Sunday 25 Sep 2016

A Financial Career
David Simmonds

Were you required to read Stephen Leacock in high school? Do you remember “My Financial Career,” his story about a fumbling attempt to open and then close a bank account? My banking career took a similar embarrassing turn this past week.

My Leacockian experience began with my assumption of the job of treasurer of a local not for profit group; a position that was somewhat giddily relinquished by the incumbent, reeling from his good fortune after sixteen years of failed attempts to shuck the responsibility. My briefing consisted of the hasty handover of an overflowing cardboard box together with the encouraging comment that he was sure I could figure it out. If I did have any questions, I could leave a message for him through the Canadian embassy in Panama.


... after four or five hours, I concluded he was right.

I poured through the contents of the box and, after four or five hours, concluded he was right. There were only a couple of transactions each month. Breathing a sigh of relief and putting on a suitable air of officiousness, I set about organizing myself a binder full of sections for bank statements, financial reports, meeting minutes and so forth. I was ready for action.

Now one of the main fundraising activities of this group is a sale that it runs every Canada Day and Pumpkinfest Day. I had assumed the office in the halcyon days of post-2016 Pumpkinfest. Canada Day was to be my first experience handling the proceeds.

Collecting those proceeds and bringing them home, without any security detail, I might add, went off without incident. Then the pleasant work of counting the money began. Except that it wasn’t. At my first attempt, I came up with $1,088.55. In the spirit of double entry bookkeeping, I counted it again and came up with $1,011.25. I counted it again, and came up with $1,199.60.

By this time, I was fending off calls from the group’s president, who wanted to know “how we did.” I couldn’t very well tell him that so far I had come up with three possibilities and that there would likely be others if I kept at it. My only hope lay in having the bank verify the exact amount.

Monday morning I was one of the first customers to approach a teller and proudly announce, Leacock style, I had a deposit to make. I handed her my notes, all subtotalled and, as far as I was concerned, neatly categorized. She couldn’t completely disguise her reaction, which I think would have been similar if a skunk had wandered across her workstation.

I would be lying if I said I then pulled out an attaché case with multiple combination locks, handcuffed to my wrist. In fact, I presented several Tupperware containers. Each one was packed inside the other, one containing quarters, one containing loonies, one containing toonies. Except that is, for the nickels and dimes, for which I couldn’t find a vessel that fit. I had thrown them together in an envelope and stuffed it in with my bills. Thereby, I compromised my ability to adopt a systematic approach and called into question the reliability of my figures.


My total, of the $10 bills, was $402.

We went through the subtotals, deciphering and changing each as if our lives depended upon it. “Now, I see that in ten dollar bills you have added it up to be $402; whereas I get $510,” she said. My shoddy attempts at accuracy exposed.

I grew more uncomfortable, as the lineup for available tellers kept growing. The increasing clucking and grumbling seemed to hone in on me as the source of the logjam. Finally, I heard her pronounce the magic phrase “and the grand total is ...,” which of course was different from any figure I had previously come up with.

I thanked the teller. I apologized for taking so much of her time. She replied “Oh, don’t worry; we get people like you doing this sort of thing all time.”

“Well, I suppose you’d like these guys back,” she said, handing me my Tupperware containers and nickel and dime envelope. This was as my neighbour, a truly sophisticated investor that knows all about bond yields and equity derivatives, walked past me having finished his business at a nearby teller. “What are those for,” he asked. “Are you offering them snacks so they’ll give you an extra basis point on your savings?” I mumbled something about indexed futures and turned my back on him to pretend I remained deeply immersed in conversation with my teller.

Only fifteen more years of this humiliation, I thought as I left, harking back to my predecessor. Fifteen more years before the job will fall to someone else, who can leave a message for me with the Canadian embassy in the Cayman Islands, if there are any questions. At least my ordeal was over, until Pumpkinfest. I had walked in the steps of Leacock.

Some readers seem intent on nullifying the authority of David Simmonds. The critics are so intense; Simmonds is cast as more scoundrel than scamp. He is, in fact, a Canadian writer of much wit and wisdom. Simmonds writes strong prose. He dissects, in a cheeky way, what some think sacrosanct. His wit refuses to allow the absurdities of life to move along, nicely, without comment. What Simmonds writes frightens some readers. He doesn't court the ineffectual. Those he scares off are the same ones that will not understand his writing. Satire is not for sissies. The wit of David Simmonds skewers societal vanities, the self-important and their follies as well as the madness of tyrants. He never targets the outcasts or the marginalised; when he goes for a jugular, its blood is blue. David Simmonds, by nurture, is a lawyer. By nature, he is a perceptive writer, with a gimlet eye, a superb folk singer, lyricist and composer. He believes quirkiness is universal; this is his focus and the base of his creativity. "If my humour hurts," says Simmonds,"it's after the stiletto comes out." He's an urban satirist on par with Mike Barnacle, Jimmy Breslin, the late Mike Rokyo and, increasingly, Dorothy Parker. He writes from and often about the village of Wellington Ontario. Simmonds also writes for the Wellington "Times," in Wellington, Ontario.

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