His fingers just go lickety-split Typist: At the keyboard, Wayne Stoler hits his stride at 141 words per minute.

July 19, 2000|By Rasmi Simhan | Rasmi Simhan,SUN STAFF

Wayne Stoler was typing a manuscript for an aspiring author in his apartment. In the midst of his work, he heard a voice. He leaped out of his chair.

His girlfriend, who later became his wife, had been standing in the doorway watching him type for 15 minutes. She'd never seen anyone type so quickly.

Stoler was startled because he was concentrating on typing 125 words per minute, what he calls his "cruising speed." Sprinting, he sometimes reaches 200 wpm.

The secret? He's got rhythm.

"I hear it as clicks, one right after the other," says the 42-year-old Stoler, who recently won second place in the professional division of the Office Proficiency Assessment and Certification Keyboarding Challenge. He typed 141 words a minute, one less than the winner.

OK, stop reading. Look at the paragraphs you just read. Stoler could type them all in less than a minute.

"People who have heard me type say it sounds like a bumblebee at fast speed," says the Baltimore native.

Good genes help, too. Stoler's mother was a Baltimore City champion typist in high school with the modest rate of 99 wpm. (The average person pecks out about 35.) In the age before computers, when typewriter companies would send skilled typists across the country to perform on the latest models, she declined to travel. Nor could her son rope her into typing his papers. He hunted-and-pecked like an everyday typer - until he enrolled in a personal-use typing course at age 13. After six weeks, he was jogging along at 55 wpm.

In 1972, a ninth-grade social studies teacher let him in on a trade secret: Lesser typists hesitate. Quick ones sense the rhythm in their typing.

His knack became a driving force in his career, which started at age 14 at a modest 80 cents an hour. He worked for the Baltimore Hebrew College in the packing department shipping books. He was spied typing at 112 wpm and snagged to work at the library. His hourly pay shot up 30 cents.

But the young Stoler felt the stirrings of ambition. Typing as quickly as he did, he deserved higher wages - or else.

He walked out of his job and was promptly hired across the street at the National Conference of Synogogue Youth for $5 an hour typing correspondence. This was in 1973, when the minimum wage was about $1.60 an hour.

He liked the job and had plenty of pocket money. He even typed term papers on the side.

On really cold days, he drove with one hand so he could keep the other on the heating vent so it would be ready to type. He also broke the typewriter a few times when he hit the keys too quickly; other times the keys would just jam. However, electronic typewriters and computer keyboards are able to keep up with him.

His typing skills scored him job after job, from newspaper typesetter at the Northwest Star in Baltimore to typing manuscripts.

He says the News-American, the newspaper that folded in 1986, turned him down because the workers' union said he would displace too many people.

"I could type faster than three of their people combined," he says.

In 1984, he founded Letter Perfect, a Baltimore-based company that manages mailing lists and occasionally types documents.

Throughout his career, Stoler has fought stereotypes about typists. His hands aren't unusually large; they're small enough to require special bowling balls with smaller fingerholes. He will tell you (without being asked) that he does not play the piano. And no, not all typists are female, and not all contest winners want roses and all-day facials.

Stoler won first place in the 1991 Keytronic World Invitational Type-Off in Las Vegas, beating 10,000 typists from 40 different countries. He showed his skills in three heats of three minutes each on stage while the audience watched breathlessly.

The quiet bugged him. Accustomed to working with plenty of noise, he told the spectators, "Do me a favor and talk."

They did. He won, with a net speed of 141 wpm. "Net speed" refers to the number of words typed without errors. Contestants may correct themselves, but making changes takes time that can reduce their speed.

Amanda Valentine, an administrative assistant who met Stoler at typing contests in the early 1980s, says good typists must balance both speed and accuracy.

"He's an excellent typist, no doubt about it," says Valentine, who works for the Baltimore Museum of Art. "He's accurate and fast. It's hard to beat that."

Stoler still feels the old ambition to further himself, this time with the speed barrier. He wants to break the Guinness Book of World Records rate of 213 wpm, set in 1947 by Stella Pajunas of La Jolla, Calif.

In the meantime, his 14-year-old son, Aaron, shows promising typing skills. He sounds as if he can type 70 to 80 wpm - his father says he can tell by ear.

He sticks to the old rules: Don't rely on the computer spell check, learn good grammar, be neat and practice, practice, practice.

"If you think typing 35 wpm makes you a typist, that's about all it makes you," Stoler says. "If you really want to get a good paying job, have at least one skill better than anybody else. Nowadays, a good typist can still make good money even though most people have a computer."

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