Saturday, June 23, 2018
Opinion

Curses, it's cursive

So it turns out the next treasury secretary of the United States has unintelligible penmanship that makes an abstract Jackson Pollock look like a Thomas Kinkade landscape.

Jack Lew's looping circles signature has been variously described as a sad slinky, the curlicues atop a Hostess cupcake and Charlie Brown's hair. We might also add the Olympic rings on steroids and the grill of an Audi.

Here is a man about to assume responsibility for the nation's finances, and all anyone seems interested in is that his John Hancock looks more like a hostage note. In fact, all manner of handwriting experts have weighed in to opine on what the scribble says about the Cabinet nominee's personality, character and inner demons.

I have a certain sympathy for Lew's penmanship plight.

I was born left-handed. In grade school during the 1950s, the Sisters of the Blessed Waterboarding would come around with a ruler and whack anyone consumed enough by Satan to attempt to use their southpaw to write.

Consequently, after being forced to use my right hand by the Sisters of the Holy Vigilantes, my handwriting is a mystery even to me. About an hour before I started to type this, I was in an editorial board meeting with Hillsborough school superintendant MaryEllen Elia. My notes from that meeting would stump even a CIA code-breaker.

Indecipherable handwriting that resembles a Rorschach Test recalls that scene in Woody Allen's Take the Money and Run when his stumblebum criminal, Virgil Starkwell, fouls up his own bank robbery when the teller can't make out the holdup note.

Lew is certainly entitled to his idiosyncratic hen-scratching, although it might be argued if your name is going to grace the nation's currency it shouldn't look like a Hare Krishna chant.

At the same time, since Lew appears to write in what might be best described as a dead language, there is always the possibility his writing might be misinterpreted and lead to the inadvertent sale of the nation to Andorra.

That might explain why Lew has promised to practice his penmanship before he is sworn in so at least one consonant is clear. The new treasury secretary won't only have to be conversant on the International Monetary Fund, interest rates, currency manipulation and the national debt. He has to relearn to spell his name so that no one mistakes him for Prince, who once changed his moniker to … well, a thingy.

Who would have thought that over the course of just a few short days the normally somnambulant Department of the Treasury could capture the nation's attention for eccentricity and zaniness, first with a nominee for the Ministry of Silly Signatures and then for a briefly floated idea to create a magic coin?

Treasury officials briefly pondered the notion of minting a $1 trillion coin that would technically allow the federal government to avoid yet another tiff with Congress over raising the nation's debt ceiling. Apparently the law allows Treasury to mint whatever denominations it wants. The sacred coin would then be deposited over at the Federal Reserve and just like that, we'd have an extra trillion bucks to play with. Would the treasury secretary get at least a toaster?

It's worth reminding ourselves that we're talking about the most powerful and technologically advanced nation on the face of the planet trying to solve its economic woes as if it were Popeye's pal Wimpy bumming spare change for a hamburger. "I will gladly pay you with a $1 trillion coin tomorrow for a nuclear submarine today."

Not wanting to be confused with the Grand Duchy of Fenwick, outgoing Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner killed the two bits, six bits, eight bits, 1 trillion half-wits idea. Or at least that's what everyone seems to think since Geithner's own handwriting (take a look at a dollar bill) isn't much more legible than Lew's.

It's only going to get worse. Fewer schools are bothering to teach cursive writing. For younger generations who have been raised using keyboards, the idea of penmanship is the abacus of language.

So it's altogether possible in another 20 years or so when we pull out a sawbuck we'll see it's been signed by what looks like The Big Lebowski's the Dude — or whatever.

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