What are they teaching these days?

The man looked vaguely familiar.

Not enough to leave me feeling as though I should greet him — just familiar enough to leave a quiet sense of knowing him.

We were waiting for the manager of the manufacturing plant and I idly watched him walk through the small room, untangling cords and heading back through again. He was wearing faded and dirty blue work clothes and his face was creased with deep lines under the brim of his old cap.

He didn’t say anything and I wondered again where I’ve seen him.

Later, out in the empty building, he reached into a nearby van for his water, and leaned against the hood.

“Watch what information you give that one,” he told the man I was interviewing, and we all laughed. It’s an old joke. Can’t trust the reporter, watch what you say. People who know you even a little love that one.

“No, she’s alright,” he said. “She covers school board meetings, taking notes the whole time.”

And then I placed him, one of the faces I see month after month at those meetings.

“Learned shorthand yet?”

Because he and the other older men, they watch my pen scratching across the page and wonder that I’m not using shorthand. Didn’t they teach me that in high school? Doesn’t everyone learn shorthand in high school? Girls, anyway?

At court hearings they watch me try to rub the aching out of them during breaks in hour after hour of testimony, and they ask again.

And I fall back on my favorite answer, that I sort of have my own form of shorthand, an abbreviation form that relies on context as much as letters, and they shake their head.

He laughs at me again, heading back to work.

I know what he’s thinking.

What do they teach these days if it’s not shorthand?


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