My Financial Career

by Stephen Leacock

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In "My Financial Career," what alarmed the manager?

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The bank manager is initially a bit "spooked" by the narrator's furtive and solemn manner. Leacock wants to open a small account and has the idea that he must go through the manager. Any teller could open an account for him. 

"Are you the manager?" I said. God knows I didn't doubt it.

"Yes," he said.

"Can I see you?" I asked. "Alone?" I didn't want to say "alone" again but without it the thing seemed self-evident.

The manager looked at me in some alarm. He felt I had an awful secret to reveal.

When the two men are alone, the manager says:

"You are one of Pinkerton's men, I presume?"

Pinkerton's was America's largest and oldest private detective agency. They offered protection to banks in Leacock's time. In "A Retrieved Reformation" by O. Henry, it seems likely that the detective named Ben Price, who was Jimmy Valentine's nemesis, was one of Pinkerton's many operatives assigned to protecting banks. Dashiell Hammett, author of The Maltese Falcon and other hardboiled detective novels, worked as a private investigator for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency from 1915 to 1922 and used his extensive experience in his creative writing. 

The bank manager assumes that Leacock is there to warn him about a planned robbery or burglary. Leacock only adds to the confusion and alarm by telling him:

"No, not from Pinkerton's," I said, seemingly to imply that I came from a rival agency.

Stephen Leacock is evidently exaggerating the nervousness that many of us feel when we are dealing with an imposing institution. This is a technique employed by many humorists, notably by Mark Twain, for humorous effect. It is ironic that Leacock, supposedly so afraid of banks and bankers, became a full professor and chair of the department of economics and political science at McGill University in Canada. The fact that he is wildly exaggerating in "My Financial Career" is shown by the ending sentences of his personal essay.

Since then I bank no more. I keep my money in cash in my trousers pocket, and my savings in silver dollars in a sock.

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