Modern Money Malady

Who thought it a wonderful idea that ours becomes a “cashless society”? So much can go wrong without the fungible stuff on hand. Greenbacks in pocket are reliable.

The myriad of ways we can buy items, make payments, and settle debts is astounding. Twenty years ago, the methods and devices we today take for granted to purchase and relieve would’ve smacked of science fiction.

At the rate we’re going, how soon until credit cards join currency in targeted obsolescence? If and when we become so advanced won’t we be opening ourselves to even more insidious financial mischief?

Once again there’s plenty good to be said about having foldable legal tender on one’s person. Although too cool for the room youths and those older who contort themselves to extend their own tragically hipness as long as possible love scoffing at the old fashioned notion of money, real cash remains a safeguard.

Electronic transactions are fallible in ways manually exchanging dollars aren’t. Forget for a moment what complications can ensue if the device and the opensesame sequences interface improperly. Wonder if the electricity goes out? Then what?

One’s account may have balances indicating Croesus-like fortunes. However, if those riches can’t be accessed and dead white males can’t be fished out of a billfold or pocket, then there is no proving such and thus is a pauper created.

A well-dressed one perhaps but bankrupt nonetheless. An example of this occurred in Las Vegas recently.

A fellow, let’s call him Everett, hosted some former frat brothers here in Transgression City. They attended the usual amusements for straight single males: steak and cigars at high-end addresses, clubbing afterwards then female flesh for fantasy at one of Vegas’ renowned jiggle joints.

Festivities broke up early, say, around five a.m.

Everett’s felt pretty damned decent. His best buds had wallowed in Vegas. A Las Vegas resident who having indulged in an evening more suitable for out-of-towners, his pilgrimage along the expense account route left him sated, drunk, and happy. So much so a nightcap in order to reflect and bask in the revelry seemed just the right reward for having been the evening’s esteemed host.

He chose to alight in a flash bar inside a swank Strip property.

Oh, yes. Everett showered largesse upon his guests. He grabbed the food, smoke, booze, and compliant women tabs. A local business macher, Everett slapped the fare on his business credit cards, not personal plastic. Why not write off as much fun as possible? Isn’t that the American way?

Sleep beginning to overhaul him and already not looking forward to a late-arriving/early departing half-assed Friday at best in the office, Everett decided to settle his bar bill. But there was a niggling problem. His card was declined. Familiar with the hiccups of remuneration through plastic, the bartender ran Everett’s card several times.

Each shove or swipe produced the same discouraging red X.

Naturally Everett carried a backup card. This too saddened all with the identical results.

Entitled millennial as he believed himself, Everett naturally never carried any cash. Coins didn’t even mash against the lint in his pants pockets. Plastic determined his every transaction no matter how minor. He’d forgotten the last time his fingers had caressed real folding money.

Negotiations with the server/bartender/cashier abruptly ended when a vulpine-looking manager accompanied by two no-necks whose acre-sized sports coats still strained around their impossibly bulked upper torsos arrived to crowd Everett’s space. Big and solid a man as he was, those two dwarfed him. Any more so and they would’ve been outright menacing.

The worst phrase one can hear at dawn o’clock on a Vegas morning filled Everett’s ears.

“Do we have a problem here?”

Intimidation aside, Everett calmly, maybe even somewhat sheepishly, described his night. He’d hosted, see. He’d used one or the other card without trouble throughout the evening. Despite the expenses incurred, both accounts carried more than enough on their balances. Why both cards balked confounded him.

Seeing skepticism where others might’ve seen indifference, Everett proceeded to explain who he was and how his being in this predicament ought have been impossible. He was a local entrepreneur. An up-and-coming big wheel on the Southern Nevada e-commerce scene.

Hearing him describe his industry, his job, even the most disinterested recognized him well-steeped in his field. It all sounded impressive. But his stated bona fides did nothing to settle what ought have been an easily resolved debt.

The manager understood Everett’s plight. Rectifying bills with tapped out credit cards consumed many of his evenings. Rather than being the hard-ass he could’ve been, he treated Everett solicitously.

No lifelines were near enough to cover Everett’s debt. Or so he claimed. The staff met his offer of yielding one of his business account cards in lieu of future payment with pitying smiles. As the manager explained such surrenders usually increased the establishment’s melted plastic collection. He asked to see Everett’s wallet.

Indeed, the billfold held no money, just plenty of cards. The manager requested Everett pull out his driver’s license. The patron thought the request odd but clearly pressured as he was, complied.

Management confiscated his license.

“This is guarantees you pay what you owe. You could report it lost or stolen. I’m not saying you. Maybe someone like you. But with the lines at DMV is lying really worth it? It’s cheaper and quicker and less hassle if you just come up with cash and come back.”

With that the manager and his security personnel stepped away, releasing Everett. An observer who’d been side-eying these negotiations trailed Everett from the bar. The pair struck up an exchange; the former then got up to speed after the latter answered a few simple questions.

Sleepy, woolly-headed, upset at the surprising shortfall, solutions evaded Everett. Sure, he might’ve phoned one of the visitors he hosted the previous evening. Any of one their hotels were near. But why rouse any for this trifle? Moreover, how would that look? Everett had been the night’s Big Willie. Now he scrounged around for chump change in order to settle a beer and gas tab.

Inconveniencing as this nuisance was, he still had his pride to maintain.

Easily 30 years older, more experienced, and less bound by any vain male code, Everett’s new companion calmed him. While no banks sat on the Strip, the stranger noted that ATMs abounded along it. Since Everett retained his plastic a cash dispenser should’ve been within easy walking distance.

Everett hesitated. Not only couldn’t he recall his last instance using cash, but the same infrequency also hazed his PIN. The other asked if the distressed businessman remembered his social security number. After affirming he did, then the other assured Everett capable of conjuring the four abracadabra figures.

Machine found, he did. Just barely.

Despite several earnest attempts through both cards the machine failed spitting money. The calmer head suggested Everett check his balances. Maybe the previous night’s merrymaking depleted his accounts. This being Vegas that happened often. Everett checked. Much to his relief the pair saw each account held fat balances.

While Everett grew increasingly chagrined, the fellow at his elbow told him to phone the bank. On the back of every card was a 24-hour emergency number printed there just for situations like these. He meant to sound soothing and informative and hoped Everett hadn’t misheard him as condescending. After all the younger man’s night had rendered him foggy, which the other knew made even the simplest help hard.

Perusal of Everett’s cards turned up mutual hamstrings. None carried emergency numbers. All bore contacts only suitable for weekday business hours. Luckily, the stranger shared a bank with Everett. A personal account, his card held an emergency number. He intended reciting the number in order to let the young businessman phone but Everett poleaxed him.

“My phone died.”

Here, the other started getting inklings that perhaps Everett was a modern-day Sisyphus. He wondered exactly how much had Everett tasked his phone the night before. And why? On the town among people who could he have been calling or texting or what apps demanded so much attention they drained his phone? Or had his just been an instance of forgetting to charge his device before leaving home?

The other put a lot of stock in the last suggestion. In any case he loaned Everett his phone.

Reaching a human at the emergency desk stretched notions of “emergency response.” Once flesh and blood replied Everett described his boggle. Phone tag made him repeat his tale. One might’ve thought repetition would’ve smoothed his telling. However, Everett’s narratives always stumbled in the same spots.

Each associate he conversed with made Everett jump through similar hoops. Satisfied, that associate then passed him up to a higher level of ascertainment and verification. Finally being deemed worthy of accessing his money, Everett received a code. One that only functioned in an ATM bearing the brand of his bank card.

The pair trudged along brightening and nearly empty Strip sidewalk. Neon and enticements blared over those few taking morning strolls or fewer dedicated beyond belief joggers. The rare scorched, bedraggled vagrant staggered on the periphery of sight, pop-up reminders of the residue left behind after too much Vegas too often.

A mile or so later, the correct ATM found, Everett slotted his card, keyed in the given code and amount he wished withdrawn. The other might’ve shared his heightened anticipation. Taking longer than both thought seemly, the machine finally came across.

No huzzahs. No halleluiahs. Just a long walk in reverse.

The manager met Everett and his money like lost loved relatives. He gladly restored the former deadbeat’s license to him.

Outside before separating, an obviously relieved Everett thanked the other for his assistance and clear-headed patience. The stranger was about to demure when Everett revealed something headshaking.

“This has happened to me a couple of times before. I don’t know why.”

Given this had occurred previously, the observer wondered why Everett had yet to take any precautions against future inevitable disruptions. At least some contingencies. Once would’ve been enough for the other to take steps that prevented any repeats.

Competent a professional as Everett seemed how did that sharpness fail him on the personal side? Deterrent measures would’ve been simple, no? A generational discordance maybe.

The era’s Everetts were tech smart but lacked their forbearers coping skills. Not so much street instincts just “adulting” sense. Maybe what these extended adolescents needed during childhood had been less bestowals of self-esteem trophies, the kind awarded for participation, a k a showing up, and instead demonstrations in everyday practical living.

The stranger seldom dispensed unasked advice. He didn’t like the presumption imposed on him so why do unto others? However, he felt obliged to break form in Everett’s case.

He suggested that in the future the younger man may wish to start carrying some money on his person. Say, a 20. No 40. A Jackson in each sock so he’d be aware of them — particularly during emergencies.

“Twenty, 40 bucks can get you out of a lot.”

Everett heard his companion, nodded, thanked him again. Yet as the younger man’s back receded, the other questioned whether he had truly listened.