I have ordered new checks from Bank of America. That may not seem a considerable undertaking to you, since anyone with a San Francisco education and a Los Angeles job can have a checking account. My problem embraces a more serious concern. I am lost in the bank's memory system.
Four times I have requested the same checks. It is not a complicated order. I ask only functional checks of a nondescript nature. I do not require designer checks, mauve-toned checks or checks that feature scenes of the sun rising over Yellowstone.
I thought I conveyed my wishes rather well in a reorder form mailed to a downtown branch of the nation's second-largest banking institution. Send me some blank checks, to hell with the frills, I will take care of the rest.
Nothing happened for several weeks, so I telephoned.
I spoke with someone named Connie, who might be going on 17. I knew I was in trouble when I explained that I wanted to place a new order for the checks and she replied, "Fabulous."
It has been my experience that anyone who says fabulous generally isn't.
But, God knows, Connie tried. She punched me up in her computer. I wasn't there. I would have to reapply.
"Can you take it over the phone?" I asked amiably enough for a person of my acrid nature.
"Fabulous," Connie said. "How do you spell your name?"
I began, "M-A-R . . . "
"The first name."
"Yeah," she said, "that one."
"A-L," I said very slowly. I tend to slur. Sometimes people think my name is Elmer Teenez.
"Fabulous," Connie said.
I got the checks OK but then noticed that Connie had misspelled the name of my street. Well, it's a complicated name. Oak.
I telephoned again. I got Helen, an older woman assigned to fools, liars and felons attempting to defraud the bank.
"We don't show you," she said.
"You don't show me what?"
"In our computer. Are you sure you placed your order with the Bank of America?"
"I have the checks right in front of me," I said. "They have Bank of America across the top and O-K-E street in the upper left-hand corner."
"You're positive ? "
"I'd stake my life on it."
"Check the name again," she said.
"The hell I will!"
"Well," Helen said suspiciously, "assuming you do have our checks, I can only conclude you have been lost in the memory system."
"You deny my existence?"
"We don't show you," she said.
Helen suggested that I appear in person at the nearest branch of the bank, which I did. It was on the Westside where, it is said, elephants and journalists go to die.
I spoke with Miss Evans, a pleasant lady in her middle years.
"It's O-A-K Street and not O-K-E Street?" she asked.
"I swear to you, Miss Evans."
"Sometimes people get confused as to their street names."
"I have known individuals, Miss Evans, who do indeed become confused as to their street names. I have also known individuals who steal from churches, put ketchup on their quiche and urinate in the gutter. I am not among them. My street is named after a live O-A-K, not a live O-K-E or even a live O-O-K."
"That would be a live ook."
"Will I get new checks?"
"I'll put a rush on them."
That was two months ago. No checks came. What did come, however, was a statement that revealed Bank of America, never slow to collect, had charged me $9.20 for my reorder.
Little people with Catholic backgrounds who have been raised to respect authority have soaring faith in the ultimate veracity of their institutions. It has something to do with papal subservience. So I telephoned Bank of America again.
I swear to you the young man who handled what has now become known as My Case said, "I don't show you."
I hardly ever cry. I rage and bellow and curse the day your mother slept with your father or perhaps your uncle, but breaking into tears is not my style.
"Gregg," I said to him, my voice choking slightly, "help me. I am going down for the third time. My fingers are slipping off the edge. My plane is out of fuel at 44,000 feet. Give me your hand, Gregg. For God's sake, boy, reach out!"
"Oh," he replied pleasantly, "here you are!"
He did not actually find my order in his computer. He found the $9.20 the bank had charged for the order and reasoned that, ergo, I must have placed an order in the first place. Gregg vowed that I would receive the right checks within a week.
That was on Oct. 22. They have not come. I am using checks that say I live on Oke Street and when clerks ask if that is my correct address, I lie and say yes. It is conceivable that I may go to federal prison for lying to a Gemco clerk while engaged in a sales transaction.
So be it. I do not have the strength to telephone Bank of America again. I am even afraid now that they will send checks. Sure as hell they will bear the name of Elmer Teenez.