LeeAnn's not-even-slightly-sordid tale of emerging from the ladies' room with a bottle of well, never mind, I won't spoil it for you. It does, however, remind me of one of the stranger things I did, once upon a time. (I mentioned it once in passing about five and a half years ago, but didn't go into the gory details.)

Back in the early 1980s, I worked transit, which is a banking term for getting the checks to where they were supposed to go with something resembling expediency. We took in rather a lot of checks some days, enough to fill one of those canvas bags with the giant $ on the side and to keep processing costs down, we encoded them ourselves and presorted them by destination: local, Tulsa, outstate, out of state.

Now a check has a rather long line of magnetic characters along the lower edge. The first set identifies the issuing bank; the second, the individual account. We would add a third, for the amount. Once in a while, one of the encoders (I did that too on occasion) would misread a check and slap the wrong amount on it. This caused an off-balance condition, and once the error was found, the encoding had to be corrected.

MICR-ShieldEnter the wondrous substance known as MICR-Shield. It would remove the stuff we imprinted on the check without affecting the preprinted material. (Actually, once in a while it would take out an account number, but invariably it proved to be on one of those temporary checks they give you before Deluxe or Harlan or whoever gets around to sending you your first full box.) I have no idea what was in it, and don't want to know. Someone did, however, leave an old-style Bic pen with the clear barrel in a bottle of it one weekend; come Monday, the ink supply and the point were intact, but nobody could find the barrel.

All of a sudden this workaday chemical became a Major Hazard, and there was enough water-fountain chatter about it for me to justify a prank. This would require a confederate who was in on the gag: no problem there. The mystery fluid is furnished in brown bottles, the same shade used for hydrogen peroxide. (Whether it's for the same reason or not, I couldn't tell you.) We bought the stuff in case lots. We sabotaged one case: took one bottle, drained it, replaced the contents with tap water, marked the edge in some inconspicuous way, and resealed the case.

Once a week there was Open Discussion, kinda sorta, and to our delight meaning that we wouldn't have to rig the topic list someone asked about whether this MICR-Shield stuff was really, you know, safe. The confederate chimed in with the opinion that it was highly dangerous and that we should switch to, for instance, some sort of correction tape. I scoffed. (Even then I was a good scoffer.) "You think this stuff is dangerous?" I fetched the rigged case, seized the faked-up bottle, and chugged its six-ounce contents. People stared at me as though I were Bruce Banner about to undergo Hulkification.

And no, we didn't switch products. But I did get my transfer out of the department rather sooner than anyone had expected.

The Vent

  22 May 2011

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 Copyright © 2011 by Charles G. Hill