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Ramona's Ramblings

The temp

Ramona Jan
Posted 2/20/24

Though I could only type twenty-eight words per minute, my mother had the bright idea to send me to secretarial school. I attended a Katharine Gibbs-like school right up the street from where we …

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Ramona's Ramblings

The temp


Though I could only type twenty-eight words per minute, my mother had the bright idea to send me to secretarial school. I attended a Katharine Gibbs-like school right up the street from where we lived in Jersey. I was eighteen and lasted about fifteen minutes learning nothing before moving to NYC where I became an audio engineer and fronted various rock bands. However, both of those ‘careers’ (and I use the word lightly) were not female friendly. Therefore, after several years in the music biz, I took up temping as a side gig. 

Temping is short for temporary, which meant I could float around from job to job without any commitment. This allowed me to go on the road or sleep late when needed. There was only one problem. I had to take a typing test to get an agency to place me. 

Tempforce was one of the top agencies at the time with a typing expectation of more than 75 words per minute that I, of course, failed to meet. Try as I might, my left hand just wouldn’t cooperate. On a good day, I could still only eek out about twenty-eight words a minute. And then a miracle happened. In the 1980s, computers started to gain popularity in the workplace giving me an unexpected opportunity. 

“Do you know anything about Wang?” asked Penny from Tempforce cleverly surmising that my engineering background might naturally roll over into computers.

“Everything,” I said figuring I could learn quickly having operated audio consoles with thousands of switches. However, I soon discovered that analog audio engineering and digital computer work were not in the least bit similar. Thank goodness my local bookstore had a whole shelf dedicated to computer manuals. 

On my way to my first job, I picked up a computer manual and to my surprise there was a pull-out cardboard template meant to lay on top of the keyboard. This template gave information on command strokes such as F-1’s, for example, which told the computer exactly what to do. My future was made at the starting rate of an outrageous $17 an hour! It was the ‘80’s.

As a temp, I worked at notable hospitals, banks and legal firms. No one ever tested my typing skills or even asked if I could type. Secretaries and executives were awestruck when I used a simple feature like ‘cut and paste’; something we all do now, but back then appeared like magic.

“Where did you go to school?” they’d ask. 

“Uh, Katharine-Gibbs?” I’d say.

One day, I made the fatal mistake of leaving my manual at my desk while at lunch. When I returned, I was fired. I went home, tail between the legs, but the very next day I was on another job at an entirely different corporation where no one knew what happened. That was the beauty of temping. 

Penny supported me as I was one of the only persons willing to take on the computer world. From that point forward, I kept my manuals well-hidden and just focused on impressing people with my word processing sleight-of-hand. In time, I worked for Citibank, Morgan Stanley, Chemical and Chase Manhattan Banks, St. Vincent’s Hospital, Columbia Presbyterian, Catalyst Energy Corporation and many more high powered institutions.  

Today, I’m proud to say I can actually touch-type without looking at the keys. I even use all of my fingers except, of course, the thumbs. Although I don’t clock words per minute, I’m adequately fast enough to type this column and submit it in a week’s time. I really appreciate the skill. I now only wish I knew shorthand. 

RAMONA JAN is the Founder and Director of Yarnslingers, a storytelling group that tells tales both fantastic and true. She is also the roving historian for Callicoon, NY and is often seen giving tours around town. You can email her at callicoonwalkingtours@gmail.com.


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