It's 2016 and I bought my first typewriter
A friendly woman outside the shop gave me a raffle ticket and asked me to fill out a name tag. I slapped the sticky tag over my chest and stepped inside. I felt a smile come to life on my face. Typewriters—a lot of them. They were on shelves and on counters. Some were electric, many were manual, and most had a sheet of pristine white paper neatly set in place begging to be typed on. I placed my hands behind my back: itchy fingers—I wanted to touch. People milled about and others sat at a table and chatted away. I was greeted by an older gentleman with a friendly face and open gestures. He wore a name tag that read “Jack.”
“If you see one you like,” Jack said motioning to the typewriters. “Try it out.”
On May 14, Jack Lacy hosted the first Typewriter & Poetry Expo, which welcomed typewriter enthusiasts and writers to enjoy a morning surrounded by a beautiful display of typewriters, conversation with local writers, and food and drink in his shop Lasr-Ink and Central Printer Resources (C.P.R.) a business specializing in typewriter and printer sale and repair, just across from the Palm Spring International airport.
During the event Jack shared with guests his experience and love for typewriters and his family’s history in the typewriter business going back to the early 1990s. Guests included writers from the Palm Springs Writers Guild, creative writing students from College of the Desert, a newspaper reporter, and freelance writers from around the Coachella Valley, who were all generous in sharing their experiences with typewriters and their craft.
As far back as I can remember I wrote stories and poetry, scribbling on any and all papers I found. Over time, I acquired preferences with materials—thin paper with skinny lines, ballpoint pens that glided across paper with ease—and enjoyed the look and sound of using them—the scratch-scratch of a pencil on drafting paper, the feel of a pen’s impressions. My own experience with typewriters began in elementary school with my mother’s electric IBM typewriter. I became instantly enthralled with my mother’s typewriter. After promising that I knew the typewriter wasn’t a toy and I would be oh-so careful with it, my mother sat me down and showed me how to set the paper (make sure it’s straight), set the margins (where is your starting point?), and change the ribbon (be careful, don’t get ink everywhere).
I was exposed to a whole new experience. The sound of the keys, clicking-clacking, the chime when I reached the end of the margin—Bing! Another line down!—watching the letters appear on paper; stamped, perfect, and professional looking. Our typewriter had correction tape that allowed the writer to “backspace” and erase any typos—it made a triple tap noise. I became quite acquainted with that sound. Using the typewriter made me feel like a professional writer. I re-read the story, letter, or poem I carefully typed on my mother’s pretty stationary or sometimes just stared at the beauty of the typography.
The summer before I started high school the family got our first desktop computer. While my brothers and cousins thought “games,” when they saw the computer I thought “writing.” I abandoned the typewriter for the smooth clicking of the computer keys and the eternal “backspace”—no correction tape needed. The thought of the typewriter slid, with the machine itself—wrapped in plastic covering, under the bed.
Although I didn’t think I’d ever see typewriters in vogue again, as a writer I loved pictures of them. Typewriters seemed to be the poster item for authors and writing; a symbol of my dream career. Overtime I collected pictures of favorite authors—including Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, and Ray Bradbury—working on typewriters.
Then, earlier this year, on the first Sunday in February, typewriters slid out from beneath the metaphorical bed and back into my life. While walking the Palm Spring Vintage Flea Market with friends I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks. A beautiful green Remington typewriter sat on display. I must have been staring holes into it because the owner, Jack Lacy, introduced himself and asked me if I was a writer. I said yes and asked how he knew.
“You were looking at the typewriter like a writer would,” he said.
“In love?” I quipped.
We laughed and Jack asked if I had a typewriter. He was hosting an event for authors who used them. “Like a write-in,” he said.
“Oh, I don’t have a typewriter,” I answered.
Jack smiled. “Then you’ll need to get one.” I gave him my card, excited to be part of such an event. A few months passed and I almost let the interaction go when I got an email inviting me to the Typewriter & Poetry Expo in Palm Springs.
The event was hosted in part by local author Ben Browning. Ben took time to discuss his two personal typewriters, which he brought for the write-in, with me. He explained precise margin settings, his affection for the typewriter aesthetic, and the feelings it evoked in him when he used a typewriter versus how he felt when using a computer or writing by hand. The feelings I experienced when using the typewriter as a child slammed back into me and I knew that I wasn’t going to leave that shop without one.
I was invited to tryout any of the typewriters in the shop that were for sale. Each of which was set up with ink and paper begging to be used and I decided to scratch that itch in my fingers. I hopped from typewriter to typewriter. The shop’s technician, Jorge, walked me though using each of the pieces. His knowledge on the workings and history of each of the typewriters in the shop blew me away, especially since the pieces ranged from the 1920s to the 1980s.
By the end of the event I chose a vintage 1970 Montgomery Ward Signature manual typewriter. Light blue with white keys, I found it beautiful. It wasn’t my mother’s typewriter, but when I used it I got the same smile on my face from when I was a kid. I was set on buying the typewriter and ribbon although the imaginary piggy-bank in the back of my mind frowned.
Before I made my move to alert staff of my decision, they made an announcement. “Okay everyone, get ready for the raffle. They’ll be four winners each of a $25 discount.”
I pulled out my ticket. Yeah right, I thought. I never win. They called the first number. Nope, not me. The second and third were also not my number, but I bit back a surprised laugh at the last pull. It made me a winner. “I’m glad I won,” I told Jack and his daughter Denise Gardner who co-owns the shop with her father. “Because I was going to buy this typewriter anyway.”
Jack took a look at my choice. “I remember selling those when they were new,” he said. He threw in a ribbon of ink and the original carrying case for free.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“Yeah,” Jack said. “And when we have another get together bring it and write something for us.”
I nodded, and with a good bye returned home with my new typewriter, eager for the new writing experiences awaiting me.
Related: The Desert Sun Typewriter Business Making Comeback in Palm Springs