Maybe it was because I was on the john with the Saurian’s Feb 5th issue that, at the climax of a lavish Presidential profile, the Commander in Chief’s intimate, unguarded call-to-arms to our nation’s youth to “strive to be exemplary not just in their personal lives but also in their civic lives, in their communities” fell on my ears with a flat perfunctoriness as though it were an entreaty to Fillet Your Day at Bay Burger® (Stay Burgin’!TM). I finished the paragraph, just as the Prez was about to set foot in yet another wearying donor gala, endowed anew with a trans-class, trans-generational sense of sympathy and thought, once more unto the breach (from a play I’ve never read). I got up to start the shower.
The bank was open until 4:30, and it was 3:43. I had woken up around 1:30, checked my e-mail, taken out the dog, made coffee, made the bed, and watched fifteen minutes of Sandwich Showdown on the Feast Network while eating a vodka sauce spaghetti sandwich. Then I’d browsed the web until the coffee had done its duty gastrointestinally. My shower and shave took too long because I was trying to dispel some residual anxiety from the previous night, and I finally popped out of the house at quarter after, at a double-time trot. The Constitution Bank branch around the corner had a shriveled pink balloon tied to a post on the facade, somehow having retained a pocket of air through the severe temperature shifts since its National Breast Cancer Awareness posting months prior. It was on its last legs, so to speak, having shrunk more and more noticeably over the four visits I’d now made there there during the past three weeks. Inside the warm bank, I approached—now for the fourth time—a very short, neat woman who greeted me with a terse but not impolite tone. Her nameplate read Juhi Hada.
I said hello. “So… I finally got the documentation—I mean, sorry… I was in here a few days ago, trying to deposit a check?” Juhi nodded once, unsmiling, affirming her recollection. I was being overly timid, of course; Juhi and I were old chums by this point. For the past several weeks I’d been trying to transfer my checking account from Lowdon Savings in MA, whom I’d forgotten to even inform of my departure, to my new account here in CT. After the trouble of establishing a Constitution account, which itself had taken two visits the first week, necessitating a far more stringent proof of address and a few more back-up IDs than I’d expected, they’d started giving me a hard time about the funds I was attempting to move. They said no dice to the old “write a check to yourself” method, one of the tellers prattling on about some newly implemented program of fraud-busting regulations the state had been pushing on early adopters prior to legislation that the bank had opted for, for a big tax break of course. At home I’d scribbled a note on some legal paper and mailed it to Lowdon over the weekend (the three available printers were all broken) and they’d sent me a cashier’s check, upon whose delivery Juhi informed me they’d need a further set of evidentiary forms to authenticate, in further fraud-adjacent defensive wriggling. After hours of excavation in the inanimate refugee camp, as I’d come to think of my pile of stuff and files in my parents’ basement, I’d shot off another harried missive to the Lowdon’s Millford branch, requesting copies of random, pathetic statements and receipts I’d tossed during the whirlwind of the previous month’s ultimate cleanse. “And, so, I got the proof of former address, as well as the most recent statement with check scans, and the most recent deposit slip, whose sum, you can see, matches the figure on the check, and uh, well, here.” I handed over a parcel of sketchy-looking documents, which Juhi gingerly took and began to peruse as I sat with my hands awkwardly in my lap. Looking around the room in a play at nonchalance, I noticed a TV on the wall behind the counter playing an episode of Grill It with Greg on the Chef Channel, a program I’d momentarily flipped past to reach the sandwich show earlier. I figured there must be a midday marathon going, then briefly wondered at why they were playing such a tedious entertainment—almost a non-sequitur with the instructional audio track turned most of the way down—in the lobby of this suburban bank, appropriately innocuous though it may have been. Greg Chovnik was applying a wet rub to some short ribs as his mouth flapped, dispensing inaudible banter to the camera. Juhi interrupted my reverie.
“So… it seems that there is no bank seal and watermark on any of these,” she said, with a new, weary apology cutting through her businesslike tone. What?
“I… what?” I was literally lost for words. Juhi seemed to sink into her seat a bit.
“You see, we must authenticate at least two legally admissible documents via our CertiFinance® system. There is a process with a laser scanner. If you see on your cashier’s check”—she picked up the crinkled, smudged slip, tried to smooth it on the desk’s surface and pointed to the bank’s insignia on the corner, next to which there was a barely-legible logo reading CeFi in some kind of special ink—“the encoded watermark must be linked in our system to the institution on the proof-of-funds documents, via an identical readable watermark, along with an identical bank seal, before we can approve the transfer. These are photocopies, which do not replicate the UV-detectable ink of the CeFi scan mark or the bank seal.”
“Wait… so I need to get reprinted, first-generation copies of these documents, like hot off the press?”
“Yes. In addition to the proof of former address you have provided.”
“All right, I’ll… go get those. And be back. Uh… soon.” Juhi’s faced scrunched almost imperceptibly—in annoyance or sympathy or some complex combo, I couldn’t tell—as I rose to slink away, yet again, and she turned from the desk and walked back to her regular post, robotic. Outside, I looked further down the street. The branches of the federal banks gleamed promisingly in the winter sun, those bastions of fast-and-loose intercontinental amassment and corruption, to whom my checking account would be a molecule on a grain of their Saharan sand. It would be so easy to open an account there, drop my money in—they wouldn’t give me any of the shit this Podunk local operation was pulling, they’d welcome me with candied smiles and a free souvenir decoder ring or something. But I’d have to pay more operation and withdrawal feels (that is to say, any at all), not to mention hitch my wagon to the modern Mephisto that is national corporate banking. I looked across the street. There was a large sign next to the convenience store advertising an upcoming February Friends Festival in the park, with sales and activities to benefit the local old folks home. Volunteers Needed! I’d been looking for exactly some such low-key, non-long-term volunteer opportunity, within walking distance, over the past month. Who knows what the weather would be like that weekend, though? I hesitated, thinking about crossing the street to copy down the contact info on the sign. Instead I turned the corner, heading for Annie’s, the bar in the local strip mall. Annie’s is an exemplar of the true townie dive, a species distinguished from its hipsterized imitators in authenticity by subtle shades of taste, or lack thereof: one of the newer digital, touch screen, million-song music selection interfaces rather than a dusty old jukebox, for example. Most of the booths had chunks of cushioning missing or duct-taped in place. There were white Christmas lights still draped haphazardly all over the paneling above the bar. They had a couple of of old tube TVs, currently playing daytime sitcom reruns. One middle-aged guy sat at the bar, eating wings, with a bottle of Bud. Two others played pool on the lone table beyond the bar and booths, and as I entered one lightly smacked his cue’s butt against the floor.
“Han, it ate the cue ball again.”
“Just a second,” said the bartender as she noticed me coming up. “Can I get you something?”
“Yeah,” I said slowly. “Can I have a Dewar’s® and soda?”
“Sure thing, hon,” she said as she turned to scoop ice into a highball. “Can I just see some ID?”