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Time Traveling in Alameda

Typewriters, 78s, and a childhood hero

Last Friday evening Redux Studios & Gallery celebrated their first anniversary with a reception featuring local artist Claudia Morales, who creates art from recycled materials culled from the Society of St. Vincent de Paul’s East Oakland sorting facility. Although I am not an art critic by trade, I think Morales has both talent and heart. Her assembled pieces feature icons of social justice. (You should stop by Redux and take a look for yourself while her work is on exhibit for the next month.)

“So, Alice,” you say, “What’s the point of attending openings if you don’t have the background to culturally enrich our lives?”   

I was there to shop.

Redux isn’t just a gallery with studio space. It’s a collectibles treasure trove, and I had a 25 percent off coupon clipped from a local paper. When I was in the shop a couple of weeks ago, I swear I heard a vintage Royal typewriter sitting atop a wooden crate call to me. Tagged at just $65, it was a bargain for the favored brand of legendary SF Chronicle columnist Herb Caen. I grew up sitting at a San Francisco breakfast table, listening to my mother’s laughter as she read lines aloud to me from Herb’s columns. I knew if I had a “Loyal Royal” at my side, my muse would hover near as my next deadline approached.

My mother had a Royal. I remember slamming its keys in rapid fire to get all of its metal type bars tangled in a heap. For younger readers, this was long before PCs and electric typewriters. There was no liquid “White Out” or correction tape. We didn’t even have copiers or fax machines.

These were the tissue and carbon paper days.

I miss my childhood. I miss my mother. I knew it was impossible to get either back, but I could have a Royal typewriter. Then I remembered the outstanding balance on my credit card and asked myself, “Alice — do you really need a vintage typewriter? The answer was no.

The first time I saw that Royal at Redux, there was also a yellowed poster of Ringling Brothers’ circus bears on roller skates mounted to a splintery piece of plywood. (Definition of uber-cool: See vintage bears dancing on metal roller skates.) We have no empty wall space in our house, but for only $25 it was tough to walk away from that poster.

When I changed my mind and went back for it, the poster was gone. So I took the 25 percent coupon in the paper advertising for the Redux event as an omen that the typewriter was meant for me, and I walked out of the gallery with the Royal safely locked in its hard black suitcase under my arm.

Suddenly finding myself in an “Oktoberfest” party mood, I walked the short distance over to meet family at Speisekammer and parked the black box beneath the table. We dined on potato pancakes with house-made apple compote, imported sausages served on top of sauerkraut, cheesy spaetzel with caramelized onions and bacon, and breaded pork cutlets chased with frothy amber beer. (I figured my vegetable side was the delicious pumpkin soup. And anyway, you can have just about anything if you only have a little.)

While we shared the amazing German food off small plates scattered across the table, we listened to The Frisky Frolics perform songs from the 1920s and '30s. Lead singer Rick Quisol played the ukulele and “kan-zoo” (a hybrid kazoo/tin can contraption with holes punched in one end). His band included a saxophone, guitar and bass, and the music took me back in time to my parents' 78 rpm record collection. It was that kind of a night.

Rick goes by the stage name “The Dimestore Dandy” and wears a vintage striped suit and wingtip shoes. With big round eyes and an intense, alluring stage presence, he seemed to be singing only to me. When I did a little surfing research the next day, I found out Rick’s band won the SF Bay Guardian’s award for “Best Band For the New Depression.”

It was one of those magic Alameda evenings where everything goes my way. I bargain-shopped, ate a delicious dinner and listened to terrific music in the company of some of my favorite people. And in the Sunday Chronicle two days later, there was a reprinted picture of Herb Caen with his “Loyal Royal” under his arm!

Omen? You betcha.

So if you missed Oktoberfest this year, fear not! The comfort food remains at Speisekammer year-round with entertainment some evenings. And on Oct. 30 you can catch Rick Quisol’s Hotsy Totsy Hillbilly Jazzbos (country kin of the Frisky Frolics) performing at Julie’s Coffee & Tea Garden on Park Street.

But leave a few of the good collectibles at Redux for me. I’ll be sorry that I told you if you beat me to the bargains.

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Nancy Johnsen Horton October 17, 2012 at 04:53 PM
I think the most commonly uttered question at our family breakfast table was "Ha ha ha ha! Didja read Herb Caen yet?" I got through high school and college with a manual German typewriter from the 1930's. It had umlauts and many other fancy characters. I bought an accountants' typewriter at a garage sale. It had a 20 inch carriage. Those two typewriters constituted the beginning of my "collection." As my friends got computers, people dropped off typewriters one by one until by the time I got married, I had 14 of them. When I moved into my husband's Victorian, he graciously built an array of shelving so they could be nicely displayed in the dining room. Sometimes our cats slept in the curved nest of type hammers inside. We moved and moved again, and the typewriters came along, but with each move, more of them got stored in the garage. The last time we moved, I decided it was time to grow up and we sold them all at a garage sale. So, Alice. Sixty five dollars for a manual typewriter? I should've hung on to my collection. I could have been rich!
Alice Lewis October 17, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Yup! Where are my trolls and Breyer horses, Nancy? I think about them whenever I see a troll or a plastic horse at the Antiques Faire at the Point...
Josiah Lewis October 17, 2012 at 10:20 PM
Alameda is a terrific town and you are its best writer.
Alice Lewis October 17, 2012 at 10:42 PM
Have we met? Thank you for this completely unbiased comment, Mr. Lewis. Truly appreciate it!
Jeff Mark October 17, 2012 at 11:07 PM
How come, when all we had was carbon paper, no one ever needed more than three copies of anything, but now that we can easily make a hundred copies...
Tom Brody November 03, 2012 at 12:29 AM
Why stop at one hundred copies? It is the case (and I am not the only one), that whenever I need to look at a particular 75-page document, I just print it out and spend a couple of hours reviewing it. Then I toss it in the trash. If I need the same document a month later, I just print out another copy. If I need it several times during the course of a year, then I print it out several times. There are two alternatives: (1) To get a computer chip implanted in my brain so that I can memorize all of my document; and (2) To have an office half the size of Montana, so that I can store one paper copy of each of my documents. It's a fact of life.

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