I heard on the CBC (so it’s got to be true, eh?) that the Russians are thinking about buying Selectric Typewriters! They’re saying Nyet to the technological world and reverting back to the typewritten page, folders marked SECRET, locked grey filing cabinets. No longer are they putting their secrets where any Tom, Dick, Harry or Snowden can scoop them up. I love the whole retro feel of this. Will the typewriter become the newest fad? This made me remember my last Selectric, moss green, smooth curvey body. I was a whiz on that machine. That little ball had a hard time keeping up with my tap-tap-tapping fingers. Maybe I could apply for a job with the KGB?
I wonder what Sr. Hilda, my typing-office practice-shorthand high school teacher, would think about me working for the “other” side. She might faint dead away — except she’s probably already dead away. I could imagine her lecturing me that she did not dedicate her life to teaching teenage girls like me the ins and outs of the world of offices just to have them drift to the dark side. No way. Her girls were meant to be red-white-and-blue loyal subjects, who would discretely stay behind-the scenes at their offices, always be polite, modestly dressed and be good little efficient helpers for their bosses (i.e., men).
I was corralled into the world of typewriters without even knowing what was happening to me — that is at least according to my Reconstructed History of Annie Eyerman’s High School Years. There I was in my first two years of high school, taking classes with the “smart” kids or at least taking the “smart kid classes”. I was doing ok — hey, I even received a cum laude certificate for knowing my amo-amas-amat in Latin — it wasn’t summa or even magna but it was something. Yeah, I know I wasn’t all that good or even passable in Geometry where my definite lack of ability mystified my Dad who couldn’t understand how I couldn’t see those angles and degrees they way he could. But I struggled through.
So why then, when I went to start my Junior year was I told by the head nun that I would no longer be following an academic curriculum no, no, that wasn’t for me. Instead, I would be joining all the other working class girls and entering the world of Secretarial Studies. There was no appeal to the decision.
It was implied (at least looking back on it now), that we lower-income girls needed to learn a trade to support ourselves in that cold, dark world out there. Typing was our ticket to independence. Rather than putting our hopes on becoming future Madame Curie’s — we should be thinking of ourselves as future Della Streets or Susie MacNamaras.
Sr. Hilda was a benevolent dictator overseeing her kingdom of those manual-upright-built-to-last-a-century Underwood typewriters. She believed that indeed practice makes perfect or at least passable. Drill. Drill. Drill. She would walk up and down the aisles, rosary beads swinging scolding girls who were looking at their fingers and not at the stand-up-on-its-end typing book. It worked. I learned to type, even got the rhythm down — bell rings, left hand up, swing the carriage, find home and start typing again.
It was a good group of girls in that class — maybe because we could all relate on at least an economic level. But, there was always a stigma attached to being in the secretarial stream and not the academic one. Or at least that’s how I felt. Once I asked if I could take a Spanish course instead of two study halls. I didn’t think it was such an outrageous request. I mean, Spanish speaking people need secretaries too. But the powers to be said absolutely not, I wasn’t “academic”.
So, in a way, the nuns were right I did use those skills I learned in Sr. Hilda’s class to support myself over the years. There was even a time that if you knew how to type you could always get a job. I guess they knew that. But, I’d like to tell them, how ironic it seems that I also used my tap-tap-tapping fingers to pay for all those courses at all those universities that finally added up to a bachelor degree — even though I wasn’t academic.