I went to my bank the other day, and what transpired was rather remarkable, but not too unusual. It's been my experience that when a company becomes somewhat large, it also becomes ungainly, to such a degree that the right hand often not only doesn't know what the left hand is doing, the right hand sometimes doesn't know that there is a left hand.
Even though I'm going to tell you what happened, I absolutely will not tell you the name of my bank. No Sir! Those people over there hold my pink, throbbing financial gizzard in the palm of their calloused hand. They have the power to, at the mere hint of a whim, press the wrong computer button and cause me starvation and eviction, not to mention other much more serious harms. My bank shall remain anonymous.
Anyway, here's what happened. I use the drive-up window whenever possible and I tend to get a little annoyed at people who wait till they're at the window, then dig into their wallets or purses and start to fill out various coupons and documents. I've managed to overcome that particular habit, not so much for expediency, but because when I try to fill out a deposit slip on my steering wheel, the horn blows. Now, I sit at my desk and fill out the papers before I go. I have two checking accounts at my bank, one personal, and one for my very small (nay, infinitesimal) fledgling publishing company. I took out my check books and found that I didn't have a deposit slip for either company. I had three checks, one to me, and two to my company. I wanted to deposit them in my personal account. The total was about $80.00. I very carefully wrote "For deposit only, #01234567:01 on the back of each check, and went to my bank. I put them in the little canister, along with my checkbook, and deposited them in the Schloop machine.
The Schloop machine transported them to the girl inside the glass cage. She looked at me across two lanes of traffic and said "Do you want to cash these?"
Remember the "For deposit only etc?" I resisted telling her that I wanted to deposit them, and if she wanted to cash them as well, great. I'd end up with twice as much money. I told her that I wanted to deposit them.
"Don't you have any deposit slips?" (This while apparently searching the back of my checkbook for said slips.)
"What's Ike & Dudatt?"
"That's my company."
"Is that account at this bank?"
"Yes, it is."
"Wait, I have to look up the other account number." I was sitting there with the other checkbook in my hand, and started to tell her the account number, but she had pressed a button and I was rendered electronically mute. I tried jumping up and down and screaming, but stopped when the other customers started rolling up windows and locking doors. She came back online. "I can't find the other account number."
I gave it to her. She electronically disconnected herself and sat pondering. Finally, "I've decided to accept the check made out to you, but I can't accept the checks made out to your company." SpitThump. The canister came back. (Gee, thanks, lady. It's damn kind of you to let me put at least some of my money into your bank. Maybe I can do a favor for you sometime.)
I stuck the canister back into the Schloop machine. "Please cash these two for me."
SpitThump. "You've got to endorse them."
She dug through her drawer and put some bills and coins into the canister. She did not, at any time, ask me for identification. This struck me as a little strange, since she couldn't seem to find my other account number and my signature is totally unreadable.
SpitThump. There, via the wonder of modern technology, was a little canister of good, green money. I, being of resonably sound mind and okay body, quickly grabbed the canister, put my checkbook in there and schlooped it back to her.
"Would you please deposit this cash into my personal account?"
There was applause and even a few cheers from the other customers, who had by now rolled their windows back down in order to see what was going to happen. After two deposit slips and many Schloops and SpitThumps, I had WON! I was filled with that same feeling of heart-lifting elation that I'm sure Olympic athletes feel as they stand on the center platform and receive the Gold Medal! As I drove out of the drive-in teller's domain, my wheels barely touched the ground. Safely outside bank territory, I pulled over to the curb and pinched myself. Yep, I was awake. I checked my wallet. The checks were gone. I had actually won!
I briefly considered going to Ann's job and dragging her kicking and screaming from her office, in order to go out and blow the $80.00 on a full-blown celebration, but my common sense took over. If I took the money out, maybe next time I wouldn't be so lucky, and they wouldn't take even checks made out to me personally. Better not to risk it. Anyway, the good feeling lasted a long time, and I learned that, sometimes, despite all evidence to the contrary, the customer can win.
By the way, if any of you economists and efficiency experts who are pulling your hair and losing sleep over the high costs of doing business, give me a call. I just might have a hint or two for you.
BILL HARVEY is a prolific writer of essays — "short irregular sallies of the mind," as Dr. Johnson called them — and has published a number of them under his own imprimatur, Ike & Dudatt.
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