Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Moral Banker

Hey, Joe, where you going
with that bum in your hand?

"Just because one is a banker doesn't mean one stands for greed."

It was an admonishment Joe had lectured many times over the years to skeptical doubters. Joe was for responsibility, an honest day's work and an allegiance to social justice. His trips to church were not ego trips but sincere expressions of wishing to do the right thing. He'd married his prom queen wife from college and with two lovely children lived the life of the upper class twit in a three quarters of a million dollar home in the "old money" section of town.

"Yes, I'm materially successful but that doesn't mean I'm inherently corrupt."

It was the best of both worlds: morals and materials. Now in his mid thirties he'd lost any idea of a painful life of impoverishment. Was he not supposed to provide as best as possible for his family? And Joe took great pains each dollar acquired was an ethical one. He religiously tithed his ten percent and taught his children the same. The gift is in the giving, he alleged. The loan he'd made to the maid to get her car fixed he granted with no interest.

"I despise those right-wingers I work with. They only care about getting the next dollar!"

Joe called them "the conservative beast". One-dimensional, single-tracked, blind faith capitalist cannibals without compunction. Joe hated these creatures bragging of their every cent like mindless animals dragging a carcass to feast. Petty little fiends they be, profiting from human misery. To those urchins it was a science without nuance or question: worship money or die. Not even the rich escape that rule.

"Sunbelt Bank is an honorable institution. I picked them for a reason. Won't catch me working for some lowlife corporation!"

In finance, like any murky and complicated subject, a million tricks of the trade can be applied to an unknowing consumer. Unnecessary fees, inflated interest rates based on useless information, and a myriad of other small manipulations to compound the bottom line banks know can be sold as legitimate practices to the average eye. But Sunbelt Bank did not operate on those terms. They had a culture of honesty that appealed to Joe. It felt good to do the right thing the right way.

"Hey, Paul, enjoying those subprime loans!?"

Joe was nearly giddy when the crash of 2008 surfaced. Finally, all the discipline, the belly crawling, the bending of his will to maintain integrity paid off. He'd read aloud articles in the paper to his wife, smirking of his and his company's superiority. Joe played by the rules and now he waved his finger in the face of whomever he could, bragging on his responsible behavior and laudable commitment. He'd waited all his life for this moment: to be unquestionable.

"Those guys are getting what they deserve. Playing fast and loose like that, what did they expect to happen?"

In the well heeled club locker room Joe pontificated to a miserably captivated audience. But what could they say? Joe was still standing tall as other bankers fell. But Desmond, the gray haired attendant had seen it all before. As a young pup he'd marched the streets with Dr. King and that feeling he never forgot. With his life winding down one dirty towel at a time, he could contain himself no longer, unleashing his frustrations once Joe was alone.

"Them other folks is greedy and they be going down good, yes they is! But least they honest about it. They ain't lyin' like they got morals they ain't got!"

"I'm sorry. I'm not sure I understand," queried Joe, afraid he was understanding.

"You gonna get an education. An education, yes sir. You gonna find out what's what. There ain't no moral greed, no responsible greed. I'm ending my life in this shit hole and there ain't a bone in my fingers that don't ache like hellfire. You know what's like? It's a like a prison you can never leave. Just ain't no place for honest folks in this world. But I say it better to be executed than be the executioner." Desmond turned away, returning to his duties lest the pain swallow him whole, not caring of Joe's reaction one way or the other.

Joe for his part remained rigid, stumped like a politician publicly cornered by an unanticipated question. "I'm not like that," he weakly protested, clinging to what he still deemed a politically defensible position.

State of the human heart


With the economic crisis falling all around, the stability of Sunbelt became such a valuable commodity the board of directors sold out very profitably to the highest bidder. Joe was quick to find out their corporate culture was sold as well. The new motto: In for a dollar, out for a dollar. Anything that came between the company and a dollar was eliminated. No pretense, no pride, no preservation. Ethics a fool's game.

"If I don't do what they say I'll lose my job. All they want to do is leverage everything out the wazoo. I've never felt so lost in my life."

The ice had melted below Joe's feet and he a man not knowing how to swim. To expose his greed was unthinkable. He'd built his whole life on his morality! His wife, his children, his mirror - they'd see him in a new and unbearable light: an animal no better than the rest. Only animal Joe had the further indignity of having to admit his dishonesty for lo these many years. This was worse than any jail sentence. Old Desmond was right all along. Damn!

"Just shut it, OK? What do you want me to do? Quit? I've got no place else to go!"

Joe's wife didn't want him to quit either but she had to make the public protest to protect her own moral ego. Here they both were, stripped of their veneer, committing every crime they swore to be above. What a bitter cup from which to drink! The banks would never become un-greedy. The glum pair to be whored oafs till death. Oh, the indignity! Even of the maid was Joe's wife jealous: who knew the more honest life? The marriage, the authority, the passion, all drained empty by a drowning daily demise.


Joe hung his head in the club locker room, his mouth firmly shut. Spotting Desmond, Joe suddenly realized this man he'd so hated for his initial outburst was now the only man in the world he trusted. Joe looked him dead in the eye. "No place for honest folks in this world." The statement was resigned in its agony, spoken from the depths of hopeless hell. Too moral to cheat, too weak to go straight was Joe. Desmond understood, long friends with the desperate voice he'd heard in Joe.

"Congratulations! You done been educated." Desmond smiled in the joy of natural human living, and in that smile Joe's heart leapt as he saw every dream he'd ever lost - and wondered...

Sing for the laugh, sing for the tear

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