Unsettled Account

'The mad pursuit of money started about three months ago, and since then I feel more suffocated than ever.'

I don't have air to breathe. I feel more suffocated than ever, and I'm busier than a toiling ant. I have lost the ability to reflect and have repressed the desire to sink into light depressions. Besides the regular jobs, of which the most exhausting is writing the scripts for a television series that starts shooting next month, I have started to say yes, without picking and choosing, to every work offer I get. Everyone who needs an Arab knows that I can deliver the goods.

Last week, for example, I found myself on the stage of a conference of lifeguards, where the topic was "Why do Arabs drown?" This was one day after I took part, for a fee, of course, in an evening organized by the Jewish Agency with the aim of persuading young people to immigrate to Israel. I did my part - whose content I was told a moment before I entered the auditorium - faithfully, and proved even to the skeptics among the young New Yorkers that what goes for Manhattan goes for Kiryat Arba, too.

Likewise, I found myself signing a contract with a French newspaper which I later discovered is a porno magazine aimed at the migrant public; taking part in an evening of communal singing at an old-age home in Shfaram and acting as the rabbi in a wedding of yuppies from Herzliya.

The mad pursuit of money started about three months ago, when I decided that the time had come to open an account in a bank branch close to my new home. Appareled in my finest gear, I strode with head held high to the neighborhood branch. "Are you armed?" the security guard at the entrance asked me politely, as he asks everyone who goes in. "No," I replied with a smile and wondered about those who say "yes" to the question. What happens then? Is it a call to a duel with the guard, or does the guard ask to see the weapon and the two compare size, bullets and rate of fire?

In any event, being a registered self-employed person who gives proper receipts, I betook myself proudly to the business department, where I had arranged a meeting in advance. A courteous, well-groomed clerk with beautifully smooth black hair received me with a good morning and an offer of coffee.

"No, thanks," I replied courteously and sat down across from her in the pose of a potential businessman. A permanent smile crossed her face until the moment we started the concrete process of opening the account. The first step was, of course: "ID." She perused the ID card and gave me a look, before getting up and going over to another well-groomed banker in white shirt and blue tie, apparently her senior.

"Why in our branch?" she asked when she returned.

"I live here."

"Where?" she asked and her sweetness dissolved into coarse hand gestures.

I told her the name of the street, and on the basis of the skeptical look on her face I could have sworn that if she had the power to do so, she would have demanded I show a contract and registry deed.

"Okay, listen up, Sa'id," she said. "There are a few questions and a few processes that we have to carry out before we open an account. So it won't be today, in any case. First we have to do a check."

"Fine," I replied. "It's not pressing."

"So you are a registered self-employed person," she said, and I nodded. "What do you sell?"

"No, I don't sell anything," I replied. "I write - you know, an author and like that."

"A writer? What do you say?" she said in a tone of "You're a writer like I am Shari Arison."

"For that you need to open a business?"

"Yes," I replied. "I have to. Receipts and invoices, you know. Why, is there a problem?"

"No," she said, "there's no problem. You know, we do these checks because there are a lot of people these days who open an account to launder money."

"Ah, no," I replied. "I don't even know what money laundering is."

"Yes," she replied, going through the many documents that were stacked up in front of her. "I'm sure."

"Next to the X," she said, and I signed a whole slew of pages, thousands of pages which she just kept pulling out of the printer next to her. "Okay," she summed up, "we will do our check and get back to you. All right, Sa'id?"

Thank God, I came out clean in the bank check and was informed that I now had a business account. After a time I ordered a checkbook and a credit card and went to the branch to pick them up.

"Sa'id, right?" the same clerk asked. "Your card is here." She went over to a drawer, poked around among documents and returned with a form. "What did you say you sell?"

"I write."

"Ah," she replied, and entered something into her computer. "Your account is not all that active. You know?" she said, aided again by the hand gestures.

"Yes, you know, write," I tried a feeble joke and was ashamed of being poor in front of the clerk, even though I was never overdrawn.

"What?" the clerk said with an expression of surprise as she read the document opposite her and then got up and went over to the same senior clerk as before, who this time followed her to her desk. "Look at the credit limit the computer gave him," she said, pointing at me.

"Nu," the senior clerk said. "What's the problem?"

"I don't know," she said, as though I were unfeeling air that had sat down across from her. "I would cut it in half. What do you say?"

"But why?" the senior tried to whisper, while stealing a glance at me.

"So I should approve it, you say?" she asked.

"Yes," the senior said.

"It's your responsibility," she declared, and pressed something on the computer before handing me the card and the PIN. "Sa'id," she asked, "do you know how to use this?"

Equipped with a credit card and an inflated credit limit of NIS 6,000 a month, I left the branch. Determined to improve my economic situation, I walked the few dozen meters to my home. She'll see, that clerk with her look, she'll remember my name very well, she will bring me espresso even if I insist that I don't want anything. With a bank account like I will have, the security guard will even let me fire his gun. She'll see, that bitch, I thought, as my mobile phone rang.

"Yes, who's speaking?"

"Shalom, this is Nitza from the Veterinarians' Association. We wanted to ask if you would be willing to take part in our panel."

"How much do you pay?"

"We thought of NIS 1,000 plus travel expenses."

"Can we say it's a deal at 1,500?"

"Uhhh. All right. Fine."

"Done. What's the subject?"

"Arab-sheep relations in the 19th century."