Thursday, October 14, 2010


One of the few times I miss money is when my new Vanity Fair comes and I tear out all the perfume samples to carry around in my pockets. They tell me the plastic sack the mag comes in is to protect innocent people from those perfume samples. When I was a parishioner years back I once tried to go into my home church’s office and was prevented by a sign saying that people wearing perfume couldn’t come in because someone might be allergic. They say that this phenomenon has led to diluting perfumes so much that they don’t last on skin the way they used to.

When I find a really delectable scent in the samples (more often the designated “male” smells than the flowery “female” smells -- I like savories better than sweets) I would like to buy some but they are usually $100 an ounce. I used to love various scents, but they go off the market unless they’re Chanel. I can’t find “Halston” anymore. The first time I wore “Aliage”, Frank Krska in the Glacier Park Trading Post almost climbed over the counter to kiss me but it was a “sports perfume” and he was a golfer. Dannie, a kid in my English class, said it made me smell like a mushroom.

I loved Carven’s “Vert y Blanc” and then (was it Lanvin?) “Spanish Geranium.” Right now what’s in my pockets (an old yellow knit jacket) is Calvin Klein’s “Beauty,” two-gendered “L’Eau D’Issey,” Estee Lauder “Sensuous Noir” and Ralph Lauren’s “Polo Blue.” So, my pockets are a pot pourri. I love reading about smells, too. And there’s a terrific website called that even discusses the “cultural genocide” of classic perfumes due to allergies.

Since I can’t afford proper perfume, I buy scented deodorant for $4.95. But I’m not really writing about perfume. This is a sniff and switch.

They say money has a smell. I’ve lost track since I do almost everything with checks. But something stinks about checks. Something is rotten in banking and the government hasn’t come close to figuring it out yet.

Recently a series of overdrafts I wasn’t notified about incurred several hundreds of dollars in fines. (I live on Social Security.) When I objected, most of that was reversed. (Hours of phone calls, days of worry.) But last week Point West Credit Union, when I sent a payment check on a loan I have with them, posted it as usual, but then, unaccountably, someone else put the debit amount back into my checking account. Weekly I print out my current statement from the website and then strike off the debited checks with a highlighter as they show up. This check had been highlighted in my checkbook register, but was no longer showing on my electronic statement. On Friday I saw something was goofy. It was a three day weekend. Early Tuesday someone from the Credit Union called to see why I hadn’t made payment on my loan.

Then, as we talked, she suddenly declared that someone on her end had made a mistake. “It was a simple mistake,” she insisted loudly. “I can fix it.” I heard the keys click. She wanted to know whether I was using my coupons properly. I am. I have to beg for a new batch -- make a phone call, plus an email, plus a paper request. They are simply printed out on a computer. I would tell this lady something and she would say, “NO!” I said there had been an increase in mistakes in the last few months. NO. I said that I thought the Credit Union had gotten too big. NO. She wanted me to go to automatic deposit. I told her absolutely not since there were so many mistakes. She said, “NO!”

What do people do about mistakes if they have no telephone or computer?

I have set up a “line of credit” to protect me from overdraft charges. I told my local merchant this and we chatted a bit. She told me that the village bank here (Wells Fargo) charges her ten cents per check when she makes a deposit for the day! I asked the second business I went into if this were true and he said yes, that there was even a fee for a deposit of cash. But it was a fee imposed by the main corporate office and the bank manager (a relative) simply credits the fees back to him after the corporate office has reviewed the books.

In Montana (and Oregon where I previously lived) there is no sales tax because the people consistently vote it down and yet here is a private “tax” (called a fee) on every check a small business deposits. There is only one bank in town. It is thirty miles to the next town with a bank. The small businesses either find a workaround or they simply pass on the fee to their customers: ten cents or twenty-five cents a check. Around here we mostly pay for everything with checks, at least I do. I rarely have paper or silver money on me, and I closed out all my credit cards. I do one major shopping buy in a big city once a month and write maybe twenty local checks a month, so that means a two dollar a month tax TO THE BANK. In this town there is ONE grocery store, ONE bank, ONE gas station. The others went broke.

Since Wells Fargo took over this local bank, which I do not patronize, the fees have gotten higher and the rules have gotten more strict. They will not cash a check for a person who doesn’t have an account there. They will not cash a check on Canadian funds, though we are close to the border. On the Canadian side it is no better. A friend of mine wrote a check to her son for doing some painting. He took it to HER Canadian bank to cash it and was charged a twenty dollar fee.

I once read about a clever computer hacker who re-set all the electronic ATM tellers in his city to round off every amount deposited to the nearest lower dime and then deposit the difference to his account. Each transaction could not have been more than nine cents -- more likely a nickel or less -- to his own account. He managed to accumulate millions of dollars before he was caught. It was the March of Pennies.

The bank itself doesn’t even have to hack the machine. Computers make it possible to jigger the books this way, adding tiny fees behind-the-scenes so that no one really notices. It also gives the NO woman the attitude that nothing is serious because it’s only a matter of changing the database. “Just call us and we’ll FIX it!” she said. Written on water. An economy for a frog getting warmer and warmer. How does a cooked frog smell to you? Time for more than deodorant.

No comments: