My Italian Typewriter

I just bought a typewriter on eBay. It’s a 1970s Olivetti Lettera 35 with no case, the last metal Lettera they made (Olivetti went to plastic after this). Designed by Mario Bellini, it has a light touch and a sleek look. It needs adjustment, but no major work.

What I really enjoy is the sound. Yesterday I was writing on my MacBook Pro while our eldest daughter was typing on the Olivetti (a story about a fictitious trickster named JoeBob Jones), and the sound practically put me in a state. Like a kind of travel not to a time to which I’d like to return (I hated writing my early term papers on a typewriter) but to a time-place in which the mechanical plock-uh plock-uh plock-uh of the keys sings a kind of working-class song of resistance and liberation.


The sound of the Olivetti is class-based to my ear; I remember the people hanging out on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in the early 1980s banging out bad street poetry for a dollar, or the crazy manifestos we’d work on in college before our first Macintosh SEs made the whole process too slick and streamlined to seem worth the trouble.

That’s it, I guess: the SOUND of the typewriter is the sound of the factory, of the assembly line, of the busy office filled with worker bees, of my grandfather’s prune dehydration operation going full-tilt in late summer. And of a semi-automatic pistol of resistance, of those long hot summers of giving anyone with authority the finger and picking fistfights with everyone from movie house rent-a-cops to small gangs of white kids too young to drive but old enough to take a punch. Vroom, vroom. Smack, smack. What the eff you lookin’ at, punk? Punch, punch, crash, crash. Tack-uh, tack-uh. I just don’t get that from my MacBook Pro, and especially not from my MacBook, with its butterfly mechanism.

Olivetti Typewriter Not that I want to go back (I also like speed, and I admit that I now use Dragon Dictate to do a lot of my English writing — I wish they had a Portuguese version), but hearing my daughter type in unison with my own writing creates an almost perfect harmony of (my) angry youth and my more efficient, streamlined (and resigned) middle age. Abbey Lincoln is singing “Throw it Away” now. This will have to do.