The Brown Fox Did Jump
Everyone who learned to type in school knows the following phrase: “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” This pangram is a favorite among teachers of keyboard proficiency. Eighteen Jr. High classmates and I pounded out all twenty six letters repeatedly on old Royal manual typewriters in the spring of 1971. The noise alone was enough to intimidate the most stout hearted, but learning those pesky keys was a task only few of us would truly master.
Most of the students had never touched a typewriter before the first day of class, and were surprised at the weird order of the alphabet on the keyboard. I was lucky to have played around with my Mom’s a few times, but was still daunted. Type without looking at the keys? The teacher was crazy.
Each class consisted of ten minutes of instruction followed by thirty minutes of practice. What felt impossible at first, slowly began to make sense as I faithfully drilled out different combinations of letters that eventually became words, and finally sentences.
My best friend, Susan, was in typing class with me. We commiserated at the beginning about how hard it was to not look at our fingers. As the semester wore on the letters clicked, and we bragged to the other students about how quickly we were picking up new lessons. Both of us felt great to finally be good at something in school.
The day the teacher introduced the WPM test meant we finally had something to measure our progress with. Counting the words per minute on a timed test, minus any mistakes, set a standard by which our grades would be measured. It also gave Susan and I a way to see which one of us was fastest.
The other students moaned and groaned with each test. Susan and I relished the chance to prove our dexterity. But what began as a friendly competition, turned sour and eventually doomed our friendship. The driving need to be best in the class tore at the seams of companionship and embittered the relationship.
We became mortal enemies.
By the end of the school year Susan and I had marked out territories with new friends, and religiously avoided each other. Even our friends disliked each other. Like two rival teams vying for the championship—each of us was determined to win the Best Typist Award presented at our eighth grade Baccalaureate.
The night finally arrived and my nerves were on edge. The typing teacher had praised both Susan and I in class, but gave no indication of who the award was going to be presented to. We ruthlessly avoided each other’s eyes as we both sat on stage with other honorees.
“And the Best Typist Award goes to. . . .”
My heart leapt as I heard my name—but before I could stand and walk across the stage the teacher added, “AND Susan. . . .” The teacher had split the award between us; we each went home with identical certificates.
It was a hollow victory. Susan and I were more evenly matched than we thought. The sad part of experience was that we couldn’t share it with each other. Instead of rejoicing and being thrilled that we’d both won the prize, we walked off stage separately with downcast eyes and guilty consciences. The rivalry hadn’t been worth it.
Susan and I eventually did reconcile before the end of High School. It took several years, but we were at least on speaking terms again. Our renewed friendship never came close to what we had prior to taking that typing class though, and I am grieved that we lost touch after graduation.
I learned a huge lesson about friendship and competition through that experience. Though I’m very competitive at heart, I’ve never again placed winning above the people I’m interacting with. I can enjoy a good game and sports rivalry with the best of them, but I draw the line at denigrating the other side.
I’m a better person today because of my friendship with Susan many years ago. I can only hope if and when she thinks back on our turbulent friendship—that she might feel the same about me.