Last week, late one afternoon, just as I had powered down my computers and switched off all the lights, I suddenly remembered that I needed to print a short business letter, and had forgotten to do so. Tsk-tsk. Such an old man.
Normally, I print my correspondence on an inkjet or a laser, or even on my twenty-year old Epson dot-matrix, which has served me well and still does; it works without a hitch, just as it did when it was brand new. But did I turn the computers on again? Naah. I was too impatient, especially for a simple six-sentence business letter; typing the darn thing would probably be quicker than waiting for the computer and printer to boot up. This wasn't the first time this had happened to me, so I knew what to do: I still have in my possession two manual typewriters, and one of them was coming to my rescue in my fateful, forgetful need!
To be honest, I still use these typewriters from time to time, to make short documents, and yes, even to write; it's fun to hear the physical clickety-clack of the keys. As my lawyer friend once told me, a document manually typed is just as good and legal as any printed via computer printer.
I brought out the smaller typewriter first from its hiding place in the closet behind my desk. It's an early 1970's Brother, a brand known more for their fax machines nowadays. It once was used in an office in Binondo until the owner closed shop and migrated; it found its way to my family sometime after. I placed it on an empty table and was about to insert a sheet of paper into it when I noticed that the main roller was wobbly.
Oh-oh, the old cylinder had come loose, and the paper wouldn't catch. I didn't know how to fix it, but that was okay. I still had another typewriter to turn to, one given to me and my siblings by my parents for our schoolwork. It's a bigger, heavier machine, a bulky Olympia, the Brother's junior by about a decade. We used this quite often for many, many years, even after we already bought our first computer (which had come with the Epson).
The Olympia sat on a corner table, forgotten by everyone except me. I walked to it, took off its cover, inserted a sheet of paper, and pulled up a chair; I started to type. I can't be certain, but as I clickety-clacked my way through the letter, I wouldn't be surprised if someone would have caught me smiling.
Problem was, about halfway through the letter, something jammed. The carriage moved along normally, but the ribbon turner stayed stationary. Something was wrong with the Olympia, and the ribbon wouldn't turn and transfer its ink to the paper. In other words, I was typing, but nothing was printing (the computer equivalent is a busted keyboard). Argh. What to do, what to do. The ribbon itself was pretty dry and old already, so there was nothing for it but to remove the cover and rewind the spool manually (try and do that with a computer keyboard). So I did this, and finished typing my letter, but it grated on my nerves that both my manual typewriters were clearly busted. No! How could such old, reliable friends have broken down at the same time? The office gremlin was behind this, I'll bet; I reminded myself to deal with him later.
I succeeded in finishing my letter, but I didn't want to leave my typewriters marginally unusable. I still remember basic typewriter troubleshooting, but sadly, to repair them was beyond my skill. In this day and age of high-end electronic thingummies, there was only one place to bring such old contraptions to be fixed. I put both machines in my car's trunk and headed for Sesame Street, to The Fix It Shop, where I lugged them in to Maria and Luis, who welcomed me like an old friend (which, in fact, I am). Though their specialty is pop-up toasters, they also knew what to do with manual typewriters. Of all people, surely they could fix them!
After greeting each other and laughing about old times, I told them about my typewriters. I placed them on their worktable, they pored over my machines, and said that they just needed to replace the broken ribbon-auto-reverse-thingamajig in the Olympia, and to tighten some loose screws in the Brother. At the mention of loose screws, Oscar walked in, and we all giggled to ourselves, and he got grouchy at us, but we didn't let on what the laughter was about. They also advised me to bring them some fresh ribbons, which I did after a quick trip to Mr. Hooper's Store (yes, they now sell office supplies): P43.00 for two typewriter ribbons. To think the cost of a new inkjet cartridge is about P1,000.00. And Maria and Luis didn't charge me much for their services either, certainly much, much less than the cost of a new inkjet cartridge. But they did extract from me a promise to visit Sesame Street more often, and to take care of my typewriters because, after all, they can still do the job right. No sense letting stuff go to waste, even if they're old, as long as they still work.
We talked a bit more, and when we ran out of old memories to smile about, we waved goodbye to each other, leaving Oscar still wondering what the joke was about. Now I'm back, and my manual typewriters are in working order once more. I will keep my promise to take care of them and to use them more often (but I have to admit that correcting typos and other errors is so much easier on the computer, and you don't have to deal with messy correction fluid on your fingers). Nevertheless, they still work, and that's what counts.
A final note: I've talked to the office gremlin and made him promise not to do anything to any of the machines in the office again, even the typewriters. He grumbled a bit at this, but brightened up when I handed him a small scrap of paper with the address of a competitor written on it. "We hate to see you go," I told him, "but you're too good at what you do to be limited by our small-market company. You deserve to play in the big leagues." So he left, and we shook hands with full respect for each other, but I could see he had tears in his eyes as he was leaving, the softie. For his sake, I pretended to shed some myself.