MAD DOG: Why Is Cursive Dead?

No one writes anymore. Oh, stop feeling sorry for me, I get plenty of mail. Ed McMahon writes weekly. Product samples like panty shields, Depends, and earwax recycling kits arrive daily. And free credit card offers fill my mailbox hourly, proving once again that banks have more money than brains. But that's not the problem. The problem is no one writes anymore. Thanks to computers, typewriters, ballpoint pens, and PDAs, the handwritten word has gone the way of the 8-track stereo. Yes, cursive script is all but dead.

I remember being in elementary school. Every day we'd trudge down to Mrs. Clausen's classroom where Bobby Bagley would pin me down on the floor by sitting on my shoulders while Tommy Sackett put a worm on my forehead and all the other kids in the class laughed at me. This has nothing to do with the penmanship classes we had to take but it sure felt good getting it of my chest after all these years.

According to Newsweek ("Just like Time, only different"), in some parts of the country hand printing has actually become more common than cursive writing. Cursive writing, for those of you who have been too busy trying to get on Survivor-2 to look it up online, is that flowery penmanship they tried to teach you in elementary school that consists of circles, curlicues, and letters which are all connected so Jiminy Cricket can pull entire words off the blackboard and shake them out, much to everyone's delight.

Even the government has found out no one can write anymore. The Post Office says their automated systems kick out 60 percent of all handwritten addresses, with 10 million of them ending up in the dead-letter office because they're completely unreadable. To put that in perspective, this is fourteen letters from every doctor in the United States.

But it's not too late. There are ways to bring good penmanship back besides having Sister Mary Ignatius Himmler smack our knuckles with a ruler until we figure out how the hell to make a cursive lower case zee. One would be to buy a Mont Blanc model 888 Prince Regent fountain pen. Not only do fountain pens, by their very design, only work when writing script, but if you pay the $5,900 they ask for this pen I guarantee you'll use it more than the one you got at Graceland with the fried peanut butter and banana sandwich that slides into Elvis' mouth when you tilt it.

Another, and cheaper, idea is to order a personalized signature font for your computer. For $99 a company in Oregon will create a computer font that looks just like your handwriting. This is perfect for those occasions when an emailed Mother's Day card just doesn't cut it but you still have no desire to leave the privacy (and day-old pizza) of your computer desk.

They create your signature font by having you handwrite your name and a few words on the back of the order form. Not surprisingly, some of the words they ask you to write are grocery, jewfishes, rybema, and yachtque. Honestly. I offered to trade them my spellchecker for a free font but my letter was returned by the Post Office marked "Unreadable--Please Order A Signature Font."

This is a boon to criminals everywhere. As anyone who's ever watched "Matlock", "Murder She Wrote", or "Mayberry R.F.D." knows, Andy Griffith starred in all three of them. Okay, in one he was in drag. They also know that the easiest way to catch a murderer is by matching their typewriter to the notes they sent the police taunting them because they can touch-type 75 words per minute while all the police are legally allowed to do is hunt and peck. Lucky for the police no one uses a computer printer to write ransom notes or they'd never catch anyone.

One person who could really have used a signature font is Ted "I'm Having a Blast" Kaczynski. If he'd had the foresight to spring for the $99 he'd probably still be Helena's answer to Grizzly Adams. A prime piece of evidence against him was the typewriter the FBI found in his luxury lodge that matched the one used to write the Unabomber's 35,000-word manifesto. Interestingly, Kaczynski had three typewriters in his possession. If he hated technology half as much as he wasted all those words claiming he did, he wouldn't have had even one of those newfangled contraptions cluttering up his log cabin. Hell, Lincoln didn't and he grew up to be president.

There's one person who needs a signature font more than Kaczynski: Robert Shields of Dayton, Washington (town motto: "We used to be in Ohio but they asked us to leave"). He holds the distinction of having written the longest personal diary in history. Begun in 1972, his typewritten journal now stretches to over 38 million words. In it he records everything he does during the day including vacuuming the house, going to the bathroom, and even scraping his feet. All this without once mentioning the horrors of a technologically corrupt society, modern civilization's impending downfall, or how disorienting blue M&M's are.

There is one problem with ordering a script font for your computer. If you're like me, you can't remember the difference between cursive and cursing, so you won't be able to fill out the form. Luckily those fine people at Signature Software already thought of that. For only $49.95 you can get a package of five pre-written script fonts which are named Lisa, Wilson, Tsui, Jocelyn, and Victoria. The "Doctor in a Hurry" and "Unabomber" fonts are custom orders so please allow 4-6 weeks for delivery.

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