Joe vs the ATM (& Introduction)

Howdy,

If I don’t write more fun stuff, my creative side is going to curl up and die.  (Well, okay, maybe not “die” per se, but certainly get its growth stunted like a caffeine-addicted child.)  And let’s face it, my writing projects are getting slower and slower.  I was a little pokey getting scripts to Duke, and I’m getting just as bad turning pages into Sean.  Sigh.  My regularity on MySpace postings is just pitiful.  Hopefully getting me on a writing schedule will straighten my slacker tendencies out.  (Besides, one can only spend so many hours playing Bejeweled.)  Such are the reasons behind “Anecdotal Tales”.  Ideally I can crank out one of these every weekend.  Thursdays or Fridays?

We all got a story to tell”- SHeDAISY

In “Anecdotal Tales”, stories will be told.  Some will be fun, some will not.  Some will be great, some will be less so.  Some stories are true, some are merely possible.  This is one of them.

Joe versus the ATM

Joe awoke with a start to the sound of a screaming voice and a pain digging into his rib cage.  The crying and protests were coming from his six-week old daughter, Julia.  The intrusive elbow that continued to poke and vex him belonged to his wife, Juliet.  Joe had thought that agreeing to his wife and child have such similar names would allow him a favor here and there (plus, the thought of them being called “J.J.J.” as a collective group was charming).  However if he was to gain any perks or downtime, it was not to be at this moment.

“Mrrnh?” he muttered; the early morning not yet allowing words to form in his mouth.

“Iz yerh ternh”, Juliet said with her face planted fully into her pillow.

“Whuh?” Joe attempted to reply.

Lifting her head up, the barrier between her voice and the room removed, Juliet said, “It’s your turn.”

“No, it’s not”, Joe said, finally opening his eyes for the first time.  He looked to Juliet, lines forming slightly under her hazel eyes, strands of hair messily strewn about her small chin and slight nose.  At any other time, Joe would have thought Juliet looked achingly beautiful.  But this early in the morning, it was unlikely that a swimsuit model would have gotten any civil response from Joe.

“Yes, it is”, Juliet insisted.  She began to sit up in bed, preparing to wake up just enough to state her case, but not enough to abandon the warm covers.

“No, it’s not”, Joe repeated.  “If you’ll recall, I cleaned up her first dinner.  That ‘incident’ involved that substance which we still haven’t identified.  And just in case you had forgotten the look, I am quite sure you have not forgotten the smell.  That unearthly smell that caused my nostrils to scream out in agony, the smell which made you run into the other room, and the smell which we agreed would count as two diaper changes.  Last time was the first one.  I’m calling in the second one.  Therefore,” Joe smiled just enough to reveal a grin of confidence, “it is in fact, your turn.”

Juliet threw her pillow into Joe’s face as she swung her legs out of bed.  He pulled the pillow close to him, double-cushioning his head as he prepared to once again enter that oft-neglected world of sleep.  Little did he know, the land of slumber was going to remain one citizen short.

“Joe”, he heard from the next room.

“Whnn?” he replied.

“Joe!”

Lifting his head again, he groggily called out, “Yes?”

“We’re down to just the back-up diaper.  You need to go get more.”

Joe was not alert enough appreciate the balance of Julia’s decreasing need to cry as he became overwhelmed with the desire to start sobbing.  “Diapers?  It’s two in the morning and you want me to go buy diapers?”

“That’s the deal and you know it”, Juliet called, trying to rock Julia back to sleep.

“I don’t think it’s such a big deal.”  Joe was still hoping he would be allowed to stay in bed.  His head lifted off of the pillow just enough to plead his case.  “I mean, can’t we just hope her diaper will last four more hours.”

Joe could hear his wife’s abrupt laugh from across the hall.  “Honey, have you met our child?” 

Joe knew Juliet was right.  He tried one last tactic.  “How ‘bout if you go get diapers?  I mean, you’re already up.  And that smell, I mean, that really was an act of heroism on my part.”

At this, Juliet walked in the room and stood over Joe.  “Joe”, she said, Julia slowly dozing off in her arms.  “What’s the arrangement?”

Joe sighed, knowing full well what the arrangement was and that Juliet was certain to repeat it.  “You gave birth.”

“Yes, I did”, Juliet said.  “Can you give birth?”

“No.”, Joe said, mentally thinking to himself, “and praise God for that.”

“Can you breast feed our child?” Juliet continued.

“No.”

“But what can you do?” she prompted.

“Buy diapers.”

“Correct!” she pronounced loudly.  “So what is your one, never-yielding, always responsible for, must-do task?”

“Keep us in stock”, Joe mumbled as he threw the covers off and reached for his shirt.

“Joe”, Juliet said softly, putting her free hand on his back.

“Hmm?” he replied as he pulled on the closest pair of shoes.

“You know I love you right?” she stated kindly.

“Yeah.  And I love you too.  Enough that I will go out into the world and get you two diapers.”

“Thank you Joe”, she said with a smile, sitting down in the room’s antique rocking chair. 

Joe kissed his wife and small child on their foreheads and lumbered sleepily towards the door. 

“Oh Joe”, Juliet called out.

“Yeah?”

“Be sure and get cash from the ATM.”

Joe stopped.  His brain was trying to process the request, but no logic came when asked.  “Why, in the name of all that is reasonable, would I stop to get cash?”

“I told you.  We’re doing a new budget thing.  If we don’t have the cash, we don’t buy it.”

Joe tried to recall any such conversation, but he just assumed his wife wouldn’t make this kind of thing up “just because”.  “Okay”, he began, “but why does it really matter?  We have plenty of room on the credit card.”

“But I want to keep track better”, Juliet replied logically.  “We need to keep better track of our budget and only using cash is a safer bet than checking our credit card balance once a month and shaking our heads.”

Joe started to respond, but he knew his wife too well.  “You’re not going to budge on this are you?”

“No”, she smiled delightedly.

“Even though I don’t think it’s really necessary?”

“You agreed to it earlier.”

Joe was quite confident that earlier-Joe wasn’t thinking about overly sleepy-Joe when he had concurred.  “If that’s what you really want”, he said with resignation.

“Yes please.”

“Yes dear”, he replied as he made for the car keys.

*****

Joe pulled up to the grocery store and fumbled for his wallet.  He looked about him, and as he had hoped, there was no one within sight.  The intelligent and logical denizens of the world were still home in their beds, oblivious to those like Joe that were making their way in the wee small hours.  Joe heard the sound of a glass bottle hitting the ground.  He stopped, clutched his keys and wallet close to him, and tried to peek through the darkness. 

With help from the dim halogen lights that barely lit up the grocery store’s awnings, Joe could make out a small figure moving near the dumpsters.  He couldn’t distinguish a shape, but there was most definitely something moving in that area.  As a car drove by and its bright headlights washed the building in light, Joe was startled to see two beady eyes squint from the light and put a paw over its eyes.  Joe could now quite clearly recognize a raccoon as the “stranger” down at the end.  As his sight adjusted to the darkness, Joe could make out the raccoon’s tail slowly swishing back and forth as the rest of the body perched on the narrow ledge of the dumpster.  Joe looked at the critter and tilted his head slightly to one side.  The raccoon responded by leaning towards Joe just a tad; perhaps trying to get a whiff of this man that would dare intrude on its nightlife.  The raccoon sniffed a few times, blinked, and then returned to the dumpster for his late snack.

Trying to laugh off his paranoia, Joe took his keys and placed them in his pocket.  The small excitement had woken him up for a moment, but the adrenaline was quickly running out.  He reached for a card without looking to his wallet and placed it in the machine’s slot with a blinking green light.  Joe readied his fingers over the keypad to type in his code, but the machine was not making sounds he had ever heard before.  From the card slot he heard a whirring; like the constant turning of a tiny engine.  The rollers were attempting to take a card but Joe had no card to give.  Then a grinding sound came from within and he heard the motor seize and lock up.  The light which had blinked so calmly before now stood a dangerous crimson shade.  The ATM would not be releasing or taking cards anytime soon.

Joe turned his eyes slowly upward, as if hoping the pinhole camera would offer some sort of advice as to what to do.  The pinhole camera, having witnessed the entire incident, merely looked back with its one glassy eye.  The camera was not responsible for the actions of the ATM.  The camera was merely there as a witness to events.  It was forbidden to take any steps except for that of surveillance.  Like a union worker who had punched out his timecard, the camera did not blink, did not make excuses for the ATM’s actions, and certainly did not offer to help Joe out of this jam.  In his younger years, Joe would have flipped the finger at the camera, but he felt he could not do that these days.  Joe was an adult now, a mature father who had to lead the way for the next generation.  Such vulgar displays were beneath his new paternal station.  So he instead stuck his tongue out and went back to his conflict.

Every attempt at hitting a cancel button or a stop button only led to beeping noises.  Joe was muttering under his breath, nothing in particular, as he tried any combination of keys he thought might produce a result.  His ID code brought him no joy, nor did his phone number from two apartments ago or the birthday of his sister.  The ATM beeped, unmoving; refusing to respond to any stimuli that Joe might offer up.  Finally, Joe looked at the small label and found the number for customer service.  He reached inside his coat pocket, thanking whatever habits he had formed which led him to automatically grab for his phone whenever he pocketed his wallet and keys.  He flipped open his phone, glared at the ATM, then dialed the number.  After two rings, the phone was answered.

“Thank you for calling Countrywide Banking.”

“Yes, my name is Joe Bishop and I…”

“We are sorry we cannot assist you at this time,” the voice interrupted.  “Our office hours are from nine a.m. Eastern Time to six p.m.  Please call back during these hours and we will direct your call to a customer service representative.”

Joe took the phone away from his ear and stared at it in disbelief.  He couldn’t quite reconcile the idea that a national bank wouldn’t have someone awake.  He had assumed there must be some person being paid just to wait for his late night phone call.  Hearing the voice continue, he put the phone back to his ear.

“Should you require assistance at this time…”

“Yes please,” Joe stated

“…we recommend you visit our website for our online service.  We may be able to resolve many of your problems there.”

Joe snapped the phone shut and jammed it back into his pocket.  He didn’t have a back-up credit card.  Juliet had insisted that they wouldn’t need a second credit card.  After Joe fought her on the topic, saying that life can be unexpected, she had loosened her stance.  Juliet agreed that perhaps they should have a second card.  But that it should be kept in the dresser.  At home. 

Joe loved many things about his wife, but right now her frugality and her need to be a financially savvy mother was displeasing him.  How was he supposed to pay for anything?  What if the car broke down and he needed to pay for a tow truck?  Joe, now worried, flipped open his wallet fully and checked that he still had his AAA card.  There it was, as it should be.  Right next to his ATM card.

Joe was confused.  If his ATM card was in his wallet, then what card had he put in the machine?  He flipped through his rolodex of plastic.  His video rental card was there.  As was his grocery discount card.  His coffee gift card, his other grocery discount card, and his gift card to a store he’d never been to, his health card; all were present and accounted for.  Then he remembered how he had been updating his file information at work.  How he had taken out his driver’s license and let them photocopy it.  He had looked at the card and noticed how the lamination was breaking apart and the corners were sticking up.  He realized that the card he had inserted was his driver’s license.  It was just the right size to fit in the ATM’s slot, but not enough to do so correctly.  The peeled corners were probably the culprit that had jammed the mechanism.  Vexed with himself, the situation, and the ATM, Joe went inside.

Heading straight for the baby aisle, Joe grabbed a package of diapers, saw that they were on sale, and grabbed two more.  He went to the only open cashier and set his three plastic-wrapped parcels down as he waited for the aging cashier to check the ID of the young man and his friend who were nervously attempting to buy alcohol.  The cashier looked over his glasses as Joe had only seen librarians and great-grandpas do, and then started to bag the twelve-packs of beer.  Joe looked behind him and was won over by temptation.  He grabbed two packs of peanut-chocolate candies and told himself he would need this little treat to reward himself.  Joe started pondering how likely he was to be stopped on his way home and whether or not he would be asked to produce his license.  He would have to drive home very carefully.  Distracted by this new worry, Joe didn’t notice that the cashier was trying to get his attention.

“You want a bag for these?  Paper or plastic?”

“What’s that?  Oh, sorry.  I don’t need a bag.”

“First one?” the elder man asked with an understanding air.

“Say again?”

“Is this your first kid?  You’ve got that look about you.”

Joe shrugged.  “Is it that obvious?” he asked as he swiped his ATM card as payment.

“Only to those that have been there”, the old man replied.  “I went through it five times myself.”

“And you’re still standing, right?”

“Just barely”, the cashier replied, his smile betraying a poorly set pair of false teeth.  “You’ll miss it in a flash.  The days just fly by.”

“That’s what they say”, Joe answered, not believing the adage one bit.

*****

Joe locked the garage door behind him, thankful that there had been no officers intrigued by his car.  There had been a few police men stopped by a black Jeep, but Joe was positive he had seen the vehicle speeding by at quite a rapid speed beforehand.  He took the three packs of diapers and placed them in the corner of the bedroom and flopped onto his bed.  Juliet turned and looked at him.

“Did you get them?” she asked quietly.

Joe cast a fond look to the corner and saw Julia lay in her crib.  Maybe it was all worth it.  Maybe.  “Yeah, they were on sale so I stocked up.”

“That’s nice”, Juliet said, already trying to go back to sleep while she could.  “Did you get a receipt?”

“Yeah, did you want it?”

“No”, she replied, pulling the covers closer to her side of the bed.  “Just put it in your wallet so we can keep track of it.”

“Sure”, Joe said as he took his shoes off.  Removing his jacket and tossing it on the floor, Joe took the receipt and wallet and held it over the nightstand table. He clicked on the small lamp that stood there and tried to shield its light from hitting Juliet.  As the light shone, he pulled open the big pocket of his wallet and was just about to put the receipt inside when he got a good look at the contents.  Sitting there, plain and obvious in the big pocket, were four twenties and two ones in cash.

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About anecdotaltales
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

4 Responses to Joe vs the ATM (& Introduction)

  1. Seran says:

    I like your writing, of course. Logistics of story are off… a -6-week-old baby wouldn’t be assumed to be crying for a diaper change as the story starts off. And at 6-weeks-old you are usually VERY stocked on diapers. And that lady is NUTS if she’s going to argue about money at 2 a.m. – albeit I make my DH use cash also. And debit cards are used for getting cash – not credit. Okay, that’s it. But I do like the progression and conversations.

    • Oh, Seran. I’m glad you know completely rational and together parents, but I’ve met some wacky ones. So I think it’s possible. Not for you perhaps. 😉

      Also, my ATM/debit/credit card is all in one. It says debit, it works in an ATM, and it has a VISA logo. Therefore, I challenge your challenges. Happy weekend. 🙂

  2. HSR says:

    Great story! Can’t wait to read the next ones. FWIW, I can totally imagine being out of diapers at 2am. I once sent my child to daycare without a diaper because I forgot to put it one on her.

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