THROUGH A TOWNIE’S LENS
By Jock Lauterer
The Idiot Check. I forgot to do the Idiot Check. So, that makes — guess who — the idiot.
It’s a vital travel tactic I learned from my rocker son, Jon, who taught me how after each gig, even if the van is presumably fully loaded, all the band members go back on site and conduct a final sweep. And sure enough, more often than not, the check turns up a mic stand, a guitar pick, a power cord.
Though I’m no rocker, when I come and go from my mountain cabin, I’ve learned to do that final walk-through. Uh, until yesterday, when I dis-remembered my son’s important lesson, arriving at this remote site minus the laptop’s charge cord — arguably the penultimate item of technology, second only to the computer itself.
This oversight is all the more ironic, because the sole purpose of leaving Chapel Hill for this cabin visit was to immerse myself in a week’s sabbatical of creative writing.
Unable to believe I could be that stupid, I searched frantically though all my tote bags, finding plenty of other tech gear, plus multiple hats, shoes, books, notebooks, pens and no fewer than six different cameras — both digital and analog — but no laptop charge cord!
Growing increasingly angry and frustrated with every dive into yet another tote bag full of stuff not nearly as important as that errant power cord, I could feel my blood pressure shooting through the roof.
And then, unbidden, came a calming, soothing voice from the distant past.
“Ommmmm,” it said, adding in that same baritone monotone, “Technology will fail me. … Ommmm.”
It was the voice of my former J-School colleague at Penn State, “Big Doug,” who, back in the mid-‘90s, was my co-pilot on the launch of a zippy state-of-the-art “New Media Lab” — a room full of brand-spanking new Macs.
Picture this: Big Doug, built like the cartoon character “Baby Huey,” generous of girth, baby-faced with cherubic blond curls, presiding over the gala opening of the lab, attended by a gaggle of other professors.
Then, when we threw the switch to activate the New Media Lab — poof! — the 12 Macs all went up simultaneously in a puff of blue smoke.
As we all gaped in horror, Big Doug, unfazed, calmly spread out his arms as if in benediction, tilted his head back and with closed eyes, intoned sonorously:
While the smoke cleared, Big Doug instructed us like a yogi, “Repeat after me: Technology … Will … Fail … Me … .”
By now, the site of our technological melt-down was filled instead with peals of laughter.
Big Doug’s lesson 25 years ago talked me off the ledge, calmed me down, made me think strategically of alternative forms of writing.
That’s when I remembered the typewriter, stashed under the stairs all these years.
That I am writing this column on a 1956 Smith-Corona “Super-Silent” model portable manual typewriter should tell you: Tom Hanks isn’t the only one who values and collects typewriters.
I come by my love of typewriters honestly: in my day as a newspaperman, typewriters weren’t cool or trendy — they were the basic coin of the realm, the tool we used, the norm.
My tool of choice then and now was/is a massive black manual Royal that surely is a relic from the WW II era, as authoritative as a battleship anchor, built like a Sherman tank. And of course, you have to pound on the keys with force, creating a sound that used to fill newsrooms with the delightful clattering and dinging cacophony, music to the ears of any older newsie. Colleagues have told me they can tell I learned to type on a typewriter by the way I beat on the Mac’s keyboard.
Like all things analog, including vinyl records and film cameras, the manual typewriter is an honest, real thing. It needs no power source, upgrades, batteries, IT support — or a charge cord. A typewriter will never crash, demand a reboot, erase an entire file, have an inexplicable fit of pique, warm up too slowly or demand huffily that you download anything. As long as you’ve got a good ribbon, you’re good to go.
And I bet Tom Hanks would agree: every typewriter has a personality, and more important, a soul.
The cabin is filled with the sound I love, the musical staccato chatter of the typewriter.
Jock Lauterer began selling newspapers for Jim Shumaker and Roland Giduz on the streets of Chapel Hill at the age of 8. For the last 20 years, he has served as a senior lecturer and adjunct professor at the Hussman School of Journalism and Media, teaching photojournalism and community journalism.