It was supposed to go like this.
On the same day that our letter carrier brought me a residual check for five cents, I also received a 17-page “Summary Statement” from the Universal Studios’ Television Division, reporting, with legalistic specificity, that Major Dad (of which I am a profit participant) is still more than four and a half million dollars “in the red.” (Contractually, no further money will be coming my way until the show is “in profit”, which, in practical terms, means never.)
Let’s start with the residual check for five cents (which, I kid you not, was delivered in an envelope with a forty-six cent stamp on it. That’s right. The value of the stamp was almost six-and-a-half times greater than the payment inside the envelope.)
To be actuarily precise, the gross residual amount (for an episode of Sanford and Son) was actually seven cents. But two cents had been deducted for “Withholding Tax”, leaving me a net payment of a nickel.
(FULL DISCLOSURE: The total residual payment was actually fourteen cents. But since the script was co-written with another writer, my co-writer received a payment for seven cents as well. Though, since the man is privately incorporated, he is permitted to keep the entire amount, paying taxes on his nickel plus two pennies later at a substantially lower corporate rate.)
Okay, so the message of this blog post would be…what? In complicated contractual matters, the “talent” is at the mercy of the corporations who are shameless ganaveem. (Rather than the generally used ganifs, meaning “thieves” in Hebrew – for that is the language from which the original word derives – the actual plural of the word ganif is, in fact, ganaveem. I just thought you’d like to know.)
Truth be told, it was not much of a story, bordering on the “disingenuous” coming from me, since, paraphrasing fictional ballplayer Chico Escuela, “Cho business has been bery, bery good to me.”
Still, I decided to go with it. What are you going to do? They can’t all be “How The Jews Lost The Lead.” (My all-time favorite blog post.)
But then – It was a miracle, I tell ya! – my blog post was hijacked by reality.
And I wound up with this.
On that same day I received my dual financials disappointments, I am running an errand at a nearly shopping center, which includes a supermarket inside of which is a Bank of America (where I bank) automatic Teller Machine.
Having decided to kill two birds with one stone, I bring along my residual check for five cents so I can deposit it (automatically) into my checking account.
And watch my bank balance jump!
When I arrive at the machine, I find the man currently using it in a discombobulating tizzy. Apparently, while conducting his transaction, the customer has mistakenly pressed the “Spanish Language” button, and he does not speak – or read – Spanish. He asks me if I can help him.
I proceed to do what I generally do in a crisis. I freeze. The intervening time, however, allows the customer to figure out what he needs to do about the “receto.” He then completes his business, and walks out of the supermarket. (I actually think I helped him more by not doing anything, because he solved the problem himself. Which, in the long run, is really better for his self-esteem, don’t you think? I do. And I’m not just saying that.)
It now being my turn, I step up to the machine. I slip in my Bank Card, punch in my “Pin Number” and press “Enter.” I then indicate “Deposit”, and when I am offered the choice of “Cash Deposit” or “Check Deposit”, I press “Cash Deposit.”
Which is a mistake. Since I am trying to deposit a check. I press “Cancel” and I start over.
“Pin Number.” “Enter.” “Deposit”, “Check Deposit.”
And that’s when it happens.
The green light strip over “Take Cash” slot starts blinking…
And two hundred dollars comes tumbling out.
Now, in some twisted and entirely inaccurate way, I have always equated using a Bank Teller Machine with playing a slot machine, even though – and this is why it’s entirely inaccurate – when the bank machine “pays off”, it is paying you with your own money. Nevertheless, there is always that jolt of excitement when those twenties come pouring out.
This time, however, it appeared that I had actually won!
I wasn’t trying to make a withdrawal at that point. I was trying to deposit a check for five cents.
And then, suddenly, there’s two hundred dollars!
My immediate reaction was that that money belonged to the frazzled non-Spanish speaking customer who had gone ahead of me. Even though, the machine’s screen had entirely cleared and rebooted – or something – before I started my transaction.
So, in reality, this couldn’t have been his money.
And yet, all reason aside, I still believed that it was. And I felt terrible about it. So I waited – a good five minutes – for him to come back and reclaim what was rightfully his.
But he didn’t.
Leaving me holding two hunn-ed dalah
That was not my own. (And which I refused to insert in my wallet, laying it on top of the Bank Teller Machine, like some discarded receto.)
While waiting, I deposit the five-cent check, and withdraw some money for myself, which coincidentally is also two hundred dollars. Although instead of that amount, I had now in my possession…
Four hundred dollars.
I did not know for a certainty what had happened – had Bank of America declared a one-time-only “Two-For-One Day” at their Bank Teller Machines, and I had simply not heard about it? But that wasn’t right either. How could they have known ahead of time how much I was planning to take out?
If the money wasn’t the guy before me’s and it wasn’t mine, by process of elimination, it was the Bank of America’s. I thought for a moment about keeping it, rationalizing it as an issue of “balancing the books.” I mean, hey! Multi-national corporations were unconscionably shorting me on my residuals and my profits. Why not consider this a justifiable exercise in capitalistical payback?
As I drove home – my money and theirs now sitting in my wallet – it became clear that, knowing myself, and the depths of my guilt feelings – both conscious and otherwise – that if I kept the bank’s two hundred dollars, I would unquestionably find a way to seriously damage my car, which is twenty-one years old, and for which I bear an emotional attachment rising almost to the level of family.
I do not want to damage my car. So the next day, I drive – carefully – to our nearby Bank of America branch office, and I give back the money.
I immediately feel better. Even though there had been no reward.
If you don’t count a much better blog story.