I was never this close to a bona fide typewriter celebrity. And so I grabbed his address from the list, and cold emailed him, daring not to ask for a conversation, but for small help with some visual materials for the book. He responded quickly with “do you have a phone number that I could call?” But he never did.
I didn’t make too much out of it – this is 2020, after all, and people have more important things on their minds. Every Saturday morning, I would snooze his email once more, waiting for a kinder time to follow up.
Months later, in June, he wrote a message to the same mailing list: “My father (Martin Tytell) worked with Dvorak after WWII on one handed keyboard (for people with only a left hand or only right hand). (…) Some old instructional and promotional material is in a box downtown, safely isolated during this lockdown. There might also be a copy or two of the Dvorak book on the topic. I have never put anything on eBay and I don’t really want to start now. Some of the contributors to this string might be interested, so try and contact me off-list.”
I did just that. I mentioned my book again, and wrote to him saying that I would gladly take care of all of the Dvorak materials – and not just for myself, but for others. I mentioned how important that was to me
, and pointed to a little corner of the Internet Archive
people there set up for me to share my scans of “many offbeat brochures, books and pamphlets related to the experience and culture of type.”
When’s the best time to call? he asked, and I responded “right now or any time tomorrow (I have a day off work)”. But that today and its tomorrow came and went. I snoozed his email until a subsequent Saturday, and put it all out of my mind.
And so it caught me by surprise that a few days later, in the middle of a working Thursday, I received a call from an unknown number.
“Hi, it’s Peter Tytell,” said the voice on the other side.
I jumped up from my chair, quickly shoving AirPods into my ears. We exchanged introductions. But then, Peter Tytell said something I did not expect at all.
“I have cancer. It’s pretty bad. I can send you some stuff, but you will get it after I’m gone.”