Essay: Olympia Traveller de Luxe

By Robert Long Foreman

The Olympia Traveller de Luxe is not the same thing as the Olympia de Luxe.

They’re similar, sure. They’re both manual typewriters. They look like each other. But if someone said they were the same they’d be lying through their teeth. They’d be capable of anything.

The Olympia Traveller de Luxe does all the things the Olympia de Luxe does, but it’s far more compact. It doesn’t rise high off the table but keeps its head down; it’s three and a quarter inches tall, where the Olympia de Luxe is five and a half.

It can’t have been easy for Olympia’s engineers to take all the functions of the de Luxe and reproduce them in an even smaller model. But they did. And I’ve tried other typewriters of about the same size, like the Smith-Corona Skyriter and the Hermes Rocket. They’re nice, but they’re flawed. The page you’re typing on will slide out of place as you type. The hammers won’t strike hard unless you press hard.

Not so with the Olympia Traveller de Luxe. It’s small, but the letters it makes are bold—which helps convince its user that what they’re writing matters, that someone in the world will care about what’s on that page.

The words you make on it aren’t pixels on a screen but ink on paper. You can see them when the power goes out.

It’s not exactly a light device, but it is meant to be traveled with, to be taken on a plane and stowed under the seat in front of you. It’s squat enough for that. It has a white plastic cover that goes over the top, so that no one at the airport will know what it is.

They might wonder. The older folks might know.

It’s almost as portable as a laptop. In so many ways, it’s like a laptop, only it has no porn on it or Skype sex.

~

Go ahead, this typewriter dares its user. Try to use me for Skype sex.

It won’t work. There’s no screen, for starters.

The Olympia Traveller de Luxe, like other typewriters, does one thing and one thing only. It facilitates the production of new documents through typing.

It is incredibly good at this. It’s better at it than laptops.

It presents no distractions to its user, like online shopping and on-demand reruns of Designing Women. You can’t play computer games on the Olympia Traveller de Luxe, and it won’t shut itself off abruptly and lock you out so it can install its own updates, and keep you from writing more of what you’ve been writing, for thirty minutes at a time, sometimes.

It won’t tell you when you have an inbox full of good or bad news, and suggest you stop what you’re doing to read the good or bad news.

The Olympia Traveller de Luxe has all the Wi-Fi connectivity of a hamburger. And like the hamburger, it contains only what a guy stuffed in it long ago in Germany.

West Germany, that is. The factory was on the east side of Germany, until the Soviets invented East Germany and Olympia production shuffled to the capitalist half.

It’s an old machine. It’s a relic.

~

It should go without saying that as I write about my Olympia Traveller de Luxe, I’m using my Olympia Traveller de Luxe.

Every time I write its name, I have to type the whole thing. Every letter.

Olympia Traveller de Luxe.

It takes a long time.

When it’s time to work on another draft of whatever this is, I’ll type it all again on the computer. I’ll change things as I go. To save time and energy, I’ll no doubt use the cut-and-paste feature. I won’t have to type out the full name of the thing I’m typing on right now.

Calories will pool in my fingers, and won’t be spent pressing hard on keys. I can use those calories for buttoning a shirt, or for drumming my digits on my desk in the basement. I have gorgeous, calorie-bloated fingers.

And as I retype all of this into a much newer, more versatile machine, I’ll think of new sentences to put between the sentences I wrote on the typewriter. I’ll give this thing I’m writing more depth that way.

It’s an efficient way to edit as you write, to continue writing as you revise. It takes less time than the other ways I know. For some reason, typing a thing on a typewriter, then typing the same thing again on a computer, means I don’t have to go through as many drafts as I do when I write on the computer alone.

But I wouldn’t want to type a second draft on a typewriter. No way. My enthusiasm has its limits.

I know what a godsend the cut-and-paste feature is. I don’t envy people who had no choice but to write without it.

~

I read a short story, once, by Sara Pritchard. It’s in her story collection Help Wanted: Female.

Wendy, the protagonist of “Help Wanted: Female, Part I,” goes to a word processing training session for her job. The story takes place at a time when the word processor was the hot, new thing. And so, writes Pritchard,

When Wendy saw the demonstration of cut and paste in the BG&D word processing training, she felt like Blake seeing God. She jumped out of her chair and screamed, “Oh my gawd! Oh my gawd! Holy shit! You can cut and paste! You. Can. Cut. And. You. Can. Paste! OH MY GAWD! CUT AND PASTE!”

I grew up with cut and paste, and so I never had a moment like that. Cut and paste has always just been there.

But since I started writing on typewriters, it’s been driven home for me just how much labor that feature has saved me. I wonder sometimes, sure, what I might be missing when I don’t type a whole passage again every time I move it, because I can cut and paste it on a screen. I do wonder how many tiny revisions I’m not making in that process.

But sometimes all you need to do is move something from one part of an essay, novel, short story, whatever, to another. Sometimes the thing you need to relocate is already perfect, or it’s as close to perfect as it will get. And if you want to cut and paste with a typewriter, you have to use scissors and paste.

You wouldn’t use paste, though. Right? You’d use tape. And if you used paste, you’d call it glue.

If you call it paste, you’re capable of anything.

~

When my Olympia Traveller de Luxe arrived in the mail, it had dust on it. The dust wasn’t from the mail, it was from a basement.

Some of the letters stuck. One still does: V. Every time I press that key, I have to pull the hammer thing back from the page.

I bought mineral spirits and Q-Tips, and rubbed the spirits into the letter bar things. It helped.

Still there’s dirt and dust where I can’t reach it. This machine will always be a filthy thing. Having it cleaned by an expert costs too much, and someone kept it sunken deep in their house for years and wrote nothing with it. Not a novel, not a short story, not a love letter to the world. Not even a little, modest essay about the thing itself.

Maybe they didn’t have time for that. Maybe they had to go to work and go to church, constantly, until they died.

After burying their corpse, someone else excavated the basement and posted the typewriter they found to eBay, where it started its journey to my basement, where I use it for what it was built for in a country that’s not there anymore.

I’ve read about guys who soak their newly acquired typewriters in water, in the bathtub, to clean them out. But that seems like—uh, I don’t know—the wrong thing to dowith a metal machine that has intricate moving parts.

So I haven’t given this typewriter a bath. About all I’ve done with it in my first two weeks of owning it is type whatever this is in my basement.

I know that two weeks is not a long time. But when I was in college I told a young woman—that poor young woman—that I loved her after we dated for less time than I’ve owned the Olympia Traveller de Luxe. So this is progress.

~

I can write on a computer. I often do. It’s easier in so many ways.

I could switch off the Wi-Fi so there’d be no distractions.

But something I’ve learned from using typewriters is that if you spend time with one, and it’s a good one, and you’re not using it because you have to—because you’re a secretary in 1968, or whatever—that machine will invite you to use it. It will seem to beckon to you, somehow; there’s something about its design that does that.

A typewriter is open in a way that computers are closed. It’s always ready, always poised, even after decades of neglect. It’s never being used for something other than making words on paper, and the noise it makes is a sign to everyone in earshot that you’re doing what you were put on this earth to do.

A good typewriter welcomes you to work on it. The din it makes accompanies the one in your head. Together they strike a rarified harmony.


Robert Long Foreman has won a Pushcart prize and published work in Kenyon Review Online, AGNI, Willow Springs, and other magazines. His collection of short fiction, I Am Here to Make Friends, is out now, and his first novel, Weird Pig, is available for pre-order from SEMO Press

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