The magic number

I’m whiling away the last of my retirement in Boston, but I’m not resting, oh no. I’m organizing things and calling people and making lists. Most of all, I am spending an outrageous amount of money.

Yesterday, for example, Ma Smash and I went to Target, where I spent $360 on things that I swear I used to own. When the number popped up on cash register, I felt my knees buckle.

“Oh my God,” I whispered. “How is that even possible?”

“Oh, that’s what it costs to move anywhere,” Ma said. “$360. Remember? When we moved you into Roslindale, it cost $360. Every time I sent one of you kids to college: $360. It’s the magic number. I’ve never been able to figure it out.”

“I’m going to throw up.”

“Oh, you’ll be fine.” She ran a finger over the four-hundred pound shelving unit I’d just purchased. “Now, how to think you’re going to get this up three flights of stairs? Are you going to use the laundry cart? I know: Make one of your guy friends do it.”

“Yeah, maybe. They tend to disappear when there’s actual physical labor on the agenda. Is there a problem?” This last to the cashier, who was looking at my credit card like it had an expiration date of yesterday and “Osama bin Laden” printed in the name space.

“I have to call,” she said wearily.

“Why? Is there something wrong with my card?”

She held up a finger and spoke into the phone. “Yes, I’ve got Ms. Hubley here. Would you like to speak to her? Yes, right here. OK, hang on.” She covered the mouthpiece and said, “Can I see your ID?”

Here’s where I started to get really nervous. See, I take a terrible picture, particularly for license photos. My ID photo doesn’t so much look like me as it does my retarded toothless Appalachian cousin Thelma Stump. In fact, I like to think of myself as this person when I’m in my cups or otherwise feeling stupid. Who lost my keys? Thelma Stump. Who lost my Netflix? Thelma Stump. Who forgot to update the blog for four days? Thelma has a drinking problem. Also a chromosome deficiency. It’s not her fault.

The cashier took my ID and flicked it right back to me over the counter without a look. But it was too late. Now I was worrying. My credit card was going to be declined. My credit history, previously so spotless and exemplary, had been hijacked by some feckless Jennifer Hurley or Hubbard or Hubler, and she and her crack-addicted boyfriend were taking my financial history on a cross-country killing spree.

“OK, here she is.” The cashier handed me the phone.

“Hello, Ms. Hubley, how are you today?”

“Well, honestly, I’m a little annoyed. What’s the problem, here?”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Hubley, I have a security hold on your card.”

“And that means…?”

“It means I’ll have to ask you just a few questions, and then I’ll transfer you to another department to complete the process. Now, what is the full name on your card?”

“Jennifer L. Hubley.”

“And what is your mother’s maiden name?”

“[Wouldn’t you like to know, you pesky credit card thieves. Ha! Your boyfriend will have to get his crack from some other source!]”

“And how old will you be on your next birthday?”

“Thirty, sadly.”

Pause. A short exhale which might have been a laugh. “OK, Ms. Hubley, I’m going to transfer you to another line.”

At this point, “The Girl From Ipanema” actually started playing on the phone. I looked at the cashier and my mother, who were peering at me expectantly.

“I’m going to jail,” I announced. “Because my credit card has been stolen by dangerous felons and soon my whole tragic life story will be on one of my favorite true crime shows, which I will not be able to watch because they don’t have cable in the pokey.”

The cashier rolled her eyes.

“Oh, they have cable in the pokey,” my mother said. “So what’s going on now?”

“I’m waiting for another person to come on and ask me a bunch of stupid questions.”

The cashier pointed at the person behind us in line. “You might want to go to another register,” she said. “This is going to be awhile.”

“If we’d known this was going to happen, we would’ve brought you a lunch!” Ma Smash said to the cashier.

The cashier tried out a smile. Dust blew out from the unused corners of her mouth.

“Can we get you a cold drink or something?”

Now, at this point, I should tell you two things. The first is that I was fully in the grip of The Rage. This comes upon me suddenly in situations where I am confronted by incompetence, and it does not feel great. It feels like Bluto in the old Popeye cartoons, when his vision went all red and the veins stood out on his neck. It feels like I might finally, finally snap.

The other is that my mother is the Nicest Woman in North America. She’s this way by nature, and because of the way she was raised, and also because she’s a nurse, which means that she’s more than human, can tolerate any type of human behavior and leaves no footprints in sand nor snow. Once, when I was in school, she asked me why I didn’t want to go to nursing school. I said that I didn’t have the patience to deal with people who weren’t nice to me. Specifically, I mentioned an incident when a patient, who was confused, had hit her and given her a black eye.

“Oh, the poor little thing,” she said. “She was confused and elderly and scared. She didn’t really know what she was doing.”

“She gave you a black eye! A black eye! I would have punched that old bitch in the head.”

She paused. “So maybe you shouldn’t become a nurse, then.”

So anyway, she wasn’t kidding when she offered to get the cashier a drink. Soon, my mother and the cashier were swapping child-rearing stories, and I was muttering incoherently into the phone and rolling my eyes like a spooked racehorse.

“Both my babies are away from me now,” Ma told the cashier. “Her sister is married to a serviceman, and they’re out in Tacoma. Well, she’s out in Tacoma. My little John is in Iraq right now.”

The cashier nodded sympathetically. She was leaning on the counter in a relaxed manner. “That’s so hard,” she said. “You know, my husband was in the army and we moved all the time. All the time.”

“This is ridiculous!” I said. “RIDICULOUS! Why is there a security hold on my card? I pay them. I PAY THEM ALL THE TIME. THEY HAVE ALL MY MONEY. DO THEY NEED MY SANITY, TOO? IS THAT IT? WILL THEY NOT BE HAPPY UNTIL I HAVE NOTHING LEFT?”

“Her father has a temper,” My mother explained.

“My husband has a temper, and all the kids do too. Such a shame.”

“I’m going to go crazy. No: I’m going to cancel my card. IF I’D KNOWN IT WAS GOING TO BE THIS HARD I WOULD HAVE PAID CASH.”

“Don’t do anything drastic,” My mother advised.

I thought about taking the phone and banging it on the counter, like they do in the movies.

“Hello, Ms. Hubley, are you there?”

“Oh, yes, I’m here.”

“How are you today, ma’am?”

“I am going insane.”

“I’m very sorry to hear that, ma’am. Now, I have just a few questions for you, and then we can clear this up. Are you a first, or a second?”

“I’m a GIRL. A GIRL. Do you know many “seconds” who are female?”

“I understand, Ms. Hubley. Now, if you could just clear up the matter of your address, which you changed last week…”

“Are you kidding me? You put a hold on my card because I CHANGED MY ADDRESS? Does no one ever move at your company? You know that we live in America, right? I don’t have to, like, get a special permit from the government to move house. I just need to give a scummy broker a lot of money.”

“Thank you, Ms. Hubley. I am reauthorizing your card, and I thank you for your patronage.”

“Not for long, you won’t be thanking me.”

She hung up the phone.

“OK, all set,” I told the cashier.

She looked at me sadly. “Did she hang up the phone? Cuz I need an authorization code for this.”

“You are kidding me. OK, you know what? I am going to pay cash. You can still use my ATM card, right?”

Eventually, I was able to purchase my goods and services and get free of Target, which I had begun to fear would be my new home.

“I am canceling my card,” I told my Mom.

“That’s a good idea, honey.”

“And then I am going to tell all of my friends to do the same.”

“That’s a good idea, honey.”

“And then I am going to hunt down everyone from the CEO to the call center manager and give them all flying wedgies.”

“That’s a good idea, honey.”

Sometimes I think my Mom isn’t listening to me.

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9 thoughts on “The magic number

  1. This is a GREAT story. Excellent. I fully expect to see it in your book, and I fully expect to receive an autographed copy, my dear Ms. Smash.

  2. wow, I agree, that’s deffinately a keeper…I’m just sad that it was Target and not Wallmart, everyone working in their CEO department needs a good wedgie or melvin.

  3. Nothing quite like a rejected/questioned credit card to make you feel like a 5 year old caught with their hand in the cookie jar. I always feel like everyone in the store is pointing and silently laughing.

  4. Oh honey, I always listen to you and your sister. I’m so glad I made the blog. After all I have fans you know.
    Love, Ma Smash

  5. I actually have a friend named Vanessa who named her daughter Vanessa. Her daughter is Vanessa the Second. (And a girl.)

  6. It actually gets better after 30. I know, I know, I didn’t believe it either, but just wait. You’ll see.

    Oh, and Ma Smash? You rawk.

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