the troublesome handbag, the blue moon and an epic battle with Behemoth & Grendel National Bank

This past August there was a Blue Moon, and when there are two full moons in the same month, there's a double dose of lunacy and other full moon effects. The weather thing-y on the iPhone got stuck on "showers" at 8 a.m., and refused to update until the moon began to shrink. A tomato plant that we meant to rip up and dispose of took the hint and covered itself with new blossoms. An elderly neighbor decided it's too exhausting to flip channels each time something annoys her and demanded that the building's porter run upstairs to get rid of commercials - oh, would that he could, I'd call him too! Passwords disappeared, plumbing balked, the library called and told me that a book I'd given up on months ago had become available. Apparently my reserve request had never been entered in the system until someone gave the desk a good clean and found it. Thank you, said I, it's on my Kindle by now. During Blue Moons, inanimate objects take on a viciousness of their own - the Kindle charger promptly disappeared.

As for the handbag -- Mom used to say that when something's marked down drastically, it's never a bargain. So when I found this beautiful Kate Spade black leather handbag at the KS outlet for less than $25, all in, I heard her voice warning me off. Still the rebellious teenager at heart, I grabbed the bag. But first, Dutiful Daughter Me asked the kind saleslady why it was priced so low. Perfect condition, classic style, nice lining and innards, working hardware, no marks, scars, tattoos or distinguishing features... And she whispered, "It's the white stitching." I tried to look knowledgeable, but she wasn't fooled. "There's a very short season for white stitching on black leather. You'd never be able to wear this in winter, so you've got maybe a few weeks in spring, and then the end of August, beginning of September... So it has very limited appeal." After that explanation, I saw nothing but the white stitching, but a week or so later, I returned and bought the bag. My plan was to doctor the stitching with a permanent black marker, the kind that doesn't come off shirts, appliances, book covers... It took a very long time to do this, because I had to use a very fine point so that the leather wouldn't look funny around the seams. When the project was completed, I was thrilled. Price of bag: $19.99, price of Sharpie: $1.95. I put it on the coffee table for all to admire, and staggered to bed. Hold the  applause. The next morning the stitching was white again. I assumed that the thread was very porous and the ink had sunk to the invisible underside of the stitching, and after a short gallon of coffee (yup, still white) realized that there was no hope for it but to take up the trusty marker and get to work again. Another two coats later, the stitches were still white, maybe some were white-ish, my fingers wouldn't uncramp, and I conceded defeat. The bag comes out, as predicted, in the spring and again at the end of summer, and is quite nice with late August's black linen, and warm spring's black and white prints. Otherwise it takes up space. It came out again the other day when I wore a black-and-white tweed jacket and black slacks to a recent sad occasion, because my vivid green summer bag would have been out of place.

And from the sad service, a bunch of ill-assorted errands and appointments around town, for which I needed a handful of cash. At the nearest ATM, I discovered that my ATM card was not where it was supposed to be. A German or Australian kid must have been reincarnated as this particular ATM card, it's always on walkabout or having a Wanderjahr. I assumed card was at bottom of merry green bag, smirking, and stopped into a branch of Our Bank, the Behemoth and Grendel National, to cash a check.

This is not the bank with the Visigoths. I could forgive it a lot if it had Visigoths. No, Our Bank has a major global corporate presence - and mostly it's not the reputation I'd choose if I were a bank these days. Indeed, it's probably not the bank I'd choose at all, but we get Private Banking Services, and our checks are thus coded so that the financial world will mistake us for People of Substance. How did this happen? Well, chickees, long ago, an employer took out a fairly substantial Letter of Credit, and the grateful bank responded with an amazing handful of perks, including Private Banking For All. As a practical matter, most of the perks mean nothing since we don't invest with or borrow from Bank, but we do like having telephone numbers that get you a person who has an office in a building less than half a mile away. We put up with the repeated solicitations and upsell attempts - Bank has run out of fancy metals to name its credit cards after and is apparently moving on to pretty minerals, but this is meaningless too, we don't qualify for gleaming gemstone cards.  - No, when something peculiar happens, as it always does in the world of banking, we can call Laura or Jim or Mike or Gaia. These are real people, who  have lists of phone numbers that get you other human beings. It is possible to be rescued, ultimately, when overcome by bank weirdness. I know, because last year I was asked to produce ID that showed that my last name is Trustee. Oh, how I wish that story were not true.

Our Bank saturates the media world with emails, mailings, phone calls touting Bank's security, generosity, creativity, service. At a higher echelon than general advertising, Bank would probably like us to go away. The B&G profits not from us. We pay off our credit cards on time, each month, depriving Bank of its right to charge us interest and rapacious late fees. We pay cash for large purchases, rather than take out personal loans. This is not a cultural preference, simply that we learned the hard way when we were kids that we are not comfortable with debt, although we understand its function in a capitalist society. We use our bank for checking accounts and a small savings account, and we have those convenient credit cards. We stay with an unpleasant anonymous institution because of its team of Private Bankers. And this week, perhaps because of the Blue Moon, I needed rescuing.
Remember, I told you I had misplaced my ATM card. That is, I couldn't find it, but knew it had to be in the pocket of my gray chinos or in the bottom of my bag. I didn't want to call the bank and get a new one, because this is not a simple procedure. Nothing is simple with Our Bank. The ATM card felt like having a swim last July and jumped in the washing machine, and the security procedures (which I do appreciate, except when they don't work which is most of the time) did not take into account a card that was not missing, just overly curved from the spin cycle. So this time I wanted to get by till my card turned up. Spoiler: ultimately it did.

My plan was to cash a check at the branch on my block. Like people's grandparents did. Popped checkbook into purse and hopped over to Branch, where I carefully explained to the Teller that I had left my card home but wanted to cash a check.
Take out checkbook.
"You can put that away, I just need to see a photo ID," says Teller.
Produce drivers license. Teller communes with drivers license.
"Write your social security number down here. (pushes a torn-off piece of scrap paper at me) No, no! you have to use our pen, put that one away."
"This pen is out of ink, that's why I got mine out."
"No, you have to use ours. Wait, I'll get you another."
(I hope you noted that we're talking about writing on scrap paper, not filling out official forms. Maybe this is a security measure against vicious ballpoints with death-dealing ink.)
I write down the SSN and wait while Teller pokes at her keyboard.
"Spell your name for me."
This must be another security measure since she still has my drivers license.
We agree on a spelling and a social security number.
"I'm not finding an account under that name and number."
I would never dare suggest that she has mis-typed.
"What is the address on the account?"
More typing. "I'm really sorry, miss... oh, here, how much would you like to withdraw?"
I tell her.
"Oh, no, that account only has forty-five dollars."
At the next teller, a customer is remonstrating that she has reported fraudulent transactions over a month ago, the bank has taken no action, and the contact phone number just given her by that teller was previously given to her and is out of service. I am really feeling ill, but I am made of strong stuff. Mainly chocolate, good red wine, cognac and foie gras.
"Look, I can give you my account number, it's a good account, and I just recently deposited more than ten times that."
And of course, to add to the Mysterious Alias episodes: "No, sorry, never mind, this has your address, but it's in the name of Trustee."
Didn't we have this conversation a year ago? I hand her the checkbook. "Look, there is the account number, it's the last 9 digits after the ABA coordinates."

I wound up taking out three times the amount I'd planned to tide me over. Somehow I knew what would come next. Like well-meaning Beowulf, I was going to have to face an uglier challenge than Grendel.

Anyway, bag the errands, cancel the appointments, home to recuperate. The phone is ringing, and it's some guy calling from a blocked number to tell me that he's from Our Bank's Risk and Security somethingorother, and there's been unusual activity on my credit card and the card has been blocked for my protection. Would I like to review recent transactions? No. I would like a cognac. Turns out, the dubious transaction is a $1 test charge from Paypal. I pass over the tedious explanation, and request that the account be unblocked. I answer a security question, and the guy tells me I have not chosen a good security question, he'll help me change my security word. Cue flashing lights and sirens. I explain that I will consider his advice, but I never do anything like that with someone I'm speaking to for the first time.

Hang up, run to computer, sure enough, all the accounts, card, checking. There was indeed unusual activity on the accounts - that guy's. He'd blocked them. And this is where the Private Bankers got to work, and this is why the early appointments had to be cancelled. Private Bankers go on voicemail at 4 p.m., and so do their mysterious contacts in Security, Credit, Accomodations, Mezzanine, etc. etc. The lovely Monica verified that the puzzling call was genuine, if inept, and agreed that it was an unnecessary irritation, and unblocked the accounts. My social security number is indeed the number on my accounts. I readjusted my chemical makeup with some cognac, missed Fashion's Night Out, and staggered out to catch the last Jitney of the evening out to the beach.

St. Anthony, by the way, doesn't keep bankers' hours. So on the bus, I turned over the problem of the ATM card to him, and sure enough, when the conductor came around for the fare, the ATM card popped up in my wallet.


  1. Thank you WFF, it is nice to know that I am not alone. The Aquatic Attorney.

    1. Back atcha, AA!

      You mean your last name is Trustee, too?

    2. No, my last name is B****, as in The Nagging B**** who doesn't give up until she prevails.

    3. Ah, an ancient and noble lineage.

  2. OMG - you couldn't make this stuff up....

    One of my favourite movies of all time is "Moonstruck". Perhaps your personal banker has seen it and is playing the role of the crazy grandfather...

    1. The private banking people are OK. It's the staff on the banking floor and the strange folk who answer the "help" lines who cause derangement in the universe. At the height of the foreclosure crunch, I saw Donald Trump on some television panel of experts, advising people to "pick up the phone and call your bank and make a deal!" And upon hearing this, I was on the floor, collapsed in helpless giggles. Lends new meaning to the word "counterproductive."

  3. WFF, I am certain you and I bank with the same institution. You have described it so well, I feel as though I'm in a branch right now. I believe I'll have a glass of wine and look online for a local credit union!

  4. A few years ago, when smaller banks were being gobbled up, and it looked like there would soon be only Behemoth & Grendel or AmericanAvaricious, no other choices, I thought that when that happened they would probably make us gladiate (new word?) to get at our money. I had visions of self setting out to pay bills, armed with net and trident. This has been slowed down by financial scandals, but the day is coming.

  5. Unreal. BTW- I love white stitching on black, and would wear it anyway. It is a lovely bag. You really could get a much longer season out of it, especially in late winter and in the spring.

  6. Hi, KnitYarns, thanks, yes, just what I plan to do!

  7. Great deal on the bag, white stitching or not. I'm not that fussy.

    Oh yes, I just love bank 'situations' like those! ;)

  8. Hi, Rose, yes, our local outlet mall comes up with some interesting surprises.

    I was wondering if the first terrestrialjob of the Copywriter From Space was in a large bank.

  9. OH, I love the banking story. We fled the Bank of Avaricity for a smaller bank with a great private banking dept; " Hi Jason, it's Lane. Can you put $$ on daughter's credit card for me." "Sure, Lane". Love them.

    Clever you re bag stitching. See you ARE crafty!

  10. Hi, Lane, I'd feel crafter if the sharpie experiment had been successful and given me black stitches. Oh, well.

    I think I'd be living in a cardboard box on the sidewalk but for private banking, it's so easy to disappear from the bank's rolls.

    1. autocorrect, I meant craftier which is why I wrote it!


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