Question: Which Came First, The Clerk Or The Cash Register?


Which came first — the chicken or the egg? I pondered that for ages before I realized it had to be the egg. Evolutionary changes had to take place inside the egg and, when the new thing was born, it was what we now know as a chicken. And don’t argue with me — almighty Google says I’m right. In fact, Google takes it a step further, saying that “DNA data” puts the blame squarely on a Southeast Asian Red Junglefowl that spent the night with an Indian Grey Junglefowl. So, that question is answered.

Now, here’s my next one: which came first — cash registers that tell the clerk how much change to give, or clerks who can’t count back change?

Yeah, I know. It’s not an amusing riddle, merely a pet peeve cloaked in ponderment.

I was out Christmas shopping the other day and decided to swing through McDonald’s instead of stopping for a sit-down lunch. My total was $10.18, and I stupidly gave the clerk a $20 bill and a quarter. My innocent thought was that she would hand me back a $10 bill and seven cents, saving us both from the trauma of small bills and tons of change.

Instead of a thank you, what I got was an accusation. “You gave me too much money,” she said, then proceeded to give me the quarter back, together with a $10 bill. I’m sure McDonald’s would have been less appreciative of this effort than I should’ve been. I tried to hand the quarter back but she had already closed the cash drawer and wasn’t having it.

“I don’t want to cheat you,” I insisted.

She clearly did not understand what I was talking about. Plus, with the drawer being closed, this transaction was absolutely finished, never mind what I wanted. Because I was perplexed, however, I guess did not move on as quickly as she had hoped. Looking miffed, she reached on top of the register and grabbed some coins from a stash she evidently keeps for just such an occasion. She tossed a handful into my outstretched palm, alongside the quarter. “That ought to cover it!” she said, together with the unspoken, “Get moving!”

I cannot begin to fathom her reasoning here, if she thought I gave her too much money in the first place. Yet, because I like McDonald’s and am not a thief, I counted out my correct change and gave the rest back to her. Insulted and angry, she glared at me until I hurried on my way. And I understand the importance of keeping a line moving, but how many times a day does this happen? How can that register ever balance at the end of the day? And, most importantly to my story, which came first — the cash register or the clerk?

Sadly, I’m pretty sure it was the clerk.

In a barely related story, I hear where children are again being taught cursive writing in school. For some reason, what we used to call “longhand” was deemed unnecessary several years ago, and we now have a batch of children who can’t read the Declaration of Independence, or even birthday wishes scribbled inside greeting cards from their grandparents.

Fortunately, the children are pretty adept at using the enclosed gift cards, and I strongly advise they use them at McDonald’s whenever they are tempted to use the outdated monetary exchange we fondly used to call “cash.” It’s just too much work.