Perhaps you laugh at that.
Decades ago, people dressed in their best dark clothes to go to the bank. Big banks were cavernous and hushed and sported stone pillars in front – they still do – projecting a kind of oceanic permanence.
But that’s changed. These days banks shriek their wares competitively from street billboards, and most business is plastic. These days half-dressed customers in flop sandals push in the bank, shove around and sometimes curse the tellers through the bullet-proof barrier, I’ve seen it.
From earlier times as national institutions banks have lost their granite mystique. In the last few decades they have mutated: drive thru, and chic, and neighborhood, and one day a week, where I bank, the tellers wear blue jeans. Tellers were once dour, life-time employees, but now, every month, the tellers are a different set of fresh-faced credit card hustlers.
But banks haven’t finished changing. All powerful, they once protected our money, but now people are wondering how to protect their money from the banks. They seem to loot every deposit we make with their myriad charges.
As I stood on line in the bank the other day, an older man next to me complained about the thick plexiglass at the counter, it made it difficult to understand the cashier. I shrugged, I said, the thick barriers were actually installed to protect us customers from them. He clenched his paperwork tight.
Distrust. But this is an era where many great and bright trusted institutions have suddenly inverted. Instead of reverence for them, what have we now is but shadow and half-lit suspicion. Distrust. The Catholic church, once resplendent with its spired cathedrals inspiring another kind of oceanic feeling, also once protector, now better known for its incidents of abuse.
Look, I didn’t mean to pick on the church. It’s everywhere. This is the age of big institutions not being what they used to be. Like the military, it used to be everybody was proud of our people in uniform, but now there’s sex abuse in the ranks, unprecedented suicides, and over half of homeless men are veterans. And government is another institution, it is supposed to represent the public, in which there was once a dignified senate, and we gave it our respect, and which is now corrupt.
And we can’t opt out, you have to have a government. And we have to have a bank.
But banks haven’t finished. The banks have inverted.
They inverted so far they would have failed, but for the huge bailouts. We taxpayers had to pony up hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out these banks because they were collapsing – they gambled on some risky loans and investments of their own, and lost. Then they turned around and used the bailout money to splash bonuses on their own executives. Parties.
Even as Congress says it can’t find the money to provide healthcare for ordinary Americans, who are the public. Investment banks at this writing are furiously lobbying Congress to push back new regulations on derivatives and credit default swaps, and they know they will win. Those coiffed gentlemen want to play the very gambles again that helped drop us all into this economic mess. And they will do it again. Because they act like they own Congress. And thus you are entitled to feel violated.
And this is not for the common good.
The same banks we bailed out, turn around and foreclose on us. Make it harder to declare bankruptcy. Turn collection agents on us. Hike our interest rates. Raise fees for our overdrafts. – In other words, extort us.
And their CEOs are reported still flying corporate jets to personal vacation spots.
And then, when we stand in line in the bank, they peer at us through those bullet-proof barriers as though we were the enemy.
We, the public.