IT professional's wheelhouse

"Tales of a Scorched Coffee Pot" - G3

By jasonmcgathey | Jason McGathey | 17 Jul 2023

IT professional’s wheelhouse. Not so much the pricing coordinator.


Well, Edgar thinks with a wry smirk, it’s funny how the technology is bullshit to certain people, most of the time…except when maybe they want a project knocked out in lightning fast speed, last thing on a Friday afternoon. But whatever. He’s just here to facilitate whatever goofy ideas a guy like Harry might come up with — and considers it a fun challenge, anyway, to see how efficiently he can pull off something like this. The experience might come in handy for much more legitimate projects down the road.

He has noticed, though, that folks in Harry’s demographic tend to lump everyone into two categories. There are those who are Good With Computers, and should therefore be capable if not totally responsible for everything even remotely connected to such. The rest of them are Not Good With Computers and should therefore not be required to learn any of it. If asked, in fact, Harry would probably describe Edgar’s job as Good With Computers, or possibly the even more generic, Computer Stuff. But, alas, Good With Computers is not a job title; only those who are Not Good With Computers think that it is.

Edgar runs into this phenomenon quite a bit everywhere, but most of all (quite naturally) at Palmyra. Here, for example, they encounter twice as many internet as the other two stores combined. If Shelly is on hand, she will just deal with the situation, attempt to figure it out herself, and Corey at least knows enough to recognize that this isn’t Edgar’s job, will contact Teri Barnette or Felix Ortega. Everybody else in the building typically runs to come get Edgar.

Of course, even they must all know this isn’t his job, because how do they handle this when he’s not here? When he is, however, they are bugging him to no end about anything even remotely internet, computer, or equipment related, which always presents him with a conundrum. He wants to be helpful, but is also wondering if this does more long-term harm than good, in that he’s just enabling continued chaos, and the misperception that this is his responsibility.

He usually hedges his bets, based upon mood, dependent upon how busy he is and whether he even knows anything about the subject at hand, with one of two responses. Half the time he tells them to call Teri or Felix; the other half, he will say something like, “umm…I mean, I guess I could call Teri or Felix for you…” to which they commonly reply with something to the effect of, “sweet, I knew you’d figure it out!” as they smile and stroll away. Part of him does wonder if he’s not just being played. Yet while this surely constitutes a small percentage of it, he doesn’t think this explains away much of this phenomenon, and therefore considers such a response thoroughly bizarre.

Logistical matters are maybe not helping matters any, as far as continuing to muddy this water. Considering that their two IT people work in the Bellwether Snacks HQ clear down at the state line, which is fifteen minutes away from Southside, a half hour from Liberty Avenue but more like an hour from Palmyra, particularly during the mid-day bumper to bumper crawl. Therefore even Teri and Felix are more apt to, upon learning about a predicament, call the store and figure out who the most tech capable person on hand might be, attempt coaching said person through various scenarios instead of jumping in a car right away.

Well, the category of what an employee doesn’t know but everybody mistakenly assumes is his responsibility, this is one thing; elsewhere, and of far greater consequence, is the category of stuff he probably should know, yet had no idea about. And the big lesson concerning this arrives along with the state’s tax auditor, when he contacts them asking for sales history for every item in their system, for the past five years. Along with what tax rate they’re charging for each, and how much they’ve collected during this time frame.

Given how trigger happy they’ve been around here of late, as far as firing people — as if to make up for years of lax standards — Edgar is instantly terrified that this debacle is going to cost him his job. But if nothing else, he thinks the bosses’ even-handed response is an indication that he’s performing well, and they don’t hold him responsible. Well, Rob Drake initially attempts to, during one early, testy speaker call, as Edgar’s sitting with Duane in the latter’s office.

“Somebody needs to be paying attention to this stuff!” Rob says, “I mean, we can’t just be randomly putting items wherever…”

“We are paying attention. That’s what I’m telling you,” Duane interjects, “nobody knew.”

Unless asked a question, Edgar is mostly too mortified to speak. But Duane’s right, nobody knew about these finer points the auditor is insisting upon. Edgar came here with enough knowledge to perform every aspect of his job, yes. And has learned a great deal along the way, particularly from Teri and particularly about the various software they’re using. But the intricacies of the North Carolina tax code? Not so much. And yet he finds himself trooping over to the Bellwether Snacks HQ, along with Duane, for a little pow-wow up in their conference room. Also on hand are Rob, and Bellwether’s own tax wizard, Grant Davis.

“Is this your tax expert?” Grant asks Duane, as they’re being introduced, and he’s shaking Edgar’s hand.

“Well, he’s the closest thing we’ve got,” Duane says with a chuckle.

As it turns out, the state is arriving at a figure of $77,000 they’re saying HHM owes them, due to items being miscategorized over the years. The time span under investigation here might work in Edgar’s favor, however, for he didn’t change anything, these items have been this way for who knows how long. Teri had no clue about these hairs the state is splitting, when covering in this role, before him. Their controller, Carmen, has never heard any of it, either. And since being hired, he has simply gone with whatever meager instructions he’s had concerning adding new items.

Carmen actually sends her husband around town, to various competitors, and has him purchase a random assortment of items on this hit list, to see what these stores are charging. Then attaches the receipts and gripes to the auditor, in their group email chain, that the tax rates are all over the map. Yet this accomplishes nothing, as the auditor’s explanation is that they “haven’t gotten to” those others stores yet, and her complaints only serve to make him grouchier.

There are a handful of popular theories about what’s really going on here, of course. Most agree that the main culprit fueling this is that the economy is in the toilet, and the state is grasping at straws. The more paranoid among them, meanwhile, of which Duane’s rueful chuckles lead the charge, have observed that it’s probably not a coincidence this tiny operation was targeted first, before the bigger, much more influential fish higher up the food chain.

But it doesn’t much matter, at least pertaining to this fine. There’s not much other recourse besides paying it and moving on. The bigger issue, really, is what this means moving forward, which has them twice as fired up. Jumping from a 2% tax up to 6.25 is no small matter, and all the customers are likely to notice is that shopping at Healthy Hippie Market suddenly became a lot more expensive.

However convenient and curious, it turns out that the state does not owe them a rebate or discount if they were charging too much tax, in rare instances, like for example with the organic Twix knockoffs. The state gets to keep this money, too. One of the tiny print details the state is hounding them over is that anything with chocolate whatsoever is considered candy, and should be taxed at 6.25% — unless it happens to have flour in it, in which case it’s a cookie. Rob is pretty fired up, though, that this means a ton of the Bellwether snack mixes, which have chocolate chips in them alongside dried fruit, will now be taxed through the roof.

“I don’t like calling them candy, though, I don’t want the customers seeing this on the receipt,” he says, “can’t we come up with a different name?”

Following a few seconds of silence, Edgar eventually croaks, “what about specialty something…specialty bulk, maybe?”

Rob snaps his fingers and says, “specialty bulk…I like that. Let’s go with that.”

They all have printouts of every bullet point in this tax code, and feel they have a pretty good grasp on it, now, that it’s not too difficult to comprehend if you really know what to look for. Yet all Edgar can think about is how to enforce this at the store level when it comes to adding future items, because there’s just no way the employees are going to keep this stuff straight when sending things to him, but it’s going to be his head on the chopping block if they don’t.

Long after the smoke clears on this skirmish and they’ve recompensed the state for war damages, emails continue to fly concerning how to pull this off. Any beverage that’s sweetened in any form, for example, has to contain at least 50% juice, or else it’s getting slung into the brand-new specialty grocery category, at the 6.25 rate. Without putting anyone down or wanting to come off as condescending, it’s still absolutely out of the question that some of these people are going to be researching flour content and juice percentages with any consistency or reliability. He’s already searching the system every time they send him new (or “new”) items anyway, and this is another great reason to do so, another reason why it’s unavoidable. Existing items in the same line will certainly help point the way. Otherwise, he’s probably down to multiple email exchanges, if not venturing out to the store himself, if brand new products are being introduced. This is without getting into the fun times ahead, as Harry realizes he can once again order candy, since some existing items have just been moved into specialty grocery, opening another virtual world of possibilities. Which means that it now depends upon who draws the gun faster in ordering the candy, between grocery and bulk. Hilarious episodes where it turns out both have, placing the items in two separate spots in the store, and then arguments about which got to it first, or “should be” allowed to carry it.

He emails Tracy, their product liaison at Bellwether, for ingredient lists on all their items, and this is a huge help. What to do regarding these gigantic files from vendors like Universal Foods is another matter entirely, though. Teri helpfully suggests in the email chain that they can maybe tie the tax rate to Universal’s internal category numbers. Which sounds reasonable enough, at first. The only problem with this, Edgar points out, is that every state is different. Universal Foods is surely not aware of the varying state tax codes and sending out different files depending upon location, nor do they have any reason to care or do so if they did.

As it turns out, the situation is even more complex than that — it’s not just that there are differences between states, but every county might be different, within the state. There’s a 1% additional prepared foods tax in this county, which doesn’t apply to those beyond, for example. As it so happens, they are fortunate in that Palmyra and Liberty both are just barely in the same county as Southside, by just a few miles. But even in doling out this fine, the year is ending on a strong note. Duane has announced $100 cash bonuses at Palmyra and Southside both, for every employee, if they can manage to crack $100K in sales for the first time, during any week this year. And talk has begun swirling about adding a fourth store, which is likely to exist well beyond this county.

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I am a professional writer with 8 published books under my belt. And many other unpublished ones, in various stages of disarray.

Jason McGathey
Jason McGathey

Semi-Coherent Musings - from one of the leading masters of this questionable art form!

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