Archive for February, 2010

Breaking with tradition

Friday, February 26th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

If my aunt, Sister Kathleen, were here right now, she’d probably slap my hand with her ruler. And I’d totally deserve it. You se, I fell of the Lenten wagon.

Now, don’t jump to the conclusion. I didn’t break down and buy any books, as tempting as that is. I’ve still stayed faithful to that Lenten vow. My transgression came during lunch, when I ordered – and polished off – a cheeseburger. That’s right. I ate meat on Friday. I know, I’m a bad Catholic. But I assure you, there were extenuating circumstances. Because today was the end of Friday Lunch as we know it.

Friday Lunch. I remember well the end of my first work week at the paper, when I was indoctrinated into this, perhaps the longest standing of Evening Sun traditions. Or at least one of the few we’re free to talk about in public.

At precisely 12:30 p.m. each Friday, the Evening Sun staff embarks en masse for our weekly lunch date. New staffers learn early – and usually the hard way – not to infringe on this sacred tradition. We need that time, you see, to relax and regroup after a busy week and prepare ourselves for all the news that is yet to come.

In the summer, these sometime lengthy repasts typically take place on the deck at Canasawacta Country Club. The rest of the year, Fred’s Inn is our Friday home, where our favorite waitress Patty is always eager to cater to our every whim.

But that wasn’t the case today. Oh, we made our way to Fred’s as usual, but this time Patty wasn’t there to greet us.

We’d heard rumors and rumblings over the last week or two, that she was no longer in the restaurant’s employ, but none of us wanted to believe it. But today, as we were handed menus by a new waitress (the admittedly very pleasant Honey), we knew it to be true. Michelle, long a staple behind the bar at Fred’s, confirmed it for us.

It’s hard to wrap my head around the fact that Patty won’t be a part of our Friday Lunches any more. You see, she never had to ask what we were eating or drinking. She just knew. (No, she wasn’t clairvoyant. We’re just creatures of habit.)

Seeing one tradition disappear into dust, I broke another. Jeff suggested that I give something else up for Lent in addition to the ban on buying books, as penance, I guess.

But maybe giving up Friday Lunches with Patty is enough of a penance. Unfortunately, we’ll all be stuck with it even after these 40 days are up.

Bye, Patty. We’ll miss you.

Friday Lunch just won’t be the same without you.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa

The Great Snownado

Thursday, February 25th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

I didn’t need a weather bulletin or a phone call to tell me school was closed this morning. I just had to look outside and see that the plow hadn’t been by yet. As I drove to work over that still snow-covered road, my suspicions were confirmed as the radio announcer reeled through a list of school closings as long as my arm.

I wasn’t surprised, since I could see with my own eyes how quickly the heavy snow was accumulating not only on the road, but on every other available surface as well. And thanks to the Twitter updates so graciously provided by Norwich’s Emergency Management Office, I knew more was on the way.

But I still had to laugh when I heard that the City of Norwich offices were going to be closed for the day. I mean, after all, this IS Upstate New York. We have actually seen snow before. It’s not like we’re DC or Dallas – unaccustomed to anything but a light dusting.

And, until now, I’d always thought we were above inventing ridiculous monikers for storms – like “snowicane,” or “snownado.” Honestly, those kinds of blatant attempts to induce panic are just uncalled for. Not to mention a little too Charlie Brown for me. (Like: Oooh, look kids! It’s the Great Snownado, and his sidekick, Snowicane Sue.)

It has been awhile since we’ve been hit with a major storm, though. And by the sheer number of single and multiple car accidents I heard come over the scanner this morning, I’d say we may be a little out of practice.

My Explorer might be starting to show her age, but there is nothing wrong with her all-wheel drive. And I’ve driven in the snow all my life, but that doesn’t mean I don’t exercise caution out there. Of course, it’s not always the conditions you need to worry about as the other people on the roads.

After we got word that there would likely be a road closure later in the day, Jeff gave me the okay to skate out early. (What can I say, I’ve got the longest commute.) I took him up on his offer, but I felt a bit like a pansy doing it. Especially since Route 12 was perfectly clear as I headed out.

It was all so beautiful, though, particularly the snow covered branches drooping over the Chenango River. I couldn’t resist stopping to take some pictures.

Once I hit my road, I was happy that I’d decided to head home early. It was pretty treacherous. But equally gorgeous. So I had to snap some more pictures. After I got home I went tromping through the woods on my snow shoes and took even more. It was all very “winter wonderland.”

The last time I remember the powers that be closing the roads – during the “Blizzard of ‘93” – we had something like 3 feet. We’re not even close to that. The snow is still coming down, but we’re not really snowed in. Even though technically, as the roads are closed, we are.

I’m making the most of it, curled up with my laptop by the fire, watching the Olympics (those men’s aerials blow my mind!) and enjoying some homemade curried chicken soup.

Yep. Life is good.

I say, let it snow.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Strange occupational moments

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
Tyler Murphy

So at around 10 a.m. yesterday I stood outside the Broad Street Tavern. The weather was nice and all of downtown including the sidewalk was draped in the bright morning sun. The bar was closed and I paced slowly back and forth looking for traces of blood left over from this weekend’s knife assault that sent six people to the hospital. A local news station had broadcast a dried pool of blood and crushed cigarette butts a day earlier and I was here to see if any photographic potential still remained.

I nudged piles of dried blood and debris here and there smearing small tracks of dark paste along the pavement but there was nothing worth a picture. Feeling slightly disappointed I was away for the weekend and missed a significant news event in my backyard I realized how strange an occupational moment I was having. Although in the past wiping a stabbing victim’s day old blood off my dress shoes might have given me pause it’s only one of a number of things I’d say where a first for me since I took this job.

A small town reporting position that has seen a lot of big time crimes in the last three years, relatively speaking of course. There are certainly areas where these kinds of things happen every day but this isn’t one of them.

Later that day I’d find myself with an older man and his two sons, both in their mid twenties, as they helped to push my car onto the snow covered roadway. I was dispatched to Hunt’s Pond in New Berlin to take a handful of pictures for some upcoming stories since the governor announced the park was on the state’s chopping block a few days ago.

If you’ve never been to Hunt’s Pond it’s a beautiful place and a bit treacherous in the winter months as I found out. The roads into the park are scarcely plowed and the only path cut through the drifts yesterday was a dozen or so tire tracks from ice fisherman and their pick-ups. I pulled a little too far off the narrow roadway and had a tough time getting back on. Luckily the good hearted outdoorsmen lent a hand.

But before all that I clumsily walked a few of the game trails in my suit and tie snapping iconic state park pictures of landscapes, benches, signs, pavilions, and of course the frozen pond. The entire place was coated in a shell of thin ice, even the pine needles. Clumps of sound absorbing snow were nestled in almost every tree top and at points nothing man made could be seen in any open direction. I could hear the distant remarks of men out on the ice, less than a dozen several hundred yards away. Their words were softly spoken but there was no other sound to be heard. I tormented myself with the idea of quitting my job and going ice fishing, it seems so long since I had visited such a desolate and peaceful piece of country. Compared to this morning’s search for signs of violence along Broad St. this was the complete opposite side of another strange occupational moment.

Last week I sat through a two day jury trial of a man accused of felony driving while intoxicated. Although the case itself is not so glamorous when compared to some of the other crimes working their way through the court system it was an incredibly well prosecuted and defended case. District Attorney Joseph McBride squared off against a private defense lawyer Jeffrey Leibo of Syracuse. (Mr. DWI Guy’s firm).

Articulate debate and clever turns of phrase were parried at just about every aspect of the trial. Both closing arguments before the jury were among some of the best I’ve heard and I felt myself convinced immediately following each argument that their side must be the just one. I’m glad in this case to have been a spectator and not a juror. Watching a well executed trial in local court, especially one of the more mundane, can truly inspire a faith in the system. The man was found not guilty of felony DWI but guilty of DWAI, a misdemeanor. Kind of a win for the defense but not a loss for the prosecution. The middle road verdict reflected the equal talent of both attorneys and their presented cases.

Today I have no idea what to expect. I’ve identified three of the four stabbing victims. Maybe I’ll give one a call or perhaps the bar’s owner and just see what they say. There’s a teen pregnancy story in the works and a review of the Norwich City Police Department’s activities in 2009, not to mention a climbing number of interesting court cases. Each topic is filled with just as many chances for unusual occupational moments as yesterday.

You never know what to expect these days.

TBD…or To Be Decided

Tuesday, February 23rd, 2010
Brian Golden

I’ve been covering the Tops/P&C story ever since I began writing for The Evening Sun in early December, and I’ve received dozens of e-mails, phone calls, and been stopped countless times while out and about, concerning my thoughts and the potential closing of the downtown grocery.

About a week ago, I was seriously tiring of checking the two mostly-reliable web-sites that have semi-consistantly reported updates of the situation. After several hundred fruitless searches in a single afternoon I can honestly say I was burnt out. I went home that night convinced that there must be some way to put the proper pieces together and at least try to come up with a conclusion. So I began my investigation.

Throughout this entire ordeal, Tops’ officials have stressed that only a handful of stores will close, and that they have nothing but the best interests of their newly acquired employees in mind, which is great, but I’m sure said employees would really like to know what’s going on, I know I would. What I find extremely interesting is the fact that Tops has already announced the closure of four stores (a P&C in Hornell, two Bi-Lo stores in Pennsylvania and a P&C in Vermont) as it nears the end of its 30 day store evaluation. In my book, that would constitute about a “handful” of stores, which poses the question, how many hands are we really filling here?

Tops has already expressed that the North Country stores in Ogdensburg, Watertown, Gouverneur, Canton, West Carthage, Massena and Potsdam are outside of its geographic footprint, so I guess we can potentially add those locations to our handful. Add to that the Frewsburg and Lakewood stores, which Tops also has no interest in, and we’re over two handfuls.

But what I found truly interesting came from the Department of Labor. All ten of the afore mentioned stores have one thing in common, in Penn Traffic’s Workers Adjustment and Retraining Notification (WARN) Act notice (a requirement by law), in the column labeled “WARN extension will state”, these stores do not have a date of February 20 or 27, they simply have “TBD”, or to be decided. Interesting, I thought, could it be a coincidence?

Further perusal of the document turned up seven other TBD’s in New York State, including Bath (which already has a Tops), two stores in Ithaca (which already has a Tops), Hornell (already announced closing), Homer, Dunkirk (already has a Tops) and of course, Norwich (didn’t we used to have a Tops?).

All in all, these 16 stores employ approximately 823 union, and 34 non-union, hard-working New Yorkers. Can anybody say busy day at unemployment offices throughout the state?

Now I admit I could be way off with this theory, yet while there is no hard evidence that all 16 of these stores will close, I find it extremely difficult to believe that we’ve seen the end of all this. It just seems a little too perfect to me that the majority of the stores I’ve listed are all outside the “geographic footprint”, and are all listed as TBD.

I wonder if the Vermont and Pennsylvania Department of Labor web-sites have any relevant information?

Time for some more investigation.

A Farewell to Millie’s

Friday, February 19th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

It has been more than a decade since I last ventured into the tiny red caboose which has been home to Millie’s diner for basically as long as I’ve been alive. Yet, like so many others I feel the need to bid farewell.

For nearly three and half decades, Millie’s has been a fixture in Norwich.   I was never one of the regulars who frequented the place for breakfast or dinner, but I’ll admit to having stumbled in more than a time or too after a night out on the town.

For some reason, the regular laws of business didn’t seem to apply to the establishment, perched at the corner of Hubbard and East Main. Anywhere else in the world, the place’s diminutive size would have been a detractor. But not at Millie’s. There, the hole-in-the-wall feel and the signature blend of artery-clogging grease and attitude served with your meal, was just part of the overall charm.

Most business owners subscribe to the philosophy that the customer is always right, but not Millie. In her establishment, it was her way or the highway. As anyone who ever dared use foul language within those grease-covered walls can surely attest.

At no time was this policy put to the test more than on the Friday and Saturday night’s when Millie’s catered to the late night crowd. After the bars closed, Millie’s was the place to go and it was always jammed pack. (If you never experienced one of those early morning breakfast runs, just think of the way sardines are packed in a can and you’ll get the idea.)

Now, you’d think that many intoxicated patrons in such a confined space would spell trouble. But, again, not at Millie’s. You knew that if you weren’t on your best behavior, you could kiss any chance of getting served good-bye. In fact, I’ve often wondered if Millie herself might have been the inspiration for Seinfeld’s famed Soup Nazi episode.

Going out in Norwich wasn’t the same after Millie discontinued those late night hours. Not that I blame her. While I’m sure all those inebriated customers provided good entertainment value over the years, it had to get old after a few decades.

When the For sale Sign first went up, my colleagues and I speculated about what would happen to the old place. I’m glad for her, and for Norwich, that she was able to find someone willing to make a go of it.

While I certainly wish the new owner the best, I have to say that when Millie’s closed its doors for the last time yesterday, hearts broke all over the county – and beyond. It truly was the end of an era.

Come next Tuesday, the place will be known as the Caboose Diner. But for me, and plenty of others, it will only ever be Millie’s.

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Fat Tuesday

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010
Melissa Stagnaro

Today is Fat Tuesday. But you might now it by another name – Mardi Gras. (Which, in case you were wondering, is French for, well, Fat Tuesday.)

Most people associate Mardi Gras, unsurprisingly, with New Orleans and the 12 days of drunken, beaded debauchery leading up to it known as Carnival. Sure, the festival’s many parades are family friendly. But the same can’t be said for the city’s French Quarter, where the streets – particularly Bourbon Street – are clogged with masked revelers dripping with purple, green and gold finery this time of year. And beads, booze and enough bingeing to make Bacchus proud are the order of the day.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure it’s a good time. (I got a taste of it when spent New Year’s Eve 2000 in the Big Easy, which was kind of Mardi Gras-lite. I don’t think I could handle the real thing.)

Why the big party? Well, if like me you happen to be Catholic, it’s kind of a last hoorah. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent for Catholic’s the world over. Mardi Gras is our last big blow out bash before we fast, pray and sacrifice our way through the next 40 days until Easter.

Now, it’s been years since CCD, but I believe those 40 days are supposed to signify the time Jesus spent wandering in the wilderness resisting the temptations placed before him by Satan. (I’m sure my Aunt Kathleen will correct me if I’m wrong.)

So during Lent, we Catholics do a little resisting of temptation of our own. Most of us select something we love, or are inordinately fond of, and give it up for 40 days.

They always end up feeling like the longest 40 days of the year. Probably because there are actually 47 days in between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. (I guess we’re not supposed to count all the Sundays in between. Not that you’re given a free pass on those days or anything.)

Making the decision about what to give up for Lent is a big decision. After all, it has to be something dear enough that you actually feel like you’re making a sacrifice or it doesn’t count. I couldn’t, say, give up olives. Because, while for some that would be a privation, for me it would be a celebration. I can’t stand the things.

Some of the most “popular” Lenten vows are to abstain from eating chocolate or sweets, or giving up booze in one form or fashion.

Some people are far more creative. Take my niece Jessica, for example. When she was 7 or 8, she vowed to give up green peppers. Go ahead and laugh if you must, but trust me, for her it was a major sacrifice. I once worked with a woman who was a Bingo junkie of the worst kind. She didn’t give her favorite pastime up entirely, but did limit herself to once a week. (Considering she was going at least 3 times, that was huge.)

Not everyone can handle the pressure, of course. Many fall off the wagon before the 40 – ahem, 47 – day mark. Like my friend John, who last year swore off Facebook.

Poor thing didn’t even make it 36 hours before he cracked.

This will be the fourth year I’ve made what is for me the greatest of sacrifices during Lent. Yep, I’ve given up buying books.

Scoff all you want, but for me it really is the ultimate self-deprivation. It’s no secret that I love to read, and, as anyone who has ever helped me move can attest, books account for a large portion of my Earthly possessions. I’m always in search of more to add to my collection. It’s almost a compulsion, really.

I’m not giving up reading entirely, of course. Never. I wouldn’t even last 24 hours. No, I’m just giving up buying anymore. Which trust me, is sacrifice enough.

Sticking true to my vow from now until Easter will require a great deal of self-restraint. Which, sadly, is not one of my greatest strengths. No, I’ll have to avoid bookstores and basically any other outlet where books are sold for the next 40 days. I mean, 47 days.

To ensure I don’t fall off the book-buying wagon, I’m going to make good use of my Mardi Gras. While the rest of you are partying it up, I won’t be bellied up on some bar stool. No, I’ll be making a trip to the bookstore for a last minute fix, in the hopes that it will see me through until Easter.

Forget Bourbon Street! First Edition – here I come!

Follow me on Twitter … @evesunmelissa.

Praying for a friend

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010
Brian Golden

Sunday February 21 will find me doing that which I love to do most, performing on guitar with one of my bands. I just wish it were under different circumstances. The Blarneystone Pub will be hosting a benefit for an old friend of mine, who recently lost his wife in a tragic highway accident. Mike Stratton, who I’ve known for about 20 years, is now left with the burden of raising his two sons without Julie, and my heart goes out to the entire family.

Mike and I spent several summers in our early teenage years hanging out, fishing, camping and making up ridiculous songs, which we would sing (poorly) while walking from our campsite down to Bowman lake. I don’t know that we ever really caught any worthy fish, but I don’t think that was really even the point. I look back and realize that that was just one of those moments in one’s life that can never be reproduced. The summer air shimmering above the water of the lake as we baited our lines and cast out with the hope that a trophy fish was just waiting out there to pounce on it.

I’m sure most of us have stories like that, which never quite fade away with time, and that’s what I’m getting at. I only met Julie a handful of times, but I’m sure Mike will always treasure the memories that he’s left with. While I can’t imagine the kind of pain he and his family are experiencing, I know that they’re not alone, and all of us who know them will continue to pray for them and be ready to help in any way we can.

Tragedies such as this remind one to never take life for granted, and to never forget that we are surrounded by family and friends willing to provide love and support. The pain and loss never truly go away, yet those feelings can be tempered with the knowledge that life will go on, that we can heal. I’m sure that’s what Julie would want for Mike, Sam, Ben, Roz and Greg, and I can’t imagine her being anything but proud of their strength and commitment to each other.

Making a case for wild cards

Tuesday, February 16th, 2010
Patrick Newell

The New York State Wrestling Tournament Committee will announce its wild card entries to round out the tournament field on Wednesday. From where we sit – behind my soft-touch keyboard – at least two Chenango County wrestlers should be shoo-ins to appear in the field, and perhaps one or two others deserve an opportunity.
At the top of the wild-card list should be Unadilla Valley senior Tyler Peet. His only losses this season came to the best of the best. Already a two-time Section IV champion, Peet dropped two tight decisions to defending “state champion” Derek Heyman of Tioga. Moving up a weight class, he lost another one-point decision to Section IV champion Josh Manuel of Tioga. “He should get the wild card, but I hate the waiting,” said UV coach Jim DuVall.
Number two on our list is Sherburne-Earlville junior Greg DuVall. DuVall has just one loss on the mat this season, and that came in last weekend’s Section III finals to three-time sectional champion Derek Pfluger. Pfulger also placed third in the state tournament the past two seasons as well. DuVall has two state tournament appearances already under his belt in 2007 and 2008, and multiple tournament victories this past season.
Our sentimental longshot bid at a wild card is Norwich seventh-grader Frankie Garcia at 103 pounds. On paper, Garcia has ample credentials, however; he is a seventh-grader, so any upperclassmen with previous state tournament experience might have the upper hand. Maybe the committee will consider Garcia’s three wins over the Section IV Division II champion, his two wins over the Section IV Division I champion, and his two wins over the Section III, D-2 champion. Not to mention a STAC championship and Class B title. Garcia’s teammate, Tanner Cummings, actually has more criteria points based on past years’ place finishes. His second-place finish to a returning sectional champion was more than respectable. We’d love to see those two Tornado grapplers join teammate Tristan Rifanburg at the state meet.

Winter memories

Thursday, February 11th, 2010
Brian Golden

The next couple of months represent my least favorite time of year. No more holidays, no more football and no end to the frigid temperatures in sight. Now I’ve never been a big fan of winter in general, a fact I find most amusing considering the only other place I’ve ever lived is Vermont, where winter is almost like a second job, but I thought I’d take a shot at reliving some of my most vivid winter memories, all in an effort to cheer myself up as this hated season lingers on.

It was late fall in 1996 and I was visiting a close friend in Vermont. I’d never experienced a Vermont winter at this point in time, and boy was I unprepared. While my friend and the parental units were away at work, I would usually spend some time in the afternoon cleaning up and doing dishes, just trying to help out a little. And that’s when it happened.

The view out of the window above the kitchen sink at my friend’s house is spectacular to say the least. I’m sure the mountains of Vermont do not compare to the Rockies in grandeur, but they’re still pretty impressive, and quite beautiful. While dishwashing, I had been appreciating this lovely view when something strange occurred, the mountains suddenly disappeared. It was as if someone had draped a sheet over them, all I could see was white, and it was coming closer. I stood transfixed as a veritable wall of snow approached the house, and bingo, approximately three feet of snow in less than two hours. Unbelievable.

Then there’s the time when I was around 8 years old and my father, God rest his soul, decided that it would be fun to pull my step-brother and I behind his van in a “sled” that he had built for the purpose. Don’t get me wrong, we were having a great time, that is until a large chunk of ice/rock busted through the bottom of the “sled”, causing a torrential spray of dirt, snow, ice and stone. Frantically we waved for Dad to stop, or at least slow down, but our cries went unheard as the suddenly scary jaunt continued for another 15 or 20 minutes. We burned that “sled” later in the spring.

I always tell people that I’m just not a winter person, as I have no winter hobbies or pastimes. I did, however, attempt to downhill ski once, and I swear I’ll never set foot on a ski slope again. Some close friends of mine, actually my closest friends, thought it would be a great idea to take me skiing for the first time. It was my freshman year at Ithaca College, and Greek Peak was right around the corner. Now I must admit that what followed is partially my fault, as I bragged on and on about what a fantastic water-skier I was, and how this couldn’t be any more difficult to master. A quick piece of information for you all: Downhill skiing is completely, totally and by no means anything like water-skiing. To make a long story short, my “friends” took me to the top of a Black Diamond trail, said “good luck” and down I went, literally. I did not see the mogul until too late and I was airborne, and then came the pain. After nearly killing myself (I came ridiculously close to the edge of a 200 foot cliff), and falling countless times, I was so sore that I missed classes for two days and could not, for the life of me, get out of bed. With friends like these, well, you know how that one goes.

So I guess I’ll just have to suffer a little longer, but it just seems like time drags on this time of year. Of course, once spring does come, I’ll be complaining about the slush, mud and rain. Is it summer yet?

The cost of compounding error

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010
Tyler Murphy

Recently I did one of those things I occasionally do when I’m juggling my finances by using electronic methods of payment with varying degrees of withdrawal times and penalties – I overdrew my checking account.

Although I technically over drew it once, chronologically the institution I’ve been a member of since I was in high school has this strange habit of processing transactions in priority of size instead of time.

Let me explain it this way: Say you have $50 in your account and late on Friday you purchase three items for a dollar a piece, then on Sunday you forget and buy an item for $50 with only $47 left in your account.

So you figure the bank will hit you with a single $35 fee (the going rate for overages at my bank). In reality, the bank will process the most expensive transaction first, taking out the $50 transaction then the following three one dollar charges, allowing them to hit you for $105 worth of overage fees instead of a single $35 fee for only over drawing your account by a mere three bucks.

I admit the original failure of miscalculating that 300 cents, but the compounding cost of error is a 3,500 percent mark-up of my mistake. Sounds like corporate highway robbery to me.

The next thing I learned is you can’t close an open account with the bank until the debt is paid. The second piece of information you should know is that after five days of having an account in the negative, the banks starts running the juice (slang for loan sharks in gambling) at five dollars a day, every day, forever, until a court steps in to halt the accumulating bill.

That means if some poor guy out there has some crisis and can’t pay his overages in five days the bank will keep piling up the $5 fees indefinitely until it’s paid in full. I didn’t ask but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that each $5 fee tacked into the account also counts as an overage and they assigned another $35 to the over due bill. (There’s probably some excited banker somewhere who just went, “Hey can we do that?”)

I’ve never been rich, but I do tend to keep a close eye on my money, The less you have, the more it’s worth to you. If you’re making $350 bucks a week, a $35 overcharge is 10 percent of your entire paycheck. Three is a third of it.

It used to seem easier, but more and more I find myself using the plastic cards for more convenient and timely bill paying; most utilities prefer electronic deductions.

I’m told that debit transactions are immediate and credit card transactions are a roll of the dice – could come out sooner or later. Either way, there’s no guarantee from the bank that your account will actually represent its real total up to two days after a purchase. (News to me).

OK, so I submit I’m handling too many variables in the world of finance to consistently get things straight it seems, so I ask about a possible guard, or something that could automatically halt me from taking out money I don’t have.

First thing to know is that no matter how much or how many times you’ve overcharged your account, the bank’s ATM will keep letting you take out money. So say my account reflects a number (not my actual cash in the account, remember the two-day delay?) I could keep buying and charging my way into debt and not even know it.

Again, fine I should know better. It’s my money I’m spending; I should know how much I have. It’s just these tools I’m being offered seem more likely to confuse me than anything else. I’m really just better off keeping a paper tally of what I buy. Of course now I’m starting to wonder what I need a bank for.

So back to what I wanted – a fail safe measure to prevent me from over charging. I discover there is indeed a program in place to help avoid such a thing, but there’s a catch-22, you need to pass a credit check. I don’t, which surprises me considering I didn’t think my credit was all that bad. To be clear, those people who are economically struggling and of lower credit to begin with, the people who could benefit the most from a guard, aren’t eligible because they by definition lack credit. I’m betting that group of people also happens to generate most of the bank overage fees, too.

I’m obviously lacking the skills needed to be a banker, but I can still tell you what the sum of all these parts add up to and it’s not the customer’s interest, it’s the bank’s. The smaller of a role you have in it, that is the less money you have, the more difficult it becomes for you to be a member.

Let’s not forget that all this seems reasonable until you stand up from the table and find yourself paying the bank $105 because of three dollars. No matter what you find in between, my errors included, that’s math I do not understand.