Many years ago, before the days of electronic banking, I balanced my checkbook with several desultory strokes of an inky pen in the printed columns provided for such amateur audits. The sum revealed by these calculations was invariably depressing: yet I always knew, however worthless such knowledge might actually be, exactly how much money was at my disposal - or not, as the case might be. Admittedly, since these were days of enforced, almost ascetic parsimony, there was precious little checkbook activity to be balanced, and so my task was an easy one. Furthermore, there were no ATM usage costs, Identity Theft Protection Plan monthly charges, or other obscure service fees that required additional subtraction. I knew where I stood financially: it may have been shaky ground, but at least I knew how much of it there was.
Back then, the teller at my local bank - Bedrock Trust - was called Miss Copper, a pudgy woman with severe hair who reminded me of the Queen of Clubs in a pack of playing cards, since I only ever experienced her as an expressionless face attached to an immobile upper torso, silently stamping my withdrawal slips with profound disapproval. I would always offer a breezy hello when entering her domain: an optimistic greeting to which she would reply with a faint flicker of her left eye, apparently some sort of nervous twitch indicating that an unedifying and possibly invalid transaction was about to take place. She never spoke. Any specific question asked of her would be answered with either a brief mime or, as was most often the case, a dismissive finger directed at another teller's window. She never even said goodbye when I finally closed my account because I was going off to college.
These days I bank with US Amalgamated Bail Out, which used to be Main Street Consolidated Saving & Loan before it merged with some international bank known by its initials only. The teller is an automated telephone system that talks too much, in both English and Spanish; or a tubby little machine that whirs, buzzes and then spits out an unreadable statement; or a spasmodically loading internet page that demands elaborate passwords and interrogates me with a brief biographical quiz before it delivers any data whatsoever. Since I no longer maintain a checkbook, I rely on these new-fangled devices to furnish my account balance information, which is always different depending on which device I consult, and also what new and unexpected monthly fees and charges have recently been deducted from my account.
Alas, it seems that my accounts are subject to so many assorted fees and puzzling charges that the human mind cannot comprehend their infinite variety, and even those aforementioned computerized systems cannot agree what my total balance is at any given moment. Ah yes. Miss Copper might have been cold and impersonal, just like those machines, but she and I always knew exactly how much money I had left in my account, and she knew that she shouldn't let me have any more than that. In her prim and proper way, Miss Copper was invaluable. How I miss the certainty of Bedrock Trust and my insignificant little checkbook.