Sunday, January 18, 2015

Ms. Sutkus, can you ever forgive me?

I learned to type while I was in high school, more than 40 years ago.

I learned to type on a manual typewriter, under the tutelage of a very nice – and very young and attractive – woman whom I will call Ms. Sutkus, which seems like a reasonably good idea, considering that her name really was Ms. Sutkus. (And yes, you smart-alecks out there, she did have an actual first name, but I’m going to honor her privacy and not reveal it – it’s the least I can do, considering what I have done to her.)

There were maybe 25 students in the class, and every day we would type exercises out of a book, usually to the tune of some classical music. I can’t remember what most of those tunes were, but there is one that I’ve always remembered, and on the rare occasion when I’ve heard it – I still don’t know the name or composer – I always think of that typing class, and Ms. Sutkus, and what I have done to her.

From the get-go I was quite good at typing, probably because I had taken piano lessons for five years, and my skills on a musical keyboard seemed to translate well to an Underwood or Smith-Corona or whatever we used in class.

So after I completed that yearlong class I felt that I was a fairly good typist, though not perfect, of course. Who is?

Several months after I finished my college years – during which I dutifully typed all my papers on the portable Smith-Corona my uncle gave our family (and which now sits a few feet away for me, kept for sentimental purposes) – I walked into the newsroom of my local newspaper, asked to be considered for an opening I’d heard about, and took an editing test.

After reviewing my test, the managing editor gave it back to me and told me to type it up on one of the newsroom typewriters.

An electric typewriter.

I had never before used an electric typewriter, but I wasn’t about to tell the M.E. that.

And in retrospect, I probably didn’t really have to tell him that.

He probably figured it out after it took me one hour to type the test, which was maybe three pages of double-spaced text.

But he hired me anyway, and thus began a career that spanned more than 30 years.

During which I became more accomplished in the use of an electric typewriter.

Then the computers came in, and I adjusted to those keyboards, too.

But in recent years I think I might have adjusted all too well.

Because computers are, to an extent, forgiving. If you mistype something, chances are it will auto-correct it for you. (It did just that a moment ago, as I was mistyping “mistype.”)

And because you don’t have to stop and erase something, or use that smelly white stuff to cover it up (and it usually looks cheesy later and doesn’t fool anybody, does it?), well, you can get lazy.

I know this has happened to me. If I had a dime for every time I mistyped something while in a hurry on a computer – on the job or not – it still wouldn’t repay Ms. Sutkus, who is God knows where right now, for all the shame that I, once a star pupil, have caused her.

And this late in life I know I will never be able to make it up to her.