Thursday, July 22, 2010

The USB Typewriter

It's almost like this gizmo was created with me in mind: an antique typewriter transformed into a fully functioning keyboard, compatible with PC, Mac, and iPad. The $700 price tag gives me pause, but I have to admit it is a thing of beauty and I do deserve nice things, don't I?

Jack Zylkin, the brain behind this bionic typewriter, says on his website:

The USBTypewriter™ is a new and groundbreaking innovation in the field of obsolescence. Lovers of the look, feel, and quality of old fashioned manual typewriters can now use them as keyboards for any USB-capable computer, such as a PC, Mac, or even iPad! The modification is easy to install, it involves no messy wiring, and does not change the outward appearance of the typewriter (except for the usb adapter itself, which is mounted in the rear of the machine). So the end result is a retro-style USB keyboard that not only looks great, but feels great to use.

I have to wonder, though - does it really have the feel of old-school typing? Using a typewriter is a lot like a piano - you can touch the keys softly or you can pound them, reveling in the staccato slamming of the typebars against the paper, sometimes so hard that the interior of the letter "o" gets cut out and your finished product is perforated with little holes. There's a real Zen to the highs and lows of key-slamming intensity of manual typewriter usage, and those of us raised on them know it does make a difference in one's writing. Much was gained in the move to word processors and laptops, to be sure - but something was also distinctly lost.

I have a feeling that, lovely a device though the USB Typewriter is, it cannot withstand the abuse that an old Remington jockey such as myself would surely inflict upon it. If a typewriter is indeed like a piano, then I am its Cecil Taylor.

I suppose I'm just going to hold out till someone invents a true Clark-Nova, William S. Burroughs' sentient typewriter that dispenses two different types of intoxicating fluids when it likes what you've written.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


July 14th (7-14) has inadvertently become something of an official "714 Day", as people never fail to point out the date to me. In the late 1980s I wrote a novel called 714, which I then revised and expanded upon in the early 1990s. It was not a very good novel, but it did provide, in a Bukowski/Kerouac sort of semi-autobiographic manner, a look at what I was up to in the "grand productive days" of the early 1980s followed by my prolonged period of hoboing around the country.

Will it ever be republished? Oh, probably. All in time. But for now, to commemorate 714 Day, here's a brief excerpt:

"Dipsy Donut", the sign said. Well, employment is employment.

I'd hoped for a real old-school manly kind of bakery, you know, dusty with the powdered sugar of ten thousand mornings, and some Popeye-armed fellow pounding enormous globs of dough into shape while his wife delicately troweled still-hot iced cookies onto long sheets of wax paper. But it wasn't to be. The place was clean as a whistle and decorated in a nauseating soccer-mom-pet-project kind of way.

I smiled at the church-lady looking woman at the cash register. "Might you be hiring?"

She gave just a momentary pause and a dead stare to let me know that I was wasting my time, then sighed and handed me an application. She tapped a cup full of pens with her skeletal finger, but in that same instant I'd already pulled my own pen out of my pocket. That seemed to annoy her greatly and she walked away.

I hate filling out applications. This one asked for my five most recent previous employers. Do I list my own self-employment? Do I list odd jobs, part time help, and jobs where I was paid in cash? They wanted to know the addresses and phone numbers of these places. Hell, I don't remember. Why would I memorize the phone numbers and addresses of anyplace I used to work? I don't even remember the names of the employers.

They wanted references. I listed some good friends but I don't even know the street addresses of some of them and had to leave the address field blank. Will they think that's weird? Probably. They wanted to know how long I'd known each reference. I don't know. Do normal people carry around all this information in their head and have it ready at a moment's notice? Is there something wrong with me? Should I just make up something? I could spend hours trying to figure all this crap out. If I fill out the application too quick, will they think I just made it up anyway? Are they really going to contact these references and employers? It's just a fucking donut shop. Someone says, "give me two crullers" and I say "here's your change", end of transaction. Why should I even have to fill out an application for such a job?

There was an annoying high pitched grating sound in the store that seemed to grow louder in the silence. It was the way the whine of the fluorescent lights merged with the hum of the milk fridge. I saw speakers mounted in the corners of the room, so why wasn't there any music playing? My body began to feel heavy, and my head began to feel light. And I'd been here scarcely fifteen minutes. I can't work here. I folded up the paper and stuffed it in my back pocket.

Polly was looking bored and impatient when I came out. "Any luck?"

"Well," I said, "I filled out an application. We'll see."