October 9, 2002
Bouncing Back

miles to go: 454.25

I did something today that I haven't done since 1998 ... and even though it didn't involve vomiting or fire extinguishers or flying out-of-state to sleep with somebody else's husband, it has nonetheless left me feeling stoopid and anxious and vaguely ashamed of myself, all day long.

I bounced a check.

At least, I think I've bounced a check. Or I'm about to bounce a check. Or I'm in the process of bouncing a check, even as we speak. The problem is that I'm not exactly sure which check, just yet. Will it be the Alameda Power & Telecom bill I paid last week? Or the electronic payment I sent to my web hosting service? Or the check I wrote to cover my share of the office pizza last week?

Will the landlord be knocking on our apartment door tomorrow morning with malice in her eyes and an eviction notice in her hand?

The suspense is driving me crazy.

I came into the office this morning, and the very first thing I did -- the very first thing I've done, without fail, every-other-Wednesday since the ink was barely dry on the divorce decree -- was to sit down and write my ex-husband his twice-monthly child support check. This is one of those onerous-but-unavoidable obligations that I try to be extremely conscientious about, not only because I feel I owe it to my Ex, or because Karma (and The State of Washington) happen to agree with me on that one ... but because it actually makes me feel like A Better Person to send my support checks on time and in full, every single month. (Although you'd better believe I'm counting the minutes till March 21, 2004: I'm already pricing that IBM Thinkpad Notebook in my head.) As I wrote out my ex-husband's check this morning, I remember thinking He'll have the check by the time I get paid on Friday: that should be plenty of time for it to clear. But that was forty years' worth of hand-to-mouth reflex talking. It's really not an issue. Even if my Ex did happen to cash the check earlier than Friday -- if it somehow managed to magically land in his mailbox in TicTac the day before payday -- I know I've usually got sufficient funds in the bank to cover it. These days, my modest balance is nothing to boast about, but at least negative numbers have long since become a thing of the past.

And that's when it hit me. My bank balance. I haven't checked it all week.

I do all of my money-related stuff on the Internet these days: shopping, bill-paying, account management, wiring bail money to TicTac ... and 99.9% of my personal banking. David doesn't believe in doing any of these things online -- he's an old-fashioned, ballpoint-pen-and-calculator kind of guy -- so I've been trying to prove to him that *my* way is just as efficient as the way *he* does things. Because I've got something to prove, I'm as careful about monitoring my bank activity as I am about paying my child support. I check my balance every morning, while I'm drying my hair and killing ants ... and then again at night before I go to bed ... and then again before and after I make an online purchase/use my ATM card/send off an electronic payment to a creditor. In fact, you might say I'm slightly AR/OC about the whole thing. (Although if you were to say such a thing, I would kick your ass. But first I would probably go online and check my bank balance to make sure I can afford to send you flowers afterward.) Somehow, though -- perhaps in the midst of all the dental misery and fifty-mile bike rides and office nonsense of the past week -- I'd forgotten all about keeping an eye on my money.

After I wrote my child support check, then, I went to my bank's website and called up my checking account balance.

Yo, Secra! it screamed accusingly. Whut the fudk is THIS?! You're in the RED, babe! 

Crap. Crap crap crap crap crap.

I immediately scooped up half of my piddly savings account-slash-"Christmas fund" and dumped it into my checking account. It wasn't 9 a.m. PST yet, so there's a good chance that I've already averted disaster. Just to be on the safe side, though, I'll probably call the bank during my lunch hour and try to bend the ear of a sympathetic Customer Service Rep. (Maybe I'll get all snooty and defensive and ask her why my pricey overdraft protection didn't automatically kick in, the way it's supposed to.) Plus I'll be checking all of my various online accounts obsessively for the next couple of days, looking for signs of trouble. By the time the Payroll Fairy direct-deposits my paycheck at 12:01:00 a.m. PST on Thursday night/Friday morning, everything will be back to normal.

Still ... the sight of those negative numbers has haunted me all day.

What kills me about this whole thing is that I've been so good for so long ... not only about not bouncing checks (during The Tree House days I used to routinely plan a couple of returned-check fees into my monthly 'budget'), but about everything related to finances: saving, investing, paying my bills on time, nurturing my 401k, not carrying more credit cards than Ivanka Trump. I think what really screwed me up this time -- more than eleven dollar shampoo, more than long-distance calls to TicTac, more than my scary new addiction to the Amazon.Com One-Click System -- were those back-to-back dentist appointments last week. Most of it was covered under David's dental insurance, thank god -- that means I can probably go back again next month and have them look at the *other* broken molar -- but I still got hit with a couple of hefty co-pays I wasn't expecting. Plus there were cab rides to and from the dentist's office, and a prescription for antibiotics to pay for, and all of that unpaid time-off from work. And now there is a chance that there might be returned-check fees, on top of everything else.

(Damn. This is turning into one hell of an expensive hole in my mouth.)

Oh well. I realize that everybody bounces a check, once in a while. In the grand scheme of things, this hardly qualifies as a banner headline on the front page of The New York Times. (Hell.  It barely qualifies as a readable *FootNotes* entry.)  Still, when you've managed to get through four whole years without opening your mailbox and finding another snooty notice from your bank ("What part of 'insufficient funds' don't you understand?"), you tend to start over-estimating yourself a little. I'm never going to bounce another check as long as I live! you tell yourself, revelling in your vast reserves of incredible financial grooviness ... the same way you tell yourself you'll never be fat again, or single again, or depressed, or on welfare, or "between jobs," or hungover and vomiting into a metal wastebasket ...

... all the while knowing, deep in your heart, that this may not always be true.



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no, david doesn't know about this.
and unless pigs fly
unless hell freezes over
unless he actually READS *FootNotes* tonight ...
... he WON'T know about it until the problem has already been solved.