A little light forgery

Sometimes I forget to pay attention to what I'm saying, and I end up telling people things like, "Hang on a sec, I'm busy forging something."

I'm a reasonably talented forger. I do not, I hasten to add, use this for criminal purposes. Well, not nefarious criminal purposes; some of it's probably still technically illegal, but since it's done with permission, no one's ever going to prosecute. The secret is to practice beforehand, and scrawl with confidence when the time comes to lay it down for real. You've seen some of the mutations your own hand produces on those touchscreen credit card things; no one's going to question something that looks plausibly like it's been produced by a human unless the putative owner of the signature complains.

How I acquired this skill is one of those hilarifying -- that's a combination of hilarious and horrifying -- stories, of which I have collected so very many. Natürlich, it involves my mother. 

My mother has no patience for bureaucracy. Bureaucracy has been forced to have patience with her, mainly because she absolutely will not hang up the phone or stop attaching sheets to your survey until she has said everything she wanted to say, but for most intents and purposes, my mother wishes to have as little contact with process and procedure as possible. She's special, you see. 

One of those pieces of bureaucracy she liked to avoid was signing pieces of paper from the school. My mother was never particularly concerned with the "appropriateness" of our activities, as children. She was notorious among our acquaintances for being the mother who would explain the dirty jokes, with anatomical diagrams if necessary. I'm pretty sure she would have let us watch any movie we could manage to load into the VCR, short of actual porn. I never had a curfew as a teenager, not even when I was fourteen and a high school freshman. My friends were nerds and we spent our nights rampaging through the nearest Barnes & Noble and then irritating the servers at Denny's, but she didn't know that -- not only did she not stay up to see if I came home sober and still wearing all of my original undergarments, she specifically instructed me not to wake anybody when I came in. I ended up with the original key to the front door of the house, specifically because it was the oldest and most worn one, and the only one quiet enough in the lock to not alert the dogs.

(That key is at the bottom of the Charles right now. It went off the west side of the Longfellow Bridge. Another story.)

Suffice it to say, she was not particularly worried about whatever field trip the Powers That Be wanted to take us on at any given point in our education. She thought their little pieces of paper were stupid, and told us to just tell her when we really needed to be retrieved from the school and how much money they were demanding to take us to the National Pencil Museum, or wherever it was. Theoretically, we had the option of not going, but my mother was a special kind of prickly whenever one of us was home and interfering in her busy schedule of reading at the kitchen bar and getting up to let the animals in and out, and it was really just easier to be bored senseless by the pencils.

Unfortunately, the school district I was in didn't consider "my mother's hobby is sticking it to the MAN" an acceptable explanation for why you'd come back with your permission slip unsigned. In order to get around this, I started forging my mother's signature on the damnable things. My mother knew all about it; she gave me an exemplar so I could practice. I don't think she much cared if my version looked like hers -- after my parents got debit cards and quit having to sign their own checks, my mother signed so many financial papers for my father that if he'd ever put his real signature on one again I think the bank would have investigated -- but I wanted some plausible deniability.

I really ought to have done the same with my report cards, but at that point I still had scruples and didn't quite realize how nuts my family was, so I dutifully marched them home. More fool I.

(In a related move, when I was in high school, I didn't attend somewhere between twenty and fifty percent of my senior year. They were probably supposed to flunk me for that, but someone with some sense noticed that I was brilliant when I was there, and "lost" the paperwork. My mother got tired of having to wake up early in the morning to phone the office to tell them I wasn't coming in, so she quit. Then she got tired of them waking her up with inquisitive phone calls, so she told me to call them myself. I sound remarkably like my mother on the phone, to the point where I've picked up the phone on my father once or twice, calling from work, and he asked me if I'd sent in the cable bill yet. I haven't, no, but you can ask Mom all about it.)

After finding out I wasn't half bad at imitating other handwriting, I turned it on myself as a teenager, and rendered my own cursive unto something that's actually half-readable. I just got tired of chicken-scratch, and I never did train myself to block print everything like my father the engineer. It's deteriorated somewhat over the years, but my cursive is still rather Palmer-esque, and has a lot of distinctive curlicues.

For obvious reasons, I can't forge signatures I'm not already reasonably familiar with. I used to be pretty good at Moggie's, which mostly consists of making some initial letters and then imitating the frantic oscillations of someone who has intentionally forgotten how to make joined-up letters in order to free more useful space in her brain. I've done a couple other friends' and roommates' as well, mainly because if I can sign things, it allows them to be too lazy to get up and retrieve the pizza.

Oddly, I haven't developed a coherent signature for either "Arabella Flynn" or "Circe Rowan". I've never had to -- they're both pseudonyms, and no one's ever asked for my autograph on anything. I do have a Japanese monogram, which I tend to ink on things like Dixie cups and lunch Tupperware I don't want anyone to walk off with. People are hesitant to make off with things that bear labels they can't read, just in case it says 'rat poison'. (This persists even when they ought to know what the squiggles say. People at work used to ask me what the Chinese on those little silica packets said. Well, the English, French, Spanish, German, Japanese, and Portuguese say 'silica powder, do not eat' -- do you really think the Mandarin one says 'free candy'?) I use 秋, aki, which is both a unisex name and a regular noun that means 'autumn'. As a descriptor, it's also a color word (秋色, aki iro), which means a red-orange that's reasonably close to the titian of my hair. 


  1. If nothing else, you 'live in interesting times' because you make them for yourself - and I'm still chuckling from the description.

    I'm sitting here thinking 'how on earth do I capture some of this for a character in a book.'

    You should write fiction if you don't already.

    1. If I tried to write this as fiction, I would get it sent straight back for violating suspension of disbelief. I suspect a lot of people either think I'm lying about my family because they're so outrageous, or assume I'm telling the truth by default because nobody could lie that ineptly.

  2. Publish it yourself - it's not so hard. There is no 'them' to send it straight back.

    It only requires that you like writing fiction - and that I don't know about you. If 50 shades of... books can get published by their authors, you can publish whatever you like. It helps if you have a good story, however outrageous. But you generally write well - I've dug deep into your archives.

    If you prefer, you probably have a bunch of non-fiction ideas for which you would be the perfect person BECAUSE of your real-world experience. There, too, you should be the sole judge of the book - and its sole publisher.

    You are not unique - there are people out there who would find your books and like them because you write for them. Just saying.

    It's what I'm going to do. Both fiction and non-fiction. My mind is a quirky thing. Samples of both on my blog, if you're curious.

    1. If you've been reading my archives, you'll know that I now work for a small Cambridge publisher. They're not my genre, but the owner has mentioned she can help me set up a Kickstarter for a book, if I'd like. I do also have a Kindle publishing account, although I haven't used it yet.

  3. As I was finishing High school, and my brother was trailing along two years after me, my parents suddenly exploded into world travellers, separately and in different directions. I cannot remember how we paid bills, but I clearly remember answering the phone and telling the person my mother would be back half past May and father not until late June.

    But the high point of this was that my brother was a budding commercial fisherman, working extended trips on a longline boat out of Gloucester. When he came home, he'd sleep for two days, shower off accumulated layers of fish guts, medicate the fish bites on his hands, and request of me an excuse for his recent absence. We settled on "Mattie was absent for the last four days due to adverse weather conditions at sea."

    I added the excuse to ALL the notes I sent to my kids' middle school because I loathed the policy that both called me to tell me my kid was out and then required a note explaining why my kid had been out. The notes generally read "Child was late due to adverse weather conditions at sea. Also she had a dentist appointment."

    If you watched BBC's As Time Goes By (because Dame Judi Dench) you might remember the housekeeper that greeted people with the channel chipping forecast. When Al and I first saw her we doubled up laughing. Adverse weather conditions at sea.

    1. That's fantastic.

      I did occasionally demand my mother ACTUALLY sign things I was afraid were too official for me to forge without getting into trouble. She thought this was double-plus stupid, and was usually irritated with me for bringing it up. The initials of her married name happen to be BS, so that's what she scrawled on everything. Absolutely everything.

      In retrospect, I'm pretty sure the office staff hated my mother,


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