Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ralph Olson, R.I.P.

Ralph Olson died in January. Who was Ralph? Originally from Vermont, worked for Social Security at one time, which he talked about more than he did about his WWII military service. He had been a typist in the SSA pool, using manual typewriters. He was expected to be fast and accurate. When I knew him it was a fellow editor in ASCS, in 1968 to 1972, when he retired.

In those far gone days, directives were typed, then reproduced by offset lithography--meaning that the printers took a picture of the master that was used to print. So the typed page didn't need to be perfect, because imperfections and corrections could be hidden through the picture-taking process. So when editors asked for changes, the typists would use white-out correction fluid, or correction tape, or, for really big changes, cut and paste blocks of text to compose one page. But sometimes they would have to retype the whole thing. Some handbooks would show their age, when the original page had been typed in 1960 on one typewriter with one typeface, with successive changes and amendments made over the intervening years with newer and different typefaces, with some typists more or less skilled in matching spacing and getting the alignment right.

In those patriarchal days, the typists were almost all women, the writers almost all men. So editors would ask writers for changes, writers would pass the work on to the typists. Some typists would push back, pointing out that the requested change was pointless, just a matter of format or of following some arcane and stupid rule. If they persuaded the writer, the writer would come back to argue with the editor. The whole process turned into continuous negotiations, almost worthy of the 6-power talks with North Korea.

Now, as I've said, Ralph prided himself on having been a fast and accurate typist, so he had little time or sympathy for the typists. After all, 250 words on a page, meant a good typist would take 5 minutes to retype the whole thing, clean and pristine. So Ralph would huff and puff at the writer. Sometimes he would almost imply that the writer was at fault for tolerating such a lazy and unskilled typists. But more often he would cave, asking another editor for confirmation that a requested change could be waived.

Ralph leaves no immediate relatives--he had some nephews or nieces if I remember. As the number of veterans of WWII dwindle and fade, so too does the ranks of those who typed in pools.

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