Sunday, November 1, 2015

Fun With Fractions

Bijoux will like this one. . .

Recently, I got a letter from one of the oil companies with whom I hold a credit card.  They were returning my check to me because their bank had returned it to them, saying that the amount of the check was not clear, and would I please send them a replacement check?  WTH??  They helpfully included the offensive check with their correspondence, so I could see for myself the nature of the confusion.  The amount I owed was $5.75 (we use pre-paid cards for 99% of our gas purchases; but every so often, we run out on the pre-paid card before we can reload it, so we end up putting small amounts on the credit card).  And, in the box on the check, I had duly entered '5.75'.  But - horror of horrors! - on the amount line, I had written 'Five and three-quarters', rather than the 'canonical' form of 'Five and 75/100'.  Because, you know, sometimes you just want to have a little fun (and honestly, as fun goes, this ain't so much as all that) and do things a little bit differently, 'cuz that's just how I roll, sometimes.  Anyhow, this was 'unclear' to the bank, so they returned my check to the oil company, and what was the oil company supposed to do?  They just want their $5.75, and I want to give it to them.  But the bankers were being obtuse morons (I'd like to say they were being anal-retentive obtuse morons, because of how it connotes infantile toilet-training issues, and it sounds like I'm indirectly calling them a**holes; but I won't. . .)

So I sent them their replacement check (with 'Five and seventy-five hundredths' on the amount line) (I know, I know. . .), along with a photocopy of their letter to me, on which I had copied a quarter (you know, a 25-cent coin), and circled the words 'quarter dollar' on the face of the coin.  In a hand-written note, I said that they should consider changing banks to one which wasn't so easily confused as to whether 'three-quarters' was the same thing as '.75' or not, and the nature of the currency in which they trade, since the bank's stupidity had cost both of us time and aggravation.  Over five bucks - and three quarters. . .

If I knew which bank it was, I'd happily tell the world, but I don't.

Morons. . .


Which reminds of a similar anecdote from several years ago.  I was at the post office.  I don't remember exactly what my business there was; probably I was mailing a package that needed to be weighed, or picking up a package with postage due, or somesuch.  Anyway, the amount I owed was X dollars and 60 cents.  So, in a similarly whimsical mood, I wrote a check for 'X and three-fifths' and handed it to the clerk, along with my ID.  The clerk stared at the check with a withering scowl.  "Three-fifths?" he asked, glaring back at me.  "Why did you write 'three-fifths'?"  Without waiting for my answer, he turned to a woman who I took to be his supervisor, and asked her, "Can he DO that?  Three-fifths?"  The supervisor looked at the check for several seconds, then at me, then back at the check, without saying a word.

At this point, the other folks in line are glaring at me, like, 'What kind of troublemaker are you?  We're all here, just trying to get our packages mailed, and you're causing trouble and holding up the line.  Jerk.'  And I'm wondering if I'm going to need to dive under the marble countertop, 'cuz, you know, here was a postal worker, and he was getting agitated.  I'm sure I was messing up his throughput metrics, and causing trouble for him with his boss.  And all because some flight of fancy had induced me to write 'three-fifths' on my check.

Finally, the boss sighed, gave me another sneering glance, and said, "I guess that 'three-fifths' is the same as 60 cents," and shot me a final 'it's-people-like-you-that-make-guys-like-him-start-shooting' glance.  And everyone else in line breathed easier, and I went on my way, duly chastened.  And I resolved that I wouldn't deal in fifths of dollars anymore (I won't even mention the twenty-cent piece that circulated in the four years 1875-78 - one of the design proposals actually said '1/5 of a dollar' on the back - 'cuz that would only confuse things).

But I will still occasionally, when the right sort of mercurial mischief (or maybe it's the wrong sort) overtakes me, write 'tenths' or 'quarters', or 'one-half' since, you know, those fractions correspond to actual values on the coinage of the realm. . .



  1. Welp, that is indeed interesting! I used to think that banks didn't even look at the dollar line of checks until a friend told me that twice she had a bank refuse to cash a check she received from her FIL because he misspelled some of the numbers (English not being his native language). Crazy, right?

    I have to say, I'd have been annoyed with you at the post office, but I've never NOT been annoyed there.

    1. See, I thought you'd enjoy the whole 'customer relations' aspect of it all. . .

  2. Banks will just about always accept your money, provided there's no ambiguity.
    They have no problem retaining your money when they can complain of a confusing order.
    The written out amount, where you actually have to spell words, is the legal order.
    Leave it blank, they don't pay.

    I'm glad you said "morons" because now I don't have to.

    1. Happy to oblige. . .

      I just keep asking myself what's 'unclear' about 'three-quarters', especially when a 25-cent piece has the words 'quarater dollar' embossed on its face. . .

    2. Some folks equate coins and fractions with apples and oranges, forgetting that .25 is the same as 1/4.

    3. Clearly.

      I mean, I know that NOW. . .


  3. That is unfortunate that the bank didn't nail you with an insufficient funds charge, you scallywag you!

    And yeah, you were on the verge os a postal incident, no doubt. At the very least they could have winged ya just out of principle!

    Most banks do ignore the cursive thing, pretty sure that's why schools want cursive verboten. I usually write the amount in such a form that it can't possibly be accurately read beyond the cents due. Often if the amount is even I'll write "zip/100" just for fun. It amuses me that no one has ever gone after me on any of it ......

    1. See, I don't even write cursive; this was not a legibility issue. It was purely a matter of some bank clerk saying to him/herself, "Three-quarters?? What the hell does he mean by that??

    2. Well, ya know, we all wonder that about you every now and then ... ;-)