For use: Friday, May 18, 2001

 Future Shoes  "Red Wheelbarrow"

I was looking for my wheelbarrow when the phone rang. So much depends on a red wheelbarrow, when it's spring and all. And you would think you could not misplace something as obvious as a wheelbarrow the color of a stop sign. 

I looked everywhere: front yard, back yard, garage, that little narrow corridor between the garage and the next property (there should be a word for that -- crawlway?). OK, that's not everywhere, but those places were the prime suspects. I was just coming to grips with the notion that the wheelbarrow was gone -- stolen -- when the phone rang inside the house.

"Hello, Mr. Finley, this is Judy from the bank. Are you aware that your checking account is overdrawn?"

"It is? Oh, dear." I overdraw three or four times a year. But they usually send me one of those awful thin letters with the cellophane window. A phone call seemed to be rubbing it in. And did I just say "Oh, dear"?

"I'm afraid so, Mr. Finley. Did you recently write a check for $138,950.00? To Office Max?"

I thought back. I didnít recall writing a check in that amount.

"Ach -- someone forged my signature on a check," I cried into the receiver. "Someone bought $138,950 worth of office supplies with my money!" I was beside myself, which was convenient.

"Possibly," said the bank office. "But it looks like your name is signed with a rubber stamp."

That wasn't good. I own a rubber stamp with my signature on it. For check-signing day, the 5th day of every month.

"Hold on," I said, booting up Quicken, my handy-dandy financial data tool. Scanning the check register, I saw recent checks written in the amounts of $24.99 (newspaper), $34.95 (bottled water), $138,950 (office supplies), and $12(class pictures for my kid).

Whoah, back up there. There it was. I had made out, and signed (or stamped) my signature on a check for $138,950 to Office Max. The only notation I made on the check was: "Lexmark carts."

I had sent all that money to Office Max for four ink-jet cartridges (three black and white, one color).

"Um, I think that's a mistake," I said.

"Pretty big one," said the officer.

I asked her if it was possible to stop payment on the check. "Well, we already paid it. That's why youíre overdrawn by $137,632.41."

"Well, what can I do about this?"

"What would you like to do?"

"I'd like to get my money back, so I donít have to explain this to my wife," I said.

"If I were you, I'd call Office Max."

Which is what I did. I got hold of someone in customer service, and poured out my whole stupid story, how I don't see things that are up close so good, a problem I compound when I don't proofread things as important as checks, and I evidently entered a comma (138,950) instead of a period (138.95) and didnít stop to read the check, or glance at my check register. And could I have my money back?

No one at Office Max had flagged the check for $138,950 as anything unusual. Theyíre a Kmart subsidiary, you know.

But she said sure, all I had to do was write her a letter explaining the screw-up and including a new check, made out in the amount of $138.95.

Well, I'm here to tell you I learned a big lesson that day about security and such. Rachel never did find out, either, which is just the way I like these things.

But I still had the matter of the wheelbarrow.

It was a bad wheelbarrow, with a tire that wouldn't stay inflated and handles wrapped in shredded duct tape in a failed effort to keep the wood from giving you splinters. The only identifying mark I had on it was the wear and tear of being left out in the cold eight winters in a row. The actual body of the thing was more or less immaculate; all it ever did was fill with rain.

But here's the deal. Someone was running a stolen wheelbarrow ring on Saint Paul's west side, sneaking up to the sides of garages in the dead of night and making off with lawn implements. Wheelbarrows, fertilizer spreaders, weedwhackers and god knows what all else. 

You donít feel safe anymore. Worse, it makes you wonder about people.

  Copyright (c) 2001 by Michael Finley

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Future Shoes
COPYRIGHT (c) 2001

The Red Wheelbarrow

so much depends

a red wheel

glazed with rain

beside the white

William Carlos Williams 

Copyright © 1962 by William Carlos Williams. Used with permission of New Directions Publishing Corporation. All rights reserved. No part of this poem may be reproduced in any form without the written consent of the publisher.

reader feedback

The part about the check reminds me of an incident, circa '83. One Friday, a coworker discovered a couple extra zeros in his paycheck. It wasn't enough to consider attempting to cash it and then catching the next flight to Rio, but it was enough to get the payroll folks in trouble for not catching the error.

The wheelbarrow story prompts other thoughts. Here in the Midway, we have a guy who drives up and down the alleys collecting scrap metal. Lately he's been stopping by frequently -- my neighbor is clearing out, and Harry often has a cast iron something or a bucket of copper wires for the scrap man. When I'm outside with the garage door open, the scrap man casts a longing eye at my stuff and asks when I'm going to start spring cleaning. At some point, I'm guessing, your red wheelbarrow stopped looking so red and made it into the scrap truck. Different neighbors have stories about losing things to the scrap man, so when we moved in, we were warned not to put ambiguous things near the alley.

Speaking of ambiguous things and the scrap truck, did you catch Nightline Wednesday night? The had a producer and crew follow an internet start up, (I think). Just the fact that I can't exactly remember the name doesn't bode well for them. Anyway, part 2 is Thursday night.

Warning: Cheap Shot Ahead.

William Carlos Williams on growing old: So much Depends . . . .


Mr. K.,, this is visa security, did you spend 240.00 at the radisson South last weekend?, "yes, I sure did" Did you spend 48.00 at Fridays Resturaunt, "indeed" Did you spent 7,500.00 in the United Arab Emerates on silver ware? last tuesday. A, ah, Let me check with Lauri. No mam I don't believe we did. " she continued , did you spend 6,900.00 on jewelry in the United Arab Emerates,?" No mam quite sure. She then asked if I had any knowledge of the U.A.E. and I memtioned that I am a student of geography and beleive that the capitol is Abu Dahabi. "You're quite right" she replied "all 15,000 of these charges were all made in Abu Daubi. She said, " tear up your cards we'll send you some new ones!"


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