When I reached my mid-teen years, I’m sure that my parents started to worry about what I was going to make of myself as an adult. My first loves have always been art and writing, and I spent the majority of my free time working on creative projects. When I was fifteen, they decided that it would be a good idea to send me to some night classes to learn Touch Typing. I told them that I didn’t want to learn typing and that I wasn’t going to be somebody’s secretary, but it didn’t seem to matter. I still had to go.
I lasted for one class.
The class was held in a long room filled with old metal desks. On each desk sat an IBM Selectric typewriter. We had an ancient manual typewriter at home with a long black ribbon and a carriage return that made this wonderful dinging noise every time you reached the end of the line of type. You had to pound the keys really hard to make the letters show up on the paper. It was perfect for relieving tension and I was just fine with the two index fingers I had been using on it for years. It was my father’s typewriter, and I’m pretty sure it had been in the family for several generations. It also seemed to weigh at least a hundred pounds, so hauling it off my father’s desk and into my bedroom was great for keeping me in shape. I was not interested in these electric machines with their little balls covered with letters. This was not my idea of typing.
The class was taught by a very stern older lady who informed us that she had been an executive secretary for years before she retired and that Touch Typing was an essential life skill, almost as important as breathing. Furthermore, we were going to learn to type without looking at the keys.
What? Not look at the keys? This was impossible!
She started off by showing us the correct hand position that would, theoretically at least, enable us to know where each letter was positioned. So this was why they called it Touch Typing, I thought in disgust. It was like braille for secretaries. After she had shown us the proper hand position, we were instructed to close our eyes and type the information she recited aloud to the class.
“Don’t worry about making mistakes,” she said. “This is all about speed. Accuracy will then follow.”
As she recited the words aloud, our teacher strolled up and down the line of desks with a ruler in her hand to gauge our progress. I was finding it unbearable to keep my eyes closed and kept sneaking glances at the keyboard. Suddenly, I felt her ruler smack down across my knuckles.
“Hey!” I said. “What the heck?”
“I saw you peeking,” sneered the rancid old artifact. “Keep those eyes shut.”
We got to the end of the exercise and I looked at the paper curling out of the top of the typewriter. It was total gibberish. There was not a single recognizable word on the entire page. The teacher looked at my paper, crumpled it up, and told me that I was doing it all wrong. I knew then that I was going to be the problem student in the class. Most of the other girls seemed to be pretty happy with their results. They were chattering away happily and comparing their pages. My page was sitting on top of a pile of coffee grounds in the waste basket at the front of the room, so that really wasn’t an option for me.
After reviewing the proper hand position again for the class, the teacher moved on to the second lesson. “You’ll be working for better accuracy this time,” she instructed the students as she walked down the line of desks. She stopped beside me. “You,” she said, “are going to do something different. She placed a piece of typing paper on top of my hands and sneered at me. “You can’t look now, can you?”
She started reciting the next lesson and moved on down the row. I quickly discovered, now that I could keep my eyes open, that I was able to arch my hands enough to see underneath the paper. This was so thrilling that I didn’t see the ruler coming down across my knuckles again and I was mildly surprised that it took a few seconds for the pain to register in my cerebral cortex. The piece of typing paper that had previously covered my hands went arcing across the room. All activity stopped and the other girls stared at me with a potent mixture of disgust and pity. I looked at the paper curled in the typewriter. Once again, there was not a single recognizable word on the page. A semi-trained circus animal pounding the keys at random would have had a better chance of producing snippets of business correspondence.
I looked up at the clock on the wall. We had been in there for an hour. Thankfully, this wretched experience was over for the night. The teacher dismissed the class and I shuffled out of the room and down the stairs. My parents were waiting for me outside in the car.
“Well,” said my mother. “How did it go?”
“I’m never going back there again. I’ll kill myself if you try to make me learn how to type.”
My parents didn’t usually give in to this kind of dramatic speech, but there must have been a note of desperation in my voice that they couldn’t ignore. This would be my sole lesson in Touch Typing.
I was a Typing School dropout. Today I type on a computer keyboard. There are no dings at the end of each line and my laptop only weighs three pounds, so I probably need to find something else to build my upper body strength. I still look at the keys, but I can now use both the index and middle fingers on my right hand. I’m proud of my progress. I’m sure my old Typing School teacher is dead now. No human should have a lifespan that long. Especially not her.