Portly and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Bank Job

This was the next Portly Parable on the popularity list.

This is a story about quitting.

This is a story that I thought about when Tart quit her job.

This is a story from my distant past. 1978, to be exact.

I want to make it clear that it's not as if nothing interesting has happened to me in recent years -- it's just that it would be very difficult to relate some of my more recent interesting experiences without a whole lot of explanation, and without divulging the identities of people who might not want to be identified. Elapsed time is nice that way.

But on with the story: Portly and the Terrible, Horrible (blah, blah, blah) Bank Job.
I won't go into all the details of how I got to the bank. I'm just going to start at the bank. The big bank. The traditional bank. The bad-ass bank. The edifice-on-the-corner bank. The bank that had a huge clean-room with a computer that took up the whole fucking floor bank.

When I went to work there, I thought I had entered the future, because this was the first place that I ever had a magnetic ID card which allowed me to access certain rooms, but not other rooms, which allowed me to ride certain elevators, but not other elevators. It was teh cool. It was, like, Tron (before Tron existed).

I was originally hired as a check-sorter. All day, I sat in front of what was, essentially, an enormous rolodex (I realize that some of you may be too young to understand what a rolodex is) -- but this was an ultra-cool, hi-tech rolodex, with these numbered pedals like a church-organ which allowed you to rotate the files within it until you came to the file for the account that you had checks for, and my job was to look, look, look at each check to make sure that the signature matched the signature on the card at the top of the file into which I was about to file it. We had those little sticky thumb-cotes, and little jars of sticky-stuff sitting at our sides, so that we could quickly and efficiently make sure that everyone's checks got into the correct file.

Bar-codes did exist in some places, but people were more vigilant about their money in those days, I think. They wanted human hands to process their checks, and human eyes to check the signatures. So in this huge bank with its clean room and magnetic-strip IDs, I was sorting checks by hand. Every day.

Apparently, I did such a good job doing this that I came to the attention of the supervisor, who promoted me to a new position within two months. Now, I was an "over-draft manager".

My job, from 8 am to 5 pm, every day, was to look at line after line of tiny computer print-out (18" x 24" ring-clipped books -- green/white alternating lines of dot-matrix print), figure out how many checks a particular customer had written that were "non-sufficient funds", and calculate how to manipulate the pay-off order of these checks so that the bank could stiff the customer for the maximum number of overdraft charges.

By policy, if a customer was overdrawn on some of the checks (but not all), I was supposed to authorize the largest check for payment that I could, and make sure that a whole bunch of smaller checks would bounce, thus enabling the bank to make many $10 per-check charges for overdrafts. Nice, huh?

I became subversive almost immediately. I would have the stack of checks here and the print-out there, and I would see that this one was their light bill, that one was their phone bill, or their heating bill, and regardless of the "policy", I'd pay those first.

I did have the technical authority to make such decisions, and my boss didn't want to be bothered and never checked -- so I did it. This was back in the day that Ma Bell would yank your phone service the day your payment was late -- and they could -- because they were the only game in town. As Ernestine used to say: "We don't care, we don't have to -- we're the phone company". (And that, dear friends, is why you don't want another global media conglomerate -- but that's another post.)

Of all the places I've ever worked, I think that this was the soul-sucking-est. I was a young lesbian, trying my best to do the straight-acting/appearing routine, and I had been a weirdo from birth, orientation not-withstanding.

I took my lunch in the cafeteria alone for the first couple of months, scribbling feverishly in my journal after I had scarfed down whatever horrible food was available under glaring fluorescents, surrounded by institutional-green walls. A woman who worked in my department asked me one Friday: "Writing another letter? Do you write every day?" I looked up from my journal, and said: "Yes. Yes. I write every day."

I had just written: "Friday: It is the day of freedom. It is hard for me to fathom the fact that today, some 90% of the country is rejoicing that the week of toil is over. Surely the bums must laugh at us in their leisure. Sane people fear the mad because they are afraid they might become dangerous. Mad people fear the sane because they know them to be dangerous."

I did find two compatriots at the bank, eventually -- two black women who, like me, tended to sit apart in the cafeteria, but who, unlike me, had not received rapid promotion in their departments, even though they were both wicked smart, and had each been there for more than five years. Huh. Fancy that.

When I took this job, I took it for the money. Period. End of story.

I knew when I took it that it would be temporary. I knew that I needed to get the fuck out of Kansas. I knew that I needed a bit of cash to make that a reality. So, three months after my promotion, I was ready to quit. I confided this to my new friends, and was wondering how much notice to give. The older of the two said simply: "None. Don't give them any notice. I've seen what happens. You give notice and they will load you up with every one of the crappiest jobs they have for the rest of the time you're here. Listen -- do you need another job with them?"


"Then don't do it. Just go when you're ready to go. Trust me on this."

So I didn't give notice. I quietly did my job. I plotted. I planned. I waited.

On my last day -- a Friday -- at lunch --I went to the teller window in the main lobby and withdrew my entire account balance -- $1500.00 -- more money than I had ever seen in one place -- in cash -- and stashed it in my purse.

I sweated out the afternoon, certain that my outrageous withdrawal must have flagged an alarm somewhere. But no -- apparently their super-computer was not that smart yet.

At 5 pm, I went into my supervisor's office and handed her my magnetic badge. I told her that I wouldn't be back on Monday. I quit.

She got this face full of concern and said: "Portly, what's the problem?"

"No problem. I'm quitting."

"Let's go talk to Personnel," she said, in a motherly tone.


The personnel manager heard my boss retell my quitting moment, and turned to me with a perky tip of her head. She was all chipper and upbeat and "can-do".

"OK now Portly -- we can talk about this. What's bothering you? Let's get this fixed up."

"Nothing's bothering me," I said, "I'm quitting."

"Oh, come on, you can tell us. I promise we'll listen."

"There's nothing to tell. I'm quitting. I won't be back."

The personnel manager and supervisor exchanged looks. The PM asked my supervisor to step out a moment, and dropped her voice slightly.

"Now Portly, if there's something you don't think you can say in front of [supervisor's first name, which I had not known until that moment -- in Kansas, in those days, you didn't call your boss by their first name -- you called them "Mr." or "Mrs." So-and-So], it's fine. You can tell me."

"No. There's nothing. I'm quitting. That's all."

She then stepped briskly into the hall, talked in hushed tones with the supervisor, then they both came back in. Gone, now, the saccharin sweet faces and conciliatory tones. They both stared at me as if I were insane.

"So, you're telling us that you are quitting."

"Yes. That's what I'm telling you."

*Slightly Outraged Tone*: "You realize that you can never expect a reference from this organization. You realize that, don't you?!"

"Yes. I realize that."

*Sympathetic, Comforting Tone*: "Really, Portly, what's the problem?"

"There is no problem. I'm quitting. I won't be back. Not on Monday. Not ever."

They just stood there, dumbfounded.

It was a moment of supreme satisfaction for me. I watched it sink into their collective consciousness: I didn't need them. I wasn't afraid of what would happen to me if they didn't approve of me. I didn't care that they thought I was nuts.

It was profoundly liberating. So much so that I sat there for an extra moment or two, just to watch them marinate in their own confusion.

Then, I got up and walked out of the building for the last time. A half-block away, my only two friends from the bank hollered from the bus-stop: "Did you do it?" I gave them the thumbs-up and they jumped up and down.

I never saw them again. The next day, I got in my VW Bug, and drove off to Portland, Oregon, where I lived for the next 22 years.


Posted byPortlyDyke at 11:55 PM  


pidomon said... January 5, 2008 at 7:09 AM  

What a great story!

Anonymous said... January 5, 2008 at 8:23 AM  

Woo hoo! What a fun and inspiring story! I especially love the part of the former co-workers cheering you on!

Phydeaux said... January 5, 2008 at 11:17 AM  


ps - I am also a former Bug owner... I loved my Beetle!

NameChanged said... January 5, 2008 at 11:45 AM  

I had a similar experience with the Dairy Queen when I was a teen. I wish that as an adult I could feel that liberated again.

liberalandproud said... January 5, 2008 at 1:27 PM  

You are teh awesomeness, and apparently have been for at least 30 years!

Fannie said... January 7, 2008 at 9:50 AM  

I love these stories! Thanks Portly for sharing :-)

zombie z said... January 10, 2008 at 10:37 AM  

I didn't know you were a (former) Kansan! I can't wait to get the hell out of Dodge, too... :)

Loved this story. Love you.

mouthybitch said... January 10, 2008 at 3:09 PM  

*is generally affectionate in your direction*

I love that 'are you insane' look you get when you don't comply. How dare you not need them, and stuff.

Rachel said... January 14, 2008 at 9:25 AM  

That is truly inspirational. I think I need to go hug a kitten or something. ^_^

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