I have no idea who came up with the so-called "new math" that seeped into our educational system several decades ago, but it has failed miserably if the young people struggling to give us the correct change at the local sandwich shop, drugstore or supermarket are any example of its usefulness.
As many of you already know, the drill goes something like this:
* You go into a store and pick up what you need
* You walk to the check out point
* The clerk rings up your order and announces a total which is usually not a round number (Let's use $5.28 as an example.)
* You hand the clerk a twenty dollar bill AND THREE PENNIES
* The under-the-age-of-twenty clerk's face contorts in terror as s/he stares at the paper currency and those pesky three pennies
* S/he stares blankly at the LED display on the cash register
* S/he stares imploringly at you and tries to hand back the pennies
* The ambulance sirens sound in the distance
* EMT's in white coats gently lead the clerk to the ambulance
* Someone in the store over the age of fifty comes to the register and gives you your change
* You leave the store mumbling in disbelief -- and recounting your change, just in case...
The "deer in the headlights" phenomenon that often accompanies making change is something I wager all of you have experienced. Recently, however, I observed a new and creative (albeit stupid) spin on this which I thought ought to be shared.
I was leaving the sandwich shop. My bill was $3.51, so I handed the cashier a ten dollar bill and a penny saying, "I'd be grateful if you could give me two quarters."
(In my world, I couldn't have given her any more help unless I walked around the counter and made the change for her.)
Ms Cashier punched something into the register and then handed me $8.
I looked at the change, then at her, and-- as soon as my voice returned-- I said, "Gee, I gave you the penny so I could get the two quarters I needed."
"That's ok," she replied, "I'll just take the two quarters out of the "tip jar" (next to the register) and put them in the drawer."
Suddenly I'm doubting my own math skills: so in my head I am recalculating to be sure that 10.01 minus 3.51 entitles me to $6.50 change and NOT $8. Then I am wondering who gave this kid permission to put her hands in the "tip jar" (shared by all the counter help) to cover up her math-skills-impairment?
None of this even begins to address the shape the register drawer is going to be in at the end of the day (to say nothing of the tips) or the fact that I would still end up with the incorrect change.
So I tried to explain calmly, "I gave you the penny because I wanted 2 quarters. I don't want anyone in here to lose tips over this. You gave me too much change anyway. So I am now going to hand you back $2, ask you for the 2 quarters I wanted in the first place and then I am going to leave the store while you figure this all out."
The "deer in the headlights" look started to take form on her face again as she handed me two quarters and took the 2 singles I was handing her.
I slowly put the quarters in my wallet, took my sandwich, and quietly left the store.
I thought I heard ambulance sirens in the distance as I drove out of the parking lot, but I can't be sure.