The tools of the trade" is a common phrase, and I've been looking around my office at the tools I use in my trade, writing.
The pencil was the basic tool when I started writing when I was 6 or 7 years old. I always recall how exciting it was when Miss Kay, my teacher, who I thought was beautiful, sat next to me in my little chair and guided my hand as I learned to write in the second grade.
"Learning how to write" means two things, of course, and I mastered one but not the other. If they hadn't invented the typewriter, I'd have been in some other line of business because, to this day, I cannot write a totally legible paragraph on a sheet of paper with a pen or pencil.
Searching for a column idea today, I started looking around my office and on my desk for all the various tools enabling me to earn my living. The typewriter I used for almost 50 years, my old Underwood No. 5, now sits unused in a remote corner across the room. I can't bear to throw it away.
I wrote hundreds of stories on that machine for the Army newspaper, The Stars and Stripes. After the war, I wrote a book on it that Metro Goldwyn Mayer bought for $55,000. I wrote perhaps 50 magazine stories on it that I sold for a living before I went to work for television's first superstar, Arthur Godfrey. Godfrey read what I wrote on my Underwood No. 5 for TV and radio. Later, I wrote for Harry Reasoner on the same machine. Someday I might donate it to a museum. It was very good to me, and I never needed to call anyone to help me reprogram it if something went wrong.
What I use now is a DELL laptop computer, and it makes me feel disloyal to say but it's better than a pencil, a pen, or my Underwood No. 5 typewriter ever were. I can't imagine the invention that could replace it. (Of course, I couldn't imagine the computer 50 years ago.)
I start over a lot when I write. Not having to use an eraser or carbon paper are part of what makes a computer so easy and good to use.
Also on my desk is a big, wooden cup. I can't imagine what it was supposed to be used for because I wouldn't put anything liquid in it. It holds about 30 pens and pencils, so it's perfect for me. I have pens and pencils in it that I haven't used for decades.
One pile on my desk is a small heap of pads and notebooks on which I've written ideas I'll never use. There are several calendars, even though I don't pay much attention to what day or month it is. I know when it's Wednesday, because that's the day my column is due.
Several of today's newspapers are on the corner of my desk. Some days, I read all of the papers I get, and some days I don't read the newspapers at all. If the world came to an end, I wouldn't know — so call and tell me.
There's a big notebook with important telephone numbers in it. I see that I phoned the White House at one time, although I don't remember the call. Everyone should have the telephone number for the White House. (I also have the number of my home, just in case I need to call and tell them that I'm leaving for the day.)
My most prized "tool of the trade" is behind me on my bookshelf — "The New Fowler's Modern English Usage."
But, I must say that my editor in Chicago should also be recognized as an important tool of my trade.
Write to Andy Rooney at Tribune Media Services, 2225 Kenmore Ave., Suite 114, Buffalo, NY 14207, or via e-mail at email@example.com.
The tools of my trade