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Jewish World Review Oct. 7, 2003 / 11 Tishrei, 5764

Mark Bazer

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Consumer Reports

The card that gave me a life suddenly expired | I unsuccessfully tried to use my ATM card the other day, and there, before the money machine, I openly wept. It wasn't that I was out of money. That's always bad, but usually temporary. The truth here was permanent - and far more harrowing: My ATM card had expired.

The transaction began like any other. I pulled out my wallet and spent a good five minutes wrestling my faded ATM card out from behind my supermarket discount card, drivers license, credit cards, countless video store cards and photos of my friend's family (I like my own family fine, but these folks are simply more attractive).

And, then, finally, ATM card in hand, I stepped up to the Citibank machine. I don't have a Citibank account, but I feel the banking fee is well worth it for the enjoyment I get from the easy-glide "please dip your card in" action the machines there call for. (It's like banking with K-Y.)

But just as I got into my stance and readied myself for the dip, my card, which usually doesn't speak, called out to me, "Hey, buddy, I don't know exactly how to tell you this, so I guess I'll just come out and say it. . . . I've expired." Instantly, my eyes zeroed in on that info I had for so long unthinkingly repeated to telephone customer service reps: "Good Thru: 09/03." And then the tear ducts opened.

It was all so new to me. I had always lost my bankcards, or moved to a new city and a new bank, before the expiration date arrived. This ATM card was my first to go the distance. You could say it knew me. You could say it knew how I banked.

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As I took out the shiny, replacement card my bank had sent me, made my transaction (a simple withdrawal, as I wanted to go easy on the new fella), and dried my eyes with the bank receipt, I began to reminisce about the times, both good and bad, that my old card (Gosh, that still sounds weird saying) and I had spent, and banked, together.

I remember the day my card arrived in the mail. My previous card was lost, and I had been living without cash for a week. I gleefully tore open the envelope from the bank and then rubbed my card against my face, letting the elevated numbers make an imprint on my cheek. And then I signed the slippery back of the card as differently from my actual signature as I could, excited for my first encounter with one of those vigilante cashiers who spends three hours comparing the signatures on your receipt and card. Yep, I knew there were a lot of laughs in store for this bankcard and me.

Oh, how we laughed! Like when I tried to bank in Spanish that one time! And then there was the fun we had when I told the bank machine that I had just put $8 billion into the deposit envelope and then bought the bank.

We had our rough patches, of course - pointing fingers at each other when we were hit with an $8 fee at a casino ATM. But we always overcame our difference and - this is important - never went to bed angry.

In time, perhaps, I will have the same strong feelings for my new card. But I must say it's been an uncomfortable beginning. There's something about the account number on it (4289 3659 2910 4382) that I find off-putting. The expiration date (09/09) sounds too far in the future to take seriously. And don't ask me what I was thinking when I came up with the easy-to-guess password (1234). Hopefully, things will start looking up once I get a couple "Would you like cash backs?" under my belt.

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10/01/03: How to abruptly quit your job in style

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