annie sisk : where annie writes

this is why you need math

So, on the way to go get dinner last Thursday, Jess spots a Subway.

She loves Subway. I dig it.

So Subway it is.

We order our sandwiches, get two bags of chips, two cups, ask for two cookies … and then their cash register quits on them.

Now, there are three workers there, behind the counter – all of them around high school age or maybe just beyond. And when the register goes dead, all three stand huddled around the machine, debating with each other what to do, while we wait.

And wait.

In fact, we wait patiently for about four or five minutes. Meanwhile, our prepared sandwiches sit languishing on the counter, growing cooler by the second.

Finally, I say “OK, how about we just do this the old-fashioned way, and I’ll leave enough money with you to cover it, and if you owe me any change I can pick it up tomorrow?”

They stare at me, mute.

So I give them a little prompt: “OK?”

They stammer and look at each other and finally one shrugs and pulls out her phone and pulls up her calculator app – only to quit in frustration seconds later because she keeps hitting the wrong key on the touchscreen.

Well, I can understand that – I hate the things myself. The numbers are so little that you inevitably hit the wrong one, or subtract when you meant to add, or just clear the damn thing altogether.

So I say “OK, how about we just do this on paper? Got a pencil?”

The young man pulls out a bit of receipt tape, turns it over, and starts writing down the cost of the items in these huge, childish numbers – and it takes him awhile to write each price.

Then they have to argue about how much one of the sandwiches costs. I am about to point out the huge menu board and PRICE LIST BEHIND THEM when they finally get that straight, and then – THEN – when they’ve listed out each of the items, they …

… do nothing. They simply stare down at the piece of paper.

They whisper back and forth between themselves for a few seconds.

At this point, I’ve about had it.

I look down at the piece of paper. It’s upside down for me, but the numbers are REALLY big, so I go down the list quickly and say “Nineteen dollars and seventy cents.”

Well, CLEARLY I couldn’t POSSIBLY have added those numbers correctly in my head and upside down, right?

They look at me skeptically. The young man snips at me “No, it’s $13.50.”

I go through it line by line. “8.50 plus 5 – that’s 13.50 for the sandwiches. Plus 2.50 twice – that’s five so that’s $18.50. Plus sixty – that’s sixty, right? – sixty cents twice for the cookies is 1.20 plus 18.50 is 19.70. Now. What’s the tax rate?”

Well, I don’t know what I was expecting, asking what the tax rate was, when simple addition seemed to be beyond them. I got blank stares all around.

Yeah, I’m done, I thought.

What I said was: “Well, it’s got to be less than ten percent, so here’s $25.00. Keep the change and … put it towards a tip jar, or whatever.” I had decided four bucks or so was a price I was only too happy to pay for the next ten minutes of my life back.

Here, I sheepishly admit I came **thisclose** to saying “put it towards a math tutor.”

But I stopped myself, in what can only be described as a monumental display of self-control and benevolence.

We left the store.

I turned to my daughter and said “THAT is why you need math.”



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