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<i> The bank was wrong? </i> I believe I heard angels sing. : The Day the Bank Bombed

There have been moments in my life of such triumph and gratification they will remain with me as long as there is even a faint glow in this splendid, old body.

I speak, for instance, of the night I shared pizza with Michael J. Fox and the afternoon I chatted with Ted Kennedy as we stood side by side at a common urinal.

Each by itself would constitute an apex of fulfillment, but there is yet another event that has brightened my spirit, an instance so glorious that all else suffers by comparison.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls: I Proved the Bank Was Wrong.

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It’s this way.

I deal with a mortgage company that stores its incoming monthly payments in a cigar box and keeps its records on scraps of paper by the telephone.

Last month, a company representative who chirps when she talks called to say that my payment of $535 was past due, late-calls being the firm’s single area of efficiency.

I checked my records and discovered the payment had, indeed, been made, but since they had not received the check, it must have either been lost in the mail or eaten by a secretary who mistook it for cheese.

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I informed the mortgage company that I was stopping payment on the check and sending them another. Should they find the first check, they were to destroy it instantly in any ritual fashion they saw fit.

Dancing naked around the cigar box would be just fine.

Stopping payment was no challenge. I telephoned Security Pacific Bank, gave them the check number and the amount and followed up with a letter. I was told no problem; it was in the computer.

That, one would think, was that. Wrong.

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The mortgage company, alas, found the first check, which had been mistakenly dropped in someone’s lunch bag, and, of course, cashed it instantly along with the replacement check.

Calamity was in the works.

Mistake No. 2 fell to Security. Instead of stopping payment on the lost check as it should have, the bank honored it.

Were I J. Paul Getty or even Armand Hammer, the error would have no doubt passed unnoticed. Mine, however, is a marginal existence. What I have, I spend. I do not believe there ought to be one unrequired cent in my bank account.

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Interest accrued will offer scant comfort when I grow too old to dream.

As a result of the bank error and my theory of borderline economics, my checks began bouncing all over the San Fernando Valley, and I was slapped with a bank service charge at each bounce.

My inclination at such times is to capitulate quickly. The situation was much too complicated for either me to articulate or for a bank employee to comprehend. I was another screaming consumer buried in error.

But my wife said, “They can’t do that to us.”

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“It would take an executive order to untangle this,” I said, “and, unfortunately, we are between presidents at the time.”

“You can do it, Martinez,” she said. “I have faith.”

That led me, however grudgingly, to Security Pacific Bank. I felt like a small dog barking at the moon, but a Wife’s Faith is not to be taken lightly.

“I have a problem,” I said to the first person I confronted at the bank. “You didn’t stop payment on a check you should have stopped payment on.”

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“Next window,” she said.

I knew the game. I would go to the next window, and she would say “Next window,” whereupon another teller would say “Next Window,” and so ad infinitum until I took my case to the branch manager, and he had me arrested for window-hopping.

Then I met Sharon, the lady at the first window.

“Tell me about it from the start,” she said pleasantly.

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“Well,” I said, “in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void and. . .”

“Just start with the stop-payment order,” she said.

I went through it all. She listened patiently, backing away only to avoid my tendency to spray saliva when I get excited, and then she said, “I’ll look into it.”

The old look-into-it game.

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Convinced I must be crazy to challenge a bank, she would hide in a place where she could observe me carefully, confident that at some point I would reveal my pathology by exposing myself or by shouting back at the voices in my head.

But that didn’t happen.

Sharon returned a short while later and said, “Well, I don’t know how it happened, but the bank was wrong.”

The bank was wrong? I believe I heard angels sing.

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She continued by saying they should have stopped payment on the check, but they didn’t.

Therefore, my account would be credited not only with the sum of the check but also with $90 the bank had extracted in service charges.

“We’ll just have to take the loss,” she said.

Someday when I am dying and the ribbons of life’s achievements stream before my closing eyes, I will once more see Michael J. Fox eating pizza and Ted Kennedy urinating, and I will hear those words of atonement spoken by Sharon. The bank was wrong.

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And I’ll lay me down with a will.


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