It’s been a while. So long, in fact, that I feared that I’d completely forgotten how to do something that was once, if not second nature, at least a close third. It’s funny how something that is a part of everyday life can vanish. Like a weekly trip to the Video Library, some things veer rapidly towards extinction until they disappear altogether. That said, in the case of Video Libraries, it’s well deserved – you can’t go around calling yourself a ‘library’ and reject the Dewey Decimal system outright. It just won’t stand.
I went to a bank. For the life of me, I can’t recall the last time I did that. As a kid, it was the place to which you were dragged on a warm afternoon against your will and forced to suffer a supreme form of boredom. People spoke quietly when they were in a bank. They were like libraries in that regard (although not video libraries – those places were bedlam). At banks, they gave people money and dullness. One you paid for, the other was complementary. In fact, the most exciting thing about the bank was that the pens were on chains.
The chain made an interesting sound as it slid across the countertop. It was inconvenient if there wasn’t a spare patch of bench proximate to the pen you were using which meant you had to stand much closer to a fellow customer than either of you felt comfortable with. There was about a fifty percent chance of a pen actually working, meaning that you might have to suffer the indignity of moving from pen to pen as the security guard took note of your suspicious behaviour. Clearly intended to discourage theft, the pens would have been worth all of about two cents each.
Banks also had a substantial pot plant in the main customer area, together with the day’s date displayed prominently so that people could fill their deposit and withdrawal slips in accurately. I’d watch the hand on the clock as it turned. As a kid, the bank is where time slowed to a crawl. There was no such thing as a ‘quick’ trip to the bank and even if your parents spent no more than ten minutes in there, it still felt like a lifetime. Granted, major financial institutions are designed to do a lot of things, but they were experts at testing a child’s perseverance.
The other week I received a cheque. I had no idea what to do with it. It’s been so long since I saw such a thing that it had an air of novelty about it, despite being a regular rather than oversized cheque. Until it arrived, I’d believed the phrase ‘the cheque’s in the mail’ was one not to be taken literally, much like other fanciful statements such as ‘a lot of people are saying’ (they’re not) and ‘due to popular demand’ (we still have heaps left of whatever it is we’re desperate to get rid of).
I did my very best to remember what it is I used to do when coming into possession of a cheque. Trawling through the dank and abandoned recesses of my mind, where I found several tennis balls and a jumper I used to like, one word suddenly jumped up and slapped me fair in the face – bank. I would be making a trip to the bank.
I haven’t lived here for that long, but I knew that a branch of my bank had just re-opened after an extensive refurbishments. Given that I was going to bank for what was possibly the first time this century, I decided to make an occasion of it and pretend it was still the nineteen nineties. Dressed in Blundstone boots and a lumberjack shirt, I consulted my Melways to ensure I knew how best to get there.
I grabbed my regular sized cheque and headed down to the bank. As I strode into the branch, the scene that greeted me was like something from, if not another century, then from some time other than the nineteen nineties. There were no counters, no tellers and no pens on a chain. How they even had the nerve to call themselves a bank, I’ll never know. Instead, there was modular furniture and a series of small workstations and a tasteful pot plant. I thought I knew how banks worked. Turns out, I knew nothing at all.
A polite lady approached me and asked if she could help. Struck dumb as a result of sensory overload, all I could do was point mutely at the cheque in my hands. The lady smiled and shook her head, telling me that they didn’t accept cheques at this bank and that I’d need to deposit it some other way. As I stood in the middle of the bank branch / modular furniture showroom, it occurred to me that I was standing in the wrong bank. That is, not the wrong type of branch but the wrong financial institution altogether. I began to back away whilst still keeping eye contact, lest the helpful lady wanted to sell me a pot plant.
As it turns out, all I had to do was scan the cheque with my phone. It almost made the Internet seem worthwhile. It’s funny how activities that were once pivotal are relegated to novelty status. Who knows when I’ll see a cheque again? Or how long it will be before I need to set foot inside a branch? Truth is, if I ever attend a bank again, I’ll probably travel by hoverboard. By that time, I’ll just be getting over the embarrassment at having gone to the wrong bank. Maybe.