Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Personal Discoveries and Barry's Folly

Aging Hippies at Winning Coffee
Ageing Hippies at Winning Coffee

Is there some universal law that dictates when a person first makes a personal discovery? What if that discovery involves a public venue, like Winning Coffee Company, in the University Neighborhood of Albuquerque? These things are like wings you don't even know you've put on, they've become so comfortable. In the case of Winnings, I can't now recall how I first heard of it, or from whom, or the circumstances of my first visit. All I know for certain is that there came a time, in the mid-aughts, when I began spending many a morning at Winnings, eating breakfast, drinking coffee and writing in a journal.

The circumstances of how these places come to be are mysterious, or so I'd like to pretend. In fact, some one or group of people had the vision to start this business, in 1996; but that's not what this story is about. The story I'd like to tell is that Winnings is as unlikely of a hangout for creatives as one can ever imagine in this dry, dusty southwest city, seemingly perpetually insulated from the balance of civilization by many hundreds of miles of badlands and years of history.

If Beatnik culture were a "Thing," let us presume, and someone with the vision and aptitude to make a buck off the declining entrails of mid-20th century American Beatnik culture were to have a free hand in fashioning a simulacra of that culture, they could do no better than start at Winnings, study what it is and what it is they do, and try to franchise the results far and wide.

Men's Room Trashcan at Winning Coffee
Simulacra of Decrepitude

You'd need, at the very least, an aroma of cumin and cayenne wafting from an ancient-looking kitchen, just as mood music fills the modern spaces of Starbucks out in Suburbia. You'd need some corporate specification defined for how intense the aroma becomes, along with how to simulate the decrepitude of years of caked-on paint, crazed plaster walls and tin ceilings in some state of disarray. An exacting simulacra of decrepitude, canned and marketed for the suburbanites in newly built communities of cracker mansions out by the Interstate, neatly set down in their precise rows of grids, enticing them to drive their SUVs down to the strip mall and experience a bit of inner-city, beatnik funkiness distilled down to its essential ingredients. Employee personal hygiene would be optional, in order to preserve the aroma of the unkempt philosopher, specified in the corporate policy manual, which also mandates faded bell-bottom denim, braided beards and bandanas securing greasy locks. Most essential would be the front patio, where tables and chairs offer a convenient place for revolutions to be fomented in billowy clouds of hand-rolled cigarette smoke; local ordinances would require special exemptions, palms would need to be greased. We have money to make, boy!

Of course, no true revolutions will arise from our imaginary chain of faux-beatnik coffee shops (Now Nationwide!), only harmless little pretend ones; for the affluence of American Suburbia is predicated on the notion of keeping one's head to the grindstone of Corporate America, doing as one's masters might dictate, and don't rock the boat.

On October 1, 2011, (un)Occupy Albuquerque, a protest group loosely inspired by the then ongoing and worldwide Occupy Movement, began a weeks-long protest and occupation of Yale Park, across Central Avenue from Harvard Drive, the location of Winning Coffee, which became for participants a de facto support triage, with food, drink and moral encouragement. For myself, Winning had by now also become my own personal triage, a place from which to escape middle-class suburbia and it trappings. I'd visit almost every week, notebook and camera in hand, simultaneously inspired and also desiring to capture on film a fleeting essence of the ephemeral. Like capturing fairies on glass plates, how does one capture the essence of a culture defined primarily by the negative space of protest and opposition? It's like that old optical illusion: is it a pair of faces or a candlestick?

I think it always comes back to that most essential approach, storytelling. People are intrinsically interested in the lives of other's, especially if those others come from a different walk of life. I've always felt a bit out-of-place visiting Winning Coffee because of the imagined disparity between my station in life (middle-class suburbanite) and those Winning regulars closer to the streets. And yet, as I've come to know some of them, I've found a richness in their diverse backgrounds that is wholly unexpected and irreplaceable.

Some of these people I've gained only a casual familiarity with, enough to catch a mere glimpse into their psyche, but enough to serve as inspiration for fictional characters in a series of short stories based on Losers Blend, the parallel universe fictionalized version of Winnings.

It's been many months since I've visited Winnings; their coffee roaster guy quit and we'd begun buying beans elsewhere. It's been several years since I was a regular enough visitor to spend hours there writing, or visiting with fellow patrons. So it came as some shock to learn this week that they are having financial difficulties, brought about by the Albuquerque Rapid Transit project, which has resulted in the entirety of Central Avenue being torn up, disrupting traffic, parking and shopping for miles. The project has earned the scorn of most every business along Central, known by its initials ART; but there's nothing art-like or redeeming about it. The Mayor, Richard Barry, heavily promoted it as a way to begin transitioning the city's transportation infrastructure away from being so automobile-centric; a noble cause. But instead of placing it in a part of town most needing mass transit - the suburbs of the densely-packed northeast heights - he instead located it along the one thoroughfare already better served by bus lines than any other. So while the city might call it ART, I call it Barry's Folly.

It will take several more years before the project is concluded, and funding has not even been appropriated for any more than the initial demolition phase currently underway. Neither was the public given an opportunity to directly vote to determine the project's future, but it was instead mandated from the top, down. Theoretically, a democratic society works by the government working for the people, not the other way around.

There is the very real prospect that, even if the project is successfully completed, those areas of downtown, the University District and Nob Hill who were to benefit so directly from the transformation will be burned-out, boarded-up shells of their former vibrancy, a zone of economic blight brought about by the reality that the cure was worse than the illness; that in attempting to revive the city's core through infrastructure improvements they've killed off those essential but delicate economies of small businesses which make up most of this city's commercial liveliness; the very opposite of what Mayor Barry promised. Unique places like Winning Coffee might very likely cease to exist.

Conspiracy theorists might even conjecture this was their intention all along, so that real estate could be bought up cheaply and sold off to new corporate clients waiting in the wings.

This morning we had a late breakfast at Winnings, a hearty burrito filled with eggs, potatoes, green chile sauce and cheese; and their wonderfully rich lattes. Bradley, the bookseller, was there, setting up shop in the corner nook by the coffee roasting machine. He has a younger assistant who does the heavy lifting of setting up and tearing down, whom I asked how the books are organized, and the answer I got revealed once again the rich diversity of this crowd, as he told me that they're organized by genre: beat authors here, soviet realists there, feminist lit over yonder, Latin American fantasists over there. Only at places like Winnings will you find the guy with the strong back also has a strong mind for literature.

As we entered through the front door (there's also a rear entrance from the alley) the regulars were seated outside at the patio tables, while the big oval table inside by the order line had the usual old guys, the knights of the round table I call them, including the one who always sports some puffy-sleeved shirt and black vest, with black top hat. As we stood in line waiting to place our order, I overheard one of them inform the others "One of the Chicago Seven is now a stock broker."

I'm hoping Barry's Folly will fail to have its full sway, and that these unique venues like Winning Coffee will survive and prosper. In the meantime, Bradley informed me that the new coffee roaster guy now has his act together, and so perhaps next week, when our stock of beans begins to run low, I'll make a drive down to the University District, brave the construction barricades, have breakfast and perhaps do a bit of writing. Maybe I'll take a portable typewriter, sit out on the front sidewalk tables, sip my coffee and pound inky words into paper, the aroma of hand-rolled smokes wafting in the breeze.

Post-Script: I enjoyed writing the first draft of this piece on the teletype paper roll using the Facit 1620. Spaced at 1.5 lines, the piece came to 31 inches.

'Personal Discoveries' Rough Draft, Facit 1620 and Teletype Roll

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Monday, March 13, 2017

Good Enough, Close Enough

Olympia and Espresso

Post-Script: Another theory is that I'm sufficiently unskilled at typewriter repair that I have to use these kinds of justifications to live with a collection of machines that's less than pristine. But really, as soon as you drive that new car home from the dealership, it's beginning its long decline into decrepitude. All it takes is sufficient time. And so it is with typewriters, whose parts are essentially no longer being manufactured; in contrast with antique automobiles where you can assemble an entire 1930s-era Ford Coupe from parts ordered from catalogs. And thus we find ourselves, as typewriter lovers and users, living with little nagging problems, the essential ingredient being not letting them nag you to bits.

I think this is one key factor in the phenomenon of uncontrollable typewriter collecting (I'm a recovering addict), that we'd like to find some specimen with that ideally perfect combination of typing action, appearance, features, functionality and reliability, all rolled into one. It's fairly easy to find two or three out of the five, but all five? A perfect typewriter? Not gonna happen! Thus the mantra indicated in the title of this piece.

But I did take the Olympia SF out to the work bench today and performed more tinkering. When I'd first cleaned it last week the foam insulation pieces glued inside the side panels fell to dust. So today I replace them with 1/4" thick black craft foam and double-sided adhesive sheets. I also added some to the inside of the top ribbon cover, which never had any from the factory. There was enough clearance between the inside of the top panel and the ribbon spool axles to permit installation without interference, which hopefully will further reduce the noise level; not that it's so excessively noisy to use, but it's also not the quietest in my collection; and being small and easy to carry, I'm more apt to use it in public.

I also looked into the wobbly carriage bearings, which I made mention of in Episode 60 of the Typewriter Video Series. I tightened the rear bearing track a bit by adjusting the set screws, then reoiled the bearings with gun oil. Now there's a bit less wobble. Afterwards I did a half page or so of test typing, and this afternoon I'm going to sit in the front patio, drink more coffee and do some stream-of-unconsciousness typing.

This morning I took the Olympia SF, in a shoulder bag on my motorcycle, down to Michael Thomas Coffee in Nob Hill and did some indoor typing at the bar adjacent to their fancy siphon coffee machines. The combination of mad scientist-looking glass lab ware, manual typewriter and wood-&-metal counter somehow fit nicely together. I didn't get any negative feedback from my typing, as I'd asked the waitstaff ahead of time, and the gal indicated another of their customers also types there. I did overhear some customer point out my typing as they walked inside, but it didn't sound all that negative, probably some snide remark about hipsters. Imagine me, a nearly 60 year-old hipster!

I also handed out more fliers for the April 23 ABQ Type-In. Now I need to get more printed up.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Munk's Tape Dispenser Meme & More


Post-Script: Here's the link to Rev. Ted's tape dispenser blog article. Alas, my Brother Charger 11 doesn't exactly match the color of the 3M Model C-15 dispenser. Does this mean I should immediately run out to the nearest thrift store and look for another typewriter? No, but I like the way you're thinking.

Here's Mike Clemens' blog article from 2009 (I had the date wrong in my typecast above) on what he calls "colorcasting." Not to be outdone, here's Strikethru's article about colorcasting at Starbucks. And here's Little Flower Petals' colorcasting article. And here are some of my own blog articles from that same time period on colorcasting and aluminum foil typecasting. Wasn't that a great time in the formative years of the Typosphere? Thank you, Ted, for reviving our spirits a bit.

I was surprised by my dear wife's reaction to my suggestion that those plastic tape cores might serve as napkin rings. She's normally very sensitive to clutter and junk (an intrinsic problem when married to a packrat such as myself), but she suggested I decorate these cores with colorful adhesive tape, and collect eight of them for our formal dinner service. I should check if she's running a fever...

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Monday, February 27, 2017

On the Other Side of the Lens


I have a couple of typewriter-related things to share with you today. The first concerns my seemingly perpetual and tenuous planning for what I hope to be the first ever ABQ Type-In. Since I first had an inkling about planning such an event, late last year, it seems I've dragged my feet, not quite knowing how to go about planning such an event. I needed to decide on a date, time and venue, while also needing some idea about how many people might be expected to show up with typewriters, which dictates the size of the venue.

So earlier this year I put together a simple flier, soliciting interest in attendance, and posted it around town, hoping for the best. I've thus far received about a half-dozen replies to the affirmative.

I also created a gmail account for this project (, through which I put together an informational email packet about Type-Ins, to be sent in reply to any respondent to my fliers.

The biggest hurdle has been finding a suitable venue. I've visualized the event as taking place on a Sunday afternoon at a public place with food and drink, the kind conducive to creatives and the general public alike. I needed it to have some separate meeting room big enough for a sizable turnout (not knowing how many people might show up), yet able to attract people who might just wander in for lunch.

Initially I had limited my search to the area of Nob Hill and UNM, the part of town where one might expect to find creative peoples in mass, but I widened my search after realizing that the ongoing reconstruction of Central Avenue, due to the ongoing Albuquerque Rapid Transit project/fiasco, would hamper access and parking. I also wanted to avoid the time when the NCAA basketball tournament is being televised, while also wanting to avoid Good Friday and Easter weekends.

Then this last weekend I had lunch at Nexus Brewery, in north-central Albuquerque near I-25 and Montgomery, and discovered they have a suitable meeting room, a great selection of award-winning brews, and a good food menu, including the ever-popular chicken and waffles. So today I called their business office and was able to confirm a date and time, that being Sunday, April 23 starting at 1 PM.

I'm excited that this major hurdle has been passed. Now I have to wait on my graphic designer to finish the poster and fliers, and to get some media attention. I'm not a publicist by nature, so this is all new territory for me.

The second typewriter-related item to share with you is that last week I spent several hours at my home being interviewed by an Associated Press reporter for a story about the typewriter revival. He had found me through one of my fliers left at John Lewis's Mechanical Antique typewriter repair shop; where he was having one of his two typewriters serviced. I won't know for several weeks how the story ends up, or in what venue it will be published. During the interview we spent considerable time discussing my background and how I came into typewriters, and why I like and use them. He also was shooting video during this time, much more than taking notes (in a Staples-branded reporters notebook, for those of you office supply geeks). I don't know if the video will be used in some footage online, or if he uses the camera as an alternative note-taking device.

This week I got back to making another episode of my "Confessions of an Office Supply Junkie" series, this being about handmade letter envelopes. Since I'm engaged in several pen-pal correspondences, I use envelopes and preprinted address labels every week. I got to thinking that if I could make my own envelopes I could preprint the addresses via laser printer and dispense with the cost of labels. I ended up with a novel design that is folded from a standard letter-size 8.5"-by-11" sheet of paper, uses only two small cuts and is taped shut for closure. It ended up being just a bit larger than the so-called "6-3/4" small letter envelope size. I did a cost comparison, using for prices the Staples brand of copier paper and premanufactured envelopes. The paper is about 1 cent per sheet, while a premade envelope is around 6 cents per. Of course, the cost of a few inches of adhesive tape also has to be factored in; but it is still less expensive for this homemade version, even though it looks a bit novel in design (the term "novel" being a more polite alternative to "weird").

Speaking of YouTube videos, while I'm nowhere near being a heavyweight in the YouTube arena, I was heartened to see the Samsung commercial at the beginning of last Sunday night's Academy Awards telecast, featuring YouTube star Casey Neistat, who played himself giving a mock awards presentation in a dark, rainy, empty parking lot (implying the huge gap between established Hollywood personalities and us small-time YouTubers). His short speech honored all of us unknowns who follow our dreams of creativity through video production; unlikely to be walking down any red carpets in designer clothes anytime soon. Of course, it was a Samsung advertisement about mobile phone tech, we must remind ourselves - ultimately for commercial purposes, but I felt heartened by it anyway.

I'll keep you informed of any further developments pertaining to the upcoming ABQ Type-In. Happy typing and envelope-making.

Post-Script: Here's my video on handmade letter envelopes:

Here's a link to the Samsung commercial about us YouTubers:

Here's the link to Nexus Brewery's website.

Final thought: The lead photo in this post has me posed in front of my video camera setup (Lumix GH3), adjacent to the Facit 1620 typewriter. Even though the focus of the shot was intentionally directed at the screen of the GH3, with the background left soft, you might be able to tell that the Facit is sitting propped up on some kind of wooden platform upon a folding tray table . This was a cobbled-together contraption to get the typewriter at a more ergonomic position while seated in my office chair, whose height I didn't want to keep adjusting between my main desk, which is higher, and the tray table, which is lower. The platform is very stable, and the newer typing position is much more conducive to extended typing. This post's first-draft was composed using the new setup onto the roll of teletype paper. I would have made it a typecast, but I didn't want to interrupt my stream-of-consciousness typing with correcting my numerous typos; and I'm too self-conscious to post that messy of a typed sheet.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

Firmness of Intent

To Be Filed

Post-Script: Perhaps I'm wasting opportunity by writing random nonsense while test-typing, instead of something more worthwhile like memorizing and typing the Gettysburg Address, or one of the Articles of Confederation, or a bible verse. But I see it as an opportunity to test my creative mettle while engaged in typewriter maintenance, a kind of right-brain/left-brain mashup. And I've come up with some funny stuff, some of which isn't appropriate for mixed company.

One thing I enjoy about building up a backlog of papers waiting to be filed is the pleasure that comes from reading back through those pieces and rediscovering them anew. I'm going to make a point of revisiting my old writings more often, for inspiration if for no other reason.

Today I spent some time organizing my typewriter collection, in preparation for an interview to be conducted tomorrow. I won't say anything else about it for now, but will update you when appropriate. I attached tags to all of my typewriter cases, so they can be more easily identified; some of those mid-20th century, medium-sized portable look very similar in their cases.

Typecast via Brother Charger 11. Yes, it's a stripped-down student's model, lacking tabs, touch adjustment or a repeat spacer. But it is solidly made and types fine; and is very portable, a pleasure to take out to the front patio on a cool winter day.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2017




Post-Script: See Typewriter Video Series Episode 56 for more on using the manual typewriter as a mechanical drafting machine.

Here's the line maze I drew today, using the Facit 1620 and Bic Cristal blue medium point pen:

As is the case with all of my so-called "line mazes," you follow the line itself, rather than the space between the lines. Conventional mazes use the space between lines as the passageway, with the lines to either side representing the walls of the maze. My line mazes are more like 3D routing diagrams. The lines cross over one another and don't make a turn until you get to an elbow (or corner); lines only connect to one another at a "node." There's only one node in this maze, the bold dot where four lines converge.

You might notice that I had to hand-draw the node dot; I tried typing an asterisk for the node, but the alignment between the typed characters and the pen holes in the paper guide of my Facit 1620 are not exact.

This was more of a test drawing than a really challenging maze. I find using a typewriter as a form of mechanical drafting machine is rather fun. The horizontal spacing of the vertical lines is governed by the character spacing as defined by the escapement mechanism; while the vertical spacing of the horizontal lines is governed by the ratcheting of the line advance mechanism. Thus, the smallest resolution you can draw - the closest the lines can get to each other - is limited by this mechanical, orthographic grid system of the typewriter's mechanism.

You can move the drawing point in any of four directions. Horizontal movements are done by either the space bar, the backspace key or manual movement of the carriage via the carriage release lever. It's best to draw from left to right (move the carriage from right to left), because backspacing causes the carriage to overshoot the end point, due to the nature of the escapement mechanism. Similarly, I find it better to draw vertical lines from bottom to top, since you can see more easily the drawing and where you need to stop.

If your typewriter has more than one notch or hole for a pen in the paper guide, it's best to choose one and stick with it, since the two holes or notches might not be exactly aligned to the grid system of the mechanism, or each other.

I used a ballpoint pen for these drawings, but another type of technical drawing pen would be preferred. As well as better quality paper than the newsprint-quality teletype paper roll I was using.

If you have a wide-carriage machine, this would be ideal for drawing landscape-oriented illustrations on full-sized paper.

Bonus: Here's a line-maze version of a labyrinth, hand-drawn. It could have benefited from the orthographic alignment of the Type-A-Sketch, so as to make the lines much straighter. Being a labyrinth instead of a maze, it only has one passage, so you can't get lost. Start at either end. As with all line routing networks, the lines cross over one another without connecting. Lines go straight until they bend at an elbow. I rather enjoyed coloring the various cells in. My personal rule is two adjoining cells can't have the same color; similar colors can only touch at their corners. Oh, the title of this piece is "Centripetal Labyrinth with Hysteresis, 1.0." Don't ask me why. I think it has something to do with the way the lines converge on, then fly away from, the center point, like a comet in a highly elliptical orbit. As with all "art-speak," it only really matters to the artist, and the academic community. In this case, there's only me, since no one would seriously consider this to be "art."


Typecast via Brother Charger 11, lap-typing in the front courtyard on a cold day.

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Tuesday, February 07, 2017

Notes on Lap-Typing


Post-Script: As you can see from above, I did end up making another video, on lap-typing. I happen to love portable and semi-portable typewriters, and what I find most distinctive about them is their relatively compact size and weight makes them ideal for moving out from the traditional office/desk setting, into more creativity-spurring environments. After all, this is why they are called "portables" in the first place.

I was hoping to try my hand at making a medium-size portable like the beloved Smith-Coronas Silent into a more take-anywhere machine, by removing the top of the hard case and, keeping the machine secured to its base, enclose it in a soft material like an old pillow case, then slip into a backpack, for carry-anywhere portability. But alas, my little day pack is a bit too narrow for that idea to see fruition. Perhaps a slightly wider back pack. Of course, a person could lug the case by its handle, but who wants to do that for more than just a few minutes at a time. I was also brainstorming some idea for attaching straps to the hard case, so it could be portered on one's back, but no winning ideas have yet to see the light of day.

Speaking of Smith-Corona Silents, yesterday I brought out the Silent-Super for a bit of test-typing, and noted that, after it's been sitting for several months unused in the cold garage, the troublesome escapement issue returned. I spent several hours yesterday afternoon with it and its stablemate non-Super Silent next to each other on the bench, as I used the less problematic machine for a comparison, and found a few mechanical adjustments needing to be made, and some hardened pivot linkages needing to be freed up. Afterwords I spent an extended period of time with the machine and it hasn't skipped once. But that doesn't necessarily mean that it's fixed, no sir, because one has to remember where it came from: a Craigslist ad from a fellow who I'd generously describe as a "hippie," living in the filthiest house I'd ever stepped foot into (and I used to do TV repair service calls, years ago, and have seen a few grungy dwellings in my time). I spent several days initially cleaning and degreasing this machine. Even now there's a bit of funky odor emanating from the hard case, just a subtle reminder of its colorful pedigree.

This typecast was via the recently acquired Brother Charger 11, a humble but willing writing companion, and truly fit for lap-typing.

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