I spent my childhood in socialist Romania. In 1983 I learned that the two most dangerous objects in our household were my father’s air-gun and his typewriter. A presidential decree made the possessions of all guns illegal, so my father’s air-gun was collected by the authorities. Typewriters would not be confiscated, but each typewriter had to be registered.

The registration process involved typing a specific text, so the type face would be on record. It could be done only by the proprietor, only at a designated hall in the police headquarters, only on a specific afternoon, and the process had to be repeated three times a year. We had heavy snow in 1985, and gas was rationed, and another presidential decree made the use of all privately possessed vehicles illegal. So people had to carry their typewriters on foot to the police HQ. My father was lucky—ours was a compact East-German model—but other people were not so lucky; they had to carry their huge old Remingtons and Continentals across town. My father took me along to the registration, but I was not let into the building. I just stood outside on the street, walking about in the snow, and waiting. I was not bored at all; I was watching the procession of typewriters. I never imagined there were so many typewrites in my hometown. Some people carried theirs on hand-pulled sleighs. Others teamed up in pairs and used stretchers, but most people of course just tried to lug them along the best they could. Everyone was in a hurry. The registration process would begin in a few minutes, and missing it would have meant an illegal typewriter and probable confiscation.

I just stood there, in the snow, watching it all, thinking of all the words they must have typed. And then the procession ended. Everybody was inside the police station. The street was empty and I was getting cold. Then suddenly I heard the noise, the noise of hundreds of typewriters typing all at once. It was like distant thunder; it was like gunfire.