Five Washington institutions are about to take their lumps. In my humble opinion, they all deserve it richly.
Institution One, the Government Employees Insurance Corp., or Geico for short. Helen Gibson, of Northeast, recently discovered that this company sometimes makes strange assumptions.
A few days ago, Helen received her bill for six months' worth of car insurance. The tab: $332.40.
(Yup, I choked too. But this is what car insurance costs these days when you live in the city and you had a fender-bender within the last three years, as Helen did).
Anyway, Helen promptly sat down and wrote out a check for what she thought was the whole amount. But her brain became momentarily disengaged from her fingers, and she accidentally wrote a check for $322.40.
Geico sent Helen a second bill a few days later. They notified her that she still owed them $10. But the total amount due at the bottom of the form was $16.
Puzzled, Helen called Geico to ask for an explanation. The phone-answerer informed her that Geico had considered her $322.40 check a partial payment. So the company added a $3 service charge, after the fact, to Helen's check. Then it tacked on a second $3 service charge to the $10 balance.
Helen asked why it wasn't obvious that the first check had been miswritten. The clerk said Geico can only go by numbers, not by guesswork. So, if Helen wants to stay with Geico, she'll have to fork over a $6 penalty for a $10 balance.
I'm not doubting that Geico has the right to assess service charges. Nor am I doubting that most partial payments are intended as installment payments.
But I will bet you lots of nickels that no Geico customer has ever written a partial payment check that ended in 40 cents, or left exactly a $10 balance on an account.
If Geico has a sense of humor, not to mention a sense of decency, it'll waive the $6 fee. An installment is an installment, but an obvious mistake is an obvious mistake.
Institution Two, Giant Food. Grocery coupons are now as computerized as anything else. Check out of any Giant, and the scanner will read what you have just purchased. Based on that "shopper profile," the machine will spit out coupons for items that you will probably want to buy later.
But as Will Ross, of Bealeton, Va., just discovered, sometimes the computer makes hilarious associations.
Will's dogs were "getting a tad low on vittles," he writes. So Will stopped by a Giant in McLean a few days ago to load up on dog food. Will bought two kinds -- and nothing else.
The cashier handed him a receipt, and two coupons ordered up by the forces of computerdom.
The first was for Skippy Premium Dog Food.
The second was for Future Floor Care.
Institution Three, the D.C. Department of Public Works. These are the folks who write the parking tickets. Alas, they sometimes commit crimes against common sense.
So it went on Sept. 22 in downtown Washington. Daniel Zwicker, of Vienna, parked his car on F Street NW, between 14th and 15th.
The huge building right beside his space used to be the main branch of Garfinckel's. But Garfinckel's has gone to the great parking lot in the sky, and a sign on the front door made that clear. "No Entrance -- Building Closed to Public," it said.
Of course, the parking sign along the curb said "No Parking -- Entrance." But surely the Garfinckel's sign nullified the parking sign, didn't it?
It didn't. Daniel got zapped by a DPW ticket writer for blocking an entrance that's no longer an entrance.
I like Daniel's suggestion for paying his fine. "Do you think I could put the $20 ticket on my Garfinckel's charge card?" he asks.
Institution Four, the National Gallery of Art: Alan N. Schlaifer, of Bethesda, visited the gallery back in June, when the exhibit included prints by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch and drawings by American artist Jasper Johns.
Alan stopped by the information desk in the lobby to ask where he could find the two exhibits. The docent replied:
"You're in luck. The Munches are around the corner. As for the johns, the ladies' are to the left and the mens' are to the right."
Institution Five, none other than The Washington Post. Sometimes, our typographical errors are so terrible that they're delicious. Such was the case with a beaut in the Sept. 29 Real Estate Section.
Under "Montgomery County Home Sales," we reported that a house on Grosvenor Place had sold for $69,000, and that Presidential Savings Bank had given the new owner a 30-year mortgage of $459,000.
As Norman A. Abbott, of Rockville, put it:
"Is it any wonder the banks are going broke?"