Some people come into this world nicely dominant in their left brains and therefore neurologically prepared to spell well and find typos at a glance. I am not one of those. I am right-handed and right-footed, but left-eyed: therefore stumped by spelling and blind to bumbled typing.
Sister Mary Catharine O’Connor, who taught me creative writing, had two PhD’s from Columbia University—one in English Literature and one in Education. Her short stories were published in The New Yorker. She was brilliant and uncompromising. When we handed in a paper, she required us to write “Proofread” on the cover page and sign our names. And if she found a fourth typo in the paper, she stopped reading, and no matter what it contained, the paper would never get an “A.” She despaired of me. I still have the dictionary she gave me in 1961, out of that desperation. I revere her memory. But nothing she did could unscramble my brain and make me good at seeing my own mistakes.
Those were the days of Olivetti portables and no spell check.
My most inconvenient mistake came, not in school, but in an article I wrote while working in the training department of a Wall Street bank. I had devised a program to recruit women from the welfare rolls, to teach them skills that would qualify them for jobs in the bank, and to get them on their way to supporting themselves and their families. The banking community took an interest in the work, and I was asked to write an article describing it for an industry newspaper. As published the article contained only one wrong letter—a “w” instead of “t.” What I meant to say was “This program is not available to the public.” Except that it came out “now available.” Thousands of phone calls later. . .
Writing on a computer with spell check has improved matters measurably, but perfection still escapes me, as regular readers of this blog have undoubtedly noticed, to my great embarrassment.
My consolation is that I am not alone in this impairment. Typos have escaped into print in books. My favorite is in the first edition of Bubbles, the autobiography of Beverly Sills. Knowing how I loved the opera and admired Ms. Sills, my mother-in-law gave me a copy one Christmas. The first line reads, “I was only three years old the first time I sang in pubic.”
This past week, I have been proofreading (with trepidation) the first pass pages of Blood Tango, set to launch on June 25th. I am probably missing some things, but luckily I caught a typo (not mine but the typesetters’ I am happy to say) that is potentially as embarrassing as the one in Beverly Sills’s book. In this case an “r” has been substituted for an “s.” Just one letter! Near the bottom of page 15, a paragraph begins, “But Tulio Puglisi knew in his boner that stopping Evita. . .”
These are my favorites. Tell us yours.