Friday, November 11, 2011

Breaking up with Bank of America hard to do

Occupy Wall Street: 
Take the Bull by the Horns

By Leslie Griffith
Reader Supported News

Most of us like our breakups clean and fast.

Close eyes, rip Band-Aid. Be Hemmingway - don't look back, don't mince words, avoid self-inflicted wounds. Just slap your hands in that "I wash my hands of it all" way and move on.

And keep in mind that differences in values are usually the cause of breakups. Who has the energy to pass the years being shrill and unhappy? Just leave, right?

Despite the fact we all "know" these simple guidelines, it's rarely easy to break it off clean with people and, I'm learning the hard way, it's not so easy with institutions either. To my surprise, breaking up with an institution can be messier than a celebrity divorce. Money and power are at stake. If nothing else, splitting with Bank of America is tedious, tiring, and certainly telling.

Here's the tedious part.

Checks are still out there that need to be cashed. So, there's calling and "talking to" one recorded voice after another.

Then comes the online "death watch" as you wait for each outstanding check to be checked off the list.

My credit union account, located far afield in Atlanta, was unprepared for all the transfers and electronic "paperwork." New to this brave new world of anti-banking, finding another, closer credit union will come next.

My automatic mortgage payments are a problem. Me, B of A, the credit union and Citibank - a multi-menagerie-a-trois! Now we need untangling ... and it's like moving cement through mud. There's no telling what Citibank, my mortgage company, might do if a mortgage payment is missed. Hell hath no fury like a bank scorned.

So, timing is important.

Lately, Citibank's been known to slap a lien on a house or two - pronto. They, like Bank of America, helped create this economic meltdown and still have their greedy hands out. Nary a thimbleful of sympathy in sight.

We need to divorce them, too. That's next.

So, you see, breaking up is not easy.

As for B of A, it believes in socialism ... for the rich. So, I refuse to co-sign their behavior. Time to leave those who held my money and my trust ... and then squandered both.

In the words of our esteemed former President George W. Bush:

"There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on - shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."

Yeah, baby.

And if you are nodding and thinking "those dumb Republicans," consider this:

Bill Clinton signed the bill to repeal the safety net of Glass-Steagall. Without regulations keeping Wall Street speculators out of our banks, there went our money and the sacred checks and balances that made it possible for us to save and then invest. We are wiser now. We know who our friends are NOT.

Bill Clinton was happier than a pig in slop to sign the bill that eventually took our retirement and made our homes worth less than we owed on 'em. Republican Senators carried the repeal right to the president's office as if carrying the baby Jesus swaddled in greenbacks.

No penitence, no regret, no refunds. It's all gotten so predictable and tiring.

'Nuff said. Today is breakup day and it's really bad manners to talk trash about those we break up with ... right?

Instead, let us remember the way it used to be. Let's remember the Bank of America we once trusted. Because the change from then to now is telling.

My personal relationship with Bank of America goes back 25 years. My loyalty was fierce.

Tellers used to meet us at the door with a smile and unsurpassed courtesy. The banks were shiny and well kempt. They were monuments to security. No need to bury hard earned money in the backyard. Bank of America had our backs.

What a bunch of schmucks.

But we know now what we didn't know then. B of A is not our friend. But, before leaving, I'd like to thank Dara Arruda who put the "premier" in premier banking. For years she fixed whatever problem arose as if it were her own. She works for Merrill Lynch now.

Thank you, Gwen at the Cypress branch. You could make me laugh when my spirits were lower than a snake's belly.

And then there is Jerry. His story is the third "T" - the most telling one. But first some impressions that brought Jerry to the forefront of my observations.

About ten years ago, it started looking like Bank of America was not as loyal to its employees as its employees had been to them. Those employees started disappearing. Soon, walking into my Oakland B of A was like walking into an involuntary assembly line. And the building itself didn't look so safe anymore. It looked old and sad ... much like the unappreciated government post office across the street.

Today, the reassuring, experienced, family-oriented tellers are almost gone.

Now, fresh out of high school faces - sometimes from families one or two generations removed from communism - keep their heads down and their noses out of your business. Odd behavior for bank employees since getting in your business is their job.

Most avoid eye contact. They are the 99 percent and they don't mind. Do not expect them to speak up.

Here we come back to values. To lines that get crossed. Transgressions that one side or the other cannot abide. It was clear B of A helped squander our economic futures. Knowing how broke we all are ... they tried putting another five dollar charge on transactions. It would take too long to list the ways in which they betrayed us all.

But when Jerry went missing ... that was the final nail.

He was a security guard who stood outside my B of A and not only welcomed customers into the assembly line ... he also handed out dog treats to our pooches and knew our names.

He remained a very warm blanket in what had become a very wet-blanket, wham-bam-thank-you ma'am environment.

I asked the no-eye-contact, stay-out-of-everyone's-business tellers "what happened to Jerry?" Without so much as raising her head, one teller said, "He's gone."

"Is he okay?" I was not sure why I whispered this question.

A collective quiet fell over the tellers. It was the quiet of discomfort. The quiet of prisoners who dare not speak.

One young man was kind enough to pull me aside - outside, of course - and explain that Jerry had been "transferred." Like money from one account to another.

"But why? We cared about Jerry." I said.

He whispered, "We did too, but the bank thought he was getting too close to the customers."

I'll miss Gwen, Dara and, most of all, Jerry.

But, no longer having them watching over me helps make this messy break-up less tedious, less tiresome and it certainly tells me it's worth it.

Leslie Griffith has been a television anchor, foreign correspondent and an investigative reporter in newspaper, radio and television for over 25 years. Among her many achievements are two Edward R Murrow Awards, nine Emmies, 37 Emmy Nominations, a National Emmy nomination for writing, and more than a dozen other awards for journalism. She is currently working on a documentary, giving speeches on "Reforming the Media," and writing for many on-line publications, as well as writing a book called "Shut Up and Read." She hopes the book, her speeches, and her articles on the media will help remind the nation that journalism was once about public service ... not profit. To contact Leslie, go to

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