Yard sales are common in my town but I seldom, if ever, take part. For one thing, to have a crack at the really good stuff, you must arrive early and I’m not a morning person, especially on Saturdays. Add to that my inability to shake off the old city-dweller mentality that no matter how tempting a curio might be, “there’s just no room for it.” So, it was very out of character for me to check out the yard sale taking place in my neighborhood this past weekend.
As I approached the house, I saw the usual folding tables filled with knickknacks and gently used kitchenware. There were books, of course, and a seemingly brand-new tennis racket. I paused in front of the historic banker’s chair that was in need of a little TLC, and considered the antique wooden ironing board that yearned to be a piece of art displayed on a kitchen wall.
Call it serendipity, or fate, that I should spot a manual typewriter. I couldn’t believe my good fortune that, as late as 11:00 in the morning, a vintage Royal had not yet been scooped up. My first thought: it’s still available because it’s expensive. My second thought: didn’t Kerouac use a Royal? I knew about his famous Underwood – the typewriter he used to write On the Road – but I remembered reading somewhere that although he favored the Underwood, at one point, he also used a Royal. Another literary giant had used a Royal, but I couldn’t place who it was.
On closer inspection, the putty colored typewriter was dirty, perhaps nicotine stained, and laden with the kind of dust that accumulates from years spent in an attic or basement. The keys had long ago yellowed and the roller was splattered with white-out. Its carrying case was even more soiled, and I couldn’t tell if it was leather or some sort of fabric that had petrified. Still, this was a vintage Royal that, given its body’s metal construction and iconic red logo lettering, I guessed to be from the mid-1950’s. I doubted it actually worked. In fact, I didn’t even care. I just knew I wanted it. And for ten bucks, it was mine.
As soon as I got it home, I went online:
How to clean a vintage typewriter
When did Royal introduce the portable Quiet De Luxe model
Famous authors who used a Royal
Turns out a small paint brush, a soft cotton rag, a gentle hand, and the sparing use of water and rubbing alcohol have gotten me off to a good start. I think my typewriter is a 1956 model. And Hemingway was the other writer who used a Royal. In fact, he had three of them.
Why have I been so fixated with this typewriter all week? It’s the sheer romance of the whole thing.
Think about it… In this digital age where first our PC’s, and now our laptops, become obsolete every couple of years, we don’t keep them long enough to create a history. We don’t get attached to them. We just discard them. Years from now, will I even remember what version of Windows I used to write this blog post? But I do remember the typewriter I learned on, and used to write my college papers and my first short stories – a blue Smith Corona. It didn’t possess the mystique of an old Royal. I don’t imagine anything could.
This Royal is going to sit on a shelf in the room where I write. It will be more – much more – than a conversation piece. It will be my reminder of what’s important. My talisman. The compass that guides me to whatever comes next.