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  • Art’s story about manual typewriters took me back to a time and a place that I’d long since forgotten. Could it really be 32 years ago? Hard to believe! I was relatively new to the N.A. program. I just happened to come in to an N.A. 12 Step Group that decided to stop using the “A.A.” 12 Steps in their meetings, and to instead begin developing their own 12 Steps, written by addicts instead of alcoholics. N.A. did not have much of its own literature, beyond a basic pamphlet, and word had come down from somewhere out beyond that group that N.A. needed to develop its own literature. I happened to be the recently elected Secretary of the Group (I had run unopposed), so I became the “scribe”. Besides, I was the only one who had a typewriter. It was an old Royal manual job with the fanned out keys, a real beaut, then probably at least 30 years old itself.

    We all would meet at Ken and Phil’s apartment and read through a chapter of the A.A. “12 and 12”, then record our experiences with each step on a little cassette recorder. Then I would take the recordings and transcribe them on my manual Royal. I started out able to type 40 words per minute. By the time it all turned into a book, I was typing 60 – 75 words per minute. On that manual Royal! Carpal Tunnel Syndrome? Bah! Never heard of it. My fingers grew strong and sturdy in that “Gold’s Gym” of finger strengthening workouts that that old Royal provided as we eventually wrote that book. Punching those keys, plowing through page after page of material, “ring”, winging that carriage back for the next line. That was music to my ears. I also happened to be learning to play guitar at the same time, which added a level of dexterity to those fingers that they’d never known before. The Royal was like the heavy-lifting machines, and the guitar was like the stretching and yoga workouts.

    After meeting for many weeks and going through all of the steps, and starting on the traditions, we amassed a lot of pages of transcribed material. That’s about when we went to a little convention in central Pennsylvania, and met up with the growing Literature movement, and the people who were working on a recovery book for N.A., a Basic Text for recovery. They were from Marietta, Georgia and Memphis, Tennessee. They got all excited when I mentioned that I had a whole pile of material on the 12 Steps, as they hadn’t done a whole lot on those, yet. So, I sent them everything I had, and they sent me boxes of raw material they had that needed typed up. I wore out my last ribbon, and couldn’t afford to buy a new one. But, I did have a whole box of carbon paper. So, I started typing the material up with a piece of carbon paper sandwiched between two sheets of typing paper – worked just fine. I couldn’t see if I made any errors, so I just had to get really good at not making errors. My speed did not slow down – it just kept getting better. THAT’s what you call typing blind! I never ran out of paper, as a friend still worked at the Printing company I had used to work at, and always had supplies of paper for me. (I never asked! We all had this sense that we were doing “God’s work”, and when gifts from heaven showed up, you just accepted them).

    The really funny thing was, I was just a typist. I wasn’t actually writing any of the stuff I was typing. They were having all of these “World Literature Conferences” all over the country, working on this book, but I was usually trying to hold down some job or other, and never made it out to the conferences. My friend and roommate George would go, and take with him all this material I had typed up. The folks in Georgia would keep sending me stuff to type, and I’d type it up. We’d started up our Literature Committee in Philadelphia, the Bristol Literature Committee, and we produced all kinds of material that I would type up and send to Georgia.

    I finally got out to one of these conferences, in Warren, Ohio, when they had a draft, bound version of the book, and were putting it through the final editing process. It was the wierdest thing – the whole week, all these recovering addicts were treating me like I was some kind of a celebrity, as opposed to the whacked out, obsessive-compulsive, desperately-seeking-a-way-to-live-off-drugs-and-booze dude that I really was. Somewhere along the line, all this material that I was typing up and sending in must have given someone the impression that I was this prolific writer coming up with all these pearls of wisdom and experience. A lot of people apparently had the impression that I had written a lot of it.

    So, I did start writing a lot of stuff after that, in order to keep up with my reputation. It’s funny how those things work. What I wrote was not very good, or profound, or any of that. But, because of my reputation, people praised it and before I knew it, I was writing a lot of material for the literature movement. The last World Literature Conference was held in my house, on the farm in Ivyland, PA. The head of the World Literature Committee said to me, “We couldn’t bring Mohammad to the mountain, so we brought the mountain to Mohammad”. I was like, whatever, dude. My roommates were really pissed. They moved in all of these electric typewriters, and copiers, and made phone calls to Japan and Hawaii and Hong Kong to get stories from addicts overseas. This conference was to add stories to the book. I eschewed all of the electronic crap they brought in, and kept pounding on my old Royal manual in the same corner of my living room as I had sat in typing all of the other material for that book.

    Not too many people know that story. Now, ya’all do. Funny thing – a couple years later, after I’d gotten fired from the 16th job I’d had in the previous 4 years and was tired of it and decided to go for a decent, stable government job, the position I applied for was a Supply Clerk/Typist. You had to be able to type 40 words per minute. I blew them away with my 75 words per minute on the IBM Correcting Selectric II that they gave me the test on. I missed the manual return bar. That office had 55 people in it, and 2 computers, in the “computer room”. They were HP-125’s, big old things with a huge monitor that took up the entire table they sat on. I was the first one in that office, besides the computer specialist (2 computers required a specialist!), to learn how to work those computers.

    That job led to the job I have today, a senior executive with the same agency. I’ve typed a ton of stuff over the years, and still do spend a lot of time on the computer, typing e-mails, white papers, all kinds of stuff. I’ve never had much use for a secretary in my career. I don’t know how to use one. When I’ve had secretaries, I’ve had them work on more meaningful stuff and they eventually go on to being analysts and specialists and other more meaningful career paths. I never understood why anyone would need a secretary.

    I also never developed carpal tunnel syndrome. I attribute my finger longevity to that old Royal Manual. Best workout I ever had!

    Pictured above – A Royal Portable Underwood Typewriter, exactly like the one I had.
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