All of us have things, material things, that help define us. Mine is the typewriter. I knew this one as a kid. It was my Aunt Ruth's. I used to climb up on the chair of her desk and press down the letters one at a time. It was thrilling. As I got older, I actually made words. And then sentences.
At my first job, the Lewiston Daily Sun in Lewiston, Maine, we had black Royal typewriters. Top of the line. We shared them with the people who wrote for the evening paper.
On one I typed my "test" story, which was part of my application for employment. I had to write my obituary in 20 minutes. I wrote that I had died while driving on the Maine Turnpike. "Gevalt, so distraught at being turned down for a job at the Lewiston Daily Sun, broke out in sobs, veered into and across the median into the oncoming traffic and was killed instantly by an 18-wheeler carrying 30 tons of logs. He was 21." I got the job.
I wrote about accidents, fires, committee meetings, social outings and, even, the anticipated Thanksgiving plans of all the people in the phone book whose last names began with A through D. (We were each assigned four letters; the oldest reporter had only two, Y and Z.) My favorite story to type, though, was about a city councilman, an education board member, two public works board members and a State Representative who, I had discovered, had stolen a ton of Grade A hamburger meat from the Lewiston School Lunch program and sold it to their friends at a social (drinking) club. I also wrote the story when they were indicted.
I moved on. To the big time. IBM Selectrics, IBM Selectrics with, can you believe it, built-in correcting tape! Then to teletype machines and computer terminals.
In 1982, when I was freelancing in Boston, I bought my first personal computer -- an AT&T 8083 made by Olivetti. It had a wonderful keyboard. I was hypnotized by the green letters on the black screen. And I could change things SO easily. It changed how I wrote. Forever. I started writing way earlier than I had before; I knew I could move things around later. Soon I began figuring out the story as I went. What a luxury. It changed how I think.
The clacking of the Royal typewriter, once so familiar, is a distant memory. Even my fingers have forgotten; they move so slow. Imagine.