Wednesday, January 27, 2010

This could explain a lot

When I want to take money out of the bank, I usually use ATMs. But when it comes to depositing checks, I’m still neurotic enough to want to deal with a live human being.

Not too long ago I went to a branch of my bank with a check and was waited on by a person identified by her nameplate as (name uncreatively changed to protect the innocent):


I’ve been out of the daily journalism biz for some time now, but it seems to me that the biz news biz may be missing out on a big story here.

If the bank is taking pains to identify Ms. Doe this way, does that mean that (unbeknown to us all) the bank has been allowing amateur tellers to handle our money?

And if so, have these people been doing the job without pay and just for the “love” of handling money?

Does the bank have “pro-am” events, where the amateurs team up with the pros to process our transactions? Is there a banquet afterward? Is a trophy awarded to the amateur who has improved the most? (“This year Joe caused only three banks to fail, down from 16 in 2009!”)

Is it easy to tell amateur tellers from professional ones? I should think there would be some telltale signs:

They say things like: “Wow! I didn’t realize Benjamin Franklin invented $100 bills, too!”

They ask for your driver’s license and your high school graduation picture “because I always like to see how people change over the years!”

They count out your money and ask if you want fries with it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Where has the year gone?

Imagine my surprise when, a couple of weeks ago, I happened to glance at this blog and notice that I hadn’t posted anything in a long time.

I’m sure some of you regulars – there might be two or three of you – thought that I was trying to get over an excruciatingly long New Year’s hangover. Which would have been a neat trick, considering that I’m a teetotaler. (Come to think of it, where did that word come from? Sounds like a job given to the lowliest of caddies at the pro shop.)

But this year is moving kinda fast. And … well … I might as well come right out and admit it …

I’m trying to adjust to the breakup of a longtime relationship.

Yes, I know, you’ve probably read far too many confessional blogs, blogs where the writer – to use a phrase from my younger years that now sounds quaint – “lets it all hang out.”

OK, OK. But I hope you’ll indulge me just once. And maybe you’ll understand. Chances are you’ve been through something like this yourself.

I am, of course, referring to my relationship with the pay phones of America.

For years, dear readers, I often fed a pair of quarters into these things so I could call people. Could be wrong, but I think I even remember the days when you only needed one quarter to do it. Maybe even one dime before that.

And for years I scoffed at the idea of getting a cell phone.

For one thing, I couldn’t understand why it was necessary for me to stay in constant potential contact with other people. There are times when I like being alone, thank you very much. And that’s not to mention my revulsion at the sight of people who walk down the street, talking on their phones, or looking up something on them. At best, they’re missing the world around them. At worst, they’re risking injury by being oblivious to other people – not to mention drivers, some of whom, of course, are talking on their cell phones, and at least a couple of these folks have nearly made mincemeat out of me (and a possible fortune in mincemeat for some lawyer) by almost running me down.

And then there are those cell phone contracts. My life is complicated enough, thank you very much again.

But then, about a year ago, my mind began to change, with (as per usual for me) the speed of your average continental drift.

I was in Brooklyn, at the American Crossword Puzzle Tournament, when my airline needed to talk with me. Because the only number the airline folks had was the one for my home phone, they had to call there and get someone out of bed, and that someone had to leave a frantic phone message for me at my hotel room while I was cluelessly grappling with crossword clues downstairs.

It was then that I decided I needed a cell phone – at least by the time of the next tourney.

And not too long ago, someone pointed out the existence of cell phones that come without contracts and require only the occasional purchase of more time.

I was finally sold.

So, now that we’re well into the 21st century, I have finally jumped into the tail end of the 20th.

But it has been a bittersweet achievement, as I am reminded whenever I furtively file past one of my old pay phone friends at the mall. And it doesn’t in the least ease my conscience to know that even without my defection, their number is up.