So, I'm in the process of putting my life back together after nine months of unemployment and the insanity that has ensued since then. I called my credit card company—well, the one I hope to keep—and explained to them that I was recently employed and that as soon as I got my first paycheck they were getting everything in the past-due pile, and they seemed happy with this. I managed to pay a few of my bills. I may even have the nonsense with my previous bank sorted out to the point that I can close my old accounts in good conscience and then work towards opening some new bank accounts to handle my money.

Last Thursday morning, I went to open an account with National Penn Bank, because they had posted some really good mortgage rates, and I'm looking to get out from under Navy Federal Credit Union as quickly as possible, thanks to some really poor customer service policies and a financial screwup between them an MBNA.
I'd like to find a local bank, since I'm looking at keeping my house for the next five years at a minimum to build up some equity in my home, and because I'm increasingly running into problems with national chains of any sort in which customer service is any sort of issue. WalMart and Giant, they're fine, insofar as I never have to deal with anyone in charge of anything and they have better prices than the mom-and-pop stores that they drove out of business. Banks, insurance and other financial institutions, however, need a lot of interaction skills, and NFCU really blew it badly when a large pile of excrement impacted the circulation device.

So, I went into NatPenn and I very politely explained to the counterstaff that I would like to open an account but I've had some financial difficulties in the past, and I wasn't sure what my old bank is saying about me to the credit companies. The branch manager with whom I spoke was very sympathetic, said she understood my employment problems, and went to research my credit history in the federal reporting system. She asked me if I was from Texas natively, and I told her I moved to Pennsylvania five years ago and gave her my driver's license and Social Security card. She took them, compared a few things, and opened my account without a hitch.

That afternoon, I took Jessie to the local branch to get her added to my account, and the counterstaff there was very nice and took Jessie's information and went to enter it into their database. We waited a few moments, and the woman got a very puzzled look on her face. I asked her what was wrong and managed to peek uwop-ap!sdn at her computer screen, which says "ID CHECK FAILED" on it. She said that Jessie's information in the computer didn't match the information we had provided. We asked to see what the computer said, and she handed us a print-out.

The computer had tried to match on three pieces of information: name, address, and birthdate, and all three had failed. For name, the computer had her pre-transition name, minus one letter, indicating a transcription error. The address was five years out of date; it had the apartment in Texas into which she had moved when she first came down from Michigan, the rathole we abandoned shortly after arriving. For birthdate, they had no month or day. They only had a year, which was off by two. 

Something was very, very wrong.

We explained to the counterstaff that their computer had incorrect and long-expired information in it, and she said, "Well, I'm sorry about that, but we have to go with what the computer system tells us, because we get it right from Social Security, so you'll need to contact the Social Security office to fix your data, and then we can add her."

That night, a quick call to the Social Security office verified that, in fact, all her information in their database was right, and that the bank was using some kind of third-party verification system that had been populated with invalid information. The SSA official, in fact, suggested that we have the bank manager call in to verify the information over the phone. I was actually quite amazed to discover that someone who worked for the American government could actually be helpful without coercion.

Friday, I called the local NatPenn branch to ask them about the situation and told the woman on the phone that Social Security had verified what we told the bank, and that we were confused as to how and where they were getting their obviously-old information. The woman on the phone said, "Oh, we have an outside vendor provide all of that to us. You'll have to deal with them; we can't help you." I tried to find out from her who the vendor
was, but she wouldn't tell me, only that she couldn't help us because of the mismatch between supplied information and computer records, despite the fact that we had the Social Security office on our side telling us to have the bank call them to verify Jessie's records.

Today I called NatPenn's main office to tell them that their "third-party vendor" for credit reporting was five years out of date and that I would like to add my wife to my account and that we needed some method of either bypassing their obviously-inaccurate reporting system or else to get their information verified. The person with whom I spoke made no effort to find out to which account I was referring, or even to investigate the matter. She merely asked me at which branch I had had a problem, and then transferred me to that branch office.

When I got a representative on the phone at the local branch office, I did my best to calmly and politely explain that there was a problem in their outside vendor's financial data and that I would very much like to get my wife added to my account but that their third-party provider had some old information that was causing a problem with that. She said, "one moment, sir" and put me on hold.

I sat there, literally stunned, by her statement, until she came back and asked me "sir, what is your name?" I told her my name, and she in turn sat for about ten seconds in dead silence before saying, "I'm sorry". She then asked me for my wife's information and pulled up the record of trying to add Jessie to my account. I explained to her, in a not-quite-so-calm-and-polite fashion, that whoever their vendor was had lost track of my wife since before her sex change and that they really weren't inspiring consumer confidence. She said that there wasn't anything she could do to help me because the Social Security office would need to be informed first. I told her that Social Security had the right info and that it was the vendor with the errors. She said she didn't know what to do, then, but that she knew at that point she couldn't be of any further assistance.

I asked for the manager. She said the manager wasn't there, but that the assistant manager was. I asked to speak with the assistant manager. She said, "She's busy with a customer."

I told her I'd wait, and she stuck me on hold for seven minutes.

When I came off of hold—just beeps, no music—the assistant manager at the local branch informed me that the onus was mine—or more accurately, Jessie's—to get the matter corrected. I asked her if she was at all worried or concerned about the fact that their outside credit-check vendor was displaying inaccurate information. She replied that the "third-party vendor" I was so gleefully decrying was in fact the national credit checking system, and that they were required by law to treat it as authoritative unless we could supply overwhelming evidence to
support our claim that the reason it was out of date was that Jessie hadn't held a bank account in five years. I asked them what they would take as proof. She said that we had to provide proof of legal name change, a new
Social Security card, and something with the address and birthdate on it like a state identification card. I asked if the new SSA card was enough, as we had to have the legal change of name to get the card. She said she had to
have the legal name change paperwork to show when and on whose authority the name change was executed legally, that the SSA's claim was not enough.

Throughout this phone conversation, she continually attempted to insinuate through tone and wording that if we weren't trying to defraud the system then at the very least we were somehow responsible for proving we weren't
liars and cheats. She seemed utterly uninterested in the fact that the national database had bad data in it, insisting that she could override the faulty information with sufficient proof of our claim, but any attempt to discuss anything less than a filing cabinet's worth of paper was met with curt answers and "our hands are tied by the PATRIOT Act; we can't help you".

So, my question to the world at large is this: what is your typical banking experience? For those of you who have been through some sort of financial nonsense involving name changes, being out of the loop for a few months,
or otherwise not fitting the standard profile of the American Consumer, who do you use for your financial needs, and what sort of experiences have you had? I
don't want or need discussions on the merits of the world of finance or of micro- and macro-economics and whether they're good for people or not. I'm just trying to find out if every bank is staffed with poor-quality customer service representatives. If so, I'm better off sticking with the moneymaker. If not, then I'd much rather go with a bank that is is more sympathetic to its customers' needs, even if they don't make as much money.

My desire at this point is to find some place that's actually got good customer service people working at the counter, explain to them my situation, open an account with them, then go back to NatPenn and publically close the account and cite the lousy customer service we received from four different representatives. I'm frustrated by the volume of legal bullshit that continues to plague us despite being long past the point at which we should
have both been done with this hassle, but that's not what broke the deal. The bank could have been patient, polite and concerned with our needs. They could have taken the time to point out what we needed to do. The customer
support staff could have even said, "hey, we're not really trained for these edge cases; we'd better refer you to the manager so someone can really help you". They did none of these things, and if I can at all benefit by going elsewhere, I will.

We deserve better than this. 


Nine-and-a-half months.

Forty-and-a-half weeks.

Two-hundred-ninety-eight days.

The past.

The first offer just came. It's better than I had any right to expect. I asked them to give me a day to consider my options. They said that was fine and that they'd be awaiting my call.

This morning, another recruiter from a month ago had called me out of the blue, telling me he thought he could get approval for the position he had offered me in January, and wanted to know if I was still available. I told him I was expecting a verbal offer today. He said he'd get me news by this afternoon.

Monday, I signed and returned a contingent offer letter for a contract position. I'm going to have to call them tomorrow and tell them how sorry I am that I'm not going to be able to accept their offer because someone else has extended a permanent position to me closer to home.

After all this waiting, to have my pick of positions. All of them are QA; none of them involve code.

I don't care. I have a job. 

So much has happened in the last nine months, and I have said nothing of any of it. When I first silenced my journal, it was with the idea that my period of unemployment would be brief and that I refused to fill the pages
with angst about my job situation when so many of my other friends had had it so much worse and actually deserved the bitch space. 

I had a home, a car, roommates, and unemployment benefits. I really didn't need to waste space over how rotten I felt that I wasn't working or how much hurt the lack of productive activity caused. I was managing to make ends meet, and everything was going to be okay.

Then the disasters started. The free health insurance vanished in July. The unemployment compensation ended in October. The sewer trap died on Christmas day. I totaled the Volvo early January. Aly committed suicide a week later. A credit reduction on one of my cards caused a bounce on a checking account that's led to an ongoing battle between two financial institutions over who is responsible for an error that keeps me away from my money to this day. Just in time for one problem to begin to fade, another rose to take its place.

Through it all were the interviews. The first job went to someone with twice my experience. The second to someone asking half my wages. The third decided they weren't really hiring anyone who didn't have a doctorate. The fourth went to someone with fewer skills but was fresh from college and didn't need much compensation. The fifth found a volunteer to do the same job for free. The sixth changed its mind at the last minute and decided they
needed someone with more marketing skills. The seventh needed skills they never mentioned in their application that I didn't have. The eighth and ninth just... never called back. Those are the ones I remember. There were
more, but they're lost in the haze that is "the job search."

I won't lie and say I faced this happily or gracefully. I broke down at times and wondered if I would find another job. I did, at one very brief moment, despair on my paper route and wonder if the Easy Way Out was in fact what the name suggested. The thought lasted all of thirty seconds, perhaps. Then I talked with Bear, and suddenly it all seemed... manageable. Not good but endurable. I chatted with Coyote and Rabbit, too, and spent an hour in conversation with them on my paper route, the part-time job I had found myself to keep me busy in the interim. It was the first time I had laughed in months.

There were good times that happened through it all, too. My parents came for a visit, and they brought me a vehicle and some money to help me make it through the hard patch. Anthrocon was a blast despite my work situation and the fact that I'm staff. The impromptu wake for Aly that Charmdown Park brought with them kept me cheerful through a rough patch. The weekend of smuggling twenty kilos of fairy dust past the Boston Banality Patrol. A four-day stretch of alcohol, Apotheosis and random gibberish. Far too many hours of Disgaea and other games. The kindness of my friends both online and off. The hopes and thoughts and prayers of countless people that I won't try to name. Thank you, every one of you, for your support. You know who you are.

If I get a second call today, I have a decision to make. Tomorrow, I have an offer to accept, and at least one I must regretfully decline. After that, the setting of a start date and the signing of an offer letter. After that... it's time for me to start putting my life back in order, and giving to all the people who gave to me during this period of hell.

I have survived Chapel Perilous. Only time will tell how it has changed me.