Friday, November 2, 2012

Mistaken Identity – Part 1

It started with an email.

SUBJECT:  Horse statue

Greetings from Seattle! I recently attended the Great West Living Trade Show where I picked up a copy of your very fine publication. It’s the issue from November, 1996. Vo. 3, Issue 101, it says. On page 33 there is a picture of a room in the featured home of Gayle and Norbert Clausen (what a great couple!). On a side table, there is a small sculpture of a horse rearing back on its hind legs. I collect equestrian arcana and this statue would suit my collection perfectly! Is there some way in which I can find out where I can purchase one like it? I know it’s a long shot, but ever since I saw it, I had to have it.

I would appreciate any help you can give toward this endeavor.

Robert C. Bowen, Administrator
Little Museum on the Hill

Margo sighed when she read it. Ever since she’d become the editor of Fancy Stuff magazine just six months before, she’d received similar requests:  Who made that rug on the front cover? You did an issue back in 1989 that had a bowl of fruit on the cover (I think it was fruit, it might have been dogs or something) and on one of the pages there was this woman wearing a red vest … 

At first, Margo did everything she could to help these readers find what they were looking for. She’d spend hours going through electronic archives, when available, or flipping through back issues housed in a cold, damp basement room of the Fancy Stuff offices. Rarely was she able to fill their requests; sometimes they had the wrong magazine to begin with. This time, however, she knew exactly what this Mr. Bowen, Administrator, was talking about.

Re:  Horse statue

Dear Mr. Bowen,

Thank  you for your kind words about Fancy Stuff magazine. As the editor, I’m always happy to know our readers appreciate our efforts. I’m also glad to hear you attended the Great West Living Trade Show; I was there as well. Perhaps you stopped at our booth! It was a hectic event and I didn’t get nearly enough opportunity to chat with our visitors.

As far as your request goes, it happens that I was at the Clausen home photo shoot (you’re right, they’re a great couple) and I was the one who placed that very sculpture in that spot (to provide more visual interest). I can tell you it was hand-sculpted by Mrs. Clausen herself and is one of a kind (hence the reason we didn’t include it in the feature’s Buying Guide).

I wish you luck finding another suitable piece for your collection.

Margo Upton, Editor
Fancy Stuff magazine

Margo hit “send” and thought that would be the end of it. She was, of course, wrong.

SUBJECT:  Your kindness

Dear Ms. Upton,

Imagine my surprise when I received your email; I had no idea that info@ mail went to the actual editor of the magazine! I am flattered that you spent the time and effort to reply to my request about the horse sculpture. I am, of course, disappointed that the item is one of a kind, but my search for something similar will continue.

I guess you don’t remember me from the Great West trade show. I do remember you, however. Such lovely green eyes you have, if I may be so bold to say. I was wearing an olive green blazer with black slacks, tan shirt and a delightful black tie sprinkled with tiny horse heads, a gift from one of my museum’s benefactors. Perhaps you remember the tie? You did seem terribly busy, no doubt talking to potential advertisers … what chance do we readers have against that?

At any rate, I am fascinated by the small details you included in your missive. Do editors usually go on photo shoots? I was under the impression that that was left to artistic directors and such. I must say your placement of the horse in that spot was sheer inspiration! You must have artistic talents of your own.

I’m sure you’re a busy woman, so I won’t ask the dozens of other questions running through my mind. Please know, however, that I am eternally grateful for your kindness.

Your fan,
Robert Bowen

Margo was both irked and flattered by the letter –  implying that advertisers were less important to her than readers! And that comment about her eyes – they’re definitely one of her best features, but what was he doing checking out her eyes? And to think for one minute she’d actually remember him from the thousands of people who’d stopped by their booth during the three-day trade show? Please! Still, he sounded like a nice guy; educated, too. And she’d never had a fan before …

Knock, knock!”

Startled out of her reverie, Margo looked up to see Carl, her administrative assistant leaning against the door jamb, clutching a pink “While You Were Out” memo slip.

Yes, Carl?” she asked, closing her email program.

This memo,” he said, coming up to her desk, “is there a problem with it?”

Margo knew which memo he was talking about and stifled a sigh.

Well, yes, Carl, there is,” she said, reaching for it. “I have no idea who called, for one thing.” She lay the paper on the desk facing him. “You’ve only written ‘George’ … at least I think it says George …  George who? What company is he with, if any? And the phone number … there are just seven digits … Philadelphia area code, or what?”

She looked up at him as he squinted down at the slip.

Hmmm, well, he rattled his name off so fast, I couldn’t catch it. And I did think he did mention ‘metalworks’ or something … Bombay, maybe?” He cocked his head thoughtfully.

This time, Margo did sigh. “Bombay Hook Metalworks,” she said. “George Singleton?” she added helpfully.

Yes! That’s it!” Carl cried, clapping his hands together. “So you knew all along!”

With that, he turned and left the room, shutting the door behind him. Margo sighed louder and rose to open the door. As with his inability to leave coherent messages, Carl always forgot that Margo had a literal open door policy with her staff. It encouraged, she believed, a better office atmosphere. If the door was closed on occasion, it was only because she was on an important call (usually with the publishers), or with a client who dropped in, which rarely happened.

Margo had never had an administrative assistant. Carl was a complete whiz when it came to spreadsheets, business letters, arranging meetings and trips, and making people feel comfortable when they visited. But when it came to messages, phone or otherwise, he was hopeless. He had an aversion to asking people to repeat themselves, thinking it would irritate them perhaps. Margo liked to be mentally prepared before she talked to someone, so when Carl buzzed her office to let her know that “someone’s on line two for you,” it irritated her to no end. And if she made him get back on the line to find out who it was, it made him cranky for hours.

Margo sighed again, turned to her computer and pulled up the electronic version of the issue currently in the works. The press deadline was a week away.


Long after the rest of the staff had gone home, Margo rubbed her eyes and stood up. The issue had needed a few tweaks, there were some holes to fill and she’d had to find room for a last-minute full-page ad, but it looked good, one of their best ever, she thought. She walked to a window and looked out into the early darkness. Light snow fell. The magazine office was on the top floor of a three-story brick building shared by an Internet service provider, an insurance company and a chiropractor. Across the street were a couple of small restaurants, a shoe repair shop and a newsstand. Not exactly a hopping commercial zone. Margo hated the idea of going home to her empty apartment and opening a can of soup for supper. Not for the first time did she regret letting her ex-husband keep the cats. She could use the company.

Margo went back to her computer and pulled up Robert Bowen’s letter.

Re:  Your kindness

Dear Mr. Bowen,

Once again, I’m writing to thank you for your nice words. Some days are harder than others, especially during deadline as we are now, but your note brightened my day considerably.

A little over the top? Margo wondered. She deleted the word ‘considerably.’

Emails sent to info@, sales@ or editor@ are, by default, routed to my inbox. I am sending this letter from my personal magazine account and, should you like, you can send mail directly to that address.

Oddly, Margo rather liked the idea of more email from this man.

Upon reflection, I do think I might remember you from the show! Were you wearing a book bag over your shoulder?

A small lie and a good guess, Margo figured.

If the magazine decides to do the Great West Living show again next year, I’ll be sure to send you some complimentary tickets. Please stop and say hello!

Tickets or ticket, Margo wondered. Would he come alone?

As you surmised, editors don’t usually attend photoshoots; we leave that to art directors, but I’m a hands-on kind of manager who likes to know all aspects of the publication’s creation. To call the placement of the statue “inspired” is much too kind, though I do have some artistic ability.

Margo hadn’t wanted to go on the photoshoot at all, but her publisher insisted. One week after taking the job, she found herself on a plane with a seasoned (and stoned) photographer and a ream of scribbled notes from the art director, headed to an enclave of high-end homes in the mountains of Colorado. The Clausens seemed nice enough, but Mrs. Clausen turned out to be, as the photographer called her, “the art director from Hell.” She had a habit of dashing in front of the camera lens to adjust “just one little thing” that seemed “all wrong” right before the shutter was clicked. Margo had, indeed, placed the horse on the table, but only to keep the photographer and the old lady from coming to blows.

I’m fascinated by your Museum on the Hill; I did a Google search on it, but nothing came up. Perhaps you can tell me about it sometime?

Time for me to head home. It’s begun to snow and I’d hate to get stuck here (though I am prepared:  the couch converts to a bed and I always keep extra clothes, etc. here).

Best wishes,
Margo Upton

The next day, while Margo furiously edited a poorly written story from a freelancer (whom, Margo swore, she would never use again even if she did have a 900-word hole to fill on page 20), the intercom buzzed.

This is Carl, your admin,” Carl deadpanned over the phone, making Margo smile. “There’s a call for you on line three from a Robert Bowen, no company affiliation mentioned.” Before Margo could take in the information or quell the butterflies in her stomach, the line seemed to go dead, but she could hear light breathing and some sort of classical music in the background. Carl liked heavy metal.

Hello?” she said tentatively.

Hello, is this Mar … uh, Ms. Upton?” said a decidedly intriguing, deep voice.

Yes … is this Robert Bowen? My apologies for the awkward phone transition, my admin ...”

Oh, no need to apologize at all! I’m just so glad to finally be able to talk to you, to put a voice to your emails and your face.”

Margo was glad he couldn’t see her blush.

How nice to hear from you, Mr. Bowen,” she said. “What can I help you with?”

What can I help you with? Why so formal, she wondered.

It’s the Little Museum on the Hill,” Bowen said, without preamble, “not the Museum on the Hill. That’s why,” he added, confusing her further.

That’s why …?”

That’s why you couldn’t find us in your Google search! That little word ‘little’,” he said, chuckling, “is a big deal when it comes to these Internet searches. You must have missed that word … though you’re an editor ...l but I know you’re busy and all with your deadline. If you try it again, make sure you type in Little Museum on the Hill and I assure you, you’ll find us. Why, you’ll even find our Museum Cam!”

Museum cam …?”

Yeah, it’s amazing! It’s this little camera, like they have at traffic signals? It sits atop the museum and you can see the whole valley below it, plus the people going in and out of the place. Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes when I come into work, I like to give it a little wave.” He chuckled and Margo followed suit.

That sounds very innovative, Mr. Bowen ...”

Please, call me Robert.”

Okay, Robert then ...”

And I feel like I know you, may I call you Margo?”

Um, sure … Robert ...”

Great, that means a lot to me, Margo. Now, look, I know you’re busy, so I won’t keep you, but thank you so much for the great little chat. You sound just as wonderful as you look.” And, with that, he was gone.

Margo stared at the receiver in her hand for a minute before setting it down.

What the …?” she wondered aloud. “He called to tell me that I needed to add ‘little’ to the name of his museum? Did he actually imply that, as an editor, I should have caught that? Did he say I looked wonderful?”

You’re talking to yourself, boss lady,” Carl said, startling her once again. Margo gave him a look. “You told me to remind you about the editorial meeting, so this is your reminder. Conference room, 10 minutes.” He turned on his heel and left, shutting the door behind him.

A few seconds later, an email pinged into her mailbox.


Just wanted to tell you that I’ve been on Cloud Nine since we talked. I hope we can do it again.


Margo went into the meeting with a smile on her face.

Over the next two weeks, three things happened that set a course:  First, Gayle Clausen died. Second, there was a special delivery for Margo. And, third, it snowed like hell.


The deadline came and went; Margo always found great satisfaction when she opened the boxes the printer sent to the office. After each monthly issue was put to bed, Margo and her staff spent a few days clearing their desks and gearing up for the next issue. Each day, Margo received a note or two from Bowen; she now knew he was a year older than she, he was a cat person, he loved classical music and he volunteered at a Seattle soup kitchen once a week. She liked what she had learned so far.

Carl was putting forth a good effort to remember names; he was trying word association this time.

There’s a pickle guy on the phone for you,” he told her one day.

A pickle guy?”

Yeah, you know … it’s a pickle brand ...”

You mean like Vlasic?”

Yes, but that’s not it.”

Heinz? Mt. Olive? Clausen?”

That’s it! Clausen! A Mr. Clausen is on the phone.”

While Margo applauded Carl’s efforts, the guessing games were wearing thin with her.

Mr. Clausen,” Margo said into the phone, “how nice to hear from you!” She was used to getting calls from people featured in the magazine; they usually wanted extra copies of the issue to send to friends and relatives.

Hello, Margo, I hope I haven’t caught you at a bad time,” Clausen said. Margo would probably always think of him as Mr. Pickle.

No, not at all, we just got the last issue from the printer and we’re taking it easy,” Margo told him. “How are things in Colorado? How’s Gayle?”

Clausen cleared his throat. “That’s why I’m calling, actually,” he said, clearing his throat again. “We lost Gayle two weeks ago today.”

Lost her? Oh, no, you mean she passed away? I’m so sorry to hear that!” Margo may not have gotten along with the woman, but she really was sorry for Mr. Clausen’s loss.

Yes, well, thank you,” he said. “My Bunny was always rather high strung, I don’t know if you noticed that, and she had a massive stroke. Just keeled right over while watching Oprah.”

I’m sure you must miss her terribly,” Margo said. She never was good at dealing with death.

Yes, yes I do, but we had some wonderful times together ...”

Margo was just a bit confused as to why he felt the need to call her, someone who’d only met them once.

So, is there anything I can do?” she asked.

Oh, no,” Clausen said, rallying, “I called to let you know that Gayle remembered you.”

Remembered me?”

Yes, she remembered you in her will.”

But ...”

No ‘buts’,” he said, stopping her objections. “She remembered how you seemed to like that horse sculpture she made, so she left it to you.”

Oh, my ...”

I’ve already shipped it out to you. Should be there by tomorrow. Someone will have to sign for it.”

Mr. Clausen … Norbert … I’m touched by this, truly,” Margo said, and she was.

Gayle wanted you to have it,” he said, as if she were arguing with him. “I hope you find some enjoyment from it.”

I know I will,” Margo replied. “Thank you so much.”

No thanks necessary, it was Gayle’s wish. Please let me know when it gets there; it’s insured, but it’s … it’s one of a kind like my Bunny ...” He was choking up. “Good day to you now,” he said, hanging up.

The next day, Carl signed for the delivery and brought the package to her office. The big box held yards and yards of bubble wrap; the sculpture nestled inside. About 10 inches high, the statue really wasn’t Margo’s cup of tea, but she tenderly placed it on a corner of her desk. She thought of Robert Bowen and the irony:  he had wanted the statue so badly that he had contacted her about how to get it … and now she had it. She thought, briefly, about simply giving it to him, but it would go against a dead woman’s wishes. There was no reason, she figured, to tell him about it at all.

It was hard not to say anything. Robert called her at least once a week, “just to say hi.” Margo, working hard on the next issue of Fancy Stuff, had taken to staying late at the office so they could chat online. She had yet to buy a home computer. It was harmless, she reasoned. He lived clear across the country, after all, and he could be amusing … and very attentive. He sometimes said things that threw her off-balance, but being off-balance was good sometimes, wasn’t it? She wasn’t ready to date and this, it seemed, was the perfect alternative to loneliness. He respected her work hours, although one morning she received an instant message that read:

At 4 o’clock your time, take at look at the Museum Cam!

He popped offline before she could ask him what was up and at 4 o’clock brought up the Little Museum’s Web site and clicked on the camera icon. There wasn’t much to see, just some blurry trees far below in the valley and a sidewalk running through an expanse of lawn. Margo marveled about how far technology had come just in her lifetime, but still wondered why remote cameras couldn’t produce crisp images.

Suddenly, a figure appeared at the edge of the screen, a man carrying a large, white object. He was wearing a beret and black raincoat. He stopped on the sidewalk and held up the object … a sign that read “HI MARGO, FROM YOUR BIGGEST FAN!”

Delighted, Margo whooped with laughter. On the screen, Robert waved, did a little soft shoe shuffle, then headed into the building, disappearing from view. A minute later another instant message popped up.

Hope you liked the show! Talk to you later!

Margo smiled and made plans to stay late that night.

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