Paul Oberjuerge header image 2

An Unreadable, Unrepeatable Signature

March 22nd, 2018 · No Comments · France

So many people have elegant signatures. And why not? Even in the Computer Age most of us sign our names often enough to have pretty much perfected a signature.

Know who usually has stylish and perfectly legible signatures? Athletes. Perhaps from giving autographs. (And perhaps from some clubhouse boy with an elegant hand slavishly signing for them, though we prefer not to think about that.)

I admire people who can bang out their signatures time and again, with very little variation.

Because I cannot, for the life of me, produce the same autograph from minute to minute, and it’s embarrassing.

OK, my ability to write in the cursive method has withered. Many people’s skill in this area has declined. If they ever had it in the first place.

(Are kids even taught cursive writing anymore? If not, that is a function of nearly all writing being done on keyboards, these days.)

Te exception, of course, is signing your own name. In theory, it is supposed to be in a cursive style, and it should not vary much at all from one signature to the next.

However, I have been all over the map on this since I was a child. No wonder teachers at First Lutheran School gave me Cs in “penmanship”.

But it becomes a burden, and perhaps a legal burden, only when I am asked to sign something. And all I can come up with, on those mortgage papers or tax returns, is a frankly illegible scrawl that I cannot reproduce.

Here is what I do.

I get the P in Paul in pretty good shape. Though, over the years, I have gone from having it lean to the right in favor of having it lean to the left with a bit of a flourish (if I mat say so). I think the latter is easier to read, too. Which should not even be an issue, because it’s a capital P. Not the toughest of letters to write.

The rest of y first name … generally legible. But that also is not the heart of the signature, is it?

Then comes that 10-letter mess that is my surname.

I get the O, and I generally try to get the lower-case B, but then …

The rest of my signature can look like just about anything — none of which is a faithful rendering of the last eight letters.

My excuse? I’ve never quite figured it out, and because of the run of letters that are hard to make readable, in cursive, when reeling off a signature or five in, say, 20 seconds.

Picture the cursive in your head: Think e-r-j-u-e-r-g-e.

Lots of small ups and downs in there, in cursive. All connected, in theory.

I think it is the e-r-j that dooms my attempt at elegant legibility.

What tends to happen is a scrawl followed by some twitchy dive to what appears to be some sort of “descender” — that would be the J — and then something vaguely resembling a line. Sometimes, I add a second “sorta” descender, representing the G. Usually, I don’t.

My father had figured this out. He would sign “Al” (which is simple) and then a capital O … followed by a horizontal line that encompassed the final nine letters.

The key for him was consistency. He did not write out the whole of his name, but the signature he gave was 98 percent the same every time. And it took him no time at all, and he was never given any trouble over it, to my knowledge.

When I was younger, I actually made an attempt to 1) use all the letters in my signature and 2) make them legible.

That has led to some ridiculous moments. When my laborious childhood signature, which included carefully (and slowly) written letters of my last name (up and down, make the Rs legible), tended to bog down any business transaction or, otherwise, to potentially doom it.

When I first traveled to Europe, I went with stacks of “travelers checks” (remember those?), and that was nightmarish for me.

I had to sign in a hurry, when picking up the checks from the home bank, and then I had to countersign (in a hurry) when converting the check to local cash in some faraway land. (Picture a teller drumming his fingers as I get to j-u-e-r.)

The low point came in England, maybe 1982, when I regularly went into bands to convert a couple hundred dollars into pounds.

Scrawling away, trying to move quickly and confidently — and handing over the biggest mess you can imagine.

Once, I was challenged by the teller. He was close to calling me a counterfeiter to my face.

“The signatures here do not very closely resemble those you did back in the states,” he said. And he was right — because I never sign my name the same way twice, remember?

I told him, “Hey, I have trouble replicating my signature. Sorry. But that’s me. Really.”  I don’t remember if I challenged him to try writing my nam, but I should have.

Eventually, he relented, and gave me pounds sterling. I think it was when I asked him to note the signed and counter-signed checks and appreciate that my signature was all over the place.

These days, it’s worse than ever, because who writes in cursive anymore? And how often do we sign things? A lot less often than we did 40 years ago, and so I have not had enough repetitions to come up with a standard signature. Or that is my excuse, anyway.

It is not as if I lack all hand-eye coordination. I can print quite nicely. (In my opinion.) Including my name. But printing is not signing.

Here in France, they add one stipulation that leaves me edgy and embarrassed — they don’t “sign on the dotted line” … they “sign in the horizontal box”. And you must not touch the lines of the box.

I am in near panic, in those cases, because my focus goes to “not touching or crossing the lines of the box”, which un-tethers me from a bottom line to perch my first name on, given the descenders coming up ahead — and an even more stroke-victim sort of scribble inside the unlined box is the result.

Perhaps some of you have the same issues. A tricky name, a long name, a failure to pick a shortcut signature and stick to it. A bad autograph.

Then I think back to ballplayers signing objects that aren’t even paper, and may not be lying flat. Like a baseball, for example. And it’s clear as day.

Stylish? I never aspired to that. Readable? Well, at least half the letters seems to have been my goal, at most times.

Perhaps there is one upside here — if anyone tries to forge my signature … well, forget about it. Some writing expert will be summoned to testify and will say, “that is a forgery! It looks nothing like the original signature.”

And I never have had a check forged. There is that.

But I am still embarrassed, and it’s getting late to figure this out.



0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment