gatineau morning.

gatineau morning.
photo by douglas mcarthur.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


You Can Bank On It

During the more than two decades I spent in India, the banking system progressed from trading cows and hiding currency under false floorboards to actual banks. During my last several years there, in fact, I placed what money I had in the Bank of Patiala. One had to enter the bank by stepping over a chain left, for some unknown reason, always across the front doorway. A very small man with a very large rifle sat just inside. The rifle was an ancient, double-barrelled affair slung proudly over his shoulder. A sign, hanging above the counter, read; ‘Pleas Cont Yor Monys Befor Leving.’ There were no computers and simple withdrawals or deposits could take the better part of a morning.

The day I was leaving for Canada, I asked to withdraw most of my funds, which amounted to some fifty thousand rupees, just under two thousand dollars Canadian. That may not sound like a king’s ransom, but a normal withdrawal would consist of one or two less zeros made by a simple hill-person in town to purchase sugar for a special occasion or get a tooth pulled following a special occasion.
After some discussion amongst themselves, the teller came back to the counter. "That will not be possible sir. Very sorry," he said wagging his head from side to side smiling. Obviously, returning two days later was out of the question and so, after some further negotiations, we agreed I could indeed have my money, though in bundles of fives and tens. The fellow with the rifle was sent to the market for bags.

Back in Canada, circa 1998, I discovered that banking had progressed without waiting for me. In my quest for respectability I acquired all the right cards and made all the right moves. However, when I went to the office in Hull to pick up a license plate for my new really old car, I faced a huge dilemma. In order to finally grab the plate, sitting on the counter like the Holy Grail itself, I had to pay $275.00, cash. I had handed the severe-looking lady my Visa card as I swelled with pride. But, she wouldn’t accept it. I offered her a debit card. She refused. I didn’t have a cheque or enough cash so she, with a show of tremendous forbearance, looking like wanting nothing more than to kick the family dog, suggested I go use the cash machine in the next building and come back. I had never used a cash machine. I knew I would eventually. I just wanted to wait for the right moment, and that wasn't it. With people waiting at the license office and several looking over my shoulder at the cash machine, that was most certainly not the right time.

There seemed to be a few slots, and I kept trying to stick the card in each of them. The lighting was poor and I was under no small pressure. I tried pushing the card into one or another aperture until I finally realised two of the slots were just lines. Of course I looked mentally challenged as I tried to force my card into any mark that might’ve been the right place. I turned the card up and down and around, no doubt looking even more 'special' until the beast finally grabbed the thing.

With the card mercifully deposited in its proper receptacle, I next had to read the simple instructions. People came and went from the next machine while behind me the folks either giggled or groaned as they crowded in. My machine asked if I wanted FRENCH or english. The arrow seemed to point between the buttons. I thought I pressed for english, but got FRENCH, had to start again. More giggles. More groans. I knew my secret code, but made a couple more mistakes before figuring the whole thing out. I punched in my desired amount, $275.00 including the decimal point, waited, waited, got my card back, waited and then got rejected. No one likes rejection. I tried everything again and I was rejected again. A voice from the now raucous crowd behind called out in a sarcastic tone, "It’s gotta be in multiples of twenty." I thanked the man without turning around, consoled by the thought that I’d probably never see any of them again, finally got the money and positively slithered out.

As I re-entered the license office, people were looking downright nasty. The lady behind the counter had her head in her hands and I felt sorry for her puppy. I paid my money, grabbed the plates and drove off into a new world.

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