I received an advance from the insurance company. It's a relatively small amount of money to help me to buy emergency tuff, things I need right now to live. My personal adjuster suggested that I open a new savings account and use it to hold all the insurance money, simply as a way to keep better track of it. I thought that was an excellent idea and went to my local Chase branch, check in hand.
I suppose that anyone who shows up in my bank in a button down shirt gets treated deferentially. When I said I wanted to open a new account I was immediately shown to the office of the president of the bank, an elderly man for whom the words "dapper" and "spry" wrestled for prominence. He had thin grey hair, a dark blue suit, and the first name Patrick. He greeted me warmly and asked for my social security number. He entered it into the computer faster than I could type, and I watched as his face fell. I don't know why, but I kind of expected his face to fall. Why should this go easily?
"You're on NDS," he said, as a means of not explaining what the problem was. "I'm sorry, but I can't do this. I'm going to have to pass you to one of our other bankers. She can help you." He called in a middle aged woman in a floral print dress, who brought me to her cubicle.
"What's the problem," I asked when we were seated.
"You're on NDS," she said.
"So I've heard. What does that mean?"
"You're a legacy account." Yes, that was right. I opened my account with Chemical bank in 1986. In the bank merger mania of the early 1990s, Chemical bought out Manufacturer's Hanover, and then merged with Chase. The upper echelon of the company directors were all from Chemical, but they agreed that the new company would use Chase's name. And, apparently, computer systems. She pressed a series of keys and her screen changed to an old fashioned text entry screen.
I decided to get technical. "You mean to say that twelve years after the merger," I said, "you've still got the legacy accounts behind a 3270 interface?" Without thinking she nodded and said "They keep promising to change, but they never do." Then she realized what I had said and gave me a puzzled look -- how does this guy know about 3270 interfaces?
At that moment the phone in the next cubicle rang, playing the theme from ABCs Wild World of Sports. A rotund man in a blue shirt with white collar picked up and bellowed "HELLO!"
"We're going to have to open your new account under NDS," the woman explained. "I haven't done that in years."
"All I want is to be able to transfer money from the new account into my current checking account, via Chase Online," I said.
"You can access your NDS account from Chase Online?" the woman asked in amazement. "I didn't know that." Great. What was I dealing with?
"HOLD IT, HOLD IT, MA'AM," the man in the next cubicle bellowed.
"Ok," the woman said. "We have to do this the old fashioned way. I need you to fill out this application." Chase prides itself on letting you open an account completely on line, but I guess that doesn't apply to the NDS untermenschen.
"LADY, YOU WANNA LISTEN? I! DON'T! HANDLE! THAT! ACCOUNT! YOU HEAR WHAT I'M SAYIN'?"
"He's having a bad day," the woman whispered to me, as she entered data into her 3270 interface. "Every day."
Filling out a bank application is like taking stock of your life. Every question is an accusation. You're HOW old? You make HOW much money? Do you swear under penalty of perjury that you are this much of a loser?
"LADY, I SWEAR TO GOD I'M GONNA HANG UP THE PHONE AND DELETE YOUR ACCOUNT, YOU KEEP TALKIN TO ME THAT WAY!"
The woman scanned my application. "You're a writer? My daughter's a writer. She writes poetry. She's only 12, but the thoughts that come out of her head, I don't know where they come from." I wanted to reassure her that I don't know where the thoughts in my head come from either, but then realized that such a revelation might not be so comforting.
"YOU THREATEN MY FUCKIN KIDS, BITCH??? FUCK! YOU!"
"Ok," the woman said calmly, as if that outburst was in the customer service manual. "You're all set." From the next cubicle we heard the sounds of stubby fingers punching touch-tone numbers. "Your account should be available before noon tomorrow, and it'll have this check as the initial balance."
"TELL THAT FUCK TONY TO HANDLE HIS OWN FUCKING ACCOUNTS AND NOT FUCKING SEND THEM TO ME, PLEASE!"
"One piece of advice," the woman hinted. "Because you're on NDS, you can't get high yield savings. If you want, we can completely shut down your accounts and re-open them on the new system. Your interest rate will go up if you do that."
"Thanks," I said, "but my house just burned down. I don't need any more confusion. Maybe later in the year."
"THE FUCKIN GUY CAN"T MAKE SOUP HE'S SO FUCKIN DUMB!" The phone in the next cubicle slammed into the cradle.
Patrick the bank president appeared at the next cubicle. "Jerome," he said quietly. Jerome, not Jerry. The guy in the blue shirt was in for it now. "Come into my office." The theme from ABC's Wide World of Sports rang through my head.