Friday, October 1, 2010

Memory from Court Reporting School

I spent seven l-o-n-g years in court-reporting school. I had classes three nights a week. To graduate, you have to reach speeds between 180 and 225 words per minute depending on the type of writing you're doing.

Now, I didn't want this to become a lesson in court-reporting how-tos, but to briefly break it down, a court reporter is tested for five minutes in three different aspects of writing. Testimony, or Q&A, has to reach 225 words per minute in order to graduate. Jury Charge (instructions to a jury by the judge) must reach 200 words per minute, and Literary, which is simply text from any source (speeches, essays, magazine articles) must reach 180. The killer is that you have to pass your tests with 95% accuracy. It's the only school in the world where a 94% is a failing grade. (If you know a court reporting student, don't DARE to ask when they're going to graduate, not unless you want a black eye.)

Once we were writing at roughly 100 words per minute, every speed class had an "opportunity" at the end. We weren't allowed to call them tests. They were called "opportunities" because it was an opportunity to move on to the next speed level if you passed. I guess some wanna-be psychologist at the school decided it would be less stressful on the students if you didn't call a test a test.

"A rose by any other name" can still make you sneeze.

One of the most unrealistic aspects of court-reporting school was the pin-drop quietness of it all. If there was any greater lie perpetuated by court reporting school (other than, "you'll graduate in a little over three years"), it was the insistence on absolute quiet during perfectly-metered, annunciated, and grammatically-correct dictation by our instructors. Noise of any kind during a test was frowned upon and cause for much whining and complaint by a student who felt they didn't pass a test because so-and-so's steno paper didn't fold properly and riffled out of the tray and onto the floor or somebody sneezed or there was laughter in the hallway.

Once a court reporter hits the real world, they learn a very different thing. Not only do some people speak so dreadfully it sounds like a foreign language, attorneys chew ice or crunch on biscotti during depositions. If words aren't misprounounce or misused, they're sometimes made up on the spot. Add to that the shuffling of papers, coughing, nose-blowing, clattering briefcase hasps, scribbling pencils, cell phones, squeaky chairs, and the birthday party in the room next door, and you'll discover that there's a world of distraction and noise to affect a court reporter's ability to focus on the task at hand.

Well, anyway, during one particular "opportunity," the instructors are reading the test, and the room is silent except for the dictation and the hum of flourescent lighting. As soon as the instructor stops speaking, I am jolted into the "real world" by the entire classroom of 15 women erupting into screams, including the instructors.

LJ and I look at one another. For a split second, she is as bewildered as I am until one of the shriekers yelps the phrase I manage to understand: "IT'S CRAWLING TOWARD HER STENO BAG!"

Well, now, I didn't know for sure what "IT" was, but on the seventh floor of a city building, that crawling thing was either a rat or a roach, and neither was going to hitchhike a ride home with me.

Chairs and steno machine tripods are scraping across the floor as some students scurry out of the room and some of the students take refuge by standing on chairs. LJ and I hop out of our chairs too, but we're the only two that don't lose our heads. I see a hefty-sized cockroach scuttling under a chair, and she and I go after it. One of us eventually crushed it, but I don't remember which one of us did it.

This is NOT normal behavior for me. If there's someone around that I know will kill it for me, I'm more than happy to be the one standing on the chair. The fact is, I didn't trust anyone in that room to do the killing, and if that bug wasn't positively DEAD before I went home, I wasn't going to sleep that night for fear of having it stow away in my bag or my purse. *gurk!*

(And I'm suddenly reminded of the time I dropped a fat rubber cockroach in my sister's purse a few years ago. Heh-heh-heh. I don't even know why I did it.)

I later learned that LJ and I were the only ones in the room who finished taking the test. One by one, all the other students saw that bug and lost their concentration, and not one of them made a peep during five minutes of testing. If I'd been the one that spotted the bug, I couldn't have remained so still or silent. Nope. No way. I suspect that even if I were in a deposition, I'd have to go off the record and kill it before I could resume writing.

Suddenly, I'm all itchy...