This week it’s already happened twice.
The first incident took place in the drugstore. I had bought $8.49 worth of merchandise, so I handed the frenetic young man behind the counter a $10 bill, plus a nickel and four pennies — the closest I could come to the “exact amount.”
He stared at the money as if he had just been handed a grenade, shock and terror flooding his pimply, post-adolescent face. His eyes darted from the keyboard of the computerized cash register in front of him to the cash in his hand, and then back to the machine that he hoped would give him the necessary answer.
I finally whispered, “Two quarters, a dime, and a dollar.” He counted out the change and nodded numbly.
A few days later, in an upscale coffee shop, I ordered a salad, iced coffee, and a fruit cup. The bill was $10.58. I pulled a $20 bill from my wallet, then looked in the change purse and handed the cashier two quarters and a dime.
The young woman behind the counter froze in panic and dismay.
Would she run screaming into the parking lot? Would she toss a cup of scalding coffee-of-the-day in my face?
“Just give me a $10 bill and two pennies,” I said softly, trying to return the cashier to the calmly air-headed state she inhabited before her world was rocked with “the right change.”
More panic in her eyes.
It was as if she had been handed a note that said, “This is a stickup. Hand over all the cash in your drawer.”
“The change is $10 and two cents,” I said again. “I think if you punch in the amount I gave you, the register will tell you that.”
In the end, a middle-aged store manager walked by, observed the attack of “math-palsy” that had overcome her employee, pushed her aside, and handed me my change.
These young people are casualties of the calculator generation. They can’t add, subtract, multiply, or divide in their heads (or even on their fingers, as far as I can tell). They are numerically challenged and commercially useless. They cost the business owners for whom they work a fortune in lost revenue.
It isn’t the stupidity of it all that annoys me as much as the indifference. These kids don’t understand — or care — how their inability to make change limits their opportunities.
I wonder, how do they get these jobs in the first place? Doesn’t anyone ask applicants for counter jobs if they can make change? People are so worried about whether workers can speak English, yet no one seems concerned about how a couple of generations can’t do basic math, a universal language.
By the way, the guy in the drug store over-changed me by a dollar. I gave it back, reluctantly. I felt I had earned the “tip” for coaching him along. It did make me wonder, though: how often does this happen, and how much of this expense is being passed along to all of us?