It’s easy to stroll Grand Avenue, spot the overhead sign for Raymond’s Office Machines and Supplies and wonder where Raymond is. From the sidewalk, the storefront is for a chic boutique.
But head to the back of the building, veer down the alley and come to a door. This is the door for Raymond, Darwin Raymond.
He’s found inside, mustachioed and bespectacled with a shock of hair that lends him the look of a mad scientist. He’s here with JJ the cockatoo, whose jibber-jabber comes out muffled, like a radio with a bad antenna. But here the bird utters something discernible:
“What are you doing?”
What Raymond is doing is reviving typewriters of old. They are not rusted, busted things of the past but rather shiny and click-clacking away in this unsuspecting place of 1,000 square feet, finding new life under the delicate hands of a savior.
“This is 125 years old now,” Raymond says of the Remington Standard on his work bench. Thanks to his handiwork, it appears brand-new, until he lifts the carriage to reveal the thin, wood slats on which the types rest.
“All wood,” he says, “and for 125 years, they’re straight as can be.”
Raymond’s is a one-man, one-bird shop. With JJ perched on his shoulder, Raymond will take each machine to a side-room ventilator that will clear the dust. Then he’ll dissect using tiny tools, identifying nuts and bolts and screws and springs and any other minuscule organ the typewriter might need.
Hopefully he’ll find them stocked in drawers in the shadowy, low-slung basement, home to his collection of 50-plus years. But “I end up having to make a lot of the parts anymore,” Raymond says.
The aim is to bring the typewriter back to factory specifications, as outlined in the dusty manuals lining the basement shelves. Other shelves keep machines categorized by their makers, names lasting only in memory — Olympia, Royal, Smith-Corona, Underwood.
Along with restoring, Raymond sells. That’s why Sabra Shay recently sought him.
It wasn’t out by the sidewalk where the Colorado Springs woman discovered him, but rather in the depths of the internet; she had to scour to find someone who could grant her 15-year-old daughter’s wish for a typewriter.
Shay walked out of Raymond’s with a portable Hermes Rocket. She left with an odd observation — “I’ve never met a man who loves his bird more than Darwin” — and with a certain thankfulness.
“I am immensely grateful for those people in our world who keep parts of our culture alive. I’m emotionally grateful. If not for those people, those things would die.
“Gosh, I hope that Darwin stays around for a long time.”
Shay affectionately considers her teenager “weird.” Aptly named for a character in the Oscar Wilde play, “The Importance of Being Earnest,” Cecily has an affinity for vintage books. She loves vinyl. On the go, she listens to the Beatles on her Walkman.
Of course the typewriter was next, her mother thought. Still, Shay couldn’t help but ask. Why?
“Her response was something to the effect of, ‘Everything is so intangible right now.’ She said she wanted something that was real, that was tangible. For her, the typewriter is very tangible.”
Cecily is among the expanding “typosphere,” as Richard Polt calls it in his 2015 book, “The Typewriter Revolution.” He writes of self-reliant artists and hipsters finding relief and romance in the machine that predates them, of forming a young insurgency. He writes of “public acts of typing” and “type-ins” at America’s college campuses and at pubs overseas.
He quotes one dealer: “Every generation tends to fight the establishment, and the establishment right now is social media and the internet.”
Perhaps the resistance is finding the sort of satisfaction that compelled Charles Bukowski to once pen a love letter to his IBM Selectric: “This machine is love found again in a flood of fire … this machine sprouts tiny flowers of courage in the middle of the night … this machine throws off sparks of light when the dark is as dark as dark can get.”
Or perhaps the resistance is finding something existential in this fast-paced age.
Polt counts the typewriter as the antithesis of the modern computer — a keyboard and a page as opposed to a multi-pronged portal to email and Facebook and YouTube and such. Yet, much like the computer, the typewriter was born out of efficiency. It was as the Remington Typewriter Co. promised: “To save time is to lengthen life.”
But where has efficiency got us? Polt asks.
“We make things so efficiently that they’re all disposable,” he writes, calling plastic to mind and later the state of the environment: “We’ve exploited the Earth so efficiently that it’s baking in our fumes.”
As for the internet: “We process information so efficiently that we don’t dwell on thoughts and words anymore — we flit incoherently from one set of distractions to the next.”
So Remington’s promise has been twisted. “Maybe to save time is not to lengthen life, after all,” Polt writes. “Maybe the more efficiently you speed through life, the quicker you reach your death.”
In the 1960s, Raymond — who is private about his age — decided to follow in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and launch a career in machines.
Once he’d been a shy 12-year-old boy who found solace fiddling with typewriters. He still did as an adult. So he wanted to specialize in typewriters, and conveniently, this was when IBM Selectrics were on the rise.
Business was good. “Bought my airplane,” Raymond says, showing a picture of it parked by the 1966 Buick Riviera he still drives.
Typewriters rode the electronic wave, with factories thriving in America and Europe heading into the ‘70s. “Meanwhile,” Polt writes, “a few electronic hobbyists with names like Jobs, Wozniak, and Gates were tinkering in their garages.”
Raymond kept up business with fax machines and printers, but computers never caught his fancy. “I’m not real computer literate,” he says.
Still, there’s one on his desk. He logs in to browse for the next addition to his collection. He might buy a typewriter for $350, refurbish it and flip it for $600. He charges $129 for repairs, parts extra.
He doesn’t make a living this way — he does that with rental properties and Social Security checks, he says. But he loves the work still as he did as that 12-year-old boy. And someone has always been willing to pay.
That includes Paul Bremer, a collector and English teacher in Denver. He’s relied on the Glenwood shop to fix some of the dozens of typewriters he’s collected since 1990, when he got his first by trading his TV.
“I was a little nervous about technology and computers at the time,” Bremer says.
He still is, which is why he sits with his Olympias every day. And also, “They tend to help me write,” he says. “There’s a rhythm to them. There’s something about seeing the work formulating on the page.”
His collection diminished last year, when he doled out a bunch to his departing seniors. They promised they would write, but it wasn’t them Bremer was worried about. It was the machines.
“The problem is, you’re gonna run out of typewriter people that can repair these things,” he says. “I think at some point, it becomes a moot point.”
Raymond is sure his typewriters will outlive him. But who will be around for them? he wonders. He’s seen fellow masters come and go.
“Two or three, they’ve given me all their parts, just because I’m still doing it,” he says.
And he’ll do it for as long as he can, for the love of the machines. These and animals — two things that have always given him joy.
He grew up with dogs, cats and rabbits, a shy kid’s best friends. Eventually, he stopped bringing them home. “I just couldn’t stand it when they came to the end of their lives,” he says.
But JJ would be different. Raymond got JJ knowing cockatoos live a long time. JJ is 52 now.
“He’ll live to be 90,” Raymond says, turning to the friend on his shoulder. “You’ll outlive me, won’t you now?”
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