While we all nestle under the blankets and enjoy our winter wonderland views this week (best blizzard ever!), here’s a little tale from typing class, circa 1993. I thought of this shortly after I wrote my home ec column a few weeks ago when some of my friends and family started sharing their own memories of cooking and sewing. Turns out, mean home ec teachers are not that unusual. But typing? Everyone seemed to love typing class.
I certainly did and will never forget the name of my teacher: Mr. Partaker. Unfortunately this is because Mr. Partaker had a stutter and, of course, his name started with P, which is the worst letter on which to get locked on repeat. So you can imagine how it went over with 15-year-old kids when he introduced himself.
Mr. Partaker was a mustachioed man with a distinct fondness for brown slacks and short-sleeved button-up shirts. I believe these shirts were meant to be white, but they’d lived a hard life under Partaker’s care, so were always a little yellowy, especially in the armpits. He was a nice, patient man though, who seemed to enjoy the fact that his life’s soundtrack was the clacking of keys.
I’m not sure why, since it certainly did nothing to improve our typing skills, but Partaker arranged our little stenographer tables so that four of us faced each other, almost as though we were seated together at a restaurant and had all ordered typewriters for dinner. This created quite a social atmosphere, which was lucky for us because, as you know, typing class itself has all the intrigue of a rice cake.
I was seated beside my best friend Molly Kirk, one other girl who I can’t remember because she was hardly ever there, and a boy named, hand to God, Joel Humpage.
Molly and I were pretty studious and the fact that we had taken a break from our advanced classes to take this rubber course was a bit of a surprise to us both. But our parents had told us repeatedly that the most useful class they ever took in high school was typing and so there I was, punching out “a lad a lass, a lad a lass, a lad a lass” on the home row.
As was this Joel Humpage. I didn’t know him well, in large part because Molly and I were in the French immersion track in our school, which meant that most of our classes were taken in French. But Joel was part of the English track, which was somewhat alluring to us simply because of its otherness. Typing was an elective, so it was taught in English.
At any rate, this Joel Humpage, he was hilarious. Funny in a way that made you want to hang around him just to see what he would say next. And when he spoke, you laughed so hard your stomach muscles would ache in protest. For every typing test I ever took, I was either laughing or trying not to laugh.
Of course, it didn’t matter because, it turns out, I was exceptionally good at typing. And Humpage wasn’t quite as, which made the class all the more fun. Every day I would look forward to it, wondering what he would come up with next.
Until the day the question he came up with was to ask me “out.” “Out” was an optimistic but ultimately misnamed concept since I couldn’t drive and my parents sure weren’t going to drive me so I couldn’t go “out” anywhere. But I’d dreamed of being asked it by a boy, knowing the implication was that he was suddenly now my boyfriend and I was his girlfriend.
However, when Humpage asked the question, which was accompanied by a suddenly vulnerable look on his face, I was hit with a slap of panic. Did I even like Joel? I hadn’t really considered it. But it was still the beginning of class and it was going to be pretty awkward if I said no. I looked at Joel; I said OK.
For the next 40 minutes, during which Humpage wasn’t quite as funny as usual, I tried to warm up to the idea that I was now a girlfriend. This is what I wanted, wasn’t it? A boyfriend? Someone who liked me and for whom I’d have a reason to buy Trident gum because I’d be, gulp, kissing him in front of my locker?
I went home that night 10 percent thrilled and 90 percent unsettled. The next day in typing class, things weren’t the same. I suddenly noticed that Humpage had small hands. Like almost childishly small. No wonder he wasn’t better at typing, it was a wonder he could reach the keys. When I bent over to pick up my pen, I noticed he had small feet to match his small hands. What kind of 15-year-old boy has small feet?
Over the next week, my distain for this boy grew and grew until I could hardly stomach him. My laugh caught in my throat every time he tried to make a joke. I stared at his hands. And even though I knew my own last name was slightly ridiculous, I couldn’t believe I was romantically tied to someone named Humpage. I ended it two weeks later. After that, we graduated to the computer lab and the four-top intimacy was over.
So typing class was, indeed, invaluable to me. First, it gave me killer typing skills; 100 words a minute, no problem, all the time. But second, it taught me that shedding my youth was not something to be rushed. And trying to force myself to do so didn’t actually work. I was going to have to wait a little longer before I could buy that pack of Trident gum.