Comedy, Humor, Satire

I Was a Typing School Dropout

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.


Comedy, Humor, Satire

Advice to My 12-Year-Old Self

mosquito coil

The summer when I was twelve years old, I spent my time smoking mosquito coils, painting the neighbor’s car with roasted marshmallows, wearing the same wet bathing suit every day for eight to ten hours at a stretch until my butt broke out in a rash, and experimenting with garish makeup techniques that I hoped would make me look much older than I was to the boys hanging out at the swimming pool.

Wait.  Back up.  Smoking mosquito coils?  This is not a normal activity for an adolescent, either then or now.

Advice to my twelve year old self: Explain yourself immediately.

My friend Barbie and I weren’t actually smoking the mosquito coils for some exotic new high.  After all, we were twelve.  We were practically adults.  Nobody could tell us what to do.  We did it for pure vicious shock value.  Individually, we both came up with some pretty strange ideas.  We were bad enough apart.  Together, we were intolerable.

After a series of highly unpleasant skirmishes, I had determined that the neighbors that had moved in next door were my sworn enemies.  Revenge is serious business when you’re twelve, plus it was late in the summer and we were getting pretty bored.  I looked outside and saw Mother Neighbor and Father Neighbor lurking around in their driveway and decided to take action.  I’d found that it was very easy to drive these neighbors into a state of near hysteria, so Barbie and I started rummaging around my house to see if we could find something to get them agitated.  We came up with the brilliant idea that we could make them think we were smoking cigarettes right out in the back yard in broad daylight.  To execute this maneuver, we decided we were going to pretend to smoke one of the mosquito coils that my parents used on the front porch to keep the bugs away in the evening.  We ingeniously wrapped sections of the mosquito coil in school notebook paper and grabbed some matches.  Then we proceeded to the back yard, where we nonchalantly draped ourselves over the waist high retaining wall that separated the two properties and fired up our smokes.  At this point, the neighbors were about twenty feet away, trying to wash the hardened marshmallows off their car.

For anyone who has never personally smoked a mosquito coil, it’s good to know that once lit, they emit huge clouds of noxious grey smoke  that keep insects away for hours.  Barbie and I took a couple of tentative puffs, and in no time at all we were coughing and choking, but at least we didn’t have to worry too much about mosquito bites.

What scared the bugs away had the opposite effect on the neighbors.  They immediately stopped washing the car and scurried to the side of their garage that faced the retaining wall.  Applying the time-honored sniper technique of hiding in plain sight, they bobbed their heads around the garage wall, whispering loudly about the nasty juvenile smokers next door.  In no time at all, they were jumping up and down, pointing wildly at us and threatening to call the police.  Barbie and I played it cool though, carrying on what we assumed was a normal adult conversation between coughs and sniffles.  Then we strategically dropped down onto our hands and  knees and peered over the top of the wall.

Suddenly, I felt a big hand on my shoulder.  It was my father.  He looked from the two of us to the clouds of foul smoke drifting in the air.  We pointed toward the neighbor’s garage, giggling hysterically.  My father said, “Do you mind telling me just exactly what you think you’re doing?”

I stood up and turned to whisper in my father’s ear.  After all, it was his back yard.  “See,” I said.  “These are really only mosquito coils, but they think we’re smoking cigarettes.”  I started laughing hysterically until the smoke from the mosquito coil drifted up my nose.  It took quite a bit longer for the coughing to subside this time.   “They were washing their car.  And then they stopped to watch us!  See?  They’re standing right over there, peeking around the garage and jumping up and down.  They’re so stupid”

My father gave me a strange look.  I turned around.  The neighbors were gone.  So was the car.  My father started to pull me into the house.

“Wait,” I said.  “You’ve got to believe me.  They really were there.”  My dad kept going, guiding me onto the back porch and pushing me through the door.  “You can’t tell me what to do.  I’m twelve, you know.”  I hope none of the neighbors saw my dad make me go inside the house.  My reputation would be ruined.

Advice to my twelve year old self: You are going to eventually grow up and have children of your own.  In the event that your children are unfortunate enough to be just like you, please keep the following information about mosquito coils close at hand:

KEEP OUT OF REACH OF CHILDREN. CAUTION: Harmful if absorbed through skin. Avoid contact with skin, eyes or clothing. Harmful if inhaled. Avoid breathing vapor or dust. Wash thoroughly with soap and water after handling and before eating, drinking, chewing gum, using tobacco, or using the toilet. Remove and wash contaminated clothing before reuse.








Pumpkin Spice

PumpkinsMy friend Joanna and I were having a conversation yesterday about the Pumpkin Spice craze that grips the country every year in late August and lasts until the products disappear from retail shelves towards the end of the year. She pointed out that it really isn’t the “pumpkin spice” itself that is so powerful, but rather the emotions that the aroma and the flavor elicit. Pumpkin Spice products bring back memories of family gatherings, pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving dinner, friendship and warmth. It’s a mass market version of everyone’s favorite comfort food that mom used to make.

Nostalgia is a powerful emotion. It can cause some people to remain rooted in the past and leave them unwilling to accept change. It can create a desire to return to the “good old days” that were never quite as good in reality as they are in retrospect. Nostalgia can also create a sense of warmth and well-being that brings back precious memories to sustain and enrich your inner world and leave you a better person from the lessons you learned in the past.

After being laid off from my job of 25 years this summer, I decided to regroup and make my downtime productive. I compiled a fairly lengthy To Do list of projects that I’d been putting off for years due to a lack of both time and motivation. One of the items on my list was cleaning out my basement.

I bought my house in the spring of 1999 and moved in with too many years’ worth of personal belongings. My mother moved with me and brought her own trove of accumulated possessions.  My father had passed away in 1996, and his large collection of tools came along with my mother. Everything was hastily put away in the basement, but nothing was really organized too well, and life goes on and the organizing part never happened.

As I was cleaning out the basement and getting everything put away, I came across several tool boxes with my father’s name stamped on them, scraps of paper with his handwriting, and various gadgets that he had cobbled together from spare parts of other things that had stopped working. I’ve missed my father every single day since he died, but being immersed in a roomful of his things brought back a flood of memories. I pictured him in the basement of the home my mother had just left, the house where I had grown up.  The basement  was always his personal domain, and he took great pride in keeping everything clean, organized and in good repair. The basement  reflected who he was as a person, a husband, and a father. He always took care of everything and immediately fixed anything that was broken, whether that might be putting a new handle on an old hammer or patching a hole in my tights by putting a coin underneath the hole and stitching up the tear while I was still wearing them.

I also discovered a box of old 8mm films, some dating back to 1959. There were films of my parents’ wedding day and honeymoon, Christmas movies from many years ago and lots and lots of vacation shots. As I was watching the footage from my parents’ wedding day, there was a scene where my mother and father looked at one another with such a profound expression of love that it brought me to tears. The love between them would remain just as strong throughout 37 years of marriage and gave me a wonderful childhood and a strong basis to venture out into the world on my own. My parents’ home was always filled with love and plenty of laughter. It was a place where you weren’t allowed to take yourself too seriously and where I learned to both cherish the good times in life and bounce back from the rough patches. It gave me a sense of humor and taught me the value of loyalty, honesty and caring for other people.

Sometimes nostalgia can be a good thing. And it’s nice to have a clean basement for the first time in almost twenty  years.  Now it’s time for that Pumpkin Spice coffee.