In the spring of 1964, I needed an easy class to fill out my schedule of college prep courses, so I signed up for typing. How hard could it be for someone routinely acing advanced math courses?
On the first day of class, Miss Metcalf, a tall thin woman, stood in front of the room and announced that we had brand new IBM Selectrics to work on! No more bruised fingertips from pounding on mechanical typewriters! Glancing around the room, I saw that a group of eager looking girls sat in the front. I stayed in back with the other boys, none of whom I recognized from my other classes. Miss Metcalf showed us how to hold our hands on the keyboard, and gave us a typing assignment involving a string of letters forcing us to explore the qwerty keyboard.
The front of the room exploded with the click-clack of rapid typing. Soon the girls were done, and they gathered around Miss Metcalf, laughing and commenting at their obvious typing skills. The guys with me in the back slowly searched the keyboard for the letters.
My senior year soon settled into a routine. In math class, I could do the most complex problems in my head. Always told to write all of the steps down, which I found too dull, I just wrote the answers. Making some witty statement about the first derivative of sine or the proof of an obscure theorem, I would start down the hall to typing class. As I approached the class, my brow ridge grew, my forehead disappeared, my clothing turned into ill-fitting furs, my books into a club, hair sprouted from my knuckles, and soon I walked on all fours. I became a subhuman who would scramble into my seat, wipe the drool from my chin with an old skunk skin, and await the day’s assignment. Metcalf would dictate something, and we would be timed as we typed. Not only were we expected to be fast, but the copy needed to be free of spelling and grammar errors.
The girls in the front of the room would roar into rapid typing, a constant noise that turned into one giant “CLACK!”. In an instant, they took their product to Miss Metcalf to get the Daily grade of ‘A.’ Gathering around her desk, they happily chatted about typing, perhaps with clever comments about using the right pinky to make a capital q. Meanwhile, from the back, an occasional clack could be heard when one of the subhumans found a key. Eventually, Metcalf called “time,” and we guys in the back passed up our papers to get our daily ‘F.’
When the period bell rang, I left the torture chamber. I dragged the club out of the door, and it turned back into books. As I headed to chemistry, my back straightened, I started to walk upright, my brow ridges receded, my forehead returned. Suddenly the furs were replaced with preppie street clothes. Arriving at chemistry, I sat in back so that I could pass notes with one of the girls. (For those of you younger than me, passing notes was texting with pen and paper.) The chemistry teacher never interfered with my socializing because I always got the top grades.
In truth, the ladies of the typing class ignored the subhumans in back. Metcalf never criticized or called me inadequate or talked to me at all. Used to being considered one of the bright ones, I felt humiliated. I never passed any Assignment. So, at the end of the semester I expected an ‘F’ but instead got a ‘D.’ I considered it a gift from Metcalf.
In 1980, I bought my first personal computer. Getting it home I looked at the qwerty keyboard. I placed my hands on it in the manner Metcalf had taught me. I knew where all the keys were, and I could type with ten fingers! The most useful skill I learned from high school came from that typing class.