Tall, Dark, and Mysterious


With apologies in advance to all notaries public reading this

File under: This One Time, At Mathcamp, Home And Native Land. Posted by Moebius Stripper at 7:29 pm.

Last October, during the (Canadian) Thanksgiving long weekend when I was away, my apartment was broken into. My old neighbourhood is close to a forest, a beach, the university, and a bevy of amenities, and so it is populated primarily by rich people, and students living in rich people’s basements. A member of the latter demographic, I lacked many of the usual black market staples - computer, TV, DVD player - but was able to provide my visitors with a stereo, a discman, and a digital camera, the acquisition of which apparently required every single drawer in my small apartment to be emptied on my carpet. In the process of this, they managed to find, and snag, my (Canadian) passport. As though this weren’t enough, they celebrated by eating my soy ice cream, and then carted my belongings away in one of my suitcases.

The stereo, the discman, and the digital camera, I could live with, or without, as it were: none had any sentimental value, and they could be relatively easily replaced. The suitcase was insulting, but I had to respect the theives’ efficiency - why bring what you could just as easily acquire on the spot? The ice cream offended me mightily. The mess was a pain in the ass, but I dealt with it in much the same way that I deal with most messes that have afflicted my various apartments from 1997 to present, many of which have been only slightly less monumental than this one: I ignored it.

The passport was another story. I made a point of mentioning it when I filed the police report, and then I made a point of mentioning it again when I called for an update on the status of the police report, and then I made a point of mentioning it to the Passport Office.

This, apparently, was not enough; four months later, I went to apply for a new passport, which is now more of an ordeal than it used to be, because if the next terrorist attack on US soil was the fault of people with Canadian passports, the US will never reopen its borders to Canadian beef. Replacing a lost or stolen passport is even harder, thanks to the antics of the Khadrs, and so anyone who finds themselves in that unfortunate situation has to fill out PPT 203 (Statutory Declaration concerning a lost, stolen, damaged, destroyed, or otherwise inaccessible Canadian passport or travel document). This form requires one to complete sentences such as “I have made the following efforts to locate this document:” In that space, I wrote “I cleaned my apartment,” which was true, albeit after a week of stalling on the matter, but I doubt the Canadian government fully appreciated the effort this took.

Halfway through filling out this form, I read the actual instructions, which began:

This form must be completed before, and signed by, a qualified official who has the authority to administer an oath or a solemn declaration (e.g. a commissioner of oaths, notary public, lawyer, etc.)

Commissioners of oaths sounded intimidating, and lawyers sounded expensive. I phoned the phone and dialed the passport office. “Where do I find a notary public?” I asked.

“Where do you live?”


“Check the Yellow Pages. There should be several listed.”

And several there were. I couldn’t fathom how one perfect stranger to watch me fill out a form and scribble a signature could be particularly better or worse than the next, so I narrowed my choices down to notaries public that were within a twenty minute walk of my house. There were ten of them. I phoned them all.

“Harold isn’t in right now,” answered one secretary, in a conversation that would become frustratingly predictable over the course of the next ten minutes. “He’s gone home for the day.”

It was three o’clock pm.

Finally I settled upon Jim, who was a bus ride away, but on the way to the passport office. So that you may fully appreciate the service provided by this individual, I have reproduced in full our meeting below:

Me: Hi, I’m the one who called you about witnessing and signing my PPT 203 form.
Jim the Notary Public: Oh yes. Just fill it out and step into my office.
Me: Here you go.
JtNP: (scans form) Do you swear that this is true?
Me: Yes.
JtNP: Can I see some ID?
Me: (producing a driver’s licence) Here’s my driver’s licence.
JtNP: (glances at licence, stamps form, scribbles name) That’ll be $35.

This explains why notaries public, at least judging from my small sample, leave their offices before 3 pm.

Sometime later, I told this story to L, who saw opportunity where I saw a conspiracy between the Canadian government and the Society of Notaries Public. “$35? To sign your name and stamp a form? How hard could it be to get certified to do that?”

She started doing some research. Not hard at all, she found out. It varied from state to state. Here in Maine, you have to be a resident of the state to get certified, but that seemed to be the principal limiting factor. She started to look up the information for her home state of Minnesota. It’s right here: You have to be 18 or over. You have to live in a state that shares a border with Minnesota. You have to fill out some forms and shell out $40, which you can make back in your first ten minutes of being a notary public. But your responsibilities don’t end there: you then have to pay $25 to your court administrator, and purchase a seal. L tells me there’s some other thing you have to pay $100 for. And your responsibilities do end there. Done.

In British Columbia, the requirements are a bit sketchier:

To become a notary public, a person must be a Canadian citizen or permanent resident of Canada and apply to the BC Supreme Court for enrollment as a member. Applicants are screened as to their personal, financial, educational and business background, as well as their character, reputation and integrity

and if they pass, they have to take an exam after two years of education. Nevertheless, this is still an attractive enough career path than supply needs to be curbed:

The Schedule to the Notaries Public Act sets out the maximum number of notaries which can be enrolled in each district, ranging from, for example, one in the Town of Hope or Village of MacBride to 107 in Vancouver and 20 in Victoria. If the Court is satisfied there is a need, the Court can also order the enrollment of an applicant in an area outside a notarial district.

L is excited about this. There’s a folder on the camp computers titled “Notary”. Becoming a notary public became L’s goal. She told everyone of her plan. One day, at the cafeteria, she mentioned this, and a camper of ours remarked, “I’m a notary public.” His father was a lawyer, and figured that it didn’t take much to get his kid certified, so what the hell.

Somehow, though, she managed to forget who this camper was. “You forgot which of our campers is a notary public?” I exclaimed.

She shrugged. “We can ask around. We can ask them at sign-in tonight - ‘Are you a notary public?’ Maybe there’s more than one of them.”

We asked some campers wandering around. “No,” said S, “but my mom is. Why do you ask?”

Behind us, A overheard and asked what we were talking about. “Are you a notary public?” I asked him.

“No,” he responded, “but my dad is. Why do you ask?”

Yet another career option to file under my canned answers to “what are you going to be able to do with just a Master’s degree in math?”


  1. I have a friend who was a notary public. I don’t think she got her license renewed. Still, almost all lawyer’s offices have several of the administrative staff registered as notaries. I don’t think there’s a supply issue in the U.S., as they seem to be more willing to hand them out than driver’s licenses. In NYC, just walk into any insurance agent’s, private mailbox company, lawyer’s office, or real estate office, and you’ll find a notary. We even have cheapo law-type places that help you fill out wills and other standard legal docs, and I bet everybody who works there are notaries.

    I really don’t have much call for it, myself. And it’s not terribly related to a math credential. All I can say is that there are billions of non-math-degree holders out there, and they seem to do just fine. Well, most of them, at any rate. I can’t speak for the ones in North Korea or Sudan.

    - meep — 7/24/2004 @ 8:44 pm

  2. Oh, I have absolutely no call for it, either, but it seems like it’s so absurdly easy to get certified, and if you can charge $35 for a signature and a seal, then why not? I do have a call to get money for nothing.

    - Moebius Stripper — 7/24/2004 @ 11:03 pm

  3. I’m not sure that is an entirely fair representation of my goals. My motivation for becoming a notary public is much closer to amusement and the ability to recoup the costs than to make an actual career of it. Additionally, most states are nowhere near as inflated in their prices. In MN, and at least parts of California, signatures go for less than $5. South Carolina and a handful of other states have a state-mandated fee schedule, which usually restricts the cost to a dollar or less.

    In addition, as I’m filling out the MN form I’ve found that I’m required to make an oath I’ll uphold all the statutes associated w/Notaries Public, so I can’t finish it until I’ve done a bit more reading. Some states have tests as well.

    - L — 7/25/2004 @ 2:56 pm

  4. I am a commissioned Notary Public of and for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The prices that MA notaries charge for each signature is no more then $1.25. When people appear before me (by coming to my office), I don’t charge a fee. HOWEVER, if I get a call to travel to someones home, regardless of the travel distance, I charge no less then $50.00. Obviously the further I go, the more I charge.

    I became a Notary for my state because Massachusetts Notaries can issue Subpoenas, and Summonses. (A subpoena and summonse is a court order commanding someone to appear and give testimony. In additon, you can order that they bring tangible items with them that you need for a pending case.).

    Being a Notary in conjunction with my Paralegal work, it is great! I thought that I’d just share this with you. Thanks for taking the time to read.

    Korey Humphreys

    - Korey Humphreys — 6/8/2005 @ 8:42 am

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