The Value of a Penny
Doug types too much...
September 2, 2017
Mrs. Ross was my typing teacher. Freshman year of high school, 1969 – 1970. She was old then, so I know she’s long gone. Matronly and a little stern. But fair.
Mrs. Ross kept a shiny penny prominently visible on her desk at all times. That penny was the holy grail. You wanted that penny. Because every Friday, Mrs. Ross would get up and offer a challenge to the class.
“We’ll type for one minute in a timed test. And if you can beat me – anyone who beats me – you get this penny.”
No one ever beat her. And we all wanted to.
She truly was a virtuoso on the typewriter. Something to stand back and admire. And she played her instrument with the disadvantage of missing the end of a pinkie finger. As a young woman, she’d slammed her digit in a car door and lost it up to the knuckle. So when she typed, that ring finger did the work of two fingers. And she could still beat us. Every time. On manual typewriters with carriages to wrench at the end of each margin.
I don’t like to brag, because the class was mostly girls, but I was the best student in the room. I was the fastest and the most accurate. I couldn’t figure much else out, but I had that typing thing down.
Toward the end of the year, I was getting confident. Mrs. Ross had created a machine-gunner.
I’d gotten close on a couple of recent Friday challenges. Within a few words of matching her. She’d wish me better luck next time. Not taunting me, really. But almost. She understood the exact buttons to press to make me respond.
On the final day of class, she once again held up that shiny penny. She hit the stopwatch and we were off to the races. I pounded those keys and slammed that carriage back with abandon, barely allowing the margin dings to finish sounding. I never once looked down at the keyboard. I typed using the force. I wanted to win.
And I won. That day I won. 72 words per minute. No mistakes. On a manual typewriter. Mrs. Ross smiled as she walked down the aisle and put the penny on my desk.
She let me win. You know that, right? But she’d made me as good as I could be on that day. Wax on, wax off.
I never had a knack for musical instruments. Various attempts at learning guitar were always applauded when I gave up. But even though guitar wasn’t my thing, I’ve had days when I’m Carlos Santana on a typewriter keyboard.
Typing was the most valuable skill I learned in high school. In the forty-something years it’s taken to make this journey from my high school era to being an old guy, the days I don’t get on a keyboard are rare.
I learned to pound, so when electronic keyboards were introduced, I didn’t adapt well to the feather touch. I still have spurts of creation where the clacking cacophony alarms innocent bystanders. I am still a machine-gunner, but not a good one. I still make a lot of noise. I’m Beethoven in his deaf period. But half of the wall of sound nowadays consists of me backspacing and correcting errant keystrokes. Age has slowed my speed and my accuracy considerably. I’m not sure you still want me in the trench.
I do like resting on my big, fat typing laurels from time to time, though. During my scary 20s, I was informally clocked over 80 WPM. With no mistakes. Hand me the fan, please, so I can blow this smoke off the keys.
I can still see Mrs. Ross with that penny.
I don’t have it anymore. I lost it in all my travels. But in a way, I still have it.
Every time I find a penny on the ground that nobody thought was worth picking up, I smile and think of her.
Thanks for the gift, Mrs. Ross.
I used it to type this.