RUMMAGING through the basement for snow survival gear...


March 04, 1994

RUMMAGING through the basement for snow survival gear recently, we came across a dust-caked relic of a typewriter that had seen its better days decades before we acquired it to compensate for the inadequacies of abominable penmanship.

Recalling its unreliable performance even while maintained, we pushed it back under the stairs for later decision.

This now-ancient piece of equipment reminded us, though, of a classic description of the orneriness of typing machines that Jack London penned on his experience as a novice writer in San Francisco:

"My brother-in-law owned a machine which he used in the daytime. In the night I was free to use it.

"That machine was a wonder. I could weep now as I recollect my wrestlings with it. It must have been a first model in the year one of the typewriter era.

"Its alphabet was all capitals. It was informed with an evil spirit. It obeyed no known law of physics, and overthrew the hoary axiom that like things performed to like things produce like results. I'll swear that machine never did the same thing in the same way twice. Again and again it demonstrated that unlike actions produce like results.

"How my back used to ache with it! Prior to that experience my back had been good for every violent strain put upon it in a none too gentle career. But that typewriter proved to me that I had a pipe-stem for a back.

"Also, it made me doubt my shoulders. They ached as with rheumatism after every bout. The keys of that machine had to be hit so hard that I strained my first fingers to the elbows, while the ends of my fingers were blisters burst and blistered again.

"Had it been my machine, I'd have operated it with a carpenter's hammer."

Since he was learning to write professionally as he learned to type on that artifact, London surmised the machine stalled his success.

"It might have been the weirdness of the typewriting that prevented editors from accepting at least one little offering of mine," London speculated. "I don't know, and goodness knows the stuff I wrote was as weird as its typing."

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