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I Need a New Signature

shambling through paradiseAnyone who has lived here long enough remembers the old days of going to the bank. There were no numbers to take, and few chairs in which to sit. Everyone stood patiently in line because the ability to stand patiently in line was in the DNA of most all Ticos. I have heard that the original Himno Nacional of Costa Rica even included a line that went ‘’esperando en fila con la paciencia de un santo’’ (waiting in line with the patience of a saint), before it was edited out for the sake of brevity.

Recently, I was in a remote area of Costa Rica and had to go to the local Banco Nacional to make a deposit. This bank branch was a throwback, with a long line and only a few chairs, all taken by a mix of oldsters (i.e. people older than me) and pregnant women. The line was long and the number of tellers fluctuated between two and zero (at one point both tellers had vanished into the back of the bank in the middle of a transaction). After about 45 minutes I was finally at the front of the line. The teller’s light came on, but just as I was about to step forward, a security guard cut me off, in favor of a man who I estimated to be about 105 years old. I am in the second half-century club, but still far from ‘golden age’ status, so I could do nothing but watch as the oldster made his way slowly to the teller in my place.

My first thought was this: There is no way in hell that this guy is in a bigger hurry than me! My second thought was that the banks have it all wrong. Instead of giving this guy preferential treatment, they should instead have an area set up where the old-timers could wait. A couple tables, plenty of chairs, a pot of coffee, a few decks of cards, crossword puzzles, dominos, Diario Extras, magnifying glasses, etc. They could hang out until the line disappeared, and then exchange their 5 and 10 colon coins for crisp 1000 colon notes. Families could drop great-great-grandpa off at the bank in the morning and then swing by at closing time to pick him up, knowing he was in a safe and comfortable environment. And if that sounds cruel, believe me—there are days I wish I could just disappear into the cool, quiet, mutely-lit bank for a few hours to drink coffee and play dominos.

Eventually, I made my way to the teller. A quick transaction, my signature, and out the door—not so fast here!—my signature does not come close to matching the signature on my cedula. My cedula has my full name, and the signature of my full name—Matthew Alan Casseday—is not the rapid scrawl signature I had perfected over fifty years. So I re-signed correctly and was finally out the door.

Signing a document in Costa Rica is probably the only time I even think about my middle name. Seriously—if I meet another Matt or Matthew or Mateo, I feel an instant, if meaningless connection. A fellow Matt! We have the same name! Mi tocaya! If I meet someone named Alan it barely registers. If I think of my entire name as a family, my middle name is the red-headed stepchild. Sometimes I don’t even bother spelling it out. I just use a capital A and a dot. I went through a phase where instead of a dot, I used an asterisk, and then below my signature, I made a smaller asterisk, followed by the letters L-A-N, just to pay respect to my middle name. I gave this up after I was threatened with an attempted forgery charge while signing my own name.

My latest cedula expires in 2019, so until then I will be signing documents with my full name spelled out. Meantime, I am practicing. I have observed many Costa Ricans in the act of signing documents, and have discovered there are two types of signatures:

* The first initial of the first name followed by indecipherable scrawl and finished with a flourish of crossed lines, accent marks and loop-de-loops.

* Indecipherable scrawl, finished with a flourish of crossed lines, accent marks and loop-de-loops.

Look at the signatures on any Costa Rican colon bank note to get an idea of what I mean.

In three years, my new signature, unreadable and puzzling, will be unveiled. But until then, I remain,

Matthew A* Casseday

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