If you fill out a survey online, there’s often a question about your age group. The choices should go like this:
• Opinion can be safely ignored.
• Pretenses of adulthood, with massive debt.
• There go the kids, one after the other.
• Went to the bank, cashed a check and took out some actual physical money.
I am reasonably savvy when it comes to the digital world, right down to my lack of patience perspective: When I wave my wrist at a device to pay for something, I am annoyed when it does not work immediately, and I have to move my wrist another time, as if this is like asking a DC-10 that’s landing to pull up and go around again.
I deposit checks on my phone, even though it never feels quite right. At the end of the deposit you still have the check, and it’s not supposed to work that way. It’s like letting the dog out, closing the door, then seeing the dog still inside.
In other words, I am a vital, connected adult keenly in tune with his times. Yet, I recently went to the bank and performed the ancient ritual of cashing a check. Why?
For starters, human interaction with someone who uses your name. The teller does not ask for a password, which you forgot, because you changed it after the bank had a breach, and now you’re thinking “daughter’s name plus date of the Treaty of Westphalia plus special character, right?” And you type it in, seeing only black circles, and it’s wrong, and you don’t know if you mistyped it or got the date of the treaty wrong. And what was the special character? An ampersand? Jerry Lewis?
Plus, they have small, fruit-flavored suckers. Now that I’ve admitted going to the bank, it gets worse. I realized the other day that I am almost out of checks. This means I am old and probably ready for the home.
Younger readers may be horrified: “You’re one of those? With the checks that have a custom design, and a special thick case? And when you’re paying for something, you have to page through the paperwork and write down numbers? Isn’t this one step above trading a chicken for an ax at a thatched shed in the village where people call you “sire”?
No. I hate checks and do not write many. The bills are paid electronically. When I write a check, it feels like I’m penning a novel — “Oh, for heaven’s sake, I wrote the amount there, you want me to write it there, in actual words? Why don’t you give me a stone tablet and a chisel, it’ll take less time.”
To make matters worse, I have low-number shame. We’ve had the same bank account for years, and the check numbers were in the middle four-digits. The last time I ordered, something went awry, and my checks started at ... 001.
It felt humiliating. You give someone a check with the number 005, and they wonder: “Where’ve you been? Just out of a coma or something?”
But, in fact, what difference does it make whether we use checks or credit cards? In this era of identity theft and privacy protection, we either hand over pieces of paper printed with our name and ID information or we give restaurant workers our credit cards: “Here, take this in the backroom and copy the numbers, expiration date and secret code. I’ll just be here dawdling over coffee and scraping the last piece of dessert off the plate, oblivious.”
Long-standing check hatred and credit-card paranoia made me get the Apple Card, which has no numbers or code or expiration date on the card. It’s completely blank. It’s the future! Who needs banks? What do you get from a bank that you can’t get from your phone?
Except, of course, eye contact and suckers. You’d be surprised how much that really makes your day.