The paycheck I earned during my first few weeks in Hollywood wasn’t much — a small weekly stipend from Dick Clark Productions that barely covered my meager hot dog lunches. But I was proud nonetheless to be working “in the industry,” proud enough to skip the ATM and present it personally at my bank.
My teller, a slim young woman with glistening eyes and sandy hair, chatted with me in an alluring way that was easily and willingly misinterpreted. Her name tag said “Jennie.”
“Are you in the entertainment industry?” Jennie asked, examining my check.
“I’m in production,” I knew to say.
“Interesting. Tens and twenties okay?”
“Sure.” So would have singles, pesos, Euros, or cattle.
As we parted ways, I felt her warm eyes follow me. Or maybe they’d just turned off the air conditioning.
With Jennie’s smile stuck in my head, I went back a few weeks later determined to ask her out. Along with my new apartment, my new car, and my new job was the strong desire to paint my personality anew. No more Mr. Wait-and-See, Mr. Scared-to-Make-a-Move. I brought a personal check of my own as an ice-breaker. It wasn’t from Dick Clark, but it’d have to do.
I first killed some time at the ATM. With nervous fingers, I accidentally double-pressed the zero, withdrawing $200 instead of $20. I didn’t even think I had $200.
Once on line, I realized I was in the trajectory of a different teller, a large woman named Lupe. This wouldn’t do. I told the woman behind me Jennie was my sister. We swapped places, then swapped again. The woman looked annoyed.
Then Jennie called out my name, or the closest thing:
“Heeeeeey, Jennie,” I said in a regretfully high pitch as I walked to her and presented the check for cashing. I took a deep breath as she punched up my account.
“Ummm, I know this seems forward, but…would you like to go out sometime? For dinner? There’s a new restaurant just around the corner. French, I think.”
Jennie looked at her screen.
“I know we hardly know each other,” I said. “But I thought we really hit it off last time.”
“A few weeks ago, remember? We talked about the industry and… tens and twenties…and…”
“Are you sure you can afford it?”
A bead of sweat dripped down the side of my clean t-shirt.
“I can’t cash your check. It says ‘insufficient funds to cover.’”
“What? No, there’s a mistake, a rounding error. You’re in finance. You understand.”
“According to this, you owe US money.”
Dick Clark had left the building. I followed soon thereafter, and never looked back.
The next closest bank branch was miles away, but I made the trek from then on, knowing I could never step into Jennie’s branch for the rest of my life, or until I had facial reconstructive surgery, whichever came first.
Life Lessons #124 and #125 of infinity: Never let your money speak for you, and never assume service with a smile is anything but.