Testy Copy Editors

The good old days
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Author:  J Kaufman [ Sat Jun 29, 2013 10:56 am ]
Post subject:  The good old days

IT SOUNDS LIKE A WOMAN GASPING over and over, in constant astonishment. She gasps twice. The first note holds, a drawn breath; then a quick exhale and a deep, compressive sigh. The repetition makes a shuffle beat, taah ta TAH, taah ta TAH, taah ta TAH: cymbal dragging behind the snare, syncopated on the off-count.

Covered in a layer of grease and ink, the machine looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel. It runs about the length of a dining room table and rises to shoulder height. Individual pieces shudder and click: blackened teeth ticking over gears; arms grabbing pieces of paper and burying them in the bowels; chutes spitting them back into neat, collated piles. A plaque, suspended atop an iron bar like an antenna, reads ORIGINAL HEIDELBERG. The letters might once have been gold, or at least burnished, but are now greased black. Mr. Chan says the machine is between 55 and 60 years old.

As the machine depletes the stack of papers — an advertisement for free drinks at a local bar — Mr. Chan places a towel beneath the stack. When he does this, the papers tilt up at an angle. “Easier,” says Mr. Chan, miming a grabbing motion. He changes the position of the towel as the stack gets shorter.

His glasses have fallen down his tiny fleur-de-lis nose. He absently pushes them back up and leans back on his heels. In house slippers and a burgundy sweater-vest, he looks more ready to crack a beer on the couch than deal with industrial machinery. His potbelly protrudes just slightly, but for a man in his sixties, Mr. Chan moves well, with the languid attention of someone who has spent his life on his feet. He is among the few remaining people in Hong Kong who know how to operate a printer like this, who have spent their lives nursing the convulsions and enduring the clamor; one of the last for whom a beautiful, weird machine like this is a day at work, rather than an exercise in nostalgia.
[Los Angeles Review of Books]

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