"The checkbook is almost out of checks," my wife said. "Do we have any more?"
"Yes," I said, "This is the year 1997! We always have more. In fact, I ordered more the other day, and I did it '90s style. I walked to the bank, on foot, and handed a piece of paper to a human being, and a week later another human being will deliver a box of checks and we will talk about that scamp Bill Clinton, and worry about Y2K. Of course there are checks!"
That was then. A few weeks ago my wife said: "The checkbook is almost out of checks. Do we have any more?"
"No," I said, because it is 2017 and the boxes I got in 1997 are finally empty. You can order checks online, of course, which feels like taking an Uber ride to buy a buggy whip. You have to log on. You have to click. You have to read the terms and agreements:
You agree, in full, and in part, that you agree, that the issuer ("The Issuer") shall not, and cannot, and must not, and would not, and absolutely can't be held responsible, indemnifiable, liable or otherwise guilty for any acts relating to, or arising from, actions not specified by the issuer (Satan shall own your firstborn) in concordance with the International Accords as they relate to rectangular. ...
But you hit "Accept" before you read any of that.
I deposit checks with my phone — a sentence that would have made no sense 15 years ago, like "I paint my house with my TV." But since Star Tribune World HQ is a few blocks from the bank, I occasionally wander over to do some banking in person. Feels like I should put on spats and adjust my monocle before caning an urchin trying to sell me matches, yes, but it's actually easier to walk two blocks and hand them the check reorder slip.
There's no password required to walk down the street.
Checks used to arrive in solid boxes, like gold bricks; now they come in envelopes. Basic blue SAFETY checks, which always makes you wonder what DANGER checks look like. Pre-signed, with a casino's name pre-printed in the payee line?
I threw them in a drawer and thought: Those are the last checks I'll ever buy.
Really. I pay with a card, of course, but I hate cards now. The chip-reader machines are nasty, peevish, impatient devices that sneer brap brap brap when you don't remove your card quickly enough. So I pay with my thumbprint whenever possible. It was astonishing magic when it was introduced; now you're angry if a store can't take money out of your thumb.
We get annoyed when the nice old lady in front of us at the grocery store starts digging through her purse to write a check, right? In 20 years, that will be you. The young person behind you in line will sigh heavily when you get out your phone. Oh, come on! It's 2037. You can't lean in for a retinal scan? They will talk about you thus: "And he gets out his talker, OK, and puts his thumb on the button, only he has to do it again because it's not close enough, and we're all like, 'Hello, life is short.' I swear, it took him 10 seconds to pay."
Anyway, we're at that age where everyone has kids graduating from something or other, and that means you write checks. In 20 years you'll call up a holographic image of the person, and he'll be surrounded by floating icons, one of which links to his banking account, and you will make wizard gestures in the air to transfer money. For now, you write a check, and put it in an envelope, which needs a stamp — I am exhausted just writing this — and you drive somewhere and put it in a box.
My daughter will remember me doing this the same way some people remember their dad shoveling coal into the furnace.
The other day I put a new sheaf of checks into the checkbook and was surprised by the number: 101.
Huh? We were in the six digits. We had a check number that demanded respect. 101? Am I in college in 1978? If I were arranging a new identity for someone who had testified against a mobster, I'd give him five digits, at least. 101?
Was it all for naught? All those years with the same bank, the careful fiscal maintenance, the accumulation of the years, and you bust me down to 101? But no one cares. It doesn't mean anything anymore.
If anyone asks, I'll just say we hit 999,999 and I turned over the odometer.