Red wheelbarrow

There’s a lesson here somewhere. 5/18 Future Shoes hed: Red wheelbarrow dek: There’s a lesson here somewhere. by Michael Finley

I was looking for my wheelbarrow when the phone rang. So much depends on a red wheelbarrow, when it’s spring and all. And you would think you could not misplace something as obvious as a wheelbarrow the color of a stop sign. I looked everywhere: front yard, back yard, garage, that little narrow corridor between the garage and the next property (there should be a word for that–crawlway?). OK, that’s not everywhere, but those places were the prime suspects. I was just coming to grips with the notion that the wheelbarrow was gone–stolen–when the phone rang inside the house.

“Hello, Mr. Finley, this is Judy from the bank. Are you aware that your checking account is overdrawn?”

“It is? Oh, dear.” I overdraw three or four times a year. But they usually send me one of those awful thin letters with the cellophane window. A phone call seemed to be rubbing it in. And did I just say “Oh, dear”?

“I’m afraid so, Mr. Finley. Did you recently write a check for $138,950.00? To Office Max?”

I thought back. I didn’t recall writing a check in that amount. “Ach–someone forged my signature on a check,” I cried into the receiver. “Someone bought $138,950 worth of office supplies with my money!” I was beside myself, which was convenient.

“Possibly,” said the bank office. “But it looks like your name is signed with a rubber stamp.”

That wasn’t good. I own a rubber stamp with my signature on it. It’s for check-signing day, the fifth day of every month.

“Hold on,” I said, booting up Quicken, my handy-dandy financial data tool. Scanning the check register, I saw recent checks written in the amounts of $24.99 (newspaper), $34.95 (bottled water), $138,950 (office supplies), and $12 (class pictures for my kid).

Whoah, back up there. There it was. I had made out, and signed (or stamped) my signature on a check for $138,950 to Office Max. The only notation I made on the check was: “Lexmark carts.”

I had sent all that money to Office Max for four ink-jet cartridges (two black and white, one color).

“Um, I think that’s a mistake,” I said.

“Pretty big one,” said the officer.

I asked her if it was possible to stop payment on the check. “Well, we already paid it. That’s why you’re overdrawn by $137,632.41.”

“Well, what can I do about this?”

“What would you like to do?”

“I’d like to get my money back, so I don’t have to explain this to my wife,” I said.

“If I were you, I’d call Office Max.”

Which is what I did. I got a hold of someone in customer service, and pored out my whole stupid story: How I don’t see things that are up close so good, a problem which I compound when I don’t proofread things as important as checks, and I evidently entered a comma (138,950) instead of a period (138.95) and didn’t stop to read the check, or glance at my check register. And could I have my money back?

No one at Office Max had flagged the check for $138,950 as anything unusual. It’s a Kmart subsidiary, you know. But she said sure, all I had to do was write her a letter explaining the screw-up and including a new check, made out in the amount of $138.95.

Well, I’m here to tell you I learned a big lesson that day about security and such. Rachel never did find out, either, which is just the way I like these things.

But I still had the matter of the wheelbarrow.

It was a bad wheelbarrow, with a tire that wouldn’t stay inflated and handles wrapped in shredded duct tape in a failed effort to keep the wood from giving you splinters. The only identifying mark it had on it was the wear and tear of being left out in the cold eight winters in a row. The actual body of the thing was more or less immaculate; all it ever did was fill with rain.

But here’s the deal. Someone was running a stolen wheelbarrow ring on Saint Paul’s west side, sneaking up to the sides of garages in the dead of night and making off with lawn implements. Wheelbarrows, fertilizer spreaders, weedwhackers, and god knows what all else.

You don’t feel safe anymore. Worse, it makes you wonder about people.

Columnist Michael Finley also writes the monthly Diversions column for ComputerUser magazine.

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