by Jim Harris

I woke up feeling peppy yesterday, and I had a couple of free hours, so I decided to start working on my essay, “The Flowers are Blooming and Life is Good,” but first I had to deposit a check at the ATM. The machine had previously asked me to discontinue getting paper receipts in order to save trees (how conscientious), so when it accepted my check and responded “THANK YOU!” in big letters superimposed over a picture of a deliriously happy family, I figured I was done.

When I got home, I took the dog out and then checked my emails. My first incoming email said, “Your Wells Fargo ATM/Debit card was retained at a Wells Fargo ATM and has been kept for your security. Visit a Wells Fargo store to quickly order a replacement and receive a temporary instant card for immediate use.”

What? Damn! I left my debit card in the machine. How dumb was that? (Nowadays the ATMs at banks both dispense money and accept check deposits, which I had just done. The debit card gets sucked into the ATM, and then when the transaction is completed, they ask whether you want to make another transaction or want your card back. Obviously, I was not paying attention because I completely missed that notice. I’ve also forgotten my card a number of times in the past, but I always went back to the bank as soon as I realized this, and they gave the card to me right away. All this new high-tech banking is obviously conflicting with my old low-tech brain.)

What do they mean, “Order a replacement?” I had just left the bank five minutes ago. Why can’t I just go in and pick it up? And what do they mean “Visit a Wells Fargo STORE.” Is that different from the bank? What is it, like a Radio Shack or something?

Doesn’t calling something a “store” imply that they have some item you want? In truth, YOU have something that THEY want — your money. They invest it, make a profit, then charge you for doing so. Of course, if they somehow lose your money or go broke, at least your money is insured by the FDIC, but this, too, is ultimately funded by the bank’s customers.

Apparently, the long-range plan is to turn banks into computer-terminal emporiums. No more tellers, no more, “Hi Jim, how’s your new turtle?” just soulless screens that occasionally display pictures of deliriously happy families with the words “THANK YOU” superimposed over them.

Blood pressure rising, I phoned the bank. The answering machine said, “Welcome to the Germantown STORE.” After listening to nine options, I reached a salesperson.

“Can I come in and pick up my card?”

“Sorry, we’ve outsourced the ATMs. We no longer have access to them.”

“Well, doesn’t someone come in occasionally to remove the money from the ATM and give it to you? Can’t they just give you my card, too?”

“No sir, but you can come in and get a temporary card until your replacement arrives in the mail.”

Starting to feel the positive energy drain from my body, I dropped everything and rushed over to the bank. Once there, I had sit down and wait. The customer ahead of me at the service desk had a stack of papers three feet thick, and she was poring over every page as if she was taking a final exam. My stomach started growling. When It was finally my turn, I jumped up so quickly that my glasses fell off, and I inadvertently stepped on them while trying to pick them up. One of the stems broke off, and I had to hold them up to my eyes like Queen Victoria’s spectacles while I read the papers I had to sign, all the while knowing that my OLD debit card was only a few yards away in the ATM, calling to me.

“Daddy, Daddy I’m in here. Where are you? Why did you leave me?”

I was told that the card number on the permanent card I would receive would not match the numbers on my temporary card, and that I would have to contact all my service providers immediately — and contact them again after receiving my permanent card — to ensure that scheduled payments would continue without interruption. My eyes glazed. Some days I feel like my entire life has been outsourced to somewhere beyond my control.

As I was leaving, a guy in a Cadillac asked me for a jump. “I was listening to the car radio while my wife was in the bank,” he said. I looked over to his wife in the car. It was that lady with the three-foot stack of papers. She seemed to be smirking. A voice in my head said, “Go back to bed.” I gave the guy a jump and headed home. When I got there, I saw that the dog had pooped in the house (twice). I spent the remaining five minutes of free time I had left napping on the couch. I’ll start on the essay tomorrow.