- Jim Campbell illustration
About 10 years ago, a younger, broker, more confused version of myself did what many other directionless people do and marched down to a temp agency to ask for a job. A few weeks later, the agency placed me in the loss-prevention department in a large national bank.
At the time, I was living in a big, run-down house in southeast Portland. I would rise at 7 am and ride a fixed-gear bicycle, my only functional set of wheels, to a cubicle farm on the other side of town to protect the assets of a financial behemoth from hordes of consumers with staggeringly low levels of financial literacy.
For $10 an hour, I would review the bank accounts of these doomed bastards, seeing their financial suicide unfold as they racked up charges to fast-food restaurants and bargain retailers as if their debit cards were sources of magical unlimited wealth. Some would pile up more than a thousand dollars in overdraft fees in a day, prompting the bank to deem them a risk. Others committed the cardinal banking sin of inserting an envelope containing no cash into an ATM. Their account would be credited, but once the bank inevitably discovered there was no money in the envelope, their account was closed.
If they had any money left in their account, often just a few dollars, I would send a check to them, usually at a trailer park in an obscure town in Texas or California. I would then refer their name to what's essentially a banking blacklist, banishing them from the world of consumer financial services.
The clunky computer system I used to do all this with had the warmth and user-friendliness of an antique rifle. I never understood it. I made many mistakes.
I would come home feeling defeated and exhausted from the banality of crushing people's financial lives. Sometimes I would come home to be greeted by one of my unemployed roommates, who had spent the day drinking whiskey and writing poetry, reclining on the front porch, blasting booty jams and utterly bewildered as to the source of my foul mood.
After about four months of this, I quit, which mystified many of my co-workers. My boss even said I could come back. But a few months later, I sold an article to a newspaper. ♦