Her Red Valentine

I grew up listening to the sound of a typewriter (clicking of the typewriter keys punctuated with bell ringing for the return key) when my mother had to stay up late to type out the exam sheet for students at her English classes. That was the time before personal computers or word processors became prevalent.

I often fantasized about typing on a red typewriter even before I was old enough to learn there was such a cute thing called Red Valentine in the world. Certainly, the celebrity designer’s name Ettore Sottsass didn’t mean anything to me as I had no idea that Olivetti, the Italian maker of typewriters in the 50s-70s was an inspiration in design and innovative concept for I.B.M. before I.B.M. became I.B.M. today. It was said that carrying a Valentine portable typewriter would instantly make someone a snappy dresser in the 70s even the weight of the machine was deemed a little clunky.

But I couldn’t imagine my mother, a young English teacher in her late 20s, carrying a “Red Valentine” typewriter to school and typing at a classroom. Her students nicknamed her “Black Widow” (a character in one of those superhero comics published by Marvel in the 60s) because of her sternness and beauty. I only knew it when some pupil of hers told me at my mother’s funeral. No! I couldn’t imagine my mother typed on a red typewriter at home either.

My mother didn’t buy a Red Valentine for herself, and certainly, my father wouldn’t get one for her. To my mother, a typewriter is a “good” typewriter as long as she could type on it to get things done. She wouldn’t care if William Faulkner used an Underwood typewriter or some fashionable people carried a glossy, sexy, desirable and brilliant red machine. She was herself.

My dream to own a red typewriter gradually diminished, but the portability and the use of bright red color in machine foretell my own story 20 years later.

I saw him for the first time on a bus. What attracted my attention was not his face or his shoes, it was his red Walkman. Sitting next to me on a bus, he said to me, “are you willing to share the little Red Valentine with me?” That was a Sony WM-52, the first Walkman with built-in earphones!  We shared the music, but I never asked him why he chose to buy a red machine.

One day, he told me that he bought the cute red walkman when he had been required to serve in the military for almost 2 years. There were no other color options at the only electronic shop on a remote island. The red one is the only one. We bought many different kinds of “red machines” together afterward of our own volition.  We have been sharing the life.

Note: What’s RED got to do with a machine?  What’s RED got to do with love?  The physical product of Red Valentine never reached mass audiences. However, the advertising campaign enjoyed the great attention. The desire to be “well-thought-of” by others seems to be universal. You want to be thought as happy and competent by others. Your choice of products, lifestyle and behavior often make a powerful representation of yourself, intentionally or unintentionally.  Would you behave differently or have a different selection of a product when using it between private and public space? Imagining yourself to type on a red typewriter at home or listening to music on a red Walkman on a bus.^^

Red Valentine Portable Typewriter, 1968
Red Valentine designed by Ettore Sottsass, 1968

I worked sixty years of my life, and it seems the only I did is this fucking red machine. And it came out a mistake. It was supposed to be a very inexpensive portable, to sell in the market, like pens… Then the people at Olivetti say you cannot sell this. —Ettore Sottsass, 1993.

Categories: SpurTags: , , , ,