It seems like a long time ago now, but I was sixty years old when I went looking for my first job. The typewriter business had suffered its final death throes at the hands of Jobs, and Wozniak and Gates. Word processing and computers had already rendered typewriters into the same category as the horse-drawn carriage -- charming but obsolete.
I always knew the end was coming but never thought it would happen so fast. All the major manufacturers were closing their doors. Companies like Royal, Remington Rand, Smith Corona, Underwood and the like were going out of business.
Imagine: I had begun by selling manual typewriters and adding machines -- not even calculators. Adding machines were the main tools of business and even though it now seems hard to believe, many were considered to be high-tech at the time. Every business had a “typewriter man,” and I was able to convince many companies that that guy should be me.
Chelsea Hotel History
My shop seemed welcoming and different from those of my competitors. It was right down the block from the Chelsea Hotel which in the sixties and seventies was a haven for the avant garde.
Writers, artists and musicians would both live there and frequent its lobby, and many of them would wander into my store. Residents included the likes of Allen Ginsburg and Dylan Thomas. Jack Kerouac wrote “On the Road” there. Arthur Clarke wrote “2001, A Space Odyssey” there. Arthur Miller lived and wrote there. Even Mark Twain lived there in a previous era.
Bob Dylan wrote music there. Leonard Cohen wrote his songs and had an affair with Janis Joplin there. They lived right down the hall from each other on the fourth floor. Madonna lived there. And of course, everyone knew that Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols killed his girlfriend Nancy Spungeon in Room 207.
I would always delight in telling prospective customers about all of the above, and of the famous, even Pulitzer Prize winning authors who had written on my typewriters. Russell Baker, David Mamet, Herbert Gold, Susan Sontag and her lover, the photographer Annie Leibowitz, Gail Sheehy and John Patrick Shanley who wrote the award winning “Moonstruck.” All and more wrote on my typewriters.
And after we spoke of all of the above, of course I’d make the sale!
While good music played in the background, my “doodles” lined the walls above the area around my desk where my cacti lived. Both of which would prompt conversation.
“They’re beautiful because they’re ugly.”
I would say to those who would comment that most of the cactus were weird looking. For those were the very ones I’d select when walking through the flower market on 28th Street in the early morning.
“And how often do you water them?” Was usually the next question.
“Well,” I would answer. “I read the New York Times every morning and I turn to the national weather page. If it rained in Phoenix, Arizona -- then I water the cactus!!”
That would always get a laugh and then, of course, I’d make the sale!
So it was with great anguish and sadness that I was forced to give up all of the above. It wasn’t just giving up a living, it was part of my identity. A local newspaper once dubbed me “The Typewriter Baron of 23rd Street.” I was that big guy with the beard in that little yellow store on 23rd Street.
But computers were on the verge of taking over the world, and nothing could stop that. Typewriters were suddenly a thing of the past, just like the horse-drawn carriage.
I managed to get some work acting, getting non-speaking extra roles in movies, TV and TV commercials. I spent some time as a framer in an art store and I would disappear into the darkened recesses of a favorite poolroom on many an afternoon. And then one day I came to the realization that I was both too young and too poor to retire and decided to rejoin the workforce.
The Job Interview
And so there I was: a 60-year-old with a receding hairline and a beard that was speckled with white, applying for a job at a multinational company. My competition came in the form of those younger than my own children, and the interviewer sitting across the desk from me fell into that category as well.
“If I offer you this job,” said the young hotshot across the desk, “will you go to school at night and take courses in computers?”
Taking a few moments, I said forcefully, “No.”
“Look” I said, “It’s no secret. I’m an old guy, but that’s exactly what I have to sell -- my age, wisdom and the fact that I’ve been around the block a few times. If you hire me I’m going to give you a full day’s work. But see that machine over there?”
I pointed to one of the units that was in the room and an item that sold for about $40,000.
“If you hire me I’ll learn whatever it is I have to know to sell those boxes, and I’ll sell a lot of your boxes!”
Someone walked into the room who I thought later had been listening from an adjoining office. He nodded to the interviewer -- and they hired me on the spot.
I was sixty and embarking on my first serious job. After a few months I made some innovations in their process that resulted in lots of new business. I won a corporate trip to Paris in my first year and made some real successes in educational sales.
I worked for ten years until I retired at seventy.
Harmon Rangell has been married to the same good woman for 57 years. He is a father, grandfather, retired businessman, writer, part time musician, collector of Bonsai trees, and self described “Pool Room Junkie”. His novel “Jake’s Tale” is available at Amazon.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org