The Typewriter Exercise

by Jarrod Tallman


The exercise was this:

  1. Think quickly, without straining, and come up with the first image that comes to mind.
  2. Write down that image (it can be a moving image, hence an event rather than an object) in great detail. Don’t try to explain, just get the image down on paper.
  3. Write down all the emotions the image “tells” you.

I left part three out here. It was a fun and productive exercise.


Hans got one first. His stories of banging away late at night and the neighbors asking him to keep it down sounded productive. And this one, listed as vintage, and for such a good deal, only $40 bucks, and “all keys seem to work.” I’ve been looking for over a week. The last good deal was at an antique shop downtown. I was a day late. The lady at the front of the store was happy when I came in. She smiled and then went back to her work, taking loved and forgotten items from a cardboard box and placing them carefully on a glass shelf. I looked around for a bit, then, “Do you still have that typewriter that was listed on Craigslist, the Olympia?”

She looked up and then toward the back of the shop, “Bonnie, do we still have that typewriter, the Olympia?”

Bonnie popped up from behind a waist-high display cabinet. I could only see the top half of her. She sighed a sort of feigned disappointed smile, “No. Those mid-century typewriters go fast. We put it online in the morning and we sold it that afternoon. It was a young lady, right Barb?”

Barb answered without taking her eyes off the porcelain salt and pepper shakers she was placing on the glass shelf, “Yes, I think so. Definitely a lady.”

A day late.

“Thanks,” I told them, and left.

That was yesterday afternoon. And now, this morning, this one just got listed. I’m heading up that way to drop my friend, Angelo, off at the airport later––this is in that same neighborhood. So I text this to the number:

H-e-l-l-o–d-o–y-o-u–s-t-i-l-l–h-a-v-e–t-h-e–t-y-p-e-w-r-i-t-e-r–?–J-a-r-r-o-d

About 1 minute later my phone rings, the area code is (206). It’s the typewriter.

“Hey there,” I answer, like I’ve known the guy forever.

“Yeah, this is Allen, with the typewriter. Sorry to call back, but I’m in the car and it was easier than texting.”

“Safer, too.” I say.

“I’m out running some errands, and I got the typewriter with me. I could meet you at the J-box on 188th in about half an hour?” It’s a form of question.

It’s only 10:30am, and besides, I’m an hour away. “I’m actually in Olympia. I have to drop my friend off at the airport this afternoon. I could meet you there around three, if that works for you?” Another question.

“Sure. Text me when you leave the airport and I’ll meet you there.”

“Thanks,” I tell him.

I give Angelo a hug at the airport. It’s the second time he’s visited since I moved up here. We were trying to catch an unseasonable swell at a mysterious point break on The Strait of Juan de Fuca. It barely arrived, but we surfed anyway, Angelo, Johnny, and I. Canada, dimmed by a salty haze, was just visible across the sea, to the north. To the south, the Olympics, still capped with the slightest bit of snow on this afternoon in June. We rode the small waves on the cobblestone point until the sun went down. Then we left.

That was fun, we tell each other at the airport a few days later. Then we leave.

I get back in the car, and before I drive away, I text the guy with the typewriter. He says:

B-e–t-h-e-r-e–i-n–t-w-e-n-t-y

After the transaction, when I was leaving the parking lot, it started to rain. Not much, but enough to use the wipers.

I typed a letter on the typewriter and sent it to Hans in Amsterdam. Not all the keys work. The “K” and the “I” stick sometimes. You have to pull them back in to place. I think the arms are bent.

I don’t use it as much as I thought. I move it back and forth, between the desk in my office and the table next to the window in my kitchen. I suppose it is productive, I think, looking at it sitting on my desk. Then I type these l-e-t-t-e-r-s on my Apple computer.

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