Archive for August, 2011

The Great Seattle Gargoyle Hunt – #1

Let’s divert ourselves with a game, shall we? I’ll post a photo of some creature, or more likely the head of some creature, carved as an architectural detail on one of the buildings here in downtown Seattle. You say where it is.

The rules of play are not stringent. You can use any means at your disposal. Obviously, any local or visiting contestant enjoys unlimited access to the streets themselves. This is the ideal way to play and it is my hope that anyone who lives or works or is staying in Seattle will go outside and start looking up.

But because many of you who are likely to stumble upon this divertissement do not raise your smoke here in Seattle, remote methods of search are allowed. You may use Google Street View and Bing’s oblique birds-eye views and any other similar mapping applications. You may use current and vintage photographs, your memory, other people’s memories (including lore handed down to you by the elders of your tribe), and even SWAGs.*

You may join up in groups to make the search more fun and to dilute the embarrassment when one of you walks into a parking meter.

Some will be ridiculously easy. Some will be impossibly hard. The first person who correctly identifies the name of the building — or the address of the building, or the intersection the building stands at, or even the location of the building in terms of nicknames or landmarks — wins. Wins in the intransitive sense, that is. You don’t win “s.t.” like a prize, you just win. Actually, okay, you win a limerick with your first name in it, that’s what you win.

I will post a photo (or several photos) of a gargoyle occasionally, regardless whether or not the last one has yet been identified. Use the comments to submit your answers. When someone submits the correct identification of a gargoyle, I will use the comments likewise to announce the winner for that photo. Otherwise, I will leave the photos unidentified forever and ever amen. Unless no one participates and I can’t stand it and have to name them.

We’re calling it a gargoyle hunt but most of these are gargoyles only in the most liberal sense of the word. Very few channel rainwater and fewer still take the shape of demons. Fact, most of them are lions with mouths as dry as Westerville, Ohio.

I may give clues for the harder ones if the humor takes me.

Remember to click the photos for larger views.

Ready? Okay, we’ll start with a dead easy one. Here is gargoyle numero uno.

Not lions, as it happens.

A slightly wider view with a different building in the background for environmental clues (as if you needed the help). This photo was originally going to be a "Just Look" entry, but I've commandeered it for the contest.

The game’s afoot! Tell everyone you know.

*silly wild-ass guess. It’s an engineering term.


Nurturing the entrepreneurial drive

Mara has wanted to have a lemonade stand for a very long time. I can’t remember where she got the idea — maybe we gave it to her — but she has asked about it periodically for a year or two. It has recently become imperative that she raise more scratch than her allowance will add up to since it was announced that her friend Gwyneth is going to have her birthday party at the new American Girl store, a place where high quality outfits can be purchased for one’s upscale American Girl dolls. I guess you can rent the place out. It’s genius, really.

As I have tried to envision the lemonade selling enterprise from time to time I have always foreseen impediments. We live on a steep hill that gets busy traffic at certain times of the day but that traffic is usually going too fast to notice sidewalk vendors. There are well-travelled, level streets nearby, but one is a sort of wasteland next to the freeway and the other would mean setting up in front of someone else’s house.

Big tippers. Moving dads stop for a thirst-quenchin' draught.

Also, we don’t live in a neighborhood — or a time, or a world — where I would feel comfortable leaving my young daughter unguarded sitting at a table with a box full of money and only a stack of paper cups to defend herself with, so wherever this happened it would mean that one of us would sit with her for hours, and wouldn’t that turn off potential customers? After all, the classic lemonade stand has such powerful draw because here’s this kid sitting all alone, or maybe with another little kid, and they are sitting there waiting in all the young faithfulness of little Americans who will someday be entrepreneurs. Or at least that’s the story we overlay on the scene, because that’s what we hope for them. We see their hand-painted sign as the first flimsy sail they hoist against the dreary odds that say they’ll just be a cubicle or factory worker; it’s an indication of their trust in the system we have bequeathed them. We have to stop and buy. No matter how badly we’ve mangled our own chances at self-agency in life — and maybe precisely beCAUSE of that — we have to pitch four bits in for the next generation.

But when dad or mom is there, that image could change in the potential customer’s mind to one of serf and liege, where the cute kid is actually being used as a ploy and the parent is waiting (in the shade, reading a novel) to collect the day’s winnings. Our teeth grind when we think of this other scenario, as well they should. Grrrr!

Well, it couldn’t be helped. Mara doesn’t even really understand money yet, at least not how the denominations work, and would need help making change. We decided to take turns helping Mara with her stand, which, after all, we would place on the strip outside our house, slanted be it ever so. I leveled the table and umbrellas (and Mara’s chair after she fell off of it once) using leftover blocks of wood — (oh, the sweet vindication of the saver!) — and our friend Hillary came over to help Mara make signs and generally be part of it all. We worried only slightly that an unlicensed food business might arouse the attention of the health department, which happened to a seven-year-old girl in Oregon a while back.

Mara understood that she would have to pay us back the “bank” of quarters and dollars we set her up with and also reimburse us for the lemonade, but that everything after that would be hers to pocket. She would charge 50 cents a cup. She lugged her old toy cash register outside and an OPEN/CLOSED sign, and before we could even get the lemonade and cups out some of the neighbors Angela had emailed started showing up.

Settling in for the long haul.

Sales were brisk. Her second party of customers, two dads who were moving their daughters into a rental house up the hill and happened to see Mara’s stand as they were driving off, gave her five dollars — “a fiver” she called it already — and didn’t want change back for two drinks, a four dollar tip! We quickly went through two pitchers of Minute Maid® pink lemonade.

Then the street was quiet and the sun beat down and there was nothing to do for a long time but sit on the chair, which is really difficult for Mara to do. But if we thought she would ingest useful, real-life lessons about the value of money and labor…well, we didn’t really think that and it wasn’t an issue. People stopped every once in a while throughout the afternoon, despite the fact that we parents, Hillary and 14-month-old Millie were all picnicking under the cherry tree right behind the stand. Mara ended up with $34 at the end of the day, and after reimbursing us our $8 n0-interest investment and paying for five cans of lemonade, she walked away with $19 for a day’s adventure.

The health department suits never showed, but if they had, we’d have schooled them in American tradition. We’d have made them a deal on lemonade they couldn’t refuse.


And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away…”

— The Book of Revelation

It is my usual policy not to tell people my dreams. I have told people my dreams in the past only to realize how boring and silly my most hallowed-feeling dream must sound to the hearer, even to my wife who knows me best and truly wants to know the dark fictions that swirl in my head when I sleep (or, she might add, any time).

For me, the impulse to describe a dream comes from a desire to share the intense emotional experience running through it, which is ultimately impossible. We inhabit our dreams as a unique spectator and specter, at once the co-creator and the recipient of the experience. The emotional current we wish to share with others only runs through the dream like a wind blowing through a ghost town, so that what ends up happening is we go to great lengths describing what takes place in the dream, and what the dream looks like, and all the odd impossibilities…

…it was my first grade teacher, but the teacher was also the can of peaches at the same time — somehow in the dream I just knew that and it made sense — and the label on the can was her speaking…”

…but the feeling of the dream is almost impossible to convey.


The old neighborhood early in the new millennium, courtesy of Bing. In this photo the house I grew up in still stands near center with a bright rim of white gutters. Mark's house is the boxy one near the bottom at center.

But there are dreams that seem to speak more clearly and their “scripts” are more easily transcribed with their emotional content intact. I usually wake up right after such dreams. I’ve had a number of them lately and the one I had last night woke me up and compelled me to write it down because upon waking I realized it was a grief dream about my father who died two weeks ago.

The eye of my dream was flying low over my childhood neighborhood, and in this moment the eye of my dream and the “I” of my dream were the same. It was me hovering there, and I saw that almost all the houses I knew, whose rooms and yards I had played in, were gone, leveled to the ground. All the trees and shrubs and gardens and lawns had been bulldozed and the neighborhood was a vast tract of upturned earth, bright and clean in the morning sun. Though my own side of the street was just out of my view, I could see that my friend Mark’s house was gone, my friend Chris’ house was gone, and the Fessers’ and Castners’ houses were gone. My friend Ribby’s house still stood but it had been moved backward on the large lot to become a wing of some monstrous new house that was to be built there. The neighborhood was being rebuilt new, nearly from scratch. (For all I know all this may be happening in actual fact, since I have not visited the street since my parents moved away, but it is true that my own childhood house was razed shortly thereafter and replaced by a new larger one.)

A place I knew well. It's hard to tell in this picture, but the escarpment visible at the bottom is actually the far side of a wide ditch that would fill with stormwater during heavy rains.

Outlined in the dirt were some of the concrete foundations of some of the old houses. These were buildings that my father and my friends’ fathers and the other men of my neighborhood had worked on and added to over the years, reshaping them to their purposes in that confident way of the men who had returned from the midcentury’s bloody wars. In a sense, they created this neighborhood by starting families in it, populating it with us children who crawled over it like ants and knew every corner, every bush and berry, every climbable tree, every accessible crawl space and attic and unlocked shed. A four-dimensional map of a complex universe became distributed among the minds of the children I grew up with, and it was a universe largely created by the hands of our dads.

But here it lay upturned like a furrowed field, bare and ready for a new crop. I found my friend Mark where, in olden times beyond the dream, we had often played — outside near the place where my yard sloped down and met the street, near where the mailboxes had been, a part of my yard we called “the ditch”. He was still a teenager. We commiserated for a minute about the changes taking place in our neighborhood, this apocalypse, and then Mr. Hall drove up the street. The “actor” playing Mr. Hall was not physically the Mr. Hall who lived at the near end of our street in my childhood (and whose house in this dream was still his residence and still intact); he was taller, thinner and had longer hair but in the dream I didn’t realize that. He had not aged at all, and as he pulled up and got out of his car we could see there were tears in his eyes. It was suddenly no longer bright yellow morning, but blue dusk, the end of time.

A slice of Wonder bread, a loyal mutt, and thou my dad. What more? Where Vicky's tail is wagging will be the corner of the workshop my dad built. It will be there thirty years and then it will vanish without a trace.

Mr. Hall came over and scooped me up into his arms — he was normal man-sized and I was still myself at my current age but somehow I had become physically smaller — and he carried me back and forth in front of where my house would have been. He carried me the way you carry someone when they are unconscious or sleeping or dead, and I let my head fall back and I relaxed into the feeling of being carried that way and it felt wonderful and right and comforting and very ancient, and I cried for all the loss and the gone-ness of things I loved, and with my eyes closed I murmured “Thank you” to him.

This is about the same viewpoint I looked from in my dream, and everything in it was bare earth. As this recent Bing image shows, the dream was not so far off. Six of the 16 houses on the street have been replaced -- nos. 1, 6, 8, 9 (mine), 10 and 15. Happily, Mark's house (11) is still there, as are Ribby's (14), the Casteners' (13) and Chris' (16). The goliath at 15 replaced the Fessers' modest rambler.

And then he set me down and tried to carry Mark the same way, but the dream had changed into a comedy by then and Mark was no longer Mark but a very small wiggly child — about the smallness and wiggliness of my 14-month-old daughter Emilia — and Mr. Hall could not comfort him.

I woke after that, with the heaviness of change and time over me, and even though I had earlier posted about being unsure when it would ever be right to bring these things to my blog, my first thought was to write this down. For myself, for my daughters and for anyone who has experienced loss and the somber truthiness of dreams.

Up on the Roof

I climb way up to the top of the stairs
And all my cares just drift right into space
On the roof, it’s peaceful as can be”

Up on the Roof by the Drifters

For someone who would rather be far from the city, it surprises me how much enjoyment I get from simply looking at it, examining its contours and angles and spaces and contrasts. Most of you know about me that I’m drawn to the odd folds of the city where it seems to be keeping its history. But sometimes, just the skyline itself appears wondrous to me, even buildings I don’t particularly cherish. There’s something about the way the buildings seem to move around in relation to each other and the way light brings out the edges and faces and the way shadow gathers in corners and valleys that keeps me interested in the whole picture, all the time.

The buildings along Post Alley in the afternoon. The tennis court and parking lot are three or four floors above the street. The two low brick buildings are the Colonial (furthest away) and Grand Pacific hotels.

When you begin to know a city you become acquainted with particular landmarks first. Maybe the first office building you worked in, maybe a historic landmark like the Smith Tower or a cultural landmark like the Experience Music Project. The piece you know sits among pieces you know less well or not at all, so the cityscape is like a hodge-podge of known and unknown, familiar and less familiar, and yet it’s all on a huge scale, so that you can get down in it and looking at it from one place inside it gives you a different arrangement of those knowns and unknowns than you get standing somewhere else inside it, and the relationships change when you look at it from different vantage points outside it as well. It never appears the same way, even from the same spot, because then the season may be different and the light accordingly crafts each object a certain way for that day, for that weather, and even the buildings themselves are changing, new ones being added and old ones quietly being removed. More of it becomes familiar to you as you spend time in it, but you can never know it all.

The building engineer checks the cooling system just as the morning fog is lifting.

For me, that shifting interplay of known and unknown is like life itself. Mara knows that the Columbia Tower is the tallest building in Seattle, but sometimes she asks me why today it’s shorter than other buildings nearby, which it isn’t, I explain, it’s just that buildings that are closer to us seem to be taller. Our eyes, then, feed us raw information that is almost useless until it can be understood through the filter of experience, sometimes through waiting, sometimes through movement and exploration and always through attention to relationships. So many things in life are like that for me, especially as I get older and I know my life better. The knowns become great or small for a time, or they become occluded, but I can trust that they are still where I know them to be; older unknowns are there in shadowy anonymous lumps like Donald Rumsfeld’s “things that we don’t know we don’t know” and new things startle me and for a while I may not have a way to harness them to the grid.

The mayhem of First and Second avenues disappears. Note the bright ivory-hued backs of the Beebe Building (the higher one) and the old Hotel Cecil (the lower one) on First Avenue, and the front of the red brick Holyoke Buidling across the street.

A month or so ago the building engineer for the building I work in, neither of which I will name in this post so as not to get him in trouble, gave me a key to the door that accesses the roof so that I could take some photos from up there. “Just don’t fall off”, he said. The building is a six-story red brick rectangle with a green cornice and prominent scrolled Ionic capital ornaments built from 1904 to 1905 as a warehouse for goods shipped in and out of the waterfront, which is hard by. The building looks itself like a large brick with windows in it. It was restored late in the last century, but earlier, when John Wayne made the cop movie McQ, it was an old wreck of a warehouse that the city did not mind having a police car driven into and exploding into flame against.

The old post office, the Exchange Building, and Smith Tower, among others, struggle to emerge from a blanket of fog.

A closer look at the fogbound Art Deco ramparts of the post office.

The building is not tall enough to enable you to look down on the surrounding buildings, but there are other places for that. It’s actually good for something else: walking around on the roof of my building puts you high enough above the streets that they disappear unless you are looking off one of the corners, while still being nestled among other buildings. And not only that, the canyons that the streets lie in compress and vanish when you look across them so that the buildings on different blocks all look as though they are coplanar, part of a single multifaceted backdrop. In this way the “hustle and bustle” part of city life — the sidewalk, that is — literally vanishes, and all you are left with is the part of the city that children draw with crayons. It’s no wonder being “up on the roof” is so often associated with safety, retreat and romance. I’m thinking of the 1962 Drifters song and Marlon Brando’s rooftop scene with Eva Marie Saint in the 1954 movie On the Waterfront, and any number of other cultural classics that have to do with rooftops in the city.

Above and below are some of the photos I took up on the roof on different days. Hey, if you are — or have powers of sway over — the keyholder to a view of downtown Seattle that you think I need to see (whether a wide vista or a small nook or cranny), please let me know. I’m willing to wear a hardhat.

The same scene as above but without fog.

Looking eastish up Madison Street over the roof of the Alexis Hotel, née Globe.

The view south. Hi Maritime Building!

Seriously, the Federal Post Office and the Exchange Building are loads of fun to take pictures of.

West by northwest to the Seneca Street off-ramp from the viaduct. I confess to bumping up the saturation on this one because the day was so dismally gray.

Circle of fire

The sound of a Coleman two-burner gas camp stove occupies a cherished spot in my memory. Similarly the sound of a Coleman gas lantern. When I think of the sound, that deep hiss, I see the beautiful blue flame circle under the aluminum coffee percolator in my mind, or I see the nighttime campsite bathed in storied, primeval gaslight that pushes the shadows beyond the trunks of pines and Douglas firs and Western red cedars to sulk in the salal and Oregon grape and huckleberry of the underbrush, a light that dims the stars and quiets the moon but goes completely out when someone passes in front of it, the shadow of their head sweeping the tent wall and the near sides of the trees.

Remember, Dad, only you can prevent forest fires. Ahh, the hiss of the burners and the smell of canvas and pine needles...

I have not done much camping in my adult life, which is surprising given the large role that camping played in my family when I was growing up. We camped around Washington with friends and family just for the sake of camping, and we camped both times we had to cross the country, when my dad took a job in North Carolina and moved us to Winston Salem in 1973, then back to Seattle a year later after the company’s paychecks started to bounce. And once we camped with some friends on Lopez Island where we saw a manta ray swimming right under our noses while we fished off a dock and we didn’t want to go home and cried heaving sobs when the ferry pulled away from the island.

For our trip to Yellowstone National Park when we kids were very young, my dad rigged his work van (he built houses) with a bench seat so we didn’t have to bounce around in the back like sacks of potatoes. We had an old musty tent that I remember as being army green and heavy. Later we towed one of those low single-axle pop-open tent trailers behind the Impala. We took it to San Diego to visit my Uncle Ben and Aunt Muriel. My grandmother, who was in her eighties, insisted on going along on that trip. It seems strange, now that I think back on it, the picture of such an old lady stepping up into and down from this rickety outfit and bedding down in one of those big, square, quilted, flannel-lined (Coleman again) sleeping bags, but Granny, as she wanted to be called, had come close to being born in a Conestoga wagon when she entered this life in 1889, so the tent trailer probably didn’t seem to her like the odd contraption we kids thought it was.

Kamping our way akross the U.S.A., probably on our way back home to Seattle, 1974. Mom and Dad enjoy a meal al fresco.

It was probably for our trip across the country that we got a new tent that accommodated our family of five. KOA sites (Kampgrounds of America) had arisen all along the nation’s highways by then, and we made good use of them. They were spartan a little depressing in hindsight, but we kids loved them. You basically drove into a large flat meadow, like a rural airfield, with an office near the road and rows of gravel driveways jutting off of a loop. Often there were no trees and the neighboring property was a tractor sales lot or a granary. Water and electric hookups were available at some or all sites for campers and trailers. Kids ran wild through the place. None of the KOAs we stayed at strike me in my memory as “destinations” you’d make a point of going to, like a state park, although I suppose many of them were strategically located near high-profile destinations such as Devil’s Tower in Wyoming and the Mt. Rushmore monument and the Crazy Horse memorial and the Corn Palace in South Dakota, all of which we visited. Built to capitalize on the growing numbers of families who needed a cheap, convenient, site where they could pull the wagon over on their way from here to there, KOA was a recognizable brand, a safe bet.

A trip to Canada, circa 1978. That's my little brother, Ben, who is now sixteen axe-handles across. Mom, Dad and Jeni are leaning against the car.

When we kids were in our teens, our folks bought a camping space we came to call “the Lot” in Phase 2 of Lake Conner Park, a private camping “club” that was set among 300 acres of forest east of Lake Stevens, not far outside of Everett, a city just a few clicks north of Seattle. You basically bought a patch of forest like you would a condo. You could improve it in certain ways — a deck or patio for your camper, a shed for tiki torches and chairs and other camp gear — but not in other ways. I was thrilled at first and wanted to go there often, but I soon hit that age when it didn’t seem very cool to be camping in such a tame environment. When I got my driver’s license I took one or two friends there a few times, but eventually we found ourselves not using the Lot, and my folks sold it.

Mom and Dad at Lake Conner Park, circa 1982.

After that, my family didn’t camp at all. Mom had never been frightfully keen, though she gamely suffered all those nights on hard ground over the years so that we kids could have the wonderful experience that camping is, and honestly I never knew that she’d rather have stayed home. I never really thought about it until now, but for Dad, it seems that it was all about being with his kids, so when I became a teenager more interested in camping with friends, and my younger brother Ben joined the Sea Cadets and was gone a lot during summer, and my older sister Jeni got married at age 20, there was no more point to any of it for Dad. He certainly wasn’t going to go camping by himself. Our sleeping bags grew musty in the shed in the back yard.

On Ross Lake, mid-1980s. Jeff and the Old Fisherman.

For five years during high school and college I joined Jeff and his dad Vance for the annual Ross Lake trip of which I’ve written before, but after that I became a day hiker, and I have never owned my own tent or stove.

Last year I made plans for our first family camping trip and started buying gear, but Emilia came into our lives at midsummer and I gladly cancelled the two nights’ reservations I’d made at Moran State Park on Orcas Island.

This year Angela couldn’t see herself camping with a one-year-old, but encouraged Mara and me to go on the annual two-night trip at Dungeness Spit that families of an adoption support group go on every year. We didn’t know any of the families going, but we signed up and went anyway. It turned out to be lots of fun for Mara. For me, it was like being a single parent but without the home appliances.

Mara with a specimen Wyatt caught for her. He's already forgotten this one, looking around for another one to chase.

I wasn’t sure how Mara would sleep in a tent, away from all her comforts, which are legion (books, lovies, dolls, small hard objects that end up underneath her in the night), nor how she would get along with a group of children she did not know. And indeed it seemed like it might be a lonely weekend for her despite the mob of kids running around the big meadow that made up the group campsite at Dungeness State Park. When we got there the coordinator of the camp trip ran over to introduce herself and one of the dads had my tent up almost before I knew what happened. But because none of the dozen or so other families were new all the kids already played in familiar groups or pairs. Mara hung out on the periphery.

While I was cleaning up dinner dishes Mara told me she wanted to go be in the tent. “There’s nothing to do here,” she said.

My heart sank.

Young entomologists on the trail of a butterfly.

But the next morning — (and she slept like a rock) — she became aware of and attracted to a little boy named Wyatt who was a year or two older than she and called himself an entomologist. He carried a net for catching butterflies and other bugs and a mesh trap for keeping them in. Wyatt cared only for the pursuit of bugs. His eyes scanned the trees and bushes around the perimeter of the meadow and when he saw something lepidopterous his focus became intense. He would run back and forth across the field, with Mara and a smaller boy named Will following behind.

Midmorning we all walked down the bluff trail from the campground to the longest natural spit in the world and spent the midday hours at the beach. Several older children and a few adults hiked out the six miles to the end of the spit and back. Some of the young children played in the sand and surf. Wyatt and Mara and Will explored an area of dune grasses and shallow ponds where crickets leapt and small crabs skittered.

Exploring in the muck. This reminds me of that famous photo of the planting of the flag at Iwo Jima.

The expedition continues. The lighthouse at the end of the spit is visible beneath the cone of Mt. Baker.

From that moment until we left the next morning, she capered and chased behind Wyatt whenever she could (they were separated for a spell when Mara joined some kids taking turns sitting with somebody’s guinea pigs in their laps, and also while the kids roasted and ate marshmallows, an activity to which she gave the same undistracted devotion that Wyatt did to his entomological studies).

And — the sign of Mara’s successful introduction to family camping and a kind of closing of the circle behind me — when the tent and other gear had been packed back into the car and it was time to head home, she didn’t want to leave.

Mara and Cienna take a turn in the pen.

Willard, 1930 – 2011

A man I was greatly attached to passed out of this life last night, quietly and without struggle, in a bed in his own living room where he belonged, surrounded by his wife and children. I took this photo of him many years ago at the Oregon Coast. I knew him well and to me, the sight of such an industrious and practical man engaged in an activity that had no purpose other than the doing of it — the enjoying of it — struck me as a joyous rarity I wanted to record.

A boy and his kite.

Throughout the day his friends and family who were within a day’s hard ride all came to his bedside to say their names, speak their love for him, stroke his limp hand, and give him permission to go. He could no longer respond, but it is known that hearing is the last of the senses to shut down, so visitors were encouraged to simply say anything they wished him to understand before he departed for Distant Shores. Most called him Bill, though a few called him Will or Willard.

I called him Dad. Someday I’ll tell you all about him.


A thick envelope arrived today from the banking corporation that owns our house. The contents of the envelope were a Notice of Pre-Foreclosure Options, which consisted of a list of my rights, some options I might consider with my housing counselor such as a “workout” plan, short sale of the property, & cet., and a detailed description of what would happen if I did not respond within 30 days.

This was not a notice that the bank had not received payment and foreclosure was a potential result. My awareness of all that was assumed, as was my intention to default. This was a droll recital of the things I needed to know to navigate the firestorm of banking protocol that awaited me down the road. It reminded me somewhat of the swift and terrible action with which the French used to respond to perceived insubordination in its colonies and Overseas Departments. I felt like some clerk in Mayotte who had neglected to append the proper schedules to a payroll report and was now looking down the 8-inch gunbarrels of a man-o-war out in the harbor.

Boots, even now, were on the ground.

I’m glad this communication did not arrive a week ago, because I would not have had any idea what it was about and might have panicked. As it happens, a swirl of incomplete, subconscious thoughts and misgivings had been nagging at me and had coalesced a few days ago into a prickling uneasiness in my forehead centered around the twin facts that 1) I found a bunch of last month’s bills that did not have the usual scribbles on them indicating that I had paid them and 2) I had noticed that the balance in our checking account was unusually high; high, in fact, by about the amount of a month’s worth of bills.


I checked our accounts online and could find no record that I had paid those bills. Online, yes. I joined the twenty-first century — actually the twentieth century — a few months ago when we fled Chase Manhattan during the Fee Pogroms. And therein lies the root of this gross oversight, I’m sure. I used to track everything in a paper booklet called an account register, but as it became apparent how easy it was to just check balances and transactions online I gradually grew slackalaizical about the register, and also about scribbling dates on paid bills. People had always laughed at me for writing and mailing checks, but it was a system that worked. The bills were collected on the hutch in the dining room until once a month I opened them and recycled the crap ads in search of the remittance slips, wrote the checks, noted the amounts in the register, appended stamps to the envelopes, wrote PAID on the invoices, and then took them downstairs to our home-office to be filed for a few months just in case, and mailed the bills the next day. If the bills were there on the hutch, it meant they hadn’t been paid. If they’d been paid, they were gone. I never bumped into a stack of bills whose status was unknown to me. I never just forgot to pay my bills.

Actually, I had noticed the elevated balance in our account weeks ago and the thought had pinged off my scalp that “hey, I wonder if I didn’t pay the bills last month”, but, I further reasoned, what kind of a moron would you have to be to completely miss paying your monthly bills? and then, too, I would have expected to have heard something by now from one or more of my creditors. I mean, wouldn’t they be curious?

Dear Mr. F–

It is my unpleasant task to admit the embarrassing fact that we here at Stalwart Savings and Loan are unable to locate your mortgage payment for July. We have overturned our offices in search of your usual check but cannot lay our hands on it. I know you are well aware of the importance of timely remittance, which knowledge compels me to contact you immediately to make enquiry as to a possible solution to this conundrum.

Of course we assume that payment was your intention, and can only wonder if in the sleep-deprived chaos of your second child’s first year (congratulations once again, and we hope you enjoyed the preserves, which were put up by the president’s wife with fruit from their own yard) you perhaps wrote the check but forgot to mail it, or perhaps the stamped and addressed envelope slipped down behind the credenza. If you would double-check we would be most grateful.

For we know that you have been a customer in good standing for many years and, if I may put it so, “a straight ahead fellow”, and we are eager to put this matter to rest as soon as possible. Please feel free to call me or stop by the bank at your convenience if there is anything at all I can do, and in the event that some impediment to making full payments has arisen for you, I am sure that we can work out a reasonable solution satisfactory to all parties. Also, it should go without saying that if payment has been remitted you may disregard this letter and join us in considering the matter closed.

I look forward to hearing from you and remain

Yours aff’ly,

Hiram C. Honeywell
Vice President of Accounts
Stalwart Savings and Loan

P.S. On a personal note, we hope to see your brood at the Cow Chip Cookie Eating Contest and BBQ during Pioneer Days next week.

Apparently, this bank is not curious, nor does it send out letters making polite enquiry into the whereabouts of its money. It sends notices like the one I received today notifying me that my annihilation as a homeowner is imminent. The combination of my non-payment and a certain time period have reacted chemically to trigger the fiduciary equivalent of a thermonuclear event, which can now only be aborted through swift action and consultation with experts.

I miss the world of humans. I’d like to tell them that the check is in the mail, but it’s not. There is no check. I entered the amounts, including the late penalty fee, in the online form and clicked Make Payments. Funds are being transferred electronically and automatically. Sometime soon. I hope.


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