The Roving Typist: A Short Film About a New York Writer Who Types Short Stories for Strangers

C.D. Her­melin, a lit­er­ary agency asso­ciate with a degree in Cre­ative Writ­ing, is the self-pro­claimed Rov­ing Typ­ist. It’s an apt title for one who achieved fame and for­tune — okay, rent mon­ey — by appear­ing in var­i­ous pub­lic spaces around New York City, type­writer in lap. Direc­tor Mark Cer­sosi­mo’s short film, above, intro­duces him as a mild-man­nered, slight­ly awk­ward soul. Engag­ing with strangers lured by the sign taped to his type­writer case is where Her­melin comes into his own.

The sign promis­es “sto­ries while you wait,” a con­cept that recalls the “Poems on Demand” author and writ­ing guru, Natal­ie Gold­berg, who com­posed poems to raise funds for the Min­neso­ta Zen Cen­ter. (Her­melin got his idea — and per­mis­sion to imple­ment it — from a guy he saw doing some­thing sim­i­lar in San Fran­cis­co.)

He’s open to requests, and pay­ment is left to the dis­cre­tion of the recip­i­ent. He seems to take extra care when his cus­tomer is a child.

A harm­less enough pur­suit in an era where sub­way musi­cians and car­i­ca­tur­ists lin­ing the path to the Cen­tral Park Zoo hus­tle hard­er than ‘90s-era shell game artistes.

It’s rea­son­able to assume that inno­cent­ly blun­der­ing onto a cel­lo play­er’s turf is the worst trou­ble a guy like Her­melin’s like­ly to stir up.

Instead, he became the tar­get of a mass cyber­bul­ly­ing cam­paign, after a stranger post­ed a pho­to of him and his type­writer parked on the High Line on a swel­ter­ing day in 2012. Cue an avalanche of hip­ster-hat­ing Red­dit com­ments, in addi­tion to a meme at his expense.

Rather than suc­cumb to the vast neg­a­tive out­pour­ing, the Rov­ing Typ­ist con­front­ed the sit­u­a­tion head on, pub­lish­ing his side of the sto­ry in The Awl:

Orig­i­nal­ly, it felt sil­ly label­ing my ven­ture a “cause” while I defend­ed myself to an anony­mous horde—but now it feels any­thing but. The expe­ri­ence of being labeled and then cast aside made me real­ize that what many peo­ple call “hip­ster­ism” or, what they per­ceive as a slav­ish devo­tion to irony, are often in fact just forms of extreme, rad­i­cal sin­cer­i­ty. I think of Brook­lyn-based “hip­ster” brand Mast Broth­ers Choco­late, which uses an old-fash­ioned schooner to retrieve their cacao beans, because the ener­gy is clean­er, because they think that’s how it should be done. I think of the legions of Etsy-type hand­made artist shops, of peo­ple who couldn’t make mon­ey in their pro­fes­sion, so found a way to make mon­ey with their art.

Sub­ject a whim­si­cal project to the forge, and it just might become a voca­tion.

Be sure to check out the bonus out­take “I Was  A Hat­ed Hip­ster Meme” and don’t fret if your trav­els won’t take you near New York City any­time soon. Her­melin and his type­writer are spend­ing the win­ter indoors, ful­fill­ing the pub­lic’s on-demand sto­ries via mail order.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

David Rees Presents a Primer on the Arti­sanal Craft of Pen­cil Sharp­en­ing

Humans of New York: Street Pho­tog­ra­phy as a Cel­e­bra­tion of Life

What Hap­pens When Every­day Peo­ple Get a Chance to Con­duct a World-Class Orches­tra in NYC

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the long run­ning zine, The East Vil­lage Inky. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday

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