I dipped my bank card into the ATM at the TD Bank branch on Rue Sainte Catherine, a block from the gates to the Montreal Jazz Festival. Israel Proulx, a terrific Jerry-Lee-Lewis-style performer, was playing at the Heineken Tent in a half-hour; I needed cash so we could buy drinks and snacks during his gig. Paul and our friends had gone to the Tent to grab seats—Proulx’s following was big, and the Tent was small.

We had visited Quebec City two days earlier, and an ATM there had denied me access to my accounts. I found that curious, because the day before we left for Canada, I’d gone to my local TD Bank branch in Brooklyn. There, I told the Lovely Svetlana, the nubile beauty at the customer service desk, that we would be using Canadian ATMs for a week.


TD’s Lovely Svetlana and I had a history that was not altogether blissful. We met last winter, when I’d needed a wire transfer to secure a vacation apartment in Melbourne, Australia.

For three days, the Lovely Svetlana plugged data provided by our future Melbourne landlady into her computer. The transfer refused to go through. “Hmm. I’ve never had a renter run into this problem,” the Melbourne landlady mused, as she emailed yet another line of “required information.”

I’d sent transfers before and I, too, was flummoxed that the Lovely Svetlana’s computer could not perform what I had considered—silly me!—a simple task.

But no. Three days and nothing. I became frustrated; the Lovely Svetlana grew petulant. A large, gruff supervisor—I’ll call him Boris—detached himself from the bank’s shadows to loom over us. “There is a problem?” he growled.

His hooded eyes hinted of deep existential sadness, and special methods to handle truculent customers. I swallowed. “Do you know how to do a wire transfer?”

“No.” He folded his arms, suit sleeves straining over impressive biceps. “But. Svetlana. Knows.”

Such a soulful man, yet so optimistic.

On the fourth day, the Lovely Svetlana discovered she’d been using the wrong form. She clicked a key: heavenly hosts sang Alleluia, and the transfer went through.


I had not dealt with the Lovely Svetlana since the wire transfer fiasco, but I had faith that she could convince TD Bank to let me use my ATM card in Canada. It was, after all, a simple task.

Then the Quebec City ATM denied me cash. A fluke, I told myself: it isn’t a TD machine; that’s all. One of our friends swapped me some Canadian cash, so we had enough to get by.

But it was gone when we hit Montreal. And so I found myself at the ATM in Rue Sainte Catherine’s TD Bank, holding a receipt that stated No Transaction.

The teller line was long, but I was determined. The Heineken Tent was only two blocks away; I could power-walk two blocks.

I reached the teller five minutes before the start of Israel Proulx’s set.

I explained my dilemma. She grimaced. “We can’t access your records. Our computers don’t communicate with Brooklyn.” She tapped my ATM card. “Call this number.” She gave me an international prefix and pointed to a house phone.

I called—or tried. Five times. Each time, an automated voice told me I couldn’t make the call as dialed.

I waited for the teller to finish a deposit. She dialed for me. No luck. She again tapped my ATM card. “Try this Collect number.”

Somewhere in the banking universe, a phone rang. It rang for five minutes.

I gave up.

I waited for the teller to deal with a guy who wanted fifty dollars in Loonies. By the time she found a plastic bag for his coins, Israel Proulx was 10 minutes into his hour-long set. I pulled out all my available greenbacks. It was a busy day, the teller apologized; she was out of twenties. I accepted a handful of tens, happy that they weren’t Loonies.

I power-walked to the Heineken Tent and plopped down next to Paul to catch the last twenty minutes of Israel Proulx. The waitress brought drinks, and I paid in Canadian tens.

“What took you so long?” Paul asked.

I rolled my eyes heavenward. “The Lovely Svetlana,” I said.


I was wrong.

Last night, I returned to Brooklyn to find a message on my home phone concerning my bank card. I called the proffered 24-hour number.

Ten minutes of cheerful hold messages extolled TD Bank’s Legendary Service, then a young man listened to my tale of woe. “So I’m wondering where the problem lay,” I said. Was it, indeed, the Lovely Svetlana? The wrong form?

“Hmm.” Keys clicked. “No, I can see here on your account that there was a notification you would be gone—“

“Then what the f—“

“Let me put you through to my supervisor.”

Twenty minutes of cheerful hold messages extolled the virtues of a new account. Too bad I had one already. To my sorrow.

At last, a woman named Patty picked up. Yes, she said, my vacation had been noted. “But there’d been suspicious activity in the area where you were, so we put your card on hold.”

I took a deep, cleansing breath. “You mean,” I said, “that when a customer tells you they’re going on vacation, and gives you specific places and dates, and that customer arrives there—where and when they told you they would—and uses an ATM because they need cash on their vacation, TD Bank can arbitrarily decide that the place they’re visiting is unacceptable, and refuse them access to their own money?”

A pause. “I suppose you could put it that way.”

“So if we told you we would need cash, and told you when we would need it, and where we would be when we would need it, we still can’t get it when we get there?”

“We always call the party—“

“You called my home phone. I don’t take it on vacation. The cord’s too short.”

“Perhaps we should have your cell phone number—”

“I don’t use my cell phone on vacation. Have you ever seen the International rates?”

Ultimately, Patty put a note on my account telling the bank to take my note seriously. “I have to warn you, though, this is not a permanent note,” she said.

“How long is ‘not permanent’?” I asked.

“I really can’t say.”

I’m sorry, Lovely Svetlana. I maligned your name without cause. You acted efficiently and effectively.

Alas, they don’t listen to you, either…