Fans of Larry David’s ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ will be familiar with the situation. What will start off as a seemingly trivial confrontation with one of life’s many obstacles will snowball into something far more threatening and unpleasant. Larry isn’t such a bad guy, he’s just unlucky. Sure, he can be stubborn and difficult, and he’s certainly his own worst enemy, but most of the time Larry’s really just trying to make sense of a world gone mad.
Well, recently I had my own ‘Larry David’ moment. I wasn’t looking for trouble. I wasn’t trying to be difficult. I was just trying to apply commonsense to a fairly simple and innocuous transaction. But it could have ended in bloodshed.
It all began when I decided to help my daughter out with a little financial matter. She’d received a cheque for $10.00 – a refund from the SA Government for something – and, having never received a cheque before, didn’t know how to negotiate it for cash. I started explaining how she’d have to deposit the cheque to her account, then thought of a better idea. I was going to the bank later that day. I would give her a $10.00 note, then take the cheque and deposit it to my account.
Several hours later, I found myself in the lobby of an unfamiliar bank branch queuing up to deposit a sum of cash and cheques to my credit card account. I had about $300.00 to deposit, including the $10.00 cheque made out to my daughter. When it was my turn, I handed the cash and cheques to the teller, and waited for her to stamp my receipt and enter the transaction to my account. When she came to my daughter’s cheque, she hesitated, then asked; ‘Is this a joint account?’
I explained how I’d given my daughter $10.00 in exchange for the cheque. I told her that the money was a refund from the Government, and that I’d probably paid the fee in the first place, so the money was mine anyway. She wasn’t impressed. ‘You can’t deposit this cheque into your account. It’s got to be paid into an account in your daughter’s name.’
Now, before I go any further, I need to explain a few things. Once upon a time, I worked for the bank in which I was now attempting to deposit the $10.00. I worked for them for 19 years, and for many of them as a teller in the branch network. I’d also worked as a relieving manager, a loans officer and an investment advisor. I was well acquainted with the concept of risk, and the rules regarding the negotiation of third party cheques. In this instance, the amount of the cheque was negligible, and my explanation regarding ownership of the cheque was not far-fetched or unbelievable. I was also a longstanding customer (25 years) with numerous investment and lending accounts.
But the teller was having none of it. Stony-faced, she repeated as though a robot; ‘Your daughter will need to authorize the cheque before it can be negotiated.’
I am not one to lose my temper in public, in fact, I am regularly told how patient and understanding I am. But when the teller called her colleague over, and they both looked at the cheque, then said in the same robotic voice – ‘You can’t deposit this cheque into your account’ – I started to get a little annoyed.
‘But it’s just $10.00,’ I insisted, shrugging my shoulders as if to show how little it meant to me.
‘You can’t deposit this cheque into your account.’
I happened to look up at this point, and noticed the customer at the next teller’s window taking an interest in what was happening to me. He was a slovenly dressed male in his late twenties/early thirties. He was tall, with a medium build and an abundance of facial hair. I thought for a moment that he might have been sympathetic. But then he opened his mouth.
‘Listen buddy,’ he mumbled. ‘If you don’t talk nice to those girls I’m gonna take you outside and teach you a lesson.’
I think I laughed at that point, and looked around me, as though thinking he might have been talking to someone else. I could have ignored him. I could have pretended he’d said nothing. But I didn’t.
‘Why don’t you mind your own business!’
I looked away then, back to the teller, who was now suggesting that she refer the transaction to the branch manager.
‘But it’s only $10.00,’ I pleaded.
‘Hey mate,’ interrupted the customer at the next teller’s window again. ‘If you don’t leave them alone I’m gonna smack you in the head.’
I could have called him a moron. I could have elbowed him in the eye or urinated on his shoes, but I did neither. Instead, I meekly took my $10.00 cheque and shuffled away from the teller’s window. I didn’t run. I didn’t do or say anything but walk calmly out of the bank, leaving the thug to gloat over his ‘victory’.
Did I imagine them laughing behind my back? Did I imagine applause? Did I imagine the thug making chicken sounds?
As I walked back to my car I couldn’t help but wonder what Larry David would have done. If only I was as brave as Larry. If only…