Teller Observations (Guest Post by Charlotte Mazurek)

Teller Observations (Guest Post by Charlotte Mazurek)

This week I’ve asked my best friend, Charlotte, to guest write for me. (I’ve been trying really hard to get her to start her own blog so feel free to encourage her on this post!) I hope you enjoy this post as much as I did (which is a lot)!

 

 

When your friend asks you to write a blog post… Your mind goes blank. She’s witty and pointed and she cares deeply and she writes intelligently and somehow I’m supposed to produce content that will seamlessly blend with the careful aesthetic she’s been creating? Impossible. But of course, if she wanted seamless she wouldn’t have asked me in the first place.

I mean we have a lot in common, but we don’t share a brain. In fact right now, in a great tragedy of fate, we don’t even share the same state among these united!

I’m way more verbose. Cornelia is good at getting to the point and sticking to it. I’m more of a… go where the typing leads you kind of person. I like ellipses more too.

And while I also work in customer service, being a bank teller is pretty different from your average retail job. I mean, the “product” in retail banking is money. Well technically various ways of sorting, moving, exchanging, and protecting money. But still money. So it can be very weird. Because I spend all day handling what I’ll be paid in.

The little pieces of cotton/paper/plastic blend that we label currency are valuable. Yet they’re probably the most annoying part of my job. They have to be counted over and over again. They have to be sorted, faced, and kept track of at all times. Losing a single one is frustrating and anxiety-inducing. Because you didn’t just lose a piece of paper, you lost all the value that paper had and there’s no way to get it back.

It also feels like a never-ending cycle. People constantly want to exchange bills for bigger or smaller ones. It’s graduation season now so people request fifties and hundreds, crisp ones preferably. They get tucked into cards and delivered into waiting hands. Then those same waiting hands deliver them back to the bank mere days later, seeking electronic credit, or smaller, somehow more spendable, bills.

Breaking hundreds is a very common request. Plastic is more popular for moving larger sums. Places don’t always accept hundreds and when they do the cashier might give you that look that says “you just swallowed half the change in my drawer and now I have to pray the person behind you has exact change and I’m not happy”.

Yet there are also customers who ask if we have any bigger bills. Five hundreds or thousands, bills discontinued in 1969 because there wasn’t demand. Who knows, maybe with inflation they’ll pull a phoenix. But for now I just have to shake my head sadly and offer them the strange blue bills with the weird plastic strips that less cash-spendy customers marvel at. When did they start threading plastic into our bills? When criminals figured out microprinting…

I’ve gotten good at handling cash. I can guess with decent accuracy how much the stack of ones someone just handed me will be worth. I can strap bills quickly, I’m good at facing them, and as long as there aren’t any odd fifties I’m great at counting cash back too. Sadly there’s not a lot of wonder left in it for me.

Not unless we take in an impressive amount of ones, which sometimes happens, armfuls of currency to be strapped. Or when we’re handed oddities: bills from the time before we switched from greenbacks to green/purple/orange/bluebacks. Bills with smaller print and more floral embellishments. Benjamin Franklins who wear shag rugs around their shoulders and peer formally out of their miniature portrait ovals.

They’re not really thaaat rare. Not rare enough to be worth more than face value. But they’re different and sometimes they’re pretty old. The oldest I’ve had so far was a hundred from 1952. That’s a long time in circulation. I didn’t mute it, even though it was old and pretty frail. I didn’t have the heart.

“Muting it” is slang for labelling currency mutilated aka no longer fit for circulation. We sell mutilated money back to the federal reserve and they destroy it, because they’re the only ones who legally can. Of course our term “mutilated” is not quite the same as the U.S Treasury’s, which I just googled to doublecheck. They handle more of the “I can’t even quite tell what this is anymore/it might fall into multiple pieces in a strong wind” situations. We handle more of the “this bill was folded so much it ripped down the middle but I taped it back together so it’s all good now” type of thing. Or the ever-popular weird stains and general gunky-ness that we don’t feel comfortable giving back to customers.

It’s almost sad, muting money. Sometimes I feel bad for the ones worn soft, so that they’re more creases than anything else. They’ve lived long lives, or short hard ones. Some ones from 2009 look newer than beat up ones from 2013. It’s the luck of the draw and in the end I can decide if I want to let that rough-around-the-edges fighter push back into the fray or lay him peacefully to rest.

No one else will make that decision. Few people are willing to give up the value locked inside that paper shell just because it’s beat up. Money isn’t free, you know; that’d be some kind of paradox. So customers just keep taping those bills together and offering them up to us for CPR or euthanasia while they walk away with a fresher, fitter companion.

There are lives in the balance. Not just the working lives of bills, but real lives that I affect with my work as I type strings and strings of numbers into a computer. If I forget a zero someone could be shorted a thousand dollars. If I switch two numbers the wrong person might get that paycheck. Things can be undone and corrected, but I do my best every day to do things right the first time.

Because I’m part of the heart that keeps our country’s lifeblood pumping. Money is crucial in the system we created to reign in the chaos of life. Functional currency can make or break a society. We count on those bills to buy us the things we need to live. The things we use to have fun. The services that keep us happy and healthy.

And it’s cool to be part of that system. The bills I hand off go so many places that I may never see. Customers tell me they’re going to Peru, Las Vegas, Ethiopia. The bills I give them may never return to the continent where they were printed. Or they may only make it to the nearest international airport. Who knows?

It’s one of the things I like about being a teller. I play a minor role, but one that’s part of a great many stories. And as a writer that’s something I’m bound to enjoy.

 

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Charlotte Mazurek is a poet whose writing earned her a full-tuition undergraduate scholarship. She has taught creative writing to inmates at the Chippewa Correctional Facility and served as Poetry Editor for Snowdrifts, the undergraduate literary journal at Lake Superior State University. She lead the English Club as Vice President and was also active on campus in Pep Band and several theater productions.

 

Being Volunteered

We have a saying in our house that we don’t always volunteer for things, sometimes we are volun-told. That means we weren’t asked if we wanted to participate/work in the extra activity, we were just told to do it. For example, we usually help our church with the summer kid’s program (Vacation Bible School or VBS). My mom would talk to the director of VBS and when a need came up that she thought we could reasonably fill she would just say, “Oh, Cornelia can do that!” I wasn’t there to decide to do it. She just decided I would and then she would let me know later. I was volun-told because I was committed but I hadn’t volunteered myself.

There have been times I had a bad experience being volun-told but on the whole I feel like I’ve had more positive than negative times. Actually, many times I’ve been glad to be volun-told because I really would’ve missed out on some fun stuff.

If I’m given the option I will almost always sit on the sidelines. I prefer to not inconvenience myself with something I may find marginally uncomfortable. Hard work? Yeah, I avoid that when I can. Not that I’d say I’m a very lazy person. I feel like I know when the effort needs to be made and I make it. But give me the option to do nothing or as little as possible and I’ll take it. It’s really something all of us do at some point because we prefer the path of least resistance. We naturally want to avoid added strain.

Honestly, I think we need to volun-tell people more often than we do. It seems like these days we’re terrified of stepping on anyone’s feelings that we barely even ask someone to do something. It’s like “Hey, I kinda need someone to help out in the church nursery so maybe if you’re not, you know, busy, or anything and if you don’t mind, and if you feel like it, could you possibly be available?”

Surely that conveys the urgency of your request because in reality the only people helping in nursery have been you and one other person who only shows up every 3rd Sunday on a full moon. So you actually REALLY need someone to help out. Perhaps instead it should be phrased like, “I need someone else for nursery. Can you please commit to one Sunday a month?”

And that’s not even being volun-told. Not really. It’s just pointedly asking. Being volun-told is something only people really close to you can do because otherwise the person in charge isn’t going to believe them. I and my siblings were volunteered by our parents for plenty of things. I suppose you could also be volunteered by your spouse or even your best friend or a teacher (if it’s class related) because it’s basically anyone who appears to have some authority over/with you.

I’ve learned to live with being volun-told and like I said, most things have been largely positive. I think that, as a child and a teen, it was good for me because I gained more experiences. If my parents had given me a choice I probably would’ve never gone outside or participated in the world and been afraid to do anything. I’m not saying we should start volunteering people for eighty-thousand things. I’m more or less saying that there are times when you don’t realize you can do something until you start doing it. I didn’t realize I could wrangle a small group of children and lead them around the church to different activities until my mom said she signed me up to be a helper for VBS when I was in high school. I didn’t realize I had decent customer service skills until I started one of my first jobs and had to actually deal with people (I guess since I applied for the job I was volun-telling myself but there was outside pressure that I needed to start working so I’m counting it).

Sometimes you just need a little push in the right direction. You may learn new skills or learn that you had the skills all this time. Or you might also fail miserably. But in the very least, you might learn that you really DON’T want to do that thing with your life and that alone is valuable to you.

What if I Had Terrible Taste as a Child and Everyone Was Just Polite and Didn’t Tell Me?

What if I Had Terrible Taste as a Child and Everyone Was Just Polite and Didn’t Tell Me?

As I’ve been reading through my bookshelf I’ve read some of my older books. They’re stories I really enjoyed in middle school or high school. There’s one series I own a good portion of, and had wanted to eventually have the whole thing, that’s called Mysteries in Our National Parks. It was put out by National Geographic and I know it continues past book 9 (which is as far as I read) but I don’t know if it’s still going today.

I remembered a lot of what had gone on in these middle school level books and it was really nostalgic to just sit down with one after so long. I remember loving these books. They were interesting and intense and I enjoyed them a lot. But going back to them was really weird.

You probably don’t think too hard about how advanced you’ve become as a reader until you read something from your past that you loved but now can’t stand. I ended up only reading one of the books (I have 9 of them) before deciding to give up the whole set. The first book is about a poacher who is shooting wolves in one of our lovely National Parks. Obviously, the three kids eventually solve the mystery of who it is and immediately bring them to justice. Good story, simple, there’s some family drama thrown in there to round it out. It’s a solid story and written well enough. But it’s so far below my reading level now that I had a hard time getting through just one book.

It makes me worry about recommending a book that I haven’t read since high school or middle school. Maybe it was actually terrible and I just didn’t realize it? Maybe that book I hated is something I would actually like now? What if the character I loved is really poorly written and I didn’t know enough to see that? Movies are even worse. What if the animation was actually garbage? What if my 8 year old self completely misinterpreted that scene?

I’ve started prefacing recommendations with, “I really liked it but I haven’t read/watched it in a while.” Then I’m at least covered if it’s actually terrible.

I get so nervous to rewatch movies sometimes or when I want to reread a book (which is rare but with my resolutions this year I’m doing it) because what if I hate it? What if I get through the whole thing and my tastes have changed so much that it doesn’t mean anything to me anymore? What if that thing I loved so much as a child is now something I’m going to despise? That character I thought was so funny is now really annoying. The parent I found to be completely unreasonable is now the only one making sense. I see now the bad guy’s plan is ridiculous and convoluted. etc. etc. etc.

I have a book series on my shelf right now that I LOVED reading in early high school. I am terrified to read it now because I’m worried I won’t like it anymore. I’ve been stalling, avoiding it in favor of other books I’m not as attached to, just in case I hate it.

It’s such a weird feeling to come back to something. It’s like catching a glimpse of your past self but from the perspective of someone not emotionally involved. I remember these stories but it’s hazy enough that I don’t feel as attached to the book but more so to the memory. You become way more objective as you grow up and suddenly being confronted by a thing that feels a million years ago is disconcerting at least. My expectations are easily subverted when it comes to rereading books because it’s not something I even did a lot. I’d want a copy of a book for myself just to have it or so then I could lend it out for others to enjoy.

But now I’m being confronted by all these past stories that meant so much to me but when I read them now they’re just… not as powerful. It feels like I’m wasting the stories on myself because I’m just not in the same place I was when I first read them.

I know someone out there is going to feel the same way as me about this. Nostalgic but also a bit judgmental of your past self because at some point all I can think is, “How could I possibly have enjoyed this?” But then there’s always the possibility I’ll love it even more reading it now and that I missed out on things because I lacked perspective. I’ll keep reading through my shelf but I may be scrambling at the end of the year when I have only my absolute favorites left and I’m still paranoid I’ll hate them!

You’ll Always Be Uninformed About Something

The world is moving fast and I’m living my life in a little town in Ohio paying off student debt. I don’t have time to keep up on every political or national story.

I have some pretty political friends on my Facebook. Some I agree with and some I don’t. Sometimes a friend will post something and I’ll watch the short video or read the paragraph and realize how much exists outside my own perspective. Sometimes, when I disagree, I want to start a discussion. Usually I don’t. I’ll just move on. I’m confident that my view is solid but I don’t feel like proving it at the time. I’m tired from work or maybe it’s a topic I have a strong opinion on but suddenly realize I don’t know a lot about. So I adjust my opinion to a more quiet opinion in the future, remind myself to research later, and keep scrolling.

There was one week… I started getting into comment discussions. I call them discussions because I really try to have a discussion and not a shouting match through the keyboard. I saw a few things I disagreed with and knew something about so I commented and gave my opinion on several posts.

I realized something pretty quickly about this strategy of sharing: it got me worked up for no gain. I got angry and upset over other people’s opinions about politics and news because I thought they were wrong. I didn’t gain anything from that. Well, I gained anxiousness. I was always waiting for someone’s response. Thinking up what they might say back and what I would rebut them with. Constantly checking Facebook notifications and hoping that when they responded I’d have time immediately to give them a healthy dose of reason and logic. But sometimes there would be no response at all and I’d be left waiting for what felt like months (in reality a few days) for that argument that wasn’t coming.

That’s really what had happened to me. When I was responding and commenting on almost everything I had an opinion about, I stopped looking for a discussion and started looking for a fight. It strikes me how easy it is to do that. I have a particular friend on Facebook who I went to school with. She’s a pretty great person and we got along pretty well. She and I have VERY different views on many topics. I don’t post a lot to Facebook about my political views but she tends to share a decent number of posts that reinforce her own views.

We’ve had a few discussions (yes, discussions. We’ve never dissolved into shouting at each other and I really appreciate hearing her thoughts and opinions because she presents herself in a an even-mannered and reasonable way). I think that week I had started something with her and somewhere in the middle of the conversation I just stopped. I looked at what I had been writing to her and it had become more and more angry. I wasn’t in the right mindset to respond anymore so I didn’t. I chose to keep my opinion to myself because I wasn’t prepared to defend it like an adult. I was ready to mudsling and shout and use irrational arguments to make my points.

It’s so easy to look at recent news and immediately have a strong opinion. When you see someone who has a strong, opposite opinion from yours it’s easy to get angry.

“They’re so blind! How can they believe these lies?”

“What a heartless person to agree with this policy!”

“I guess they don’t care about anyone but themselves!”

Part of me just stops caring about the news. Like, it’s just going to make me angry or sad so why bother with it at all? I’m just another uninformed American in the vast sea of the uninformed world. It’s incredibly difficult to keep up to date on everything. You would have to be reading or watching the news constantly then you’d need to do some of your own research to confirm their sources are accurate. That’s like more than a full time job. I don’t know anyone who has time for that.

So most people, I think, tend to stay up to date on a few things. They follow some stories and research some policies and overall know some things generally. Some. Some things. No one can be one hundred percent, fully informed about everything going on in the world.

But you’re usually informed about what you really care about. I study the Bible because I want to know as much as I can about it. It’s my core. I keep up on a lot of pro-life stories because it’s something I believe very strongly in and it’s a core value for me. I like hearing about advances in environmental awareness/care but I don’t always have strong opinions on it so I’m not always investigating each individual change.

Pick your battles. You don’t have to know everything about everything. Be willing to discuss and not yell because many things are connected. Maybe that person who knows a lot about European history is going to shed some light on why a policy you really care about isn’t enforced as well as another one. For the most part, our opinions are just opinions. They’re not going to greatly affect the world at large. If you stay civil you can learn from each other. I’ve never come away from an argument thinking that I understood the other person’s view better but I have come away from a good discussion with more understanding and that’s what really counts.