Corporate shenanigans can be easily explained

Oops. I think I made a slight miscalculation on an expense report or two and suddenly I have about a billion extra dollars in my checking account.

I probably should have caught the error earlier, but I never actually balance a checkbook, a habit that has created more than one domestic squabble with my spouse, who insists that knowing how much money we have in the bank is somehow a good thing.

She hates surprises of a financial nature.

I've always assumed that if something were drastically amiss the bank would let me know. That, after all, is their job. That's why they employ MBAs, accountants and other bean counters, or so I've always thought.

I had a brief career as a banker, back in the early 1970s, before electronic banking displaced actual money. I was a teller, aspiring to move into manager-trainee status as soon as I learned enough math.

I vividly remember one day I actually balanced my register at days' end. The branch manager was almost as particular about knowing how much money I was taking in and sending out as my spouse is with the checking account. The entire staff was exceptionally supportive since it was the first time in my 90-day training period that I had balanced.

I was too embarrassed with all the praise and all to admit that I hadn't really balanced, but had slipped an extra two bucks into the cash drawer from my wallet just to come out even. I kept hoping that one day I would end up with two dollars extra in the account at days' end and could recoup my contribution, but I always seemed to come out on the short side of equal.

After about another two months of pilfering my pockets to keep the register total balanced I decided that I could no longer afford to be a banker and took up journalism, where the arithmetic demands are considerably less strenuous.

At least they used to be until someone decided that I had to account for money I spend while on company business. It used to be more difficult than it is now.

We had these ready-made report forms that included mileage, hotel, tips, meals, and miscellaneous. That meant we had to write down the odometer reading before we left and again when we got back. Then we had to subtract the first from the last and come up with how far we'd been.

Adding and subtracting have never been much of a problem, and I managed that fairly well. But we also had to take that final figure and multiply it by a “cents per mile” figure that was apt to change at least once a year. I think it was 13 cents per mile when I first started.

I don't like to multiply by 13. Actually, I don't like to multiply by any number that doesn't end in a zero. That's why I generally round off figures in the checkbook that my wife has deemed I keep for expense purposes and completely separate from household accounts.

A calculator helped considerably, but I also recall that we had a column down one side and a column across the bottom, both of which had to be added up and the sum each way had to be the same. I never could figure out a good method of slipping in a dollar here or there to make things come out without having to add the columns over and over. But, if I ever got it right one time, I didn't check it again. Why press my luck?

These forms had another downside, too. They required that I write, by hand, the figures in the columns. Penmanship, even with numbers, has never been a strong point in my meager education. My wife complains about that, too. Or she used to when she was still allowing me within 30 feet of the household checkbook. Sometimes a nine might slightly resemble a four, or a three or a five, a situation easily remedied by rounding everything to the nearest 10. But that often fouled up the possibility that totals from the upside would agree with totals across the bottom.

A few years back, with computers and such, the form became electronic and we just put the figures in and the machine did the math. Where were these gizmos when I was struggling through college algebra? I assumed my problems were over but an even more elaborate system evolved and, as is wont to occur, this system is complex enough to require a right smart of computer savvy to understand. Computer savvy ranks right up there with calculus on the list of subjects at which I am fairly inept.

That's probably what caused the errors that have suddenly made me rich beyond my wildest imagination. I would have caught the error except I never actually see a check. I send in the reports and, presto, the money ends up in my checking account through the wonders of modern technology. I probably wouldn't even know it was there, since I never balance a checkbook and only rarely open a statement, except that I used my ATM card to check the balance to determine if adequate funds were available to pay a traffic fine.

Consequently, as I complete this confession on my way to Tahiti, I find myself in sympathy with corporate muckety mucks who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves in charge of conglomerates with considerably more assets than a close look at income and outgo could support. It had to be a math error.

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