FAREWELL TO THE TYPEWRITER MAN.

Some years ago I posted about Ian Frazier’s Atlantic piece on Martin Tytell, king of the typewriter repairmen; now I regretfully report that he has passed on, via The Economist‘s lyrical obituary (“Martin Tytell, a man who loved typewriters, died on September 11th, aged 94”):

Everything about a manual was sensual and tactile, from the careful placing of paper round the platen (which might be plump and soft or hard and dry, and was, Mr Tytell said, a typewriter’s heart) to the clicking whirr of the winding knob, the slight high conferred by a new, wet, Mylar ribbon and the feeding of it, with inkier and inkier fingers, through the twin black guides by the spool. Typewriters asked for effort and energy. They repaid it, on a good day, with the triumphant repeated ping! of the carriage return and the blithe sweep of the lever that inched the paper upwards.
Typewriters knew things. Long before the word-processor actually stored information, many writers felt that their Remingtons, or Smith-Coronas, or Adlers contained the sum of their knowledge of eastern Europe, or the plot of their novel. A typewriter was a friend and collaborator whose sickness was catastrophe. To Mr Tytell, their last and most famous doctor and psychiatrist, typewriters also confessed their own histories. A notice on his door offered “Psychoanalysis for your typewriter, whether it’s frustrated, inhibited, schizoid, or what have you,” and he was as good as his word. He could draw from them, after a brief while of blue-eyed peering with screwdriver in hand, when they had left the factory, how they had been treated and with exactly what pressure their owner had hit the keys. He talked to them; and as, in his white coat, he visited the patients that lay in various states of dismemberment on the benches of his chock-full upstairs shop on Fulton Street, in Lower Manhattan, he was sure they chattered back…

Thanks for the link, Paul!

Comments

  1. I like that Burmese anecdote, too. What better legasy could anyone hope for?
    Of course, that reminds me that we’ve still never had a solution to the mystery of the Burmese indiscretion at Harward (or wherehaveyou) on the Log.

  2. I still have one of those typewriters on my desk–now it’s an artifact displayed to remind people of what used to be.

  3. we’ve still never had a solution to the mystery of the Burmese indiscretion at Harward (or wherehaveyou) on the Log.
    Yes, I hope someone comes up with the answer. I don’t want to go to my grave still wondering about it.

  4. with the triumphant repeated ping! of the carriage return
    We had one that would ping when you got within 5 characters of where you had set the right margin. It was always fun to play around with those settings–in the back there was a tab thingy you could slide back and forth on a bar to change the margins. There was something comforting about the smell and the feel of those machines. Unlike teletypes, which were a nightmare to maintain.
    What is this Burmese Indiscretion of which you speak?

  5. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I heard Alan Bennett say recently that he still uses a typewriter for his work. Habit, I suppose. He said he has no difficulty procuring ribbons.

  6. I had the pleasure of visiting Mr. Tytell’s office many years ago in hopes of repairing a beautiful German typewriter I had found at a junk shop or a yard sale somewhere. I was young and poor, and he treated me with honor and respect, talking with me about my machine, its history, and the German recluse in New Jersey who might be convinced to assist him in its proper repair. He encouraged me that if I loved the machine and would use it I should keep it until I could afford to have it repaired, and if not I should sell it to a collector. As I recall, I did neither, but I knew I was in the presence of a legend and a true friend to typewriters of all sorts, a real kindred spirit of these very special machines. It was an experience I will never forget. May he rest in peace.

  7. A.J.P. Crown says:

    In the Burma story, isn’t a NY ‘super’ a building superintendent? I know a lot of people say building supervisor, so I guess it’s moot.

  8. A.J.P. Crown says:

    In the Burma story, isn’t a NY ‘super’ a building superintendent? I know a lot of people say building supervisor, so I guess it’s moot.

  9. Charles Perry says:

    Oh, come on. The manual typewriter deserved to die. It punished you for every spelling or typing mistake you made. I estimate I had to retype the entire text of my first book twice just for typing errors, because the publisher understandably demanded clean copy. (And I couldn’t afford to pay a professional typist to retype the text, which was SOP in those days.)
    I keep a couple of typewriters around in case of power failure, but only because my handwriting is illegible. (It also punishes me constantly.)

  10. marie-lucie says:

    I for one don’t mourn the passage of the typewriter, for me an instrument of frustration. Typewriters were good for people whose writing flows easily, not for those who keep changing their mind in mid-sentence and rewriting the same paragraph several times. I could never compose a text on a typewriter, I had to write everything by hand, ending up with lots of crumpled paper in the wastebasket, and even when I thought I had an acceptable text I would want to make some changes when typing it. The computer has revolutionized my life, not to mention saving a lot of trees.

  11. A.J.P. Crown says:

    I thought it was only those who started their serious writing in the days of the computer who changed things around the whole time (i.e. people like me). I do know that some people can write well without changing anything: Christopher Hitchens is apparently like this, to take a contemporary example. And whatever you think of his now very whacky politics, his writing isn’t bad.

  12. John Emerson says:

    OK, what is a bibdool type dog? Maybe a dhole? And what did the other Burmese do even more embarassing than being a numbers racketeer?

  13. John Emerson says:

    OK, what is a bibdool type dog? Maybe a dhole? And what did the other Burmese do even more embarassing than being a numbers racketeer?

  14. I’ve got a lead on the Burmese Indiscretion — will report when I’ve got more info.
    (No idea bout the bibdool, tho.)

  15. I’ve got a lead on the Burmese Indiscretion — will report when I’ve got more info.
    I am on tenterhooks!

  16. John Emerson says:

    He’s just teasing us for some nefarious purpose.

  17. John Emerson says:

    He’s just teasing us for some nefarious purpose.

  18. The advantage of typewriters, in a news service situation, was that after tearing out the paper and re-typing a few times, people just got on with the story – especially features. When we moved to computers, they were able to fiddle endlessly with the text, to the frustration of the news editor (me) who wanted them to finish and get on with something else.
    It usually took repeated admonitions that “it will be wrapping fish in two days’ time” to end the perfectionism and get the piece on the wire.
    Long live typewriters ! And buggy whips !
    ITEM
    Anyone got anything on “the large bibdool-type dog” ? Google hasn’t ….

  19. A.J.P. Crown says:

    Bibdool, does that have serifs?

  20. Sorry AJP, don’t get it.

  21. A.J.P. Crown says:

    bibdool-type ->typeface ->bibdool sounds like a typeface name
    You didn’t get it is because it was so pitiful.

  22. Bibdool Type, an italic, or even a bold type dog.
    Or maybe it’s a typo for drool.

  23. I thought it was hilarious. But that’s just me. I have heard it said the pun is the lowest form of humor, but wasn’t Shakespeare rather fond of the pun?

  24. I’ve got a lead on the Burmese Indiscretion — will report when I’ve got more info.

    Yay!
    And my apologies for mixing up Harvard and Yale. I guess I’d best not visit Boston – ever.

Speak Your Mind

*