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The Depositor's Tale

The Writer's Mind

When a normal helathy person gets locked in a bank, that's a funny story. But when a writer with a highly active mind gets locked in a bank, that's a metaphor, or an allegory, or something of huge literary significance. It all happened when the editor went to cash the very first income check for this web site at the dawn of the Internet.



NOTE: This archived article first appeared on January 17, 1997, during the first month went online.


Writers see metaphor and simile behind every bush. It's part of the trade. A bug on a sandwich, for example, is not just a bug on a sandwich. It is mankind trekking blindly in search of the spiritual nourishment that lies, more often than not, at his very feet.

A stretch for you healthy thinkers, perhaps, but pity the poor wordsmith for whom that monumental leap of imagery is just a mental baby step. Inside the writer's swirling gray stuff, nothing is without overweening significance. No flock of birds merely flies overhead. No leaf just falls. No sun simply sets. Even when the weather is gorgeous, the writer is brainstorming.

With this mind-set in place, let me tell you about my recent walk to the bank. It was last week. The streets were ice and I had in my hot little fist, the first flecks of income mined from this new web site, the one we have been tunneling into the infinite depths of cyberspace for a year now. It opened a few days back, and has, at long last, begun to repay our efforts. Imagine, if it helps, a grizzled toothless miner panning a year away at his own holy grubstake. Imagine him now jogging ecstatically toward the assayers office. With all the pride of a man who has fathered quintuplets, he scrapes a few shiny Chicklets of pure gold into the banker's scale.

Sure these were only dull little paper checks and I'm not yet grizzled or toothless, but try not to step on my allegory, OK? We have discovered willing advertisers. Advertising is like a compliment, only better. It is validation. It is a sign post. Plenty of people nail their company's first dollar up on the wall. Some frame it. I prefer to embalm our first payment in words and then cash the sucker.

In my years in the marketing biz, I have watched a hundred new born companies go belly-up. Some were undercapitalized, some run by despots, some badly located, naively conceived or poorly pitched. Some sucked the souls from their owners while others arrived DOA. All of them failed to make enough money. The shiny Chicklets never became jawbreaker-sized nuggets. Perhaps the river of gold was diverted. Maybe the miner got greedy or his neighbors jumped claim. Ultimately most entrepreneurial ventures, the experts tell us, just don't pan out. Every business that survives hides the bones of nine that didn't.

Now comes this internet thing to confound us all. Because it can accommodate data in full blown multi-media, because it will soon become accessible to anyone, anywhere, at any time, and because its cyborg personality is part human, part computer -- this promises to be one very powerful force in the future. It may well be the entrance to the biggest gold mine in history. The Webmaster and I like to think our site is above all that. We have more noble goals. But, in the end, it all comes down to dollars, even on the internet.

To paraphrase Dante, who knew a hell of a lot about dark mysterious places, beware all ye who enter here.

Making the internet pay off is still a fascinating gamble. Unless you own Microsoft or Netscape, or peddle human flesh, statistics show that the risks are greater than the hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars it takes to get a solid site up and working. That's why most sites don't attempt to generate income. They are primarily flashy corporate "adfo-tainment" centers, funky home- grown trivia scrapbooks, or specialized educational archives.

The exception to the rule, web-watchers say, are unique attractive sites offering facts and viewpoints available nowhere else. Web surfers are data-junkies. They wanna know, and they wanna know now! Get there ahead of them, have the right stuff, and you've got visitors -- active visitors who can talk back, offer input, and literally bend the shape of the site itself. Get readers coming back, and you've got sponsors. Get sponsors, and you've got to get to the bank before it closes.

So here comes the fun part. We get to find out whether we've got ourselves a new interactive Grand Central Station or a Kool-Aid stand on Jupiter's smallest moon. Initial results bode well. Webmaster Tim reports that in our first seven days on-line, without benefit of browsers, SPAMs or press releases, scored 2,000 page hits. We got a bagful of mail, a bunch of newsletter subscriptions and a host of phone calls. He says the eagle has landed.

Don't forget our first advertisers. In fact, it was their well spent money I was planning to deposit at the opening of this story. But it isn't always prudent to send a writer to do a man's job. That day, despite the chilling wind, my mind was metaphorizing like a literary Sonic Hedgehog. Within a few blocks I had started three new columns, drafted an ode, and had pre-written half a screenplay. The result, you may imagine, was distracting to say the least, and I found myself at the telltale teller's window just an instant or two before closing time.

"Thank you, Mr. Robinson," the teller told me after we had exchanged dull bits of paper. She began to quickly cash out as I studied the receipt a while, waiting for the awesome significance of the moment to hit me. But I'm a word man, little moved by numbers. The bank was all but empty as I pushed through the first set of double doors toward the glassed-in lobby with the mute metal lips of the ATM machine. Scarf up, gloves pulled on, I made for the dark winter street.

I hit the metal bar and slammed fully into the glass door. Shaken almost into reality, I pressed again, and again. Nothing. A woman, I suppose, would have asked for assistance. Men don't need assistance. We have persistence, strength and stupidity on our side. I pumped the handle like a rodent in a Skinner box until my rattling attracted a passerby. This guy rattled away on the outside for a minute and then held up his hands in exasperation and trudged off.

Tapping into my feminine sensibilities, I pushed on the door leading back into the main bank which was already dim and barren. Nothing. This door too was locked. I paced in my little glass cage until a fellow depositor appeared at the exterior door with his ATM key in hand. He worked it into the lock. Nothing.

"Open up," he shouted at me. "I need some cash." Who doesn't, I thought. His voice was muffled and distant.

"I can't," I shouted back, my voice booming. "What?" he said.

"I can't open the door!" I enunciated, gesturing like a charades champion. "Just open the door," he called back, miming for my edification, how to push on the door handle.

Just then a woman appeared in the semi-darkness of the bank. I ran over toward her and pushed against the door. She moved her head from side to side sympathetically.

"I'm sorry. The bank is closed!" she said as if talking to a novice lip reader. "You'll have to use the ATM machine!" She pointed at the money robot to my left which seemed almost to smile. "I gotta have some cash," the man on the outside was getting angry at me now. He banged on the glass with both fists. The bank lady looked past me toward the silent banger with horror. "Don't let that man in!" she warned me. I had no choice but to comply. The ATM machine began to chuckle.

You can imagine what runs through a writer's head when he finds himself unable to enter or leave the local bank. Exaggeration is unneeded; the message is clear. Cyberspace is a money trap, a financial limbo. Oh sure, you can see the vault. You can smell the profits wafting under the glass door. You may even make a little deposit, if you dare. But you can never go home again.

Like a deer on the freeway, a writer may become paralyzed by the brilliant headlights of truth. Extricated from the bank at last, I rushed home to notify the Webmaster of our situation. A more practical man, he would have a solution. I typed my story furiously, then tapped the e-mail button. AOL was down! My God, the Apocalypse had begun. Stripped of modern communication methods, I grabbed the phone, praying I could still remember how to speed dial. In less than an hour of feverish prose, I had outlined the crisis.

"What does it all mean?" I shouted to the Webmaster. "Tell me, what happens now?"

Though he had not spoken in an hour, the Webmaster fell silent, his contemplation broken only by the distant whirring of pure logic. The mind that had written every line of hypertext in our web site was focused on the greatest puzzle of our time. He beeped, at last, excused himself, and prepared to speak. There was a drum roll as the angels hummed.

"I think," the Webmaster said with all the certainty of science, "that I should call that bank in the morning. If they want our first million bucks in there, they better get the darn door fixed."

TOP ART: "The Writer's Mind" Illustration by Jennifer Davidson Noon of Portsmouth when she was in first grade.

Copyright (c) 1997 All rights reserved.

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