Thursday, May 5, 2011

Banks Rattle Me

Like Stephen Leacock, banks rattle me.
The other day we got home from work and Dave said, "The bank in Huntsville called. They want you to call them back."
Dread stopped me in my tracks. I had been in a good mood. Now there was lead in my socks.
"What did they want?" I asked. Lightly.
"I dunno," said Dave. "They just want you to call. Why? Is something wrong? Is there something I should know?"
That's when I lost it. I ran into the bedroom and flung myself on the bed. Visions of my previous marriage and catching hell from my ex over money issues flooded my racing brain.
"I'm not talking about it," I said. Muffled. From underneath a pillow.
"How much have you got on your Visa?" asked Dave.
"Not. Talking. About. It." I said.
"You just paid that off," he said, pissed. "How's your overdraft?"
I didn't answer, just buried myself deeper in the blankets.
He sighed and walked away. If I had of looked I know his face would be red and his head would be shaking. But I didn't. I just lay there and fretted. 
Was it my Visa card? Was it my overdraft? Had my car loan bounced? What could be so important that the bank was calling me? And not just a telemarketer, but a real person, from my real bank, with a real name. Carol Something.
I sat up. Threw back the covers. Marched out to the phone.
I knew I wouldn't get any sleep tonight unless I found out what Carol wanted. Even though it was well after 5 o'clock, I called her back. Sure enough, the bank was closed but I heard her cheery voice say her cheery last name so I decided to find her.
To the computer I went, a-googling like a detective after a red herring.
She had a common last name but I didn't know how it was spelled. After about 45 minutes of searching, I found a number that could potentially be hers. I stared at it for a moment, considering. How crazy was it to phone a stranger at her home and say, "Are you Carol from the bank?"
That's what I did.
Carol said, "Yes. Who's this?"
I told her. "You called me today and left a message to call and I've been freaking out ever since I got home from work, wondering what kind of trouble I'm in. I'm sorry to call you at home but I need to know if I'm in trouble or I won't sleep."
Carol said, "Trouble? You're not in trouble. Every once in a while we just like to sit down with our clients and see how everything is going, financially. See if there's anything we can do to help or if there's any questions you might have about investing."
Vastly relieved, I asked, "So I'm not in trouble?"
Carol laughed a bit. "No! Why would you think that?"
Because I have not had an illustrious financial career.
Because usually the only time banks call me is to yell at me.
And because I'm a lot like Stephen Leacock.
Banks rattle me.
On that note, I present one of my favourite literary classics, "My Financial Career," as well as the National Film Board cartoon based on the story. This is some fine writing and some equally fine animation. Take a few minutes, pour yourself a cup of coffee and see why this story has stayed with me ever since I first set eyes on it in public school.

My Financial Career
Stephen Leacock
Literary Lapses, 1910

When I go into a bank I get rattled. The clerks rattle me; the wickets rattle me; the sight of the money rattles me; everything rattles me. The moment I cross the threshold of a bank and attempt to transact business there, I become an irresponsible idiot. I knew this beforehand, but my salary had been raised to fifty dollars a month and I felt that the bank was the only place for it.

So I shambled in and looked timidly round at the clerks. I had an idea that a person about to open an account must needs consult the manager. I went up to a wicket marked "Accountant." The accountant was a tall, cool devil. The very sight of him rattled me. My voice was sepulchral.

"Can I see the manager?" I said, and added solemnly, "alone." I don't know why I said "alone."

"Certainly," said the accountant, and fetched him.

The manager was a grave, calm man. I held my fifty-six dollars clutched in a crumpled ball in my pocket.

"Are you the manager?" I said. God knows I didn't doubt it.

"Yes," he said.

"Can I see you," I asked, "alone?" I didn't want to say "alone" again, but without it the thing seemed self-evident.

The manager looked at me in some alarm. He felt that I had an awful secret to reveal.

"Come in here," he said, and led the way to a private room. He turned the key in the lock.

"We are safe from interruption here," he said; "sit down."

We both sat down and looked at each other. I found no voice to speak.

"You are one of Pinkerton's men, I presume," he said.

He had gathered from my mysterious manner that I was a detective. I knew what he was thinking, and it made me worse.

"No, not from Pinkerton's," I said, seeming to imply that I came from a rival agency.

"To tell the truth," I went on, as if I had been prompted to lie about it, "I am not a detective at all. I have come to open an account. I intend to keep all my money in this bank."

The manager looked relieved but still serious; he concluded now that I was a son of Baron Rothschild or a young Gould.

"A large account, I suppose," he said.

"Fairly large," I whispered. "I propose to deposit fifty-six dollars now and fifty dollars a month regularly."

The manager got up and opened the door. He called to the accountant.

"Mr. Montgomery," he said unkindly loud, "this gentleman is opening an account, he will deposit fifty-six dollars. Good morning."

I rose.

A big iron door stood open at the side of the room.

"Good morning," I said, and stepped into the safe.

"Come out," said the manager coldly, and showed me the other way.

I went up to the accountant's wicket and poked the ball of money at him with a quick convulsive movement as if I were doing a conjuring trick.

My face was ghastly pale.

"Here," I said, "deposit it." The tone of the words seemed to mean, "Let us do this painful thing while the fit is on us."

He took the money and gave it to another clerk.

He made me write the sum on a slip and sign my name in a book. I no longer knew what I was doing. The bank swam before my eyes.

"Is it deposited?" I asked in a hollow, vibrating voice.

"It is," said the accountant.

"Then I want to draw a cheque."

My idea was to draw out six dollars of it for present use. Someone gave me a chequebook through a wicket and someone else began telling me how to write it out. The people in the bank had the impression that I was an invalid millionaire. I wrote something on the cheque and thrust it in at the clerk. He looked at it.

"What! are you drawing it all out again?" he asked in surprise. Then I realized that I had written fifty-six instead of six. I was too far gone to reason now. I had a feeling that it was impossible to explain the thing. All the clerks had stopped writing to look at me.

Reckless with misery, I made a plunge.

"Yes, the whole thing."

"You withdraw your money from the bank?"

"Every cent of it."

"Are you not going to deposit any more?" said the clerk, astonished.


An idiot hope struck me that they might think something had insulted me while I was writing the cheque and that I had changed my mind. I made a wretched attempt to look like a man with a fearfully quick temper.

The clerk prepared to pay the money.

"How will you have it?" he said.


"How will you have it?"

"Oh" -- I caught his meaning and answered without even trying to think -- "in fifties."

He gave me a fifty-dollar bill.

"And the six?" he asked dryly.

"In sixes," I said.

He gave it me and I rushed out.

As the big door swung behind me I caught the echo of a roar of laughter that went up to the ceiling of the bank. Since then I bank no more. I keep my money in cash in my trousers pocket and my savings in silver dollars in a sock.


  1. Leacock. One of my favourite writers .... after you of course!

  2. I have not had actual contact with my bank in years, so like you, if I were to recieve a call-from a human!-I'd expect it was trouble too. Enjoyed the cartoon. "My voice was sepulchral." < What the heck grade was that in?

  3. Yes, I have a "virtual bank". No physical location. All of my banking is done by internet and ATM. You must have a good bank to get a personal call when you're not even in trouble! (Loved the story, too)

    Hey look, you are reading my book!------------->
    Thanks for the advertising! You rock!

  4. The only reason banks rattle me is because my husband needs everything to balance to the penny. Talk about stressful.

  5. Oh Cathy what a hilarious story! Thank you so much for sharing this, I just love the animation.

    And yes, you must have a great bank to get a personal call, that's amazing!

  6. Breath deeply, Cathy. In and out. Calm. Relaxing. Remember...banks are our friends. Mostly. Nice Leacock story. Obviously the moral of the story is to get all the information BEFORE freaking out!

  7. Ack! You poor thing! I've had money trouble so hear that... (hubby frequently asks me why I have to be so controlling about money... it is SO HARD not to hold up a mirror to him) but worse than that, I have a deathly fear of the phone... GADS, I hate phone calls.

  8. Oh, it was an adorable video. Aw, did NOT need that heart attack. Doesn't the bank realize that it's not nice to scare people? Surely you're not the first. I would have freaked as well. I'm smiling at the mental image of you flinging yourself on your bed!

  9. Ah, hugs to you and your rattled day. Banks don't bother me, but the IRS does.

    I didn't know Leacock -- great stuff. Ditto on the video. Now, go get overdraft insurance! Peace...

  10. PRICELESS. Start to finish thank you Mizz Cathy Webster for letting me know I am not alone because I get so freakin' rattled! Ahhhhh....I hope you feel better cause I sure do.

    (That video is my new favorite thing)

  11. Great article. Glad you are okay. I probably would not have been able to get any sleep after that as well. Stuff like that drives me up the wall.


How's it going, eh? It's SO good to hear from you. Tell me every darn thing...