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In Which a Secretary Outshines a Police Department

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 07, 2011

No Mormon history content here. Just a little personal history.

BCC’s sidebar links to a Yahoo news report about three incidents (in Utah, Maryland, and New Jersey) where people caused a ruckus by attempting to pay debts entirely in pennies or other small change. In the Utah case, a Vernal man was charged with a misdemeanor for paying a $25 bill with 2500 pennies, because, evidently, the office staff to which he was paying the bill was “alarmed” and “upset.” The man left the office, but the police actually tracked him down and charged him with disorderly conduct. The assistant police chief asserts that the man’s actions served “no legitimate purpose.”

Sheesh. It isn’t often that I outperform anybody in the diplomacy department, but the Vernal business and their police department could take lessons from me this time.

About 25 years ago, I was the entire office staff for an American Fork attorney. One day a very angry young man stormed into the office with a large bag of coins and small bills. He was there, he said, to pay an unjust bill – hundreds of dollars of legal fees awarded by the court to my employer, the divorce lawyer for this young man’s ex-wife. He dumped the coins on my desk in much the same manner, apparently, as the Vernal man did recently in a medical clinic there. Ours was a much larger bill and must have made a much greater mess as coins spilled onto the floor.

The young man dared me to refuse his payment. I smiled and acknowledged that the coins were legal tender, and I would be happy to write him a receipt. I filled out a receipt for $27 and handed it to him.

He exploded when he saw it. “There’s $560 [or whatever it was] there!” he protested.

I smiled apologetically and said I wasn’t very good at estimations. “It looks like about $27 to me. If there’s more here than that, you’ll have to show me by counting it.”

He demanded that I count it. I apologized again and said that I couldn’t do that, but I’d be glad to watch him do it, and even produced some plastic cups to hold the counted coins. I repeated that I was happy to accept his coins as payment, but that I would have to make up the difference to my boss if there wasn’t as much money there as the man said there was.

Angrily he began sliding coins into the cups and counting. He was upset, and his jerky, angry motions sent more coins rolling across the floor. “… 75, 80, 90, $1 …” he spit out.

“Oops!” I said, again very apologetically (I can be very meek and humble when I’m not actually at fault for anything). “I think you counted that nickel as a quarter. Sorry, but you’ll have to start again.” He dumped out the coins and started again.

We went through that routine two or three times, with me being as polite and sympathetic as anybody could wish, as I humbly apologized for my failure to keep up with him.

Finally he stopped and looked at me. “You aren’t going to let me get even with my ex-wife by doing this to you, are you?” he said.

“Not today!” I grinned.

His shoulders sagged, then he returned my grin and began to pick up coins from the floor and to organize it all into piles for systematic counting. I pitched in at that point and helped. We counted for a while, until both of us were laughing at the absurdity of it all. I asked him if the full amount was really there; he said it was; and I wrote out a receipt for the full, uncounted amount. He shook my hand and left, in a much better mood than when he entered.

When my employer came back to the office and I showed him that pile of coins and small bills, he shook his head. He fished out a little of the paper money, then said it was too much trouble to roll the rest of it for deposit in the bank and told me to just take it home with me. I happily complied.

The staff of the Vernal clinic was silly and unimaginative in the way they handled their incident. The Vernal Police Department wasted their time tracking down a man who had really done nothing more than raise his voice and scatter some coins around an office, and squandered the resources of the court that will have to deal with the citation they issued.

There are better ways to deal with upset people. I mean, it’s not like somebody said something stupid in an online discussion, is it? Now that’s serious! :)



22 Comments »

  1. This made me smile. Great work, Ardis.

    Comment by Téa — June 7, 2011 @ 4:59 pm

  2. This is a fun story. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by Maurine Ward — June 7, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

  3. I never tire of hearing good stories well-told. Thanks, Ardis.

    Comment by Ben Pratt — June 8, 2011 @ 4:15 am

  4. Striking a blow for good sense and good humor.A lovely way to start the day. Thanks for the smile.

    Comment by MARJORIE CONDER — June 8, 2011 @ 6:01 am

  5. No Mormon history content here.

    What, 25 years ago isn’t long enough? If the incident had occurred 75 years earlier and involved somebody other than yourself, this post would have been right in line with a lot of your other classics.

    Comment by Last Lemming — June 8, 2011 @ 8:03 am

  6. Thanks for the injection of common sense in a world of people who are lacking it! Way to go Ardis!

    Comment by Cliff — June 8, 2011 @ 8:06 am

  7. Ardis=awesome.

    Comment by SilverRain — June 8, 2011 @ 8:13 am

  8. I’m just too darn lazy to be spiteful. After all, in order to pay with the change, they have to go and procure all the change–insanity! Glad you were able to turn that frowny face upside down, Ardis ;-)

    Comment by Moniker Challenged — June 8, 2011 @ 9:24 am

  9. WTG Ardis! I used to work in traffic court. We had lots o’fun.

    Comment by Nancy M — June 8, 2011 @ 9:38 am

  10. Ardis, striking a blow for common sense, reason, and good will! This will need to be in your autobiography. You are working on one, aren’t you?

    Nice to know that for every dorky office worker in Vernal, there was an Ardis in American Fork, spreading sanity in an otherwise crazy world.

    Comment by kevinf — June 8, 2011 @ 10:27 am

  11. Which is why the penny needs to go the way of the dodo bird and the farthing…

    I suspect that the bishop of my childhood (and his financial clerk) would relate, since I showed up at his office every December with a canning jar full of loose change.

    Comment by Clark — June 8, 2011 @ 11:26 am

  12. I love it.

    Comment by HokieKate — June 8, 2011 @ 1:36 pm

  13. Ardis: What an awesome story. So glad to know he didn’t return an hour later and shoot you.

    Comment by MMM — June 8, 2011 @ 2:30 pm

  14. MMM, above my head was a western painting in a rather unaesthetic position. Beneath the painting was a bullet hole in the wall left by some other client’s ex-husband. Long before my time, though.

    But, hey, I was used to tough gigs. My first job, when I was just 16, was as receptionist in a Las Vegas law office which housed a guy who was trying to unionize Nevada’s prostitutes, and a mob lawyer, as well as my bishop.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 8, 2011 @ 2:47 pm

  15. And he became Senate Majority Leader?

    Comment by Grant — June 8, 2011 @ 2:56 pm

  16. :) , no. Same ward, different men.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 8, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

  17. Ardis…why was your first boss trying to unionize your bishop?

    Comment by Alison — June 8, 2011 @ 4:27 pm

  18. And I was wondering why Grant assumed the Senate Majority Leader was trying to unionize Nevada’s prostitutes…

    Comment by Clark — June 8, 2011 @ 4:30 pm

  19. The mob lawyer isn’t the only wise guy around here!

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 8, 2011 @ 4:45 pm

  20. Nice job, great story! Would that there were more people of common sense and good humor in the world.

    Comment by lindberg — June 8, 2011 @ 5:46 pm

  21. @Clark: Well, he was Nevada Gaming Commissioner. I mean, when you need an honest and chaste lawyer, who ya gonna call?

    Comment by Grant — June 8, 2011 @ 6:04 pm

  22. Well done Ardis. It’s always good to remember the stories when you’ve done well — I’ve found them comforting when I really screw up.

    Comment by Martin — June 9, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

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