Saturday, November 22, 2008

Reverse bank enrichment

I wish I could see the security video of me snatching out some twenties, struck in the bottom plate of my bank ATM, as the door began clamping shut. It all happened so fast. At first, I thought the machine had accidentally dispensed eighty extra dollars. However, after quickly examining the money, I saw that I was indeed short twenty bucks and the last twenty was ripe for plucking by the next man.

Although it was only twenty, I immediately went inside to report the odd incident. Sandra[1], the teller in charge, was on break, but came through to address my complaint. She inspected the machine with her special key; however, by then, the next man had already absconded with my twenty. I saw this as rich writing fodder and observed closely as the actions unfolded. Sandra, spoke quietly to a manager in the far corner about the dilemma and discreetly motioned my way. Perhaps I was a bit scruffy, but they could see I was not a lowdown shabster. After all, if I were trying to con them, why would I be asking for only twenty? Then I mentioned that we could file a police report.

Something like this had happened before, at an earlier incarnation of the bank. Years ago, one of the twenties came out as a five on a Friday evening. That next Monday, as I made my case, they told me that they would have to “inspect the tapes” before offering a refund. Inspect the tapes? What tapes? The video of my ticked of reaction for being short-shifted? This was almost funny, but I also sensed that seemingly small incidents like these are also, the types that trigger something deep within, making some people “go off.” In the earlier incident, the personnel inspected the tapes and credited my account, along with a written apology. One friend suggested that an apology from a bank is worthy of framing.

As we waited for resolution of the current ATM incident, I related this old episode to Sandra, which lightened our tension. I also wondered if I would have been so keen to report this, had the machine accidentally dispensed me an extra eighty, as I first thought it had. Last winter, when I found a bag of money in front of Telly’s Deli’s, I did not hesitate to call the owner, thinking that I would be richer for the story.

In other cases though, I wasn’t always so honest. Being a late night delivery person for many years, I found a number of interesting items, which had become separated from their owners. At one point after five losers in a row had expressed no gratitude for the safe return of their items, I thought, “For the next valuable item I discover, I shall keep it, and like a modern day Robin Hood toss the coinage to Poverty Flats children!”

However, this remains perplexing. After all, you’re either 100 percent honest or not honest at all, aren’t you? But, aren’t there some grey areas with a little nudge room here? As I relayed this story, it triggered interesting reactions within my colleagues. It’s easy to see how some would think, “With times this tough, now the bank is ripping me off too!” Some wanted to point out what a fool I was for not telling the man behind me in line to hold off, because there was a problem with the machine. I did not see a machine trouble button, nor were there any fire alarms nearby. Most folks who listened to the story seemed to clamp their minds tight around the elusive twenty, rather than focusing on extracting the broader aspect of the story or taking advantage of a unique situation to become better acquainted with those involved in the incident.

As I drove away from the bank, rightly compensated for my misplaced twenty, the incident reminded me of fabled basketball days. Like after playing with some people I’ve seen hanging around the courts, but never really knew that well; and then after sharing a sportingly good time, feeling a common bond, whenever we saw each other bouncing around town.

[1] Not her real name

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