Yarrow House

First Avenue Sacks

I was standing at the corner of 1st and Pine, waiting with all the other law-abiding Seattle citizens for the crosswalk light to go green, when I noticed my old friend Edna stomping down Pine toward me. She look kind of naked, for a moment. Then I realized she wasn’t hauling her usual multitude of bags. In fact all she was towing was one of those folding grocery carts. “Edna.” I practically had to walk into her to catch her attention, she was so busy haranguing the air about something. “Edna, what happened to all your stuff?”

“I’ve lost my bags.… City took ‘em.” I had a moment’s image of the downtown towers crowding around Edna and snatching her bags.

“Which part of the City?” Probably garbage, I was guessing. Edna doesn’t quite fall into the street person category, since she does live in a room. But she certainly fits into the bag lady category. I followed her once just to see where she stayed—quite a while ago now when I wasn’t so long off the street myself—and from the glimpse I caught of the interior of her room before she slammed the door in my face, Edna had bags stacked from floor to ceiling, and I don’t mean figuratively.

“That damned inspector from the fire department reported me, and they came and took all my bags, Ms. Nosey Parker.” She glared at me like I was the thieving inspector himself. “Said they was a fire hazard.” She stomped along at my side, her head swinging back and forth suspiciously at passing pedestrians.

“Why don’t you come with me to the office? I can do a little research and find out where your bags are now.” We’d arrived at my car.

“Don’t need help.”

“That’s bullshit Edna, and you know it. Now get in the car.” I managed to wedge her cart into the trunk, over her complaints about my carelessness.

Unfortunately when we pushed through the door into our office, Raine was on the phone doing what keeps us on the positive side of the cash flow. She probably had a paying client. And she wasn’t going to appreciate hearing that I was going to spend time helping Edna get her bags back. Raine doesn’t like lost causes. I still remember old Dreadlocks Jimmy. I agreed to help him find Bigfoot. Raine just about crossed me out of her address book on that one, and it didn’t matter that Bigfoot was a pet lop-eared rabbit.

I shoved Edna toward the client chair in the curved bay window overlooking the corner of Edmunds & Rainier and settled in front of my own computer. Moss & Raine: Search and Research does the majority of its work through computer records, most of which we prefer to call formal. I was about to engage in the informal aspect, what some people like to call hacking.

Raine turned her head around and stared at Edna. Edna stared back. They were pretty well matched.

When Edna figured out we were opposing Raine, she started being more helpful. Nothing gets her going like some authority figure to throw herself against. Raine didn’t want me to help her? Fine, Edna would show her. As a result she suddenly remembered the name of the guy who took her bags. Had a card even, as it turns out—Alan Bennett, self-appointed rid-Seattle-of-the-homeless, mid-range bureaucrat in the City—which cut my search time down considerably.

Turns out Bennett had confiscated Edna’s bags as both a fire and a health hazard. But he hadn’t tossed them, which was the good news.  The bad news was that to get them back Edna would have to show proof of ownership and guarantee their hazard-free storage. The discussion over what constituted hazard-free and what constituted storage went on for some time, but finally Bennett agreed that a storage unit would qualify. Now all we had to do was go get them.

We sweet talked Raine into coming along to lunch at the Ethiopian place up the street. Nothing like the promise of covering her share to increase her sociability quotient. “All our petty things are but properties on the stage of life,” she commented around the injira and dorotibs. Raine specialized in home-made aphorisms.

“Ignore her,” I told Edna. “She fakes Shakespeare.”

“My bags are not properties,” Edna glowered at Raine.

“Might say they’re some sort of art installation,” Raine continued oblivious to Edna, and me for that matter, given over to the pleasures of eating with her fingers.

“They ain’t art either,” Edna snapped.

“OK, then,” Raine scooped up the last of the sauce-laden injira, “could say you were going to peddle them. Out of your shopping cart. Sell them on First Avenue.”

“They ain’t for sale, neither,” Edna slapped her napkin down on the table and glared at Raine.

We walked into the City’s abandoned-property storeroom and found stacks of bags—shopping bags with logos from stores around the world—Paris, London, Tokyo, Denmark, Buenos Aires, Singapore, Vancouver, New York, San Francisco—tiny bags, bags so big you could have put a small sail boat in them. Too many for the car. “Looks like we’re going to need a trailer,” I said. I dialed Dreadlocks Jimmy, who had an on-the-side hauling business, and gave him our address.

Just as we were prepared to carry the bags out, Bennett showed up with a handful of papers. A lot shorter than I’d pictured him from his voice over the phone, with a narrow tie and faded red hair in a comb-over. “Before I can let you take them, I have to see the proof that you’ve got a place to take them.”  There followed an intense discussion of what constituted proof.

 “That Seattle Times newspaper columnist is going to have a great time describing the City’s harassment of a little, old, defenseless lady,” Raine said loudly to herself. “Your name’s Bennett, right.”

“OK,” Bennett said. “But you’ll have to date and initial each item on the list, to show they’re yours, and that you got them back.”

He was giving Edna the run-around, but before I could say anything, she snapped, “I’ll do better than that. I’ll give ‘em each a name.”  She settled to the job. Bennett stood with his arms crossed, waiting for her to give up, but she looked like she was having a grand old time with long-lost friends.

I wondered how she was going to come up with that many names and keep track of them all. But she was nobody’s fool, that Edna. She went right down the alphabet:  Ann, Bea, Carol, good old-fashioned names. Second round she doubled the names: Alice Ann, Bernice Bea. I read the list over her shoulder. As it turned out, she had all kinds of things stored in the bags; tattered fragments of mementos from her ragged life. No wonder Bennett hadn’t sent the collection to the dump. He finally gave in around bag 73.
At the clerk’s desk, Edna scrutinized the voucher; it summarized her property, seized and stored, on such and such a date, 334 bags of rags and trash. “That’s a lie. I won’t sign this.”


“My things ain’t rags and trash.” She started to reel off a list of the things in her bags: sheets of stamps, shopping bags from famous stores, menus, sheet music, autographed photos, letters, baby pictures, coin collections, baseball card collections. The clerk finally pulled the paper out of her hands, crossed out the offending words, and wrote personal belongings above them.

Edna paused torn between completing the list and making off with the real goods. Finally she scrawled her name on the voucher

 “You ought’a sell a couple of those baseball card sets and rent an extra room for your bags,” Raine said in her flat, matter-of-fact, word-of-truth voice as we started lugging the bags out to Jimmy’s trailer. “Better yet, sell a bunch of them and go to Mexico for the winter.”

Edna gave her a no-one-was-going-to-tell-her-what-the-truth-was kind of glare. We loaded the bags in Jimmy’s trailer and caravanned to the U-Stor-It  in Sodo.

Choosing a storage company had been a major challenge. Edna wanted one near her SRO and on a bus line. We’d managed to locate one on a bus line and, stretching the point, not too far from her room. When we got there, Edna scrabbled in her bags, back turned to us, shuffling among them like a shell-game dealer. She finally stood up and shoved three crumpled twenties at the clerk, and we all trooped off to see the storage unit. It seemed like every other light bulb was burned out down the long hallway lined with sliding metal doors. When the clerk opened her unit, Edna surveyed the five by five foot space suspiciously.

“Come, on, Edna,” I said, “you’re not going to live here.” She finally sniffed a vague approval, and we hauled her load of bags up from the trailer.

That should have been the end of it. Raine had explained the point to me in a variety of ways, and I’d agreed, in principle, but one day when I was down in the ID, I suddenly got the urge to check in on Edna and see how she was doing without her bags in tow.  I stopped by her SRO hotel. A few gray guys sat hunched on tattered couches in the lobby, and I asked the room in general about Edna. Some heads turned toward me, some didn’t. I can play the waiting game, too, so I just looked each of them over and made bets with myself about which one would be the first to give.

“Moved out,” one guy finally said. “Last week.”

Oh, no, she is going to try to live in the storage unit was my first conclusion. I thanked the room and headed for my car. I’d noted the access code when the clerk had written it down for Edna, so getting in wasn’t a problem, and finding her unit wasn’t hard either, but she wasn’t there. Or at least I didn’t hear any sounds coming through the door. I knocked on the door and then gave the metal handle a tug. The door slid open.

I fumbled for the light switch, and the dim florescent lights revealed an empty room. No bags, no belongings, nothing, except in the middle of the floor one small shopping bag from Nordstrom’s. A tag dangled from the bag handle. I tilted it up with my toe. “Thanks for the trouble, Ms. Nosey Parker.”

Inside the bag was a smaller bag, and inside that, a couple of baseball cards.

One-time reproduction for non-resale purposes permitted with the following credit line: by Judith Yarrow, © 2014