My Old Robotron

By Caridad

An Underwood typewriter in the trash.
An Underwood typewriter in the trash.

The season of our beloved hurricanes has arrived, and people have begun clearing out all the junk they don’t want to keep stored in their homes.

They do this before and after a hurricane, though I really don’t think I want to know why.

In one of those street corner heaps – full of cardboard boxes, scraps and old dolls – yesterday I found an old Underwood, a type of typewriter that I never liked because of its small, difficult to read letters.

I always preferred my Robotron.

The Robotron typewriter comes from the former East Germany and is a typical Soviet Bloc tool: crude, heavy and indestructible.

I borrowed it (when I was 20) from a relative who had stolen it from some office, where he said they didn’t use it. I still haven’t returned it to him. At the time it was part of my dream come true.

Since I was 12, I had been addicted to writing “novels,” but then came the time to take things seriously. So, my smart Robotron accompanied me in my happier and sadder hours.

Its keys, a bit obstinate, helped me to become stricken with numerous bouts of tendonitis, but also with more than 10 books. Most of these were lost among my various friends, submitted to literary competitions or eaten by the island’s always ravenous cockroaches.

In the digital era I began to look strange with this contraption, difficult to find a good place for in my room. I’ve never been able to write in comfort, but my Robotron was better than anything else: Better than the dream of leaving Cuba – only for a few weeks – with a letter from the minister of Culture allowing me to bring back a computer.

My East German Robotron wonder.
My East German Robotron wonder.

Until a year ago, it was generally not allowed to bring computers into the country. Now they’re sold in foreign currency stores, but with my impressive salary I can’t even think of buying such a device.

Over the next few months – if some supreme disaster doesn’t otherwise occur – there will appear in bookstores a novel that I adore: Lia el sexo oscuro (Leah the dark sex).

When I wrote it, it was also during hurricane season. It was very strange to write in the middle of a hurricane (with those painfully dragging days as the storm moves along its path, meanwhile showering us with downpours).

Given that so much water surrounded me, the novel had to be called Leah, the purified one, or something like that. But beyond the main theme, there was another detail that led me to name it this.

I already commented that we’re in the digital era. In the same way that there now are few products for analogue photography, typewriter implements are disappearing every day. Because of this, as of some years ago, to find a ribbon for one of these machines was about as easy as feeding a dragon.

But for us crazies that try to wrap our madness in words, we don’t understand much of dragons or hard-to-find typewriter ribbons. We need to write and that’s it.

The cover of my soon to be published book.
The cover of my soon to be published book.

I found some carbon paper and began to write Leah on my Robotron. It’s relatively easy to write without a ribbon, using a white sheet of paper with carbon paper on top. Though all you can see is the black sheet as you write, at least you have the security that the final copy won’t fade so easily.

From time to time you have to remember what was written at the top of the page; that’s easy, you remove the carbon paper, read it, and then slide the sheets back into place, trying to situate them where you left your last half-completed sentence.

My first novel took me almost a year to complete; the second (Leah…) was written in only 15 days. I believe that using the carbon paper was a good technique, especially since it permitted me to finish so soon.

Today, I no longer use my noble Robotron, but it wouldn’t cheer me up to toss it into the street as if were an object without a soul. Now, I find it less dangerous to write in a notebook, with a pen that while sometimes running out in the best part in the story, at least has ink that’s blue, like the sky, and without hurricanes.