Court Stenographer Types: “I HATE MY JOB!”

Last week, I was photographing some art students painting murals on the walls of their school corridors as part of beautification project.

One boy looked at my camera longingly and asked me if I liked my job.

“Oh yes,” I replied briefly. I wasn’t about to belabor some poor 13 year-old with the long story of how I loved my job for 12 years but it went away because the bean counters at my former company didn’t love my job. They thought having an internal photographer was a gross waste of money in this day and age of digital cameras.

But I wasn’t alone. Not only did my job disappear but so did all the people photographed. Once they went away, so did my job. I hated to disillusion the lad with the incredible wage gap between what I had done for those 12 years at a very decent salary and the $25 I was being paid to take their photos, metadata them, format them, and ship them off electronically to the newspaper (gas mileage not included).

If it paid enough money, I’d love to do it forever. Alas, one week of photos just about pays the electric bill. My property taxes are coming due and I’ve been brushing upon my typing skills so I can meet the 80 wpm typing speed, get another office job, and pay that tax bill. My savings will cover one last round of bills and that’s it.

Farewell to the artist’s life!

Officials at a Manhattan court are scrambling to make sense of botched court transcripts in 30 cases after the stenographer allegedly typed gibberish and, in one case, “I hate my job, I hate my job,” over and over, according to a published report.

The New York Post reports that Daniel Kochanski, 43, a court stenographer at a Manhattan court botched the court transcripts of 30 cases, after he allegedly typed gibberish in random keys or “I hate my job. I hate my job. I hate my job” over and over while he was supposed to be transcribing court proceedings.

The Post, citing a high-level source, reports Kochanski’s “gibberish” typing may have jeopardized convictions by giving defendants a chance to claim crucial evidence is missing.

Family members told the Post that Kochanski had been an alcoholic, and the 43-year-old told the paper over the phone that he was fired because of substance abuse but not because he failed at his job.

Kochanski was fired in March 2012 for misconduct, an Office of Court Administration spokesman told the paper. The Manhattan DA’s office arrested him and forced him to try to make sense of his shorthand typing, sources told the Post, but the effort apparently failed.

It’s unfortunate that Daniel’s burnout could turn out 30 or more criminals onto the streets of Manhattan. Still, I feel his pain. Before I was promoted up to the Public Relations department in my company, I worked in the word processing pool.

At least I had company. Plus, the cases we typed up were interesting and even funny, and of course, there was always the company choir rehearsing on the other side of the wall in case any of us was inclined to nod off.

A court stenographer’s life is a lonely one. They don’t have an office; they take their work home with them to transcribe and type out. What they type isn’t too different from what we had to type: legal statements. If we didn’t type fast enough or produce enough letters and other documents, the supervisor – one of two – would come flying down the aisle on her broomstick to wake us up.

Typing is dreary work, whether you’re in a pool or typing in the loneliness of your apartment. At least Daniel could get up and stretch. We were on the clock – a computer monitored our every keystroke – and there were strict rules about bathroom breaks and lunchtime.

Faster typists got the more creative work on PowerPoint. If you typed 120 words per minute, you got to make pretty charts and work with graphics. If you typed only the minimum – 80 words per minute, you could count on frequent visits from The Broomstick.

Some people are made for this mindless task. The 120’s had the concentration power to face the screen all morning and afternoon, their fingers racing over the keys with nary a mistake. They had nothing else on their minds, however. If you asked them who the Secretary of State was, how many planets were in the solar system, what continent Australia was on, or at what temperature paper burns, they’d give you blank stare and tell you to stop wasting their time.

Well, that’s what we were paid to do. Some people don’t mind endless monotony. Others (like me) must endure it. It’s easier to endure at age 54 than 24, I must say, knowing that I could lose my condo to taxes if I don’t type at least 90 wpm.

Meanwhile, I consider the other course I might have taken after my last position left me out of work: I could have applied to the Associated Press as a photographer. Don’t laugh: I’m not a bad photog, though not as good as the gals I worked with. In the ensuing period, I have managed to come up to their level, however.

I thought about it earnestly. I also as earnestly considered the kind of life I’d lead as an AP Photog. Working for the AP would mean constant travel around the world. I would have gotten to visit other countries and learn new languages. Alas, those languages would have Farsi and Arabic.

The countries I would have been sent to would have been dangerous places like Afghanistan. I met some AP photogs years ago. That’s what they told me: that they’d been shot and hospitalized. They knew other photogs who’d been killed. Like the AP photographer who was killed. Her colleague, an AP reporter, survived the shooting.

Jennifer Griffin of Fox News wrote about the reporter her, stating, “Gannon is, bar none, one of the bravest reporters I have ever met.  Kathy was tough.

“She matter-of-factly would speak of hiking on foot with the Mujahideen through the Hindu Kush while the Soviets still controlled Afghanistan.   Once she and the others were so dehydrated that she nearly did not make it back across the border to Pakistan.

“She refused to cover her hair for many years while covering the rise of Islamic extremism in Afghanistan. It was a statement of solidarity to the women of Afghanistan who remembered wearing mini-skirts in Kabul before the dawn of the Mujahideen and Taliban.

Gannon and AP’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Anja Niedringhaus were waiting in a station wagon outside an election headquarters in Khost in eastern Afghanistan, a Taliban stronghold.  A police officer with an AK-47 walked up to the back of the car and opened fire after shouting, “Allahu Akbar.”   Niedringhaus was killed instantly.   She was 48 and had been covering war for a long time.

Let’s see:  traveling all around the world?  Nope.  At least, not right now.  No, wait.  Traveling by myself in a female body?  I was right the first time; not a chance.  Photographing dead bodies?  Definitely nope.  Hiking some of the highest mountains in the world?  Maybe thirty years ago.  No way today.  Not at age 52 (when I was laid off).  Taking photographs in a misogynistic country where women aren’t allowed to read, drive, or show their hair?  Where they shoot women practically for sport?  I don’t think so.  Not the career for me.

Afghanistani women miss the days of miniskirts?  No, girls would miss miniskirts.  Women, especially women past the age of 45 who’ve had kids, wouldn’t miss miniskirts.

There are hazards aplenty in photographing the typical suburban community, especially when you’re photographing junior high school students.  Ah, the things I can’t write in the newspaper.

This past weekend, I reviewed a junior high school musical.  The kids did well, especially considering the material they had to sing happened to be one of the most musically unappealing of Broadway shows.

During a dress rehearsal, I photographed them because I wouldn’t be able to do so during the actual performance.  Not a good idea, getting in some poor kid’s face during the actual show and getting in the way of the actors and the audience.  No.

I was up on stage with them during the rehearsal and couldn’t hear them.  Being a musician, I knew this wasn’t a good thing, so I tried to stealthily “encourage” them to increase the volume a little.  But being young adolescents, they took it resentfully.  All except one stout young fellow.

I figured, oh well.  As the young director was trying to get her charges lined up for the cast shot, the two lead actors, a boy and a girl, got into something of a fracus.  They were playing a husband and wife, and they couldn’t stand each other.

The teacher pleaded with them to try to get along for just a few more days until the show was over, then they would never have to speak to one another again.  It all worked, though.  During the performance, she shoved him bodily around the stage, even though he stood head and shoulders above her, and for his part, he ordered her around with a sour, sarcastic tone which was just hysterical to hear.  And they were only about 13 years old.  Neither was seeking a career in acting, either.

I knew my editor would want me to get quotes during and after the performance.  However, the drama queens and kings fled from me like I had the pox.  Then, there was the young lady seated next to me.  I thought she might make a good subject for an audience reaction.

The quiet, bespectacled young lady beside me instantly transformed into a hydra drama queen.  I was immediately given to understand that it was very presumptuous of me to try to speak to her.  She stuck her nose up in the air after giving a very brusque response to the first question and refused to answer any more of my unsolicited questions.

Therefore, I had to resort to speaking to Her Ladyship’s agent (her father).  I explained that I was from the local newspaper, had come to review the musical, and was simply seeking an audience response.  The young lady being closest at hand, I had sought her response.

The father looked surprised and apologized profusely.  I told him that I understood.  I asked if he had any other children in the plain.

“No,” he explained.  “My daughter wanted to come because she was thinking of joining the drama club next year.”

He urged his diva daughter to answer my questions.  But she would have none of it and after telling her father so, stuck her little nose up in the air again.  I laughed and told him it was all right, that divas never spoke to the press.  That was the job of their agents.

The father replied that she wasn’t being shy, that she was being a brat.  Indeed.  Which made the whole incident all the funnier.  If the theater was her goal, she had the role of diva already down pat.  No need for rehearsal, there.  She was truly a nasty piece of business.

After the play was over, I was surprised when the father asked that I take their photo together.  Little Miss Broadway protested profusely, with a good deal of eyeball rolling, sneering, and hissing.  Her father would not be contradicted, however.

In the first shot, she refused to look at the camera.  Obviously, the father must have seen my raised eyebrow, as I’m sure it had raised.  His smile disappeared in the second shot, but at least the girl was looking (with another sneer).

She was a little young for the teenaged alien act, as she was only a fifth grader.  I have a theory that on their 13th birthday, teenagers are abducted and replaced by an alien changeling, a horrible, rude, ill-tempered, moody beast, something akin to The Dementors of Harry Potter fame, “obliviating” every microbe of happiness in a household for at least three years.  At the age of 16, the teenager returns, acting as if the last three years had never happened, that the family was one, big happy, cohesive unit, and that there was a rainbow just outside the door.

Now sometimes, unfortunately, the rainbow appears later – 17, 18, as late as age 23, after college graduation.  On some occasions, it never reappears, and the individual remains that way for life; surly, temperamental, unpleasant, rude, and intolerant of others imperfections.

I’ve only heard of the Beast making an early appearance in rare instances.  There are also a few rare Beast cases where the child turns monstrous at age two and never recovers until the onset of adolescence and from the point forward is nice until adulthood and onwards through life.

The little beasts notwithstanding, this is what I would like to do for the rest of my life.  Alas, I fear I am not destined for that happy ending.

Instead I must look forward to typing “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”

No one said life is fair.

Published in: on April 7, 2014 at 5:42 pm  Leave a Comment  

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