I used to go in and tell them I wanted to cash a check. When they'd ask whether I had an account with them, I'd say, "No, but I do have fingerprints." If they didn't laugh right away, I would add, "Of course, they're not my original fingerprints. I got them in the Witness Protection Program when I turned state's evidence against my buddies after a series of bank ... never mind, it's not important."
Little did I know that I would soon come to look back on the fingerprinting times as the Good Old Days of Mere Invasion of Privacy. Because, now banks want you to pay them to cash their checks! That's right, they've dropped all pretenses of providing services and they just want blood.
The other day, I got a check from a guy for $125. I happened to be Downtown, so I thought I'd stop in and cash it. I won't even bother mentioning the name of the bank (Wells Fargo) because they're all doing it these days. On the way to the bank, I ran into a lawyer friend of mine whose son used to play basketball for me. We exchanged pleasantries and he asked where I was headed. When I told him, he snarled, "Bankers are all a bunch of usurious little (so-and-sos)."
Considering that it came from a lawyer, it was a pretty decent combination of pedantry and vulgarity. I won't tell you exactly what he said, this being a family paper and all (the Manson family), but the word "licker" did appear.
People cry about the Growth Lobby all the time, but at least those people go through the motions of pretending to ask the government's permission before they rape and pillage. The Bankers go up to Phoenix (and Washington, D.C.), bitch-slap everybody around, and tell the legislators how things are going to be done.
I walked into the bank and took my place at the back of the line. I stood in line, inching forward every couple minutes or so, doing my best not to stare at the painting of the naked Aztec woman. When I finally got to the front, I told the teller that I wanted to cash the check. She asked whether I had an account. I made the joke about the fingerprints, but then she said, "First, we're going to need another form of ID."
I showed her my regular driver's license and then my old one, the one I carry around to show people what I looked like before Doritos added that extra ingredient, the one that somehow manages to slow my metabolism and increase my appetite at the same time. She said that wasn't good enough, so I showed her my voter registration card. She pointed out that there wasn't a picture on it and then added that I'm a Democrat.
"And?" I asked.
"Bankers don't like Democrats."
After we finally got the ID thing settled, she stated, "There will be a $3 charge to cash your check."
"But it's not my check; it's your check! See, it says 'Wells Fargo' right there."
She said, "Please Sir, don't get upset at me. It's--"
"I swear to God," I interrupted, "if you say that it's just bank policy, I'm going to jump on this table and do the entire barn-raising dance scene from Seven Brides For Seven Brothers."
Working, as she does, in a Living Hell, she thought about it for a moment, then took another look at me and thought better of it. She looked at me and said, "It's for your own protection."
"No it's not!" I snapped. "It's so your bank can steal my money and lend it out to Enron executives."
She muttered something about check fraud and I jumped in with, "I'd be amazed if the guy who wrote this check has more than $1,000 in his account at any one time. But you're telling me that you're afraid that I took the time to counterfeit his checks, learned how to forge his signature, and now I'm using my evil genius to rip you off for $125? And, at the same time, you're saying that my giving you $3 will somehow protect me from your getting ripped off. Does that about sum it up?"
She went and got the manager. That's all I need, some suit singing his rendition of "It Ain't My Fault."
When he showed up, I said, "All I need to know is whether the check is good. If I had an account here, you'd still have to look in the computer to see if it's good. The $3 is just to punish me for not joining your club and wearing your silly hat."
He smiled and uttered the fascist's theme song, "Everybody's doing it." Then he added, "Some banks charge even more."
Does that mean that if one prostitute turns 12 tricks a night and another only does eight that the latter is somehow less of a whore?
As it turns out, not everybody is doing it. Right next door, at the National Bank of Arizona, they cash checks written on their customers' accounts for no charge. All you need is photo ID and fingerprints. (In a startlingly prescient move, the Weekly had named National Bank's Downtown branch the Best of Tucson just last September.)
I walked over to the Main Library and found some guy who looked like the American Taliban. He was absolutely punishing an acoustic guitar. I told him I'd give him three bucks if he would go stand in front of the offending bank across the street and sing "This Land Is Your Land." He haggled me up to four bucks, and I stood there and watched.
Best money I ever spent.