"Bob Levey speaking."

"Oh, uh, hi, Bob. I didn't expect to get right through to you."

"Afraid I don't have a secretary, sir. I'll hire one when I make my next million."

"What happened to the first million?"

"Well, there was this horse at Pimlico one day . . . . "

"Come on, Bob. You blew a million on a horse?"

"Well, he could have won, right? Actually, sir, I thought about my first million for so long that I scared it away."

"Scared it away? I didn't know you could scare money away."

"Well, now you know it. And if some bank tries to tell you that's impossible, they're wrong."

"Hey, funny you mentioned banks, because that's what I wanted to talk to you about."

"I'm the opposite of Will Rogers on banks. Never met one I did like."

"That makes two of us, Bob. Especially after what happened to me. OK if I tell you about it?"

"Fire when ready."

"Well, I go in with my paycheck the other day. It's for $350. I need about $200 in cash, so I take a deposit slip and fill in $150 where it says 'Amount Deposited' and $200 where it says 'Cash Back.'"

"Pretty harmless so far. I do that all the time."

"Yeah, but when I get up to the window, the teller takes one look at the check and disappears back to look in some book of records."

"You ever bounce any checks, sir?"

"Never. How can you afford to in this day and age, when it costs you $25 a check? But I often let my balance run down close to zero. And that's what snagged me this time."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, the teller comes back after a couple of minutes and says she can't give me the $200 in cash. I ask why not, and she says 'Because you only have $114 in your account.' So I point out to her that the check is drawn on my employer's account, not mine. And the employer's account is at the same bank. And I'll bet the employer has a heck of a lot more than $200 in his account. The question is whether he's good for it, not whether I am."

"So this went on a while, and she finally called the manager, right?"

"Hey, what are you, Bob, a clairvoyant or something?"

"Fourteen cups of coffee a day has given me magical powers."

"I tell you, it must have. Anyway, the manager comes over and says he's sorry, but that's the bank's policy and it always has been. They'll only give me $114 in cash."

"So then you tried reasoning with the guy on the basis of justice, right? You told him this wasn't the way our founding fathers thought the country ought to be run."

"Nope. What I did was to ask him to go check and see if my employer had $200 in his account."

"Hmmm. Clever. But I'll bet he wouldn't do it."

"I wouldn't have thought he would, either. You know how banks are about giving out information on anybody else's account. But he went and looked it up. Maybe he just wanted to get rid of me."

"What happened then?"

"Well, he came back with one of those syrupy smiles on his face and said, yes, my employer sure did have more than $200 in his account and he would OK $200 in cash for me. But just this once."

"Hey, take it and run, sir. Anytime you get a bank to bend, it's cause for celebration."

"Don't worry. I celebrated. But I'm still wondering why the policy exists in the first place."

"I imagine it's the bank's way of protecting itself against bad checks. If they cash someone else's check, and it turns out to be made of rubber, and you don't have the money in your account, guess who gets stuck?"

"But isn't there a big difference between a check from your mother-in-law and a payroll check?"

"There sure is. Banks ought to advance cash against any payroll check. They'd almost never get burned, and look what it would do for customer relations."

"Thanks, Bob. Hey, give me a call when you make that first million."

"Sure will, sir. I hear there's a horse in the fifth at Pimlico this afternoon . . . . "