Thank You, Mr. Rybiski

     I am in the middle of my sixth decade and approaching the time when it would make sense to retire.  I do not know at this moment just what the state known as ‘retirement’ will look like for me, but I do know that it will be very different than my current life is.  With a little luck I will be able to continue to do what I am doing now which is medical diagnostic imaging,  but do it in a more relaxed atmosphere and greatly reduced hours as compared with my current situation.  I have the good fortune of doing something that I really enjoy, and they even pay me to do it!  And for that I want to thank Mr. Rybiski.

     One half of a century ago I was failing miserably in algebra and chemistry.  How I got into a chemistry class without first passing an algebra class remains a mystery to me to this day, but there I was, looking out of the window in algebra daydreaming of being somewhere else; anywhere else, or in chemistry class seeing for myself why they said not to pour an acid into a base.  The inappropriateness of me being in either one of those classes could not have been more obvious and by the end of the first semester my ticket was punched to other places where I could take greater advantage of my educational opportunities.  Where I went from algebra I don’t remember, but from chemistry I migrated one floor upward and landed in Mr. Rybiski’s typing class.

     I suppose I may have been transferred to that class because my performance in the liberal arts classes was much stronger than it was in math and science.  Any student who might go on to a college course of study in the humanities, which is exactly what I did, would find himself or herself typing a lot of rather large research papers which is also exactly what I eventually did.  An additional bonus was the fact that most of the other students in my typing class were girls.  In 1965 it was assumed that most girls would grow up to be mothers, secretaries, teachers and nurses, pretty much in that order, and typing was felt to be necessary for three out of those four careers.

     I flourished in that class, thanks in part to the ten years of piano lessons which my father forced me into taking.  Dad wanted to civilize me and offered me the choice of piano or dance lessons.  The vision of me in a tuxedo leading a girl around the floor or worse, in tights prancing around with a girl in a tutu, and especially in my neighborhood, made the choice of the piano a slam dunk.  Running my fingers over the keyboard of a typewriter was not so different from running my fingers over the keyboard of a piano.  By the end of the semester I was able to type around 30 words per minute, corrected for mistakes, and Mr Rybiski strongly recommend that I advance in my senior year to his Office Practice class.  Since Mr Rybiski hobnobbed in the teacher’s lounge with my father, who taught English at my high school, my ascension to Office Practice was assured.

     Office Practice proved to be more interesting than I expected.  The foundational skill was still typing, in which I ultimately achieved a lofty score of 72 words per minute.  We also were exposed to a roomful of dictaphones, mimeograph and stencil machines, and even access to a promising new device, the electric typewriter.  I learned how to type dictation with a cylinder device and a foot pedal, make a few dozen copies of a map or document with the mimeograph machine or make hundreds of copies with the stencil, correcting errors with a hard rubber eraser, a razor blade, or the blunt curve of a paper clip depending upon which machine I was banging away at.  I thought of it as great fun, but knew that I would never be a mother, secretary, teacher or nurse, so I was not inclined to pursue this endeavor as more than an easy grade.

     After that senior year came the cold slap in the face that reality brings.  Any young man graduating from high school in 1966 soon realized that he stood a better than even chance of being drafted into military service and that the destination of hundreds of thousands of draftees was Vietnam.  After a summer of loitering around San Diego with my neighborhood friends, a summer which could be a story in its own right, I decided to face the inevitable head-on and joined the U.S. Army.

     Many young men at that time dreamed of training for the Army’s Special Forces; the Green Berets.  I admit that I toyed with that notion but a rare moment of sanity concerning my capabilities caused me to drop that idea before I arrived at Basic Training.  My next opportunity to do something idiotic came after an initial course of testing at boot camp revealed that I had the adademic horsepower to go to helicopter flight school.  Now there was nothing idiotic about being an Army helicopter pilot.  The pay was good, the accommodations generally better than enlisted men’s, and the thrill of flying was reward enough all by itself.  Even the fact that every Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldier in the war wanted little more than to bring down an American helicopter was not enough to discourage many men from pursuing that honorable calling.  What would have been idiotic for me would have been to try to navigate the spit-and-olish lifestyle of Warrant Officer school for six or nine months or however long that school lasted.  I am not a detail guy when the details make no sense to me, and having my boots shined to a mirror polish, my socks rolled up into a tight little ball, the blankets on my bunk tight enough to bounce a quarter, and no dirt on bunk, weapon, or footlocker in a white glove inspection just made no sense to me whatsoever.  The path which ultimately recommended itself to me was clear; I was to become an Administrative Specialist.

     An Admin. Spec. was anyone who could handle the mountain of forms that the military loved to use in the 1960’s.  Morning Reports which advised our superior organization of our functional strength had to be prepared every day.  Requests for transfer, orders for promotion, proceedings of non-judicial punishment, all had to be prepared in triplicate, quadruplicate, ninetuplicate or whatever.  Being an ace with a typewriter was my E-ticket, my get-out-of-jail-free care, my magic door away from the ranks of the airborne and into the ranks of the chairborne.  I am certain that I can thank Mr Rybiski that I spent two years in a rough but relatively safe field office in the hell that was Vietnam when braver and more noble men than me fought and lost their lives there.

     After my tour of duty I spent several years seeking a bachelor’s degree in History, which I eventually received in 1981.  Interspersed with those academic years were several years engaged in hanging drywall and other aspects of the construction trades.  In 1976, the second time that I tried to put construction behind me, I used the talents taught to me by Mr. Rybiski and developed in the Army to take a job with the Public Health Department of a California county, registering birth certificates and providing lists of newborns to the local newspaper.  I was based in the local community hospital and worked between medical records and the labor and delivery floor.  As it turned out, 1976 was a very difficult year for me and I did not perform my responsibilities particularly well.  I returned to construction and probably avoided a termination of employment notice by only a couple of days.

     Three years later I had had enough of construction and was determined that I would return to school and find a career that did not involved trashing my body.  This plan was complicated by having a wife and child for whom I had to provide, and to me this meant that I had to have a job since I had no stomach for taking out student loans.  I was naturally drawn back to the two non-construction endeavors with which I was familiar; clerical and hospital.  I landed a job in a pathology laboratory at a large San Diego area hospital and worked there forty hours per week while taking a full load of classes for the better part of the next five years at the State University and the local community college.  I was now applying the lessons taught to me by Mr. Rybiski in both my work and my education, and the skills I gained in his classes both paid my bills and prepared me for the next phase in my career.

     In May of 1984 I graduated with a degree in non-invasive vascular diagnostics, and accepted my first job in that field a few months later.  As the years went by I added depth and breadth to my skills and now anticipate retirement from a very respectable career which I enjoy now as much as I did on my first day working, which is why I don’t expect that I will just clean out my locker and go sit in a rocking chair on the front porch when my ‘retirement’ day actually arrives.

     I would have never guessed that I would owe so much to Mr. Rybiski when I walked into his typing class on the first day of the second semester of my junior year in high school.  That mild man with his military crew cut hair, his bow tie on a white or off-white crisply pressed long-sleeved shirt, provided me with an opportunity to succeed which I can trace directly to the comfortable life which I and my family enjoy today.  I am saddened that I never thanked Mr; Rybiski for the gift that he gave me a half century ago, and it would probably never occur to him that he had done something special for which to be thanked.  But it WAS special to me, and I want to say to him wherever on Earth or in Heaven that he might be:  Thank you, Mr. Rybiski.

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