There's High Finance, Then There's Slow Finance

11/16/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Slice o' Life No. 682. File Under: Too Wimpy to Survive.

So there I am, last Saturday afternoon, pulling up to the drive-thru ATM. It's a perfect late-summer day. It's also my lucky day: There's only one car ahead of me.

Actually, there's only one car ahead of me -- and one pedestrian. There's a guy standing there. Mid-40s maybe, in a t-shirt, shorts and sandals. He's waiting to use the drive-thru, too.

No problem -- I've done that myself from time to time. Call it a walk-thru ATM. So I've got two customers ahead of me.

Except that the guy on foot is waving me past.

"Go ahead," I tell him. "You were here first." No problem.

"I'm not ready yet," he tells me. He still has to fill out his deposit envelope.

Fair enough. (I tried.) And I pull ahead, and pull to a stop a non-intrusive distance from the other car. In a minute or so, the driver is done with her business and drives off. I put my car in gear and start to roll forward.

"I'm ready now."

It's the guy on foot. Whatever he had to do with his deposit envelope, he's done it. Can he reclaim his place in line? Absolutely! No problem.

So the guy crouches in front of the machine, punches the keys, slides the envelope into the slot. When he's done, he looks in my direction.

"I'm sorry. One more. I'm sorry." He also needs to make a withdrawal.

"Hey," I tell him, a smile on my face. "You're just doing what the rest of us are doing: Put money in, take money out." No problem.

"I'm sorry," he says, and punches a few more keys. Out pop the dollars, and I'm ready to roll.

"One more." he mumbles. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry."

I raise my palm -- no need to apologize. One extra transaction isn't going to ruin my day. (It's a beautiful day.)

He punches a few more keys, and now he's saying "I'm sorry" even while he's doing his punching. He's also muttering something about how frustrating it is to get money from this machine, although he's actually getting money from this machine. I'm the one who isn't getting money from this machine.

By now, there's a car in my rear-view mirror, and the thought crosses my mind: What if the machine runs out of money? It's been known to happen on a weekend afternoon.

"I'm sorry," he saying. "One more?"

"Do it," I tell him. I can feel my smile tightening. This is -- what? -- the fourth "One more"? The fifth? It's hard to keep track, because the "One more"s and the "I'm sorry"s have started coming in a continuous stream now, and it's impossible to know when one transaction ends and the next one begins. I can only imagine what the driver in my rear-view mirror is thinking. Maybe he's thinking it's a beautiful day, and he's not in a rush, and no problem.

Or maybe he's about to go homicidal.

I'm not about to go homicidal. I'm the mildest of men, and I'm simply being my normal neighborly self. Accommodating. Flexible. I can always --

"One more?"

"Now you're taking advantage."

Who said that?

I said that. I actually heard the words coming out of my mouth. Nothing angry. Nothing threatening. A simple statement of fact.

And he leaves. Just like that. All it took was a little bit of standing up for myself.

I'm the mildest of men.

But even a patsy has a breaking point.

Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at