One of the noted columnists I followed early in my career was Jimmy Breslin in New York City, an acerbic writer dedicated to uncovering the truth. In a book of a collection of his columns, he writes in the foreword that the biggest enemy that any newspaperman faces is the arthritis that can overcome our typing skills.
“The insidious disease stiffens my fingers and turns my hands into a warped, unusable creature,” he wrote.
Arthritis or not, Breslin was still typing out his columns at the New York Daily News when he died on March 18, 2017, at age 88. We had a chance to talk when we both appeared on a panel discussion in Manhattan in 1999. When I asked about the arthritis, he laughed and said “being a two-finger typist makes it easier to live with.”
Newspaperman and columnist Pete Hamill was a friend of Breslin and a member of that panel in 1999 and said he went from touch typing to the two-finger style because of stiffness in his hands.
“It ain’t elegant, but it works,” he said.
In high school, I took secretarial typing classes and could type over 120 words a minute as a touch typist. It was a skill that editors liked.
“I don’t always like what you write, but I love watching the speed in which you turn it out,” said Jim Echols, my first daily newspaper city editor at The Roanoke Times in 1966.
Echols would not like the speed now. Rapidly spreading arthritis has hobbled by typing speed and accuracy. Thank goodness for computer spell checking.
My right hand, broken too many times in too many accidents, is laced with so much arthritis that it sometimes cramps and looks like something from a creature movie.
My left hand is not much better. It hasn’t been broken, but the speed is gone, and the arthritis is spreading there as well.
Age, and a penchant for living life too often on the edge, has hobbled a body that still tries to work as a newspaperman and photojournalist with the same vigor of a youngster. I used to stand 5 feet, 9 inches tall. At the Carilion orthopedist office in Roanoke Monday afternoon, I measured 5 feet, 5.3 inches in height, and surgery to repair my badly-broken right leg after a motorcycle accident in 2012 resulted in a right leg three-quarters of an inch shorter than my left. What happened to the other three inches?
My left shoulder is “frozen” with limited movement after surgery on a broken arm and dislocated surgery did not heal as hoped. Hearing is down. Probably from photographing rock music events for 10 years at the Mississippi River Festival near St. Louis in the late 60s and most of the 70s. Or maybe being too close often to things that go “boom.” Probably both.
Memory is hit or miss, thanks to a “traumatic brain injury” suffered in that motorcycle accident nearly 10 years ago. Too often, I cannot remember the name of someone I’ve known all my life, then will remember it 30 minutes later.
Wife Amy gave me a t-shirt that reads: “Memory is the first thing to go, and I can’t remember the second thing.”
“Age is matter over mind,” legendary pitcher Satchel Paige once said. “If I don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
Sometimes, it does matter, and it matters…a lot.