Prior to prison, the most archaic piece of technology I had ever used was our first family computer, a Commodore 64. It had a small, green-on-black display and stored data on floppy disks – not the 3.5-inch floppy disks of yesteryears but its larger, more floppy, 6-inch predessor with the doughnut hole center.
However antiquated the Commodore is, it’s still superior the newly purchased typewriters in the library.
Who knew they still made typewriters? Where does one buy a typewriter? How much does a typewriter even cost? Is there a man sitting in an office somewhere sweating over technical drawings trying to improve upon last year’s Swintec model?
Unfortunately, even if there were a computer lab here, I wouldn’t be allowed near it. Because my crime involved the use of a computer, I’m banned from using them (and will be for the rest of my life according to the terms of my future probation).
It didn’t take long to realize I’m not a typewriter person. My mind has grown accustomed to thinking in therms of mouse pointers, icons, and menus – not ribbons, tapes, and wheels. Nor am I very mechanically inclined. It took days to learn how to properly feed everthing into the guts of the machine. But after two months of practice and an intense reading of the manual, I’m finally getting the hang of it.
Tonight while typing a letter, the machine beeped at me and displayed an error message on its single-line display: “OUT OF MEMORY.” To avoid typos, I often write my files to the typewriter’s internal memory before printing them out. The typewriters can only store up to 16,000 characters divided amongst a maximum of 50 files. Should you reach this limit, you must delete other files to free up space.
I hit a few keys and pulled up a list of all files stored in memory. They were listed in alphabetical order by filename, and beside each entry were the file’s opening few words.
I scrolled through the list looking for any files that could be safely deleted. Most were fairly mundane – mailing lables, excerpts from legal documents, commonly used snippets of text – but there was one file that caught my eye, a file I’m sure the creator had meant to delete as soon as it was printed. The file was called “ROBT” and it began: “My Dearest Brian.”
I began scrolling through the file line-by-line. Maybe the author was being sardonic when he wrote “dearest.” Or maybe Brian is short for Brianna. And then came the revealing line: “Since that day all those months ago when you stole my heart, I’ve never stopped thinking how incredibly lucky I was to meet such a remarkable man.”
A prison love letter. A gay, prison love letter! But who’s the author? Is it someone I know? Someone I might have seen around the library? Are they white? Black? The letter continued to a second page.
I had it all worked out – the farm in Montana, the huge log home by the river, sharing the warm, snowy nights cuddled before the fireplace.”
Must be a white guy, I thought. Black people don’t farm in Montana.
“And I’m sorry for not having been able to do more with you, to travel, to camp, to go horseback riding, to climb mountains, canoe rivers and ski.”
Horseback riding? Yes. Definitely a white guy. I felt a pang of guilt for intruding on such a personal exchange but was much too absorbed to stop reading.
I’m sorry too for being such a pain in the ass, so impatient and grouchy and for getting mad at you for fussing over me when all you were trying to do was keep this poor ungratful jerk safe.
“Always and forever yours, Robert”
I did Robert a favor and deleted his letter from the typewriter’s memory. Whoever he is, I’m certain he’d have done so himself had he remembered.