Checkmate

I recently ran out of checks for my Mexican checking account and had to order more. That was easy. Picking them up, however, was not. It turned into quite an ordeal.

I should point out that it was necessary to pick up the new checks because, unlike my US bank, my local bank, probably for security sake, does not send newly-printed checks through the mail; one has to go to the branch and pick them up. I went, thinking the entire process would take two or three minutes. But this is Mexico.

To begin with, the man at the desk wanted to see my ID. That is understandable. But it had to be either my permanent resident card or my passport, both with photographs. Now, because they are so important, I do not carry these items on my daily errands for fear of losing them. I showed him my Washington State driver’s license, but it would not do although it has my picture, albeit a mug shot version of my face, on it. He wouldn’t accept my first Seattle School District Staff ID from 1992 which I have kept because in it I look younger than I did at birth. He gazed skyward with frustration when I offered my Lake Chapala Society card with its fabulous photo. He laughed when I presented my Barbra Streisand Fan Club card with the professionally lit pic of me in Barbra drag. He fell on his knees in prayer when I showed him my Victoria’s Secret Discount Card. When I finally found a photocopy of my permanent resident card, which technically is not official, the banker was on the floor in a fetal position, whimpering “Mama” and “Dios.” But he pulled himself off the floor, snatched then flimsy paper from my hand, and mumbled an irritated “OK.”

I found it interesting, however, how strict the banker had been regarding the proving of my identity as I had been in his branch more times than pseudo-president 45 has fired someone. If he didn’t know who I was, why the hell had he he given me all that money at gunpoint?

Once the photocopy of the resident card was shown, the man cleared all 463 papers from his desk, which was my first real indication this might be a complicated and lengthy process, and opened the desk drawer containing my checks. He placed a sealed-in-plastic wrapped bundle on the desk, ambled to a cabinet containing a log book, and returned to the desk. He logged in more information than is included in the instructions of Monopoly. Then he picked up his telephone and called what I assume was bank headquarters in Mexico City.

After being put on hold for several minutes, the banker spoke briefly, listened even less, and hung up. He apparently had received permission to snip open the clear bag in which the checks had spent the first days of their life and dumped them on his desk. His face became serious as he began asking me odd, unexpected questions for, what I believe were security precautions.

“Mr. Nezband, are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?”

“No.” I then began to think about the many times I had clicked on “Accept” or “Yes” on my computer without reading in depth what I was agreeing to. Could I have joined the Communist Party? I worried. Does the bank know?

“Have you ever committed “crimes against nature”?

“No,” I lied. I had, when I was 10, carved my initials into a tree during recess and was sent to the principal’s office.

“What was your mother’s maiden name?”

“Bouvier-Kennedy-Onassis.” Why should I tell him the truth? I mused. He wouldn’t understand the real name and probably doesn’t even know what an umlaut is.

“Did you vote for Donald Trump?”

“Hell no!” I yelled. “I’m not an idiot, just checkless.”

The banker smiled. There was evil in those upturned lips. “OK. Now for the hard part. Come with me.”

He led me through a locked door to which I observed the keypad code was 666.  We entered a small room. “We need to take blood for the drug test,” he explained as he opened a drawer in which lay a box of latex gloves and numerous hypodermic needles. Some appeared clean. He motioned for me to roll up my left sleeve.

“I don’t do drugs. Why are you drug testing me?” I asked. “I only want my checks.”

“Your words of protest tell to me you take the drugs.” And without seeking a prominent vein, he jabbed me in the forearm. A clear liquid that smelled like a margarita filled the needle’s tube. The man sniffed it as if he were a trained police dog, said it smelled OK, and promptly lifted his left leg and peed in the corner.

“I told you I don’t use drugs,” I said. “The only one I use is Tums and I only use it after I’ve shot up heroin.”

The banker did not react to my comment. Apparently, he doesn’t know that Tums are very addictive. “OK then. Drug test is good. But there is one more thing. Turn around and pull your pants to the down.”

“What?”

“We have to make cavity check. We must look up your rectum.”
“Why? To make sure I don’t have drugs up there?”

“No, Mr. Nezband, to make sure you are not hiding blank checks.” And he laughed with sinister glee. He donned a latex glove with “My banker went to Mar-a-Lago and all he brought me was this damn glove.” printed around its wrist and began his probe.

I am proud to say he found nothing up my ass. I am also proud that I only yelped a few—16, maybe 20, OK, upwards of 24—times to the soundproof walls.

We returned to the banker’s desk where he immediately picked up his phone again. He said my name—Tómas Nezband—and account number in Spanish and then said, “Si.” He handed me the phone.

A female voice speaking English introduced herself. I didn’t get her name though because I was distracted by the banker who, with the glove still on, was waving his hand in a menacing manner at me. “Mr. Nezband, can you tell me your birth date?” I told her. “Can you tell me your address?” I did that too. Then she asked, “What are the first and last numbers on your checks?” In error I gave the first and final numbers in my account number. But that was not what she wanted. She wanted the check number of the first and final checks in the book. I regretted my gaffe before I had finished making it.

Sirens blared. The bank’s doors locked. Employees ran for cover. The security guard raced toward me. The next thing I knew I was on the ground with a 300 pound former Mexican National Sumo Wrestler sitting on me. The phone’s receiver dangled over the desk’s edge, clinging to it like a wet ATM receipt. “She wants the fuckin’ check numbers, Punk!” the guard roared with a Spanish/Bronx/Japanese accent. “Can you do that? Can you tell her those numbers? Dumbshit. See what you’ve done!”

I grabbed the phone, looked at my checks and corrected my answer.

“Well, then, Mr. Nezband, we are at the finish,” the woman said. “I am to be activating your checks now.” The sirens silenced. The employees returned to their margaritas.

All this so I can write one check a month for my rent.

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