I must have said it five times throughout the day at work today: “Just sign and date my name on it, please.” The other five times – meeting attendance sheets, management sign-offs, an expense report – needed no instruction, as those around me know not to be shy about using their steady hands to sign for my not-so-steady hand.
My disagreement with my own John Hancock goes way back. As a preschooler with cerebral palsy, it was evident that penmanship wasn’t going to be my best subject as I went through school. Heck, at the age of five, I couldn’t stay within the lines of a coloring book, let alone write “Mark” on those brown, lined sheets of dusty-smelling paper that students have used for over a century to practice writing their name over and over again – one life-size name per page was the closest I came.
But, as I grew up, I kept at it, and somewhere around the age of twenty, I had at least enough coordination to sign a check or a greeting card – though never both on the same day, as neither my body nor I had such patience, nor did I wish to include checks with greeting cards.
Before buying my first car and house, I bought an inked stamp of my signature. Actually, it wasn’t even my signature, but it did stamp, “Mark E. Smith.” I reckoned that if a stamp was entirely consistent in stamping whatever was printed on it, then I might as well put the best darn penmanship I could find on it – which was my mom’s.
As it turned out, if a pen required more dexterity than I had, so did that darn ink stamp. My trying to stamp it on the right line of a check or document was like playing pin the tale on the donkey – I had khaki pants for years with my name stamped on the knee from the signing of buying my first house.
Once I became an author, people wished signed books – and I did well with that. Books have a large, blank page in the front, void of structured lines, proving an ideal target for me to hit with a Sharpie. Of course, there was always that one woman in line at book signings, asking for an inscription to “Alexandria Protrocktov,” to which I’d explain that I wasn’t skilled with my “A”s or “O”s, or any other letter, really.
Nowadays, while I have to sign more items than ever, I almost never do. Sure, my signature appears on dozens of documents each week with my approval, but you’d be hard pressed to find my actual signature. My wife signs my name on most of our personal documents; whomever I’m with – family, friends, my English Bulldog – signs for Visa check card purchases; and, at work my employees and coworkers sign my name followed by their initials all day long.
The fact is, I can’t physically write, for all intents and purposes, but everyone else can – and how convenient that is for me.
Of course, some day I’ll find myself in court, starring at Exhibit A, with the plaintiff’s attorney asking, “Mr. Smith, is this your signature?”
And, I’ll be able to look him in the eyes, with sincerity, and reply, “Can you please clarify what you mean by my signature.”