This past week, my brothers and I were reminiscing about movies. Bob recalled seeing a Red Skelton movie during the second half of “Lunch Hour”. At Walter French Jr. High all three of us recalled that one of the options of filling the half hour after lunch was going to the auditorium for a movie…at least a half hours worth.
During that discussion, Rick said that he was part of a student team that assisted in the projection room. In trying to recall which teacher was the advisor, I concluded that it was NOT likely to be Mr. Youngblood, my Typing II teacher. He was nothing like his name would suggest. Basically, he was a crotchety old man that probably hadn’t seen a movie since “Tugboat Willie” and didn’t laugh during that one.
He certainly never laughed at any of the antics during his Typing classes. Hitting the wrong keys often created words and phrases we felt important to share with anyone seated nearby. Youngblood was deviously always nearby. To his way of thinking, it was embarrassing, not funny to hit the wrong key. Humph. Embarrassing was that I took this class instead of Dodge Ball. That would have been the epitome of awkwardness. I had to use two hands and three bounces just to get the ball across the line. It was far better to be plagued with hitting the wrong keys.
And wrong keys plus my tendency to see humor in errors, kept Mr. Youngblood near me much of the time. The challenge of imprinting any letter or symbol which required shift key was tougher than it is with the modern keyboard. First of all, because we were required to have a piece of folded cardboard over our hands, my view of the keyboard was effectively blocked. Secondly (okay, so this is conclusive proof of just how old I am.)…secondly, the SHIFT key was actually a lever, not an electrically connected button. The lever raised the platen so that the bottom portion of the ‘letter’ key would strike the paper. Not only was my body quite underdeveloped in Jr. High, my pinky demonstrated about as much strength as a slug trying to pull an anvil.
Probably because it is such an oft used key today, I particularly remember trying to strike an @ on the paper. That necessitated finding the out-of-sight “2” key with my left ring finger while simultaneously slamming down the platen lever…aka “Shift”. Remember that slug? I had to roll then entire left side of my hand, not just a finger, to push down on the “Shift”. Regrettably, that usually included inadvertent depression of the “a” key…which coincided with striking the desired “@” with my ring finger.
Are you aware that all of the keystrokes, back then, were processed to the paper via a single ‘type-bar’ wide guide. The operative word is single. More to the point here, the non-operative trapping of the type-bars for ‘a’ and ‘@’ just prior to striking the ink ribbon. Uncrossing type-bar fingers usually resulted in fingers stained with ink…telltale, after-the-fact evidence of my keyboard ineptness.
Today, with the frequency of using the @ symbol for e-mail addressing, I’m still not very adept with the shift-stroke and synchronization with my left ring finger. Even though my desktop keyboard requires very little pressure to invoke the ‘Shift’, my habitual rotation of my left hand to do it often results in a ‘tilde’. …or worse, coincident ~!
I have now modified much of what I was taught in Typing II. Of particular note here is the traditional use of my pinky to press ‘shift’, but instead of my ring finger, use my left middle finger to get an @. (no specific inference intended).
In typing class at Walter French Jr. High, I was masterful at a;sldkfjgh. I think that’s the first set of keys we practiced. If you got your fingers located on the keyboard correctly, those keys were a sure bet.
I did just fine until the teacher reminded me that accuracy was good but he hoped I could make more than one pass across that row in less than a minute. Of course, he also reminded me of the mandate: “Without looking”. At that stage of my life, looking at what I was doing was essential. That’s precisely why my parents cancelled accordion lessons. My hands were too far separated for me to coordinate their use. Not to mention the drawback that I was so short that peering over the bellows to see my fingers was virtually impossible.
In typing class, even with a bent piece of cardboard perched strategically over the keys, I still gazed downward—somehow hoping to visualize what I could not actually see. The girl next to me once asked if my bowed head meant I was praying. I was flabbergasted. How could she manage to even look toward me, much less speak coherently, while her fingers clicked merrily across the keyboard. I would have said ‘ha ha” but that would certainly have gotten my fingers out of order…even though both the h and the a are on the middle row.
Unless “mastery” is inclusive of some wpm minimum, I eventually mastered the middle row of keys. The next row up and down were a slight bit more difficult. However, those keys were still within range of my unsighted fingers. Within range…sorta. You see, in the 8th grade my fingers were considerably shorter than now. In order to get my pinkie onto the z key, the in-twisting of my elbow forced a contortion of my body which most certainly slowed my wpm. And with the very limited space for muscles in either pinkie, depressing the Shift key was…well, just that…depressing.
I was going to petition the Student Counsel to request that the school purchase electric typewriters — with ‘powered shift keys’. Never did get that accomplished. Such appeals had to be typed.
Eventually typing lessons advanced to the numbers. I couldn’t find very many, if any, of the “number” keys without looking. Now the vision impeding cardboard comes even more into play. Not only does it hide the keys, it also requires me to slump over and down to reach the top row without setting off the alarm (I know the cardboard had a motion sensor alarm somewhere. The teacher always knew when mine moved).
To compound my top row frustrations, those keys also had special symbols incorporated into them. To utilize any one of those symbols required depression of the shift key along with striking the appropriate number. Except for the open and close parens, can anyone explain the logic for the order of the symbols along the top row or, for that matter, why is any symbol associated with a particular number? To this day, I still have to look to ensure striking the proper key for many of the symbols.
I realize that most of this information regarding nostalgic, manual, typewriters is common knowledge to anyone who took a Typing class back in the day. However, if you happened to be in my class (not class as in grade achieved) I want you to know that my movements were not a practice session for Arthur Murray New-age dance class. Of course, with the Mash Potato, Swim, Shake and Watusi, “Typing” just might have caught on.