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The following is a letter that I wrote to Mrs. Ramírez, the cafeteria manager at the school where I work. The first couple of lines will give you the impression that this was all a money issue. It wasn't just that, so now's when I say, be willing to read the whole letter, or don't even start!

April 4, 2002

Mrs. Ramírez,

My name is Fidencio Quiterio, I'm a teacher assistant here at Jefferson. One of your employees, the cafeteria's cashier, may have probably informed you of an incident that took place Wednesday afternoon. Please allow me to give you my version of the matter. Let me start off by outlining an incident that perhaps ignited the one at issue:

  • Friday Morning, March 29th:
    • I paid for breakfast with a five dollar bill.
    • The cashier couldn't find change.
    • I walked away, having agreed to be paid later.
  • Sometime on Monday, April 1st:
    • I received the money I was owed.

On Tuesday afternoon, I ordered my lunch, as usual, and I paid with a 20 dollar bill. Once more, the cashier couldn't come up with change. Since it had done before, without harm, I was satisfied with being given part of my change, under the assumption that I'd receive the remaining ten dollars the next day.

A lady behind me mentioned something to the effect of she having five dollars, perhaps suggesting that there would be enough change for me to be paid once she was served. More importantly, I mention her because she witnessed the transaction that had taken place; that of me being given only part of my change.

On Wednesday afternoon, I wasn't sure if the cashier would remember that I was owed money. For that reason, I was prepared to pay for my lunch. As I was being served, she mentioned something about me being owed money, and that she had already paid me it. Being aware of her sense of humor, I thought she was making reference to the ten dollars I was owed, and I further inferred that she was being playful about having already paid me. I put my money away.

When she was done serving my meal, she extended her palm, suggesting I needed to pay for my lunch. Confused and embarrassed, but not wanting to make a big deal out of the situation, I reached into my wallet, pulled out some bills, and paid. I walked away knowing that not only was I ten dollars short, but more importantly, the incident would dent my reputation. After all, the cashier was under the misconception that I had tried to cheat her out of the lunch-money.

I returned when the cafeteria was about to be closed for the day, hoping the cashier would grant me a few minutes of her time. I thought that the whole incident could be cleared up by merely refreshing her memory. I explained to her why I thought I was still owed money, hoping that then she'd realize that I hadn't tried to rip her off earlier. She kept referring to the money I was owed from Friday morning, which in fact had already been cleared. She did not remember me being owed any more money.

Our conversation had been going for so long that one of her coworkers suggested I be paid the ten dollars, and let things be. We both rejected the suggestion, each with his/her own reason. For me, receiving the ten dollars wouldn't have solved the problem, since money was never the issue.

Aware that it was my word against hers, with mine not weighting any more than hers, I asked her if she'd consider changing her mind if I could produce a witness. She responded with something to the tone of me being free to bring whoever I pleased, but that it wouldn't change the fact that I wasn't owed any money. At that point, I realized that I had wasted my time in attempting to refresh her memory. I walked away, like I had done an hour before, but now, not only was I the man who had tried to get lunch without paying, but I was also to be branded a stubborn cynic. I felt my head was about to explode.

Regardless of how little regard the cashier has shown for the existence of a witness, I present to you the words of the lady who was waiting in line, behind me on Tuesday afternoon:

I do recall that on Tuesday, April 2, Mr. Quiterio was in line ahead of me purchasing his lunch. He offered a twenty dollar bill and was told that there was no change. He asked whether he could come back later for his change and he was told it would be acceptable. I remember his asking twice to be sure. I recall this incident because I did mention that I would be paying with a five dollar bill that perhaps might make enough change for Mr. Quiterio to be paid.

R. D S.

Please note, in writing this letter I intended that you'd consider reminding your employee that we, as human beings, not only err, but we also forget; that our forgetfulness hinders our ability to give other people's account of events the precise degree of consideration; that regarding other people's account of events as wrong on the mere basis of them differing to our own, is a mistake... one that may wrongfully inflict wound on the reputation of individuals who are not at fault.

At your service,
Fidencio Quiterio

PS: As to the ten dollars, well, lets just say that I'd need much more than that to repay you for the attention you've granted me in reading this letter.

Mrs. Ramírez summoned me a week later. We talked about the incident and she apologized on behalf of her employee. She then brought the cashier into her office, and explained to her why I was there. Guess what? Even after she was told that I had presented a witness' account,the cashier insisted that she held the truth...

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