AH, THE wonders of modern banking. One...


AH, THE wonders of modern banking. One of our agents, onbill-paying night, wrote a check for $62.30 to Firestone for car repairs and another check for $325 as an installment to Fireman's Fund on his house insurance. (Note the similarity of first syllables.)

He dutifully wrote two different account numbers on each check and then. . . You got it! He put the two checks in the wrong envelopes.

His mistake did not come to his knowledge until he received another bill from Firestone informing him he had a credit of $262.70 that would be refunded to him in 90 days if he did not use up his balance in merchandise or service by that time.

Alarm bells sounded. Where did the $262.70 come from? A perusal of canceled checks soon revealed that the $325 for Fireman's had whizzed through Firestone's computers and into its account while Fireman's had been content (at least for the moment) with the measly $262.70 intended for Firestone.

In both instances, Maryland National Bank processed the two checks without raising any fuss. Only when Fireman's received a frantic phone call did it allow that, yes, it would appreciate the money due it -- and pronto.

This raises a question: Why do all those companies that send you bills insist on a careful notation on your check of the account number they have assigned you when they don't pay any attention to it or even to the name of the company inscribed? Obviously, all this accounting procedure is meaningless. What counts is the money figure on the check.

The moral of this tale is also obvious: Don't switch checks between Fireman's and Firestone unless your car needs a lot of servicing.

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ANNAPOLIS is fast becoming one of comedian Jay Leno's favorite places -- for jokes.

Recently, the jut-jawed "Tonight Show" host made a crack about Chick & Ruth's Delly renaming a sandwich for Bill Clinton. The other night, he commented on Secret Service agents claiming the Denny's in Annapolis refused to serve them because they were black.

Mr. Leno suggested Denny's change its slogan to "people with discriminating tastes don't eat here, we hire them as managers." Rather than firing the restaurant manager after the incident, he said the chain would really do the public a service if it "fired the cooks." Ta-dum.

Between Annapolis supplying ample monologue fodder and the Pasadena teacher who admitted to having sex with his students on "Geraldo!," Anne Arundel County is in the national spotlight. It is the kind of publicity money can't buy -- nor would anyone want to.

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A SIGN in the window of a Southwest Baltimore hardware store: "Empty your gun and remove your ski mask before entering."

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