When Warren Zevon pawned his Smith Corona in the song Carmelita, we all knew he was a down-on-his-luck writer who sold the thing that enabled him to make money, to go and get a fix on Eldorado Street at the Pioneer Chicken Stand.
We saw into the singer’s soul. The pathos was tangible. Later singers changed the line to Smith and Wesson and something was lost. And we all lost it, not just Warren.
I look over my shoulder and I see a Corona typewriter. It belonged to my grandfather, my mother’s father. It is one of five things I have from when I was a kid (besides the school records and 4-H blue ribbons and such my mother gave to me awhile back).
They are the typewriter, a portable magnetic chess set, a mimeograph of a Chess superhero given to me by Mr. Wilwers, my favorite teacher, shortly after he gave me three swats for missing Bob Ward with a spit wad and hitting him on the side of the head, my Eagle Scout Pin and my Order of the Arrow sash.
The typewriter is special. I had a blue Smith Corona once, on which I typed myself into corners writing college papers. Kids today miss the tangible aspect of writing, of pushing a key and feeling the strike through the inked ribbon on paper, indelibly putting your thoughts on the paper. They miss the fear that overcomes when staring at a blank page scrolled up to the top, an inch and a half showing, just begging for words, taunting us to make our mark and not mess it all up.
They miss the clack of the keys and the ring of the bell when you hit the return lever with your right hand, moving the page back to the start of the next line—something you did every few seconds, or in my case, because I typed do slowly, minutes.
It’s just not the same anymore, even for me: your fingers hit the keys on the keyboard and the line automatically wraps around and then you can change anything without leaving any evidence that you boxed yourself in. It’s too easy: anyone can now produce a clean page full of words, but probably a smaller percentage of those who try produce anything worth reading.
I did type a few papers on the old typewriter, more because I wanted to than anything else. Yeah, I had the sleek Smith Corona, but this one was just so much more . . .connected. It felt more primal, as if writing is a primal act.
But it was. It still is. Read Vonnegut, Thompson, Tom Robbins, early Stephen King, Hemmingway, or Steinbeck. Especially Steinbeck and feel what they felt. Real, alive.
Of the five things I have, it is this typewriter I cherish most, even though the case it originally came in has long since fallen apart. It connects me with my Grandfather, and more, to the past. And it still works. All I need is a new ribbon and a clean stack of white paper to taunt me. It is ready. It is always ready.