The report was this: that Bartleby had been a subordinate clerk in the Dead Letter Office at Washington, from which he had been suddenly removed by a change in the administration. When I think over this rumor, I cannot adequately express the emotions which seize me. Dead letters! does it not sound like dead men? Conceive a man by nature and misfortune prone to a pallid hopelessness, can any business seem more fitted to heighten it than that of continually handling these dead letters and assorting them for the flames? For by the cart-load they are annually burned. Sometimes from out the folded paper the pale clerk takes a ring:—the finger it was meant for, perhaps, moulders in the grave; a bank-note sent in swiftest charity:—he whom it would relieve, nor eats nor hungers any more; pardon for those who died despairing; hope for those who died unhoping; good tidings for those who died stifled by unrelieved calamities. On errands of life, these letters speed to death. — Herman Melville, “Bartleby the Scrivener,” 1853.
As I have mentioned before, I Get Letters. It comes from being, I suppose, On The Grid. I have a mortgage, I own cars, I have a driver’s license and a Social Security number and thirty years’ worth of 1040s on file somewhere. My father used to, and my sister still does, have some kind of top level DoD clearance (I KNOW NOTHING). I am extremely easy to track down.
<discursus>Sometimes I am pretend-scared that my academic research online will flag me for scrutiny as I am just today starting to teach a unit on Religion and Violence in the Middle East, and I read a lot of Frederick Engels when I’m teaching Carlyle and Dickens. But, academic freedom, and all. I may be a cynic but I’m not a fool. I know what I study and teach and I know that anyone, even the stereotypical NSA snoop with the enormous headphones could figure it out by looking at my LinkedIn profile. (Oh, see, she teaches that stuff at college.) </discursus>
So it is completely understandable that every business entity with whom I or my husband ever had any dealings whatsoever can find me. I haven’t changed my email or my cell phone number in twenty years, or my address in sixteen. I’ve had the same work email for going on thirteen years. In a way this is good. Businesses can reach me. In a way this is terrible. Businesses who have his old cell phone number (disconnected); his gmail address (terminated); his Amex Gold Card (superceded), etc. associated with some account or other seem to spend any number of months trying these dead-ends futilely until they get all completely, legalistically, panties-in-a-bunch and send a registered letter to my address: Dear Dead Person.
Yesterday’s went like this (Paraphrased for Comic Effect):
Dear Dead Person:
When you signed up for your E-Z-State-Toll-Pay-Tag, you agreed to keep a minimum balance of $15. Your account balance has been below this minimum for a period of 138 weeks. Repeated efforts to charge the credit card on file have failed. You have not responded to any prior notifications. Accordingly, you have been charged a $25 administrative fee which has been sent, along with $28 in miscellaneous charges and fees, to A-1 Collection agency (otherwise known as “The First One In the Phone Book Listing.”) If you do not remit the $53 before May 1, 2016, your credit score could suffer.
Additionally, if you continue to use the E-Z-State-Toll-Pay-Tag, you can be charged with violations and additional fees. YOUR ACCOUNT CAN NOT BE REINSTATED. Any use of this account constitutes fraud and motor vehicle violations. You should just have kept sending us money and going over that toll bridge to that job even after you were dead, and none of this would have happened.
P.S. We have traffic camera photos of your license plate. DON’T EVEN TRY IT.
The paper on which this missive is printed is bordered with a thin green margin which repeats the word IMPORTANT over and over; IMPORTANT IMPORTANT IMPORTANT.
Death by a thousand paper cuts.
Three years. Three. Years.
I would prefer not to. Anymore.