20081211

Later Something Awful

In an attempt to complete a circle, he closed both of his bank accounts - checking and savings - at the same Wells Fargo branch in Berkeley where he'd opened them six years before, on a warm September morning with sap spitting down from the trees. Among the many things left unaccomplished in California, he had never learned the names of those trees. (The trees were in fact sycamores, and that "sap" a sugary substance called honeydew excreted by aphids. Basically bug shit.)

This was the first time he'd ever closed a bank account. In all the city shifting he'd done in his twenties, settling these accounts was always something left undone when it came time to leave and anyway what was the point of closing the account since you needed a check to open a new account in a new city, right? He really left those pittances behind because he wanted some part of himself to remain. When you leave a place, the place goes on and you fall away. Other people fill the rooms where you slept and ate and loved and fought and the streets forget your tread. And while money comes and mostly goes, a bank account is some kind of record, proof that you were there.

So you can imagine his shock the week before when he called his bank in Kansas City and found that in the seven years since he left, the institution had changed hands so many times that the lumpenbalance of his account had been blown from the ledgers, settling to over eastern Jackson County like so much chaff. And so his determination to leave no such ghosts behind in California.

Nancy, the pleasant assistant manager at the Wells Fargo, asked, a little sheepishly, if she could ask why he was closing his accounts. Her eyes widened perceptibly when he told her he was moving to New York. Moving to New York runs counter to prevailing logic in the Bay Area. This is particularly true in Berkeley where people are accustomed to hearing stories of New Yorkers who have finally come to their senses, fled, and found themselves gratefully enbosomed in what so many of the locals think of as (and one local television station used to gaspingly call) "The Best Place on Earth."

He told Nancy about the job he'd landed with a well-known Manhattan publishing concern. If you want to get anywhere in publishing, he said, you have to do some time in the Big Apple. This resulted in a shared shrug and a nod of their tilted heads.

Of course, he was lying to Nancy. There was no job waiting for him in New York. He had indeed sent the well-known publisher (and many others) his resume but had so far received only a Sixth Avenue breeze in response. For another thing, he'd already moved to New York almost six months before. Five months, two weeks and three days to be exact.

Nancy checked the computer, wrote the combined balance of his accounts on a piece of paper and slid it discreetly, almost conspiratorially, across the marble counter. He had never actually balanced either account, but there appeared to be about as much altogether as he remembered. When he said he'd take a check for $1,200 and the rest in cash, Nancy's eyes widened again. She asked him what kind of bills, and he said twenties would be fine.

As it turned out, that timid four after the comma was actually a nine, meaning that he walked out onto College Avenue with a nervous-making wad in twenty-dollar bills in his front pocket. As he stood looking down Ashby toward the bay, he felt like a character at the beginning of a story in which later something awful happens.

4 comments:

Doc said...

"Moving to New York runs counter to prevailing logic in the Bay Area."

Indeed...

Lee said...

And, in point of fact, to the prevailing winds.

Yancy said...

How do you figure that?

Lee said...

Go ask Alice.