Tuesday, May 21, 2013

"Mail Bonding" in Santa Ana, California

How many letter-writing projects have we started in the 'sphere? I know I've personally disappointed dozens of people with my intermittent correspondence habits. Yet there's no denying that the act of writing -- and receiving -- a hand-typed letter is special. Keith Sharon, a journalist for the Orange Country Register in southern California tried a little experiment of his own lately, sending out a passel of letters from an Smith-Corona 88 he'd won from eBay. His rate of return was just about as good as anyone who's tried to extract a letter from me:

Here are the Project 88 totals: I wrote 33 letters – about 85 pages total.

I got one response.

Ouch. Undaunted, Keith's trying again and would love to hear from you. His address is:

Keith Sharon
625 N. Grand Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

His original article is behind a paywall at the newspaper site, but he was kind enough to send it directly... by email. Those with sensitivities about the improper use of cooking sprays might want to look away! The full article follows below the jump.

Dearest Reader,

If you want to be ignored by people you admire …

If you have no desire to connect with your friends, no desire to share ideas, no desire to receive someone’s deepest thoughts and feelings …

If you enjoy sending unrequited love to all those around you …

Type them a letter.

In December and January, I began most work days cranking monogrammed paper – “KAS,” Keith Alan Sharon – into an old Smith-Corona typewriter. I’ve typed this story, too, on my Smith-Corona Eighty-Eight Secretarial (circa 1960s). Eighty-eight is the number of different letters, numbers, punctuation marks and symbols she produces. She is gray, heavy and loud, much like her owner.

Those of a certain age (the fossilized among us) may remember the sounds of a typewriter, the flutter of cylindric rolling rubber pulling the blank page into perfect position, the rhythmic clack of keys as they strike the page, the tinkly ding when the carriage precariously approaches the edge of the margin.

A typewriter sounds either like a glorious calliope or a very old man slogging up stadium steps in metal shoes, depending on your perspective. More than one person in the newsroom complained about the rat-a-tat chatter of my typewriter. Take a minute to ponder the implications of what you just read. At one time, typing being frowned upon in the newsroom would have been a little like water being frowned upon in the ocean.

I bought her on eBay for $36, and $14 more for shipping. Don’t tell eBay, but I was so excited I would have paid more. She arrived at my home the day after Thanksgiving in a hastily taped cardboard box that said FRAGILE on top — although she was anything but. I smiled and yelled “FRA-GEE-LAY” when I saw that box, my fondness for “A Christmas Story” on display. My family looked at me, perplexed.

I hoisted her onto the dining room table with a thump. I forced my family to huddle, and they reluctantly gathered around to witness this occasion — the launch of “Project 88,” in which I, unlike my Facebooked and Instagrammed teenagers, would connect with people the old-fashioned way, through thoughtful and inked prose. I scrambled to stuff paper into the old girl. Then …

The carriage wouldn’t move. The keys were stuck. Finding no proper oil, I sprayed her insides with Pam, which, I soon learned, works for skillets and eggs but not typewriters.

I pulled out my smartphone and desperately searched the Internet – It is a story full of irony, isn’t it? – for typewriter-repair shops. It took a couple of phone calls over a couple of days, but I finally found Type-O-Meca in Costa Mesa. Surely, the craftsmen at Type-O-Meca could save her. And they did.

For $140.

This model, I was assured, is worth at least $250, so I’m actually ahead! (That exclamation point is intended to be sarcastic.)

Anyway, I didn’t let the rising cost of Project 88 stop me. I lugged my typewriter from my dining-room table to my desk at work. I bothered a few of my colleagues, who dared to try to talk on the phone while I was TYPING. Other colleagues stared at me and my typewriter like we were a black-and-white television show. Still others in the newsroom said they enjoyed the sound, like the clatter of rain.

My first letter went to professor Anthony Petrosino, a friend from my days in New Jersey. I asked him about Hoboken, the town where we both once lived, and its recovery from superstorm Sandy. Anthony sent me Facebook messages about what he was going to write in response.

He’s busy, and I understand. But he never wrote back.

Here are the Project 88 totals: I wrote 33 letters – about 85 pages total.

I got one response.

Let me be more precise. I got one response from the person I wrote to (more about that incredible day in a minute). I got one from my friend and artist Lisa Mertins, who saw my Facebook post about Project 88 and wrote me a letter asking me to write her a letter. She has a Royal 10 typewriter (circa 1930) and she couldn’t wait to get involved in Project 88.

When I wrote Lisa a letter about her favorite topic – chickens – she never wrote back.

The idea, everyone assured me, was a good one. I would write to some celebrities, some notable non-celebrities and some friends about topics they didn’t always talk about. I wouldn’t write to Tom Hanks about his latest movie project or about how much weight he lost for “Cast Away.” I wrote to Tom Hanks about his collection of typewriters.

My letter was returned to me with a form letter, “This year I will be away from my desk for the duration.” Sounds like Tom is doing “Cast Away II.”

I wrote to novelist Michael Chabon, who is a baseball fan, about the amazingness of Mike Trout. I wrote to the Rev. Al Sharpton asking if he had advice for me as I raise a young son. I wrote to porn star Jenna Jameson about her favorite Christmas movies. I wrote to Kevin Costner about what’s wrong with the Lakers. I wrote to CNN anchor Brooke Baldwin, a music nut, about how to write a pop song. I wrote to Rush Limbaugh about instant replay in baseball.

I got a response from Sharpton’s assistant saying that the Reverend was too busy to get involved with every prisoner across America who feels unjustly incarcerated.

Obviously, nothing says INMATE like the presence of ink on a typewritten envelope.

I wrote to pastor Rick Warren about his favorite Hostess products. Warren is in the midst of a huge weight-loss campaign called “The Daniel Plan.”

I got a note from the pastor’s assistant, David Chrzan: “We enjoyed your humor and reference to our Daniel Plan and (to) Devil Dogs not being our favorite. As you can probably understand, pastor Rick is purposely not thinking about treats. God Bless.”

I decided that celebrities were probably too busy to write back. So I expanded my field. I wrote to Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens about her favorite cop shows on television. I wrote to Newport Beach chef Alan Greeley, a motorcycle enthusiast, about what his dream biking trip would be.

My friends started to ask me – some of them seemed offended – why I hadn’t written them a letter. So I wrote to several of them.

Driven by desperation, I started writing to slam-dunk responders. I wrote to Shaun Usher, who runs a website called Letters of Note in appreciation of the craft of writing letters. I wrote to Tom Furrier, who runs Cambridge Typewriter, a repair shop in Massachusetts. Tom writes a blog called Life in a Typewriter Shop.

On each letter, I included my work and home mailing addresses. With increasing anticipation, I checked both mailboxes every day.

Nothing from celebrities. Nothing from non-celebrities. Nothing from typewriter enthusiasts. Nothing from friends who had asked me to write them letters.


Then, on Dec. 28, I got a letter. I felt like dancing in the street in front of my house, but I refrained as not to further embarrass my family. It was from my friend, the novelist (and new co-worker) Samantha Dunn. She wrote to me about how much she enjoys living in Orange County, which is new to her after years in Sacramento and New Mexico. “There is physical beauty all around us, the perfect weather – but more than that, there is a culture of possibility and of self-reinvention here that is like nowhere else in the world.”

Beautifully written, my friend.

She even wrote about what it was like to receive a letter. “It’s so rare today to go to the mailbox and find something that’s not a bill, or a plea for a donation of some sort. I applaud your efforts to revitalize the art of letter writing …”

At the end of her letter, she asked me to write back.

I’ve been really busy, and I haven’t got around to it yet.

Write me a letter.

You can use a typewriter, computer, pen, quill, chisel and slate – whatever you’d like. Just send your missive through the mail to:

Keith Sharon
625 N. Grand Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92701

Here are the rules: Make sure the letter is conversational and raises questions about some topic – pop culture, history, sports, parenting, etc. Try to avoid polarizing topics such as politics and religion. I’d much rather write about my love for the Angels than gun control.

I’ll pick some of the letters, and I’ll type up responses. Maybe we’ll strike up a long-term correspondence. Maybe we’ll revitalize the exchange of the written word. Maybe, in the process, we’ll save America.

Or, maybe, we won’t. But we’ll have fun.


Ted said...

letter written and stamped. Let's see how he likes Typosphere action, eh? :D

Miguel Chávez said...

I'm writing a letter tonight on my trusty old Remington 12. Let's see how he likes the old gal's typeface!

Bill M said...

I will be typing away at this project over the week end.

Lindy said...

I love traditional correspondence and would be happy to participate in this project with my new (to me) Olivetti typewriter. However, it is missing its 1/! key, so I would need to refrain from excitement or anger when typing it.

Kreative Haus

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a plan to get me back on track to typing letters!
Darn work life.

Peter said...

I'm in!
I'll type up something tonight, and it will go out in the mail tomorrow.

Dana@Mid2Mod said...

Count me in too.

Anonymous said...

I want to participate!

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