"Fifteen Minutes"

By 6:00 a.m. the next morning, 25 new messages flashed on my voice mail. I could only listen to a few of them before rushing out the door for a Super Shuttle to the airport.

"Patrick, this is Kim, with America's Talking Network..."

"Hi, this is Hurricane Stevens down in Baton Rouge. I'm sure a lot of other morning DJ's are trying to reach you, but call us back first okay -- you're our hero..."

"Hi, Art Bell with the CBC Radio Network. I broadcast a little show out of Nevada..."

It meant that the Associated Press story had gone out on the national wire.

I boarded my flight and sat down next to a man in a spotted, yellow tie. Shortly after takeoff, he asked me where I was headed to. It didn't matter what he asked me because I would have taken any question and turned it into an opportunity to announce my good fortune. "I'm going to speak at Arizona State, but it's one of the craziest days of my life. You see..." I was the seatmate that wouldn't shut up. When I got to the part about the branch manager telling me the money was mine, a man wearing a blue-striped tie across the isle leaned my way and said, "You're the guy that cashed the check? Let me shake your hand. I read the story in the Wall Street Journal, and I was just reading another story about you in today's San Jose Mercury News." My face heated up like an oven coil as he held up his newspaper and pointed to the large headline, Man 1, Bank 0.

At ASU, thirty engineering students attended my workshop in a small, new, beige conference room with seating in the shape of a U. I spoke four hours about leadership when all I really wanted to talk about was the junk mail check. I didn't mention it once, however, out of fear that someone, especially my host, would think badly of me. Plus, I couldn't think of how to relate it to leadership.

When the workshop was over, I raced to check my voice mail. Forty-eight messages.

"This is Robin from Paramount Pictures..."

"Patrick, we love what you did! Call us, Marshall and Maxell in Baltimore…"

"George from NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw…"

"Johnny Dare & Murphy from KQRC in Kansas City. Great job Patrick! Can you tell us where to get one of those checks."

"Gary calling from Hard Copy..."

"Hi, Annie from ABC News with Peter Jennings and Diane Sawyer…"

"Hell, Bonnie from CNN..."

"Hi, this is Felicia from the Montel Williams Show..."

"John-Michele with Current Affair"

"Patrick, our hero, with is Paul with Froggie 99. Call us first, buddy. We love what you did."

"Hi, this is Debbie with the Leeza Show..."

"Jay Diamond with ABC Radio."

"I’m with the Late Late Show with Greg Kinnear."

"My name is Jamie. I’m a producer with Dateline NBC..."

"This is Mindy with Good Morning America"

"Donna with Day & Date on CBS..."

"Karen with CNBC's The Money Club."

"Hi, Patrick, Sandy from Channel 7. We remember when you delivered the baby..."

"I’m calling from the Jim Bohanan Show. Jim would love to have you on…"

"Graham with BBC Radio in London."

"Susie from the Phil Donahue Show."

The messages went on and on. They were from news channels and seemingly every morning radio show in the country. I dropped the hotel phone back into its cradle and launched into rapid pacing between the window and door that included trips up and over the hotel bed. It wasn't enough to deal with all the bursting energy that tingled my skin, so I ran out the door and down a random path through the hotel hallway. I came to a large window that overlooked buildings, homes, palms, golf courses, and dry flats. The green courses in the desert appeared as unreal as my world felt. I felt both excited and overwhelmed. It was already past 5 p.m. I would begin returning calls tomorrow morning.

Up at six, I phoned all the TV news channels first, hoping the airtime would further ward off an attack from my bank. "I'll be back in San Francisco at 1:30 p.m.," I told each. "We'll meet you at your home and interview you this afternoon," they replied.

As I pulled up in a taxi, I saw four camera crews waiting near the steps of my apartment. They had formed a line based on who arrived first. Channel 4 News, Channel 7, Channel 2, and NBC Nightly News.

One at a time, each respective crew made up of a reporter, cameraman and sound guy came in and transformed my office into a suitable place to do an interview. They set up lights, taped paper over the windows, hung microphones and pointed cameras. They came in hoping for a fun story, and got a one-man show. Animated like a chimp, with gestures big enough for Carnegie Hall, I re-enacted the initial wow of my $95,000 bank balance, and the threatening anger of Robert Gage. Like an overly-dramatic guest on a daytime talk show, I gleefully entertained with lines such as, "I would have returned the money if they hadn't acted so mean" and "Banks seem to have forgotten that treating customers well still matters." I was swept up in my fifteen minutes. They were swept away by the fantasy.

"Patrick, what are you going to do now?" each smiling reporter would ask.

"My ideal outcome would be for the president of the bank to call me and say 'Let's go to lunch.' We'd work it out in a fair, decent, and honest way. Maybe give all the money to charity." It was an answer I'd thought a lot about. A perfect ending. The president and I dining on caesar salad and sparkling water at a table decorated with a single red orchid, sharing a laugh, shaking hands, and then standing to present a giant light-green check to a smiling and grateful, smartly dressed woman from the Association Against Junk Mail. The whole thing captured on camera. "Bank takes a joke and turns it into $95,000 of charity. Full story at eleven."

While the NBC news crew sat down to join me for dinner, Good Morning America called and arranged for me to fly out to New York for an appearance.

The next day, I was sitting under the bright lights of the NBC studio doing a three-minute chat with Charles Gibson. I didn't get the feeling he liked me a whole lot. He acted a bit standoffish as he asked me questions, and he used the 'F' word. "Is this fraud?" he asked, with a wide-eyed smile. I laughed it off, and he kept it light from there on, but I felt a look of accusation in his eyes.

That evening, my story aired on both the NBC and ABC Nightly News. I caught the ABC production on a television hanging in a crowded airport bar. I watched a re-enactment of myself checking my mailbox, and making a deposit at an automatic bank machine. Then I told my story with gestures befitting a person on speed. It came across, I thought, as pretty funny. The segment closed with my appeal to the president for lunch. Diane Sawyer, from behind her news desk, capped it with a deadpan, "Don't count on that lunch, Pat."

My story also appeared in more than 200 newspapers that week, including the New York Times.

The next two weeks found me on the road giving college speeches scheduled in Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Illinois, New York, Virginia, and Kentucky. Around every presentation, I jammed in phone interviews. Ten days into touring, exhausted, I phoned Gary from a hotel room in Fairfax, Virginia..

He said, "Everybody's talking about your story. I was standing next to people at Tivoli's yesterday who were talking about it."

"I can't tell you how many people I run into who know about it. I was sitting next to a lady on my plane who recognized me. A cabby a couple days ago brought it up without knowing it was me. I didn't let on so I could hear his take on it. He thought it was great."

"It is! I saw you on Montel. It was hilarious to see the audience break into applause. I like your line about not letting fear win - that was pretty cool, actually."

"It's all pretty crazy," I said, falling back onto the hotel bed and kicking off my shoes.

"How are you holding up? How are your speeches going?"

"I spoke to 600 freshman at George Mason University today. It was excellent. Yesterday, a live satellite broadcast of my talk from the University of Tennessee went to sixty schools. Awesome. And in-between, I'm either flying or doing radio interviews from morning to midnight. I've done over fifty. And get this - Hard Copy flew a crew to my hotel today and taped an interview."

"Oh my God! That show is so lame. Are you sure you want to be on that?"

"Too late now. I think it's gonna be funny."

"Do you get paid for these interviews?"

"Hard Copy tells you that they don't pay for interviews because they're journalists, but that they do pay for any source materials you might have, wink wink, nudge nudge. They agreed to pay me $1,000 for the right to film my copy of the cashier's check."

"That is so damn funny."

"But that's the only show that has offered me any money." I picked up the remote and aimed it at the TV. It flickered on.

"Are you going to be on Letterman or Leno?"

"I don't think so. They were both on a week's vacation when they called, and now they think they missed the right timing."

"What are they talking about?" Gary said loudly. "Did you know you're in Entertainment Weekly right now as the number two thing people in the country are talking about?"

"What?" I exclaimed.

"Yeah, dude. You're listed in their Hot Sheet column second only to something about the Queen."

"No kidding?"

"Yeah. And you're above Microsoft paying millions for the right to use the Rolling Stones song Start Me Up to launch Windows 95."

I clicked past 10 o'clock news shows. "Dateline NBC did a feature story on sweepstakes checks last night."

"Did they mention you?"

"I don't know. I didn't see it."

"I can't believe all this."

"Yeah, it's unreal."

"Any word from your bank yet?"

"Nothing. Supposedly they even turned down a call from Diane Sawyer."

"What are they thinking?! They're so stupid. They could turn this into free positive publicity."

"I completely agree. I have no idea what they're thinking, but you can bet they're pissed."

"Are you worried about it?"

"Yeah, truthfully I am. Lately I've been thinking that my bank has decided to wait until all this publicity blows over, and then hit me with everything they've got. Whether they know it or not, keeping quiet through this whole thing is in itself a powerful form of intimidation. It makes them seem even meaner."

When the call was over, I plugged the phone cord into the back of my Mac laptop and logged on for my e-mail. In poured over a hundred e-mails. I sat up another ninety minutes reading them all. It had become a nightly routine that engrossed me. The vast majority always expressed support, but every batch was a mixed bag.

"Keep it. You did nothing wrong. If someone jokingly offers to pay their restaurant tab with seashells and the restaurant accepts them, does that make the diner a fraud or the restaurateur stupid?"

"I caught your cheque story on UK Channel 4 news. I was gob-smacked!"

"Give all the money to charity -- you’ll be a hero."

"It was wrong of you to deposit the check in the first place, so give the money back."

"Spend it on liquor and prostitutes!!!!! And don’t forget, you’re on Al Gore's information superhighway!"

"It’s not your money just because the bank made mistakes."

"Look into the bank fraud provisions (forgot the code section) of Title 18, United States Code. What you did could get you up to 30 years in prison."

"Use the money to lobby for a law to protect senior citizens against junk-mail checks."

"Practice random acts of banking and senseless deposits!"

"You suck ass. Your story isn’t that amazing."

"I notice your email address is at dnai.com. Obviously it stands for Does Not Allow Intimidation."

"You may be interested to know that you made the New Zealand national TV news last night."

"I can't imagine how you think this (long and poorly written) story reflects well on you. Here's a synopsis that's a good deal less self-serving than your account: an idiot receives an advertisement that looks like a check, the idiot deposits the advertisement, the only ‘explanation’ the idiot offers is that he thought it would NEVER clear. This is frankly not credible, and the fact that the idiot does not allow the funds to be immediately returned to the rightful owner casts further doubt on it. Again, I just don't see how you think you come out of this story looking like anything but a dipshit."

"A similar thing happened to my wife and I. We spent some of the money and the bank charged us with bank robbery! We’ve been fighting the charges for a year now. Smart you didn’t spent the money."

"I bet you anything the bank took back their cashier’s check a long time ago without even telling you. I bet you’ve got nothing sitting in your safe deposit box, dumb ass. It would explain why you haven’t heard from them."

One email stood out.

"You’re holding up a major merger. It can’t go forward until First Interstate gets this egg off their face. A supporter on the inside who must remain anonymous."

And another.

Hey! I'm a teller at an FI branch in Mill Valley. We got a memo last week saying we should keep our mouths shut about the situation. I’ll try and mail you a copy. A lot of people are really uptight about this and very little joking is tolerated. Good luck to you. WALLY. Viva La Revolution!

I folded up my computer and clicked off the bedside lamp. Once again I'd get only four hours sleep before heading off to another airport. I lay awake a long time, too tired to sleep. Was I really holding up a merger? How cool would that be! Was my cashier's check still in the safe deposit box? I'd look when I returned home. What if I really gave all the money to charity? Did I have the right? I drifted to sleep, unable to decide.

End of Part VIII    

1 Man Show