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Monday, July 20, 2009


My mother had her identity stolen a couple weeks ago. Why anyone would want to be my mother, I have no idea. I guess solely for the money and not for the amusement value of pretending to be married to my father-- which might seem fun at first, but I'm sure gets old pretty quickly. Just ask my mom.

A few weeks ago, she was at the bank depositing her paycheck, as old ladies do. The teller asked my mother if she had a debit card.

"No," my mother replied.

"Well, do you want one?" the teller inquired.


"Well, you should really get one-- debit cards are going to be the bank's primary source of identification in the very near future."

"But I don't want one."

"Well, I'm telling you, it's really best that you get one."

Feeling pressured, because she was, my mother hastily agreed and the bank said that they'd "send her something in the mail." What they ended up sending her wasn't "something," it was a debit card with a temporary PIN number, only, it never got to her house. Or, it did, and somebody got it before she did, and was happily racking up charges on it at stores around the area to the tune of several thousand dollars.

Of course, since all my mother buys is parrot food (they don't own a parrot) and the occasional sweater at Kohls, the bank immediately recognized something was amiss and notified my parents. An investigation was begun and the money was refunded to their account, but the damage to my mother's fragile psyche had been done. She was never one to stand up tall under pressure.

"When I was a girl and my parents would leave me at home to babysit my younger brother, I would just sit on the step and cry all night until they came home," she told me last night.

"Why? What the hell was wrong with you?" I asked, somewhat bewildered. Somewhat not.

"I don't know," she said. "I guess I just didn't like being home alone."

My mother is a true enigma. Married and pregnant at seventeen, she moved far away from home to start a life on her own. Unfortunately, it was with the wrong guy and, very soon after, she was right back at her parents home, to deal with her emotionally cold father and her dying mother. She held a job as a very young woman, stringing tennis rackets at the local pro shop, while my sister, then a baby, played happily under the store counter. They eventually got rid of her because having the baby around probably turned off some of the tennis jackasses who came in looking for more than some green, fuzzy balls. This was the 70's, after all. When I was eight years old, she went back to work at the local library. She cut off most of her hair at right around that time, too, and that was roughly the moment we could all pinpoint that "Mommy became a bitch." Really, she was just becoming independent again, but, to kids who wanted their mommy home all the time, independence and bitchiness are the same thing. To us, that yellowed piece of paper with elegant, cursive handwriting all over it might just as well have been called "The Declaration of Bitchiness."

But for all of her bit-- sorry, independence, my mother is still very much a backwards, time-trapped individual. For instance, she didn't learn to drive until she was in her late twenties. She didn't go to college. And, at 58, she doesn't have a debit card. Last night at our semi-traditional Sunday dinner, she asked me if I had one.

"Yes, since I was seventeen. You and Daddy insisted that I get one before going to college so I could buy beer and condoms."

"Can I see it?" she asked.

"Can you see what?"

"Your debit card. I've never seen one before, I want to see what one looks like."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes, I'm serious. I want to see it. Show it to me."

I dug into my wallet and I pulled out my much-exercised debit card. My mother thinned her lips as she peered at the front, and then the back. She turned it over a couple times, actually. Remember, in "Airplane!" where Ted and Elaine are missionaries visiting "the Molombos," a fictional African tribe? Well, remember the scene where Elaine tries to introduce the Molombos women to Tupperware, and they're all sitting around in the dirt cautiously examining the Tupperware containers? That's kind of how my mom was behaving while looking at my debit card. I don't know what she was looking for, or what she thought she might find on it. Some sort of hidden secret, maybe. Her link to the future. I didn't know.

"Looks an awful lot like a credit card, doesn't it?" I asked her.

"Mmm-hmm," she replied absently, squinting her eyes at my signature on the back before handing it over to me.

We didn't get touch-tone phones in my parents house until the mid-nineties. I can still remember those rotary relics-- a white wall-mounted phone in the kitchen with a cord that could stretch to Brazil, and a forest green wall phone in the basement-- a telephone that would have looked quite at home in Bea Arthur's hand on the set of "Maude." My mother still refuses to buy a microwave, because she's afraid-- of everything really, and mircowaves are included. You can't imagine what we went through to convince her to get a fucking DVD player. But it's just who she is.

I suppose, in a way, my mother not having a debit card is very much the same as me resisting getting cable television until three weeks ago-- it's part of our identity. And, for better or for worse, that identity never really gets stolen until we capitulate, until we call Comcast or Wachovia and give in.

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