Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush have a Baby, on the Head of a Pin

You can keep your hot-tub-based time travel. There's only two forms of time-travel I find acceptable -- a big blue Police Box and thrift stores. Still high on yesterday's unexpected ink-acquisition (nobody expects the French ink-acquisition) I made the usual trek out and about. It was a good day.

First, a Hermes Baby, something I've been watching for for some time. I've really taken a shine to travel-sized typewriters, and I think I'm slimming down the bigger, bulkier members of my collection to get a little more focus on these ultra-portable machines. I like the compactness, and the Baby is very compact. So much so that I hardly recognized it in its tiny case, sitting on the shelf. I've managed a dusting and need to work the keys a bit but I can already tell this is a slick little portable, and destined to be an on-the-lap machine come November. This is a 1943 model, with smooth (not crinkle) paint, with a cool "marbling" effect I've never seen on a typewriter before. And of course, those excellent flip-up ribbon covers.

Oh Baby

And an overall shot:

Hermes Baby, c 1943

Trying to keep my composure on the way to the checkout line, I peeked down into the display case and saw a tattered baggie with these inside:

Old Film Stash

Fogies in the audience may recognize this as three boxes of 126 film (for bigger-style Instamatic cameras) and three pouches of 110 film (for the skinnier "pocket instamatic.") I owe thanks to whatever local hoarder had the good sense to go to K-Mart, um, over thirty years ago and then promptly forget about this film in the back of the drawer. And then again twenty-five years ago, and again five years later. The film may be completely shot, but the plastic cartridges are what's valuable to me. You may remember that my very first camera was an Instamatic, as I suppose was true of many people my generation. Flawed though it was, the film-in-a-cartridge format was simple for small hands to use, nearly impossible to ruin (at worst, you would expose one frame), and cheap and plentiful, at least during the Carter/Reagan/Bush I eras. Now it can serve as a lightproof housing for 35mm film, thanks to various hacks posted online.

Even more exciting for me, though, is the sudden rush of memory I got when handling these boxes. Sometime around thirty plus years or so ago, when that first box of film was sitting unbought on a California K-Mart shelf, I was standing in the middle of our dusty country road with my dad, working on my first-ever pinhole camera, which consisted of a simple box rubber-banded to the front of a 126 cartridge. Pretty much this one, in fact, even down to using a nickel to wind it. This was an experiment in a science-kit-of-the-month-club that we had joined, and I remember standing out in the road, trying to get a picture of our little pre-fab next to the empty dirt lot, right on the other side of the City Limit line. If I close my eyes, I can hear the cicadas thrumming in the tall weeds in the ditch behind me, my elbow resting for balance on the plastic newspaper-mailbox attached to our regular mailbox so I wouldn't topple back into the murky water. I'm pretty sure I'm wearing Keds with orange reflective dots on the heels.

As I recall, the pictures were a disappointment to me, caused, no doubt, by our less-than-tiny tinfoil pinhole board, and the shaky, unsteady hand of an under-ten photographer who was used used to the great gravelly wind-wind-click rhythm of his high-tech Instamatic. This isn't photography! Well, maybe not. But it's a solid memory, and now I'm rushing back to it in my own time machine.

World Pinhole Day is coming up near the end of the month. I'll be forty then, and some of this film nearly so. I think it might be time to break out the rubber bands and a nickel, find a mailbox someplace to lean against, and pin down a new memory or two.


Anonymous said...

Man, a nice little Baby right there for there the taking. I'd also like one but not for the typical obnoxious eBay prices. Maybe your thrift-luck will rub off on the rest of us soon.

mpclemens said...

Justin, I worked on my nonchalance all the way up to the register with the Baby. "How much for this?" I said in my head, calmly and evenly.

At least, it sounded that way to me. In my head. I'm sure it was more like "ZOMG!!1!! HowMuchForThisTypewriterPlz?!!?!" out loud.

Spring is coming: time for people to empty out those attics and closets. Mind the local thrift-market carefully.

deek said...

I wish I had some stores locally that had any kind of typewriter turnaround.

I've checked out about a half a dozen places regularly for months and nothing new ever shows up.

Occasionally, I'll see something pop up on Craigslist that is worthy of a second look, but the majority of those end up being people trying to make a buck and charging $200+ for an "antique".

mpclemens said...

Deek, this is the first one of any significance that's shown up in quite a while. Everything I've seen has been either an electric, duplicate of something I already have, or in terrible shape. (There was a Sears-branded machine I saw that literally lost pieces when I lifted it from the case.)

Never did I expect to find this model and vintage just sitting around. I have, though, had the best luck hitting stores that aren't big charities, but are just little independent places, supporting cat adoptions (really) or a hospice program or troubled teens. For some reason, the finds there are more quirky and better, overall.

Anonymous said...

The thrift store finds that I have are few and far between. The most recent was an Olivetti 21 in pristine condition. Before that it was a decent 40's Quiet De Luxe but it was a long time ago.

My best luck has been with Craigslist people who just want $20-$40 for an old family keepsake. Not giving them away but not trying to get rich, either.

Elizabeth H. said...

I've yet to find anything other than various SCM models at the local thrift stores, and most seem to just carry electrics, which makes me wonder a bit if whoever is in charge of intake is dumping manuals in the trash in the belief that no one would want something *that* outdated. much did you pay for this little guy? Is it a secret?

I am envious. But I'm hoping the reason I haven't found much is because my luck is accumulating somewhere, and someday I'll walk into a store and find a Lettera 32 in perfect condition for under, say, $15.

mpclemens said...

@Justin: I have the opposite problem. Every "family heirloom" is priced as such. There are some that keep showing up on Craigslist like a comet -- I expect they've been sold, and then three months later they swing into orbit again, still touting their $200+ price.

@LFP: I was hoping the youngish clerk would price it, as he looked totally mystified by the Baby. He deferred to an older clerk, who was telling me "Three bucks for the film... eh, two bucks" and then "Ten bucks for the typewriter. How about ten bucks for everything."

Uh, yeah, how about it!

So, eight dollars, if you count the film purchase, or ten if the film was free. I consider this cosmic payback for the EXTREME show of willpower I demonstrated by not buying the wide-carriage SM9 with the nasty platen at Goodwill for $50 (though it was there for months and I kept checking it each time for a price drop.)

Duffy Moon said...

I had a similar reaction last year when I came across a Cole-Steel at the thrift store that always seems to have only SCM models and electrics.
I was practically spasming in the aisles, couldn't get it to the register fast enough.

Excellent find.

Duffy Moon said...

Oh, and my first camera was also an instamatic of the 110 variety. I remember carrying it around and just absolutely going bat crazy with it that first day.
When the pics were developed, I distinctly recall my mother asking "Why did you take a picture of the neighbor's dog?"
Because I could. That's why.