What did people blame their mistakes on before there were computers?

As someone who made plenty of mistakes before computers became an essential part of most people's lives, I have no idea.

I used pencils for my formative years in school, but I don't think Miss Frumpwaggle would have accepted my explanation that my lousy score on a spelling test was due to a pencil error.

Besides, each pencil came equipped with an eraser for correcting whatever mistakes came out of the sharpened end. The problem of the misspelled words was probably due to the kid whose hand was holding the pencil.

The mistake problem continued even after my classmates and I were given typing classes in seventh and eighth grades. With those machines, at least the mistakes got an official sounding name - "typos."

Unfortunately, I could not blame them on the typewriter. Our typing teacher, Mr. Shiftkee, would not let me even if I had dared to try. He ran his typing classes with all the personal warmth of a Marine Corps drill instructor with a toothache.

One of Mr. Shiftkee's favorite teaching techniques required each of his students to bring in some sort of blindfold. I probably had the ritziest one, since my mom sewed mine out of a piece of fake fur. It didn't improve my typing, but it did keep my eyelids warm.

The blindfolds didn't save me or the rest of my fellow students from Mr. Shiftkee's strict enforcement of the "no peeking" rule. He would roam the typing room armed with a little, orange plastic baseball bat from some kids' game toy.

If he caught you looking at the keyboard, he would give your hands a rap with the bat.

Eventually, one of my buddies discovered that you could see the keyboard if you used a pin to poke a tiny hole in front of each eye. This cut down on the plastic bat whacks for most kids, but not for me.

I had trouble avoiding typos even when I was typing slowly, without a blindfold and in a brightly lighted room.

It didn't help that I really didn't have to use my meager typing skills from eighth grade until my senior year.

A dilapidated car being held together only by bumper stickers and duct tape does not improve when it is left to rust four more years. My meager typing skills left to get even rustier were not pretty.

It didn't help that I did not have the use of the outdated typewriters found in Mr. Shiftkee's typing room. I had an antique typewriter in the attic, which was my dad's library and den. He may have bought it as an old-fashioned typewriter 30 or more years before when he was in high school.

The keys were not exactly user-friendly. I've driven old trucks that had clutches easier to press down than the keys on that machine.

The letters that were typed by the first three fingers on either hand at least had a fighting chance at being seen on the paper. My pinkies just didn't have the required strength, so the "a, z, q" and the quotation marks didn't stand a chance.

That typewriter was not just user-unfriendly. It was downright hostile.

Of course, such a typewriter had very little tolerance for mistakes. This was a shame, since my typing was a source of all kinds of errors.

Initially, the only way I could correct a typo was with a circular eraser that had a brush on one end. The problem was by the time I had erased the mistake, I had also eroded a hole in the paper.

Erasable paper, the little bottles of white ink that covered mistakes and finally electric typewriters with correctable capabilities, improved what I typed, but not how well I typed.

That's why I was so enthusiastic as the newspaper implemented a series of computers that made mistakes easier and easier to correct, even though they could not do anything about the frequency with which I make such errors.

I'll admit it frankly. I have no idea how computers can do this. This doesn't bother me, since I have no idea of how cars work. As long as it gets me where I want to go, I really don't care how it does it.

If anything, my computer is getting a bit pushy when it comes to my mistakes. It corrects misspelled words as soon as I finish misspelling them. It offers diplomatic suggestions about my grammar.

I'll admit I am not immune from grammatical errors, but there are times when the dang computer is wrong.

This just leads to frustration. Arguing with a computer is about as productive as arguing with a teenager.

One time, I got so upset over a grammatical argument with my computer that I called the company to complain. That was a mistake.

They sent their customer service representative to my house. It turned out that it was my old typing teacher, Mr. Shiftkee.

And he still had his little, orange plastic bat.

(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes Walt's Way for each Sunday edition.)