Bald eagle, adult perched on snow. European Starlings, Great Black-backed and Herring gull in flight, Maine, February 2009
Bald eagle impassively perched on snow while European starlings fly by. There is a Great Black-backed gull in flight. If you look under its left wing, a starling can be seen flying right under it! I wish I possessed such great manuevering skills.
I enjoy studying the behaviors of living things. The whys of behaviors fascinate me. The study of living things is what got me into writing, photography and birding. Why do small birds attack big birds that could kill them? Where do butterflies spend their winters? How do they get there? Why do humans dream what they do? Do birds dream?
The questions and subjects seem endless. Photography gives me the chance to study things more closely than I might be able to in the wild, on the fly. Writing allows me to investigate and think about the questions. I am quickly sucked into the life of others’ and their relatedness. The imponderables are usually magic for me, but not always.
For over a decade, I have served as court appointed conservator to my grandmother’s financial affairs. Prior to my involvement, her progressive blindness, dementia and paranoia had spun her life into a hot mess. Too impaired to operate her microwave, she stuffed it with mail and used it as a file cabinet. Bills went unpaid or were paid sometimes three times over. She had accounts in fourteen different banks. One of the first things I did was to consolidate them into one account in the bank she had been with the longest, Bank of America. It would prove to be a big mistake.
Every month, I must deposit a bundle of assorted checks to my grandmother’s account. Monthly, she receives about a dozen checks from her health insurance company as refunds in varying amounts. I also receive rent checks from the tenant who lives in her house.
Bank of America , though the tellers do recognize me, insists that I present to them photo identification, my social security number and deposit slips, though I am putting money in, never withdrawing money. On occasion over the years I have forgotten to take a deposit slip. When this happens, I have to go home, fifteen miles away, and then return to try again. They make no exceptions.
The tenant who rents my grandmother's house writes the rent checks to me. Bank of America won't take these checks from me because I don't have an account with them, nor does the tenant. There is more than enough money at all times in my grandmother’s account to cover it should it bounce. Nonetheless, they will not take the checks.
I am forced to take the rent checks to my bank, The Bank Across The Street. They give me twelve hundred dollars in cash, which I take back to Bank of America and deposit. Cash they will accept. Then, I deposit the insurance checks.
To complicate things, the tenant got very behind on the rent. I threatened him with eviction, where upon, he coughed up a check for six thousand dollars (yes, he was very behind). When I took that check to The Bank Across The Street, they had no problem cashing it, but they did ask if I'd take a bank check. They wanted to avoid draining the cash drawers. I said “Certainly.”
While the teller cut the check, I groused about their competitor. She looked up from her desk. "Wait, did I hear you right? All you’re trying to do over there is put money in? Deposit it?" I said yes. "Here at The Bank Across the Street, we don't care who you are if you're trying to put money in," she giggled. I laughed and took my check. Though they cash my checks without question, I still have to make two trips to two banks and stand in line each month just to get my grandmother's business done.
And, though I was bearing a bank check, Bank of America still gave me a hard time when I tried to deposit it because the check was made out to me, rather than to my grandmother. Though I had a deposit slip, I still had to provide identification and my social security number. I glanced up at the security cameras. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, but I felt like they thought I was which made me feel like I looked guilty.
Months went by. I dutifully took a deposit slip with me each month. Knowing they would demand it, I had my driver's license ready, no fishing in my handbag keeping the officious tellers waiting. That's the worst part of it, the looks they give me. They are cold as stone, not a smile in the lot. Oddly there isn't a bit of noise. It's silent. No phones ring, no doors close, even customers don't speak in the curious, infectious cold. Each teller window has a jar with wrapped, hard candy, presumably for customers. I have never seen anyone reach for one, nor would I dare.
Eventually, the tenant again fell behind on the rent. I again threatened eviction. This time, he produced a seven thousand dollar check. I also had nine insurance checks. At The Bank Across The Street I didn't wait for the teller to ask if a bank check was okay; I suggested it. "Certainly, who would you like this made out to," she asked. Remembering that the last time, Bank of America had hassled me about the check written to me, I gave her my grandmother's name. “Edith P. Bailey, B-A-I-L-E-Y, I told her. Behind me, two customers chatted about daffodils breaking ground and other signs of early spring. A woman laughed from an office. Smiling, I said thanks and took my check.
At Bank of America, I stood in line in the tomb of a bank. While waiting, I had a creeping feeling that I had forgotten a deposit slip. I'd have to hope for the best. At the teller's window, I put the stack of checks onto the counter. The insurance checks were on the top and the bank check on the bottom, neatly piled. Pointing to my grandmother's name on the first insurance check, I said "I'd like to deposit these into her account, please." Looking at the check without touching it, as if it were a dog pile, the teller asked "Is this you?" I said, no. "It's my grandmother's account. I just want to deposit these checks for her. I'm her conservator. You have all the documents on file."
I'm of the school of thought that more bees are lured with honey than vinegar. I'm very nice to service people. After all, they are people just like me who are trying to make a buck to pay their bills. They don't make the rules. To get things done, I can be as sugary as necessary. I smiled sweetly at the teller. The young man, who stood ram rod straight wearing a shirt so starched his mother must have done it, said, "I need photo ID please." With the tip of his finger, he slid a piece of paper to me, "And your social security number." I thought “thank God, he hasn't insisted on a deposit slip, how nice." He stared at the computer screen, his hands moving silently across the keyboard. He stopped. "There is no record of an account here." His eyes looked dead.
At first I thought he was speaking to someone else. I looked over my shoulder; no one was behind me. Then, it dawned on me. "Oh! No, I'm sorry, you looked up my information, but it's my grandmother's account, not mine,” I smiled. He looked at me with reptilian loathing. "Yes. I realize that. Are you on this account?" Somehow, it wasn't a question, it was an accusation. "No, I'm not. I'm the conservator. You have the information in the computer." I couldn't help it, but I think I winced. "You need a deposit slip," he stated flatly. I wanted to say "No, you need a deposit slip, I don't!" Instead, I sighed deeply and left.
Out of sheer despair, I looked around in my car on the off chance that I had stashed some deposit slips for just such an emergency and voila! I found two! I nearly trotted back into the bank. After waiting in line again, I handed the stack of checks and the deposit slips to the young man. "You only need one," he said, sliding one back at me without looking. I took it, jamming it into my handbag. One by one, he processed the nine insurance checks. When he got to the bank check at tthe bottom of the stack, he stopped moving. "This check is made out to someone else's account." Like a dunderhead I said "What?"
"This check is made out to Edith P. Daily.” In one, smooth motion, he slid the check across the counter and spun it around toward me without seeming to actually touch it. Blinking, I took it. "Oh my God! I just had this written at The Bank Across The Street! The teller must have misheard me or just mistyped it." My voice trailed off. I could feel the hives rise on my neck. For an instant, I thought he was going to press the hot button for the police.
I prayed that The Bank Across The Street would own the mistake and rewrite the check. I had cashed the tenant's check and had no proof of anything, only a bad bank check. Seven thousand dollars could be going up in he said she said smoke!
Thankfully, there weren't any problems. After a few minutes of trying to figure out how to reverse a bank check, and then rewrite it, I was given a new check. Back to Bank of America I went.
When I got there, there weren’t any customers. “Great, I won’t have to wait in line,” I thought. Seeing the young man, I went eagerly to his window. Brandishing my new check, I said "Look! It’s straightened out!" I declared cheerfully "We can try this again!" Just as I started to hand it to him, he said "I'm with another customer." I looked around, terribly embarrassed; I flushed. I regard line jumping as the ultimate in rudeness. "Oh, sorry, sorry," I said scurrying behind the velevet rope. Suddenly, I realized there wasn't another soul in there besides him and another teller. Nor was he on the phone. After what felt like eternity, the other teller, whom I knew to be a manager, said icily, "I'll take the next customer."
I handed her the stack of checks. The young man shuffled papers, never looked up, nor spoke. No one came in to the bank. The manager teller said “I’ll need a deposit slip.” I’ll admit that right at that moment, some of my sugar had begun to burn.
“I just gave a deposit slip to that young man minutes ago. He has one right on his desk.”
She repeated dryly “I’ll need a deposit slip.”
Pointing to the young man’s work area, I said “I just gave him one! He hasn’t even had time to put it in his drawer yet!” I thought I might actually blow my stack. “He has one!” I snarled.
The starched young man who was playing with his invisible customer, so could not wait on me, stopped what he wasn’t doing and said to me “You have another deposit slip.”
I wanted to jump over the counter, slap him in the head and kill him. Granted, I did have another slip, which I had jammed into my handbag, but that was not the point. Clearly, Bank of America sent all of its employees to the Rush Limbaugh School of Customer Service! I was nearly driven to the point of madness by this outrageousness! I wondered if I had something in my handbag that I could use as a weapon. I was not turning over the deposit slip. Chapstick? Could I stab him to death with a chapstick? Could I suffocate him with wads of used Kleenex? Yes, I’d jam them down his throat and watch his face turn blue while he struggled. That seemed fair.
I imagined the police storming through the doors. I imagined the two tellers on the floor, the manager slumped, dazed, the young man, dead. His face would be purple and he’d have tissue bulging from his mouth. His starched shirt would be a mangled, hot mess. I imagined being handcuffed and stuffed into the back of a cruiser. I imagined being in jail. It felt peaceful. I’d have a lot of time to spend on the imponderables of the behaviors of living things.
In the end, I collected my composure and handed over the deposit slip. I had spent hours on this project, just trying to deposit my grandmother’s money into her account. I had stood in line repeatedly, made five trips between banks and been polite until it nearly killed me. I was tired.
That night, my sleep was fitful. I dreamed dreams of birds and prisons. Checks with indecipherable names blew through the air like leaves. Great flocks of nameless black birds flew through the skies bearing deposit slips in their bills. They screamed and cried “Why, why, why?”
This post was selected as Editor's Pick on the cover of Open Salon (http://open.salon.com/cover)
It is the fourteenth of my works to be chosen.