Of all the errands in the history of errands, my very least favorite is going to the bank. You can tell me to find a flapper for the toilet at Lowe’s. You can tell me to bring a pile of shirts to the drycleaners. You can even make me take old paint cans to the solid waste department on sanitation day (actually I like doing this). Just please, please don’t ask me to deposit a check.
My dislike stems from childhood, when I used to love going to the bank with my mom. Almost every few days, there we were stopping at the old Canada Trust at the corner of Portage and Cavalier.
Making the stop so sweet was Margie, a bank teller who always seemed genuinely happy to see me. She’d let my mom prop me up on top of the tangerine counter — the Canada Trust décor had a stunning orange and brown color scheme — and there my mom would busily fill in little pieces of paper that were called slips. I loved the sound of the pen moving quickly, the plastic laminate counter a good vehicle for conveying the tempo of her scribble. Then, while my mom was digging for her bank book, Margie and I would catch up.
Before our conversation even started, two important things had already occurred: I was allowed to sit on a precarious perch in public, and I was allowed to call an adult by their first name.
So Margie and I would happily chat and then she would take my mom’s paperwork, update her bank book, and deftly count out cash in the pre-agreed integers.
Things continued to go swimmingly for me and Marge. That is until the day that I noticed, from my perch, that she only ever wore pants. Never a skirt, never a dress, always just a pair of sturdy polyester slacks.
So, interested in letting her know that I’d made this observation, I asked her about it.
“Margie,” I said. “Is the reason why you only ever wear pants because you are so fat?”
Three things occurred after this statement: my mother gasped, looked horrified, and Margie smiled in the way that you do when you’re about to cry.
An apology spilled out of my little mom, and it was the first time I experienced humiliation: a gangly, blushy feeling that mixed the sting of regret with the sear of embarrassment. After a while, neither woman had any idea what to say, and I remember my mom giving up, grabbing her cash and bolting out of there, carrying me under my armpits, away from her body, as you would a garbage can.
Riding home in my mom’s brown Volkswagen Rabbit, we had a chat about how it’s impolite to call attention to obesity.
“So it’s like picking your nose in public? And staring?”
“Exactly like that. You don’t do it.”
The story lived on for years after, my mom telling her friends when their own children made public gaffs. Often, I’d be present in the telling and would feel the same intense shame, not just because of the faux pas, but because what I’d said didn’t even make sense: if ever there were a piece of clothing that would increase a fat person’s comfort level, polyester pants would not be it.
So that’s when my love for the bank ended. As I write about it now, I am reminded about what I used to like about it pre-Margie blunder. The busy work of filling in deposit slips, the formality of the black stamp, the mystery of the vault, the crispness of counting cash, all those things that as a kid are fascinating because they so reside in the adult world.
But all of that gets lost when you reside in it too. Instead, it’s just about a line that takes too long. The fact that it’s getting in the way of your real life. And the fact that you don’t get to sit on the counter.