Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Sweet Smell of...

I read something recently where the writer was reminiscing and waxing poetic about the smell of freshly mimeographed pages. It's not the first time that something I've read makes that mistake.

Has everyone forgotten ditto machines?

In high school, I was the queen of both the mimeograph machine and the ditto machine and, trust me, there was no high that could be gotten from that black glopy goop that caused black print to appear on the pages from a mimeograph machine.

Mimeo.JPG (21994 bytes)With a mimeograph machine, you had a kind of thin blue greasy-feeling master that you typed on and as you typed, it cut letters into the master. Then you put the master on the machine and the black goop in the machine oozed out through the holes in the master and produced your finished product. But it really didn't smell like much. You also got a lot more copies out of a mimeograph machine and the masters could be saved and re-used, as long as you carefully put backing sheets between the masters so they didn't stick together.

Ditto.jpg (17101 bytes)But the ditto machine....ah.... Now there was something to bury your nose in. Those awful, awful purple master sheets where you typed on white and it picked up gel from the purple backing sheet. Then you separated the backing sheet from the white sheet, put the white sheet on the drum and ran it through an acetone solution. It produced pages of purple material and the bonus was that as the pages came off the machine, you could pretend to be spending a lot of time organizing them into a neat stack, when really what you were doing was burying your nose in the paper and sniffing the acetone.

I wonder now if maybe I didn't have a bit of a high through most of my last two years of high school from all the acetone sniffing I did.

When I think about it, a lot of things about the act of sharing thoughts with others has changed from when I was in school. Starting in grammar school, we learned beautiful penmanship, using The Palmer Method of handwriting.

cursive.gif (12973 bytes)The Palmer alphabet was posted across the wall of the front of every classroom in grammar school and we routinely had handwriting classes, where we had to be sure to make the letters perfectly, making certain that the lower case letters were only exactly as high as the upper case letters and that all of the letters had the proper slant to the right.

Handwriting class was awful for left handers. I never got good grades in handwriting because my work was always smeared. You can't hold your hand properly and slant your letters to the right without running the palm across the letters you have just written. Nobody ever made allowances for left handers and there was no "Palmer method" for people who write with their left hand. My handwriting doesn't look like the stereotypical left-handers. It slants to the right the way "normal" people write, but it's never been the neat, tidy handwriting that my mother has, for example.

But who writes any more anyway? More and more you see people doing a kind of mixture of writing and printing instead of the old fashioned cursive.

Once I learned to type, my handwriting pretty much went down the tubes. I typed everything. I did a lot of typing for UC Berkeley students, typing theses. Typing theses. Before computers. Before electric typewriters. It was the day of carbon paper and erasers and white-out, but no white-out on theses, please. If you made a mistake you re-typed the page. When they came out with easy-erase paper, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven...and when someone figured out lift-off tape after electric typewriters came along, I knew I had died and gone to heaven. Now I didn't have to erase any more, but I could just backspace, retype the wrong letters using the lift-off tape and it was good as new...but I still had to erase the carbon copies. And if someone needed more than one carbon copy, you had to put a piece of paper or cardboard behind copy #1 so you didn't screw up copy #2.

Now it just all gets typed on the computer and transmitted electronically and it's all very neat and tidy. Nobody hand writes anything, but you also don't get a chance to take a moment to smell the acetone!


pandionna said...

You just brought back a lot of good memories, Bev. I used to hope for pop quizzes in math just because I knew the teacher had probably only run off the dittos a few minutes before and the paper would still smell nice and "purple."

Cursive writing school font said...

How I hated my typing classes when we had to do carbons. I remember having to use really thin paper so it would show through. If I made a mistake and had to erase it I would either forget to put the card between the carbons and end up with a big blue smear, or else I'd rub a hole in the thin paper. I much prefer these new-fangled computer today don't know how lucky they are!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your memories of the Ditto machine. The fluid used in the Ditto machine was not acetone, though. The fluid was methanol alcohol.