Monday, March 10, 2008

I Have Always Enjoyed Working in an Office

Yes I have. I’m not jiving you. I like desks, and chairs that swivel, stacks of clean white paper, and yellow paper for copies (I’m going back a long way here), and neatly sharpened pencils. Erasers. Crisp black type on bright white paper. Three sizes of envelopes, three sizes of paper—foolscap, quarto, and octavo. Boxes of carbon paper. (Bills of Lading have eight copies, i.e., eight carbons. It took strong fingers. And you couldn’t erase on a Bill of Lading. Don’t think about it.) I love the smell of stationery—inky, papery, erasury. In America, of course, all three sizes of paper are different from the English. Nothing’s easy. And stencils. Remember stencils? No, of course you don’t. There was a key on the typewriter (the manual typewriter) that you used on special waxed paper, and ghostly letters were cut. Then a retired policeman ran the stencil on a special machine, and copies appeared like magic. Stencils were killed by Xerox. I don’t know what happened to the retired policemen. At school, discussing what we’d do when we left, everyone dismissed the idea of a ‘stuffy office.’ Everyone except me. I just said, well, you could always open the window. I hadn’t met air-conditioning then. Correcting mistakes on a typewriter was an art. Good secretaries corrected the carbon(s) as well as the original; bad secretaries did not. What a mess. I, of course, took pride in correcting both letterhead and carbon as neatly as possible! Maybe I’m a prig, but it was a question of artistic satisfaction: crisp black letters on bright
white/yellow paper.

Then came correcting typewriters. In my office they were issued according to seniority. The girl at Reception protested hotly. She was a new employee and she typed very badly, so she said she needed one more then I did. Ha! She didn’t get it. And then wordprocessors. First, the MagCards. Mag I was useless. You could only replace a word with a new word of much the same size. How often did that happen? My boss expected to rewrite the whole darn letter (his revisions were horrendous), so battles broke out. Magcard II did pretty well but there was still no screen. Then I learned the Qyx. Very clever but very complicated. That one reduced me to tears, but I was proud when I mastered it. And after that the Wang, a comfortable dependable word-processor; motherly, I’d call it. Finally came computers, with word-processing just one of the many things you could do. My firm had Word. I don’t know what learning five different word-processors has done to my brain; it must look something like an All-day Sucker, with half the colors sucked off.

I’m out of the Earn-Your-Own-Living rut now, but I have my own private office in a cabin in my garden. Small trees and bushes outside, and birds chirping (I feed them). A pair of jays turn their infant loose in my trees each year. I imagine them saying, “Well, Junior can’t come to much harm in here.” I glory in my own computer with Word and a Hewlett Laser-Jet printer. Boxes of floppy disks. E-mail. And my very own swivelly chair. I have staplers and staple removers. Two-and three-hole punches. Post-Its.

A Jane Austen cartoon on the wall, and a poster of Patrick Stewart holding The Complete Shakespeare. A file cabinet. Book shelves. A Thesaurus of English words and phrases—and the Compact Oxford English Dictionary complete with magnifying glass.

I’ve written three books, about a dozen essays, and over one hundred poems in my office.

My windows are open, of course.

No comments: