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Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns are satire and parody, based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which. The names in the following are fictitious and any similarity between the matters described and actual events is purely coincidental.

Howard Bashford sat at the kitchen table, which was littered with bank statements, bills, canceled checks and blunted pencils. He peered at the documents, forehead on his palm, tufts of hair protruding between his fingers. At length he slumped back and sighed.

“I just can’t find it, Helen,” he said to his wife, who was cleaning up the dinner dishes. “We’re off $138 and some odd cents. I’ve done the addition and subtraction three times, gone back through three previous statements and changed the battery in the calculator.

“The blasted error still eludes me. I’m afraid I’m going to have to call for help.”

Helen paused, dish towel in hand, and eyed him skeptically.

“Well, if you really must,” she said.

“I must,” said Howard as he reached for telephone.

The call was answered quickly.

“Got a problem with my bank account,” Howard told the functionary at the other end. He gave his name and account number, then waited as the bureaucrat punched up the data.

“Yeah,” he said, “yeah, that’s me. I’m off $138 and some odd cents and I simply can’t find it.

“Yeah, I checked all my deposits and ATM withdrawals and … What’s that? My debit card? Oh, my God! Did I forget to record a debit again?”

There was a pause, and Howard began to rub his jaw ruefully.

“That’s one I should have remembered,” he told the faceless voice at the other end of the line. “Victoria’s Secret. It was a special anniversary gift for my wife … That’s right, Helen.

“Yes, I guess you could say it was kind of a gift for me, too.”

He chuckled, and across the room Helen blushed.

After another pause, Howard’s end of the phone conversation continued.

“Why, what a nice compliment,” Howard said. “We did write a few checks to charity. We think it’s the least we can do to give back to the society that has given us so much.”

“Well, yes, we do think it’s important to participate in the political process as well, which explains that check to the Better Government committee. It’s a fine organization. No! Are you sure? I hadn’t heard that about the chairman’s personal life. My goodness! I’ll have to keep that in mind in the future.”

“Thanks a lot,” said Howard, drawing the chat to a close. “Yes, I know that’s what you’re there for – among other things. I really appreciate all you do.”

Howard hung up the phone and began to scribble on a yellow, legal pad.

After a couple of minutes, he threw down his pencil triumphantly and turned to Helen, who was just putting away the last of the pans.

“That’s it to the penny!” he declared. “Those guys sure are worth their weight in gold.”

“That may be true, Howard,” Helen replied sternly, “but I hope you will be more careful in the future. You know the bank charges us an arm and a leg every time you have to call for assistance.”

“Bank?” said Howard incredulously. “That wasn’t the bank I was talking to. It was the Homeland Security Department’s Total Information Awareness program.

“We may have given up a teeny bit of privacy, but they sure can help balance a checkbook.”

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