Jul 022024

Here’s another blog post from my days publishing small town newspapers

Back during my newspaper days on the Pacific Northwest coast, my headquarters was in Aberdeen, Washington, in Grays Harbor, which is located at the bottom of the Olympic Peninsula. Aberdeen is an old seaport and lumber mill town, and Gray’s Harbor is the largest natural deep water port north of San Francisco, and there is a lot of history there.

A young man named Billy would come by once a week, wanting to wash the windows in our office. Billy only charged a dollar or two, and he was a very nice man and a hard worker. He was developmentally disabled, but that never slowed him down a bit. Every Wednesday, right on schedule, Billy was there with his bucket, sponge, and his rags, ready to go to work. One week Billy came just as I was going out the door, and I handed him five dollars to do the windows. He said it was only two dollars, and I told him to keep it. This offended Billy. He handed the money back to me and said, “I don’t take charity, and I don’t want no more than what I earned.”

The women who worked in the office took a shine to Billy because he was always such a gentle soul, and when someone asked where he lived, they discovered he was sleeping in an abandoned house without any utilities because the abandoned car he had been living in had been towed away. That just was not acceptable, so they decided that they had to remedy that situation. At one time the building that housed the newspaper office had been a saloon and brothel, back during the wild and crazy seaport days (that’s an entirely different story I will tell you about someday), and there were eight small rooms on the second floor that had been the cribs for the working girls. They sat empty except for being used for storage, and the girls decided to clean one of them for Billy. It wasn’t fancy by any means, but it was warm and dry, and there was a bathroom down the hall.

As I said before, Billy had pride and wouldn’t take something for nothing, so he insisted he had to work to earn his keep. That was fine with me, and I told him that he could wash my car and pickup and the delivery van. He was meticulous about it and kept all three vehicles looking better than they did the day they came off the showroom floor. Billy also took it upon himself to clean the office every day and did a great job.

However, this was somewhat problematic because Billy may have had a good heart, but he was totally lacking in personal hygiene. So the girls had to explain to him that he had to take a bath and they gave him a bottle of cologne. The next morning he came downstairs looking clean and polished, but he reeked of cologne. Laurel, the office manager, asked him how much he had put on, and he told her the whole bottle. Okay, Billy, time for another bath!

My wife at the time was pregnant, and she usually went to the printers, about 30 miles away, to get every issue printed. Loading bundles of newspapers into the van was becoming difficult for her, so I asked Billy to go with her and do the loading. He was happy to have more responsibility.

Over time, Billy began doing more and more things around the office, and I decided we should put him on the payroll, which was fine with him as long as he was earning the money and it wasn’t a handout.

When the first payday came around, I handed Billy his check, and he asked what it was. I told him it was his pay for the week, and he asked, “Don’t I get any money?” Laurel explained to Billy that he needed to take the check to the bank and cash it, which he didn’t understand. So one of the girls in the production department took him to the bank, where Billy opened a checking account. That turned out to be a very bad thing. That hundred dollars was the most money Billy had ever had, and he thought the was rich.

Just as Billy didn’t understand that his paycheck was the same as money, when they told him that the checks were just like money and he could go to the store and buy things, that’s what Billy did.

You have to understand, this was in 1981 in a small town where everybody knew everybody. There was no such thing as bank cards, and no one ever asked for identification when you purchased something with a check. In fact, most banks had counter checks that you could just pick up and fill out when you needed cash. By the middle of the next week, our office phone started ringing off the hook. One store after another was calling to say that Billy had bounced checks. A lot of checks!

I went upstairs to his little room and knocked on the door, and when Billy opened it I thought I had walked into a Circuit City or Best Buy. He had two television sets, a VCR, a boombox, and two bicycles. He also had four or five pairs of new shoes, almost as many cowboy boots,  and a bunch of new clothes. The room had been small to start with, but now it was full! I asked Billy where he got everything, and he said he bought it. Knowing the answer even before I asked him where he got all the money, I wasn’t surprised when he said he didn’t need money, he had checks.

My office manager, my wife, and I spent the rest of that day and most of the next hauling things back to stores, explaining the situation, apologizing on Billy’s behalf, and then closing his checking account. After that, Billy got paid in cash. It just seemed to work out better that way.

And finally, here’s a chuckle to start your day from the collection of funny signs we see in our travels and that our readers share with us.

Thought For The Day – Camping is nature’s way of promoting the motel business.

Nick Russell

World-Famous, New York Times Best Selling Author, and All-Around Nice Guy!

  3 Responses to “Newspaper Days – Billy’s Checking Account”

  1. To quote ex wife, motels are just camping without room service.

  2. Your story about Billy hits home for me. My younger nephew was adopted from Russia and has some effects of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome from his birth mother drinking during the pregnancy. In many ways, he is quite intelligent, probably better than most people at retaining historical facts and spelling and is a voracious reader. However, he has very little concept of money or that there is a difference between a $1.00 bill and a $20.00 bill. As I know his parents will not live forever and do not want him to be a burden to his siblings, I have been concerned that he would be “ripped off” once he got out on his own (he just turned 21 a couple months ago). I was so relieved when my sister said they have already spoken to a lawyer about setting up a conservatorship for him.

  3. Billy sounds like a sweet man. Glad you all found a way to help him out.

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