There’s a sweet little sign where 2nd Ave NE doglegs around NE 42nd Street: Word of the Week.
On it, woodworker and furniture maker Jonathan Cohen inks a fun and interesting word each week (or so), chosen both for its rarity in common use and its visual beauty. The words are written in an elegant calligraphy, and Jonathan described himself as having a particular affinity for the letter G.
Long-time Wallingford neighbors know it’s been around for a long time, and has moved around some over those years. Jonathan made the sign and started the tradition back in 1983, and it spent some time on Meridian as was as Thackeray up close to 45th Street as Jonathan moved around the neighborhood. It has even changed hands a couple times: when Jonathan lived abroad in Barcelona, a neighbor shouldered the responsibility. (This period can be identified by the neighbor’s predilection for choosing mathematical terms, in keeping with his professional interest.)
This particular Word of the Week has garnered attention over the years, earning it visitors ranging from the local (John Curley) to the global (BBC).
For the past month or two, however, the usual artistic and playful word has been replaced by a short phrase: “Paypal Sucks”.
I stopped in last night and asked Jonathan about it: earlier this year, Jonathan collected fees for his recently opened Ebanista* school of woodworking via the popular online payment platform. When he went to withdraw the money from his Paypal account to his bank account, though, he got an error message. After struggling with the system on his own, he reached out to Paypal phone support, operated out of a Philippine call center.
Long story short: Paypal’s support was less then supportive. After weeks of phone calls, escalations to supervisors, promised calls unresponded to, and hours of valuable time wasted, Jonathan still was unable to retrieve his money. He eventually managed to transfer it out elsewhere and from there to his bank account, but the experience left him feeling powerless agains the corporate behemoth.
So, he decided to strike back with the only tool he had: his Word of the Week sign. “It’s only a pimple of a muscle, but it’s the only muscle I’ve got,” he told me.
As it turns out, he’s not being totally unreasonable in his hope that his sign could make a difference. Years ago, after FedEx lost and subsequently destroyed a piece of art he had shipped (and then denied responsibility), the same sign declared, in the same calligraphic script, “FedEx Sucks”. FedEx drivers would regularly stop and ask him about it, and the word made its way deep enough into the corporate encephalon that he was finally issued recompense and an apology.
Unfortunately, Paypal trucks do not ply the neighborhood, so this round may be a bit of tilting at windmills, a fact Jonathan is sadly aware of. While I would never ask someone to blink in their fight against injustice, I do hope that the bit of cheerful trivia that the Word of the Week graced upon the neighborhood will return soon.
* Ebanista is the Spanish word for a maker of wooden furniture. There’s your word of the week.