I know that someday you'll find better things.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More Math Problems

Greetings from Textbook Hell.

There's a scene from the show The Middle where the mom wistfully dreams of a "Quirk Alert" bracelet (similar to the medical alert ones) so that people have a bit of forewarning about her eccentric son. If such a thing existed, it would have made today's events go much more smoothly.

The manager at the used bookstore would have observed my "Quirk Alert" bracelet. "Oh, I see you are a panicky perfectionist," he would have said.

"Yes, and it appears you are a sarcastic and possibly mean-spirited chump," I would have replied.

And then we could have respectfully and mindfully continued with our transaction.

But that is not the way it happened.


I was already a little self-conscious as I approached the college. I was not wearing Ugg boots, and the tips of my hair were not pink. I did not have ear-bud wires dangling on each side of my head or a cell phone in my front of my face.

I stood out like a sore thumb.

It was only while opening the door to the main atrium that I realized I'd feasibly have former students as my current classmates.

People who used to respect me were going to find out my dirty little math secret.

I kept my head down and hastened toward the bookstore. I'd zip in, take care of my business, and zip out again, back to the safety of not there.

The campus bookstore-- which as it turns out is seldom open-- was a hotbed of activity. Upon closer observation, it appeared there were as many employees as there were customers, which seemed like would be a good thing.

It was not.

I had three helpers all to myself, and I could hardly understand a word they were saying.

"Could you please help me to understand the 'Connect Plus' access cards?" I asked, cordial as ever.
"It comes with the book. Here, if you bend the book like so," she said, as she flopped it around, "you can feel it inside." 

I flopped it around like so and didn't feel anything, but I nodded as if I did. It seemed like the quicker way.

My attempt at communicating with them hadn't yielded any information of value, but I hadn't been particularly clear in my question, so I tried again.

"Great, thank you. Now what about this 'Connect Plus 52 Weeks Access Card'? That's just the card, right? Probably for people who already own the book and just need the online component?" I held out my printout of the course materials list, hoping that might help. I did not tell them about the craigslist deal I'd arranged. A girl in McKinney was going to sell me her book. I'd bargained her asking price down to $25!

"Oh, the cards are behind the counter at the register," said another helper.
"Yes, at the counter," repeated the other two supportively. From the corner of my eye, I noticed a fourth helper making his way toward us. 

Sheesh. I was starting to feel like a security threat.
I took a deep breath and tried again.

"Now, it says here there are used access cards for $70, and new ones for $93.35. Are they both available at the counter?"

"Oh, there are no used ones."
"Nope, no used ones," agreed Minion Two.
"It's not allowed," said Minion Three.

Why would it be listed if it wasn't allowed? Clearly these folks wouldn't know. It looked like I was stuck with the expensive book-card combo, at least for now. 

Seriously, am I the problem?

During the checkout process, the clerk took an inordinate amount of time comparing my driver's license to my debit card.

If I was going to steal someone's identity, I don't think I'd go on a one-book shopping spree at a college bookstore.

"You have 15 days to return this," he said, "but remember, as soon as you remove the shrink-wrap packaging from the exterior of the book, we cannot accept the return."



After driving to McKinney to purchase what turned out to be not the book I needed, I decided to stop at a used bookstore on the way home, just in case. While the book I needed wasn't in stock, the one I'd almost just purchased for $25 was there--several copies-- for $7.99. Whew! Close call!

Once home, I decided to contact different local used bookstores.

The closest one did not have it.
A medium-distance one did, for the low, low price of $126.65, which is exactly what it costs brand new.
I tried yet another store. After a suspiciously long time on hold, the clerk reported that they had it in stock for $49.99 and could put it on hold for me at the purchase counter.

Elated, I hopped in the car and drove across town. There at the counter, as promised, was the book. Just to be safe, I quickly compared it to my other (still very much shrink-wrapped) book to make sure it was identical, which seemed to confuse the clerk.

On my way out the door, I started wondering about that other book-- the $7.99 one. Sure the authors were different, but maybe it was a trick. After all, both books were 'special edition' tailored-to-my-college-and-this-specific-course. 

What if I had just cheerfully paid six times more than necessary? (See what I did there? Math!)

Convinced I'd just snagged the last available used copy in town, I used my phone's camera to take a few pictures of the book-- nothing too obsessive. The table of contents, the first lesson page, etc.

Then I went back into the store.

It turns out there were several copies of both books on the shelf. A side-by-side comparison revealed they were distinctly different, which justified the cost.


Several copies of the version I'd just purchased were in much nicer condition than the one presently sitting in the car.

I chose the very nicest one and approached the counter. After explaining that I'd like to swap it out with the one I'd just purchased, I headed toward the exit.

"Manager to the front for a return," my clerk announced over the loudspeaker.

Shoot. So this was going to be a thing. 
It would be worth it.

I grabbed the book and the receipt and went back inside, where the manager was waiting for me at one of the registers.

"What's wrong with the book?" he grumbled.
"Nothing," I replied casually.
"Then why do you want to exchange it?"
"Oh! Well, I'd called ahead about it, and the lady offered to put it on hold--which I really appreciate, by the way-- but it turns out that the one she chose is a little squished around the edges, and there are some germs along the side there..."  I trailed off, hoping I'd said enough but knowing I'd said too much. 

So of course, I said more. "I'm getting this for my tutor, and I really want to make a nice first impression, and this one is just nicer."

"O-kay," he said, but he said it like this: OH-kaaaaay.

I hate that.

"Well, I'll need to void the transaction, and you'll need to purchase this second nicer one," he said.

"I am so sorry to inconvenience you. I am very, very sorry. I thought we could just swap them out," I said. "I only purchased it nine minutes ago. I truly didn't realize it would be so complicated."

"Oh, I could make this much more complicated," he said.

"Please, please don't," I said meekly. 

And then, in case he didn't hear me, in case the giant poufy beard he was sporting was somehow covering his ears, I said it again a little louder, "Please don't make it more complicated." 

"I already said I was sorry," I added.

So he rang up the nicer one and asked me to run my debit card through the payment machine, and I had to sign the exact same way I had for the first one. 

"Here you go," he said, and possibly, "Bye."

After all that hullabaloo, there was no traditional "return" type paperwork or anything special to sign. The process felt incomplete. Had I simply been charged twice?

"So, that's it? I'm all set?" I asked.

"I'm not sure what you mean by all set," he said. Uh-oh. And then he started speaking even more slowly. "See, I voided your first transaction, then I charged you for your nicer book--"

There was that tone again. 

I had to interrupt. 
I had to get out of there.

"Sounds like I'm ready to go then. Thank you very much, sir."


Math class hasn't even started yet, and the darn thing has already been giving me problems.

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