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...this article in which I want to express my, and my friends' and colleagues', lack of understanding of the facts of life.
happened only once, while I was working (I almost wrote
"wording" which, considering the kind of job I do, would be
quite appropriate). I was typing a letter, a very simple, straightforward
letter for my boss, and suddenly, the typewriter started typing by itself.
On the sheet of paper, instead of what I typing, something else started to
appear. It seemed to be a story, a puzzling composure of words that read
like this: "people people ring ring appointment vice president look
very business fine building ok so on I wish to tell you very kindly we
confirm...." In short, it would have appeared to be an accumulation
of meaningless words, but only to a legal secretary or typist it was clear
that they were remainders of contracts, letters, agreements, receipts,
messages for the lawyers, and so on, and so forth. The typewriter was
trying to tell me what she had been accumulating for so many years of
loyal work. In fact, I had been working there for only a couple of months,
but she, the old typewriter, had been there for a lifetime. I know, it
might seem strange to you, young people of today, since nowadays
typewriters don't last any longer than an Italian Government, but that one
had been so efficient and so perfect that no one had ever wanted, or even
dreamt, of getting rid of it. Of course, I had grown fond of it fast.
Anyway, as I was saying, she was releasing all the remainders of previous work, in a dreamlike fashion. She was producing a tale, an innocent story of words finally freed from the slavery of legal acts. They were flowing as lightly as little pieces of paper float when you trash them in your litter-basket. I just couldn't type anything; she simply wouldn't let me. Many times I tried to remedy this mess, but again:
MANE MANE CHATON OBLATON MANE
Now she was even
sending messages in Greek! Obvious joke better left untold. My impotence
was much too clear.
My boss was furious, since he was in a great hurry to leave and this letter had to be ready in an hour or less. I was frantic; the other secretaries were all suffering from the same cause. Three of the partners, including my boss, were leaving for London and, according their usual habit in such occasions, they had loaded us with piles of urgent work, regardless of the late hour of the day: my boss had asked me to get some help from the others who did not have such emergencies to take care of. I didn't hesitate to ask one of them to let me use her ET 201 (mine was an ET 225, much superior), but she, shattered, shaken, shivering, could not refrain from crying hysterically, but among that mess of broken sounds, I understood that her typewriter was behaving exactly like mine. I managed to comfort her a little bit, assuring that it was not her, because my typewriter was doing the same thing. Maybe it was just a matter of different power surge that fucked up our Olivettis. One by one all the ET's were acting strange and all of the secretaries in the firm were incapacitated. It was a general epidemic. I tried to convince my boss that things just could not be done, period. He started shouting and screaming and beating his fists on the desk, yelling that I was an inefficient, improper secretary and fired me right then and there.
OK, I thought, serves you right. You'll see, you might have ridden yourself of an inefficient secretary, but you can't have the job done just the same. I picked up my things from my desk and walk out of the office. Just as I was passing through the door, yet another shout startled me. Boss had found the papers the ET had left behind and almost fainted. He couldn't believe what lay in front of his blurry eyes. Hired me back on the spot, on the condition that I repaired the typewriter at once. As if I hadn't tried! I told him to stop yelling and acting like a baby, to get out of my sight and leave me alone with the ET. He mildly obeyed and left.
I turned on the electricity; as soon as the typewriter started writing those incomprehensible words on the sheet of paper, I started banging on the keys at random. It wouldn't stop. So I took out the sheet of paper and this time it stopped typing. I thought: "She's got some brain". Then I started typing on the keyboard these words: please, be kind, we are in bad waters, I'm pressed to do my job, and if I don't do it, they will fire me, as for you, you'll be gone too, in the burner! No answer. I wrote again: I promise, I'll read your story some other time, but please we need you!!! I think I put many more exclamation marks. The majuscule light turned on, she started writing: "OK WE WORK WE TALK WE TELL YOU STORY LATER START!"
Triumphant, I went back to my boss's office and shoved the letter under his nose. He couldn't believe it, I've never been so quick. I said: "We have a lot to learn from machines; they could be a great help to us, they have a lot to offer, if only we were willing to listen and grant them the respect they deserve." I left him motionless, that idiotic smile frozen on his face, his hands stupidly holding his damned sheets, like a baby holding a candy bar.
On the following day, I tried to get in touch with the memory of my ET, I wanted to keep my promise and show her my good faith; besides, I was very curious as to what she could have told me. But she remained silent, forever after, she never mentioned a thing, she remained my good, old, faithful typewriter, always doing her job, the best way she could. I tried and tried, in all possible ways, but it became more and more evident that it was me who had to tell the story, the story of how I had lost my brain so stupidly. What about my colleagues, you might ask. Them, too, couldn't explain the recovered functionality of their typewriters. Or rather, they gave all different explanations and renditions of the facts, contradicting each other, contradicting me. Unlike me, however, they tried to make things more understandable, in a language that we would all be able to understand. I am not even sure myself that I have told you the whole story, or that my memory has already played sad tricks on my mind. In fact, this one might just be one of the many versions.
However, the Olivetti never spoke again. Newspapers published an article on the typewriters that "talked" as a miracle, like freaks, but they told another story, they made it seem as if the pure and innocent machines were trying to warn us about some catastrophic prediction and advise us with words of wisdom. Nothing was/is further from the truth. What I have told you so far has been a product of my memory alone. I have no proof, indeed. The newspapers, in the meantime, have disappeared. Copies of the April 14, 19... issue of "Il Messaggero" are nowhere available for consultation; all of my colleagues are dead or hospitalized in mental institutions, and as for my boss, he is rotting in jail, but the typewriters are still alive and well in the old legal office near the Tiber.
I wouldn't have been credited for this article hadn't it been for the staff of this wonderful place, including the nurses and the inmates who have shown a disinterested interest, and have always had faith, in what I was trying to say. Here, fortunately, I don't feel lonely any longer. All of them have helped me immensely in any way they could, they have listened to me and now they are getting more and more involved in my project, that of building a hospital for disabled typewriters and typists. I want to create a center of recreation for old retired office machines, staffed with bright, well-trained, intelligent people to tell them stories before bedtime, or anytime they want to hear one, to cure them when they are sick, or bring them comfort when they are dying. Everyone feels useful and merciful within this noble plan. We, all of us here, hope that you would help us bring this effort to port and contribute as much as you can with small or large sums of money to sponsor the purchase of the adequate equipment.
Thanks to all of you for your attention and cooperation.
Jesus' & Mary's Chains Hospital
[ luglio 1983 ]
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