By the numbers

Got a new credit card the other day. The scanners wouldn’t read the magnetic strip on the old one anymore.
That’s either due to the radioactive high-test coffee down at the Bakery in Drizzle Creek or all the radiation from the hopped up cell phones all those railroaders around the debating table carry—at least two each.
No matter, a couple of days before the card arrived, an official-looking letter with strange markings arrived. I hesitated to open it suspecting another vicious assault from Infernal Revenue. Why don’t those birds just look at the stock market and realize they’re beating a dead horse. You can’t get blood from a stone.
Even poor Murray says the bailiff may be along any day, and he’s switching from heating his house with gas to burning share certificates (they’re cheaper).
I finally drew up enough courage to crack open that first letter. It was a top-secret message from a spy agency. “Lift the flap, and we will reveal your secret code number to use your new credit card,” it stated.
I lifted the flap and peered through the semi-transparent plastic frame. There were some faint hen-scratchings that appeared to be either Greek or Chinese. After studying them without luck for several minutes, I reversed the paper and, voila, there they were—murky, but legible (barely).
The instructions explained that I must memorize the number and then destroy the paper. I would need this number for every future purchase to be made with this card, so I spent a full day repeating the number, burning it indelibly in my brain.
Then I destroyed the paper.
Two days later, the card itself arrived. I dutifully activated it and destroyed the old one.
That afternoon, the phone rang and, like all smart consumers, I screen my calls, waiting for the “Do Not Call” registry to kick in. The answerer came on. It was for my wife, the Pearl of the Orient. The voice said, “Pearl, call me at 3311.”
The next caller left another message for my wife: “Gimme a shout back at 4798.”
The next caller: “Ring me back at 6745.” And so it went the rest of the afternoon, one message after another.
I recorded every one of them in that steel trap—my mind. Paper is for wimps.
When the Pearl breezed in later that afternoon, she glanced at the empty inbox on the answering machine and questioned, “What no messages for me? I was expecting some calls today.”
Tidy sort that I am, I had, of course, erased all the calls from the answering machine.
“Yeah, the d#$%^ thing was ringing steady. Couldn’t hardly get in a good nap,” I wheezed in my best “put upon” manner.
“But they refused to leave any messages. Said they’d call back,” I lied as I quickly donned my hat and coat and headed off for a heavy-duty information session at the Bakery.
Later, I stopped to pick up a case of wobbly pop and a bottle of snakebite remedy. After all, we were soon to head south and I wanted to be medically prepared with my immune system properly challenged.
I whipped out that new credit card. The clerk swiped and handed me the pad. I punched in 3311.
“Incorrect PIN. Try again” blinked the screen.
I punched in 4798—my confidence frustrated but unshaken.
“Incorrect PIN. Try again, idiot,” blinked the screen.
Insulted, I quickly punched in 6745.
The screen began to pulse and a siren wailed.
“You have entered an incorrect PIN three times in succession. Your card has been permanently cancelled and your bank account frozen for 30 days.
“Please contact our head office in Trawna, in person, immediately. Bring your passport, income tax returns for the past three years, four pieces of photo identification, and three witnesses who can verify you are who you claim to be,” scrolled the message on the machine.
There was a final clatter and a whirr as the built-in shredder spit out pieces of plastic and the screen scrolled one final message, “Your account will be debited $100 for replacement of this card. Thank you for using your Wheezer Card . . . for everything else, there’s cash.”

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