Time Capsule

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I thought that today’s piece of writing would easily fly right out of me, given my list of potential topics that keeps growing day-by-day.

However, when it comes time to sit down and write, I don’t ever want to choose from the list which seemed so inspiring earlier in the day.

It’s like when you plan your healthy dinner in the morning and then, when dinner time rolls around, you end up making a bat turn into Outback where you end up face down in a blooming onion.

I’m composing this piece directly onto a Word document – a feat which was for a long time unfathomable.

When I started out writing, I used a legal pad to compose my articles, legislation, features, entertainment, etc. etc. etc.  –  by hand, on lined tablets.

After I completed the first draft, my editing process played out a lot like a first-grade art project. I brought out my scissors and started cutting the writing into sections. Then I arranged the sections in their proper order and taped them together.  Oftentimes, I ended up with a document three feet long.

I would then re-read the document and do my editing right there on the original; if I needed to add a section, I taped it off to the side. If I added too many of those sidecars, the draft took on the shape of a hopscotch board.

Before getting anywhere near the typewriter, I made sure that my piece was in its final iteration, because having to re-type an entire page all over again because I forgot to say something was unthinkable.

Typing errors themselves, however, were unpreventable. When I made a small error in word or letter, I’d bring out my bottle of Wite-Out and take in a nice, deep whiff of that highly-flammable liquid before applying it to the typing paper.

The advent of Wite-Out correction tape was revolutionary in its ease of use; however, the thrill of that nice deep whiff was lost and gone forever. In retrospect, I recall being much more productive on the days I used the correction tape.

High school netted me two major skills that have served me throughout my entir life: typing and the French language. Technically, my studies of French began in 7th grade, taught by the tempestuous Mr. Riccardi – a real Italian straight from Italy – who would daily explode like a Roman candle at the slightest provocation, usually in connection with the kid who sat in front of me: Jim Binkowski, whom Mr. Riccardi called ‘BinKOFFski”. His rages, however, evaporated quickly – just like cheap cologne – and before we knew it, he’d be all dimply-smiled and sparkly-eyed once again.

In high school, as we all know, each teacher taught one subject only.

This meant that the typing teacher only taught typing.

Take that in for a moment.

Can you imagine being the typing teacher, walking around the classroom all day long, obsessively repeating inane things like:

F-F-F

J-J-J

R-R-R

U-U-U

F-F-F

J-J-J

R-R-R

U-U-U

Carridge

RETURN!

I was leery about taking that typing class in the first place. Back then, knowing how to type was a skill that would likely land you in an office performing boring and mundane tasks all day long on someone else’s behalf.

But I registered for the class anyway. I must’ve known that, one day, for some other reason, I might need to know how to type. I thank God every night that I did take that class, for is there anything sadder than witnessing the Magoo-like pecking around the keyboard of one who never learned its proper navigation?

In all honesty, I must tell you that I never perfected the numbers without looking. Now why was that, I wonder?  Most likely, the same prescience that got me into the typing class in the first place also knew that one day, I’d be dealing in letters, exclusively.

The IBM Selectric rode into town shortly after I began my first real job writing for the county legislature.  That was revolutionary! For one, it was electric, not manual. This meant that my fingers could slickly skate around that keyboard, as if it were freshly-zambonied ice.

It had a small memory (a big deal back then) which allowed me to do my editing right there on the machine, thereby putting an end to my playing with scissors.

Now why am I telling you all this?

Oh! Because this afternoon, I was visiting with an Italian woman in her late 20s, (a former student), regaling her about the olden days when you could get on an airplane with someone who was flying, even if you weren’t.  You could stay right there on the plane with them, setting records for the longest goodbye – until the stewardess informed you that they were about to close the doors.

Airlines also served nice, hot meals back then: Salisbury steak with mashed potatoes and corn; spaghetti and meatballs; chicken fricassee over rice. To everyone on the plane.

People fit nicely into their seats, acted nicely once they got into them, shared a nice greeting before they chose whether or not they wanted to talk further.

There were no fisticuffs among unruly passengers or the need to yank maniacs off the aircraft. Stewardesses weren’t afraid of their passengers. No. They were there to make your flight as pleasant and enjoyable as was humanly possible. There were there to serve. And you were there to be served.

You could even smoke on the plane back then.  Smokers sat smoking in the back of the plane, their smoke billowing towards the cabin. No one complained about it because the prevailing consciousness was a respect for people who chose to have habits different from your own. If someone did complain about it, a solution was found that respected everyone’s interests.

I’m not a smoker. Never have been. And I don’t like being around exhaled smoke of any kind. It was the right thing to ban smoking in public places. But was it the right thing to turn hopelessly addicted, otherwise good people, into social pariahs?

Generally, I’m not the type who lingers too long on Nostalgia Lane, pining away for the past. But let’s face it: if you’re a person of a certain age, you know that there is plenty to pine away for.

As I sit here typing directly onto my computer screen – my first MacBook Air, a gorgeous and elegant machine that brings me so much joy, I’m taken back to October 5, 2011 –  the day Steve Jobs died.

That morning, I found myself in a coffee shop in Allen, Texas, as the news reported his death from pancreatic cancer at age 56.

Customers filled the shop that day – sitting alone, talking with others, texting on their iPhones, typing on their Macs; yet, no one seemed phased by the news of the death of the man who had transformed our human experience beyond anything we could ever have imagined.

I raised my coffee mug and stepped into the middle of the café, calling everyone to attention.“Steve Jobs has died. Let’s raise our glasses to Steve Jobs.”

And we all did. And I got tears in my eyes. I thought about Steve Jobs all the rest of that day -about how he never gave up on his vision and purpose for being here on earth and how that cost him in other areas of his life. About how his life had had a nasty ending, but that he ended it fulfilling on his reason for being. And he did all that for you and me.

As I draw the curtain on Writing Piece Number 12, I’m grateful for my 11th grade typing teacher, who also fulfilled on her purpose; and, by so doing, has made my writing life a whole lot easier. Still, all these decades later.

Penultimate

Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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