The paper chase

On the surface, it’s easy to see how a big city like DC would differ from a small town like Walla Walla. (Hint: no tumbleweeds in DC.) And it’s probably not hard to identify areas of similarity. (They both have a lot of hot air.) And yet there are things that less identifiably, mark a place as its own, where the limitations of its geography, its people, its culture, draw lines over the topography, creating and precluding the universe as the residents know it.

Just as an example, one plucked out from the gazillions of vying possibilities, is how one disposes of large items, such as furniture. For people living in apartment buildings, trash chutes are right out, but so are Dumpster containers, usually because it’s illegal to clog them up with furnishings (mattresses may be an excepted item in some cases). In DC, one is supposed to call the city waste department and set the item on the curb for pickup, when they tell one to do so. In other words, people have to schedule their own trash removal.

When we were getting ready to move out of our District apartment and relocate across the entire country, we made a decision to leave behind a chair and some of our crappy IKEA furniture (sorry IKEA, but it’s true; your designers have never met a particleboard they didn’t like). The pressed wood collection could get broken down and put in the Dumpster, so that wasn’t a big deal, but we had an upholstered chair that wouldn’t be coming, either, and that was too damaged to sell at our yard sale. This thing, while still comfortable, really had been tasked as a collection spot for whatever clothes I stepped out of at the end of the day but that were still clean enough to wear another time. I hate that gray area of clothing, by the way. I’d rather my outfits smell only of detergent and not be mixed up with my vague scent, whatever the hell that is, and the odors of wherever I’ve been that day. Generally speaking, I don’t need any memory of deep-dish pizza three days after I’ve made the mistake of consuming it.

I called the city waste department, as I was legally obligated to do so, and told them I had a chair to discard. I wasn’t expecting them to be happy about it, but the clerk on the phone seemed pleased enough that anyone gave enough of a crap to follow the city procedure. She gave me a date with chair death and I marked my calendar. So imagine my surprise when I headed out to my car for work the next morning after setting out the poor chair.

There was a note pinned to it. A nastygram, for me.

I don’t remember much what it said anymore, but it was angry, and reading it made me angry, too. It was a magnet to angry—something about me needing to take the chair to the garbage container in the back of the building and not littering here on the street. I looked around. The chair was still on the grass—the treelawn, as Ohioans call it—so it wasn’t impeding any sidewalk traffic. It certainly wasn’t littering. And the note, such as it was, held illegal instructions. Certainly I could clear this up with just a little edification-slash-clarifications. “Cations” were definitely needed here.

Already called for DC Waste to pick up. Leaving in Dumpster is illegal in DC.

Inside of three minutes and the horrible crawl toward my office, I forgot all about the pissed off note.

I came home and the chair was still there, even though the garbage had been cleared. Maybe DC didn’t have enough room in their truck? It had rained at some point that day, and the chair looked particularly forlorn. It also still had its note with my addendum, but it now bore a new codicil:

Move this fucking chair to the garbage.

Whoa. Seriously, I couldn’t believe someone would throw a gasket over this. All of the trials in the world and this little off-white, ugly flower print chair is the cause of such distress? How about the tsunami victims? That we were in Iraq, killing and dying by the thousands? How about Robert Downey Jr.’s drug troubles? Go tilt at those windmills, angry person! And I had already said leaving it in the Dumpster wasn’t kosher. I looked around at the windows to my apartment building and the one across from us, with which we shared a walkway off the street. Paranoia crept into my arteries, flooding my brain with terrible ideas, and the fear that they were watching me right now, read their evil missive. It was like a Poe story, and I could hear my own blood flow. I reached for a pen in my bag, and wrote on the wet paper about what they could do with and to themselves.

A couple of mornings later, the chair had been thrown in the Dumpster. DC came along and took all of it with their next pickup. I had been totally irrelevant to the process, whatever process there was. But I did take it as a sign that it was time to leave DC.

Fastforward to our stint here in Seattle. It is a continent away from DC. The drivers in each commute of the day are just as awful, and hampered by a strange stitching of on ramps and exits that make I-5 more of a crawling experience than a commuting one. But overall the people are much less prone to being nasty and uptight. Although it’s counter-intuitive, it seems to be due in part to all the caffeine they consume here, but I’m not an expert, of course.

Twelve days into living here, our phone rang, and it was the circulation department of the Seattle Times newspaper. Now, I am a big fan of newspapers, because they’re active organizations that don’t know they’re extinct yet. I’ve also stood in front of the old Washington Post presses on H Street—they’re no longer there, sorry to say—and to watch a newspaper press the size of a city block is an experience every person should have, because it is amazing. It’s the real steampunk, right there: all those knobs and cylinders and gears and moving metal, each part producing its own little noise that together, creates a symphony of sound and then! Then there is a folded series of paper all together, at the end.

I also firmly believe that reading a city’s paper is to catch a glimpse of what that city is about. Of course things are prioritized by editors and reporters, but what there is to tell comes out of the city itself, which people are here and which words they emanate, and why these stories were picked for the telling—I enjoy parsing through all of that. And then I’ll hunt for the unsaid and the untold, and the alternative version. But I do like to start with the paper.

So I said yes to the caller, send me your paper at the Sunday price only, and I’ll be happy to add a tick mark to your sales for the week. I gave him the address, he who now sounded really super pleased that somebody said yes to him, and to the frown on the face of my wife, who would never read a newspaper on actual paper if she could read it online for free. I don’t think she ever watched the WP press machine.

Now then, I’ve been staying up late these days, writing, getting in my daily dose of Bejeweled Blitz, and reading up on the publishing market, so I haven’t been waking very early. Maybe 8:30 or 9. Then I’m banging out blog posts, checking through email, doing my grant writing work, and later, taking my shower, probably around 10 or 11. I write all of this down not so my mother will know when it isn’t a good time to call, but to explain that for the betterment of the common area in my apartment building, I like to stay inside until I’m freshened up, or at least showered and smelling vaguely of pizza. So I might not reach for the Seattle Times until noon.

Three times now, it hasn’t been out there. Someone has been stealing my paper.

When I realized this, I took some time to digest it. For some while, people have been living here and making their way with no physical newspaper in their midst. Nobody gets the Times except me, because only one ever appears (I have been up early enough to hear the delivery on a couple of days). So for all these many weeks, months, and years, people have gone about their business, and then one day, a newspaper shows up. What about that change in their universe tells them it’s okay to abscond with it? It clearly isn’t theirs. On what basis or set of expectations that I don’t know about do they then make off with my paper?

I felt the sting of that angry chair note all over again. It seized me, like a masked marauder, demanding my negative emotion, and I handed gobs of it over. Thinking about what I would do all day, yesterday, my chance spoiled for knowing what wine Seattlites were talking about, the list of Wednesday night movie times all over the city, the latest comic from Non Sequitur, I glowered and grumbled, and finally, at long last, wrote a note. And I was, in my opinion, beyond polite:

Please stop stealing my paper. If you want one, you should subscribe. Thanks.

I said please and thank you. I was moderately shaming, yes, but I gave the thief another option for better behavior (subscribing) and I gave a thumbs up to the circulation department (subscribing again). I hoped this wouldn’t start another feud. I taped my note to the front door at 9:30PM, then sneaked back into my apartment.

This morning, I got up at 8, threw on some sweats and a ball cap, and went to the door, trying not to flinch in anticipation of anger magnet.

The sign was gone. My paper was there.

This is Seattle.

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8 Comments on “The paper chase”

  1. August 19, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Love the detail in this. The actual wording of the notes makes it pop. And the printing press as steampunk–yay! I think you may be on to something there. If newspapers had video of presses in the sidebar of their online content, I might actually long for paper.

  2. evmaroon
    August 19, 2010 at 9:16 am #

    I’m not a fan of getting ink on my hands, but in most other respects, I greatly prefer printed newspaper to reading it online. I spent years learning to fold the paper so I could read it on public transit, and I don’t want that skill to go unused and atrophy! Glad you liked this post; I have a few in my notebook that need to go up next. And I’ll be trying out my first podcast next week. Have you done a podcast?

  3. MsOfficer
    August 19, 2010 at 9:41 am #

    lol ikea definitely is a hellhole:

    http://msofficer.com/2010/08/13/4002-reasons-why-you-should-hate-ikea/

    http://twitter.com/msofficer

  4. evmaroon
    August 19, 2010 at 9:47 am #

    Actually when we moved out of that DC apartment, one of the movers gave us a wry smile and quipped, “So when IKEA needs to make a new catalog, do they just call you?” I’m happy to say at least half of our furniture now was not designed in Sweden.

  5. August 22, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    I am currently being perplexed by the difference between SEATTLE and BELLINGHAM so the DC chair story alarms and confuses me. In Bellingham, you just put whatever you want out on your yard/near the sidewalk with a sign that says “FREE. PLEASE TAKE MY JUNK” and somebody will probably eventually take it. College students are good for that.

    • evmaroon
      August 22, 2010 at 10:24 am #

      I’ll just note that in DC, there are a LOT of younger interns and staffers on Capitol Hill who really, really, seriously are gravely concerned with appearances, and having a moldering, floral print armchair sitting on the sidewalk does not add to their je ne sais quoi when they bring people over. So I presume the angry note-writer was one of those folks. No college students in that part of town, unfortunately!

      • evmaroon
        August 22, 2010 at 10:34 am #

        Also, thanks for stopping by, Keffy! I really liked what you read last night. Good stuff.

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