It’s Just Math

Against my better judgement, I went to a store on Christmas Eve to buy something. It wasn’t a gift, but something I wanted to start using over the extended break. When I entered the store, a worker informed me the computers were down. She explained I could either put my items on hold and pick them up later, when the machines were working. Or go through the manual process.

I think I was the first sale of the day. I placed my items on the counter amidst a flurry of activity. Someone whipped out a paper receipt pad. Another person started muttering about the back-up manual. I didn’t think too much of it, until I saw the cashier. I don’t want to seem ageist, but this particular cashier was from a generation where kids are no longer taught the basics and fine art of math. Smart phone out, she looked ready. Luckily, a more senior cashier stepped in. The first cashier didn’t even know how to figure out sales tax.

To add to the complication, there were two separate tax charges. A lower tax (5%) for the clothing and a higher one (13%) for the other item. Through my mask and the heavy, plexi-glass partition, I told the younger cashier she could add 13% right on her calculator to figure out the sales tax. The other cashier was using a different method (amount x 1.13), from an earlier era when we had to do math in our head and knew how to make change without using a machine. Either way, it should have worked.

I checked the receipt. The 13% tax was wrong. I mentioned the tax was lower than it should have been. In the background I could hear the other workers discussing they should just close for the day. The senior cashier was saying one thing (the right total) and writing another (the wrong tax). With the confusion sorted out, she walked away as I paid. I pointed out that while charged the correct amount, this was not reflected on the receipt and could the cashier please fix it.

Instead of adjusting the receipt, the cashier carefully and painstakingly copied by hand the barcode numbers, amounts, different taxes, etc. onto a new receipt. The result: right total, wrong tax. Again! I collected my purchases and the freshly, written receipt and walked out, remaining silent beneath my mask.

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