I don’t know why exactly, but I elected to take a typing class in my sophomore year in high school. I hadn’t given much thought to my future plans outside of school, but I thought I’d perhaps like to work in an office. What my capacity would be in an office, I had no idea. An office job or perhaps working at a newspaper. This didn’t make much sense, actually, because I neither read the paper nor knew how to type. My Grandfather kept telling me, “Get a trade, be a carpenter or a plumber.” My father saw I was useless with my hands from an early age and discouraged me from entertaining the idea of plumbing, saying that I’d smell “like shit” or a “gutter rat” and “What woman’s gonna want to have anything to do with you then?” I saw my choices as limited. I wasn’t good with my hands and I still did mathematical computations using my fingers. I figured the least I could do was learn to type. The first day of typing class we were greeted by our teacher, Mrs. Lefferdink, an older lady who resembled the women you see on old TV reruns in black and white. If you could genetically splice DNA from Lucille Ball, Our Miss Brooks, and Jackie Gleason’s TV wife, you’d end up with Mrs. Lefferdink. She wore dark-rimmed glasses attached to a gold chain, which swung like a jump rope. She ended up teaching typing and shorthand to the future office-workers of America before being put out to pasture.
Practically all the students in the class were girls. If there was another guy in there, he was well hidden. Most of the boys took wood or metal shop. I did miserably in those classes (which, when applied to me, could just as easily be called Wood Chop rather than wood shop), nearly cutting off my thumb and a classmate’s arm at the elbow. I still don’t know how I managed that. I was petrified of the pretty girls in the class. They came into class with their books and shapely bodies. They made no eye contact; they were all business, each with the air of an executive secretary in the making. They sat with perfect posture. We sat down at separate desks each mounted with typewriters. On my first day of class, I sat at my typewriter and thought there had been some kind of mistake. I looked at the cold metallic machinery weighing down on the desk and discovered there were no letters on any of the keys.
Suddenly, Mrs. Lefferdink instructed us to begin our typing exercises. The keys popped and clicked; each strike reverberating across the room off the windows, sprinkled with the tinkling of bells. All those lovely girls with long lovely red fingertips ready to be worn down. Their toes were oftentimes the same color. It was difficult to concentrate on blank keys when there was so much to look at. I could barely move those typewriter keys. My mind flexed every which way, conforming to the curvature of each girl, their lovely legs and shoulders, my fingertips caressing their backs, their necks, running through their sweet smelling hair. I could paint a thousand masterpieces with my fingertips, but I couldn’t type a lousy 10 words per minute. Finally, Mrs. Lefferdink’s nasally voice ruined a good imaginary streak I had going when she said, “Ok class, stahhhp!” Many of the girls typed in the 50-WPM range, some even got as high as 75 WPM. When Mrs. Lefferdink checked my paper, I had typed all of 8.5 words a minute. I could feel the eyes of every girl in the class scrutinizing my paper. All of my spellings were incorrect except for the word “The.”
The girls seemed to remember all the keys and type consistently fast while I was always slow, not able to remember what letter corresponded with what key. I consistently got “D’s” or worse on typing tests. Perhaps there wasn’t much of a challenge for me. I couldn’t get too excited about typing such things as:
Dear Mr. Dough:
We have obtained accounts receivable information, and have discovered a discrepancy in regards to your bread (and so on).
The scripts we had to work from were so unimaginative that only a sadist could have thought them up. At any rate, the girls in the class were comfortable with the exercises, the scripts. They were fast and accurate and on the right track to that office job with the Acme’s of the world.
I thought I was doomed with my slow typing, destined to become a janitor or a security guard or cafeteria worker wearing a transparent shower cap—something along those lines. As I continued hitting the keys like slow feet upon mud, I heard a sound. It was clear and beautiful; although I didn’t realize it at the time.
Tink…tink…tink. Tink…tink…tink. 3 tinks and a pause, in a steady, rhythmic cadence; distinct—not drowned out by the rain of the other keys chiming and clambering upon the windows and floors like a rainstorm. No, this tinkling was like delicate raindrops, falling in a pond, dissolving into shimmering light. The sounds came from a girl sitting 5 or so seats away. I hadn’t noticed her until I paused during a memory lapse. Her name was Karen. She was the girl in school everyone was ambivalent about, including her teachers. She was below average looking, and seemed to waddle rather than walk down the halls. She held her books tightly to her chest. She very rarely spoke to anyone. She was the girl in the yearbook whose head was too big, more than the ordinary or professional camera could handle. This was the girl who smiled, but blinked as the photographer snapped the shot. In the overall ambivalence toward her, the photographer decided not to retake the picture because no one would care anyway.
Tink…tink…tink! Those were magic sounds. It reminded me that there was another like me, a bad typist. But it made me feel satisfied in a sinister way, in that while I was a bad typist, at least I wasn’t an outcast like this girl with the large head. My ears focused on the tinkling of her typewriter and I raced her toward something. For every one of her tinks, I pounded 3 tinks, sometimes 4. The satisfaction came when Mrs. Lefferdink strolled by and declared “Anthony, you’re much improved. 15 words a minute!” Karen typed all of 8 or 9 words. I felt good but it was soon forgotten. It was on to more exercises and tests. Karen sometimes tossed a squint over at me; we’d catch each other’s eyes, knowing we were both in the same boat, but I’d avert my eyes, denying any connection. Once, after class, Karen spoke to me.
“Hi, I’m Karen.”
“I’m Anthony,” I replied.
Karen looked at me with clear, full eyes. She smiled then dropped her eyes to the floor, then glanced up again. She had beautiful teeth. White like piano keys.
“Typing is pretty hard, huh?”
I shook my head and looked beyond her to the bodies walking to and fro in the hall. Karen walked alongside me, saying nothing. I had nothing to say.
“Well, I gotta go. See ya.”
I walked off to the next class leaving Karen someplace.
I wanted glances from the other girls, the pretty girls, which never came. The class eventually ended and it was on to my junior year. I still saw Karen from time to time, often sitting alone nursing a carton of milk. I once saw her reading a book of love poetry. She always seemed to be alone, jotting things down in a book. During our graduation ceremony, she was there, sitting a few seats away. I caught her squinting eyes again. The other girls in that typing class were surely going places. Their tassels dripped ambition—college, office work, families and success. I never ended up with a job at Acme. I’ve worked mostly average jobs—security guard, janitor—things like that. Right now, I work at an insurance company downtown. But I always remember the little bit I learned in Mrs. Lefferdink’s class. And Karen is probably still hitting the keys, no doubt a poet, making sounds like leaves hitting water, which I can hear right now. Her light sparkles in my memory like a big moon floating. And I’m proud to tell you that I’ve typed this story for her with my eyes closed. Tink … tink … tink.
© Copyright 2005, Tony Robles