My First Job: Playwright, critic and author Bonnie Greer was a bank cashier in the United States

'I was accused of stealing a bundle of cash'
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The Independent Online

Rather too exciting. This is not a complaint often made about banking but it describes Bonnie Greer's experience three decades ago in the world of hard American cash. Being one of the critics on Newsnight would turn out to be humdrum by comparison. The opening of her play Ella, Meet Marilyn in Edinburgh (and, we hope, the West End) is positively soporific when set alongside her Nick Leeson-like finale as a cashier or "teller". Finishing Entropy, her second novel, which is her current task, is relatively stress-free.

At 23, Bonnie was studying at DePaul University in Chicago. She was a student for whom the student loan was too low for survival. "I switched to going to university at night, because I had to work during the day. I was a teller; I had to count out dollars and take in cheques and money brought in from the shops.

"The hours were from 8am to 5pm, then I'd be at the university from 6.30 to 9.30pm. I wrote my essays at night, probably until 3 or 4am; those are still the hours when I write. It was a shared student house, so it was quiet then. It was tiring. Even 30-something years on, I can still wake up thinking about essays I haven't finished."

The big crisis came after about a year. "The whole thing was so traumatic; I had forgotten about it until my husband reminded me recently. You had to balance the books at the end of the day - and one day I was $500 short." Security men were called and she was frogmarched off for a lie-detector test. Wires were applied to her skin. Meters measured reactions.

All this proved a waste of time: "Eventually they found the $500 stuck in the runners under a drawer. It was a fair amount in value but not a big bundle." You might think this was to be the end of the saga - but don't bank on it. The management had conducted a public arrest and made an accusation of theft when nothing had actually been stolen. This was when civil rights were getting into gear in the USA.

And Bonnie Greer is black. Would she make a complaint about racial harassment? Fortunately for the bank, the lie-detector provided it with a get-out. Hooked up to this gizmo, a suspect is initially asked both neutral and edgy questions so that the operator can observe the difference in the way the needle leaps about.

First, Bonnie had been asked her name. "Then they asked if I had ever done drugs. I can't do drugs, even prescription drugs, because I get sick and my body swells up, but once at a party someone had passed me a joint." She was fired instantly for having a history of drugs. Still, at least her personal finances balanced - just like the bank's.

jonty@jonathansale.com

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