A journalism student asked to shadow me for a day at my home office to see what it is like to be a columnist. I told her it was in her best interest not to. "Fifteen is too young to die and watching me work all day could kill you."
"Is it dangerous work?" she asked.
"Yes," I said. "Sometimes it is so boring I put myself to sleep and fall off my chair."
What's to watch? I sit and stare at a computer screen and my fingers fly across a keyboard. The only three-alarm excitement is when someone violates my computer keyboard as happened last week.
My fingers fly across the keyboard so much that a number of the letters on the keys have worn off. This does not bother me. What bothers me is that I failed to become the fastest typist in high school. The fastest typist at our school broke the 100 words-per-minute barrier. On a manual typewriter. With a manual carriage return that weighed more than the family car. Girls were stronger in those days.
On a manual typewriter you were taught to strike the keys quickly like your fingers were hammers. The teacher stood at the front of the class yelling, "F! J! D! K!" and students hammered the keys on cue: BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM!
In college, underclass journalism students worked on ancient refurbished Underwood Five typewriters that you had to strike so hard you could dislocate your knuckles. Fortunately, there were paramedics on standby. It was not uncommon for the university to lose six and seven students a day.
Meanwhile, IBM Selectrics -- the Cadillac of electric typewriters were coming into vogue. The brave new world was upon us. They had express back keys, little metal balls you could switch out to change the font and were sensitive to the touch.
Computer keyboards are a hundred times more sensitive to the touch. But when you learned by the hammer method, your ways do not change quickly.
A kid was once in our kitchen when I was working, poked his head around the corner and said, "Wow! You must have learned on a manual."
"How so?" I asked.
"You really pound those keys."
"Yes, I beat them to death, son. Now get back in the kitchen." And kids wonder why I don't want them hanging around watching me work.
When some people work on a computer, you can barely hear their fingers brushing the keys. I am not one of them. I am an annoyance in coffee shops, libraries and airports. Because I still tend toward the hammer method, many of the letters have worn off the keys.
Last week I was horrified to see that a vandal had taken a black Sharpie and written the missing letters on my M, N, L, E and R keys.
"Call the police!" I shouted. "Someone has broken in and violated my keyboard!"
"No one violated your keyboard," the husband said. "I was being helpful."
The husband, as you probably guessed, graduated from the Hunt and Peck Academy.
Once I stopped hyperventilating, I realized he was only trying to be helpful. However, the Sharpie residue now transfers to my fingertips each time I type making it look like I have just returned from a police booking downtown.
I have confiscated all the markers and hidden them in my desk. There's only so much excitement anyone who sits at a keyboard all day can take.