Mental Giants: The Wal-Mart cashier

Sometimes I have to interact with people who really aren’t very intelligent. In fact that happens most days. Sometimes I find it humorous, sometimes it makes me angry, it really all depends on the mood I am in going into it. Well, that and just what their incompetence happens to be. While I may find it funny when someone is trying to hammer a square peg into a round hole, it is more likely to make me angry if I suffer a loss of time or property as a result -say like if I owned the peg and hole they are trying to mash together.

I find that the most common form of incompetence that I run into on a day to day basis is Math. I suppose that makes sense, since every time I make a purchase at a store it involves Math (well, nominally, since most of the transactions are strictly card-based at this point). The thing is that I have always been good at Math, so I can’t understand how someone can struggle with it. I am not talking about Calculus or Trigonometry here, I am talking about very basic addition or subtraction; the type of 2+1=3 crap that you have to learn to make it out of the first grade.

A good example of this is when you are buying something at a convenience store and the total comes out with a few cents change. Say the total is $3.14, and you give the clerk a $5. After they have already entered that in the register, you realize that you have the 14 cents and hand that to them as well. Now they are staring at a screen that tells them to give you back $1.86, but also holding your 14 cents, and sometimes they just can’t do the math in their head. I try to help them along when I see them struggling with it; “you owed me one eighty-six and I gave you fourteen, that makes two-hundred.” If they don’t get it pretty immediately (usually claiming a brain fart or something) I will just take the change back. No sense ruining my day and theirs over a pocketful of change. If you are feeling really sadistic you can take this to the extreme: when the total comes to $6.86, give them 12.11 and watch them stare vacantly.

Anyway, the particular circumstance that I ran into today was something much simpler. I had to buy a new air conditioner for my bedroom, so I found myself at Wal-Mart looking over their selection. Of the three that they actually had in stock, the two that were still in boxes were far too small for the room. That meant that my only real option was the larger display model. I am no stranger to buying display models. Basically you get an item that has never actually been used, but that item may come with a couple of scuff marks on it, and you get it for a decent discount -just how decent the discount depends a lot on the store, since many stores just do a stock 10% or 20% discount for floor models, and they don’t allow their cashiers any latitude for negotiating. Such was the case with the air conditioner at Wal-Mart. 10% off the already reduced price (prices on air conditioners were slashed somewhere around the end of June, that I know because I was trying to find one for my office at the time, but couldn’t find one to fit a vertical window opening).

I can’t find the exact machine that I bought on the Wal-Mart website, but this one is damn close. The price was reduced to $217.00 from the original $237.00, and they were going to give me an additional 10% off. That was going to put it right about the same price that I paid for the tiny little machine that it was replacing, so I was all over it. I threw that bad boy in my cart, making sure that the department manager put a note on the tag reflecting that the discount was in addition to the marked price, and made my way to the register.

I got to the register and waited as the cashier keyed in the UPC code, hoping that it would ring up at the discounted price. It took her three tries to get the code right, but it did indeed ring up at the $217.00 price, so I was halfway home. Then the register prompted her with the message “enter reason code”. I thought for sure that there must just have been a button that she pushed which allowed for an immediate 10% discount, but alas it was asking for the reason she had to manually enter the UPC in the first place. After she looked up and entered the code for that, it was time to get to my big 10% savings. The cashier pulled a small scrap of paper out of her trash can and began to write the following equation on it:

x    .10
    0 0 0 0 0
2 1 7 0 0
2 1 7 0 0 0
I shit you not. She wrote the equation down, complete with the multiplication sign, did the long multiplication, then added the columns together. After which she counted one too many decimal places over and proudly declared that my discount was $2.17. Of course I corrected her, saying that $2.17 was 1%, $21.70 was 10%, and she didn’t believe me. She walked over to the manager’s station (whatever happened to calling for help?) and came back a few minutes later with the receipt paper from a 10 key, where someone else had actually taken the time to multiply the whole thing out instead of just moving the decimal point one to the left. Anyway, now she knew that the discount was $21.70, so I figured that all she had to do was type that into ye olde register and I would be able to pay and get on my way. Instead, she started writing the following equation on her piece of scrap paper:

– 21.70

In the time it took her to actually write that down, I had subtracted 22 from 217 in my head then added 30 cents back onto it (I always do it that way too. When subtracting odd decimal amounts I always round up -even if the decimal is like .08, I will subtract the next whole number then add .92 back to it. Since that is the way I have always done it, I don’t have to try to remember if I rounded up or down. It is always up. Of course that is just me). I told her it was $195.30, and she just kind of stared at me. She didn’t even try to do the subtraction on the scrap of paper, just headed back over to the manager’s station. Why she didn’t think to go ahead and do that the first time she was over there is beyond me. A few minutes later I was pushing the cart out the door.

I won’t fault the woman for not being able to subtract the 21.70 from 217 in her head, not everyone can do simple math that quickly, I accept that. What I will fault her for, and her manager as well, is actually doing the math on a 10% discount. I mean, it’s 10% FFS, that’s not Math, that’s moving a decimal point! I would lay down even money that any child in the third grade could have done that without having to resort to a calculator.

When the woman actually started writing down the equation for the 10% discount, at first I was going to get angry, then I was going to laugh, then I was kind of dumbfounded. I imagine that I must have looked much like that guy I handed $12.11 to at the convenience store earlier…

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