I Lose My Cool and Get It Back

Getting paid well for my work is really nice. Having that money go missing when I’m counting on it, not so much.

Earlier this year, I was offered a job managing a new website for a large company. It was a big job–many hours a month–but with a nice monthly payment just at the time we needed it to finance our move and the improvements to our house needed to rent or sell it. All had been going well since then.

But then, as our move approached, I faced the same question for each of my clients: Given the time lag between when I send in an invoice and when I get paid, should I put my old address or my new one on the invoice? (Some readers may know that we don’t have a new place to live yet–the new address is a post office box in Lake Stevens where our good friends live.)

I’ve been working for the company that publishes the website for more than a decade. In all that time, no invoice has taken longer than four weeks to get paid. It was a big check and we needed the money soon, so on August 12, knowing we wouldn’t leave before September 15, it seemed like a no-brainer to have the payment sent to my Woodstock address.

It seemed like a slightly worse idea on September 14 when the check still hadn’t arrived and I dropped a short note to my contact to ask if the payment had hit a glitch. Payments from the company are “net 45,” she responded, and these days were taking even longer than that. Net 45? It had never taken me that long to get paid. But it was taking us longer than expected to get ourselves packed up, and I could wait another 13 days.

On September 26, with still no check and knowing we’d be leaving in a week or so, I emailed my contact again. Would it be possible to have the check sent to the new address instead? Maybe it had already been mailed, she responded, but if not she would. When we left eight days later and the check still hadn’t come, I figured it had gone on to Washington and didn’t worry about it. Since all other checks were either accounted for or invoiced with a Washington address, and since our departure was singularly disorganized, I hadn’t worried too much about changing our address in a huge hurry. On the other hand, my P.O. box rental had been due October 1. I was away that day so Bill picked up my mail and paid the rental–with a plan to close down the box and get most of the payment refunded before we left.

Wednesday, I flew to San Francisco for the ASJA board meeting and conference. On Friday morning, having taken an online look at how our bank account was dwindling, I wanted to make extra sure that the big check had gone to Washington. So I sent another quick email asking for confirmation. She wrote back immediately to tell me that–so it turned out–accounting was required to send a payment to the address on the original invoice, so that’s where it had gone. So sorry she hadn’t told me sooner.

That threw me into something of a panic. The big check–the one we were counting on to pay the multi-thousand moving bill for our container of things that we sent ahead, along with lots of other debts–had gone to a P.O. box that was cancelled? What would the post office do with that mail? Return to sender? Route it to limbo? Would we ever see that money?

It was early morning, California time–I’d awakened before dawn thanks to jet lag–and I had to stop what I was doing and hurry down to the hotel lobby or miss the shuttle to the ASJA conference that day. Frustrated, I stomped into the bathroom, slamming the door behind me hard enough to shake the walls. My makeup bag, which I’d set on the only available spot, the back of the toilet, slowly keeled over and tumbled into the toilet. Of course it was open and all my makeup (which admittedly is pretty minimal) dispersed into the water.This resulted in about as much cursing as you might imagine.

Later that morning, I texted Bill, still in a financial terror tizzy. He told me calmly that 1) He’d made sure to leave the P.O. box in place for the moment till we knew that forwarding was underway, and 2) that he would mail our mailbox key to our friend Gordon who’s both contractor and caretaker for our house and Gordon would retrieve the check and deposit it in the bank for us. Crisis solved. Lipstick soaked unnecessarily. I felt pretty relieved, and pretty stupid.

That afternoon, I felt like I needed a break. I also felt, in my post-presidential state, more entitled to play hooky from ASJA doings than ever before. The conference was fantastic–I never would have left if I was looking for writing work, but I’m turning work away these days. So I snuck out of the conference a bit early and bailed on dinner with other board members. I’d found out that Friday was women-only day at the baths in Japantown, and one of my fondest memories from an earlier San Francisco visit was an afternoon spent chatting, soaking in the hot bath, and making quick visits to the cold bath (one after the other is highly relaxing) and slower visits to the sauna.

So I walked up San Francisco’s hilly streets to the Japan Center, and the baths were even more wonderful than I remembered. I think they may have gotten an upgrade in the decades since my last visit. Finances be damned, I splurged on a massage after a bunch of soaking, then crawled into the sauna, then lay on one of the of the wooden benches until I realized that if I didn’t get up and go back to the hotel soon I wouldn’t have the energy to ever leave. Mmmm…

The following day I went back to the conference and then went to bed at 9 pm so I could rise at 3 and catch a 4 a.m. van to the airport for a 6:20 flight back to Cleveland and life in a van.

Image: Karl Baron/Creative Commons

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