web 2.0

“Get me some accounts!”

Stephen said to me, sneeringly, “How many accounts do you have today?”

Today, I would finally give him an answer he would like. For this day, I had a savior’s touch. I ended up opening 5 accounts, something unheard of. I was lucky if I could open one account a day at our little bank branch, but the expectations for our branch campaign was such that each banker had to open at least 2-3 accounts a day.

The most desperate Branch Manager at Sax, Stephen, was in super-joy hearing about my five accounts. He had been saying that life sucked. He hated his job. He hated his alcoholic girlfriend. He was balding. I felt sorry for him. He was in the middle of pressure. He got it from Damon, the district manager, who got it from David, the borough manager, who got it Damian, the city manager, who got it from Dirk, the regional manager. All D’s, all geo-divisions, and all pressure. Dirk was in corporate; he would get spreadsheets telling him that the Bank’s numbers needed rising. He would push Damian to push his district managers to push his branch managers to push their bankers to sell as much bank portfolio as possible, but the most important thing was to sell more checking accounts than our system was able to open, which was a lot, since we controlled the numbers and we would never run out of numbers, and if a sequence of numbers on an account was ever fully used up, randomly, then the system, we were told, would create longer account numbers, from 5 digit to 12 digit account numbers. We were told, and I paraphrased really, that we needed saturation of not just our market, but all of the US. It was too bad, some district managers reasoned, that Sax was not in all 50 states, but 37 and a half states was not that bad either (Dirk would brag that we were in half of Minnesota; that was the kind of guy Dirk was.)

I still thought of Stephen as being in the middle. Damon made him nervous each time he called him and extremely nervous when he would do his surprise visits at our branch. Then Stephen had to hear it from us; I mean, he would have to be there nagging all of us and what could we do if we had no accounts. Yet, my confidant colleague who became my best friend, Linda, thought that pressure was something he got and gave away to us.

Linda was a bit disconcerted about the over-saturation of checking accounts – especially because it was hard to open up more than one. See, not everyone who needed an account came in. It was summer and people were on vacation. And, contrary to our Customer Service Associate (or CSA[1]), Jules, him and his supreme Saxy beliefs, not everyone needed three checking accounts – Jules had drunk the Sax Kool-Aid. He loved where he worked and he enjoyed selling customers 4 to 5 unneeded accounts. It made Linda call him a '”deuce-bag,” something refreshing to hear in our corporate world.

Her down-to-earth quirkiness and many other characteristics made me fall in love with Linda, among them, the way she’d make me laugh, her sexy blond hair and curvaceous body, her pleasant warmth, and her love of punk rock, which was already classic by the end of the zero digit decade. I would give her chocolate candy; she would buy me coffee at the store next door. We’d exchange books, which was unheard of in our branch circles, for some reason. We became two peas in a pod or peas and carrots, though I’d be a carrot and she, plenty of peas. We’d joke around we’d have children together even though she was unfortunately already engaged to someone else, and we’d also make fun of our lecherous fellow business banker, Jim, who was really cheating on his wife and quite openly so, with customers too! It kept us sane in our little crazed bank branch.

Wrong or not, Damon made sure that Stephen would make sure to make us sure that every customer out there needed at least three accounts. Since I could not swallow that, I only sold to customers what they needed. If they really needed three, then three it was, if only one, then one. For some, a savings account was better, but that was hell for Stephen. He’d scream once in a while, “We don’t make any money on Savings Accounts. Get me some real Accounts!!”

The gentleman I once opened an account for was from Mexico. His name was Helchor. During account opening time, I asked him if he was a US resident.

He said, “I have no green card and it’s harder to get one if you come from Mexico. It’s easier for South Americans to get green cards, but it’s harder for them to get Visas. It’s easier for us Mexicanos to get Visas, but to limit the number of Mexicanos from living here, the US Immigration Department doesn’t issue visas as many green cards.”

We still opened the account for him and we applied for a credit card, what he really wanted. It made Stephen happy, that I was able to sell this guy a checking account, when in fact, he just wanted a credit card. We applied for the credit card, but who knew if he would get that card. Our credit department was not issuing credit cards easily.

However, Stephen would argue “the credit department would consider you more for a credit card if you have a checking account relationship,” which was bogus and he knew it, but it was possibly true. I never did find out. Either way, I remember I had at least 7 clients who applied for credit cards, who also opened checking accounts, and they were turned down for credit. One guy was so annoyed that he closed the checking account. One other customer told me, “Jesus, you can’t give me credit because of a bill I didn’t pay back when I was eighteen?!” He was forty now. Apparently, he needed medical services when he was 18 for a broken arm. He had missed being in his insurance plan by a couple of months; he had just turned 18 and his mother’s coverage ended at that date, but his accident happened two days before he was 18 and the treatment, which included a surgery because he needed a bullet implant in his arm bone, went past the date he turned 18, so the insurance company only paid until that date, the other treatment, which he thought was covered, was not covered, but he never got a bill, all he got was a statement saying, ‘this is not a bill.’ The statement explained all the services rendered to him at the hospital and that the insurance company had paid. Little did he know that the treatment two days past his eighteenth birthday was never paid. He never got notices. He finally received a notice from a credit collection agency, ten years later, when he was 28 that he had to pay $300 for arm surgery treatment. He questioned it and when he got the run-around by the credit collection agency, he decided to pay it. Little did he know that this little blip in his credit history would cause Sax to deny his credit application, 12 years later.

“You people are crazy,” he complained. But he did not close his account. Unlike the other customer, who politely told me, “Well, if I am unable to receive credit from this bank, I am afraid I have to close the checking account. I pray you understand. Forgive me, Mr.…how do you say it, your last name?”

“You can call me Tony.”

“Tony, as I was saying, I really needed the credit card, not the checking account. However, I was rather convinced by you I should open the account when you explained the features and benefits; however, these features are useless if I do not have the credit card. Please close my account.” His sincerity destroyed any notions of me charging him the fee for closing the account. Yes, the bank would charge you $30 for closing an account that you had opened in less than 50 days—even if Stephen would yell at me for refunding the fee, this customer deserved to not be charged, or so was my judgmental analysis, besides I thought, Linda would do the same thing; she became a moral compass to me.

Another confidant banker of mine, Franklin, would tell me that it cost the branch $300 to close an account, whereas if we open an account, the branch profits by $150. Yet, Stephen, Damon and the entire system didn’t care how many accounts we closed, just how many we opened. I was in the lobby one time waiting for customers to come into our little branch. No one was coming so to make conversation, I asked Stephen, “Is it true that Seema is coming back?”

“Yes,” he said giving me a look that said, why are you talking to me when you should be talking to customers coming in? But there was no-one coming..., so I continued:

“When?”

“As soon as I fire one of you guys. She’s the banker who gets me accounts in five minutes, not like you guys who tell me ‘later’ or ‘tomorrow’.”

“Yes, she would easily get 20 accounts one week and the next, I’d have to close them because these accounts were secondary accounts and these customers did not want them to begin with.”

“That doesn’t matter. We’re in the business of opening accounts. I don’t care if we close them.”

“But doesn’t it cost money to close accounts?”

“You’re starting to sound like Luke.”

“Huh?”

“Don’t get tied up in philosophy. This business is about showing positive numbers; who cares about the negative ones!”


[1] Sax had plenty of acronyms for its job positions.

Tags:

Stories

Retreat

I was at this spiritual retreat in New England. It was in Massachusetts, to be exact. I was looking forward to this experience since my busy banker life in Manhattan keeps me away from stimulating the spiritual side of me. There were about two dozen people at this retreat. They came on their own accord. I had no idea who they were really. I found out about this place through Retreats-R-Us.com. I know I didn’t do full research, but I just wanted the bare basic retreat and in some country-like place like the western half of the Puritan State or some other quaint commonwealth.

The 2 dozen RetreatAnts, as we were called, were doing just fine. The Retreat Head Mistress gave us this name because she considered her retreat headquarters to be an ant colony where we, the RetreatAnts would collectively meditate for the thriving of our own spirituality. The queen ant, therefore was our own self-improved spirituality. Our Head Mistress had plenty of meditations for us to engage in. Some of us were put to doing Sanskrit meditation, a form of relaxing the wrists by writing in Sanskrit. They did not know the language, were not even East Asian, but they did a fine job of copying the scrolls. One of the retreat coaches concluded this was a fabulous way to achieve a clean head, which is what meditation was, according to the blonde girl who sat with me on the train as we headed there. I suppose it was impossible to not have run into a fellow RetreatAnt on the Amtrak. Oh, but, this girl was so wrapped up in love for meditation. She was a hippie’s daughter raised in the hippie ways, loving the hippie-zeitgeist. Now, I’m a banker, that is true, and I do have my conservative tendencies, being a no-hippie sort of individual, yet I must say what she spoke about relaxation of the mind really made me look forward to this adventure. Her name was Starchild, according to her.

Other RetratAnts practiced toenail clipping. Not your regular clip the toenails with a toenail clipper kind of thing, no, this was a ritual whereby it would take you five minutes to clip one toenail. There was a breathing meditation break of a minute during clipping such that it would take an hour to do all 10 toenails of your feet. You also had to keep your eyes closed throughout this exercise.

There was also the headstand meditation participants; they would stand on their heads for hours. If there were people who wanted to join them, but could not do the headstands so long, they would do foot stands, and so, would stand next to them. It was an interesting sight to see. I didn’t think much of that trick. I felt like saying to one of them, “Don’t you feel like saying: ‘Here, I’m standing. Look at me meditate’.” At least the real head-standers were doing something different.

As much as I thought I was getting something out of this experience, I was just sleeping in. Yes, would marvel at my fellow RetreatAnts, but on the whole I was just baffled by my lack of activity that I slept in almost every day, until Starchild made her way over to my bed quarters and scandalously woke me up.

It was 6AM. I must have been snoring and dreaming. Yes, I know I was dreaming, and my dream was about a praying mantis eating me alive, and yet, I was sound asleep. When the mantis was about to open her fangs, Starchild woke me up by throwing a bucket of cold water on me. I didn’t even have time to get mad as the shock almost killed me and for a moment I thought I was in the mantis’ acid filled stomach. To my surprise, it was just the cold water that came out of the bucket that Starchild threw at me.

Shocked with a loss of vocabulary, I said, “What the—!?”

She said, “There’s a fire! We must leave!”

Tags:

Stories

Our Soporific Sofa

We have this sofa that has soporific powers. I lay there and I'm gone, sleeping that is. I tried reading a sonnet there and I couldn't get past the 4th line as I was rhyming with snores. I’ve tried reading any book and as soon as I get past the 1st page, my ZZZ’s are all over our apartment. Anytime I'm hyper and I want to lowdown, this is where I go. Quinta-espresso or Yerba maté cannot break this sofa's powers, nor Red Bull.

When we have guests and they sleep over, they find that they sleep past their normal wake up times, even with the train noise outside and the light coming from our living room windows – we have light curtains, which let the sun's rays. To be fair, we face the west, so the sunrise doesn't cook anybody's feet or heads, but the light of the sun, ever present can be felt, but with mushroom wood underneath them, that’s just not enough to awaken the toughest early bird – the worm will get away.

The soporiferous power lies in the mushroom wood of which the sofa is made. Although you would not tell it has any wood – for it has the softest cover – there is a material underneath all the softness that gives it structure, and most importantly, its sleep-inducing qualities.  This wood was cultivated in Indonesia, timbered with splashes of anti-caffeine agents, little dashes of sarsaparilla, half-wormwood and plenty of owlapiccitus, a stimulant-chemical-based plant only native to that part of the world. Treatment of the wood was done at night when only the owls and other creatures abound freely hunting or escaping the chase, like some cute and furry rodents. It was thought that night-cultivating would have the effect of creating awake-inducing wood, but the opposite happened. When the Indonesians figured this out, they no longer produced this wood because they were looking for the most work-inducing sofa that ever existed, but by this point in time, about 167* sofas had been made. What else to do but sell them. They distributed them all over the world. The distribution went as follows: 21 to Europe; 14 to Africa; 15 to Australia; 28 to India; 39 to Los Angeles; 30 to Chile; 17 to Saudi Arabia and 3 to New York. The distributors discovered that Gotham did not want its workers to spend too much time sleeping, since it is supposed to be the City that never does it, hence the low sales numbers there. L.A. was no surprise, being so laid back, got the highest numbers. Though they were surprised that Europe had awakened from the work to live (not live to work) comma; yes it was surprising, but then again, this happened in the wake of the EU, and we did see the high Euro low Dollar effect. The Chileans, it was said, loved to drink their wine while sitting on sofas, so they bought as much as they could; the effect was, of course, that their next door competitors, the Argentineans, were now producing more wine (they did create Yerba maté, it was said). As for the Chinese, who did not want to be left out of the action, ended up buying some from the Indians, and they were both happy.

All of this may seem displaced or scarcely unbelievable, but it is the truth.

PS: Our sofa was a gift from a friend of of a friend of an acquaintance who was traveling from Madagascar, on her way to Melbourne, after having spent sometime in Bombay.

* Add 000 to this figure, i.e., 167 = 167 thousand

Tags: ,

Stories

“Of course you don’t have a gift receipt”

Heather had to exchange the gift she did not like from Macy's. We went to the one on 34th Street, where one of the miracles happened. We walk in, ask for help from the man at the desk. We ask in casual New York form, "How you doin’?" He says, "I'm doin'." It's a Saturday.

"What time do you close today?"

"9:30pm"

I felt blessed that I worked at a bank, where I'd be done by 3:30 on Saturdays and no Sundays, no TD for me, thank economy, thank circumstances.

Heather said, "I would like to return a gift, but I don't have a gift receipt."

"Of course you don't. That's ok. What is the item you have?"

She pulls out the matronly blouse my aunt had given her.

"This item would be on the fifth floor. You can take the escalators right here." He points to his right he escalators that are hidden from the public masses, the side ones, not the ones in the middle where the multitudes walk. He knows the shortcuts, the indispensable orienting employee.

I ask him, "How about the bathrooms?"

"For you? That would be on the seventh floor."

"Thank you."

"Anytime."

We got to the matronly department on the fifth floor. We find the cashier. Heather says to the attendant, whose name-tag says Michelle, "Hi, I got a gift and I'd like to return it. Of course, I don't have a receipt."

"Oh, dear, the only problem is that without the receipt, Macy's will give you a credit for the lowest price the item was marked down."

"Oh, that's ok. I'd rather have five bucks than to have something I won't use."

Michelle processes the transaction after asking Heather for her license. She says, "Well, it comes out to $5.21."

Heather, prophetically stunned says, "Really?!"

I say, "Is that how much they paid?"

Michelle says, "No. It's just the price you get because you don't get the receipt."

A self-fulfilling prophecy.

Michelle says, "Because it's lower than ten dollars, you can get it in cash."

I add, "And now you can get your cheese fries. She loves cheese fries."

Heather asks her, "Where is the hosiery section?"

Michelle says, "It's in the 1 and a half floor. I know it sounds tricky. But you take the escalators there in the middle and when you pass the second floor, you get off and make a left then make a right to where it says 'Visitor's Center' and then keep on going straight till you see the stockings."

"Thank you."

Ok, now, as per my bladder, we go to the seventh floor.

We take the wooden staircase, the classic one, which brings a taste of history to our experience at Macy's, can we ever get enough of Old New York? Not I.

The Men's rest room had a door with a window. The first one I've seen as such. At least you could not see the urinals from the window; otherwise, I would feel the intrusion on my peeing action.

I come out. Heather asks, "So, shall we take the elevator?" I say, I prefer to take the classic escalator. "Ok, she says, but it'll take longer."

I love to ride in history, so we take the local, as Heather says.

As we reach the third floor, we see Michelle. She carries Heather's license. She says, "I was looking for you. You left your license."

Heather, graciously says, "Oh wow, thank you."

"You found us."

Michelle was heading to the one and a half floor and we might have missed her if we had taken the elevator or not have gone to the rest-room.

I am happy about that and amazed at coincidences, but I’m still convinced that one should always give a gift receipt, especially if the gift is clothing.

Tags: ,

Stories

They Met at the Check Cashing Place

They met at the check cashing place. He was cashing his check from a small electric company. This was on 116th Street, near Park Avenue. The sign of the place, like most of the signs on the ghetto, marketed what they sold, “Check Cashing.”

He paid his $50 and was happy he had 90% of his money. Actually, he wasn’t happy but content that he could do this transaction and get the hell out of there and not have to go to a bank where he wouldn’t have to pay 10% but have to have overdraft fees that could have totaled his check. Too many slobs, he thought, but too many people trying to take your money at banks too. He preferred to see the slobs at the check cashing place.

As he got out, a blond chick walked in, he thought he saw a chick in her, a girl stirring his attraction. He asked her to stop.

Please, wait.

She stopped.

Yes?, she asked.

I’m sorry. I don’t care what you say, but I need to talk with you.

He had never said anything to a blond chick with such words. In fact, he never said that to any other woman. He was not the pick-up artist type. He was in the military for 6 years now, but he was not a reservist. Last year, he had fallen in love with a Philippine woman 15 years his senior but her children didn’t like him and he had to leave on account of other martial assignments. He was responsible for his age. He respected life as it came.

Yes?, she said, again.

He struggled to find the words. They are so hard to come by when a woman freezes your spirit. He realized, she no longer was a chick, but a decent and beautiful person of the gender he attracted, one that stirred his passionate soul. He wasn’t going to try to pick her up, but he was not walking out without making an impression that would last.

I think you are so beautiful. 

Most women find this annoying and untrue, but the way he said it, the way she needed it, it was perfect. She didn’t know how to respond and said naturally, I need to go and cash a check.

Yes. May I please go in with you? He had come out already and was going back in. For some reason in her feminine brain, she didn’t feel alarmed, and it was daylight. A woman of any hair-color needed to be on alert for catcallers, misogynists, perverts, rapists, bad men, in general, but she got the feeling he was sincere…

…that was three years ago. They now live together.

They have two cats and two separate bank accounts.

Tags: , ,

Stories

Two Thanksgiving Shorts

MY BROTHER FORGETS HIS ID --

Yes, he did. He forgot it. He left his wallet at his girlfriend’s dorm room. He had to take a flight the next day from Syracuse, NY to go to Pittsburgh, PA. His itinerary included a layover stop in Detroit, MI. But now, he was stuck in Oswego, NY, scrambling in his thoughts, wondering what excuse he could give the security personnel at the airport for not having required ID. He did not have a driver’s license. It was at his girlfriend’s dorm room in Cortland, NY. He did not have his passport. It was expired and in the hands of his mother, in Levittown, NY. He did not have anything else official. All he had was a Stafford loan letter, his social security card, high school and college id cards. None of those were in the “acceptable” id category at the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) website.

In his Facebook status update, he wrote “Alex is FUCKEDDDDDD.”

He realized that he did not have his wallet after he took the bus that drove him from Cortland to Oswego – this was a week before his flight. He called his girlfriend and asked what happened to the wallet. She said she mailed it to his dorm room. How, he asked her? By mail, she texted back. “Pkg?” he texted. She typed what deciphered to “just left it in the mail room at school.”  He did not want to call his brother or mother. He hoped for the post-office to bring that wallet package any hour now. But it was Monday night and the flight was Tuesday morning. He lost hair each time he thought what could happen. He would miss his flight in the worst case scenario, but then what could he do? He could take the bus instead. But with what money? It was all in the wallet he left at his girlfriend’s. He could go back to Oswego, but they would be closing the school for Thanksgiving break. He could take a ride with his buddy that lived in Long Island; at least he could go to Long Island. But his friends had already left. Just like he wrote on his Facebook updates, he was. He called the Continental airlines department. The lady on the other end of the line said, “You’ll be okay. Just make sure to bring your school ID.” Apparently, a SUNY (State University of New York) ID was as good as State ID, which was as good as an acceptable form of ID to enter into a plane. Good. He could sleep now. But he’d have to wake up early. He’d have to take the 9AM bus to arrive in Syracuse by 10AM. The flight was scheduled to depart at 11AM. He might not make it. He’d have to find another bus, an earlier one. Who could he call? The internet was the answer. There was an earlier bus, at 8AM. Good. The morning came. He took the bus. It dropped him at the Syracuse transportation center. He called his brother from there to ask how to get to the airport. His brother asked, “Why don’t you take a shuttle bus to the airport from the Trans-center?”

“Because there’s none,” he said.

“Then take a cab.”

“I can’t. Just tell me which is the route to take. My paper is wet. It’s raining here. What’s the highway route?—”

He took highway route I-81. He didn’t just take it. He walked it, the 7 miles, in the rain. There was no cab fare because that was in the wallet, which was stuck in the mail room in Cortland, NY.

He got to the airport twenty minutes before the flight. No problem with IDs. But it was too late to board the flight, but since it was overbooked to begin with, they scheduled him on the next flight, which took him to LaGuardia, just twenty minutes from where his brother lived, and then another flight took him to the final destination of Pittsburgh, PA, where he’d join his family and his brother’s fiancée's family for Thanksgiving.

He never forgot his wallet at any girl’s dorm again. He carries it currently in his pants.

 

CAT UNDER A TIN HOOD --

They had no space for another body. All five of them were crammed in a Honda Civic Hybrid, but they had enough comfort for an 8 hour drive, mostly on Interstate 80, going east to New York City from the wilds of Western Pennsylvania—they were also full from plenty of Thanksgiving food. There was no room in the trunk either. They had the mother and youngest son’s shopping bags filled with clothing and shoes from Black Friday. There was so much that they had to take a car-roof-top trunk and it was packed in there too.

Traffic was smooth.

And then, two miles from the George Washington Bridge on I-80, they are stopped by a swarming multitude of cars stopped, bumper-to-bumper, they all moved at less than a mile an hour. The signs prior had predicted a 45 minute delay for those two miles. It’s dark—it’s 8pm but with all these cars and their lights on, it’s a well-lit road.

A kitty is confused. He walks around each car. Now every car is stopped. All three lanes. Nobody wants to crush it with their wheels. Blinkers are put on. “Hey look it’s a kitty” is heard through their closed windows.

The kitty chooses the Honda Civic Hybrid as the best spot to hide in. The five inside are shocked and put on their blinkers too. The driver and his brother come out. They don’t see it. The driver’s fiancée sees the tail. It’s on the front wheel. When the driver comes to see, it’s not there. She says, “Honk so you can scare him.” His mother says, “Let’s go. I don’t care about the damn cat.” She wants to go to her party and leave her bad kids behind—they’re stalling the process caring for kitty. The driver opens the hood. The mother is angered profusely, but even she can’t help feeling the amazement of seeing a cat under her car’s hood.

The fiancée, a confirmed kitty-lover, takes the scratches of a kitty. She saves him from the possible carnage of being cooked by the carburetor or chopped by the fan, etc, et cetera. The driver stops the traffic, as they’re in the far left lane of the four lane highway and set the cat in the grass covered median strip.

The kitty is saved. The driver’s siblings, who are allergic to cats, are relieved.

Before reaching the toll, the fiancée calls 911 to alert the authorities that there’s a kitty a quarter mile from the George Washington Bridge, NJ side. They pay their 8 dollars, welcomed to New York with kitty hero feelings in their hearts, even the mother.

Tags: , ,

Stories