Credit Lepers

Credit LepersStanding fourth in line at the supermarket, thinking of nothing in particular, I noticed the short curly haired middle-aged woman at the register. She paid attention to every chirp of the register and watched each item as it went from scanner to bag. When it came time to pay, the lady pulled out her checkbook from her purse and began to write a check for the amount of the purchase. She tore out the check, pulled out her ID, and went back to her checkbook. Before handing over the check and her ID, she meticulously documented the exact amount of the purchase in her checkbook ledger. Once the check and ID were in the hands of the cashier, the woman balanced her checkbook. Outside of the random groans in front and behind me, I never would have paid attention to this routine activity – routine by who’s standards?

It got me thinking. What must the rest of the people in line think of this woman? I began to try and assign random assumptions to the people in line. Some of them went like this:

“Poor woman, she must be on a fixed income and needs to watch every penny she spends”

“Why in the hell doesn’t she use her credit card?”

“I wish I was disciplined enough to keep track of my finances like she does – she probably knows how much money she has in her account exactly. I have no clue. I would have to go to an ATM to figure that out.”

“Good Lord, are people still using checks?”

“Com on lady, I got to go pick up my kids — what the f— is taking so long? I hate old people.”

“Man, I hope that lady is eating okay. I wonder if there’s someone who checks up on her? I hope she’s able to afford her medicine. That’s a shame to have to choose between food and medicine.”

The range of emotions sensed — from pity to anger to frustration — permeated the line. In spite of the fact that no one said anything, except talking amongst those in line with them, I chose to believe that someone in that line had thought those thoughts.

The curly haired woman put her groceries in her cart and headed toward the exit. The mood change in the line was almost palpable.

“Maybe now this line can move like it’s supposed to.”

The next person in line, who incidentally had been on her cell phone excitedly talking about luncheons, volunteer activities at her kids school, and a tennis date for tomorrow at 11, moved briskly to unload her groceries onto the conveyer belt. She wore designer glasses, designer purse, heels and a classic black strap dress. Looked like she had just come from some function.

As the mood lifted in the line thinking that this was going to be a swift and easy transaction, the next person in line pulled one of the grocery separator bars and put on the conveyer belt, asked the woman in front if the last item on the belt was it, and began to load the back of the conveyer belt with her groceries. The cashier quickly scanned and bagged the items. The woman with the designer glasses fished into her designer purse, pulled out her wallet for all to see that both sides were stuffed with credit cards of all types.

Before the cashier could tally up the sale, the woman swiped her credit card. The cashier punched the total button, saw it was a credit transaction, and pressed enter. The register showed disapproved. The cashier discreetly asked the woman if she would like to try another card (never mentioning out loud that the first one was declined). The woman whipped out another card and swiped it. Same result. Same response from the cashier. Then another. Same result.

The mood in the line changed dramatically.

As with the little woman before her, it got me thinking. What must the rest of the people in line think of this woman? I began to try and assign random assumptions to the people in line. Some of them went like this:

“Serves that b—h right.”

“Wonder if her husband cut off her credit cards and didn’t tell her.”

“Poor woman, she can’t even remember what credit cards are maxed out. I know she’s good for it. Just find the card with some credit on it.

“So she’s one of those people that’s caused this recession with all this credit and can’t pay for it.”

“Hell, I’ll pay for the groceries if she’ll get her ass out of this line.”

The fourth credit card worked. One person mumbled angrily and went to another line. The woman grabbed her groceries and looked condescendingly at the rest of us in the line through her designer shades. Behind me I could hear, “What the f-k is she doing in Walmart anyway.”

During these days and times, credit is the cloak of nobility. Whether you live in a mansion or in the hood, if you’ve got credit, you are part of the royalty. In some circles, it’s taken for granted. In others it’s sought after and loved like gold. But once you loose it, or can’t get it, you are looked at like a leper.

Leprosy, or Hansens Disease, is a disease that afflicts persons of all races, creeds, and colors. It has a long history of ignominity. Since medieval days, those afflicted with leprosy have been quarantined from the rest of society and forced to live on the fringes of society in their own communities – riddled with shame and guilt about something they had no control over. Most people have no idea behind the causes and course of leprosy. Regardless of the fact that leprosy is not contagious, people have thought that coming into contact with lepers would transfer the disease to them. They also have their assumptions about the folks with leprosy – most of them wrong-headed and misguided.

The two women in line were from different walks of life. But once it was imagined that both had credit worthiness issues, their views of these two, and what kinds of people they must be and what kind of lives they must lead, became fixed. For all intent and purposes, these women may have been wonderful people of character.

However if your credit is bad – you become a credit leper.