October 21, 2017
The woman sat across the desk from one of the assistant vice presidents. I heard her say she had come to the bank on her lunch hour to open a checking account. I was in the adjoining cubicle getting my checkbook balanced. We could see each other but not our respective assistant vice presidents in these mostly glass office alternatives. She had curly red hair and a whiskey baritone voice. And, since the walls were only about six feet high we could also hear the other party if they used normal conversational tone.
The bank had just been remodeled, renamed and re-sloganed. YOUR BANK—THE FRIENDLY BANK. I thought that HOOVER BANK AND TRUST was less than comforting but the brain trust that picked out YOUR BANK as the new name must have been Abbott and Costello devotees.
Where are you going?
Why are you going to my bank? Why don’t you go to your own bank?
I am going to my own bank.
I thought you said you were going to my bank.
Don’t be silly. I’m going to YOUR BANK.
So, in the spirit of FRIENDLY BANKING, all of the officers including the manager of the branch sat in glass cubicles and the only thing that differentiated them was the size of their cubbies and the height of their glass walls. The tellers were behind counters but not separated from the customers by glass. Some sat low and there were office chairs for the customers, and some sat on high stools and their customers had the option of doing likewise.
"What is your maiden name?" the unseen assistant vice president asked the curly redhead.
I stared straight away at Phoebe Hurst who, in the new "Friendly" mode, was attempting the impossible—the balancing of my checkbook. I looked at her "Friendly Smile," the smile sticker that all employees had to wear. It was also the bank logo. . She wore her smiley mouth on her left breast and even in all its cartoonish glory it looked obscene.
"It’ll be a lot easier, Mr. Mirsky, if you come in monthly and let me do this. Once it gets to be over a year it takes quite a bit longer. Not that I mind, you understand," she said slapping her Friendly smile back on her lips, "but there’s no reason for you to have to sit around for so long."
"Your right," I said and smiled back.
"We can put you on a regular schedule."
"Hmm," I said.
"Would you like to schedule next month’s balancing now?" she asked.
"No," I said. "I’ll have to call because I don’t know what my schedule will be."
"Well, if you make this part of your schedule you can make appointments around it," Phoebe Hurst smiled back.
"If life were only that easy," I said.
"Well, it could be easier. You could start with this one thing and fill in your time all around it," she said.
"But what happens if an appointment comes up and I have to cancel with you?"
"Don’t," she said with another Friendly smile but not a Friendly voice.
Phoebe took her day book, turned a few pages and said, "Wednesday the fourteenth seems like a good day. What time would you like to come in?"
If Phoebe were in sales, Mirsky thought, she would have given him a choice of two times and had him select one, instead of leaving the question open ended and giving him his out. But she was playing on his field now.
"I’ll call you when I get back to my office and check my schedule," Mirsky lied.
Phoebe knew he was lying and Mirsky knew she knew. And both knew that there was a limit to the amount of pressure she could put on him and that she had reached it.
"That’s fine," Phoebe said and then stopped to listen to the conversation in the next cubicle.
"Listen, I don’t have time for a lot of questions, I just want to open a checking account."
"It's part of the procedure for security reasons," the Friendly strained voice said.
"But I don’t like me mother’s family so why should your security need my maiden name?"
"It’s not a matter of like or not like," she said, "it’s a matter of policy."
"Well you can take your policy and shove it in that smiley face on your collar," the lady said as she pushed back her chair and stood. In a loud voice she said, "You’re not the only bank in town and if you can’t open a checking account in ten minutes I’m sure someone else can."
All eyes were turned towards her as the manager with the Friendliest smile of all walked over. "Why don’t you come to my office and we can set you up with a checking account in no time," she said and pointed to her smile sticker.
Curly Red’s chair clanged off the glass cubicle. She followed the manager, all the time complaining about the bank and truth in advertising.
Phoebe Hurst looked at Mirsky, pushed his balanced checkbook to him and said, "This town ought to get down on its knees every night and thank God that I don’t come to work packing." She got up and brushed past Mirsky and walked out of her cubicle without a Friendly face.
The next day Mirsky had a message from Phoebe and the following day an email—both of which he ignored. In that afternoon’s mail a postcard.
YOUR BANK WANTS YOUR MORTGAGE BUSINESS. CALL PHOEBE HURST TODAY.
It was a business postcard no different from the kind other banks or mortgage companies sent except that the smile logo was a little more Jack Nicholson smile than Friendly Smile. Mirsky did what he always did with solicitations—he tossed it.
"Did you get my postcard?" the familiar voice asked.
"Who is this and what postcard?"
"Phoebe Hurst, Mirsky, and my mortgage postcard."
"What about it?" Mirsky asked.
"Mirsky Real Estate hasn’t sent me any business so I assumed you hadn’t gotten my card."
"Well, I’ve had a long term mortgage relationship with THE CORNER BANK S & L," Mirsky said.
"That’s nice," Phoebe Hurst said, "but why don’t you come in and we can discuss the benefits of using our mortgage department?"
"I’ll pop in when I have a free moment," Mirsky said.
"Which is better, Thursday or Friday? Phoebe Hurst asked. When Mirsky didn’t answer quickly enough she added, "Morning or afternoon?"
"Um um," Mirsky said while trying to extract himself from this conversation. She’s been reading, he thought.
"Let’s call it Thursday noon and we’ll go out to lunch on me to talk about mortgages and you can bring your checkbook along and I’ll balance that for you afterwards."
"Phoebe," Mirsky said, "I know that you’re . . ." and while he was speaking he disconnected the call. He knew that people never suspect you of hanging up on them if the disconnect happens when you are speaking. It’s a trick he learned when he first got in the business and used to his benefit numerous times. His extension rang and he got up and walked out the door for a lunch date with a martini.