Friday, September 24th, 2010


image of IBM Selectric II

I can’t believe my good luck: I am now the ecstatically proud owner of an IBM Selectric II. And I paid just a little over three dollars for it! How does this even happen? Well, just like this:

I found it on the bottom shelf in the electronics section of a Goodwill store here in Monona. The price tag said $2.99. That had to be a mistake, right? It’s an IBM Selectric II! These typewriters are legendary! And they’re still on sale, reconditioned, for upwards of three hundred dollars. Surely the price tag was supposed to read $299.00? It would be a crushing disappointment, but I had to find out. If it didn’t, I would suffer a gnawing anxiety that would eventually eat up all my brains and spit them out my ears. Yuck.

Squatting in the aisle beside the typewriter, I got my arms around it and stood up, being careful to lift with my knees. The Selectric II is a modern typewriter but was built by the old school of industrial design, all-steel inside and out, so it weighs close to forty pounds. If you bend over and pick it up like it’s one of those plastic daisy wheel typewriters, you’ll throw your back out so far a labrador retriever would get winded fetching it back to you.

There weren’t any shopping carts available, so I had to lug the typewriter all the way from the back of the store to the front doors where the check-out counter was. I reached my target heart rate somewhere in the middle of the store and by the time I got to the check-out it was banging hard enough to rattle the windows. No one was waiting, thank goodness, so I could plunk it on the counter without having to wait in line with the beast cocked on one hip like an overweight toddler.

The check-out guy gave me a cheery hello, then took a look at the price tag on the Selectric and gave a little speech: “If you want to return this for any reason, you’ve got seven days,” he explained to me, “but the price tag has to be on it and you have to bring the receipt with you.” Then, the moment of truth: He scanned the price tag with a laser, hit TOTAL on his cash register, and announced the grand total: “That’ll be three fifteen.”

Glancing at the cash register display I saw $3.15. I handed him a fiver. He counted out the change and handed it back to me.

Wow. Just wow.

The down side is, it doesn’t run. Not at all. I plugged it in, switched it on and got nothing, not even a click. It’s supposed to hum when it’s working, but it was dead as a doornail. Not sure how to proceed from here. I may not be ballsy enough to crack the case and look for a burned-out fuse or broken connection, and who repairs typewriters professionally any more? But it only cost three bucks, so it’s still a bargain even if it’s only good as a boat anchor.

UPDATE: It DOES work after all! I plugged it into an electrical outlet at Goodwill that must’ve been dead! Later in the evening I tried it again by plugging it into an outlet here in the basement lair of Drivel HQ and it not only hummed, it also typed a quick brown fox and a now is the time as fast as I could hammer the keys! Now all I need is a ribbon, and if their web site is to be believed, I can get one at the Staples office supply store down the street. Bliss!

Man Buys IBM for Three Dollars. Film At Eleven. | 9:38 pm CST
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Thursday, September 23rd, 2010


Smith-Corona SterlingWhile I was prowling the aisles of the Madison Antique Mall this morning I spotted this Corona Sterling sitting amongst the china, figurines and other bric a brac. Carefully picking my way past the tightly-packed shelves so as not to become the not-so-proud owner of a newly-broken Humel, I managed to get a close look at this pretty little manual.

Flipping open the top, I found serial number 1A 22553, and a quick check of the Typewriter Serial Number Database revealed it was manufactured by the L.C. Smith & Corona company in 1937. Its beautiful maroon paint job was still in excellent condition. I couldn’t bang out a quick brown fox in the library-hush of the antique mall to see what kind of condition the action was in, but I did gingerly press down a few of the keys along the right-hand home row and found they were a little sticky but otherwise in good condition.

The sixty-five dollar price tag tripped my cheap trigger and kept me from taking it home, but not from snapping a photo I could moon over later.

Finders kee … how much? | 3:25 pm CST
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Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

I’m of two minds when it comes to recycling parts of old typewriters for jewelery or other artwork. My first reaction is revulsion. Typewriters have an intrinsic value to my nerdy sensibilities that is so great I could probably be persuaded to sentence key-cutters to jail terms that would raise an eyebrow on Charles Manson. In my shiny happy world, I would be most happy if every old typewriter was adopted by a loving caretaker so devoted to his responsibilities that he eventually subscribed to a correspondence school to learn typewriter repair so he could restore his machines to their former glory.

Back in reality, it’s unfortunately impossible to rescue every old typewriter put up for sale on e-bay and other auction sites because of the sheer volume, to say nothing of the shipping charges required to send a thirty-pound typewriter through the mail, and restoring all those machines would require raising an army large enough to make Patton, were the old bastard still alive, glow radium green with envy. Some of those keys are going to get cut, there’s just no way around it.

Now that you’re aware of my misgivings, I hope you’ll forgive me if I’m even a little bit warmed when I see a Royal typewriter carriage recycled as a display stand for pierced earrings. I spotted this disembodied carriage while browsing the aisles at the craft store Anthology on State Street.

Just Hanging Out | 6:38 pm CST
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Friday, September 17th, 2010

image of Pac Man ghost

Was I supposed to do anything today? I couldn’t remember, so I made up an answer: No. Then, I rolled my bike out of the garage and went for a little ride.

First, I rode a route from my house straight up Monona Drive and Atwood Avenue to Walter Street, where I could catch the Capital City Trail into town. I don’t like riding in the road, for lots of very good reasons. For instance: Monona Drive is in about the worst shape of any city road, including the ones that are dug up. There are potholes and pothole patches all along the right-hand side of the road, and I end up hitting almost every one of them because they’re either too big to miss or I’m crowded over there by traffic.

Or, for instance: I can ride pretty fast, but not so fast that the rest of the traffic doesn’t seem to be rocketing past me. It makes me a little twitchy when they do that, especially now that almost every vehicle on the road is a pickup truck big enough to make a county snow plow look cute and cuddly. Most drivers are surprisingly accommodating when it comes to making room for me on the road, but there are still people out there weaving all over their lane, the lane next to theirs and the lane of oncoming traffic while they’re texting. Hence the twitchiness.

But, as it turned out, riding straight up Monona Drive was the quickest way to get to the trail. For safety’s sake I’ve tried riding up the sidewalk, scofflaw that I am, but the sidewalk is in even worse shape than the road is so I can’t ride very fast. Also, I try to avoid hitting pedestrians. That adds a lot of time to the trip, too. And I’ve tried finding a route along the back roads, but that takes me on such a roundabout route no matter how I do it that it almost doubles the amount of time to get to the trail. So straight up Monona Drive it was.

Once on the Capital City Trail it was a quick and easy ride up to the Yahara River trail, which goes literally right past the back door of the building where I’ll start work a week from Monday. I tried to bike the trip as fast as I could today without cranking so hard that I made it uncomfortable – I don’t want to get to work all sweaty or totally crapped out. Elapsed time from door to door: thirty minutes. When I go slow, it takes forty-five. Now I’ve just got to make myself do it.

After the dry run I wended my way back to Willy Street to stop at Saint Vinnie’s thrift shop to see what goodies were lying around, waiting to be adopted and taken back to a good home. I found a Smith-Corona Coronet electric typewriter that would have made an interesting addition to my collection, if only my collection weren’t already too damned big, or I owned a pole barn along the highway where I could start a typewriter museum. There would have also been the problem of getting it home, since it didn’t fit in my backpack. I left this fantastic bargain for someone else to snap up.

image of pharmacy

Since there wasn’t anything else I felt a need to take home from St Vinnie’s I saddled up and headed down the street to take a few photos. My first target: the pharmacy across the street from St Vinnies that used to be Schaeffer’s. It’s just reopened in the last two or three weeks under new management and the sign over the door indicates it’s now a pharmacy and costume shop … because nothing says Halloween like prescription medicine, right?

Then there were the Pac Man ghosts. I don’t know if they have some special significance, or if someone working in a local print shop had a little extra time on their hands and they were just feeling playful. Either way, Blinky the Ghost first appeared on the boarded-up door of a house on the south end of Willy Street and, shortly after that, on the wall of Mother Fool’s coffee shop. That’s it. Nothing else I wanted to point out. Just wanted to snap the photos and blog about them, because it didn’t happen if you don’t blog about it.

I made just one more stop at Batch Bakehouse, because it was on the way home and I was getting hungry. I knew they baked deliciously fluffy baguettes, because we pick them up at the co-op all the time, but I didn’t know they also baked yummy muffins, rolls and other pastries. “Is that a blueberry muffin?” I asked, pointing at a fat, sugar-encrusted gut bomb in the display case.

“Blueberry and lemon,” the smiling young lady behind the counter answered. My tongue dropped from my mouth and I covered the countertop in drool. She correctly interpreted my response and sent me home with one.

Morning Bike Ride | 3:16 pm CST
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image of Smith-Corona Super Coronet

I stumbled upon this Smith-Corona Super Coronet waiting on the counter for someone to take it home from the Willy Street branch of the Saint Vincent de Paul’s thrift store in Madison. Unfortunately, I didn’t take it home because I couldn’t figure out how to make it fit in my book bag and carrying it under one arm would’ve made steering my bicycle a problem.

I couldn’t take it for a test drive because it wasn’t plugged in, but somebody had been using it and left the sheet in the carriage, apparently offered up as proof that it worked. The ribbon was a cartridge type, which I thought might have been a problem until I got home and googled for more information. That’s when I found that everyone offers cartridges for sale, so there must still be a few Coronets in use out there, which just boggles my mind.

Vinnie’s tends to price typewriters a bit high, if you ask me. They wanted twenty bucks for this, which is about the going price on most internet sites, but I’m a tightwad who won’t pay full price if I can help it. Sometimes if they sit on the counter a while and cool off the price comes down a bit, so this typewriter might yet see in the inside of my basement lair. I’d give them a fiver to let me take it home.

Smith Corona Super Coronet | 3:00 pm CST
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Saturday, August 7th, 2010

image of book shelves

I don’t know how many books we have. I wouldn’t be able to give you even a ball park figure. Could be hundreds, could be thousands, I have no way of knowing, because most of them are doubled up in the garage-sale book shelves we’ve collected over the years, and a significant number are still crammed into boxes, waiting for the day of liberation when we have enough shelf space to bring them out in the open air. It could happen. Not sure when; I’m a little vague on the details of that, too.

Although I planned to knock together a proper book case to stash some of the books in, I got to thinking, as I was looking over the lumber on sale at the local do-it-yourself store, that I could rig up something more like a multi-media organization and display center than a piddling book case. Besides needing a place to set our books, I also need shelf space for my ever-growing neato typewriter collection, as well as a rack to hold the stereo components I’ve cobbled together and a nearby shelf for the LP phono albums I keep finding at the thrift store. Aaron Copeland’s Grand Canyon Suite for a buck! Nat King Cole’s Greatest hits for a buck and a quarter! I couldn’t leave them there, could I?

Obviously all these considerations called for a shelving system, nay, a structure that would be a bit more suitable to the various needs of each different tenant. Connecting all the wires of the stereo components in a typical book case, for instance, sucks. You can’t get at the back of the components, which are all in the dark, unless you give each component a quarter-turn that leaves half of it hanging over the edge of the shelf, so you have to nervously hang on to it while you’re plugging things in. Then you have to try to quarter-turn it back while simultaneously tucking all those wires in. And that’s if you’re lucky enough to be able to fit all the components into a single shelf. When you have to poke holes through the back of the book case and run wires from one shelf to another, you might as well do a couple shots before you even begin and just keep drinking to dull the pain.

A mere book case, being just eight to ten inches deep, won’t hold a typewriter, either. I’d need a shelf at least sixteen inches deep, and made of wood stout enough to bear the thirty-pound weight of a 1929 Underwood upright. Particle board doesn’t cut it for a job like that.

With all these considerations running through my head, I selected a car load of lumber that might have given the impression I was remodeling a closet rather than building a place to keep our books and record collection: a heap of three-quarter inch plywood and two by four studs that came to a grand total of forty-six bucks, much less than the eighty or so I would have needed to build a proper book case. I was well chuffed about that.

Assembly took all freaking day. It wasn’t hard, it’s just that I wanted to take my time and make sure it got done right the first time. After clamping all the two by fours together I carefully measured out the grooves that would hold the shelves, then cut them out with a router, one-quarter inch on each pass. Took two hours, much longer than I thought it would, but that’s largely because I don’t use a router much so the widest blade I have is a quarter-incher. When I go shopping for more lumber next week I’m going to see if there isn’t a router blade that will hack out a three-quarter inch dado on one pass. There has to be, right? If there isn’t, don’t tell me.

Hacking the plywood into shelf-sized pieces took only twenty minutes or so because I have a table saw and it’s awesome. I’m literally awed by it, and maybe just a little scared yet. I still count my fingers after each pass, for instance, but that doesn’t make any less awesome.

Then came assembly. I hadn’t quite worked out how I was going to do this. Most of it ended up coming together on a wing and a prayer.

The first set of uprights, on the far left, was easy: Using a beam level I made sure they were straight up and down, and then I fixed them in place.

The second set of uprights, in the middle, was a little harder. In theory I knew exactly how far they should have been from the first uprights and should have been able to place them using a tape measure and a plumb bob. I don’t have a plumb bob, so I cobbled it together by sticking the top shelf and the bottom shelf into the slots on the first uprights, slapping the second pair of uprights against them, and screwing things together to see if that would work. For some reason that I’m not completely aware of, it did. The rest of the shelves slid into place deceptively easy and I was inordinately pleased with myself. That was the calm before the storm.

I tried to put the third pair of uprights, on the right-hand side, in place using the same method. The moment I stepped back to it up, everything fell apart. I tried again and got a little further along, but it fell apart again. When I finally got the top and bottom shelf fixed in place between the uprights, I could clearly see they were leaning forward further than a drunk taking a leak at a urinal. I took everything apart, lined it up again and, while I was fitting the bottom shelf into place, the top shelf fell out and tried to give me a concussion.

Eventually I worked out a sequence that would let me put all the shelves in the slots except one. I tried every way I could think of to get that sucker in there, even shaved the edge down a bit with a chisel, and it came really close to sliding into place where it should have gone … right before everything fell apart again.

At that point I should have started drinking vodka from a beer bong, but I had to shower and pick up My Darling B from work.

After supper it all went together rather easily. I don’t know what I did differently. I guess because I’d had that chance to walk away and not think about it for a while, my head was clear enough to get through the sequence without making mistakes. Not that I recall making mistakes before that, I just seemed to be having rotten luck lining everything up. It all went so much more smoothly after supper, though, that it was almost magical.

If I can find the time to put a few more of these together I’ll not only have a place to put all the books, we may also finally know the answer to the question Just how many books do we have in our possession?

Shelf-Improvement | 9:20 pm CST
Category: books, entertainment, music, Our Humble O'Bode, play | Tags: , ,
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Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Olivetti, typewriter, Studio 44We stopped at the co-op yesterday morning for groceries and at the thrift store to see if there were any books I had to take home (there were; I finally scored a copy of Tom Wolfe’s The Right Stuff).

On my way to the front door of the thrift store I glanced through the window to see if there were any old typewriters on the front counter. It’s a nervous tic I picked up ever since I went home from the thrift store with a cast-iron LC Smith typewriter. I didn’t see any this time, so I was even more surprised when I caught sight of a small portable out of the corner of my eye.

It was an Olivetti Studio 44. My first typewriter was an electric Olivetti Praxis so I already have a soft spot in my heart for Olivettis. This little manual had been well taken care of and was in great shape, except that a tiny metal tab that was meant to hold up the return lever had broken off sometime in the past, so that the return had left a mark where it dragged across the top of the body, and dangled feebly over the side as the carriage advanced.

No big deal to me. I took it home anyway. Fixed the problem of the return lever by sticking a couple of washers in the gap between the lever and the mechanism it screwed onto. Works just great!

Olivetti | 8:08 pm CST
Category: daily drivel, hobby | Tags: ,
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