Tiny Victory

by Asher Kay

Two years ago my wife and I bought a house. The closing was a nightmare: last-minute changes to the interest rate; sudden additional charges; early-payment terms that didn’t match our initial agreement; etc., etc. We walked out of that closing with a painfully ambivalent mixture of exhilaration, regret, joy, and smoldering anger.

If you’ve ever closed on a house, you’ll know that at the end, the five or six parties present do a sort of accounting. Checks are passed around, numbers added up, comparisons made to expected totals. It’s kind of like having lunch with a bunch of friends who, after the meal, all huddle over the bill, disputing who had the small onion rings and who the large; except that the “friends” are bankers, lawyers and real estate salesmen and the onion rings are your financial well-being.

Anyway, during that little accounting, it was discovered that the numbers just barely didn’t add up. After some discussion, it was decided that the law firm would cut us a check for the difference. It was a comically small amount – less than the price of the aforementioned onion rings – and my wife and I clung to the humor and absurdity of it as a symbol of the ordeal. “Thank you for submitting to financial disembowelment”, the check said to us. “Here’s two dollars and seventy cents”.

We decided not to cash the check, with the petty and vindictive thought that not cashing it might cause them some miniscule amount of pain in the form of an end-of-year accounting mismatch.

As you have never personally experienced the full effect of this particular law firm’s incompetent and uncaring representation, I ask that you not judge me.

We stuck the check in some bulging folder, a sliver of the tortuous verbosity that is the bedrock of humankind’s success and skankiness, and forgot about it.

So today – this is two years later, now – I get a call from the very lawyer who was present at the closing. She tells me that she has a minor but strange matter to discuss with me. There’s a check for two dollars and seventy cents, she says, that we received at the closing but never cashed. Our conversation goes something like this:

LAWYER: I don’t suppose you remember receiving the check?

ME: I can imagine losing track of it in the whirl of chaos.

LAWYER: That’s understandable. What’s going to happen is, we’re going to need to cut you a new check.

ME: Couldn’t you just keep it as a sort of “tip”?

LAWYER: [lengthy silence] Well… It’s possible that we could keep it as a disbursement…

ME: “Disbursement”… That sort of ruins the whole spirit of gratitude that you get with “tip”, don’t you think?

LAWYER: [another long silence] I agree that the whole thing is a little silly, but our ethics requirements —

ME: Your CPA…

LAWYER: — our ethics requirements state that we must cut another check and send you some paperwork to sign.

ME: Hey, I’m all for ethics.

LAWYER: So… we will be sending you a check and some paperwork. Could you please cash the check right away and return the paperwork?

ME: It will be my pleasure. And you know what? I think I’m going to buy me a large onion rings.

LAWYER: [long silence] Thank you, Mr. Kay.

So I guess the question is… should I cash it?

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15 Responses to “Tiny Victory”

  1. Don’t cash it. How much are they giving you? Wait, it’s right there in the post, two dollars and seventy cents. I’ll double it. Don’t cash it.

  2. Just curious, why didn’t you walk away from the closing? Were you trapped in some legal web or so committed to the house that you just had to have it?

  3. Giovanni – I will take that under advisement.

    …Damn. That’s what I should have said to the lawyer. Taking things under advisement sounds so awesomely legalistic. She would have been like, whoa, *I’m* the one who takes things under advisement there, Spunky.

    John – A couple of reasons. One is that the house was very cheap, and I had the feeling that I would easily be able to refinance it in a couple of years. Just call me Nostradamus. Another is that there was already money tied up that I would have needed to fight to get back, if I could get it back at all. The biggest reason, though, is that I had to make the decision on the spot, and I don’t tend to make very good decisions on the spot.

  4. That’s what I should have said to the lawyer. Taking things under advisement sounds so awesomely legalistic

    It’s also a slightly less ambiguous way of saying “no”.

  5. Don’t cash the check. If they come back to you about it, explain that your time bills at a rate higher than the value of the check. If they still think their ethics require you to jump through hoops for them, bill them for how long it takes you to do their paperwork and cash their check.

  6. Nope. I had a check for less than a dollar from fuckingATandfuckingT for years for just that reason. No one ever called me about it though; that’s totally awesome.

    I am so NOT looking forward to the closing when I find my Dream Palace.

  7. Frame it.

    New digs? I’ll look around.

  8. Hi, Noen! Glad you found us – we missed you.

  9. The offer to double the amount and the comment about billing them got me thinking about what my motivation would be if I were to cash it. It obviously has nothing to do with the money. And I can’t really say that I’d be cashing it out of kindness. I guess if I have any sort of picture in my head when I think about not cashing the check, it is the picture of receiving more calls from them, of an increasingly unpleasant nature. I was thinking of striking up a written correspondence with them about the issue and avoiding all direct verbal communication. It probably wouldn’t end up being as funny as I think it would be.

  10. Have you seen that Seinfeld episode where Cramer is hiding from the cable guy because once in a lifetime it is the cable guy that has to wait for him and he’s having all the fun he can with the situation – take the hint.

    P.S. Just as long as they don’t follow you in a van:

  11. This is a great story. If it was me, I’d forget to cash this second check, and I’d consider getting the pair of them framed to display at work. And if it was me, if/when they contacted me again in the future I’d probably say I had no recollection of receiving it but that it’s possible I got it and lost it so they should send me another one.

    If you think about it in terms of the price they charge for their time, you’ve already cost them more then value of the check – probably just in the time it took to have that conversation w/ you on the phone, let alone the other conversation they must have had behind the scenes that led to the lawyer calling you.

  12. Wow that was strange. I just wrote an incredibly long comment but after I
    clicked submit my comment didn’t appear. Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Regardless, just wanted to say great blog!

  13. Talk about tiny victories!

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