The story I like to tell about my keyboarding class in high school (formerly typing, but everything had to be updated for what school administrators thought of as our future lives in which things like Home Economics were still seen as somehow relevant--and in a way they are relevant; I preferred the domestic skills of Home Ec. to Shop, remembering my fancy pink and black apron that I sewed for that course, and the cinnamon swirl galaxy rolls I remember
baking, thinking of that time when I thought of myself as a potential baker and domestic goddess: maybe that role would fit, I thought. I wouldn’t cook, but baking was something different. My father was the cook in the family, and my brother took that on, too, going on to work as a chef in local steakhouses, and I felt apart from that, though more recently I've come back to cooking, one of the most satisfying ways aside from essaying to make a mess) involves Mrs. Liimatainen, our keyboarding teacher.
We took typing tests designed to test our aptitude and typing speed and number of errors per minute and our future predispositions to carpal tunnel syndrome or some kind of ginger finger cancer that might make our spleens explode. Maybe you remember this. I'm sure this class sucked to teach in a real and very particular way. There's not a whole lot to it besides rote repetition, the sad defunct phenomenon of the home keys, and Mrs. L must have seen the future, the soon-to-be uselessness of typewriters, even the electric, auto-correcting, approaching-word-processing kind. Or perhaps she saw the future of the typewriter as a fetish technology, still very much in demand among young writers hoping to recreate the magic of the past because Microsoft Word decidedly lacks magic, so they would bid on typewriters on eBay or procure them from their parents’ awkward, eccentric friends, or buy them at moldering, dumpy St. Vincent de Paul stores that played the awful Christian music which only served to elevate the experience, transform this want into a quest that they might complete in order to feel the physical feedback, the finger recoil, the sound of metal striking paper that their muses, their literary heroes must have once used and heard as they generated such stellar prose.
Or Mrs. L saw the future Tuscaloosa Public Library on the banks of the Black Warrior River in which Chief Tuscaloosa’s murdered body had been thrown in to float downstream a life and a life and a life ago, a library in which the lone typewriter, the least complex of the technologies available for public use (besides the book, that is, that is still so ubiquitous as to be beneath our notice as a technology), would be so much in demand that they would have to institute waiting lists, that the people would still need to fill out forms, to type things on an old school typewriter which, it turns out, no one has anymore, and by so empowering us to use these machines she would make us indispensable after the nuclear apocalypse came to wash away our collective, collected sins.
Mrs. L was known to have thrown at least one electric typewriter through the window of our fifth floor (eighth floor, I think, maybe now, or why not eightieth, in the way that old memories grow stronger, more exaggerated) classroom. I was not present for this event but have reenacted the scene so many times in my brain that it's become memory, become part of what I rely on daily as my accumulated sense of self and history and possibility. This fact is probably fact-checkable. But I don't want to check the fact. I like it this way, the wide brushstroke, the grandness of the emotion and the motion. It makes for a better story, doesn't it? Behind that story surely there is another, one of depression, probably, and frustration, of living in a tiny and isolated town beset by weather, of being a woman who acquired this one essential (or so she thought long ago) skill, a skill which led to nothing but secretarial work, and in a town like this, what, were you supposed to marry an executive? Was that the way to make a life? And what had her education ever gotten her, so what would it get these kids? Or there are other possible stories, psychological diagnoses: maybe she suffered from delusional disorder and thought the world--the typewriters even--considered her a threat, conspired against her, composed their daily assaults against her mind and body and her sanity and now, what, her job? Couldn't they leave her even that? The world was so loud just through the window, and the collected clacking thunder in this room, well, sometimes you couldn’t take it another minute, and even though you knew it was ridiculous, you had to act; by acting you transformed yourself, improved yourself, metastasized your life. And these students--god, the students. They were barely students at all. They were morons. Junior hunters waiting for deer season. They had these dreams. They had no idea what anything weighed, what any single thing felt like in your hand, how to execute a stitch, how to change their oil, how to embalm a parent who had unexpectedly passed away, how a life might sound going through glass and falling. They were beautiful in their way, but you couldn't touch them no matter what the younger physical science teacher evidently did. He was a man, after all, and that was different-- and that is still somehow different--and he was hot, and she was not, and she was lonely, single, only, stuck, and so the typewriter, and god, like a superhero she ripped it up from the student that was misbehaving, and maybe she desired him and couldn't touch him--she certainly couldn't teach him, that much was clear, he couldn’t be taught, not the sparkling, empty eyes, his every movement a tautology--and so she picked it up, ripping the cord from the outlet, ripping a seam in her shirt, the one she wore for him though he never noticed until that one moment she was above him with the machine, and look at the look on his face, one of surprise, like he didn't think it could have come to that, that he didn't think her capable, and so he sneered, knowing still she couldn't touch him, maybe he knew he was beautiful, as far as high school beautiful can go, especially in this town, and maybe he knew she wanted him, or could have--should have--wanted him, and she put that machine right through the glass and down it went. And she knew even as she did it that from that moment it was over. And it was over.