The bank made an error in my latest monthly checking statement, causing a weird interview which gave me pause. It was but my second such encounter with a bank, and turned out so very differently from the one many years ago that I am concerned about what has happened to our fiscal institutions and wish there might be something I can do. My check for $14.00 was debited to me at $14.50, and for a time it seemed my fifty cents were goners. When I called this to the attention of the young lady at the wicket she thrust her hands to her cheeks in a gesture of despair and said, ''Oh, no!'' Naturally I thought she was being histrionic, but when I had driven about halfway home it came to me that she was most serious. My conclusion was that she didn't have the faintest notion of how to break into the bank's extensive computerization to find fifty cents, and that by coming around to make an issue of such a piddling amount I had ruined her whole day. Otherwise, why had she told me she would have things straightened out by the time I came in again? Why hadn't she simply given me fifty cents credit on the spot?
My conclusion was confirmed, I think, when, upon my return, she said I would have to hunt up the chap who cashed my check and make him give me my fifty cents. When I demurred at this solution, she called the manager who, in turn, showed hesitation about tackling the electronics. Anyway, I got my fifty cents, but the transaction unnerved me, and was nothing like the jolly, friendly, cozy banking error of years ago which left me in excellent good humor for some time. That first error was for only five cents, and it was in my favor.
This was long before banks went into computers, and back when postage on a first class letter was three cents. I wrote a first class letter to the president of the bank advising him that my checking statement showed a balance of five cents over. (Since then, of course, I have been known far and wide as Honest John.) Immediately I had a fine letter back from the president of the bank, thanking me for my promptness in bringing this matter to his attention, saying that he would look into it and would be in touch again shortly. If there might be some further service he could perform, and so on, yours very truly. . . . He signed his name Alexander Claybourne McGillicuddy.
I wrote to Mr. McGillicuddy again, thanking him for giving his attention to my financial problem, saying I would await the outcome, and asking in curiosity why anybody named Alexander Claybourne McGillicuddy would decide to become president of a bank. A bank president spends about ninety-eight percent of his time signing his name to loans and mortgages and foreclosures and discharges. It would be wise, I suggested, for the president of a bank to have some such name as Ian Lee, or Jay Day. I estimated that in a year's time the shorter name would save eight or nine barrels of ink, permitting a generous Christmas bonus to depositors.
In a week or so Mr. McGillicuddy wrote again, saying that an auditor was reviewing my account and would report soon, and that he had been amused by my facetious comments about his long name. I heard no more from him, but he lingers in my memory as a true-blue human being, not a machine. I did hear, off and on, from the auditor, a Mr. Roger Bonython, who promised progress. He, too, was grateful to me and on behalf of the bank expressed good wishes to me. This went on all winter and greatly brightened our spirits in the doldrum days of low temperatures and deep snows. Along in the spring, about pea-planting time, Mr. Bonython sent me a credit slip, showing that five cents had been added to my account.
Have you been paying attention?
The error had been in my favor, so now I had ten cents that weren't mine. I did not reopen negotiations. Summer was budding, and I had the sheep to shear and a brook to fish. I left the ten cents right there, but ignored them. When I closed the account out some years later, I left the ten cents for the bank, and heard no more about them. Afterwards that bank merged several times, and I heard it finally became the property of a Greek banana company with multinational investments, a consortium of grand hotels, car rentals, munitions, and my mythical ten cents pyramided to stagger the imagination.