“Code Overload”

The following is a letter I wrote from Brussels in 1993:

Dear Bebe & Jay,

First of all – please forget about buying the book, Bordeaux by Robert Parker; I found it in a bookstore here in Brussels. I hope you got my scribbled message on the back of the last letter. I do, however, need you to find the following book: Idiom’s Delight – Fascinating Phrases and Linguistic Eccentricities in Spanish, French, Italian, Latin by Suzanne Brock, a paperback published in 1991 by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc.. Vicky & I gave my copy to our French teacher as a present, today being our last class with her. We will continue with more French classes, compliments of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company International, Belgium, at a later date.

Our classes are going well. We were a little frustrated because this class is ending at a time when we are just beginning to converse a lot in French. I call it, “the monkey is starting to form sentences on his own” stage.

Vicky got her residence permit today. While we were at the commune, she decided to apply for a driver’s license with the police department. Much to her dismay, we were informed that Belgium does not recognize Puerto Rican driver’s licenses! Quite frankly, the Belge police probably have seen these Puerto Ricans behind the wheel. Poor Vicky, she has to take the driving test, which I hear is pretty tough. Fortunately for me, I am holding a “Safe Driver” Florida license! We called the American Embassy; they are looking into it and will call us back later.

We are secret code overloaded. We have two codes for our Belgium checking account – actually four – if you count the direct telephone communication code , one for Vicky’s Puerto Rican checking account, one for my Puerto Rican checking account (soon to close), one for the gas card, one for the computer, and one for Vicky’s office parking lot. I have to relate this story: The other day, I was putting gas in the car and paying automatically with the gas card. It’s a chore…you have to punch in the car’s mileage (or should I say kilometerage,) the pump number you are using, and your secret code. I never can remember the gas card code – I have to read the code from the piece of paper we keep in the glove compartment (real safe, huh?) I was thinking, “6 – 3- 0 – 6… How weird – isn’t this my bank code?”

Later that day, the Griswalds were shopping at the grocery store. They bought a lot of groceries. The cashier had just finished ringing them all up. Three thousand some odd Belgian Francs. Wilbur, not having any cash between himself or Vicky, niftily pulled out his Bancontact card and punched in his secret number: 6 – 3 – 0 – 6. He was noticing the many people in line behind them while he awaited on the bank approval; It was a very busy day in the grocery store! As if he had psychic powers, Wilbur knew what the readout on the computer said before his eyes even had a chance to see for themselves. It was in French but he knew well what the message was: It almost had the same sound as the buzzer on Family Feud when an incorrect answer is given, although, there actually was no sound.

No problem: Wilbur, being the quick thinking type, calmly pulls out his wallet to retrieve the little piece of paper that, in Wilbur’s ingenious secret agent method, has the code for the Bancontact card written backwards in sequence…should he ever need to have reference to it.

It was mysteriously missing!

For Your Eyes Only, the theme song for the James Bond movie of the same name, was the soft melody playing faintly in the background on the store’s Muzak system. Is this really Europe?

Oh shit!, Wilbur thought. Panic was setting in…

Vicky was quick to notice and offered her magic guess:

“Try 6 – 3 – 1 – 6…Isn’t there a ONE in there?”

“No, VICKY, it’s 6 – 3 – 0 – something…”

He tries sixthreezerosomething. Wilbur immediately gets his ESP feeling again.


Wilbur feels his body temperature rise as trickles of sweat start to form themselves upon his forehead…Everyone is waiting on us…They don’t look like the patient types.

“Robert, I KNOW there’s a ONE in there!”


Madame Griswald gave it a go…

Wilbur felt the mixed emotions of satisfaction and frustration as the number was quickly rejected by the computer. The waiting customers were starting to look pissed: It’s that stupid American couple that mow their yard like a golf course and wastefully flood the streets with water! NO WONDER! Wouldn’t you know it! How the hell did I get behind them?”

Wilbur tried another number.


The cashier gave him the non-verbal look of, You’ve run out of options, Bub; What now??

Vicky: “I’ll go get my card out of my purse which is in the car!”

“GOOD IDEA!…HURRY!…What’s your PURSE doing in the car?”

Wilbur moved the bagged groceries out of the way and stepped aside as the cashier began ringing up groceries for the next person in line. He made sure not to make eye contact with anyone and gave the old , why-did-my-wife-forget-the-damn-card-again? look.

The Griswald’s had escaped another harrowing experience!

May I have the envelope, please…thank you…the winning number is…

7 – 3 – 6 – 1

but it doesn’t work; someone has keyed in the wrong number more than three times; I’m sorry, you’ll have to go to the bank to have it corrected…

Well, I have to go. Vicky & I are trying to get organized for our trip to Paris on Friday. We’re also trying to figure out how to use that week of the time share. I told Vicky that I hope there are no European time share salespeople trying to get you to buy more weeks. I guess if there’s a EuroDisney, it’s highly possible! Attencion acheteurs! Bienvenue a K-Mart!

More later. Bye.

Love, Robert

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