A few days ago, I went to Home Depot to buy a big roll of outdoor carpet — 12′ x 20′ — for our back yard. After rolling and cutting the carpet and wrapping it in cellophane, one of the two sales associates assisting in this endeavor whipped out a calculator, punched in a few numbers, and then announced that I was purchasing 1.44 square yards of carpet. He left the scene to fetch a big enough cart for me, and the other associate wrote “1.44 sqyds” on the wrapped carpet.
“How much carpet did you say I was buying?” I asked with bemusement.
“1.44 yards,” he responded.
“Hmm. That doesn’t sound quite right. Let me see what I get.” I took out my BlackBerry, launched the calculator application, and talked “to myself” while clicking away. “Let’s see… 12 feet times 20 feet is 240 square feet. I think dividing by 9 will give me square yards. That gives 26.6.” Then I turned to the associate. “26.6 square yards sounds a bit more reasonable than 1.44 for a piece of carpet that big, don’t you think?”
He looked as if he was thinking about it for a minute, asked me to repeat the number I came up with, crossed off the “1.44 sqyds” on the roll, and replaced it with “26.6 sqyds”.
It’s sort of sad that Home Depot hasn’t figured out how to either adequately train its staff in to handle the simple math problems they encounter every day, or how to post a chart next to the carpet rolls (which should be easy, since all they’re all 12′ wide). It’s somewhat sadder that an adult who presumably graduated from high school is incapable of solving this trivial math problem. But what’s saddest at all is that the two adults helping me were both so mathematically illiterate that neither of them recognized the patent absurdity in saying that a huge roll of carpet had an area of a couple square yards.