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No One Can Account for Lost Bank Account

September 24, 1993|RIP RENSE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Anybody seen my bank account? The bank has no record of it. It has disappeared. All that's left is a tattered sky-blue bankbook containing the sorry record of my valiant attempt to save money.

There are several theories. It could have slipped through the cracks during the bank's merger. Or, as the bank people think, it might have been turned over to state Controller Gray Davis because of lengthy "inactivity," as law mandates. But the bank--a ubiquitous, major institution--has no record indicating this ever happened. And Davis, or at least his office, has no record of receiving an account with my name on it.

My theory is that the money has fallen forever into that realm described by a character in Kurt Vonnegut Jr.'s "God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater," as "that magic moment during which a man has surrendered a treasure, and during which the man who is due to receive it has not yet done so."

The thing is, I never meant to surrender my treasure. Don't worry, though. The treasure was only about 50 bucks. Fifty bucks ? Hey, I really needed that 50 bucks.

You see, when you're a free-lance writer, there are always "incoming checks." They hang out in a kind of nebulous nowhere, "on the way," as editors say. I picture the checks lined up like jumbo jets into LAX--floating ever-so-slowly, closer and closer. Sometimes they land, and sometimes they get stuck in long holding patterns called "payment on publication." That's when a spare 50 is pretty handy.

I would never even have touched my paltry savings, understand, except that I just spent my last $300 to get a wisdom tooth pulled. It had been hurting like hell--primarily, as I learned upon examining it after extraction, because of a cavity large enough for bats to fly through. So I went to the bank to put the long-untouched account out of its misery--in order to be able to eat.

"Sir," said a nice teller with a Mickey Mouse watch, "it's possible that your account was consumed by monthly service charges. We don't know. You'll have to phone customer service."

"If there is not activity on the account, Rick," a customer service guy named Keith told me, "then, after two or three years, it is turned over to the state controller's office."

Why is that? I asked Keith.

"Mr. Reese, the only person who can answer that is the state controller's office."

"So," I asked, "the bank has no idea why this happens?"

"Well, the state does this," Keith said.

"I understand," I said. "But the bank has no idea why?"

"Well, the only thing I can think of is if somebody passes away."

I slapped myself. I had survived oral surgery.

"Well, I didn't pass away."

"Well, I know that. But I don't work for the state controller's office."

I was confused, unsure of the relationship between death and the state controller's office, so I let it alone and asked for Keith's supervisor. Some everything's-OK Muzak came on the line for about five minutes. A kind of Prozac samba. I had taken a potent post-extraction prescription pain-killer called Vicodin, which relieved the ache in my swollen jaw, but altered my perception of the music. It sounded sinister, conniving. And then . . .

"You want to know the reason we turned over the money to the state controller's office?" said the supervisor, a woman named Jenny, her voice ugly with incredulity.

"Yeah, I want to know just why that happens."

" Why that happens? Because it's required by law!"

"Why is it required by law?"

"I wouldn't have that answer."

"The bank does this, but you don't know why?"

"Right."

I considered getting angry, but the dreamy, haze-inducing Vicodin also seemed to mute aggression. Then it hit me--I had accidentally opened a door into a kind of fiduciary Twilight Zone. At least I should peek inside--it might be interesting. I asked Jenny what I should do next, and she promptly put me back on hold. I listened to a jaunty, high-pitched Muzak version of "Stop in the Name of Love" that would have been good funeral music for a flea circus. Then came some amorphous saxophone-dominated stuff that was kind of like a cross between Ravel and Barry White's "Love's Theme." It was chilling.

After another five minutes, I found myself weighing the merits of having to listen to more Muzak or trying to recover my 50 bucks. I contemplated another Vicodin, but instead opted for turning on the tube, where I was treated to an old '30s color cartoon called "Dancing on the Moon."

"Thank you for holding."

It was the disembodied voice of Jenny, explaining all sorts of gobbledygook: After two years of "inactivity" on an account, the bank mails warnings to you, then phones you. I stopped humming long enough to tell her nobody ever phoned me, and I'd probably ignored the mail.

Jenny tried repeatedly to transfer me to my bank branch, despite my protests that I'd just been there, and had been referred to her. Then she banished me again to the Land of Hold.

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