Karl the Curmudgeon Misses Typewriters

"You know what I miss, Kid?" asked Karl. "Typewriters. I miss the way they sound. They way they thump and clack under my fingers. You don't get that with a computer."

What brought this on? I asked. You've been using computers for years. You wrote your last five books on a computer. You get a new computer every 18 months just because you want the latest and greatest.

"Look around you. What do you see?"

I see a bunch of 20-somethings tapping away at their laptops or staring at their iPads, I said. We were sitting in Just Brew It, the coffee shop and hangout for Indianapolis' literary set and the wannabes who hoped they could absorb some of the place's mojo.

"And what do you hear?"

It's pretty quiet, since no one is talking. I can hear the store stereo and the espresso machine. I can even hear the little taps on their keyboards.

"Exactly!" Karl half-shouted. "That's my point!"

I shushed him, worried he would disturb everyone else, but they all had their earbuds in, listening to their music.

"Don't worry about it. These punks are caught up in their own little worlds. Hell, half of them aren't even writing. That one is screwing around on Facebook. And that kid over there has been watching Netflix since I got here. Is this what passes for writers these days?"

Who says they're even writers? I asked.

"They do!" said Karl. "They're from the creative writing class I teach. As part of their class preparation, I make them come here and write for an hour."

What does this have to do with typewriters? I asked.

"Watching them made me nostalgic for when I was their age. Back then, writing was actually hard work. Not the 'I walked uphill to school both ways' kind of hard. I mean, it was physically taxing. Typewriters gave your arms a workout. You had to walk to the library to do research—"

You had to crank up your Victrola by hand.

"Shut up, Kid. No, I mean these kids have it so easy. Everything they need is on the computer, and so their writing should be better. But instead, they play on Facebook and watch Netflix, and their writing shows it."

What does this have to do with typewriters?

"Watching them reminded me of the prestige of being a writer when I was their age. It actually meant something. Nowadays, anyone with a computer and a blog can call themselves a writer. Back when I was coming up, you had to prove you could do the work. It meant sitting in caf├ęs, writing longhand in a notebook, and then rewriting it on your typewriter in your cramped little apartment at night."

And so you miss. . .?

"I miss the noise. I miss the ache in my forearms. I miss how the thumping hurt my ears. I miss the little bell dinging at the end of every line. These kids wouldn't know what that was like. Just give them their little frou-frou drinks, and their laptops with their self-isolating earbuds, and suddenly they're 'authors.'"

Karl's air quotes around 'authors' spoke volumes of how he much he 'respected' his students.

I still don't understand why that makes you want a typewriter.

"Because these people aren't writing! I want to feel like a real writer again!" I looked around, but no one had heard.

Karl, you've always said anyone can write as long as they have 'a write on and a write with.' You said that's what separated writers from the lower art forms — that we can work with a golf pencil and the back of an envelope, while a photographer needs a $1,000 camera and a $2,000 lens.

Now you're lowering yourself to their level, saying you can't do the work unless you have a 50-year-old machine, or a fancy notebook and special pen. That's not the Karl I know.

"Yeah, I guess you're right, Kid. I just miss the old days, you know? I miss what the typewriter represents."

So why don't you just get yourself a new one? You can get them online, and there are even a couple places in town that sell refurbished ones. I just bought one myself a few days ago.

"Really? What for?"

I was going to give it to you for your birthday, but you made them sound so interesting that I just decided to keep it. I'll get you the new John Grisham novel instead.

Everyone looked up to see what Karl was shouting about.

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