While we were traveling near Boston a few years ago, my daughter needed some college-ruled notebook paper. We exited I-95 where the signs indicated there was an adjacent shopping plaza. We found a drugstore where we could get the paper + a roll of Scotch tape. When I checked out, the following exchange ensued:

Me: Just the packet of paper and the tape.

Clerk guy: Ok, that will be $4.44. Say, I think the paper is buy-one-get-one-free. Let me check…Yeah, I’ll just give that to you without the card. No problem. <My daughter goes to get a 2nd packet, he rings it up> Ok, that will be $7.31.

Me: Uh, I thought it was buy one, get one free?

Clerk guy: Yeah?

Me: Well, this isn’t a discount. It’s just charging twice for two packets, right? It’s more than the $4.44 originally…

Clerk guy: Hmm. Let me check the receipt. It says it has the discount.

Me: <struggling for a better way to explain it> But the price went up from $4 to $7, right? Can I just buy the one packet of paper?

Clerk guy: Sure, but I need my manager to void it. <he fetches the manager; another customer is now waiting>

Clerk gal / manager: <after he explains it to her> Ok, let me see. < she voids it, rings it up again> There. Ok, that got it. that will be $8.43.

Me: <I thought my wife might climb over the counter at this point> No, that’s even more than when he rang it up the second time. If the 2nd one is free, shouldn’t it just be the price of one packet + the price of the tape? Which is a bit over $4? Or I could just buy one packet…

Clerk gal: Oh no, we can fix this. Let me look at the ad here. <Clerk guy attends to the other customer until he also reaches a point with her where he needs the manager> I don’t actually see the discount for the paper in this week’s ad.

Me: Ok, then let’s forget it. I just want the one packet of paper + the tape, please.

Clerk gal: So, you don’t want the other paper? <somewhat incredulously>

Me: No, just the one, thanks.

At that point, she rang it up and I got out for the original price of $4.44. We were laughing about this for the next 5–10 miles on the road… The only reason I didn’t get rude or angry was that they seemed to honestly be trying to help, though they were completely failing at it. They were just so math-oblivious; if the register had said to give me a crisp new $100 bill, they probably would have done it without question.


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