Monday, January 16, 2012

People Watching Part I

Monday, January 9, 2012

Bizarre Bank Teller Bias

Sheila believed in reincarnation. What else would explain her fear of bank tellers? Clearly something had happened in her past life to spark this irrational fear. She had once read that the only fear you are born with is the fear of loud noises; but Sheila was not bothered by noises, no matter the decibel. What She could not confront was a bank teller, even as a child she would insist on waiting in the car as her mother or father did their banking. Whenever Sheila approached a banking counter her body would start to shake and she would begin to sweat. There were a few times that she had even come close to passing out, fleeing the bank as the tunnel vision set in.

This is why Sheila had been ecstatic just over a decade ago when the bank on Second Street opened. You see, back then, that stretch of Second Street was not the best area of town and so the bank had taken some extra precautions. One of those precautions included a large glass partition that separated the bank teller from the customer. To some people this feature made the bank seem unwelcoming but for Sheila it was just enough protection from the bank tellers that she was able to conduct her banking.

However, since Mayor Wilson had been elected, the whole town had been cleaned up. Mayor Wilson had even managed to clean up the potion of Second Street that Sheila’s treasured bank occupied. A year ago, when the bank had been remodeled, the glass partitions were removed. Sheila had not crossed the threshold of the vestibule since then.

Sheila did not know it but today would be the day that she faced her fears. It was just a typical Friday and she pulled into the bank bobbing along to the new catchy pop song that every radio station was playing. She grabbed her paycheck and walked swiftly to the ATM.

Sheila had been using the ATM, located in the atrium, since the remodeling. It suited her just fine. She deposited her check and got the usual $100 cash back. She waited patiently for her cash to dispense and grabbed the bills as the machine spit them out. She mindlessly counted the bills as she began to leave the atrium. She stopped midstep and looked at the money as she quietly counted, “Twenty, forty, sixty… eighty.” She counted two more times before she double checked her receipt to assure herself that she was indeed missing twenty dollars. Sheila turned and looked into the bank and then back down at her hands that held the eighty dollars and the receipt that showed she should be holding a hundred dollars. She considered leaving and began to take another step towards the door before hesitating again.

She was alone in the vestibule, no one heard as she chastised herself, “Sheila McCleary you are a grown ass woman who has no reason to not go inside. Bank tellers are just people behind a desk.” After a huge breath she turned around and entered the bank. Crossing the threshold for the first time in over a year she was hit with a wave of nausea. After her second step the tunnel vision set in and about half way to the counter everything went black.

When she came to she was surrounded by strangers. Several were fanning her and one was offering her a cup of water. A man, whose name tag alerted Sheila to the fact that he was the Branch manager, was asking her if she was alright. It took her a minute to process the question. As she began to answer she realized how dry her throat was so she accepted the water a young woman was offering, sipping gingerly, before responding, “I think I’m better.”

Other than being embarrassed she really did feel better. When she had come to she was surrounded by bank tellers and customers but there was no anxiety, no nausea. After filling out the necessary incident report Sheila had been able to confidently walk up to the counter and amend the ATM error. What had cured her? The cure was just as elusive as the origin but Sheila was not going to complain, she was quite proud that she’d overcome her preposterous fear of bank tellers.

Friday, January 6, 2012


The wind pulled me into the church as soon as I managed to open the large oak door. As I was swept inside I was wondering if my mere presence was adding yet another sin to my soul. Identifying the confessional booth was rather simple but I entered with great trepidation before kneeling behind the screen.

“May the Lord be in your heart and help you make a good confession.”

The priest’s voice was more ominous than I had expected and it took me a moment before I started my confession. Ripping off what Hollywood had taught me about confessing I tentatively started to disclose my sins;

“Forgive me Father, for I have sinned. I am not Catholic, and therefore have never been to confession…”

I paused for a moment but when the confessional booth did not ignite in flames I continued:

“I had a weekend full of debauchery. I exceeded the speed limit. I ate things that are in no way advantageous for my health.” I warmed up with a few mediocre grievances before plunging into the whoppers. “I did drugs that I swore I would never try again, I engaged in intimate relations with multiple partners both male and female. “

There was a small cough that came from the other side of the screen and I was not sure if it was induced by my confession or the dry air in the booth. But I trudged on:

“It is likely that I killed a turtle, unintentionally. I have lied continuously about all the events of the past few days. But the part that disturbs me the most was that I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. The adrenaline that accompanied each transgression was addicting. I feel guilty and ashamed of my behavior now that it is over but to be completely honest the only reason I have not continued to indulge myself is because I could never afford the drugs!”

I laughed nervously as I awaited my doom. Now was the moment that the Priest would assure me that I was lost in God’s eyes. He would proclaim that my only hope was to join a convent and live out my days abstaining from all indulgences.

“Well my child, since you are not religious at this moment in your life, your penance is not one of a traditional nature. You are to enroll in monthly skydiving, start giving to a wildlife fund of your choice and disconnect from anyone you were involved with in the last few days. That is your penance, since you are not Catholic is it correct to assume you do not know the ‘Act of Contrition?’”

“You are correct,” I managed to say while reeling from the penance I had just been given.

“If you complete your penance you will be absolved of all your sins. You may go in peace my child, and know that you are always welcome here.”

When I arrived home I sat in front of the television in quite a daze, still processing the events of the morning, unaware of the passage of time. The ASPCA commercial that plays Sarah McLoughlin in the background roused me from my comatose state. At the end of the commercial I considered it, “$18.00 a month,” I thought, “Isn’t it only $0.50 a day to sponsor a child for Save the Children? I guess the ASPCA had to spend a lot of money to use the Sarah McLoughlin song.” I grabbed my laptop and within 5 minutes I was officially a contributing member of the World Wildlife Fund, contributing a mere $10 a month. I then picked up my phone and cleaned out the contacts that I needed to extricate myself from.

Contribute to wildlife: Check.

Disengage with those who may influence me poorly: Double Check.

And now to find a place to go sky diving, this is the best penance ever!

I realized how much my demeanor had changed since I had first left the house that morning and also that I had not truly enjoyed the events of my past weekend. I was genuinely excited about the prospect of completing my penance and maybe even visiting that church again.