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My Terse Little Machine

I saw her in a shop in Harvard Square when I was 21. She was compact. She was terse. Eleven pounds, with travel case. They wanted $40.

I had come east from California for the summer. A newspaper was paying me $100 a week to deliver copy and type up stories real reporters phoned in.

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That night I lay awake in my fourth-floor boarding-house room, astounded by humidity, wanting everything. I wanted fame and love and money. I wanted to be a real writer. I wanted that typewriter.

The next day I went to buy it. But first I stopped into a clothing store - the kind of store with photographs of Ivy League crew teams hung on their walls. I stood before a mirror in a navy blazer, crisp, impeccable, imagining the future that words would make me. I buttoned the bottom button.

"Never button that one," the salesman said.

I wanted to refute his impression that I knew nothing about clothes. Since I couldn't possibly afford the blazer, I took a pair of brown pants off a hanger. "I'll take these," I said.

The pants cost $60. They were wool.

I wore them every day, a kind of penance. They scratched my legs. They stifled. So much sweat ran down my calves that my socks bled dye onto my ankles.

It was cooler in the newsroom, so I stayed there evenings, writing.

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One afternoon an editor approached me. He said he could use an article I'd written. I'd be paid, of course. Enough, as it turned out, to buy my terse machine.

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