If I asked her one more time, she was going to strangle me with my purple paisley tie.
She wouldn’t care that such an act might rouse the napping security guard, piled on his stool in the corner of the lobby like a scoop of polyester-clad mashed potatoes. Or that HR might be a tad vexed with the bank’s most experienced manager attempting to crush the windpipe of her insecure 18-year old new teller still blubbery from eating his way through his previous job at Dairy Queen with his unfortunate choice of (MY NAME IS) Prince-inspired neckwear.
She’d ignore that whole side of the scales of justice if it would bring an end to me asking her the same question I been sheepishly posing every morning for my first two weeks at her branch: “Sue, can you help me open my vault cubby? I can’t figure out the lock. I’m so sorry.”
Let’s diagram these sentences to reveal the dangers they represented for my fledgling banking career:
“Sue”: The 20+ year veteran leader of the bank’s downtown main office. Even in her late 60’s, she’d never given retirement a second thought. That is, until I showed up two weeks ago, doe-eyed after 5 days of teller training. Her nervous eye twitch began a few days later. I was certain she’d run screaming into the arms of her 401k at any moment.
“Can you help me open…” This phrase implies collaborative effort between Sue and me to dislodge my cash drawer from its combination-locked slot in the vault. No such division of labor, however, existed. Upon hearing my plea, she would sigh, march across the branch with high-heeled footfalls that echoed like rifle shots off the polished marble floor, stoop down to effortlessly spin and twist the dial until the door popped open, and pull herself to her feet before rifle-shotting back to her office without a word.
I would stand next to the vault while she did her work, mutely rocking back and forth like Rain Man, unloading the lint from my pockets, or doing both at the same time because my “multitasking” skills were no joke.
I tried helping her stand once. Once. The look she hurled at me could’ve had its own “When Managers Attack” mini-series on the Discovery Channel.
“My vault cubby?” Uttering one of these words aloud vaporizes a Man Card. Can you guess which one?
“I can’t figure out the lock.” DUH.
“I’m so sorry.” So was everyone else who worked with me my first month there. I couldn’t get my drawer out without backup, couldn’t balance that drawer on the first or second or tenth time most days, and asked so many questions of my teammates that their default response became “Didn’t you go through teller training?”
It got so bad that I overheard one of my co-workers complaining about me behind the closed break room door. In the interests of keeping this column out of NSFW land, I’ll make what they said a bit more family-friendly:
“Why did this [FAIRY-LOVING] company hire such a [PIECE OF CAKE]? He can’t balance for [RAINBOWS], combination locks confuse the [COOKIES] out of him, and he keeps asking me what the [HUGGING] CD rates are. Arrrrrggggghhhh!”
When I’d frustrated those around me to the point that they ended sentences like Chewbacca, I knew it was time to go.
I walked over to Sue’s office. “I thought I already got your drawer out?”, she asked.
“Um, yes, but that’s not why I’m here,” I mumbled before admitting what I thought she already knew. “I don’t think this is the job for me. I think I should quit.”
She sat back in her chair and looked at me steadily for a few seconds. “Have you gotten off to a rough start? Absolutely. I expected more from you sooner. But you’re good with the customers. You enjoy them and they enjoy you. I can use that. We can iron out the other stuff, but it’s going to take time to earn back the confidence of the staff.”
She leaned forward and smiled as if savoring a sour-turned-sweet memory. “Besides, you aren’t the first new face to get stumped by the vault. There’s a reason I’m good at it.” Eyes twinkling, she said, “Ready to start over?”
I was, and I did because she was willing to believe in me when I didn’t. Two and a half decades later, I’m still grateful for the career her confidence helped launch.
And for the $30 she gave me to buy a tie that didn’t make doves cry.