Special Blog Post:
Doughnuts and Banking
As it turned out, the wired funds had, indeed, come through, but they wouldn't be available for several business days. The checks Aaron wrote bounced. Non-sufficient funds charges mounted, returned check fees piled up, and Aaron faced the possibility of criminal charges. What had been enough to get him right with just about everyone turned into a deficit of about six hundred bucks.
That was the end of all relationships Aaron would have with financial institutions.
It wouldn't be long before he would return, as he had too many times, to the streets. Old cars that were dangerous to drive when they could actually move, occasional use of the hidden key at a friend's apartment to grab some food and a shower, even less frequent groveling for a couple of bucks from brothers when they'd gotten over being mad about the last time he'd bummed five dollars. Mostly, Aaron kept going by using good-hearted people who didn't have the common sense or the willpower to tell him to go away forever. It was the whole nine yards of crash and burn: an irresponsible life of being a leech on society and on the people who thought they were helping.
Before the time of the Keynesian economists, those of the old Austrian school held sway, what we now call the "Classical" economists. One of their many tenets was that all unemployment (and underemployment) is voluntary. Aside from exceedingly rare, wholly incapacitated individuals, all people can find work. It might not be what they like, it might not be what they want, it might not pay what they think they're worth, it might disrupt their lives, their families, and their greater hopes; but some kind of work is always, always available. No one can plead destitution with a straight face of no personal responsibility whatsoever for his or her wretched lot. Aaron knew his economics, and he knew very well, despite his progressivist leanings, that the Classical economists were dead-on right about people like him.
Things got better for Aaron once he was given the keys to the run-down, inner-city, small, two-year school where he'd been teaching. The $7.50 per classroom hour was nothing compared to those keys, which meant that a couch in the Winter and a hot shower in the basement every morning was available. Lots and lots of challenging work was there, too, teaching across the curriculum, running the education side of the school, having to deal with every manner of educational, social, and mental health deficiency imaginable in a student bodywhat more could a person ask for?
The Classical economists were right, at least when it came to one White man whose life of sublimated excuses for being a loser finally yielded to patience, persistence, and a willingness to do what others wouldn't for a little paycheck.
Eventually, because of fool-hardy response to a personal, family matter, Aaron would leave that school and city; and from there, he would eventually return to near-destitution. Being coldly objective about it all, he probably wanted it that way: even though he was leaving a more-or-less physical home, he was returning to a much older home of his, the one he had first gotten used to in his adolescence and to which he had returned, over and over again, in his adult life.
A man can't fall to his death from a valley. The high places are for people too foolish to know what could happen up there.
Getting teaching work wherever he could, Aaron was making a meager go of it, though, where he had landed. The teaching gigsfinally supplemented as they were with a little janitorial-type workwere promising to put enough money in his pockets to stave off even the scent of desperation.
But then, last week, Aaron made a stupid mistake.
Many employers these days simply will not pay by physical checks. Aaron had been using a friend's account in another state as the depository institution for his payroll checks, but he'd been getting worried about this, not because of the friend's integrity, but because those checks were crossing interstate lines, and the cumulative effect of those regular transfers had the potential to cause his friend trouble with an increasingly aware, aggressive, and paranoid federal government. It was a miracle the IRS hadn't already made a move, and the prospect of those transfers triggering Homeland Security's thugs was beginning to worry him terribly.
Aaron decided it was time to make his peace with financial institutions by getting himself a checking account into which his paychecks could be direct-deposited. His long-held fears about the banking system convinced him that it probably wouldn't be a good idea to go near a regular bank, much less wander into one and beg for the favor of an account, but one credit union looked promising. His status as a teacher meant he would qualify without a hitch, or so he thought as he wallowed in his fantasy of becoming a big-people-type-person once again, after all these years. He put some gas in his car, drove to main location, tied his hair back, and headed in the doors.
The credit union building was really nice on the inside. It even smelled like an old-fashioned bank. The floor was carpeted, and right there in the lobby were several big, open boxes of doughnuts. Aaron thought to himself, "Those are for people who can't live without stuff that isn't good for them."
To the left in the lobby were the teller windows. The ladies behind the counter looked friendly. They even greeted by name several customers walking in. Straight ahead were the desks where visitors could get information, apply for loans, and open savings and checking accounts. (Actually, credit unions cannot offer real "checking accounts" in the sense that banks can; instead they offer "negotiable order of withdrawal" accounts on which check-like instruments called "drafts" or maybe ever "cheques" can be written, but that's a nearly moot point these days, so the accounts are called "checking" here.)
Aaron had already downloaded and filled out the checking account application form from the Website of the credit union, and he'd filled it out. This would probably help the people at the credit union know how great he would be to have as a customer.
A young lady sat down with Aaron, and the two of them talked briefly before she began to key the information from his form into her computer. She asked him for his driver's license so she could make a photocopy of it pursuant to provisions of the Patriot Act, and she asked him for something he'd received by mail to establish that he lived where he was representing he did. Aaron was ready with everything needed. The lady made the photocopies, pushed a few more keys on her computer, and shuffled some papers around; then she said, "I'll be right back."
"Ah, cool," Aaron thought. "This is where she goes back, gets the forms for me to sign, gets my temporary debit card, and all that."
Aaron sat there reading the brochures, looking around, thinking about which doughnut he should go for. He had glanced at a clock as the lady was getting up to go in the back. When he checked it again, a little too much time had gone by. It was only five minutes, but that was too long.
Mildly happy thoughts he had been tossing in his mind simply vanished, replaced with a spiraling chain of fear-driven observations and wild conclusions.
"God, what was I thinking, coming in here?... Security. That guy who casually stepped out of an office down that corridor. He's plain-clothes. Concealed carry. No, he won't shoot; doesn't have it in him, not without going all tunnel vision. He'd clutch... Lobby exit. Five secondstopsto my car. Broken driver-side door. Been that way for two years. Just jump in through the passenger side like always, get the keys in the ignition while I'm climbing across. Straight forward through the grass back out to the road... Look at those customers going up there begging for their money. Do they have any idea of how precarious this banking system is? Do any of them know what's going to... What in the God's name is she doing back there? Calling someone? Cops?... Did she give me back my stuff? Oh, thank God, she did. That was stupid of her. She wasn't very friendly... Doughnuts. I'll get that long one with the white icing on the way out... I need to leave right now. Here I am, sitting here like I think there's some chance this is all going to work out great. What in the Hell was I thinking coming in here?! Now I've gone and made a total mess for myself... I want to see my cat."
The lady returned with her paperwork. She sat down and started the routine: "Okay, we'll have you sign a couple of documents, and I'll get you some checks you can use here to withdraw money."
Aaron's head cleared instantly, "Oh. Well, when do I get a debit card?"
The lady didn't even bat an eye. "We're going to have you on what we call a 'restricted account' for six months. You'll have those checks you can use to withdraw no more than a hundred dollars at a time, as long as you maintain a balance of no less than three hundred dollars. Those checks won't be good anyplace else, of course."
Aaron was getting more focused. "Those are the 'cashing checks' listed in that brochure, the ones you charge twenty dollars each to cash, aren't they?"
She nodded: "Yes. As I said, we'll review your account in six months to see if we can take some of the restrictions off it at that time."
Aaron persisted: "So, I get no debit card, I get no checks to pay bills with, I get access to my own money only in one hundred dollar increments at twenty dollars per withdrawal, this credit union gets free use of my fundsno less than three hundred dollars of it at any given timeand I get no more than a promise of a 'review' a half-a-year from now."
"That's the best we can offer someone with no credit records for so long," she answered.
Not being given to lecturing people who can do nothing but carry out their duties according to the rules if they want to keep their own jobs, Aaron resisted his driving desire to explain to the hapless woman that even most religions no longer exact painful penitence from outsiders who want to join.
Aaron's short indulgence in hysteria had completely lost its irrational edge. Yes, once that lady saw his unexpectedly blank seven-year credit record, she followed procedure by going to the back where her supervisors were. She told the security guy to keep an eye on the situation, so even though he was able to see everything in the lobby from his security monitors, he casually came out to get a quick visual ID.
And yes, those people waiting to transact their business at the teller windows really are all suckers, standing like so many condemned in a slowly closing noose of a banking system that will progressively flow further and further against their interests and well-being in the months and years ahead.
And yes, willinglymaybe even a little excitedlyAaron trying to join the milling masses of customers of the modern banking system was stupid, stupid, stupid. Everything about him that woman had keyed into that computer was now irretrievably passed into the ocean of information being collected, aggregated, and mined by all manner of governments, corporations, and other creepy organizations and unaccountable individuals.
Aaron knew better than to make any more fuss. "I do apologize for this inconvenience, but I can't accept these terms," he said, looking slightly down. Although he has ageda few lines in his face and some grey in his hair have robbed him of most of the charm he once used to no small effect in turning people's heartshis smile, the smile of a defeated child just wanting to go home, was still enough to prevail upon her to tear up the paper copy of the credit report she was holding.
"I really am grateful to you for taking the time to work with me," he said as he glanced up at her.
"Oh, that's alright..." she replied, cutting herself off before she reciprocated with the apology of her own she wanted to give.
Aaron got up and departed. He didn't take any doughnuts on his way out. Those are for people who can't live without stuff that isn't good for them.
The Dark Wraith hopes readers have enjoyed this story.