Herbert and the Bank

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Rain drenched Herbert as he buckled Lee and Tom into the backseat of the station wagon. They were finishing a fight they started in the house and held their fists in front of their faces as Herbert had taught them.

“Put those away,” Herbert said. “Fists are only to be used as a last resort. Haven’t we—what did I just say Tom? Put that away, and don’t think I don’t see you, Lee. We talked about this before. Now, what happened?”

“He started it,” Lee said and balled his hand into a fist. Herbert grabbed Lee’s fist and Lee yelped. Lee pulled his hand free and stuck his tongue out at Tom. “He started it!”

“Did not. Lee did. Dad, look, he has a fist again!”

“Stop it,” Herbert said as his voice rose and cracked. Herbert grabbed Tom’s hand and snapped the seatbelt into the clasp. “If we don’t get going, I’m going to be late. I don’t want to hear a peep out of either of you until we get home.” Herbert held out his pointer finger first toward Tom and then Lee. When they each looked away, Herbert closed the back door and entered through the driver’s door. Herbert started the car and pulled out of the driveway into the cul de sac.

“He’s doing it again,” Tom said.

“I’m not touching him,” Lee said.

“Look, dad. His fist is like an inch off my nose. Tell him to stop,” Tom said.

“It’s not a fist. It’s a talking hand. ‘Lee’s not touching Tom,’” Lee said without moving his lips, his thumb and fingers opening and closing. “‘It’s just me, Mr. Fingers, and I can be anywhere I want.’”

“Dad, make him stop,” Tom said.

Herbert turned on the radio. K-Rock was in the middle of a Metallica afternoon, and Herbert turned up the volume. The bass shook the car and the talking in the backseat stopped. Herbert drove out of the gated community and waved at the guard. He pulled onto Leaf Avenue, which led to South Apple Road. When he stopped for the stop sign at the corner of South Apple Road and Westheimer Avenue, he glanced over his shoulder. Tom was playing on his Gameboy, and Lee was picking his nose. He must have found a big one, because most of Lee’s finger was gone. Herbert turned onto Westheimer Avenue.

“Ew. Lee’s picking his nose again,” Tom said.

“Am not,” Lee said.

“Are too,” Tom said.

“That’s enough of that,” Herbert said. He turned off the radio. “No more picking your nose, Lee, and no more tattling, Tom. We’re almost at the bank, and when we get there, I’m not to hear a peep out of either of you.” Herbert stopped at the red light and twisted around until he saw the boys. Tom played with his Gameboy and Lee kicked the passenger’s seat in front of him. “That’s better. Remember: practice now, because when we get there, not a peep.”

Herbert made a U-turn at the corner of Westheimer Avenue and Gessner and pulled into the bank’s strip mall. He parked the car two spots away from the door and turned off the car. Lee and Tom unbuckled their seatbelts and scrambled out of the car’s doors. “Hold your brother’s hand,” Herbert said. Herbert walked into the bank.

Only a few people were in the bank, and Herbert walked over the center information desk. A stubby man sat at the desk scribbling numbers on a ledger. He finished the numbers, ran his pen down the columns of numbers, and looked up at Herbert. “May I help you,” the stubby man asked.

“I’m here to see Mr. Calvin, the loan officer,” Herbert said. “I have an appointment. My name is Herbert Turny. That’s T-U-R-N-Y.”

The stubby man looked Herbert up and down. “Please wait here,” the stubby man said.

Herbert smiled dumbly and nodded. He glanced back and saw Tom and Lee, still holding hands, in a squeezing contest. Lee’s face was red and he bent backwards under the pressure. Tom leaned over Lee, a triumphant smile on his face. “Stop it,” Herbert whispered. “What did I say about the bank? Tom, let go of Lee’s hand right now.” They released the shake. “Go sit over there in the waiting room. If I have to come out for any reason, you’re both going to get it when we get home.”

Tom and Lee skipped over to the leather chairs near the entrance. They sat down and grabbed each other’s hands, resuming their battle. Herbert looked away. The stubby man returned to the information desk and sat down. He picked up the ledger and wrote down more numbers. After he added two more columns, Herbert cleared his throat. When the stubby man didn’t respond, Herbert cleared his throat louder. “Um, excuse me, sir. Will Mr. Calvin see me now?” Herbert asked.

The stubby man marked a carry on the column and pushed his pen into the carry mark before looking up. He looked Herbert up and down. “Mr. Calvin is busy,” the stubby man said.

Herbert nodded, but the stubby man had already returned to his ledger. Herbert’s hand rested on the information desk and he waited. He heard laughing from the chairs but didn’t turn around. Herbert’s fingers patted the desk in a wave, starting with his pinky through his forefinger, and then back to his pinky. After a few times, the stubby man looked up.

“He might be a while,” the stubby man said.

“But I had an appointment at two, and it’s now,” Herbert lifted his watch and pointed to it, “it’s now two fifteen.”

The stubby man nodded and returned to his ledger.

Herbert’s nostrils flared and he leaned toward the stubby man. When the stubby man didn’t look up, Herbert walked over to the leather chairs. Tom and Lee’s fingers curled together, their thumbs jousting and reaching.

“What are you doing?” Herbert demanded.

“Thumb wrestling,” Lee said. Tom took advantage of the distraction and pinned the nail of Lee’s thumb against his knuckle. Lee managed to slips his thumb out from under Tom’s thumb.

“What did I tell you about sitting here quietly,” Herbert asked. “I’m waiting for an important appointment with the loan officer, and all you guys are doing is creating trouble.”

Lee lifted his arm to create an angle at Tom’s thumb and struck. Tom pulled his thumb out to the side and avoided the pin.

Herbert grabbed their hands and pulled them apart. “Are you even listening to me,” Herbert asked. “I’m talking to you.”

“We’re listening, dad,” Lee said. “We were in the middle of the third game of a best of three and I was about to win.”

“Were not,” Tom said. “I had you right where I wanted you.”

“Not in a million years,” Lee said.

“What did I just say,” Herbert asked. “Now we’re going to sit here quietly and wait for the loan officer.” Herbert grabbed Lee’s right hand and Tom’s left hand. He sat in the chair and when either tried to make a sound, he squeezed their hands.

A thin lady walked over to the stubby man and said something to him. From the leather char, Herbert was unable to hear the conversation. The stubby man pointed over to Herbert and the thin lady nodded. Herbert waved, but neither the stubby man nor the thin lady responded. She walked away and the stubby man returned to his ledger.

Ten minutes later, the stubby man walked toward Herbert. Herbert started to rise, but the stubby man stopped at one of the teller’s window, which was on the way to the chairs. Herbert sat back down and watched the stubby man chat with the teller. Their conversation didn’t last long, but the stubby man remained at the teller’s window. He seemed to be talking, but the teller wasn’t responding. The stubby man said something, waved his hand at the teller as if to say ‘stop it,’ and turned and walked toward Herbert.

Herbert released the boys’ hands, both of which were red, and stood up.

“Mr. Calvin will see you now,” the stubby man said. “Please follow me.”

“Now, stay here,” Herbert said to the boys. “I don’t want you causing any trouble. I’ll be right back, and if you cause any ruckus, any ruckus, I’ll be back here in a second, and you’ll have to deal with me when I get home. Do you understand me?” Both boys nodded, and Herbert jogged a bit to catch up to the stubby man.

***

Sure, the writing was infantile but at least I wrote something that wasn’t a complaint. Isn’t that worth something? Anything?

From where I’m sitting, I see rock bottom approaching at high speeds. I’ve spent the last week complaining about everything that I could think of. The thing about complaining (and, as I’ve said many times, there are always things about everything) is that one can complain for only so long before running out of material. Sure, I could and have repeated myself until I’m blue in the face, but the discussion grows incessant and dreary, and I can’t stand dreariness.

It’s not as if I don’t know what I have to do. I repeat it often enough and by now, if I haven’t drilled the instructions deep into my nickel-imprinted brain, I don’t think I’ll ever figure it out. I write these missives because I want to write something, and if I have nothing to write about, I consternate to produce words. Why do I want to write? There’s the million-dollar question. I wrote previously about a need. Is it an imagined need? A if you will wishful need? Perhaps. I’ve returned to my earlier days of staring at a blank page, only this time, I’m not so much as staring as running away from.

I was about to write how much easier it would be to start creating, to pluck an idea from somewhere and run with it. I would have referred to the week before the Marathon (again), where anything I thought, I turned into writing. Maybe it was the 2k goal each day, the knowledge that I was going to sit there and write and write until I achieved it, so I might as well write a story since that’s probably the easiest way to get there. (Even with all my consternating skills, writing 2k words of consternations are a feat in and of themselves.)

What’s the solution? Perhaps I have to return to shooting for 2k words a day again. I’m running out of ideas. My prodding isn’t working. My planning is certainly not working. I have too many distractions waiting for me at home: sewcrates redesign, video games, cleaning the Castle, sitting on my hands, Netflix, reading.

There it is again. I decide to write another story, and the flash of pain hits. It’s a discouraging pain. It convinces me not to do it, to pack it up. My wrists are hurting and there are too many words to write. And the demon Carl wants me home for supper. Did I mention I was tired, fatigued, I worked hard today and I need a break from the computer and typing words. Do you see how easily the excused roll off my fingers? Do you see how little effort is involved in giving them, how little OT?

When I sat down to write today, I had an idea and I even had a character’s name: Herbert. I wanted to write a few short paragraphs about Herbert and his kids, and Herbert’s interaction with a banker, showing how Herbert went from king of his kingdom, to serf of the bank. And just writing that synopsis opened, while not the flood banks, at least a small trickle through which the “story” above escaped. I guess I should be thankful for small miracles. And for the record, this is word number 2,001 (yeah, many of those words are dreadful consternations, but it’s better than nothing, right?).