Pursuing The Elusive Euro

Tribulations Of An Expat

September 12, 2006

Fred. A dangerous criminal. Surveillance camera photo taken during bank robbery.

I’m going to tell you how I entered the underworld, and became a money launderer, and international drug wallah, and remorseless criminal, just like Carlo Gambino or Bin Laden or Condoleezza Rice. Yes. I am now of one blood with Pablo Escobar. It is a service of the Anglo-Irish Bank. I imagine that my picture can be seen on wanted posters in European post offices.

How did I come to this frightful pass? I decided a while back to get such money as I have out of dollars. In the White House the Maximum Ferret was playing promiscuously at being Sergeant Rock around the planet, which he seemed to regard as his private litter box, and would one day inflate the currency to pay for it. He doesn’t pay for my hobbies, I thought. Why should I pay for his? Anyway, I didn’t want to kill Moslems. Various other people, yes, but not Mohammedans.

Where to put my minute shriveled pittance, all that is left to me of a misspent life? (I live in a swell house in Mexico with a lovely wife, a splendid if occasionally insupportable stepdaughter, a disturbed dog, a rabbit, and lots of ribs and beer. I don’t have many excuses for feeling sorry for myself. I make the most of them.)

Europe appealed, redolent as it is of stability, solemnity, and stuffy reliability. A couple of years before a shill from the Anglo-Irish Bank of Dublin had come through my Mexican town, which is full of expatriate money. Ireland, I thought. Just the thing. The Irish are a delightful race, mildly crazy, sometimes drunken, and literarily gifted, all of which recommended them to me.

Ireland, I was sure, had few Calvinist Texans with beady eyes like windows opening onto a wall, and impenetrable English you could armor a tank with. I thought of broad green lands and leprechauns and bosomy barmaids with twinkling eyes and countless magnificent authors and Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner.

I duly, and foolishly, sent the bank a deposit, along with copies of my passport, Mexican residency papers, driver’s license, dog’s paw prints, grandmother’s DNA, and all the other dry foliage of my life that the bank required. This was enough, I thought, to identify several people. But no. The bank was darkly suspicious. It suspected me of Laundering Money. (I wish it suspected me of having money.) The multitudinous requirements sprang, I presumed, from international law intended to discourage honest people from putting money in banks. Crooks have ways around these requirements, and also have more money.

Now, any bank’s protestations that it wants to avoid the laundering of money constitute pious fraud. Such assertions would embarrass an electronic church promoting your grandaunt’s social security check. Criminal enterprise reaps immense sums, being unhampered by governmental regulation. Do you think any bank whatever doesn’t get weak-kneed at the thought of billions in poppy lucre? The drug trade is a valued part of the world’s economy.

But all right. I sent this stuff off to Dublin, FedEx and forty-five dollars. I emphasized, please communicate with me by email, as the Mexican mails are casual about things like arrival. Please, email.

Many weeks later, my check to AIB having cleared, I assumed that I had a properly constituted account. Then Violeta discovered a sodden envelope in a muddy spot in the road near our house. This missive turned out to be from AIB. Perhaps the bank had an eccentric conception of email. Usually I find it in my inbox and not in a hole in the street.

In it I discovered that the bank, in the person of a Mr. David Milne, was not happy with the documentation from my bank here, Lloyd. He didn’t much like the bank. From the peremptory nature of his eruptions (“I shall require …”) I realized that Mr. Milne must be at least a duke, or maybe a dauphin, or perhaps a king. No doubt his car was escorted by pikemen. As a barefoot West Virginia boy I was awed by dealing with royalty but happy to be climbing in the world.

I cannot lie. His dark suspicions were not entirely without foundation. I had links with the opium trade.

Violeta recently found a poppy growing in the back yard, next to the goldfish pond. I don’t know how it got there. We weren’t even sure whether it was an opium poppy, though I fervently hoped so. By this time I rather wanted to belong to the criminal element. Out of sheer vengefulness I decided to sell that poppy and launder the money through AIB. I would have, too, except that the rabbit ate it. I thought she looked very calm for the rest of the afternoon.

Since this column is read by expatriates around the world, suggesting that they have too much time on their hands, I explained to the earl that I was a journalist, and asked what would have happened had I not found his email in the mud hole in front of my house. Would my money have been confiscated by some august governmental body given to thievery? What was AIB’s objection to Mexican banks? Did his majesty know something I didn’t? He declined to answer. I suppose that archbishops are quite busy.

The rub was that he wanted some document from my Mexican bank imprinted with the bank’s stamp. But Lloyd’s doesn’t have a stamp. It isn’t how things are done here. I guess that if you live in a castle surrounded by a moat, and spend your time calking drafty cracks, you don’t have time to learn about banking practices. Anyway Veronica, my patient account manager at Lloyd’s, composed a letter testifying that I existed and had committed no recent murders, had it translated into English, and sent it to the his Excellency. Forty-five bucks more for FedEx, which began setting up a branch office to handle my correspondence.

This didn’t work either. Nothing does. I have sent document after document. I wondered why the good baron didn’t simply email Lloyd’s, which would remove all doubt about whatever it was that he doubted. I then realized that Lloyd’s parking lot was paved, and that it didn’t have a muddy spot in which to receive email. Technology arrives slowly in Latin America.

With this much trouble getting money into the bank, I assumed that there could be no earthly hope of getting it out. In fact AIB seemed to regard depositors with resentment, as annoyances having nothing to do with its line of work. Perhaps before the bank was born, its mother was frightened by a client, engendering lifelong gollywoggles whenever approached by one.

On and on it went, and goes. I don’t know whether I will live long enough to see my funds, orphaned and sorrowing in some cold account. They probably won’t even recognize me.

Rabbit. It ate the evidence.