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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Another Dip at Serendipity, Jacob Edwards

    I used to have just a savings account with the ANZ Bank. Then I started up a cheque account. After years of pitiful interest rates my lethargy and disillusionment gave way to some strangely muted form of pecuniary self-interest, whereupon I wandered into the UQ branch at St. Lucia and opened a V2 plus account.

    The whole experience bore a striking similarity to Gandhi's going up to the nearest photographer, offering a shy, toothless and somewhat baffled smile and then asking where he might be able to find some tea and crumpets; or to a hippie purchasing a semi-automatic rifle. Woah, man. Heavy.

    In any case, that was the origin of today's torturous checkout debacle. (The V2 plus account, that is, not Gandhi or the hippie.)

    The V2 plus account is a wondrous concept. You receive an interest rate comparable to a term deposit, but have to maintain a minimum balance of $5,000. Which might suggest that your interest rate would revert to that of the standard savings account should your balance drop below $5,000, yes?


    Your balance physically cannot fall that low; indeed, it shows up as whatever amount you have in excess of $5,000. The actual $5,000 is untouchable, á la Speedy Gonzales on a liberal dose of pseudoephedrine; it simply isn't there.

    Which is why I had to close down the V2 plus account.

    No hard feelings. No regrets. I just like having access to my money.

    So anyway, I'm standing at the Woolworths checkout, Sunnybank, confidently purchasing $26.27 worth of miscellanies: deodorant; muesli bars; tissues; milk; yoghurt; cheese; avocado; tinned fruit... There is nothing here to trouble the girl's eyebrows.

    “Would you like any extra cash out?” she asks.

    “Could I have $500?” I ask, soon to bitterly regret my lax grammar. May I have $500? Always say may.


says the hand-held EFTPOS machine with the impersonal aloofness one would usually associate with highly seasoned bureaucracy.

                                  CONTACT BANK

    Whereupon I frown with obligatory embarrassment and take responsibility for the error.

    “Could I just try my other account? I'm always getting them confused.”

    The girl offers some sympathetic platitudes and pushes the machine at me again. She's seen it all before.

                                  CONTACT BANK

    Where's my goddamn anger? This bastard number-cruncher won't recognize my financial solvency and all I can do is shrivel up and proclaim myself persona non grata. What's all that about?

    “Sorry about this,” I murmur distractedly. “I know there's money in one of these accounts.”

    I do know -- indeed, there was a good $2,000 sitting in either my cheque or my savings account yesterday -- and yet, primordial chaos ruled.

    “Could we try $200?”

                                   CONTACT BANK

    “Ah,” I suggest, not very constructively, while unsuccessfully attempting to hide behind four cans of tinned fruit. “Same amount from the other account?”

    The girl's fingers flick over the buttons again. She doesn't even have to look.

                                 CONTACT BANK

Well, not totally unexpected.

    “Let's try one more time,” I say, keeping things as positive as I can while grasping at straws and coming up with the card to Veronica's and my joint account.

    “Do you still want the extra cash?” the girl inquires, without a trace of contempt for my impecunious fumbling.


    But we both know it's a futile enterprise. Once bitten, twice shy, three times a lady and four times declined. I'm cringing well before the rejection comes through. It's like one of those days where you're driving around and every time you close the car door you receive a huge electric shock. Pretty soon you come to fear the static discharge.

    “Look, um, could you just...”



                                 CONTACT BANK

    “...just put these aside, and I'll go and do some phone banking. See if I can work out what's going on?”

    I mumble a few more poorly expressed half-thoughts, collect the reams of my epic shopper docket, and edge away from the checkout.

    “You'll be back soon?” the girl asks.

    “Shouldn't be more than a couple of minutes,” I grin weakly. “Oh, can you change this dollar for me. Twenty cent pieces, please.”

    So I'm standing at the public phone, working my way through the phone banking menu, discovering that...

    Yep. Just over $2,000 in my cheque account.

    I tap my foot, metaphorically, and hang up. It must be their machine after all. If I can just find an ATM then I should be able to withdraw the requisite cash to reclaim my small haul of groceries and avoid being terminally labeled a skint bastard, shuffling my scuffed old boot along the Monopoly board of life and trying to EFTPOS Mayfair, Park Lane and -- hell, why not? -- four houses and a hotel.


    The ATM spits in my face, but it's all quite inconsequential, for I have the answer. Chilli withdrawal struck Gandhi down. Poor firearm safety consciousness accounted for the hippie. It's the bloody ANZ and their blasted V2 plus account. I've been humbugged.

    For reasons unfathomable to me at the time, my V2 plus account was placed in the 'cheque' slot of my ATM card. Something about dominant strains. Who knows? The ANZ is making changes to help you. Anyway, I was told to access my V2 plus account -- well, whatever tip of the iceberg rose above the $5,000 waterline -- by selecting 'cheque' when prompted. But what about the money in my cheque account? You'll just have to write cheques, I suppose.

    (At this stage, I begin stomping back towards the public phone.)

    So wouldn't it make sense for my cheque account to have reverted to its natural slot upon closure of the V2 plus account? Apparently not. My cheque account is in limbo. Missing in action. Orbiting the planet at maximum velocity. Thank you very much, ANZ. There's enough customer satisfaction out there to fill a stadium.

    The phone banking menu is as gratifying as always. Horrible jingle. Pointless self-promotion. Breathy and not-at-all seductive: Now...

    Without further incident I am able to transfer money from cheque to savings account, whereupon I return to Woolworths. The checkout girl is gone. My shopping has been relocated to the front desk, where the woman in charge seems rather surprised to see me. I hide behind a facade of good humour, EFTPOS my groceries and my $500 and then leave, feeling rather like the seemingly dumfounded Sale of the Century contestant whose plastered smile and consolation board-game prize quite belie half an hour's maniacal jabbing at a buzzer that stopped working just after the first question.

    I stalk down the nice wide ramp that leads to the carpark and it is here that I catch sight of the maladroitly named 'skill-tester'; namely, a three-fingered pincer that one maneuvers into position above a faceless sea of soft toys, none of which are remotely interested in being picked up by a do-it-yourself model-kit piss-take of the Terminator's left arm.


    I catch sight of these words and I pause, for there is an opportunity here; a chance to test a long-held theory about games of chance.

    Do you remember the advertisements for Instant Scratch-Its? The winner is always someone who's having a real shit of a day. His toast has burnt. His car's broken down in the rain. His spare tyre's flat. Suddenly, he catches sight of the news agency, he floats blissfully across the road, and -- ZAP! -- he's won $10,000.

    The key is not to premeditate. The only way to win is through spur-of-the-moment action. Unfortunately, once you understand this it is virtually impossible to achieve. Little wonder that Schrödinger turned to quantum theory.

    But this is my time. This is my shit of a day. (And I'd just like to thank my financial institution for the help they've given me over the years.) This is my one chance to beat the system

    If nothing else, it's a golden opportunity to waste the final twenty cent piece from my original dollar. I put my shopping down and step up to the 'skill-tester'.

    What a moment.

    The twenty cent piece disappears into the gambling ether, never to return, spinning heads and tails in heaven. I gaze out over a colourful but totally flat sea of soft toys, nary a protuberance to be seen, save perhaps for a small lump about three-quarters of the way back...?

    That's my target.

    An Asian family walks down the ramp towards me and I feel the pressure of their collective gaze. I push the 'up' button and the metal arm shoots forward, way too fast, like Kramer on skates, overshooting the mark. Nevertheless, I stab at the 'right' button and send the metal arm jitterbugging off in that direction. I'm still aiming for the same spot, totally in denial, hoping against all expectation that my depth of vision might somehow be skewed.

    The metal arm comes down, its three prongs move clumsily towards each other as per a Tyrannosaurus Rex trying to pick up fairy cakes, or the Grim Reaper attempting to collect an errantly lofted billiards ball using just his scythe and the jigger.

    The imagery is resounding and it therefore comes as something of a shock when the ungainly appendage somehow latches on to a heretofore unnoticed part of the prize for which I'd been aiming. But it's OK. The grasp is tenuous at best, like Napoleon's occupation of Russia. The soft toy will never pull free of its fellows without coming loose and falling back into the mix.

    And yet, it does. Up, up, up.

    Surely it will be dislodged by the jolt of the metal arm moving left again? Or back towards me?

    But no. The crippled tripod completes its tortured journey and drops a much-needed relief package into my stricken morning.

    QED, baby.

    The porcine money-box with which the ANZ recently presented me need not be alone anymore, for now I am also the proud owner of what can only be described as a girlie-pink, hairy pig.

    It's a rich man's world.

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