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Karen O'Keefe of "On Second Glance"

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Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist... Read more

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Romanticizing the Bank

The other day my bank sent me a new check card, along with a letter explaining that Target had reported to them (though not to me) that mine was among  the 40 million credit and debit cards whose information was lifted into the cosmic IT ether by thieves in December.

The thieves took my name, card number, expiration date and my three-digit CVV security code.

Actually, I’d been feeling a bit lost over the news, not quite sure how to feel, not quite sure whether I had been affected by the crime, hoping, I think, that my card information had somehow not been  stolen.

Examining my shiny new check card, I actually felt grateful to my bank.

For a few minutes there, I felt like my bank cared about me.

On an intellectual level, I know that the last time “a bank” – or its management — cared about a customer was…um… never.

Nevertheless, that has not stopped me wishing there was a little humanity in big business.

Maybe that is why I am so fond of the year 1946.

In that year, It’s a Wonderful Life’s George Bailey’s “wonderful old building and loan” was handing out home loans to customers. Many of those customers were purchasing homes in “Bailey Park” – and thereby escaping from their rented “broken-down shacks” owned by Mr. Potter – a selfish man who relished the misery of others.

In the film’s famous “run” on the Bailey Building and Loan, George Bailey uses all but a dollar of $2,000 intended for his honeymoon to appease worried customers.

Here’s the bit I am trying to get to. In the BB&L’s crowded lobby, as people clamor to withdraw their savings, George Bailey turns to a customer and says, “Here, Ed. You know, you remember last year when things weren’t going so well, and you couldn’t make your payments.

“Well, you didn’t lose your house, did you? You think Potter would have let you keep it?”

Bailey Building and Loan, circa 1946, an American financial institution that really cared…

Except it was not real.

It was just a movie.

Yet that scene has imprinted itself on my mind’s viewing room…

It feels like we live in such a depersonalized, number-driven world.

And we do.

Sometimes the enormity of greed is beyond depressing – it is crushing.

Sometimes the contemplation of this reality has me detaching from reality.

When I heard about the first Target data breach, I suspected that I was among the 40 million whose credit data was compromised.

After all, I had shopped there during the period in question, and it is my usual practice to hand over my bank card at the cash register.

I’m sorry. Not the cash register.  They used cash registers at Bailey’s Building and Loan.

I misspoke. This is not 1946.  “Cash register” is too archaic, too personal.

I meant to say that it is my practice to scan my bankcard at the POS – point of sale.

Anyway, I had thought about contacting my bank, asking for a new card. I am ashamed to admit that it never occurred to me to check my online bank statement to confirm or deny the rumors in my head that I had actually shopped there with the bank card.

Oddly, though, it did not occur to me to check my online account records to even confirm when I last shopped at Target.

In fact, I was in a form of electronic paralysis.

That is what I mean when I talk about detaching from reality.

My mind continually endeavors to escape embracing the cold reality of the massive, just-short-of-infinite data universe in which I am barely a blip.

In the Target debacle, I am one of 40 million “affected.”

Sorry – but  my mind cannot even begin to encompass how many that is.

Therefore, it doesn’t seem real.

I don’t guess I qualify as an “intellectual” any more.  Too much emotional and too little rational activity happens between these ears of mine.

I think I’ll take a nap. When I wake up, I may contemplate never shopping again at Target – or any other chain stores.

Then I may move to Bedford Falls.

Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve 1946 Photo | Liberty Films

Bedford Falls on Christmas Eve 1946
Photo | Liberty Films

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Karen O'Keefe

About Karen O'Keefe

Karen O’Keefe has been a freelance writer in Atlanta, GA and Montgomery County, MD, since 1984. Prior to that time, she worked for a committee in the U.S. House, a public relations firm and as a Congressional press secretary. Since 2003, O’Keefe has been a regular news reporter and columnist for The Town Courier, an independent biweekly newspaper based in Gaithersburg. Her blog, “On Second Glance,” explores everyday life and current events with insight, grace and humor.


4 Responses to “Romanticizing the Bank”

  1. Avatar
    On January 22, 2014 at 10:43 am responded with... #

    Let’s all go to Bedford Falls. We loved your insights into our bank experiences!

  2. Avatar
    On January 22, 2014 at 8:47 pm responded with... #

    I’m with Barb and you, let’s all go to Bedford Falls. I think we all thought about doing something about the Target debacle in relationship to our personal accounts but alas, this ostrich put her head in the sand. Another great blog.

  3. Nancy Frieder
    On January 23, 2014 at 4:24 pm responded with... #

    I, too, am guilty as charged of not taking control of this. However, I haven’t heard anything from my bank. I’ve been considering changing my bank card on my own– but procrastination has beaten out my logic. Perhaps I have nothing to worry about. Or perhaps your blog will get me moving! Good post!

  4. Avatar
    On February 23, 2014 at 2:33 pm responded with... #


    Long time! You wrote a wonderful piece on our family many years ago. We moved “back” to NC almost three years ago and miss Urbana and metro DC. I have been a banker for 30 years and our template for decision making is: “Is it right for the client?” – for that reason MY BANK never originated subprime mortgages. Sadly, we live in a self-serve world and bank clients rarely visit a branch anymore, unless there is an “issue”, coupled with the lack of trust by consumers of the banking industry by having earned a ‘black-eye” during the Great Recession of recent days, . But we must start, and have started by doing financial literacy in the work place, the faith community and through community action groups. The entire banking industry must do this if we are to remain relevant. Congratulations on your blog!

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