Iowa Writes

ROSIE SORENSON
Big Blue


It was love at first type the minute I laid hands on my IBM Correcting Selectric II typewriter—Big Blue. I acquired my clackety-clack friend for $200 after I burned out an identical one typing my 80,000-word first, last, and only novel. Some of the scenes were too steamy even for that sturdy guy.

My Blue Boy may be old, but he can still kick some derrière. When's the last time you fired up a thirty-three-year-old computer? This weighty, humming, strumming baby springs to life at the touch of the "on" switch. No shilly-shallying around waiting for its precious software to wake up. And, the "off" button? It means off, as in OFF-RIGHT-NOW. Not "just-give-me-ten-minutes-while-I-get-my-jammies
-and-cookies-and-milk-so-I-can-put-myself-to-sleep" kind of "off."

No glaring screen, either, and little to fear from ergonomic distress. No hackers sneaking in the back door, no software glitches, no viruses, and no spyware. No one's gonna steal my social security number from this baby. Not even the NSA can make him talk!

My infatuation is surprising given the fact that my introduction to IBM typewriters came in 1968 when I had to quit college and find work. I ditched my first job on the graveyard shift at a foam rubber factory in favor of working in the Pathology Department of the University of Iowa Hospital as a medical transcriptionist. I interviewed with Dr. Zimmerman, the Chief of Pathology, who was conducting interviews while Mrs. Crohn, the transcription supervisor, was on vacation. Although I'd had no training, he winked at me and said, "How hard can it be?" I suspect he only hired me because I was nineteen and cute, and because he knew it would annoy Mrs. Crohn whom he did not like.

I'd had one year of typing on a manual typewriter in high school. Even though the IBMs in the department were non-correcting, they were still a step up for me. Also, my two years of Latin gave me an advantage in learning medical terminology. Every evening before going to bed, I would study the Dorland's Medical Dictionary. Soon the other girls came to rely on me.

It was love at first type the minute I laid hands on my IBM Correcting Selectric II typewriter—Big Blue. I acquired my clackety-clack friend for $200 after I burned out an identical one typing my 80,000-word first, last, and only novel. Some of the scenes were too steamy even for that sturdy guy.

My Blue Boy may be old, but he can still kick some derrière. When's the last time you fired up a thirty-three-year-old computer? This weighty, humming, strumming baby springs to life at the touch of the "on" switch. No shilly-shallying around waiting for its precious software to wake up. And, the "off" button? It means off, as in OFF-RIGHT-NOW. Not "just-give-me-ten-minutes-while-I-get-my-jammies
-and-cookies-and-milk-so-I-can-put-myself-to-sleep" kind of "off."

No glaring screen, either, and little to fear from ergonomic distress. No hackers sneaking in the back door, no software glitches, no viruses, and no spyware. No one's gonna steal my social security number from this baby. Not even the NSA can make him talk!

My infatuation is surprising given the fact that my introduction to IBM typewriters came in 1968 when I had to quit college and find work. I ditched my first job on the graveyard shift at a foam rubber factory in favor of working in the Pathology Department of the University of Iowa Hospital as a medical transcriptionist. I interviewed with Dr. Zimmerman, the Chief of Pathology, who was conducting interviews while Mrs. Crohn, the transcription supervisor, was on vacation. Although I'd had no training, he winked at me and said, "How hard can it be?" I suspect he only hired me because I was nineteen and cute, and because he knew it would annoy Mrs. Crohn whom he did not like.

I'd had one year of typing on a manual typewriter in high school. Even though the IBMs in the department were non-correcting, they were still a step up for me. Also, my two years of Latin gave me an advantage in learning medical terminology. Every evening before going to bed, I would study the Dorland's Medical Dictionary. Soon the other girls came to rely on me.

"Hey, Red," Mary would shout to me from across the noisy room, "How the heck to you spell "gastrok see neemeus?"

"G-a-s-t-r-o-c-n-e-m-i-u-s," I'd say. "It means calf muscle."

As young women, we were aware of our inglorious status in the dank corner of the hospital basement. The testosterone-fueled physicians who presided over us could easily have made us miserable with harrassment, but dear Dr. Zimmerman would tolerate only harmless pranks.

Mysterious bundles of shriveled, unidentifiable human parts would appear alongside transcription tapes in our "in" baskets. Gallstones, perhaps? We never knew.

One afternoon we heard a shriek down at the end of the hall. Virginia, the senior transcriptionist, came skidding into the room, breathless and red-faced.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"Oh . . .my . . .God!" she cried. Her hand clawed at her throat. "I went into Dr. Larsen's office to give him some reports. He was bending over something on his desk and waved me over. When I got there, he flipped the cover off the box . . . it was a PENIS! A PENIS!"

Mrs. Crohn, hearing the fuss, stomped out of her office, clapped her hands, and said, "Girls! Girls! Back to work!"

During that year my IBM and I got acquainted with the intimate details of gangrenous limbs, failed hearts, emphysematic lungs, cancerous tumors and cirrhotic livers. Formaldehyde jars everywhere around us were filled with unimaginable horrors. The physicians engaged in pranks, I suspect, to keep Death on the run. If they could tease us by walking down the hallway with stainless steel pans containing amputated limbs, then they were marvelously alive and so were we.

Many years have passed since then, and I now type on a distant cousin of that early IBM. Instead of reports about illness and death, I type stories to amuse, or perhaps even to inspire, but always, always to know I'm alive.

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


ROSIE SORENSON

Rosie Sorenson grew up near the Quad Cities and attended the University of Iowa from 1963 to 1968. Her work has been published in several publications, including the San 
Francisco Chronicle and Mobius. One of her essays, broadcast on KQED-FM (San 
Francisco's public radio station), won the Listener Favorite Award for 2006. She also won Honorable Mention in the Erma Bombeck Writing Competition for 2007.

This page was first displayed
on December 17, 2007

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