Thursday, September 25, 2008

This Week Your Bank's Name is _____________

Mack Hall

Today I visited the drive-through window at a familiar building in order to cash a small check. I say building instead of bank because the building has changed owners many times lately, and I really don’t know who those people inside it are.

A nicely-printed sign said “A familiar face with a new name” and bore a demographically-correct picture of the faces of four nice-looking people whom I have never seen. Another part of the sign read “Now we’re X Bank. And you are still our favorite customer.”

Well, that “favorite customer” thing might carry some credibility if anyone at the bank actually knew me. At the drive-through I’ve seen a series of new faces lately, not familiar ones, and while that doesn’t bother me in any way I am becoming annoyed with being asked if I have an account with X Bank. And, honestly, I don’t know; I’ve never opened an account with X Bank or with any but one of its many predecessors. So I suppose my question to the next person I meet at the bank should be: who are you? Why are you handling my tiny little nest egg if you don’t know who I am? Do you have an account with me?

If Fill-in-the-Blank Bank and I do have an account with each other, I hope they will not waste money, as their predecessors did, on expensive advertising featuring some 30-something with a guitar, manure-free boots, and a cowboy hat assuring me how country I’ll be if I bank with Whatever-It’s-Called-This-Week Bank. I don’t want to be country, or urban, or anything else, and I have no emotional or ethnic investment in or loyalty to a bank, any more than I would with a parking meter. I just want ‘em to take care of my money, okay? And maybe expedite matters in the drive-through.

A friend suggests that banks might as well put up their signs in velcro since they keep changing names and owners, but I will go further and advise banks to put up a programmable sign in lights that reads: “Today your bank’s name is ____________________________.”

Sometimes I wonder if banks are run by that fellow in Nigeria who occasionally emails me to say I’ve inherited a fortune from a long-lost relative there, and if I’ll send him my bank account numbers he’ll see to it that the money is transferred right away.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Don't Worry; New Orleans is Safe

Mack Hall

This is my audition script for a job with National Public Radio:

After weeks of brewing at sea, mighty Hurricane Ike, bearing Mother Nature’s wrath and reflecting the global warming caused by greedy Americans driving cars and working at jobs, thundered ashore on a dark and stormy night, making landfall while wreaking havoc on women and minorities because of an evil CIA plot. Snapping trees like matchsticks, and matchsticks like trees, because people are always snapping matchsticks and saying “See, that sounds just like a pine tree!”, the hurricane, an iconic symbol of America’s loss of innocence, a storm that defined a generation, left devastation in its wake in places we in Washington never heard of and don’t care about, thankfully sparing our most European city and center of culture, New Orleans (cue the saxophones).

Evil, wicked oil companies cruelly pre-left oil production facilities in the path of Hurricane Ike in their pre-abysmal pre-failure to pre-plan the pre-needs of, like, y’know, harp seals ‘n’ stuff. A select congressional delegation will fly to Las Vegas in taxpayer-funded jets for a week-long investigation into corruption by Big Oil, and to participate in budgeting workshops to consider raising taxes in order to give more money to New Orleans, which was so ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Leave no child behind. Unless you’re Mayor Nagin (cue the sloshing water).

Images of devastation in Galveston, Texas can only suggest to imaginative people a little of what Hurricane Katrina must have been like in New Orleans when President Bush’s levees failed (cue the harmonicas).

Learning that every building in Bridge City, Texas, was flooded by the storm surge, with many of them completely destroyed and with whole families’ livelihoods destroyed, makes one want to take up a collection for the suffering of New Orleans caused by Hurricane Katrina (cue the zydeco).

Hearing that Bolivar Peninsula is no longer a peninsula but three islands and that the loss of life there is not yet determined makes one feel sorry for those in New Orleans who suffer post-traumatic stress syndrome from Hurricane Katrina (cue loud sniffles).

Pictures of the flooded homes in Beaumont and Orange, sleepy little towns in Texas, make one weep for the tragedies in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina (cue more loud sniffles).

Considering that the homes, businesses, and families of Winnie, High Island, Rollover Pass, Crystal Beach, and other quaint little places occupied by the sort of people who cling to guns and religion will never be the same, with some people having lost everything they ever worked for, leads this reporter to take the front in leading a national day of our-thoughts-and-hearts-go-out-to-you for the people of New Orleans who lost so much more during Hurricane Katrina (cue some vaguely church-like sounds).

Monday, September 15, 2008

My Favorite After-the-Hurricane Things

Mack Hall

My Favorite After-the-Hurricane Things
(apologies to Rodgers and Hammerstein)
Dedicated to Jasper-Newton Electric Co-Operative

Sweet smelling armpits and hot-water showers
Plugged-in electric clocks that tell us the hours
No more MREs in pink plastic wrappings
These are a few of my favorite things

Co-Op bucket trucks working on my street
Clean socks and clean shorts and non-smelly feet
Linemen who make electricity sing –
Definitely some of my favorite things!

The generator stored once more in the shed
Children asleep in their own little beds
Thankful for cold winds that autumn will bring
These are a few of my favorite things

In the gas line
In the ice line
When I’m FEMA sad
I simply remember my favorite things
And then I don’t feel so bad!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Jill, Will, Sophie, and the Hurricane

Mack Hall

As Wodehouse might have said, young men and women often ask me about my successful career in fleeing hurricanes and how they might begin building a future in that noble endeavor.

First, of course, you need a hurricane. I acquire hurricanes by living in East Texas, which saves transportation costs. If you live along the Gulf coast you needn’t order any hurricanes and don’t have to pay for shipping; the hurricanes simply come to you.

Second, when a hurricane presents itself you must then run away from it. Running away from a hurricane means it will almost surely go somewhere else, and you will make the stay-behinds happy in their bragging rights down at The Old Geezers’ CafĂ©’ when you return home with dramatic tales about the hotel or guest-room television carrying only fifty or so channels. High (yawn) adventure indeed.

Third, you should find as your refuge a household with three generations, including small children, under one roof. Three of my fellow refugees in this most recent Runaway Scrape were Jill and her pal Sophie, both fourth-graders, and Jill’s four-year-old brother Will.

Will, being the only boy, got the worst of it, but pity him not, for he usually began the it. Whenever Jill felt that Will’s behavior was growing presumptuous, her remedy was to hold him upside down and bash his head against the floor. When Jill forgot that her mother was in earshot on one such occasion the spectators learned that Jill’s you-are-in-such-big-trouble-young-lady name is Gillian.

Sophie, possessing both a somewhat gentler nature and the wisdom reflected in her name, did not participate in the upending of young Will, but smiled benignly upon the operation, rather like the nicer sort of dentist who says “This might sting a little, but you’ll be all the better for it.”

Will, though, is forty or so pounds of Churchillian determination, blended with a touch of the primeval, and not easily suppressed. Will took revenge on Jill and Sophie by discharging projectiles, foam balls propelled by an apparatus of wood and rubber bands won at the Cushing, Texas Labor Day jollifications. I regret to report that there was collateral civilian damage, and Grandpa confiscated the perfidious engine of destruction and placed it atop a bookshelf, far above the grasp of small guerrillas.

Which then led to an event involving a toy bow and arrows. Will’s dad seized those away from him, and in a stunning betrayal of the bonds of blood and manly comradeship turned the arrows on Will, who shrieked and giggled in horror and fear: “Shoot at me again, Dad!”

In the meantime, Jill and Sophie somehow formed a commando group in order to retrieve the wood-and-rubber-band perfidious engine of destruction, which in a suitably Eastern European volte-face they gave back to Will.

And I think this was all in the half-hour before church, but I could be wrong.

Following church the three children got out paints and brushes and sheets of paper, but after generating several two-dimensional images Jill and Sophie decided that Will would be a much better canvas for their creative endeavors, and so they painted him. As in, they painted him. With paint. The objective was to render Will as a butterfly, but in the end he resembled a rather loud snake. I am told by his mother that scrubbing him was an energetic experience, but even so Will was still rather green in the morning.

But perhaps I have in this narrative concentrated too much on Will. Let us not neglect Jill, who not only chastises unruly small boys with the efficiency of an Alaskan governor but who is also quite capable of walking around a table laden with fried chicken, biscuits, green beans, cole slaw, and macaroni-and-cheese, and then through Grandma’s kitchen featuring festive baskets of fruit bars, crackers, and cookies, and a refrigerator stocked with comestibles from all over the world, and then back around the table and summing up her inspection tour with “There’s nothing to eat!”

And then there is sweet Sophie, who in the midst of mighty battles sits serenely with her coloring book, ducking whenever the missiles fly, constructing colors and images that make the world a better place.

Jill, Will, and Sophie; these three abide, and they are great love indeed. The greatest happinesses are the small happinesses asleep like puppies amid disheveled piles of blankies and pillows on the living-room floor, one of them still somewhat green but all of them safe from hurricanes, joyful proofs of a loving God who means for the world to go on.