Forgive me while I wipe the nostalgia out of my eyes, but once upon a time, banks actually did things sensibly and kindly.
If someone gave you a check and you cashed it and it turned out to be rubber, the bank would quietly send it through again. Often, on the second go-round, the check would prove to be good. No one got embarrassed, hassled, jailed or assessed a service charge.
Ah, but this is cutthroat 1999, when banks look for any excuse to make a couple of nickels. That includes service charges slapped on people who innocently cash checks that later bounce. They aren't the deadbeats, but they're being charged, anyway.
Exhibit A is the Rev. Kathleen Anderson. She was paid by check for performing a wedding. She cashed the check at First National Bank of Maryland, where she has an account, and distributed money to several people who had helped her during the ceremony.
When the check made like a basketball, Kathleen was charged $2.50. Worse yet, the bank never even told her that the check had gone sproing or that her account was $2.50 lighter. "It made me plenty angry," Kathleen said. "Am I stupid or just naive?"
Neither, Kathleen. You are just another victim of an industry that wants you to cover its cost of doing business.
Reese Nank, vice president of corporate communications for First National, said the $2.50 that Kathleen was charged is what it costs the bank to chase down the offending check and debit the customer's account.
The money pays a human being, Reese said. "What normally happens with checks is that they are processed electronically and rarely touch human hands," she said. But "it costs us to handle a check." She called the $2.50 bounced-check fee "standard operating procedure" in the banking industry.
John Hall, a spokesman for the American Bankers Association, confirmed it. He likened the $2.50 fee to a traffic ticket. "You're charged a fee as a deterrent," he said.
Of course, Kathleen Anderson didn't do anything that needed deterring. Hall acknowledged as much. But he said there's nothing preventing her from going back to the person who wrote her the wedding check and trying to collect $2.50. The fact that the check bounced is not the bank's fault, he said.
But isn't the bank at fault for cashing that piece of rubber in the first place? In this age of rocket-rapid technology, can't First National determine whether that check is good while Kathleen is standing at a teller's window? It wouldn't violate anyone's privacy, but it would prevent greedy fees from being levied.
If the banking world still isn't convinced, consider this:
We aren't talking about some ticked-off yuppie here, gang.
We're talking about a minister.
She makes and keeps the peace for a living.
If she gets fried enough to write to Bob Levey . . . well, where there's smoke coming out of a minister's ears, there's fire.
Local high school reunions organized and trying to get that way:
Annandale '79. Aug. 6 and 7. Call Juli Aukofer Navarette (703-321-9140).
Bladensburg '59. Aug. 14. Call Barbara Palmer (301-434-7125) or JoAnn Robertson (301-770-2364).
Bladensburg '69. Organizing. Call Ann Adams Randall (301-621-9109), Debbie Gant Swann (301-855-8110) or Mela Martinez Gibson (301-341-5539).
Central (D.C.) '34. Oct. 23. Call Esther K. Litman (301-469-6463).
Dunbar '59. Organizing. Call Carole Lewis (202-882-5199) or Cliff Freeman (202-546-1622).
DuVal '79. Sept. 24-25. Call Lari Brent (301-912-3312).
Eastern '69. Oct. 15-17. Call Carletta Leftwich (301-794-5975).
Fairfax '44. Sept. 25-26. Call Pauline H. Brentlinger (703-698-9518) or Paul Stenger (703-938-8715).
Fairfax '64. Sept. 17-19. Call Doug Ayers (703-938-6780).
Falls Church '75. Oct. 22. Call Stu Megaw (703-280-8220).
Fort Hunt '79. Aug. 7. Call Jeff Williams (703-922-9190).
Friendly '89. Nov. 27. Call Belinda Robinson (301-292-3415).
Hyattsville '39. Sept. 25. Call Jean Frothingham McDevitt (301-474-7510).
Hyattsville '46 and '47. Sept. 8. Call Doris Kenney Sommers (301-935-4747).
Bishop Ireton and St. Mary's Academy '79. Oct. 15-16. Call Antonio J. Calabrese (703-712-5411, work; 703-838-9695, home).
Thomas Jefferson '79. Aug. 6-8. Contact Janet Rowson Caldarelli (email@example.com).
Lackey '89. Aug. 14. Call 301-743-7044.
Langley '69. July 31. Call 301-294-0960.
Magruder '74. Aug. 13. Call Lori Niland Rounds (301-977-0842).
Marshall '79. Oct. 2. Call 800-677-7800.
McKinley Tech '84. Organizing. Call Kellie Jackson (202-305-3025).
Richard Montgomery '74. July 31-Aug. 1. Call Sue Freeland (301-279-2266), Scott Wilkie (301-570-2437) or Leslie Howard (818-566-4298).
Northwood '79. Aug. 14 and 15. Call Juliet Greer (301-598-2074).
Osbourn Park '89. Aug. 20-22. Call Tamara Short Joseph (919-510-4247).
Oxon Hill '69. Oct. 22-24. Call Roxana McCarter (703-550-8911).
Potomac '89. Aug. 28. Call Shauna Martin-Robinson (301-604-6690).
Seneca Valley '89. Sept. 18. Call Emily Clark (703-465-0699).
Spingarn '59. Oct. 8-9. Call Margaret Wallace Woody (301-423-6078) or Juanita Hopkins Walls (301-894-4741).
Wakefield '69. July 31. Call Jill Chapman Leonhardt (703-690-3449).
George Washington '49. Oct. 9. Call Ann Darling McKlveen (540-786-2127) or Marvin Wilke (301-371-6422).
George Washington '59. Organizing. Call Sarah Webster Capponi (703-323-7822).
Washington-Lee '49 and '50. Aiming for fall, 1999. Forty-niners call Ruth Cohen Levin (703-979-5655). Fiftyers call Dee Lyon Mitchell (703-241-2535).
Washington-Lee '59. Oct. 8-10. Call Jane Gholson Lanham or Bob Lanham (703-938-5993).
Western '49. Oct. 1-2. Call Ellie Chucker (301-229-6636).
Having a reunion? Mail full details to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071, fax them to 202-334-5150 or e-mail them to firstname.lastname@example.org. There's no charge. Local high schools only, please.