Death Of A Bank
I keep a frog on my pencil with big goo-goo eyes --- the frog, not the pencil, that is. The head is mounted on a spring that boings back and forth when I flick it with my finger. It makes me smile and is my favorite pencil thing. I got it at the closing of one Cameron banking office last fall. I was working out of the Houston office at the time and was brought in mostly to help shred documents and box information that no one needed anymore…at least that is what they said. Stacks of financial records about families I have never met and probably never will know lined the walls in the enclosed back room where the shredder ran nonstop for two weeks. As I read their trials in monthly reports, I couldn’t help but listen to the voices that spoke from the pages of the loan applications.
I wonder about the voice of one young man I read about. I wonder if he was nervous when he signed that first loan note—or if his dad, like mine, went with him to the dealership loaded with competitor ads to strategically place on the desk (so as to psychologically influence the salesman during the negotiation of the final price). Only I heard his story…his and the other 200 or so people like him whose dreams I loaded on a truck bound to the main corporate office to be silenced forever. There were only four employees in Cameron, so you can imagine how close they all were. I could only watch as this tiny network of people struggled to maintain under the weight of big-business arrogance. Their “positions had been eliminated,” as if anyone ever really could do such a thing.
Now, I’ve heard jokes about being a number, and who hasn’t felt like that during college registration or even at Wal-Mart for that matter? However, I feel people in contact with large organizations would be more accurate to simply say that they are reduced to “things.” What Corporate America will never concede is that when you make a human into a thing, you must sacrifice that which gives the person individuality and life.
Why should they concede? As individuals, we perform this act voluntarily with our ideas of what it means to be successful. Isn’t success the accumulation of massive amounts of money? Haven’t we all been told to believe education will open its doors? I for one was more than willing to give up my individual spark for a steady paycheck and health insurance. So, like a lot of people, I got my degree and a bank job and went after it.
Like few people, I discovered success was not contingent on money or any tangible thing. For me, success was not an office job or a condominium suite. It was the pursuit and fulfillment of exactly what everyone wanted me to sacrifice. It was in learning the value inherent in the human being, not for doing, but for simply being. Of course, it wasn’t until a few months after that Cameron office closing that I began to learn and really understand that and much, much more.
The lesson began the Monday after Thanksgiving last, when I was called into yet another enclosed office, only to be told that my position in the company had been eliminated. I felt devastated, numb and speechless at the same time. It was during my first contact with the unemployment office that I learned some people weren’t lucky. I distinctly remember walking into the waiting area and looking into the eyes of those bold enough to take them off the floor. I could not get over all the people in that place. Men in suits. Women with degrees. Fifteen-, twenty-, and thirty-year veterans of corporations gone under or bought out.
I remember an older woman in particular who sat trembling beside me: “I feel ashamed of myself. I feel dirty and incompetent. I gave twenty years of service to that company, and all they could tell me was Friday is my last day…Friday. What am I supposed to do Monday?” I quietly lowered my eyes to the floor. It isn’t appropriate to hug total strangers.
The Cameron office died last year. Four people lost their jobs. Hundreds of voices were recorded. They were all erased but one, and you aren’t supposed to hear it. I am supposed to be too busy sacrificing to tell you. Oh, OK … do you know that when the last desk had been removed from that bank, and everyone had accumulated more office supplies than they ever could use for their homes, I settled for a frog pencil with big goo-goo eyes?
Somehow, I can’t help feeling I got the better end on that deal...for the death of a bank comes easier than the loss of our human spark.
Mallah Rych Hurst