Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. (March 5, 2012) – This week’s installation of Future GonzoBanker features an exclusive interview with the nearly famous Check #3279. Check #3279 is best known as The One – the last paper check ever to be processed through the Federal Reserve System.
This is not a happy story. This is no Rockwellian depiction of a legend gracefully retreating into leisurely retirement. No, sir, what you are about to read is an utterly cheerless tale that describes, in first person, the demise of a once-dominant star of our industry.
We join #3279 in a shady corner of the Smithsonian’s cavernous Technology and Sciences wing. #3279 is an angry check that has clearly not slept regularly in the months following his historic, vacuum-powered trip through the Unisys sorter at the Dallas Fed. This is the picture of a crusty, rumpled check fueled by bile and bitter regret – a mockery of his once-pristine crispness. The acrid fumes of cheap bourbon combine with the unusually musty Smithsonian odor to create an appropriate setting for the garbled vitriol that this journalist is about to witness. Buckle up, GonzoBankers.
GonzoBanker (GB): #3279, let me start by thanking you for this exclusive opportunity to speak with you about your famous last run and what it has meant to you as a Check. We’re honored that you picked us over the likes of Barbara Walters, Jimmy Kimmel and Rolling Stone.
Check #3279 (#3279): Enough, fat boy. You were the only one to ask. Can we just quit the ol’ buttsmoochio routine and get on with this? I’ve got the shakes, man, hurry it up.
GB: Fair enough, let’s get to it. One thing we all want to know is who you belonged to, and who was the payee in the last check ever processed?
#3279: Well take a look, you big-headed numbskull! I was written to a Dr. Christensen by some dolt named John in Austin, Texas. Could I have been written for a contribution to the Sierra Club or for monthly dues to Big Brothers/Big Sisters? Hell no! I was a $327 past due payment for upper torso liposuction on some moron named John, a redneck degenerate with a wicked waxy doughnut habit. And let us not forget that I bounced! Insult to injury, journalism boy, and it’s been downhill ever since.
GB: In your opinion, what spelled the beginning of the end?
#3279: Well, clearly it was that ill-fated Check 21 back in ’04. Our value-add went off the cliff. Check 21, a sinister plan schemed by paper-rescuing tree huggers to cause our eventual demise, reduced Us to measly electronic images of our former selves.
And it played hell on our frequent flyer points. Miles traveled electronically by images do NOT get credited to the imagees’ account. We went from traveling first class in bundles, mile after mile to remote IP clearinghouses, to just getting photographed and eventually incinerated, with only black and white facsimiles to whisper our legacy. After Check 21, we would maybe get to ride in the back of some rusted Chevy van to a central scanning location, and the days of comped Dom Perignon sent by NCR reps were long gone, Chachi.
GB: When did you learn that you’d be the Last Check?
#3279: The toads in the Paper Allocation Bureau told all of us in Batch #5668B at Deluxe that we had a fairly decent chance of being The One. I thought it was just a scare tactic to get our union to give in on some grievances we’d been pushing through the system. Obviously, I was sorely mistaken. It wasn’t until the check sorter was shut down and the reporters arrived that I realized that I was The One. I naively turned to seek comfort in the check behind me, but there was nothing but a batch footer to console me. Now, the payment industry is left up to those snot-nosed electronic payment dorks.
GB: Speaking of which… which form of electronic payment will eventually dominate as your replacement – the leading payment player of the future: ACH, ECP, e-checks, some other standard?
#3279: Who the hell cares? This is an unjust demise of such a noble payment method. How can you even think about the future? You know, we just emerged unscathed from a completely misguided steroid investigation. Our rip-proof perforation technology was really getting some traction, and our ripped-to-clean ratio was well under 1 percent. This is such a travesty that I can’t even begin to give the nod to those techno-wannabes in the EFT wing.
GB: What has been the unexpected result of the End of The Check?
#3279: To be honest, and that’s a rarity for me anymore, this was bigger than just the extinction of paper checks. This caused many good people to lose their jobs. Not just we checks and the check manufacturers, but hundreds of mediocre artists who drew the sunset scenes, playful kittens, smiley faces, etc. that adorned our faces. They’re all on the street now, drawing chalk caricatures to pay for their next meal. Make you feel good, Internet bill pay users? Does that fill you with a warm fuzzy, all you efficiency-craving wire mongers?
We didn’t deserve this. Checks have been around since the 15th century and dominant since the 19th. Modern checks are all made of recycled paper, and we made our way up the chain from newspaper to Post-it Note to wedding invitation, finally making the upgrade to full-blown check if we were lucky. To see it all end like this, ah hell, it’s just horrific.
[#3279 then began a syrupy, distant rendition of The Dead’s "Brown-Eyed Women.”]
“Brown-eyed women and red grenadine
The bottle was dusty but the liquor was clean
Sound of the thunder with the rain pouring down
And it looks like the old man’s getting on….”
I suppose we Checks are that old man, don’t you? Here’s a toast to Progress! A shot of Patron in Technology’s honor, woo-hoo! Who’d have guessed that Checks would be the victims of the single efficiency-boosting promise made by the vendors that ever actually came true??!! Not us, my GonzoBanker friends, not us. We thought this whole thing would blow over like data warehouses and multi-channel integration did five or six years ago.
GB: What does the future hold for you?
#3279: Oh, here’s the part where you pretend like you care, right? Well, I’ve been approached by the Slide Rule people to do some volunteer work for the Victims of Technological Obsolescence Coalition, but there’s no way I can hang with those sissified do-gooders. Wanna know what I’m gonna do with the rest of my anachronism of a life? I figure I’ll spend some time with the Buggy Whip sisters and then work on some real revenge on the EFT Society with some Typewriter and Abacus buddies of mine from my days in Attica.
And after that? Do you have any idea what kind of riches being The One has brought me? Man, between the book deal and the movie rights and the action figures, I’m made of green, baby. I’m still pissed, but I’m rich now, sucka! I’m headed Tahiti-way, “Laid back – with my mind on my money and my money on my mind,” as my amigo Snoop Dogg likes to say. I’ll leave you blowhards behind, you’ll see. Soon, compadre, soon….
At this point, the interview soured considerably. #3279 fell off his stool amid a narcotic flurry of swearing and grunting. Suffice it to say that all the talk of wealth and fame was nothing but the booze-addled babbling of a broken, bottomed-out payment channel. We were saved by the Smithsonian curator, who in one quick motion encased #3279 in a cheap bronze frame and hung him on display for curious onlookers forever. As I stepped into the corridor, I could see the ink on #3279 spider-web and blur as just one telltale tear escaped and slowly journeyed down his crumpled surface.