A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Remington Portable Model 5
Sunday, August 31, 2008

When my grandmother Lolita was in New York, before she returned to Manila, sometime in the mid 1930s, with my mother Filomena, and brother Tony and sister Dolly she purchased a Remington Portable Model 5 at the American Writing Machine Company. This portable traveled the world and by the time my abuelita arrived in Buenos Aires in 1939 with her children, now adults, in tow she had the machine adapted to the Spanish keyboard with an ¡, ¿, ñ,ü and the accent to the right. Whenever the machine was taken out of the closet by either my grandmother or my mother I knew something serious was afoot. They would type important letters for job applications or to fulfill some Argentine legal or bureaucratic requirement.

In 1958 I failed (the only one) typing in St. Ed's in Austin. I did learn the keyboard well but I could not write quickly without making mistakes. It was only around 1976 that seeing a TV ad in Vancouver I found out I was dyslexic. By 1964 taking notes in college had deteriorated my handwriting to the point that not only my teachers but I could no longer read it. In 2008 I can no longer sign my name and make all the letters legible. I simply had to type to communicate. The Remington became my baby and caused me all sorts of frustration as the floor around me when I typed was full of sheets and sheets of rumpled attempts to typing a whole page without making mistakes.

This frustration lasted until 1990 when I purchased a Smith Corona PWP-40 which was an early version of a portable word processor that did not have the complexity of a computer or any association with that even more complex "thing" called Word Perfect. When I finally broke down and obtained a computer around 1994 I refused to use Word Perfect and posted stories and articles to the Vancouver Sun by writing them in the email program that I used at the time, Eudora. My editor at the time, Nick Rebalski had no problem as at the time there was an incompatibility between the PC based Word Perfect and whatever they used at the Sun.

By 1986 the Remington went back to a closet but I took it out around 1995 and placed it for display on a table in our living room. As some sort of an irony I slipped a handwritten note from the Los Angeles Times Buenos Aires correspondent, James F. Smith into the machine's carriage. I had met Smith in Lima in 1990. We were both there to interview writer Mario Vargas Llosa who was running for president. Some months later the Times used my portrait and Smith had sent me the thank you note.

When I got my first scanner some 5 years ago I needed a table by my computer (on my desk in the living room). I used the table the Remington was on so my grandmother's machine went back to the closet. I took it out a few weeks ago to photograph Ms. Hernandez as an evangelista.

The Remington is back in the closet and I feel sadness. The presence of my grandmother and mother are there when I stare at the keys. The old black fabric covered case smells of age and propels me to remembering the noise I would hear when they would open the case and then type with what then was called a noiseless wonder.

I remember being in Buenos Aires in 1966 and watching with amazement as my secretary Edna Gahan could somehow decipher my handwritten translations and type them with her then state-of-the-art IBM Selectric. It was as much a marvel as was my Schick razor which had one long and contiunuous blade that I would advance to a new section when the previous one grew dull.

Now I would sell my soul to keep Word and that ever so useful tool, word count.


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