Today my son had a little money trouble. He was buying something for himself and paid with what he believed was a pair of dollar bills. Only one of them was a dollar bill. The other was a ten. It wasn't until he got home that he realized his mistake and felt the air go out of him. He was missing nine dollars and some change. A quick call by his mother to the store that proved there was still an honest person left in the world. The lady remembered the transaction and promised to save his change until he could come back and make it right.
All of this reminded me of a time when I was about his age and my mother sent me with a blank check to pay for my little brother and I to get our hair cut. I can remember sitting in the chair and obsessing over the details of what my mother had told me about filling out the check. I had seen her do it a thousand times, and since it was already signed and dated, I just had to remember to enter the correct amount. I tried to relax as I watched my brother sitting up in the chair, and I looked at a number of sports and car magazines as I felt the post-razor cut itch. Then my little brother was finished and it was time for me to pay for services rendered. In my most careful pre-adolescent scrawl I wrote the total, with my mother's suggested tip included on the line and then wrote it again in number form in that tiny little box. I felt so grown up and terrified as I handed it to Bill, our barber. "Can I show you something?" he asked.
I could feel my face burning as I walked with him to the cash register while the Caven boy's hair was being swept into neat piles. "What is it?" I was sure that I had been found out and that the bank police were on their way to straighten things out.
"See here where you wrote 'twenty-one dollars'? You wrote it so far to the right that somebody could just write 'one hundred and' right next to it - and then squeeze a one in before the two over here..."
I sensed doom. I was a failure and I would never be allowed to write another check as long as I lived. This turned out not to be the case, but it makes me nervous to this day to write a check. Thank goodness for my ATM card.