© Ruth Lopez
She wrote on the back of deposit slips, standing on tippy toes at the tall customer service island while her mother stood in line at the bank. She was 5 maybe 6. Using the pen secured to the counter by a thin chain, she wrote fast and with confidence in squiggles, wormy lines, curliques — idiosyncratic hieroglyphs. Her mother worked as a legal secretary and was taking a course in shorthand. The girl studied her mother's textbook, trying to see the alphabet in the seemingly random curves. The entire system mystified her. What was the little girl thinking as she wrote? She was thinking: I am writing in a secret language that only I understand and don't I look as if I know what I am doing?
I began the process of clearing out the back room last week and came upon the stash of vintage shorthand course books and dictionaries — both Gregg and Pitman. I think I bought the first one for fifty cents in a thrift store on Long Island, in the same town where the law firm that my mother worked was located. And the bank. It was a day of bittersweet nostalgia. The law office, in an old Victorian mansion, had been demolished. I had such fond memories of that place. It had a wide, wrap-around porch. There were two giant lilac bushes side by side that provided a cool, fragrant hideout.
In the summer I would play office in the corner of the old side parlor where the secretaries had their desks. The attorneys were kind and did not mind the summer days when my mother would bring me to work. I sat in a corner, stapled things together, and wrote poems. I gave my first reading at Adelman & Fagelson. A junior lawyer, who was always kind to me and gave me his pencils to sharpen, brought me into the conference room and hoisted me on the grand wood table before a staff meeting so that I could recite the latest invention — the lyrics to a song titled "Soda Pop." It included the word mountain top. So, I was always a writer and I have an abiding love of office supplies that I can suddenly trace to that time. Look, I've excavated a reason for something in the back room of my psyche. I can hear you Rose: Isn't the psyche just one big back room filled with shit?
Maybe I'll examine that some day but I am certainly not going to write an essay about the history of shorthand. That was the idea long ago for some small press journal devoted to the archaic and the lost. Gregg Shorthand was established in 1888 and that is the only tidbit you are getting out of me. The imagined war with Pittman I will leave to someone else, like a desperate scholar of history with something to prove. I'm happy with the foot of shelf space I have cleared, making room for new passions and curiosities. And maybe there is a snippet for a story.