Humor by John Christmann

What's In A Name?

A signature that says Me.

Sign here. ______________

And here and here and here. Initial these five boxes. Then sign right here and over here stating that you understand that you are signing something you haven’t read. And on the last page please sign and date this disclaimer stating that you are fully responsible for signing and dating this document even if you are using someone else’s signature.

I could be renting a ballpoint pen for all it matters.

I am pretty used to signing my name. I have done it since I could scratch it at the top of a second grade spelling test. In fact, I am so used to signing my name that now my signature is completely indecipherable.

It wasn’t always this way. At one point in time I had a scripted signature that, if not exactly flowering calligraphy, was at least legible.

But after years of painfully pinching nubby pencils and ratty Bic pens in my big fingers, my fine motor skills gave out and my scripted handwriting, save for a few gasping squiggles, started to flat line.

I switched to printing, a skill I had completely mastered in the third grade.

After a year or two that went also.

Now the only thing identifiable when I write by hand are the spaces between words. Or maybe they are sentences. I am not sure, I can’t even read my own writing.

My salvation, of course, was the computer. I no longer had to put pen to paper except to sign my name.

And this is where I am today. After squandering my early grade school years learning how to correctly push a pen, all I have to show for it is a mangled signature that identifies me as me.

And sometimes my wife when I sign for her.

Having terrible handwriting hasn’t bothered me all that much. Until recently. As my kids have become old enough to sign away their understanding of what they have read, I have noticed that their signatures are even worse than mine.

And it pains me. They stand to lose a proud and artful claim to themselves.

My daughter’s signature looks like a stunted stretch of the Smoky Mountains. Her brother’s signature reads like a polygraph whopper. My college age son signs as the Mohave Desert interrupted by speed bumps.

They are far too young to have such sloppy signatures. And I tell them so. They need to earn bad handwriting, I tell them.

They tell me bad handwriting is genetic.

I tell them it is a bad habit.

They tell me I am a bad habit.

I tell them to write me a list of everything they want for Christmas.

Suddenly their handwriting is much better.

A bad habit, I tell them.

“Your handwriting, and particularly your signature, says something about you,” I explain to them. “Your personal mark give can give the reader an impression that you are strong or weak, secure or insecure, neat or sloppy, generous or selfish, proud or uncaring.”

They look at me as if I am a weak, insecure, selfish, sloppy, pathetic man who could care less about anything. I forget that they have seen my handwriting.

“Why do we need to write by hand anyway?” they want to know.

They have a point. At this time in their lives, they still have to write test essays in Blue Books, which even to me seems antiquated. But other than that, the digital substitutes, even if less personal, are much more efficient and accepted forms of communication in the world today.

And digital signatures are becoming the norm, while handwritten signatures, even on bank checks, are pretty much perfunctory. The truth is, scrawling an X on a signature line is a completely legal mark that will hold up in court.

I know people who sign their credit card debits with a smiley face and they go right through.

Imagine our founding fathers signing the Constitution with a smiley face. Or checking a box acknowledging that they have written and accept the terms of this document. Or laying down a haphazard, indecipherable squiggle.

Would we even know who John Hancock is today if not for his proud and legible signature?

Let’s face it, the gravity of signatures, and the documents that request them, just aren’t what what they used to be. It is hard to stay proud placing the mark of your being on a tiny signature line following pages of dense text that takes days to read.

Especially when you know from experience that you have probably just accepted responsibility for the end of the world, should it occur.

About the only thing I am really proud to sign these days are thank you notes.

But maybe that is reason enough to stand tall again and revive my ailing mark.