Confession No. 149 — A feisty notary and my sacred blue pen: A Hurricane Harvey recovery story

It was a Tuesday just like any other these days. I had to leave the office early to deal with more Hurricane Harvey aftermath.

But this time I had to forge through the Small Business Administration. Anyone who enters FEMA mitigation must first go through the SBA process, and that includes applying for a loan, whether or not you intend to take the money.

And it was a process indeed.

Thankfully, our government requires that everything be signed in blue ink. I so happen to carry my own blue ink pen — the Pilot G-2 with a 7mm point. I’m a professional writer, after all, and that is my go-to tool of the trade. I also refuse to use anyone else’s pen … no matter the brand, color or ballpoint size. It’s just how I am.

‘Mr. Holland, I’m not sure that we can accept that signature,’ the kind Afghanistani immigrant told me as I began signing a mountain of paperwork.

‘That’s my signature,’ I responded.

‘Well, I’m not here to argue with you,’ he said in an obviously-rehearsed response. ‘Your signature does not appear to spell out your full name, and I just want to make certain this signature is correct.’

‘I’m not here to argue either,’ I said. ‘That’s my signature.’

If there were any questions about the red tape that would be involved in this process, the kind gentleman at the first station answered them. I suddenly felt like I was in the scene of a 1940s Dagwood and Blondie movie, at which point the taxi driver pokes at the work ethic of the fumbling postman.

We proceeded to the next step: waiting for the notary. Catherine and I sat patiently in the cold hard folding chairs, checking emails on our phones, counting ceiling tiles and overhearing snippets of other storm stories in the library-turned-disaster recovery center.

But the notary never called for us.

‘Ma’am, excuse me,’ I said, approaching her temporary cubicle. ‘Are we supposed to come to you? Or will you call us when you’re ready?’

She lifted her head and looked at me as if I’d prematurely awakened her from a long slumber.

 ‘I’m trying to finish the details of the people who were before you,’ she barked.

I almost didn’t hear her, as I was preoccupied with her pink off-the-rack readers. The +5.50 sticker was still affixed over the left lens.

Beverly was a hefty red-head who appeared to be in her late 50s. No jewelry, but there was little doubt that she spent a good portion of her government per diem on intense auburn hair dye and similarly-hued eyebrow pencils. And then there were her leopard print flip-flops.

‘Pssst,’ I whispered as I sat back down next to my wife. ‘Her toenails look like my dad’s.’

Catherine shifted her gaze, giving me a look that could mean nothing other than ‘shut up.’

When at last Beverly called our name and ordered us to begin signing, I reminded Catherine that the boy needed to be picked up within 20 minutes. We were nine miles from him and Houston traffic is legendary.

‘Well, I suppose you can sign everything first so that you may go pick up the child,’ Beverly suggested.

Her tone was one of disfavor and animosity, with a bitter pill or two thrown in. It was quite evident that she’d not been in any similar predicament — having your house destroyed by a hurricane, then needing to pick up your child on a weekday. Beverly was cold like the Snow Miser, and I decided right then and there that she was just as displaced as we were.

Instead of snapping at her, I decided to try and win her over. Jagged toenails and all. But she made it difficult for me to use water instead of gasoline.

‘Did they give you that pen at the door?’ Beverly asked as I began to sign the stack of official papers.

The hateful tenor of her words was reminiscent of the heinous harangue regularly spoken by my seventh-grade math teacher. I was suddenly made to feel as if I’d somehow taken someone else’s ink pen without their permission. 

‘With all due respect, ma’am,’ I replied as I stared wide-eyed through the label on her readers. ‘This is a blue pen. It’s mine. I take it with me everywhere, and I don’t write with anything else.’

I had almost veered off course with my grainy response. I was tired from the day, and the whole storm event. I was ready to tell the SBA to go kick rocks. But Beverly quieted down and acknowledged that my ink pen was not only mine, but also an appropriate instrument for signing papers that no one will ever read.

‘So, I notice that your notary stamp has the Texas star on it,’ I said, after rubber-stamping a few blue-tinged signatures. ‘Are you and I the only Texans in the room?’

‘I’m from Fort Worth,’ she said, trying to hold back a look of pride.

‘Really? Fort Worth? You know, that’s where the West begins,’ I said to her.

And Beverly smiled.

 ‘Oh yeah,’ I continued. ‘Cowtown. Home of the TCU Horned Frogs and Billy Bob’s. Great city. So much better than Dallas.’

She smiled again. This time the grin was wider, and she actually looked up at me. Fort Worth is the red-headed stepchild of Dallas. Sure, it’s a fine city, but its inferiority complex is more massive than the historical stockyards located there. Good thing I knew that.

‘Nice V,’ I said a few moments later, risking going overboard with sap. ‘Very nice.’

Beverly looked up at me, confused.

‘Your Vs … They’re beautiful,’ I explained, pointing to her handwriting. ‘I really like how you curve the left side of it at a right angle.’

It was at that point that she giggled like a schoolgirl who was experiencing her first crush. Beverly thanked me, and kept her smile for the remaining 10 minutes of our transaction.

Not only did I use my trusty blue pen to help me tackle an abundance of red tape, I managed to bring a little happiness to a feisty red-haired notary from Fort Worth.

We both won. And that’s a rare feat these days.

Many thanks to my friend Megan Hawkins for editing this piece. — Want to receive notifications of my Confessions, Chronicles and recipes in your email? Just click here. I’d also love for you to join me on Facebook (click the ‘like’ button), Pinterest and Google+. Why not witness some of my Instagram antics too?


  1. Brian Donovan says:

    Bravo, Adam. Don’t think I’d have had such patience and grace. I hate dealing with red tape and bureaucracy.

    • adamjholland says:

      I’m just tired, man. If anything, I was able to distract myself from the real task at hand. Not sure I can make it a regular thing, though. 😉 Hope you’re well.

  2. Michele Phillips says:

    Great story, Adam! Not in the sense that you’ve had so much red tape to cut through, but the manner in which you chose to cut through it with this woman (who quite possibly needs a customer service refresher course even more than she needs a pedicure). Here’s hoping the Harvey aftermath is almost over for y’all!

    • adamjholland says:

      She truly needs some customer service training. But it might also be the case that she just needs (to be made to) smile once in a while. I’m a guy who rarely smiles for real, so it’s important to me to hopefully give someone else that elusive gift. — Harvey will live on here for a while, but we’re going to make it. 🙂

  3. Kathryn Rocheleau says:

    Superb story-telling, Adam! I hope you see some light at the end of that red-tape tunnel.

  4. Good job Adam. Given everything I can’t even begin to imagine it must be like to live through, you managed to elevate the situation when it was clearly one that could have gone another way altogether.

    • adamjholland says:

      Thank you, Jill. There are people who suffered much more than we did. We’re on our way to recovery. In the whole scheme of things, we’ve learned some (expensive and numbing) lessons, but we’ve also seen wonderful examples of human kindness throughout the ordeal.

  5. Dear Adam, being particular about your pen was more than just a “personal preference.” That Pilot G-2 was — and is — an important part of your past and present — a tactile bridge between what “used to be” and the murky path (literally) on your way back to some semblance of “normal.” I can’t begin to imagine all you’ve been through (hugs and prayers), although I can attest that replacing my F-402 Zebra was a very happy day after our fire some years back, and receiving my late sister’s “Harley Davidson Waterman” was icing on the cake. Hang on to YOUR “normal” as you forge ahead — way to go on smiling for real 🙂 — and for diplomatically bringing a smile to someone else’s face.

    I hope you didn’t think I’ve forgotten about or abandoned you (your readership is still intact!), but truthfully I had to read your “confessions” about Harvey in retrospect. (My heart can only take so much.) Such loss, and yet so much hope! LOVED your recaps… please keep writing about your journey… and hang onto that pen!

    • adamjholland says:

      You are very kind, Kim. I’ve carried a blue pen for years. I also carry a red pen, though someone recently ‘gifted’ me something better than the G2 that occupies the pocket in my satchel. I’ll keep on writing. I hope you keep on reading. 🙂

  6. Toni Moore says:

    Loved this, Adam, especially the whole Fort Worth/Dallas bit. Fort Worth is to Dallas as Odessa is to Midland as Longview is to Tyler. I’ve been blessed (cursed?) to live in the white collar town of twin cities for most of my life — that’s Dallas, Midland, & Tyler, in case I need to spell it out.

    Your column is a life lesson on so many levels. Please keep sharing.

    • adamjholland says:

      Toni – That whole Dallas/Fort Worth conflict came in handy for me. 😉 I grew up in Longview and always heard about Tyler being ‘better,’ but we beat both of their teams in football, so it didn’t really matter to me. (Plus, we had better Mexican food.) I’m a Houston boy now and I hear about the Dallas/Houston thing, but we are larger and have better restaurants. That’s a settled score in my book. — I really appreciate your kind words. 🙂

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