HUNT & PECKER

     I’m a strange bird in many ways, and I admit to that.  As a prime example, even as a fledgling writer, I’ve never learned to type!  Yes, I’m what’s called a ‘Hunt and Pecker.’

    Once I actually attempted to learn, or should I say, was encouraged to learn.  That was way back in the early days of computers, with their ever present keyboards.  Some folks believe that ‘typing’ is required.

    I began (full-time) work for Jitney-Jungle in the fall of 1967.  Those first few years typing was never a requirement, as I was producing silk screen and hand-painted signage for the company.  I’m sure that by today, somewhere, there’s a silk-screen apparatus that has a key-board… but back then… none was required.

    Because I’d formerly worked in the advertising department of the Clarion Ledger Newspaper, the heads of state at Jitney decided… why ‘farm-out’ print advertising when we have a warm body already on the payroll who can do that!  So, I moved across the street and into the main corporate office, hired a couple of co-employees, and we began producing the weekly print-ad artwork, camera-ready for the newspapers.  

    Our first ‘typesetting’ machine was among the first photo-typesetters on the market… and it didn’t even have a keyboard!  Although electric, it was in no-way electronic. Each and every type-font came on a large plastic disk about the size of an old LP record.  Oh, and each type-font SIZE had it’s own separate disk!  Early expense requirements meant that we could have only a limited number of type fonts and sizes.

     The way this machine worked was: in a darkroom, the 35 mm paper onto which the type would be ‘exposed’ was fed into a loadable cassette.  The type machine itself looked somewhat like a cross between a record player and a pinball machine.  To produce the words ‘Chuck Roast’ you placed the desired font/size disk onto the machine, inserted the cassette into the side, advanced the paper to the ‘expose film’ area, then turn the font-disk until the ‘C’ lined up correctly.  Then with your left hand you pressed a lever which locked the font-wheel into the correct position, and next with your right hand you pressed a corresponding lever on the right side which exposed this first letter onto the film.  ‘C’ was now done.  Then you moved the font wheel to the letter ‘h’ and repeated the left right, lock-print lever dance.  Next came ‘u’ followed by all the others.  Needless to say, it took quite a bit LONGER to print out ‘USDA Choice Boneless Chuck Roast’ than it does today!  You see, knowing ‘how to type’ was of absolutely no benefit in ‘typing’ with the Varityper!  It was basically ‘Hunt and Pecking by default!’  

     Also, there were physical limitations as to the type size we could use.  The minimum was 14 points (about 1/8 inch tall) and the largest was 72 points… around 3/4 inches tall.  So, for the larger PRICE NUMERALS we often had to use ‘clip art’ numerals, especially for the larger ‘featured’ items.  

    All of these various ‘labor intensive’ requirements required that these earlier four and eight page ad ‘tabloids’ displayed only a minimum number of items per page… something in the neighborhood of six to fourteen items.

     Because type-setting was such a long, labor-intensive process, there were many, many times, (in order to be home with the family) I’d take the Varityper home after 5 and set type sitting at our kitchen table!  Like I said, there was no NEED to learn how to type.  ANYONE can ‘hunt and peck’ 2 words a minute!

     But things changed when computers came along, and with them, computer-generated type-setting.  The next generation of computer assisted ad layout meant that type could be set directly in position and onto a page layout clearly and accurately presented right on your computer screen!  Now, typing was almost a requirement!  So… Jitney sent me to TYPING SCHOOL at the then new R & D Center!  

    I must not be ‘cut out’ for typing.  I was a miserable failure at it… much like I was at learning to play the piano during grammar school!  Oh I played (a bit) but my piano teacher, Miss Nellie Robinson, told Mom that I was not learning the notes… but playing by ear!  Typing was like that for me also.  So, folks at Jitney finally ‘gave up,’ by saying that I could type with two fingers far better than I’d ever be able to using all ten!  They were right.  I typed this using only two. 

    In my ‘can’t type defense,’ when I was hired on full-time at Jitney we had only 22 Jitney-Jungle stores.  Our little corporate in-house Advertising Department was instrumental in ‘growing’ that number, within a couple of short decades, into a mega-chain with the largest number of employees of any home-owned and home-operated company in the entire state.  Yup, I can’t help but be proud of what my two little fingers, ‘Woody left’ and ‘Wood’ right, helped to accomplish! 

Bill Murphy

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Tuesday. Bluesday.

© 2019  Bill Murphy

It’s said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions… and I’ll agree.  Many of those mis-guided intentions begin right close to home… some even in the home.

In the closing years of the 1940s, my mother decided that I should take piano lessons.  I’m not sure just why this conclusion was reached.  I don’t think I was prone to play with musical toys, and I certainly was no songbird.  

But piano lessons were readily available.  The pianist from our church, Miss Nellie Robinson, lived within walking distance of our home.  She gave piano lessons.  And she agreed to take me on.

Come to think of it now… our family must have purchased a piano on which I could practice.  Neither Dad nor Mom played, and my sister was far too young at the time to do anything short of banging on the keys.  Anyway, a playable upright appeared at 802 Evergreen.

What a waste!

Soon I was either stopping off for lessons on my way home from George School… or walking back the short distance to Miss Nellie’s on Walnut Street.  My lessons were on Tuesdays.  Always on Tuesdays.

I didn’t take well to the piano, neither Miss Nellie’s nor ours.  A piano is a piano I suppose… just as a scorpion is a scorpion.  I never got the hang of tickling the ivories, anymore than I’d have learned to tickle a scorpion.  My young heart and fingers simple weren’t in it.  Perhaps if I’d been born a few years later, Bill Haley or Little Richard might have inspired me to try harder.  But at that time, my time, I had no desire to try harder.  According to Miss Nellie, I didn’t try at all!

Tuesdays became a huge blemish on calendars.  Where everyone else saw the second day of the week, I saw the green wicked witch of the east mocking me!  “TUESDAY…  I’ll get you my sweetieeeee….”  

I learned to loath Tuesdays, to dread them.  The path to Miss Nellie’s became my green mile.

I don’t remember how long this piano-purgatory lasted.  It felt as though it was until I was twenty seven. When you’re in distress, young or old, time slows.  And it was Miss Nellie herself who finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel and led me to safety.

“Mrs. Murphy,” she said to my mother, “You’re wasting your money and my time with Billy.  So far, he’s not learned a single note past middle C.  Everything he plays… he plays by ear!”

Hallelujah, my days of musical misery were over!  I was free!  I’d done my small part to save the elephants!

But Bluesday was not through with me.  So deep was my disdain, so strong was my dread of the second day of the week… that it took many, many years for me to overcome my ingrained discomfort of Tuesday… all fifty two of them each year!  Yes, I’m truthful when I say ‘many years.’  I finally ‘think’ I can say that Tuesday is now, just what it is, and what it was always intended to be… simply Tuesday. 

A footnote to Music with the Murphy’s:  My sister, Mary Lily, went on to reclaim our family’s musical honor.  She also took lessons from Miss Nellie… and very successfully I might add.  So, the purchase of ‘Billy’s piano’ wasn’t for naught.  Mary, always a go-getter, went on to play in the Enochs Junior High and Central High bands.  And while not being content to simply do well with her Oboe, she also mastered every single instrument in the band!

Yes, we have a piano in our home today.  No, I still don’t play, neither by finger nor ear.  Carol does, as well as one of our daughters.  And, as I write these words while not in a twit – today actually is Tuesday!  

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