Saturday, March 01, 2008

A Royal Fair Trade

I picked up the typewriter you see here, an Olivetti, from Matt McCormack at Ace Typewriter the other day.

It was part of a spur-of-the-moment trade that took all of two minutes to negotiate. Matt and I are easy.

I proposed a two-for-one deal. I would give Matt a black, crinkle-finished, Depression-era Royal portable in pristine condition along with a gray Remington Model 5 portable. In exchange I would get the Olivetti, a Linea 88, which I admired for its lyrical bulk and Italian pedigree.

Matt rejected the Remington saying that it would only end up in his basement, a kind of typewriter bone yard. He has never liked Remington 5s. The escapements go bad, he said, usually because of chipped teeth. I won’t go into the significance of chipped teeth along a typewriter's escapement bar except to say that letters, to say nothing of words, do not follow in orderly fashion when escapement mechanisms fail.

As it turned out, the Remington 5 I was offering for trade was just fine. Matt still didn’t want it. But, never mind, he offered a simple straight trade — the Royal for the Olivetti.

So what did I get in this Olivetti?

As you can see, it’s a standard, not a portable, but because much of it is plastic, it’s remarkably light. It has a clean Italian crispness to its design. Olivetti got that down cold, witness its Lettera machines, universally hailed for their simple elegance.

What Olivetti didn’t get was ergonomics — ever. You have to attack, nay, pounce on, the keys to produce even the most mundane phrase. The pinkie stretch to the shift key is at human anatomical limits, and returning the carriage requires the heft I reserve for the weight machines at the community center.

But I’m not complaining. The typeface is a modified Courier with a Euro-design edge to it. I can’t quite place it, but it lends a cool Italian flair to whatever you write.

As I snooped around to the back of the machine here in my office warren, I discovered that while the machine's design was Italian (circa 1966), its manufacture was British. In the words on a label, “Made in Great Britain.” The label doesn’t say where in Great Britain but because of my inherited affinity for Wales, I like to think of its being assembled in Llandudno, Conwy or Llangollen — however unlikely that may be.

On the very same label announcing the Olivetti’s British manufacturer as “British Olivetti Ltd.,” is fine print. I fetched my magnifying glass, Holmes like, to decipher it. To the right of an honest-to-God Royal Crest are the words “By appointment to H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh Office Equipment Manufacturers.”

Imagine, an aristocratic typewriter, right here in Portland, Oregon, right here in this commoner's cluttered office. Astonishingly, I had traded Matt a Royal for a Royal.

I call that a fair trade.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

Ace out of the Hole

Dennis and Matt at the Ace Typewriter work bench.

Among the silver linings of the dark recession clouds is the salvation of Ace Typewriter.

Before the real estate market went wobbly, Ace owners Matt and Dennis McCormack were faced with having to move nearly 50 years' worth of parts, equipment and typewriters out of their comfortably cluttered storefront shop on N. Lombard here in Portland. The photos give you some idea of he task they faced. Don’t even think about the basement.

The owner of the space was going level the place to make way for townhouses. Just a few months ago, money was to be made in the then torrid St. Johns-area real estate market.

Dennis started the business back in the Sixties, and son Matt has carried on the tradition. Matt, who is in his forties, has to be the youngest typewriter repair guy in the land. He is certainly one of the most savvy.

So let’s hoist one to Matt and Dennis for their continued longevity on Lombard and their service to all Typewriterdom.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Buckley, Limbaugh and Civility

Type into Google “Limbaugh,” “Civility” and “Buckley.” Several references pop up, the foremost being Rush Limbaugh’s own web page, where today’s entry/program transcript is titled, “On Mr. Buckley and ‘Civility.'”

It’s worth a read because Limbaugh argues that he and Buckley are conservative soul mates. He even quotes a fawning interview he did with Buckley in 2004 in which Buckley seemingly joins hands with Limbaugh and declares them both victims of “liberal hate mongering.”

And somehow that makes hate mongering acceptable?

The eulogies for Bill Buckley have focused on his passion for ideas, not on his passion for name-calling and derision, although, as Limbaugh notes, Buckley occasionally resorted to the cheap shot. (In a 40-year-old TV clip, Buckley responds to being called a “crypto-Nazi” by Gore Vidal by calling Vidal, who was openly homosexual, a “queer.”)

Those of us who watched Buckley’s “Firing Line” saw guests from across the political spectrum. From Margaret Thatcher to Noam Chomsky. (Addendum: for more on the program and its 33 year run, go here). Limbaugh never tolerates such diversity. Instead he prides himself on, as he calls them, his “Ditto Heads.” So much for the marketplace of ideas. Anyone wanting to offer an un-Limbaugh-like idea is Rush's market, is barred entry and derided as the enemy.

Someday, it will be left to the “Ditto Heads” to eulogize Limbaugh, the man who seems to love to hate and takes only his own counsel.

In contrast, the eulogies for Buckley are coming, not surprisingly, from all quarters — from those who agreed with him, those who disagreed with him and those who did some of both depending on the topic and the times. They all admired William Buckley because he cleaved to ideas, not hatred.

A final note: High among the notable aspects of the 2008 presidential campaign is Rush Limbaugh's dismissal of all the candidates. They are far too decent, yes, civil, for Rush. Perhaps even the Ditto Heads are seeing the truth. A world beset by hatred can ill-afford more of it.

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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Signs of Spring

As certain as the daffodils’ blossoming in February is the flourishing of these vinyl “flowers.”

I "picked" this pair earlier in the week. They were “growing” illegally in the public right-of-way on Bertha Boulevard not far from the I-5 on-ramp. Maximum visibility, not sunlight, caused them to “sprout” where they did.

Other invasives are soon to follow. If past seasons are any indication, foremost among them will be the 1-800-GOTJUNK and JOBDANGO blossoms. Feel free to pick those too. I will.

I called the prominent number on the College Works sign. (Get the pun? College Works. There are others too, like “A Higher Degree of Painting.”)

“The company, based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, is simply a subsidiary of a larger company, National Services Group, based in Annapolis Maryland. The voice at the other end was “Steve.” He was in Irving, California. Of course I was calling about this little illegal sign infestation in Hillsdale, in Portland, in Oregon, in the Northwest.

It’s a complex world out there.

Steve apologized on behalf of College Works in Ann Arbor, but the problem, he said, was with student “business associates” who are unaware of the law in Oregon.

“We seem to be getting more calls like yours this year. I’ll pass this along.”

I suggested that he pass it directly to the executive suite. College Works’ top management, not student underlings, has ordered these signs made (in the fine print are references to business license numbers in several states.) Putting up the signs in the public right-of-way is clearly a directive from the top.

The problem begins with people who don’t care about places called neighborhoods, unless the neighborhoods happen to be their own.

We need to make them care about our neighborhoods as much as they care about their own — assuming, of course, that they do care about their own neighborhoods.

Come to think of it, they likely live in some gated, impenetrable cluster of “estates.”

Therein may lie the problem. . . .

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Ads on my ankles

Last month my wife watched as I shoved my heal through one of my worn-to-a-veneer socks. In her wisdom, she concluded that I could use replacements for my birthday.

Replacements I got. Nice socks but they come with little polo ponies and their teeny polo players embroidered on the ankles.

In case you are wondering, I have not, do not and never intend to play polo, at least not in this lifetime.

So what are these ponies doing on my socks?

I’m sure you can guess. They are Ralph Lauren “Polo” brand socks — made in Turkey as a matter of fact. As far as I know, polo-playing isn’t a big deal in Turkey. The Turks have their hands full with the Kurds.

As it turns out, the itsy-bitsy ponies and their minute helmeted, mallet-swinging riders aren’t visible to the casual observer, so they don’t exactly pass as advertising. We aren’t talking in-your-face Nike Swooshes here.

So what are they? Why are they there?

Bear with me while I channel the brand manager who ordered the sock designer (yes, there are such people) to position Ralph’s steeds on my ankles.

The designer: “Why are we cluttering up a perfectly good pair of socks with Ralph’s logo?”

The brand manager: “Clearly you don’t know Ralph.”

“Enlighten me.”

“He wants people to see his logo — a lot.”

“But no one will see the logo except the wearer, and then it will only be when he puts on or takes off his socks.”

“And how often does that happen?”

“Well, minimum, twice a day, maybe more.”

“There you have it.”

“There I have what?”

“There you have brand exposure and product purchase reinforcement. The wearer thinks about Ralph at least twice day. That’s more than my kids think about me. Clever huh?”

“ If you say so.”

“Believe me, I do. It pays the mortgage.”

There’s one flaw in all of this. The brand manager is right, of course: I do see the little logo twice a day plus when I put the socks in the washer and dryer and take the socks out of the washer and dryer, and harness them in pairs and put them in their sock stable in the top drawer of my dresser.

Face it, these socks are a major part of my existence.

What the brand manager (sodden thought: How much do they pay these people?) has failed to consider is what I think about when the logo leaps into view. Each time I see the horse and rider I think what an egotistical, polo-obsessed, interloper Ralph Lauren is.

I didn’t ask my wife what she paid for the socks. I don’t want to know, but I hope there’s not some price-inflating cachet associated with the ponies.

Actually, cachets, brands and polo aside, they aren’t bad socks.

We’ll see how long it takes me to wear them down to a nothing and to put the ponies out to some landfill pasture.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Good news and bad about on-line news

Today brought major good news for the news-blogging community, and small-potatoes not-so-good news for this particular news blogger.

The good news was that Joshua Micah Marshall, the founder and force behind the investigative blog Talking Points Memo, has won the distinguished George Polk Award for legal reporting.

For the first time the national award is going to a journalist who publishes exclusively on the web. An article in today’s New York Times describes both Marshall's success and his site, which has a staff of seven reporters and an army of online citizen tipsters and correspondents.

Question: Why is this story on the “Business” page? Could it be because, notably, Marshall and his operation are actually making money.

The Polk Award is both recognition for Marshall and his site and a note-worthy milestone in the history of journalism.

Now for the not-so-good news here in Hillsdale.

First a little background.

Although I still write a monthly print column for The Southwest Community Connection, a monthly I founded and sold in 1999, most of my journalistic energies now go into The Hillsdale News, and, to a lesser extent, this more-or-less daily blog.

Both are volunteer efforts. I have not sought to make a dime off either, although I eventually may offer advertising space on the Hillsdale News. I'm waiting for my subscriber list to break 400. I'm now at 318.

Now for the not-so-good news.

Today I was at a small gathering of community leaders when one of them announced that he had read an obscure, one-sentence news item in The Oregonian today about a non-profit housing agency, Community Partners for Affordable Housing's, moving its offices to Hillsdale.

This leader receives the Hillsdale News in his e-mail in-box. The last edition was mailed nine days ago and had the same story but prominently displayed and thoroughly reported.

In short, The Hillsdale News scooped The Oregonian by more than a week, yet the leader wasn’t aware of of the Hillsdale News story.

The scoop wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last.

The problem is that the reading habits of this community leader and of many others still take them routinely to print and only sporadically to online news sources. When I informed him that I had the story more than a week ago, he apologized that he hadn’t “had time to get to” the News yet.

But he obviously makes time each day to go to The Oregonian.

I can sympathize because I still turn to print over online sources. Confession: I hadn’t even heard about Talking Points Memo until I read about it in my ink-and-paper New York Times this morning. I now have it "book marked."

We are all running to keep up, not only with the news but with the news media and their stunning transformation.

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Sunday, February 24, 2008


From Portland's Japanese Garden: