I was as big a liar as Jayson Blair when I started out in the newspaper business. But I got caught early.
A week after of college graduation, I began working as a news aide at the Washington Post. I was to be Nina Hyde’s assistant. She was the superb fashion editor at the Post Style section under editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee and the Style editor Shelby Coffey.
I lucked into meeting Nina just as I was finishing my studies at Georgetown and as her assistant was moving up to become a copy editor.
Nina told me my job would involve “schlepping shopping bags” because she organized a lot of fashion shoots and always had merchandise coming and going. She said she would need me to do some typing. “You can type?”
”Sure,” I said.
Now this wasn’t a total lie because I had just finished four years of typing lengthy term papers on an extremely noisy electric Smith-Corona that shook the walls every time I hit the return key. It usually took me until about four in the morning to type ten pages — but I could type. I just couldn’t type fast.
Nina, however, could type and she really sped along on her Washington Post Raytheon computer that seemed so mod in the early 80s. And she wrote all her own stuff so I figured, every once in a while, she’d ask me to type a letter or an expense report or something. That I could do.
The first time she asked me to type a little something, which was probably the second day on the job, I got my paper loaded in the IBM Selectric and started typing away — slowly. Nina was watching me with a look of horror on her face. I think I was typing even slower than usual because she was staring at me.
“I thought you could type,” she said, in a kind of pleading voice.
“I can,” I said, “I’m just nervous.”
Instead of getting fired, or seeking appropriate counseling, I stayed at the Post and Nina forced me to learn how to type fast, in a hurry. She went on a European assignment to cover the shows in Milan, Paris, and London and took an early model of a laptop along with a funky phone attachment that would purportedly zap her stories right through the lines back to the Post. I thought I was on easy street until I found out that this new futuristic system rarely worked. Nina called to say, “My story won’t transmit so I’ll have to dictate it to you because I’m on deadline.”
I sat at my computer and poised my fingers above the keyboard. “This week in Milan,” she began, “tradition met cutting edge when Giorgio Armani showed his new fall couture line…”
This is what I typed: “This week in Milsn, raditione mer cutiing efge when Geoirdio aomani shwoeed hisfall foudtuire lnine.”
I was doing more praying than typing — asking God if I could just somehow remember every word Nina was saying, I could type it later. Her voice sounded worried and exasperated at the same time. I know she was wondering how it was going to translate.
Meanwhile, Nina’s editor ran out of her office and over to my desk and said, “Is that Nina’s column? What is that? It’s a mess. It’s not even words.”
Nina was still talking and I was trying to listen and find the keys and give the editor a reassuring look like, “No problem. I’ll clean it up in a minute.” I was visibly sweating.
Somehow, maybe it was the prayer, I knew what I meant when I typed that mess and fixed it up and called Nina back with a quick clarification or two and we made it into the paper for the next morning.
She ended up phoning in most of her stories for that trip. It was a long couple of weeks.
Next, Nina punished me with a transcript of a long interview with Karl Lagerfeld who speaks English with a German and French accent at the same time at hyper-speed and never draws a breath.
“Here,” she said, “Transcribe this.” I set that transcription pedal on the extremely slow setting to try to figure out what the designer was saying and had to replay each section several times. But that kind of worked with my typing.
From there, Nina constantly encouraged me to write my own pieces whenever the opportunity arose. I’ll never forget my first feature. It was about clothes for dogs and the headline was “Dog Togs for Yuppie Puppies.” I read it over someone’s shoulder on the bus as I went to work and was proud to be a journalist.
Although I still get nervous when people watch me type.
— Susan Konig, author of the book Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road and other lies I tell my children, is an NRO contributor.