IN all literature there is nothing more adroitly composed than the self-laudatory prose of a bank's radio commercials. Exuding pious and confident honesty, they make the money-bag rascals sound like the Beatitudes and suggest the world has no better boon than 18 1/2 percent after 30 days. Then, after exalting the banker to dizzying heights, the commercials always terminate their mellifluous appeal with the words, "Member FDIC." Moliere, on his best day, never turned out comedy like that.
This means simply that your banker, just extolled as a paragon of virtue, may be a crook. Although sanctified into the front row of the celestial choir, he bears watching, and if he rifles your purse the government has him insured and you need not despair. If this sounds harsh, I speak as a lover of well-carpentered scrivening and want merely to bring the highfalutin verbiage down to what it means.
I am appalled, while meditating on this, at the great number of banks I have known in my time, most of them the same bank after mergers and sales and consortiums, that did not fetch forth kindly bankers to grasp my hand in warm fellowship and urge me to come in and enjoy their jovial company and their friendly services. Mostly, somebody would look up and shudder at the thought I might be needing money.
I did once - years ago - approach Mr. McFarland, our home-town banker, to explain to him discreetly that some unexpected liabilities had accrued, and I could use a few dollars to tide me over until I got the check on my W.T. Grant shares. Mr. McFarland, who was very much before the days of our current bankers, seemed not to hear me, but suggested we descend to the bank's basement and shoot some pool. The bank owned the only pool table in town, and Mr. McFarland was the house champ. I held the guest's cue
idly while he ran off a string or two, and then he said he guessed the bank could take a chance. He let me have $150 for 90 days.
In about a month, Sim Coombs drove his horse into my dooryard on his way to the village, and I gave Sim $150 plus interest, to give to Mr. McFarland, which he did. Funny thing happened. Every month I'd get an interest bill from the bank, which I would toss in the stove, and then one day Sim showed up and gave me 34 cents. Sim said the girl in the bank had misunderstood him, and had deposited my money into his savings account. He figured my money had earned him 34 cents and he wanted to make it right. He said the girl had promised to make an "adjustment" just as soon as she could get to it. Meantime Sim would bring me 34 cents every month. About that time the bank "merged" with a consortium over in New York State and Mr. McFarland retired. In that order. The fun was over, but the new-day commercials began.
Another thing that made good feeling had to do with Sol Glover, who owned our fish factory. Sol packed mostly clams, but he'd pack other things he could sell, and while he never borrowed any money he went into the bank every forenoon and shot some pool with Mr. McFarland.
When Sol married Cynthia Brownell, he had Mr. McFarland set up a joint checking account, and every week Sol's bookkeeper would deposit money to cover household expenses and whatever Cynthia needed or wanted. Sol never paid any more attention, but Cynthia was a "saving woman," and she never spent as much as was deposited every week. Then World War II came along, and Sol went to packing oversize herring as Army sardines, and also alewives for Lend-Lease, and in the bank one morning he told Mr. McFarland he
was having a problem. "I'm busy," he said, "but government money is slow, and I got a payroll." He could use bank money to tide him over.
Mr. McFarland said, "Nothing personal, Sol, but things are rough all over. I'm sorry - but look, why don't you use the money in Cynthia's joint checking account?"
"Cynthia?" says Sol. "Cynthia? Cynthia's been gone for 17 years!"
Turned out the account had been idle all that time, and besides what Cynthia had saved, the bookkeeper had been making regular deposits every week. McFarland, the jolly banker, knew about it but wasn't paying interest on checking accounts and had free use of Sol's money. Came to over $150,000.