My City Is Full of Theater

This Morning At The Bank

a play in two acts.

Act One

Several people are in line at a bank teller. There is one single male teller despite the bank’s ability to have four working, and despite the extra two women behind the teller wall eating breakfast sandwiches and talking. At the teller window is a young woman who is submitting her tip money from her nighttime waitressing job before she gets on the train to go in to City College where she is studying macroeconomics.

At the front of the line is Crazy Old Lady (COL) who is talking to Her Nephew (Nephew). The age difference means that she is likely his great Aunt. She is from the indiscriminate Old Country, he is indiscriminately a descendant from the Old Country, probably two generations removed. He is finished at the bank and is trying to leave, she is waiting in line. Behind them is Important Hispanic Man in Suit (Important Man), and behind him is me.

COL: Is very important for you…

Nephew: Yes, I know, Mammy.

COL: You have to say for to stay in school…

Nephew: Yes, I know, Mammy.

COL: Your cousin, he no want to stay in school, and he come to me and say “Mammy, I no for want to stay in school…”

Nephew: I know, Mammy.

COL: And when he say that, I, uh, I *hit* him (she strikes the air like a prize fighter)

Nephew: (laughing) Mammy… I don’t think you…

COL: I *hit* him in his nose. And I say, “You no go to school, I hit you in the nose!”

Nephew: Well, I don’t know if you know…

COL: And now? Look at him now.

Nephew: Donny?

(The waitress is now done at the teller and leaves. COL is next in line.)

COL: Yes, I tell Donny to stay in school and now…?

(There is a strange pause as Nephew waits to see if he is supposed to answer. COL‘s hands rise up as if she is holding a small pumpkin in front of her eyes and stares.

Nephew: (finally) Now… he’s a dentist?

(COL‘s hands come together on each of Nephew’s cheeks in something a little too soft for actual damage, but startling if it’s meant as affection.)

COL: Now he is a dentist.

Important Man: Excuse me…

COL: (to the important man) I’m going, I’m going. You should not rush an old woman.

Nephew: I’ve got to get to school, Mammy.

COL: Yes, you must get your high school diploma.

Nephew: (who is clearly about 22) Mammy, I’m almost done with college

COL: But the high school diploma is the *important* thing. You should get your diploma.

Nephew: Okay, Mammy…

Important Man: (muttering) Madre de Dios…


We are now at the teller. There is still only one.

COL: Here you go.

(She slides her ATM card and a handwritten note under the glass. The teller holds up the note. It is a piece of notebook paper, more specifically, it is a piece of spiral bound notebook paper with the little tags still on the left side, more specifically, it is the bottom three inches of a piece of spiral bound notebook paper with the words “Four hundred dollars” written on it.)

Teller: You’d… you’d like to withdraw four hundred dollars?

COL: (leaning on the counter and looking out the window) Please.

Teller:Do you have your account number?

COL:I do it with the card. I give you the number, it is 5579.

Teller: Ma’am, I’m not supposed to have this card or your number.

COL:I’s okay, you are working for the bank.

Teller:(sliding the card back to her) Why don’t you swipe the card in the reader and then punch in your number.

(COL spends a little time getting her glasses on. They are on a small beaded rope hanging from her neck, but she first looks for them in her purse. She gets the glasses on and slides the card back to the teller.)

Teller: No, ma’am, you slide the card in the reader and then punch in…

COL: Yes, I know, that is what I am doing here…

(she snatches the card and swipes it, punches in her number and then puts her card away back into her bra, which is located under her jacket, in her sweater and shirt, and only accessable from the waist. This requires her to bend over a bit, for the sake of modesty, and fish around up under her clothes. The teller waits. I would not say patiently.)

Teller:So, four hundred dollars from your account?

COL: Yes.

Teller:You know, you could get this money from the machines out front…

COL: OH! Those *machines* are just terrible.

(She turns fully to the line of people waiting at the bank)


(She turns back)

COL:Those machines are always putting in the numbers wrong. I have all the numbers for everything, all up in my head. And the machine say, “you are not that much money in your account” and I ask for the money I know is there. My daughter come with me and say, “You don’t use machines any more, you go inside.”… The machines have the numbers wrong and they don’t get the right numbers.

Teller:Well, the number you just entered is the only number you need.

COL:But you cannot get money out.

Teller: Oh, sure you…

COL:NO, you cannot get money out.

Teller: But, you would get money the exact same way you are right now, except that on the screen…

COL: You should be able to put in card, enter your number, then ask for money and they give it to you. It should be that easy, but the machines no work, so I come inside.

(Everyone realizes that the ATM is actually *exactly* this easy. The machine does *exactly* what one would want it to, and, for a brief moment, we forget that we have been waiting far too long in this line and revel in the idea that they invented a nearly flawless machine to do exactly what one would need it to that is available 24 hours a day, conveniently located and completely user friendly. The teller has decided to give up and get this woman out of the bank.)

Teller: How would you like your $400?

COL: I need $175 in fives and the rest in twenties.


Important Man: (muttering in Spanish. By inflection alone, it sounds like he’s saying “Dude, just give her $180 in fives and the rest in twenties”)

Teller:(staring at the woman) I’ll give you eleven twenties and the rest in fives, hows that?

COL:You are banker, you do it however you like.


Yeah, there’s probably a better ending, but after that, she just took her money and left. It’s like this every single day here. You hear people saying, “I wish that fucking kid would watch his language”. You hear, “every time I see another rat in the subway, I buy another cat.” You hear, “You aint mad at me playing the lotto, you’re mad because I aint never won.” It’s a city of one liners. No wonder we’ve got the best writers in the world.