High school was a vast sea of uncomfortableness. Every day a variation on that theme. Always a part of me off, the limits of my wardrobe a burden I felt every ten days as I waited to wear the teal skirt and sweater set that was my best outfit. I ironed my blouse in the kitchen, the cord of the iron laying across the cold burners of the stove, the rest of the house dark, my mother still sleeping, my father gone to work hours earlier. I would toast an English muffin, butter it with oleo and sit at the slim counter facing the wallpapered wall. It was like dining in a phone booth with the accordion door shut. Airless and soundless.
The high school was huge, located in a Detroit suburb growing so fast that, for a while, students attended in two shifts. And then the school expanded and everyone attended in one big shift. Halls and halls of lockers and classrooms, so big that there were places in the building I heard referred to that I’d never seen. It sounds queer but it was so much like me. I came to school in the morning and went to the places I was supposed to go. I went to my classes and, after my classes, I went to the pool for Swim Club. In the pool, I practiced ballet legs and holding my breath, two of the key elements in synchronized swimming. Even when I swam I was uncomfortable, conscious of my extreme not fitting in, true even when linked in a chain of girls, my yearning to belong coming close to drowning me much of the time.
Except in typing class.
My father insisted that I take typing class in high school and, later, he would insist that I take shorthand in college. He said that if I could type and take shorthand, I could always find a job. This depressed me although I could see his point. At the time, I wanted to be a political columnist. I never told him that.
Taking typing class meant that I would be with the students who were going to be typing for a living. They weren’t the students who were taking trigonometry but I wasn’t taking trigonometry either so, in many ways, I belonged in typing class. I wasn’t great in anything. But I could type. Like a bat out of hell, as my father would say. Like a bat out of hell.
I sat at a typing table directly in front of the typing teacher’s desk. Our desks touched. Mr. Krause was a short guy with dark, very short hair and horn-rimmed glasses. Like every other male teacher, he wore a tie and plaid sport coat every day, never varied. He wrote the typing assignments on the chalk board and then sat at his desk, his hands folded or sometimes drumming a pencil to a beat in his head.
He picked a fight with me every day. Don’t you think that Lyndon Johnson is a terrible president? Don’t you think the war in Vietnam should be expanded to include all of Southeast Asia and China? If the John Birch Society walked in here right now, would you sign up?
Because I could type like bat out of hell, I always got the assignments done before everyone else. Then I sat with my arms folded on top of my typewriter and argued with Mr. Krause. It was the only time in my entire high school career that I felt totally and completely at ease. We were in our own little political debate club, a bubble that happened to be floating in typing class. What was happening with all the girls who weren’t uncomfortable all the time, the boys in their letter jackets, the students running for Student Council and the ones rushing to Yearbook meetings didn’t matter to me. None of them ever argued with Mr. Krause. They thought he was just a typing teacher. They didn’t take typing. They took trigonometry.
Typing class made me feel like a person of substance. It was my amazing luck to be sitting across from Mr. Krause for an entire year, my senior year in high school. Mr. Krause taught me how to type and how to hold my own. I’m thanking him now almost fifty years later.