A piece of mail came back to the Morning Job office, marked by the post office, "UNDELIVERABLE AT THIS ADDRESS." Jane gave the envelope to me: "See if you can solve this mystery."
The addressee was a man with whom I'd had some pretty intense dealings through Afternoon Job. Mr. S. owns property in Small Pond and lives in the shore region of another state. In 2005 he blew into town, handsome in his dark wavy hair and expensive suit, bought a building and established a business that should have taken off, but didn't, at least partly for lack of good management. In early 2009 he subdivided his Small Pond property. A year later he had a buyer for the newly-created parcel but couldn't sell it because, officially, it didn't exist as a separate piece of property: he had never filed the deed with the county clerk. Bill and I did what we could to help him understand the problem and how to fix it: by law, he would have to go through the subdivision process again. That isn't a lengthy process, as these things go, but it does take some time. Mr. S. was . . . unhappy.
I recall one telephone call from him that caused me to speak at increasing volume as I said, "Okay. Hold... Hold on... I think I have... Hold... Yes, I understand. Let me just get the file. Hold on... I'm waiting for you to stop talking so I can put you on hold and get the file!" The crash of the receiver into the cradle of my phone brought Bill's head around in a spin. When the wall shuddered as I heaved the file drawer closed, file in hand, Bill asked in alarm, "What's happening?" I told him who was on the phone and summarized Mr. S's behavior and character in a salty four-word sentence. Bill picked up the call, prepared to do the pouring-oil-on-troubled-waters that he does so well. Bill's end of the five-minute conversation was as halting and increasingly frustrated as mine had been. Afterward he showed me the piece of paper on which he had made a hash mark each time Mr. S. had called him a fucking asshole. There were thirty-eight of them.
We eventually ended up accomplishing the necessary process through a local representative for Mr. S., whose financial [and, I suspect, other aspects of his] life had crashed and was burning smokily. When the subdivision had been accomplished again and the deed filed, Mr. S. phoned, abjectly apologetic, and thanked Bill and me for our help, but his buyer had gone away in the elapsed time.
Yesterday I had a piece of mail for the man, and, in my old file, his telephone number. I didn't expect it to work, but he answered.
"Hey! Mark! It's June from Small Pond. How y'doin?"
"I've had better years."
We talked for a few minutes and then I explained about the mail. He gave me the new address, a post office box. He sounded so resigned, so downhearted, that I was moved to say, "Well, Mark . . . y'know . . . my husband's uncle used to say, 'A man who has been successful might fail, but he'll get on top again, because he has been there once, and knows how.'"
"I know some mistakes I won't make again."
"It'll get better. You're young. You've got plenty of time to get back on top."
Quietly, sincerely, he said, "You and Bill are good people."
It was about as good as a God Bless.
Stumbling Tthrough a Dark Wood
3 hours ago