The elusive ‘O’…..


photo by Chandra

Years ago in L.A.  I reviewed theatre. I typed weekly articles on my electric typewriter, drove them to the newspaper office or, when it became possible, faxed them from a local shop. No one I knew had a fax of their own yet. Email was not yet available.

A writer friend invited me to visit his cabin high in the San Bernadino mountains. It was a beautiful spot which gave us a break from the heat of the city, but I had a review to do.

‘Not to worry,’ he assured, ‘I’ve got a portable typewriter up there.’

‘Does it work?’

Royal manual typewriter I learned

I first learned to type on an old manual

‘Of course.’

I believed him. Why would he lie? He was a successful playwright. Naturally he’d have a typewriter that worked, right? And I first learned typing on an old manual typewriter so it ought to be okay. Off we went.

First thing next morning, I settled in comfortably on the large outdoor veranda under the shade of huge ancient trees — the kind you know have lived for generations. Sheets of paper and typewriter at the ready. Coffee close at hand, I took a deep breath of the fresh air and started typing.


The word ‘love’ was in the title


The name of the play eludes me, it wasn’t that memorable, but the word ‘love’ was in the title. The typewriter managed the first two words without a problem. I managed to press the keys hard enough until I reached the O in the word LOVE. It didn’t work. I tried again. No luck. The third time I pushed that O, I realized I was in trouble. How can you write a whole article about a play about love without an O.


What to do?

What to do? I sipped more coffee and glared at that stupid, stubborn typewriter. How dare it do that to me? It didn’t react. Then I glared at my friend. How come he didn’t know the O didn’t work? How could HE do this to me. I guarantee the words coming out of my mouth weren’t pearls.


The words coming out of my mouth were not pearls

His excuse? He didn’t go there to write. He spent his time climbing mountain trails, not working. Admittedly, his portable typewriter had obviously been ignored. He didn’t know the O was in trouble.

1950's port Oliver typewriter

I inserted an O by hand into each space

After I tired of scolding everything and everyone, I finished my coffee, concentrated on that tired little typewriter, and decided to write that review come hell or high water. Have you ever known me to give up? No way! I would write that darned review by skipping a space every time a word called for an O. It slowed me down — a lot. It took a lot of coffee. It took a lot of time, but I managed the approximate 500 words by inserting a space wherever an O belonged.

After completing my masterpiece, I carefully inserted an O by hand in each space. Was it perfect? No. The O’s stood out from the light gray of the old typewriter ribbon and tended to be of various sizes and shapes, but it said what I wanted it to.

Off to the village post-office we went to fax the piece to my editor. It was done on time, retyped by a clerk at their office, and published. I had managed it after all and my reputation was intact.


The San Bernadino Mountains

Later, the editor told me he was so amused by my handwritten O’s throughout my review, he showed it to everyone who would take a moment to look at it, including the mailman. He then tacked it up on the bulletin board where it remained for months to come. I became famous with that Hollywood paper. What fun!


14 thoughts on “The elusive ‘O’…..

  1. I thought you were going to write about a very different sort of “O” that woman often say is elusive!!! But this was great — I’m sure your editor used it as an example to show every lazy young reporter what can get done if you really have the gumption!

  2. O, the fun we had with our manual typewriters. Mine was an old Smith Corona “field reporter’s” unit with carrying case. Remember three sheets of yellow paper and two carbons — one copy for your files, two for the editor, who kept one and sent the other on to typesetting? Copy!

    • Yes Kevin: And those typewriters got repaired and reused again and again. I recall when I got my first electric typewriter having to be so careful to use a lighter touch or I’d get six o’s instead of one. It has certainly been an adventure for us. Stay well, Muriel

  3. Another classic column. I am awarding you a pink “ribbon” for a great story. You are my “type” of person and you are on a “roll ” with another winner. Don’t feel pressured to write a new blog as I don’t want you to get too “keyed” up.

  4. Oh Jaya: Regarding your question about the ‘maughm’. I’ll ask Susan to reply to that one. She is the one who came up with it. I merely adopted it because it is fun and silly. Cheers. Muriel

  5. The story of ‘O’! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha! Its so neat he posted it for everyone to see!

    I miss those days. Man, that was a GREAT workaround you did, too, Muriel. I was just thinking that that was what I would have done.

    A related story from my job working at Safeway’s head office in their computer department. One afternoon I was feeling hungry, and had a craving for a banana, so I sent around an email asking if anyone had a spare. It aroused great merriment.

    The next day, my boss, Danny, hung a banana on a string from the ceiling in the coffee room, with a note saying: “For Emergencies only.”

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