I Think I Killed My Typing Teacher (By Janet Clark)

It must have been instinct that told me geometry would get me nowhere growing up female in 1958. I kept hearing typing class was a lot of fun and I had an inkling I was destined to become a secretary anyway. My school counselor had already informed me that test results showed I had skills needed for teaching and nursing. Back then neither of us knew all high school testing was skewed to show that female students scored high in those two categories. Miss Beaton, who was also my P.E. teacher, was of the opinion I wasn’t suited for either occupation. She believed I was ‘too undisciplined to teach”, and ‘too sensitive, emotionally, for nursing”. Hollywood insisted secretarial work was very glamorous and the best way to snag a husband with a good income. Why, who could forget “Three Coins in a Fountain”?

It turned out that typing class wasn’t all that easy. Some of the girls were amazingly adept. I was moderately successful. Always inclined to be tidy, I was good with business letters. However, my brain and hands never coordinated well—still don’t—under heavy scrutiny or pressure. The typing instructor was a colorless woman who never smiled. We girls referred to her as “Gloria” which was, indeed, her first name. She was a spinster and I think everyone called her a prune—only because we didn’t know anything about lesbians in 1958. Her front teeth were slightly crooked and she had a prominent lisp which only fed our immature, insensitive attitude toward her.

I tried hard to please Gloria and felt as though I was fairly successful until one morning when we were doing timed writings. We had three minutes to type a test and see how far we could get before Gloria called “time!” Limp white sheets of typing paper were handed out. Gloria announced we should start typing from the top of page 78 in our typing texts. I sat with feet on the floor, back perfectly straight, elbows tucked in, eyes on my book, never the typewriter. I was ready to fly through the exercise. “Start”, Gloria commanded.

I typed furiously, hesitating only on those few numbers I’m still unable to find without cheating and looking at the keys. “Bing!” went the timer. Did I mention I was sitting in the middle row, right in front of Gloria’s desk? She had been standing over me for the entire timed writing, but my eyes had never left page 78 of my typing book. I heaved a sigh of relief certain I had done a decent job. “Janet,” Gloria announced while wringing her hands, “that is definitely not good for the platen.” Everyone turned to look at me. Wide eyed, I looked at the typewriter roller—in horror. I know my face crumpled , but I didn’t cry.  I had managed to type the entire three minute timed writing without any paper in my typewriter. No one laughed. Out of fear the entire class was silent. Gloria walked to the front of the room and leaned her head against the chalk board. “Class dismissed,” she groaned.

That particular day at school felt as rotten as the time I accidently dropped a hot soufflé onto the Home Ec kitchen floor just as my teacher rounded the corner, slipping and falling—not only bruising, but scalding her rear. Clearly the soufflé incident was more egregious than not having typing paper. I hadn’t caused any physical harm, but a year later the local news announced Gloria had committed suicide. She lived alone and it was a few days before anyone found her. Still a teen, her death had a huge impact on me. I worried I had contributed to her unhappiness and felt sorry I had done nothing to brighten even one of her days.

I’ve never forgotten Gloria. I sometimes laugh about that paperless typing test, but I also recognize now how she helped shape my life. I managed to put my husband through two college degrees with my typing skills. I held many jobs that depended on my ability to type. And I still spend an awful lot of time typing—on a computer, of course. Why, if I couldn’t type all these childhood memories what would I do with them? They would just stay bottled up inside my head and I might not experience the joy of sharing them.

December 2014

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Hold That Trash! (by Janet Clark)

In the late 1960’s, I suddenly found myself with no independence and no income of my own. Overnight I became a non-person. My husband and I packed our household, sons nearly 3 and almost 5, and moved to Northern California where he would become a college professor. I had to leave my job with a brokerage firm where I was finishing studies and testing for a stock broker’s license, paid for by my employer. Having been our family’s main bread winner while my spouse finished his Masters, I not only left behind a big paycheck plus generous bonuses, I also parted with my main source of self-esteem and suddenly felt adrift. In our new community, a total stranger informed me he could tell I was a “city girl” because my skirts were “too short for this town.” And so I was—a city girl stranded in the middle of almond orchards, rice fields and a daily 10 page Republican newspaper. It would take many years for me to appreciate almonds and brown rice.

First I tried a few months of typing and secretarial work for the campus English Department, but they were housed in the same building as the Art Department my husband worked in and I soon overheard that the staff was unhappy with him because he blatantly used the “F” and the “Sh” words in public. My job did not pay as much as the cost of day care for my children, so one day I responded to an ad for part time evening work with the Blue Diamond Nut Company. It seemed like the perfect solution. My husband could watch the children while I worked the evening shift sorting nuts, which couldn’t be a far cry from what my life was like already. The pay was fairly good.

The interview was brief and I was hired on the spot. Provided with a big green hair net—the kind worn in medical facilities—I was introduced to the conveyor belts. There were three of them, each divided into six sections so that the women perched on stools on either side of the belt had a total of three “trays”. The tray closest to the employee carried almonds that had been cracked by a big machine. The other two trays were for broken almonds and the last was for the trash—bits of shell, leaves, sometimes unspeakable things. I was instructed to pick the trash and broken bits of almond out of the first tray, leaving only the perfect almonds, drop the broken nuts into tray two, and anything not edible into the third tray. Made sense. Sounded pretty easy.

I was provided with a backless stool and someone helped me adjust it to the proper height for working on the conveyor. Settling in, things went well until the belt was turned on. It moved much faster than I imagined and I immediately began to laugh out loud. Trying to pick out the trash and damaged nuts and drop them into their proper places on the conveyor was like some kind of dexterity game you might play with children at a party. And then, all of a sudden the belt seemed to stop and it felt as though I was moving. I must have looked alarmed because the woman sitting next to me (we had never been introduced) hollered over the noise of the machinery, “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.” The next couple of hours until break time were grueling. All the motion made me nauseous and the noise made my ears ring. Every ten minutes, my supervisor, a wiry little woman with a southern twang, stopped behind me, glared in my direction and screamed, “Hold that trash!” It was like being in the middle of a Felini movie and I no longer felt like laughing. I wanted to cry.

It only took a couple of days for me to develop a very negative attitude. Driving off to work I’d pass my neighbor, a doctor’s wife, outside chatting with the pool man, another neighbor riding her big Arabian horse back out of the park toward their stables. I imagined what they’d think of me if they knew what I was doing. I started hating my husband.

The job lasted for two weeks. One morning I couldn’t get out of bed until I’d called the Diamond office and told them I was done. They didn’t sound surprised. They were probably relieved. The supervisor had started referring to me as “I Love Lucy” and asked me several times, “Girl, what are you doing here?” Each time I looked at her—wearing a T-shirt from a local bar, missing a couple of front teeth, recalling the battered Ford pick-up she plowed into the company parking lot every afternoon—well, I just never found an explanation I thought she might appreciate.

At Our House

By Janet Clark

 

When my daughter was three years old we joined a nursery school cooperative.  Parents helped staff the facility on a rotating basis.  Angela was blessed with big brown eyes, a mop of shiny curls, her father’s imagination and her mother’s smart mouth.  She was a constant source of amusement for some of the more conservative parents.  Typical of three year olds, she was usually her most entertaining on the days I did not remain at school with her.

One noontime, when I arrived to collect her, the parents on duty were waiting for me.  They argued over who would get to tell me what had happened earlier that morning.   It seems that during snack time, while the children were all seated around little tables, munching slices of fresh fruit and drinking chocolate milk, Angela’s neighbor accidently knocked over his paper cup.  The contents spilled across the table soaking her napkin.   “Oh, shit,” she declared.

Shocked, one of the mother’s stepped over to the table and shook her finger in Angela’s direction scolding,   “No, no, Angela, we don’t talk like that here.”

Angela gave her an incredulous look and continued to mop up the spill with someone else’s napkin, then stopped.  Shrugging her shoulders at the other children at the table she smiled big and announced proudly, “Well, we do at my house!”

It Was One of Those Days

By Janet Clark

 

Today I ‘d waited longer than I should have to drag Lurch, my old and battered Honda lawn mower, out of the garage. Now the sun was high and after only two rows I began to sweat. There were a million other things I’d rather be doing. “Keeping up appearances” is what I call mowing. I tell myself I need the front yard to look well-groomed for the neighbors and that I don’t really give a damn. An attractive landscape makes people in the neighborhood believe that I am a good person. Intelligent, clean — trustworthy. What a bunch of rot. At my age, I could kill myself mowing this enormous lawn in the heat of the day. Sometimes I feel resentful that I’m one of only three people on my block who doesn’t have a gardener. The other two have strapping husbands who love gardening while poor little old me just can’t afford yard help.

Right in the middle of my “woe is me”, I spotted something shiny in the grass a fraction of a second before the mower gobbled it up. I’ve learned to react quickly because Lurch has been known to pick up things and spit them out at my knee caps like shot-gun blasts. Not needing anymore scars, I stopped the mower in the nick of time. It was half-buried in the grass. Turning it over, I discovered the sparkling object was a name plate – black plastic with white lettering. It had a shiny silver magnetic clip on the back, which apparently hadn’t worked very well.

Elder Thomas
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints

Now what in the hell had he been doing in the middle of my lawn?

Slipping it into my pocket, I resumed mowing with much more enthusiasm. Aided by my imagination, I walked Lurch back and forth across the grass thinking of various ways Elder Thomas’ name plate could have ended up on my property.

Possibly it fell off as Thomas was being carted away by a huge bird of prey.

Or maybe while canvassing my neighborhood, passing out religious literature, he was mugged by the Devil himself.

More than likely, my neighbor Jack got pissed off when Elder Thomas knocked on his door and threatened to hose Elder Thomas off the front porch. This name plate probably flew off the poor kid’s tie as he ran for his life.

Whatever.

It’s a lot of fun being a fledgling writer. You can find stories almost anywhere. If it isn’t book-length material, it might just enough to blog.

Today was just one of those days. Found a story while out mowing the lawn.

Oh, That Guy…

By Janet Clark

Who? Oh, that guy. Yes, I know him. No, no, he’s not Chinese, he’s from Vietnam. I don’t know when he immigrated, but you can see he’s not very old. Late thirties, maybe? You’re right. He’s not a big man, but what a hard worker. He’s been delivering newspapers in Poet’s Corner for about five years. Since he took over the route there’s never been a single day the papers weren’t delivered. Maybe a little late once or twice. If I’m awake I hear a comforting “thwack” as the paper hits the driveway around 4.30 a.m.

By the way – that guy happens to be one of the kindest people I know. For years I subscribed to the San Francisco Chronicle Thursdays through Sundays. Then, one day the Chron raised prices to the point I could no longer afford delivery. I sent a note to that guy letting him know my reason for quitting the paper and thanking him for his reliable service. The morning I was to receive no Chronicle there was a newspaper on my driveway. Attached to it was a crudely penciled note.

“Good morning, thank you for the Christmas card you sent me. I always have extra Contra Costa Times papers. I’ll throw one every day and if you need me to stop, call this number. Dien Lam.”

For a year and a half he has faithfully left a Times on my driveway. From time to time I put a ten dollar bill in an envelope and mailed it to him.

Recently the San Francisco Chronicle ran a special “We miss you. Ninety dollars for the entire year!”

I signed up.

Now I get two papers every morning – carefully rubber-banded together so I only have to stoop over once. You know that’s getting harder to do early in the morning these days? Stooping.

Oh yeah, that guy is just the greatest!

If Only

By Janet Clark

If only I hadn’t been standing in line, buying those two books I was certain you’d enjoy. Laughing with work friends — bragging about your most recent adventure. I don’t understand how I could have been feeling such joy when I should have been with you to cheer you on as you made the journey. I should have been at your side to whisper words of encouragement. I should have been there to help you cross over — from this life into the next. Such regret. If only I had been with you — to hold your hand when you died.