Penmanship’s personality

FI-Joe-PisaniOnce on a dark and dreary night while I was waiting for a flight to Omaha, I sat down next to a friendly, outgoing fellow who I assumed was a card-carrying corn-husker.

So, being a gentleman farmer myself with about 80 blueberry bushes yielding a yearly crop, I was about to solicit his professional advice until I realized he wasn’t into farming or fresh produce or animal husbandry. Instead there was something different about him … something unusual.

As he watched me write my notes, I wondered if he was an undercover agent, an identity thief or perhaps even a Staples salesman. And as one flight delay led to another and we struck up a conversation, he told me he was headed to Nebraska to give a presentation.

It turned out he was a handwriting expert, which, he explained, has nothing to do with fortune telling or Tarot cards, but is rather a respected and scientific profession used by the FBI, the CIA and other operations that probe the criminal mind. Then, he offered to give me a demonstration and took out a piece of loose-leaf paper.

“I’m always up for new and exciting adventures,” I naturally said, so I took him up on his offer.

He wouldn’t let me use my Italian fountain pen and instead handed me a Bic ballpoint and began dictating a crazy sentence: “The purple people eater said, ‘You and your silly monkey don’t go home to the zoo.’ I said, ‘Instead, go to the supermarket.’”

As I wrote down the words, I crafted my cursive letters as conscientiously and ornately as possible, recalling the countless times Sister Immaculata hovered over us in penmanship class with her 16-inch ruler, threatening us when our writing didn’t exactly mirror the Palmer letters displayed above the blackboard.

“I learned by the Palmer method,” I explained, “So my handwriting is the same as every other Catholic school kid who got whacked by a ruler.”

“Not so,” he insisted. “No two styles are alike.”

When I handed him my paper, he started scrutinizing the sentences, letter by letter, and making notes like a forensic expert on CSI. He probably had suspicions I was an ax murderer or a member of the Taliban or an undercover insurance salesman.

I hate revelations about myself, which is why I’ve steered clear of psychics and psychotherapists. My personal motto, with apologies to Socrates, has always been, “Don’t know thyself.” But my new friend was insistent upon telling me what he determined.

“This tells me,” he said, “You put yourself down.” (I already knew that — the Catholic guilt trip.)

“If I don’t do it, my kids will,” I said defensively.

“And you don’t like to be told to do anything.” (Was he talking to my wife?)

“And you want to do things your own way.” (Or was he talking to my boss?)

Then he started to get really personal.

He suggested I didn’t have a strong relationship with my father, that I was a jealous guy and that I have leg problems. Leg problems? Impossible, I thought, until I remembered my knees act up when there’s rain in the forecast. This guy was such a genius I decided to send him writing samples from my wife, my kids, my coworkers, and my dog.

“Two sentences told you all that?”

“Yes,” he said, and explained the significance of the way I wrote certain letters, the breaks in the script, and other revealing patterns in my descenders and upstrokes. So that’s what good penmanship gets you.

Then the discussion got tense as he lowered his voice and said I was “secretive.” He also muttered the word “sex,” at which point they announced it was time to board the plane.

As I always say, too much self-knowledge isn’t a good thing. The less we know, the better.

Besides, what would Sister Immaculata say?

 

Joe Pisani may be reached at [email protected] 

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