bought other Olympia manuals, fancier models, but all of them used, of course. They are perhaps not the best manual typewriters ever made -- experts often give that distinction to Underwoods or Hermes -- but they suit me, and I've stuck by them. The hell of it is, though, that after about twenty years they start to break. One afternoon in 1994 the e key on my favorite Olympia stopped working. E is not a rarity, like @ or %, that you can mostly do without. I was living in Brooklyn at the time. I called around and found a guy there who claimed to be able to fix anything, typewriters included. When he returned the typewriter to me, all the keys were at different heights, like notes in a lilting tune, and the e bar hit the ribbon hard enough to make a mark only if you helped it with your finger.
The Manhattan Yellow Pages has so many listings under "Typewriters" that you might think getting someone to fix a manual would not be hard. The repair places I called were agreeable enough at first; but as I described the problem (Fixing an e, for Pete's sake! How tough can that be?), they began to hedge and temporize. They mentioned a scarcity of spare parts, and the difficulty of welding forged steel, and other problems, all apparently my own fault for not having foreseen. I took my typewriter various places to have it looked at, and brought it home again unrepaired. This went on for a while. Finally, approaching the end of the Yellow Pages listing, I found an entry for "TYTELL TYPWRTR CO." It advertised restorations of antiques, an on-premises machine shop, a huge inventory of manuals, and sixty-five years of experience and accumulated parts. The address was in lower Manhattan. I called the number, and a voice answered, "Martin Tytell." I told Mr. Tytell my problem, and he told me he certainly could fix it. I said I would bring the typewriter in next week. "You should bring it in as soon as possible," he advised. "I'm an old man."