A box sits next to the door waiting to travel to Owl Farm, Woody Creek Colorado. The location is very familiar to me having read both of Hunter S. Thompson’s collection of letters, all of which start with his address. By some strange timing of chance or ancient Greek gods came out of their slumber and decided to play a game, either way, I had signed back into Facebook after being gone for two years. I came back for one reason, to help with the Andrew Yang campaign. Being the sucker that I am, I flipped through the feed and saw a post by Anita Thompson, Hunter’s Widow. The writing cabin, the retreat for fans of Hunter or inspiring writers was finished and waiting for the first visitors to come and stay. I looked through the photos and saw images of Hunter hanging on the walls and of course a desk with a typewriter on it.
The blue IBM Selectric III was something Hunter would have used, preferring the electrics to the dependable manuals. With my experience in dealing with these machines I will never figure out why someone would put themselves through the hell of having a Selectric. Over ten thousand parts and the ribbons are no longer made, to own a Selectric is either an act of love or masochism. Hunter had his own frustration with these machines once taking a .44 magnum and a 12-gauge shotgun to fix one, permanently.
A few years ago, I bought a blue Selectric 72’ for $5 and thought it was a good deal. The machine worked for a few days before one of the belts snapped and it was useless. I found a local guy to fix it but it was returned to me just as I had handed it over and was told it was too expensive to fix. I didn’t know what the hell that meant and the machine was placed in the basement to rot.
Having not learned my lesson, I bought a red Selectric III with a case of ribbon to go with it. The thing with the II and III models is that the ribbon is one time use only. Glorified carbon copy paper is what runs the machine and these are becoming harder to find as the years go on. I brought the machine home, plugged it in, and found all the parts frozen in time. I tried a few tricks, but in the end, it was a lost cause. I never bothered calling the local guy figuring it was a waste of time, mostly mine. This machine joined its older cousin in the basement and I forgot about it.
Having seen the blue machine at Owl Farm I knew that keeping something like that running was going to be a chore. The longer it sat unused the more likely it would stop working all together. Anyone wanting to stay at Owl Farm would want to use that typewriter, even if it was to simply write a letter. I clicked on the “contact” link of the website and sent a message.
Dear Anita, I was excited to see your post on Facebook about the Writer’s retreat being open to visitors. while looking through the photos I noticed an IBM Selectric typewriter however I am not sure of the model. I bring this up for a few reasons, for one I collect, write with, and restore typewriters. I usually work on manuals and have had no luck with electrics over the years. that has not stopped me from purchasing an IBM Selectric III and an IBM Selectric 1, both in the hopes of having them up and running again. My cursed luck got the better of me and I was left with pounds of scrap in the basement and no one in town to fix them, if they were repairable. This is beside the point of my email. I have several boxes of ribbon for these machines and nothing to use them on. I have a case of the IBM Selectric III and a few ribbons for the Selectric 1 otherwise referred to as the 72′. if you are interested in having them for the writer’s cabin to keep the machines running and for others to use while visiting, let me know. I would be happy to mail them to you. I pick these things up at estate sales, because I’m a sucker, and I would like to know they are going to good use and not rotting away in my basement until some other sucker buys them at MY estate sale. Let me know if you want them. Hell, maybe I should have asked if the one in the picture was still running before I wrote all of this. Oh well. Sincerely, Matthew Gilman
To my surprise they wrote back. I should have known that Anita didn’t handle all the emails and messages that came through the website. But I did receive a response.
Thank you so much! We have several functioning IBM Electric typewriters and would love for you to send us whatever you would like to send us. And don’t worry we have a bunch a stuff collecting in our basement like that too, you’re not alone. We’d be happy to send you a gift in return.
That night, last night, I put together a box filled with ribbon for both machines. I added some correction paper and an extra dust cover. Dust is the ultimate enemy to any typewriter, manual or electric. Odds are the machine in the picture isn’t one that Hunter used. Hell, he may have never seen that one before in his life, purchased after his death to put into the writer’s cabin as a prop. I don’t really care and it doesn’t matter. The point is that his memory lives on, the machines he loved to hate continue their service in his name. people like me can throw temper tantrums and shit fits when the keys stick or the feed rollers no longer work. This box will help keep those machines working for a little while longer.
Eventually, I would like to see Owl Farm and watch the peacocks strutting around the property. A new book came out documenting the early writing career of Hunter. It opened my eyes to who he was before the drugs and alcohol started to take their toll. Before a cartoon character started to dictate who he was supposed to be. There are two Hunters and if you are looking fondly at the drug laden reptile man from Fear and Loathing then you missed the point. There is a story of a journalist who became caught up in his own story. A professional who could no longer work because he was more famous that the people he was trying to cover. Imagine trying to cover a boxing match and the story from other news papers read “Hunter Thompson attends middle weight title fight.” The fight no longer matters. You can no longer be the fly on the wall reporting on what you saw. Fame, something many people seek and never find, destroys the one thing you worked so hard to build. Eventually, you will say “fuck it” and hop on the ride, let the roller coaster take you where everyone else wants to go. You are no longer in control and to turn back now will leave you as a nobody. You have become a slave to a monster you didn’t intend to create.
Maybe it’s the lesson of fame that one should take away from Hunter’s story. The internet is filled with people who didn’t earn their fame, posting pictures of their ass and videos of their dog and no longer knowing how to function with the rest of society. Somehow Hunter managed, and in his craziness, took control of the situation climbing to the front of the train and cranking up the speed. “Hold on fuckers. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.” The ride is over but we can still remember and occasionally feel the wind on our face and question when the machine is eventually going to fall over the edge.