Last week, a Hardyville rancher, Nat Lyons, sold a yearling colt to a
woman from the City. He was nice enough to trailer the colt down, and nice
enough to accept the lady’s check even though he didn’t know her.
She was nice enough to have money in the account, too. But there the niceness broke down. When he went to her bank to cash the check, the teller
told Nat he couldn’t have his money unless he forked over his fingerprint.
Nat didn’t think that was such a good idea. Waving his ID, he argued, “I
already showed you my picture, didn’t I? That proved who I am. Look here.
Ugly mug on plastic. Ugly mug on top of my neck. What more do you want? Who
the heck would pretend to be me?”
But it was The Rules.
“Are you telling me you won’t cash this lady’s check?”
Not without a fingerprint.
“But you did tell me there was enough money, didn’t you? Because if there wasn’t, I could see you not cashing the check. But otherwise this is
between her and me.”
No, the teller explained, starting to look uneasy and casting glances
around for her supervisor. It’s not between you and the lady. When the lady
put her money in the bank, the bank got the right to decide how to give it
“Well, I’ll tell you what. Let’s go in that office over there and you
can call the lady and she’ll tell you it’s okay to give me the money.”
No, I can’t leave the teller line. Anyway, you don’t understand. It wouldn’t matter what she said; The Rules say we have to have a fingerprint.
“Do I look like a crook?” asked Nat. “Is that it? Have I got a dishonest
No, nothing like that. Nothing personal. Just The Rules.
By this time, a supervisor had come to stand behind the teller. While
the teller was a middle-aged sort, trying to be polite to this stubborn older gent, the supervisor had not quite recovered from his latest round of
pubescent skin eruptions.
“Hey, mister, it’s just a fingerprint,” he sneered, rolling his own thumb across the invisible ink pad in demonstration. “It’s not going to hurt you. What are you scared of?”
Nat, who’s old enough to remember Anzio and a few other European tourist
attractions of fifty years ago, refrained from muttering, “I’m sure not scared of snot-nosed little Nazi clerks.”
“It’s my money. And my thumb,” he said. “I already showed you who I am
and I don’t have to give you a piece of myself to prove it.”
“Nobody’s going to take a piece of you, old man. That’s stupid. It’s just. …”
“I won’t give it to you.”
“Then we won’t cash the check.”
Nat drove back over to the buyer’s place and explained that he’d have to
have cash because the bank wouldn’t cash her check.
“But there’s money in the account, I’m sure of it!” she protested.
“Yes, ma’am. It’s just that they won’t give it to me.”
The woman was puzzled and mad at the bank until she heard why they wouldn’t honor the check. Then she said, “You mean, you want me to stop what I’m doing and drive all the way over there to get cash for you — all
because you don’t want to get a little ink on your fingers?”
“No, ma’am. That’s not it. It’s that I don’t think this is the right way
to treat people. I’m not a crook, and I don’t have to stand for being treated like one.”
“Well, I’m sorry, mister, but I gave you a perfectly good check. And if
you’re offended by something as silly as all that, that’s between you and
the bank. I can’t help you.”
So Nat climbed back in his pickup truck, where Mrs. Nat was waiting. They talked about the situation. They could, she said, wait until they got
home and put the check in their own bank account.
But they needed cash to buy things in the City. Besides, Nat just had
his stubborn up now. So the two of them drove back to the bank, and this
time went to the drive-up window.
The smiling young teller smilingly passed the stamp pad out through the
pneumatic tube. Nat passed the pad over to Mrs. Nat. And Mrs. Nat pulled
off a sandal and rolled her big toe over the pad and dabbed the check with it.
This would have worked out just fine if the terminal acne case hadn’t
happened to walk by the window just then.
The teller, it seems, had broken The Rules. No non-customers at the drive up window. No fingerprint pads handed out to drivers.
Smirking out the window at Nat while giving the teller little sideways
your-ass-is-grass grimaces, Acne-man shoved the uncashed check back in the
tube and swooshed it out to Nat, who slumped in the seat, looking ancient
A little time eased by.
Then Nat shuffled back into the bank, check in hand, and hat figuratively in hand, though it was still, in proper cowboy manner, on his
head. The supervisor and a security guard watched for trouble, but Nat humbly waited his turn, then humbly nudged the check across the counter.
This time, when the teller slid the pad out for his print, he rolled his
thumb without a word of protest.
Finally he took his money and shuffled out of the bank, watched by the
grinning supervisor. Sometimes a man just knows when he’s been beaten.
But then again, sometimes he doesn’t. Before he climbed back into the
driver’s seat and handed the cash into Mrs. Nat’s care, he neatly re-stowed
the sheet of coarse grade sandpaper and the wire brush back in the toolbox.
The thumb would be sore for a while, it’s true. But ranchers are used to
more pain than that in pursuit of their independent life.