Damn! I Need a Calculator.

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This past Saturday afternoon I found myself stuck in one of those express checkout lines in a grocery store. I swear! If it were not for me, there would be no delays at all in grocery store checkout lines. I attract checkout line delays like a magnet. The reasons for the delays can be numerous, but the main cause is ME. If I were not in the store in the first place, there would be no delays!

 

            Some of the time, a customer syndrome that I call, “I thought that was on sale” causes the delay.” Moreover, like clockwork, there is nothing to confirm this in the current week’s sales brochure. All of us in line behind such customers discover this because the checkout clerk spends the next 5-minutes reading it from cover-to-cover. Then we’ll all have an additional 5-minute delay while “old” Herb (who’s been with the store since Christ was a cadet and knows the price of every item on every shelf in every isle but can’t remember this particular one) does the “moon walk” back to isle 25 at the other end of the store.

 

            Can you guess what happens when he returns to the checkout station? “Sorry”, he announces, “but that sale tag refers to the item on the shelf below.” Staring daggers and mustering all of the sullenness in the universe, the customer snarls, “well I don’t want it, then!”

 

            Sigh! The clerk picks up the microphone and speaks those ghastly, schedule-dooming words, “Override on 2.” Now we’ll all have to wait until a supervisor—let’s call her Condescending Cindy—gets around to waltzing over with the “Key” to set things straight again.

 

            This time, however, employee stupidity, plain and simple, caused the delay. Somehow, I could hear old Uncle Jeb Clampett of the Beverly Hillbillies say, “If brains was lard, there wouldn’t be enough between the cashier and her supervision to grease a pan.” Here’s what happened.

 

            The customer, a woman in her middle to late 50s had a rain check ticket in her hand to purchase some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. At an earlier time, the ice cream was on sale for 10% off, but the store had run out of it. Thus the rain check. The rain check authorized her to purchase ten pints of Ben and Jerry’s at 10% off the normal price of $3.89 per pint. Completely devoid of any malice aforethought, all the woman wanted to do was redeem her rain check

 

            The cashier looked dazed. Perhaps terrified was a more appropriate description. She had that blank stare of a deer looking into the headlights of an oncoming automobile. She stared, alternately, between the rain check and the customer. About 70-seconds had transpired during which the only thing that took place was the additional melting of the customer’s ice cream. Oh yes, my loaf of bread had become staler than it was when I first took it from its shelf. I also had a 2-pound bag of cherries that had become much riper.

 

            Finally, the clerk made the call, “assistance on 2.” Indifferently, Condescending Cindy strolled over and stared at the cashier. “I need a hand calculator,” said the cashier. “What,” snarled the supervisor? “I have to figure out 10% off on each one of these ice creams,” retorted the cashier. The supervisor reached under the cash drawer, pulled out a small solar calculator, and tossed it on the conveyor belt. With a bit of a huff, she walked away rolling her eyes.

 

            Another 65-seconds had passed. The customer’s ice cream had already reached the liquid stage. The cashier began punching keys on the calculator. After seven or eight key punches, she mumbled, “oh shi…”, and began to punch more keys. After another 75-seconds (I was purposely timing her by now.), she had finally figured out how to use the calculator but still had no clue as to what to actually punch in or why.

 

            Agitated, I said to the highly embarrassed customer, “Make sure that they throw in some free straws. At this rate, you’re not going to need a spoon to eat the ice cream.” I quickly added that my loaf of bread had already turned into croutons. The checkout clerk was visibly angry at me, but not as angry as I or the others behind me had become.

 

            Another 55-seconds whizzed on by. Somehow, the checkout clerk had figured out, thanks to the wonder of calculator technology, that a $3.89 pint of ice cream, discounted by 10%, should cost $1.21. The customer, not wishing to take advantage of the clerk, said, “Hon, that is not right.” “Oh, yeah, I see, now,” said the clerk and she punched in the numbers again. This time the calculator tallied a selling price of $1.29 per pint with the cashier quickly and proudly concurring. [SIGH!]

 

            I could take no more! I told the clerk that since the ice cream’s normal selling price is $3.89, a 10% discount comes to $0.389 rounded to $0.39 per pint. This means that you charge the customer $3.50 for each pint. And, since she has ten pints, the total should be $35.00.

 

            By now, the supervisor had returned. She looked at me and said, “We’re not all math geniuses like you, sir. This young woman is only a junior in high school, not college” The original customer, no longer embarrassed but very angry, jumped in with, “It does not take a math genius or a college graduate to figure this out.”

 

            At this point, everything had become a red tinted blur to me because the blood vessels in my temples had burst, sending blood trickling into my eye sockets. “I’m not a math genius,” I said. “It’s just that I paid attention back in the fourth grade when the nuns taught me this stuff. This young woman is math illiterate; she should not be working a cash register. Furthermore, if YOU don’t understand fourth grade math either, YOU should not be HER supervisor.”

 

            The ice cream customer, in disgust, told them to keep the ice cream and walked out of the store. I followed her, leaving my now crouton stage bread, along with a 2-pound bag of ever-softening cherries. All totaled, five customers walked out leaving their stuff on the conveyor belt of in those hand baskets. We all had quite a meeting outside.

 

            I worked for a major grocery chain as a cashier for both my junior and senior years in high school. The cash registers were mechanical, not electronic. So, cashiers had to be fast and able to do the discount and odd lot math in their heads. My manager, Harold Ashman, would have fired me on the spot had I not been able to do percentage calculations on the fly.

 

            And while I’m at it, neither he, my teachers, nor my parents ever seemed all that concerned about my self-esteem. As far as they were concerned, if you couldn’t do fourth grade arithmetic by the time you were in high school, you did not deserve to have any self-esteem. In fact, they would have wondered how someone so stupid even got INTO high school. None of them blamed teachers, either!

 

            The sad thing about this is the fact that no one working in this store, including the management, had a clue. To them, we were just a bunch of unreasonable, disgruntled customers. This kind of stupidity will eventually erode a customer base to a point of bankruptcy. Unfortunately, though, when it happens, all of those genius Harvard MBAs will blame it on “market forces” and “shrinking margins due to high energy costs,” instead of who they should blame: George Bush!

 

            Well, I still need bread and cherries, but you have a great week. I just know in my heart of hearts, that somewhere out there I’m going to find some present day cashiers who can figure out simple math.

 

Joseph Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. Send your comments. Just click here.

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