“You Know … I Can’t Do Basic Math”

Cough howdy cough sneaze folks!  I have fallen victim to a summer plague given to me by a certain someone who will go namelindess.  As a result, most of my nights have been spent laying on the couch turning my brain to mush with reality TV – apparently this is the only programming on TV these days.  This has been extremely frustrating seeing as how it has prevented me from some important training runs.  The good news is my steady diet of vitamin C coupled with heavy doses of NyQuil have finally gained the upper hand.  Unfortunately, this hell spawn has reduced me to a short post today (besides, my posts of late have tended to be a little verbose so it is probably for the best).

Tonight’s post is as fresh as it gets folks.  This didn’t happen a year ago like my vacation posts, or even a month ago.  Nope, this entry is based on an experience that happened a mere 4 hours ago.  It isn’t so much one aspect of the event that caused my quandary as it is the contradictory logic involved.  Let’s get to the details shall we?  Linda likes to refer to me as Mr. PVC (actually that is probably one of the nicer monikers she uses).  This is due to the fact I tend to head straight for the white plastic whenever I need to translate a crazy idea into something tangible.  Take for example the Halloween decoration (link) or the latest example of the new bird feeder (link).  She nixed my idea of building our house out of the versatile product.  Needless to say, another project is at hand which involves the need to interchange certain parts.  A few hours in the PVC aisle solved the problem which included the three piece coupling pictured above.  A late design change (after a prototype flaw) required me to purchase 5 more of these couplings to perfect the design.  Not wanting to get confused with the half million (just a slight exaggeration) different coupling options available, I decided to take one of them into the store with me.

After work today, I decided to stop by the local Lowe’s store and finish the material purchases.  Conditioned by the annoying Walmart and Best Buy greeting system coupled with Sam’s Club’s “everyone that leaves the store is a thief” model has made me overly sensitive to causing a shoplifting accusation.  Big thanks to those three stores for making an honest person worry about this – all they need to do is add a TSA patdown when you come in and I’ll be turning Amish.  Holding my little coupler openly in my hand (picture above is almost lifesize), I waited in line at the return desk to get a sticker or something to indicate that I had already purchased it.  My turn came up and I held out my coupler and asked him if they needed to mark it.  The clerk looked at me and said “Oh no, we don’t sticker anything, just go right ahead”.  Ummm okay, that is both refreshing and concerning at the same time.  Hey, this company trusts me … or is it Hey, we have a sucker on the hook.  I decided to give them some credit and went with the former assessment.  Fifteen minutes later I had built the 5 new connectors and headed to the register.  I placed the couplers on the counter and made it clear to the clerk there were actually 10 end parts and 5 middle parts so again, no one thought I was trying to sneak something by them.  At the same time I showed her the one I had brought in and told her I brought that one in with me and put it in my front shirt pocket.  She didn’t hesitate a second and proceeded to ring up the 5 new couplers.  Wow, Lowe’s appears to have a well understood “trust the customer” policy.  There was probably a goofy grin on my face the whole time she was ringing up the items…. and then she hit the total button.

Hit the jump to read the rest about the rest of the experience.

The register notified me that the total bill was $10.75.  As a guy, the size of my wallet is always a concern.  Seinfeld has a hilarious episode with George contending with an overfilled wallet that probably resonates with every male who doesn’t use a “European Shoulder Bag” (ugh).  To prevent that situation, I tend to cut down on dollar bills whenever possible.  Out of the wallet comes a $20 and a $1 bill.  The cashier turned back to the register and proceeded to stare an extra long time at the register display.  She then put a bill in each hand and proceeded to look back and forth between the hands and about every third traversal looked at the display again.  My brain groaned.  Eventually ( I swear it was like 2 minutes) she turned to me and said “Sir you know you gave me a $20 and the total was only $10.75?”  As polite as possible, the response was “Yes, I wanted a $10 bill back”.  Ever watch a movie where the car drives up to the old motel out on the outskirts of town?  The director often includes a shot of some buzz zapper or neon light with an electrical short… you get it.   She then states “I just wanted you to know in case you thought you gave me a $10”  and then began finishing the transaction on the register.  My immediate thoughts were:

  • Is she going to give me my $10 in change or is she thinking it’s a tip?
  • What does it matter what I thought, the amount provided covered the bill, just give me the change and let me feel stupid if I screwed up
  • Does she think I’m withholding a $10 bill from her?
  • Is that a Dewalt Hammer Drill on sale?!
  • I hope my zipper is up
  • Hey, I could use a triple hash key in my new Perl script?
  • and finally..  Good lord, did you take any math at all in school?

I was brought out of my deep thoughts with the cashier asking me for my phone number.  Guess what annoys me more than a lack of basic math skills?  Did you guess “giving personal information to complete a cash transaction?”  If so, Pass Go and collect your $200.  Politely again, I told her it was unlisted, but that only resulted in “We need it in case you want to return these” .  This is when the contradiction in thought arrived.  Here is a company that apparently trusts me that I actually brought in an item they sell in their store, but they don’t trust me to return an item unless they know my phone number.  But we know this isn’t the case don’t we?  They want to capture my personal information in order to do market studies and purchasing analytics… and they want to get the data for that for FREE.  I’m usually in a hurry (as in today) so I never get the chance to really challenge this request with their management.  “Are you telling me that you will only take this product back if I give you my phone number?  is the receipt not proof enough of my purchase?  Should I simply shop at Menards from here on out?   Not wanting to delay any longer I told nixed those thoughts and simply informed her I was not concerned.  She hit the override, she slowly pulled out my $10 change (think she was still trying to figure out the math) and I was on my way.

Talk about going from a refreshing customer experience to an annoying situation.  Oh well, on the way home I decided it was blog worthy so that’s a plus.

2 thoughts on ““You Know … I Can’t Do Basic Math””

  1. Well, I have actually had it happen where the clerk had to return the extra $1 bill (in this case), give me the change back from the $20, then take my $1 and add it to the change and give me back what I wanted.

    (I’ve also had a wheat penny refused at McDonald’s because “it isn’t a real penny”, a classic)



    1. Was the dollar returning experience with a manual register or a point of sale system? These days all the clerk has to do is hit the right number key and the system does all the work for them. I still remember being yelled at by an old lady the first day on the job as a Jewel cashier because I had the audacity to count the change amount starting at zero instead of counting from the total amount. I opted to let it go (wanting to keep my job and all) instead of my first thought of taking the money back saying the total and dropping all the change in her hand at once and saying $20 (the total amount she gave me) – the things you remember from 27 years ago is amazing. I’m surprised the next evolution isn’t handing out the bills like they used to do with those old coin return machines that would spit your change out into a little metal cup. It is really quite sad if you think about it and I am totally blaming Bush (it appears to be the vogue thing to do these days – hehehe).

      Ironically enough, I was with a friend at McDonalds about 21 years ago and the clerk there refused to accept a 50 cent piece since it was obviously too big to be a real quarter. We both laughed at the same time and rather than push the subject he swapped it out for a dollar.

      Thanks for sharing, but I heard if you talk bad about the place you eat lunch at 5 times a week they’ll cross you off their corporate party… just what I’ve heard


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