Share / Discuss

pica pole

David Squires ’75


When I was a boy, my father owned and used a portable Royal typewriter. I was fascinated by it, though it was off-limits to me as a child. In 1964, when I was 10, the New York World’s Fair was happening in Flushing Meadow Park. In the IBM pavilion, they introduced the IBM Selectric typewriter. Instead of levers, it used a hard plastic interchangeable ball to strike the ink ribbon and the paper. You could change fonts!

I was so enchanted by the machine that my father said he would get me one if I succeeded in getting straight A’s my senior year in high school. I did not ace my classes, but my love affair with typing was to last.

I left New York for Swarthmore in 1971. I had the smarts, but I lacked the discipline to be a very good student. High school had been too easy for me. I could read well and I had a strong memory. Both my parents were college graduates. However, rigorous studying was not in my repertoire. I flunked out by the end of my first year.

While attending Swarthmore, I joined a political group, somewhere to the right or the left of the lunatic fringe. Not much good was to come of that, but I was given access to teletype machines. I typed and I typed and I typed. To this day, without being able to tell you offhand where the keys are, my fingers can move with speed accurately. I parlayed my skill to get an entry-level job on Wall Street and, after a year, got a much better one at the United Nations using their teletype machines.

After two years there, I landed a job at a commercial typographer. This was just at the time when “cold type” was replacing “hot type.” We were truly at the dawn of a new age, working primarily on advertising and promotional material.

I love the printed word. I like bookstores. I like libraries. I like newspapers and magazines. I learned how to spell at that typography job. If you have to look up a word more than a few times, eventually you will learn to spell it. I learned how to proofread, how by reading someone else’s work, the typos jump out at you. This was before spell-check.

I worked at that job first in the evenings and then, as the shop became busier, on the late-night shift. We did well if we cleared the shop of work by morning. Most jobs had a 12-hour turnaround time. Sometimes we would be drowning in work. Other times, not so much.

Along the way, I returned to Swarthmore. I took French and got an A, but that was about it. I flunked out again. It was during my second College stint that I met John Seybold ’36, who was known as the father of computerized typesetting.

Over the years, I was hobbled by mental illness, and I fell into alcoholism. (Thankfully, though I’ve had my ups and downs, I have been sober now for more than 25 consecutive years.) Three years into my sobriety, I had a heart attack. It scared me. I had always wanted to play the piano, so I decided if I was going to do it, I’d better do it now.

I bought a small Casio keyboard and hired a piano teacher. Within a few years, I found a full 88-key electric Yamaha piano that was in my price range. Twenty years and three pianos later, I can play adequately for my own amusement, particularly if I commit the time to practice. My teacher, who is blind, plays organ and piano in church. I don’t take lessons anymore, but I help him out—once or twice a week for a few hours, he has me play notes while he records them on a tape to learn new pieces.

I don’t really understand “muscle memory,” but I take great pleasure when my fingers can do the work of typing or playing the piano. Now retired, I am amazed with the technology that has become commonplace. Swarthmore, in part, led me to be excited by this new world of computer magic, but also to question things. I have some regrets but I don’t dwell on them.

My pastor recently preached on the parable of the prodigal son. I like that story because I think of myself as the prodigal son. However, in many ways, I am more like the older brother.

My time at Swarthmore and beyond has taught me to be aware of the worth of every person and the essential dignity of work. To acknowledge that each of us is made in the image and likeness of God is to affirm that truth and is an act of peace. Shalom.


Previous: Jake Graves ’70 | Next: Sheila Doyle Magee ’81