A Bank Job: My Work as a Teller in the Bronx

A recent story in The New York Times made the case for why all young people should at least work one summer as a bank teller.

It stirred memories of my years working as a part-time bank teller while going to college.

While I didn’t get those money-management skills that the article suggested would result, I do have a wealth of stories to tell!

I worked at the Independence Savings Bank branch in Parkchester in the Bronx for about four years.

Photo courtesy of Fern Felman

The testosterone-fueled tellers (there were several college-age male tellers, present company included), would spy a pretty woman on line and try to time our transactions so that we would be the one to call “Next!” and have the fair maiden at our window.

Those strategies sometimes called for speeding up the work you were doing with your current customer or walking away briefly from your station to get the timing just right.

We got to know our customers well, many of whom were cops, firefighters, senior citizens and blue-collar working stiffs. One account holder routinely would bring us candy and slip it into the metal coin tray.

The place was populated with a lovable cast of co-workers: There was our Saturday head teller, Mike, an engineer by profession who was a huge “Star Trek” fan.

On Saturdays, he would disconnect the Muzak and pipe in a classic rock station from a radio for those working behind the thick glass windows to enjoy.

Among my colleagues was a guy named Charlie. Charlie was, um, crazy.

At night, when we were the only two tellers working, he would be in a tearing hurry to “prove” — reconcile our cash and the deposits and withdrawals and other transactions — so he could get out and spend time with his girlfriend.

Charlie was short in stature but a wiry guy with a kinetic energy. When he was counting bills, it was a blur of fingers and paper.

Since I was newbie, I was slower and more prone to errors, which would delay Charlie’s exit. (He was my senior, so he had to make sure I was reconciled. In addition, both tellers had to leave at the same time.)

This was a frequent scene:

Charlie hectoring me “Did you prove?! Did you prove?!” And I would get more flustered and prone to making mistakes, which would mean he would yell at me more and I would get more flustered.

Well, one night, not only did I prove, but I did so in record time.

I can still see and hear Charlie going excitedly: “You proved?! You proved?!”

And in a gesture of celebration (or insanity) he picked up one of the cushioned bar stools for tellers and heaved it, legs first, into a wall. The stool’s feet left four distinct puncture marks in the plaster wall.

I was aghast and convinced we would be fired.

Thankfully the next day was a Saturday, and the bank manager on duty was a mellow Irishman named Bob who spied the holes and when I told him what had happened, just chuckled, shook his head and said: “Crazy Charlie.”

The lesson?

Money might not buy you everything, but working with it sure generates some good stories!

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