Apparently, cash is no longer king.
I’m standing the branch of a nameless mega-national bank to deposit money into my out-of-state daughter’s account. It is the first of the month and rent is due in another time zone.
“I’m sorry, but we do not accept cash,” said the bank teller.
On the counter between the teller and me are five crisp $100 dollar bills, so new the bouquet of the distinctive ink still leaves a trail when handling. The edges of each bill so sharp, mishandling could risk getting a paper cut.
I look down at the bills between us. I can see a shock on the face of Benjamin Franklin, whose portrait graces the currency.
“You’ll need to go get a money order and come back,” she said.
Benjamin Franklin’s face is now wincing.
“But this is cash,” I said. “Like real money.”
The teller then drops her get-out-of-jail-free-card in hopes of ending any further discussion.
“Sorry, that is our policy.”
I take a breath. Looking down I see Benjamin Franklin’s hand planted squarely on his forehead, his eyes closed.
“But this is real cash and I’m only trying to put it my daughter’s account – the one she has with you – this bank.”
The clerk repeats the distancing phrase, this time completely absent of any discernible emotion. Nothing I can say is going to change the situation. Turning around, the man in line behind shrugs his shoulders.
I turn back, reach down and pick up bills. I notice Benjamin Franklin has pulled a horse around. Franklin was always a smart man with a keen political sense. He must be sensing his job may no longer be secure and it is time to get out of town.
Together, Benjamin Franklin and I leave the bank, he on his horse, and me on foot to find an 89-cent money order.
Days later, my concerns slowing fading, I walk into a local pizza delivery shop. Handing the man behind the register bill, his hand pauses in mid-motion.
Having a flashback, I ask if they take cash.
“Yes, but not too often,” he said.
The next few minutes are consumed with conversations between he and the manager sharing passwords and codes to get the register to open. Finally, the clerk squats down, disappearing from view, and the register springs open.
I don’t have the courage to look down at the portrait of Andrew Jackson afraid Benjamin Franklin has spent the week sharing his traumatic banking experience.
The young clerk, as polite as can be, delicately hands me my change, a couple bills, and five coins. I sense his touching cash is not something he’s particularly familiar doing – his fingers touching the currency like it might be carrying some sort of long-forgotten plague.
Putting away my change, I notice George Washington looking back up at me. His mouth is open as if he’s seen a ghost. All I can figure is Franklin and his horse are back at the US mint spreading the word.