Making Change and Other Lost Arts

We heard her expressing concern, as we walked through the front door. “It’s not printing the receipts, guys!” she yelled to her fellow workers back in the kitchen area. One of the guys came running out to assist, but to no avail. The register tape was jammed.

“Just tell the customers we can’t print receipt right now,” he told her, and then scurried back to the French fry machine.

It was no big deal for us. Receipts from a fast food restaurant aren’t that important – unless there are 100 people in line and they really mess up the orders. But we were the only ones their at the time. So I did what any wise guy would do. I placed our order, totaling $10.43, and gave her a twenty dollar bill. Then I asked for a receipt.

She panicked. I told her I was just kidding about the receipt. She said, “No, it’s not that…I just don’t know how much change to give you.” I was dumfounded – and willing to walk her through the art of making change, when she called for Fred to come back out front. He dropped his fries and trotted over.

“I can’t tell how much change to give this man without the receipt,” she explained to him. “I think it’s nine dollars and some change.” He nodded, apparently agreeing that this was a dilemma. He fumbled with the cash register and was able to have it display the change amount. She sighed deeply and doled me out $9.53; amazingly, the exact amount…

We sat down with our lunch. “Wow,” was all I could say, as my wife laughed.

Now granted, some people aren’t very good at math. It takes a certain mind to breeze through the Pythagorean Theorem or solve a trigonometric equation. But we’re talking “making change” here, folks. And the struggle of slaving through that task is by no means unique to this young lady. It’s a systemic problem with today’s education system and society’s total dependence upon technology to make too many of our decisions for us.

When my kids were young, I was concerned that they had no idea how to tell time on a regular clock – you know, the traditional clock we’ve been using almost since the Aztecs devised their concept of measuring time thousands of years ago? But kindergarten got them past that hurdle and they’re pretty good at telling time, twenty years later, without the technology of a digital watch or cell phone. Many from the last couple of generations still struggle with that one.

And spelling? Don’t even get me started on that one. It seems that most of the world either relies on SpellCheck or just doesn’t care about how words are spelled – or whether they even use the right homonym… Just as Latin is a dead language, spelling seems to be heading down the same path. No need to strain the brain when technology can do it for you, right?

There’s only one place I’ve seen where we’ve actually reverted to a manual system that makes us think rather than have a machine do the work for us. That’s at the gas pump. Twenty years ago, an actual gas station attendant filled your tank and collected your cash; you would think technology would have devised a way to let a machine do that for us by now. Nope! These days, we actually have to get out of our cars and pump our own gas, combining physical effort, dexterity, and math computation all in one experience. We should give college credits for this!

Now, none of these little idiosyncrasies of mine really means much in today’s society – that is, until we have a worldwide power outage and run out of batteries. Then we’re up the creek without a paddle, having no concept of time, words, or numbers. We won’t necessarily need to make change then – we can just barter, like they did in the old days. And pumping gas? Well, without any concept of money – or electricity to run the pumps, we won’t have to worry about that either.

Are we really training the brightest generation here? After all, if you don’t know how to chew your food, how can you swallow it?

So here’s your challenge! Run back through this article and find the math error and the spelling error that I’ve cleverly hidden in the prose; dim wit that I am. And see how long it takes you to do that – without using your watch… Then go tie a shoe lace and use a pencil eraser.

And marvel at how far we really haven’t come.

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15 Responses

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  1. Vote -1 Vote +1Kerry

    I went to a LMS parent night one year and watched my child’s team of teachers do a presentation that included a slide show. The show had several obvious spelling errors. I was dumbfounded.

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1JL

      I agree, Kerry. There is an elected official that posts frequently here on this site that has a serious deficiency in English grammar. And he is a frequent critic of education, too. It almost hurts to read it. By contrast, Joe is so articulate.

  2. Vote -1 Vote +1Wayne Hall

    Easy one Joe. Math is $9.57 for change. Spelling is ‘only ones their at the time’ should be ‘there’. Not knowing that you were testing us I just assumed that they were normal errors that I do see occasionally in your column. No offense, of course.

    Wayne <

    1. There is also a minor grammar mistake toward the end of your article. It could be considered a spelling error, which would bring the total number of spelling errors to three. Three because you challenged the readers to find your spelling error (singular) of which there are two making error an error that should be spelled errors, bringing the total quantity of errors to three. :)

  3. Vote -1 Vote +1D K

    I’m sure glad I read through the whole article! I was about to chide you on your self-righteousness and then your mistakes. I found the spelling error as I read, but had to go back and look for the math error. I will let the readers find them for themselves.

    It’s amazing how people don’t know simple spelling and grammer. I have my pet peeves and yours was one of them! I’ve seen them so many times on online comments and sometimes even in the articles themselves. I know I saw one on an article either early this week or late last week on WMUR.

    So what’s the right thing to do in those cases? Do you let the publishers know, or just let it go?

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Wise guy

      Arocdnicg to rsceearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Tihs is buseace the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

      1. Vote -1 Vote +1Kathy Wagner

        Nice reply.

      2. Vote -1 Vote +1Wayne Hall

        Wise guy,

        I just read that whole thing without pause. You are correct on that count. However I would be loathe to have impressionable school children see that. It’s bad enough what the schools are turning out.

        Wayne <

        1. Err, Wayne, what’s bad about 90 percent college enrollments, full-ride ROTC scholarships, military academy appointments, and a 0.25 percent drop-out rate? I understand that a lot of schools in a lot of places have serious problems when it comes to performance, but I don’t think it’s valid to suggest we have the same scale or scope of problems in Londonderry. The numbers show quite the opposite!


          1. Vote -1 Vote +1Wayne Hall


            My apologies. I made too much of a generalization. Rather, I was expounding a bit on the initial gist of Joe’s story. If it seemed as if I singled out the Londonderry School System, I erred. However, I have come across high school graduates, not necessarily Londonderry, who can not speak properly, read the TV Guide, make change, etc. For all of that ignorance I blame the parents. School systems have to have a curriculum to which they must adhere. It is up to the parents to insure and assure that their children follow through. Again, my apologies.

            Wayne <

          2. Wayne — no problem, and thank you for taking my response in stride. I may have been too quick on the draw myself. I just get frustrated with the folks who actually do assume that all the problems they hear about in schools in other cities or states must also be manifesting here! I’m glad you don’t!


  4. Vote -1 Vote +1Doug

    Joe, on one is perfect, I guess you are just human.

  5. Vote -1 Vote +1Paul DiMarco

    I am not perfect, but12 years of Catholic School in New York City with the Sisters of St. Dorothy, and the Christian Brothers was enough to set me straight to spell correctly, use proper grammar, and have legible writing. Sister Marie would be proud.

    Speaking of penmanship (with a pen or pencil), now *thats* a lost art!

    1. Vote -1 Vote +1Tom Dolan

      Paul, I remember well the nuns and their emphasis on penmanship. I still smile remembering George Carlin’s skit regarding the “crippling” impact of be rapped on the knuckles by the nuns’ ruler.

      “Poor kid is learning to write with his left hand!”

  6. My Comment above was not meant to be a reply to Wayne, sorry.

    Wayne, do you remember when we used to send all of our official paperwork to be proofed by Joe before it got sent out?

    I attended public school, and while I wouldn’t label my grammar as impeccable, I’d say it’s pretty good for coming out of the Derry school system.

    So, did anyone else pick up on the other minor mistake toward the end of the story?
    *Checking spelling with iPhone, using Facebook to ask my friend the grammar guru a question, okay, good to click submit*

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