The photo is from 1978. My son, his truck. Behind him, my truck.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Bill (Part Three)

Wednesday, April 3, 1996

Every day we check the mail for college news, envelopes fat or thin.  So far my daughter has received two fat, two thin, but the most important two have not arrived.  Meanwhile I secretly wonder how we will pay.

Today's mail brings neither fat nor thin for my daughter, but green for me.  Scholastic, my publisher, has sent a check of $1890 representing my royalties for the last six months.  I don't need college-level math to figure that for half a year my earnings as an author amounted to $10 a day.

Most of the afternoon I'm finishing a project from yesterday, crawling around under a house sistering joists to rotten ones that I have soaked with poison.  For two days I get paid $1153, of which $804 is profit.

It's pretty clear that poison and muscle, not pencil and paper, will pay for whichever fat envelope is eventually chosen. 

So in the evening I check out a rotten shower for a nice doctor lady, Michelle, in Woodside who specializes in treating alcoholics.  She gives me tea and says contractors are the second worst group of alcoholics - postal workers are first, though unlike contractors, postal workers won't maim themselves and will never lose their jobs.  Then she asks what I "really" do.  I get this question a lot. 

"I write novels and poetry and songs."

"Are they funny?"


"Who reads all that sad stuff?  I deal with sad people all day long."

"I tell you what.  When I do this job, I'll whistle happy songs.  All I ask in return is that you pay me on time."

"It's a deal.  And will you write me a song?  Enclose it with my invoice?"

"I'll give you a poem.  Songs cost extra."

"You plumbers are so expensive!"

Your Payment Is Overdue

The plumber wears a white coat
Clean as a boat;
Spins the wrench with a flick of the wrist;
Your pipes are kissed.
On his hands are white gloves
Soft as doves.
With holy water your faucet he blesses.
He never guesses.
He knows how to fix the stubborn toilet:
He simply oils it.
He's handsome, he's smart, his smile is sunny.
Please give him the money.


  1. Unhappy postal workers might not -- unlike construction workers -- maim themselves on the job, but there's a reason the phrase "going postal" found a home in our cultural vernacular...