# My Math Problem

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Standing with Mrs. Rauschenberg in front of the supermarket shelf, I was looking at a problem. With my background, I could have explained it to her in terms of supply and demand, the pricing aspects, and uncertainty factors, but it might have put her to sleep, or more likely, caused her to use her handbag on me.

She’d already threatened the latter so I sighed and shrugged my shoulders. “Sorry, ma’am, but we’re all out.”

“Well, is there any more in the back?” she demanded as she stared at the empty slot on the shelf. “I just need one jar, young man. Can you stop just standing there like an idiot and go check?”

“Uhh…I’m sorry, ma’am,” I replied, still surprised at her demeanor. Mrs. Rauschenberg was a rather severe-looking lady—somewhere between 70 and 80, I guessed—and not known for having a sunny disposition, but in our few interactions, she’d never before been threatening or insulting. “I’ve already checked; there’s not a single jar in the store.”

Mrs. Rauschenberg huffed in frustration. “I buy it here every Christmas and you’ve always got plenty. So what’s different this year? It’s you, isn’t it. I don’t remember you from before a few months ago. You didn’t bother to order any, did you?”

I shook my head, wishing I could tell her what I really thought of her outburst. Instead, I held my tongue and said, “Ma’am, I’m just a stocker, a grocery clerk. I’m not in charge of ordering so I have no idea why we’re out. Like you said, though, I’ve only been here for a few months and I’ve never seen us run out of it before.”

She frowned at me. “Phhfff. Likely story. And no idea, eh? That just shows what happens when a man your age doesn’t get a good education or have any drive and ambition. He ends up as a lowly stock boy at a fucking supermarket instead of doing something important with his life.”

She added a few more demeaning curses and stomped off, a real feat for someone her age, leaving me to sigh again in frustration as I failed in my attempt to keep from wishing bad things on her. Her insult hurt, for I had all of what she’d accused me of lacking except for the good job at the moment.

Thinking about that and my upcoming birthday, I wished, once again, that I was somewhere else, far, far away.

***

It had started a little over eight months before when Monte Wiederhoff asked me to stay for a moment after a meeting in his office with the company’s senior execs.

Monte had taken over Pelton Wiederhoff almost two years before following the passing of his elderly father, Montgomery, Senior, a great leader who’d actually died at his desk at nearly 85. Unfortunately, his son was cut from a different cloth, and the firm just hadn’t been the same since. As the private company’s chief financial officer, I’d done my best to help keep it on track despite Monte’s apparent rudderlessness at the helm.

“Clark, thanks for staying. Tell me, where do you see our firm headed in the next two years?”

While Monte had the title, I’d been making most of the major decisions for the firm since Montgomery’s death, with Monte usually giving a nod, often without a thought. I paused for a few moments, fighting the desire to keep from asking why, like in so many cases before, he hadn’t read my report that answered that in considerable detail.

Or maybe, just maybe, he had and wanted a personal explanation of the changes needed.

I took that tact.

“Well, sir, we’re in very good condition at the moment, but with the economic turndown combined with some issues here, I see the potential for trouble ahead in the next six to twelve months, with very serious downside over the next 24 months if we aren’t more proactive in the near term. Our supply chain has been really affected—did you ever get to read the report I gave you a few weeks ago?”

I’d asked him at least four times already and had, to date, always received the same response. The report answered his question and detailed specific recommendations for helping us avoid most of the likely problems. “If so, we can focus on the parts that may be confusing if you’d like rather than going through the whole thing.”

“Uh, not yet,” he replied, making it five for five. “That’s okay, though. We don’t need to get into the nitty gritty. From what you’ve said, it sounds like I’ve timed it just right. Clark, don’t tell anyone, but I’ve been in negotiations with another firm for the past couple of months. I didn’t read your report so I wouldn’t have to answer any questions about it if they asked. Delete all copies from the server and backups, and shred any hard copies you might have printed.”

He smiled as he added, “We sign the paperwork tomorrow and they’ll be taking over on Monday.” He was still looking pleased with himself as he looked out the window, even as my world came crashing down around me.

“But, Monte—”

He held up his hand sharply as he looked around at me with a strange expression. “Yeah, it becomes their problem on Monday and we won’t have to worry about it. Oh, and remember, like I said, you can’t illegal bahis tell anyone about this. Any of it.”

And just like that, Monte Wiederhoff, just a few years older than me, was set for life as he ruined mine, with me and the rest of the top management of Pelton Wiederhoff becoming surplus staff while he walked away with millions. The new boss showed up on Monday morning and our senior leadership team was escorted out of the building well before the end of the day.

Despite having an undergrad degree in economics from Princeton, an MBA from Wharton, and almost 26 years of experience using them, suitable jobs were in short supply due to the economic downturn, which worsened about that time. My marriage, which had long been on the rocks, went down the tubes just weeks later, too, and I found myself in the basement efficiency owned by Mrs. Edna Katchekamp, an elderly woman who lived a short distance from my former home. It was tiny but relatively cheap with utilities and wifi included.

After a long and grueling job search, I landed a great new position, but due to the company’s contracts and the retirement date of the person I’d be replacing, it didn’t start until the end of January. Despite my request, they couldn’t take me on early, even at a reduced rate.

Unfortunately, all that made it even more difficult to find something that would pay my bills and offer health insurance to cover the interim. With bills, spousal support, and college payments due, I was forced to take the only near-term job offering I had that offered medical insurance: full-time as a stock clerk at the local supermarket. With that and a bit of part-time work from local accountants, I figured I’d be able to make ends meet until my new job started.

***

So, four nights before Christmas, it seemed that Mrs. Rauschenberg and practically half of the rest of the customers in the grocery store were looking for it. With people baking and cooking for the big day, I was restocking shelves like crazy on Aisle 9, the baking goods section, and had already answered the same question at least a dozen times. Each such customer was disappointed to learn that there wasn’t a single jar of it in the entire store.

Some, like Mrs.Rauschenberg, asked if I could check the storeroom to see if there wasn’t just one more jar hiding back there, and a couple of people even asked if I could call one of our sister stores to see if they had any in stock. I sent the last two to the front desk for assistance and never heard the outcome. While they may have said it in different ways, they all claimed that they really needed it.

What, you ask, was sought after with such fervor, was wanted with such great desire that it caused a shortage?

Molasses, known in some parts as black treacle, that dark syrup obtained from refining sugar cane or sugar beets into sugar.

Molasses?

What?

Why?

Good question, and, having only worked in the store for a few months, I didn’t have a clue to the answer. Therefore, I walked toward the front of the store, determined to find out.

I knew from my restocking work over the past four months that molasses would sit on the shelf for weeks or even months without needing to be restocked. Oh, a jar would disappear periodically, sold to some gray-haired lady or another, but for the most part, it was rare for more than two or three jars to be sold per month.

Then suddenly, just days before Christmas, there’s practically a stampede for the damn stuff, which gets us back to the question: why?

“Excuse me, Mr. Manetti, do you have a moment, sir?”

“Sure, Clark, what’s up?” asked our store manager.

“Molasses, sir. There’s a run on them. Do you have any idea why?”

“Oh shit! I forgot!” he exclaimed, looking genuinely upset with himself. He wore a pained expression for a few moments while he chastised himself inwardly before retaking control and turning back to me.

“Clark, molasses are used in some cakes, pies, and other recipes, but the biggest use at Christmas time is probably in gingerbread for cookies and houses. I always order a few extra cases on December 1st, but it slipped my mind this year. How’s our supply holding out?”

“Gone, sir. We’re out.”

“Fuck!” he said, completely losing his usual cool, but then looking around, almost in panic that a customer or one of his senior managers might have heard him. Leaning close to me, he whispered, “Every blue-hair in the store is going to be upset now and the backstabbers will have it in for me. This needs to be our little secret, understood?”

I was trying to keep from smiling as his quiet little conspiracy unfolded. “I’m going to my office now to see if I can still get a case on tomorrow’s truck. You keep stocking and, if anyone asks, you tell them we should be receiving some from the warehouse any time. Got that? Any time! And not a word!”

“Yes, sir,” I said as I walked away, wondering if Mr. Manetti and Monte Wiederhoff might be relatives.

***

The number of people asking for molasses illegal bahis siteleri continued to climb as the evening progressed, with the male customers, few of whom would be doing the actual cookie making, being even more upset than the women since each would be disappointing his wife or significant other who was looking forward to making their own little army of gingerbread men or village of gingerbread houses.

A couple of them hinted that their evening’s extracurricular activities would be sadly lacking if they failed to deliver. I felt sorry for them in a way, but considering my months without sex following several years of practically no affection from Greta, my ex, I didn’t dwell on their misfortune too much since I had more than enough of my own.

In addition, Keith Donaldson, the evening manager, walked by Mr. Manetti’s office several times, trying to figure out why the store manager would be staying so late. Mr. Donaldson was rumored among the staff to be after Mr. Manetti’s job, so I suspected that he was Brutus No. 1 in Mr. Manetti’s eyes. I made it a point to avoid running into him; if we didn’t talk, I wouldn’t have to answer any potentially uncomfortable questions. By doing so, the evening passed, and the light went out in Mr. Manetti’s office around 8:30 PM.

However, it was just after 11 PM, only about an hour before my shift ended, when things changed.

A drop-dead gorgeous woman in her early to mid-forties went beyond disappointment when I told her that there weren’t any molasses available. With the baking aisle finally deserted except for the two of us, she stepped in close to me and touched my nametag with an almost loving caress before sweeping her long blonde hair behind her shoulders and unzipping her jacket.

This gave me a spectacular view of her impressive breasts barely contained in a lace bra under a sheer white shirt. The bra wasn’t padded, making her erect nipples be displayed quite prominently through the thin fabrics. With the shirt unbuttoned down to her sternum, those sizable and quite delectable mounds did a wonderful job casting a shadow into the Great Valley of Cleavage between them.

In a rather deep, sultry voice, she whispered, “Clark, you’re a rather good-looking guy; I’ll make it well worth your while if you’ll go back to the stockroom and find me a jar. Just one, Clark, just one little jar is all I need.”

My heart was in my throat as this beautiful woman, with her jacket opened wide, swayed slightly, brushing the projecting tip of one breast and then the other against the stocker apron that covered my chest. My blood raced and I felt myself swelling in response, but I quickly tried to force myself to relax, focusing on her eyes rather than her wondrous display.

“Ma’am, ahem, I’m so sorry, but we really are completely out at the moment,” I told her in a low voice that almost quivered. “You could be offering me the moon and the stars and I still wouldn’t be able to help you tonight. There’s a possibility we might get a new shipment tomorrow or the next day but—.”

“Well, the moon might come out to play and I might help you see stars if a jar turns up,” she whispered with a smile, running her fingers up the front of my apron at my crotch level, just brushing my hardening member. Pulling away, she handed me her card as if drawn out of the air. “My number’s on the bottom. If you get some in, give me a call, Clark, and we’ll draw straws for who’s on bottom—or top?—first to celebrate.” Seeing my obvious discomfort, she touched two fingers to her lips before touching them to my cheek.

I must have looked like the proverbial deer in the deadlights at that point for it was the first time I’d been seemingly propositioned in my few months working at the grocery store. I tucked that card away in my wallet so she could see I wasn’t losing it, but my face reddened when I saw her staring at the foil wrapper I’d recently started carrying in it.

It was an amused little smile that crossed her face before she added, “If you find that jar, you might want to think about picking up a few more of those. Ciao.”

Her eyebrow went up suggestively, and then, with her jacket rezipped as if by magic, she turned and walked away. Wearing high heels and tight jeans with her butt cheeks doing a dance of their own below her jacket as she walked, I could only return her stare of moments earlier.

“Holy shit!” I breathed at barely a whisper. “Please, God, please! Send molasses on that truck tomorrow!”

***

Perhaps God had my best interests at heart, saving me from either embarrassment at the great joke she’d just played on me or possibly death by fucking if she was actually serious, for the truck arrived the next day with nary a jar of molasses. Or maybe He was punishing me for my devilish thoughts of the evening before.

Whatever the case, Mr. Manetti spent part of his day locked in the office away from our customers while trying his best to get us a crate of molasses. During that time, I kept dealing with customer inquiries into what canlı bahis siteleri some store employees were now jokingly calling the Great Molasses Shortage.

Following my discussion with, according to her card, one Madeline Rector, she of the beautiful blonde hair, superb tits, and incredible ass of the evening before, I gave it a lot of thought. Perhaps, if we were to get a new shipment, I could have an enjoyable time with Madeline. Maybe I could even use the promise of jars of that much desired treat to improve my love life.

Growing up, I was always a nerd. I was extremely smart but even more uncool, with few friends and, in high school, fewer dates. Mathematics made sense to me, but people didn’t, so I gravitated toward accounting. The problem with that is that numbers in accounting have to do with people, so I was eventually forced to deal with my issues, at least to some extent. I still had few close friends, but it got to the point where dealing with normal acquaintances and coworkers no longer felt like nails on a chalkboard.

One way I dealt with my issue was serving as a math tutor in college and grad school. The joy of seeing the light come on in another’s eyes as they learned some previously elusive concept made me want to help them, and I think some of the girls eventually felt similarly about me. As a result, I had sometimes, strictly at their suggestion, accepted payment in kind rather than cash from a few of these friendly young nymphomaniacs. I’d never been naturally comfortable around girls so between the tutoring, those encounters, and a couple of girlfriends who were as socially awkward as me, my higher education had opened my eyes to new perspectives, desires, and opportunities.

Now being older and somewhat more certain with regards to the moral aspects, I would never trade molasses directly for sex, but by offering to help them, I’d be getting names and phone numbers for the start of what might be a little black book to help with new opportunities over time. If I helped a woman get what she needed, perhaps I’d make a new friend that I could call a short time later? What if that call led to a date? What if that date led to sex or maybe even, in the long run, more?

Yes, it was admittedly a long shot, but given the possibilities and my long drought, maybe I could leverage the lack of molasses into something beneficial. In the end, I came up with a plan and a new method of dealing with customers looking for a jar.

“No,” I told the men and most of the women. “I’m sorry, but we don’t have a single jar in the store. It’s possible we might receive some tomorrow or Christmas Eve.” To the men, I added, “but I’m not counting on it. You might try some of our other local stores.” For the women, I offered a bit more hope, encouraging them to check again, but this was primarily because females, particularly in relationships, tend to shop and spend much more on groceries than men.

For women that attracted me in some manner or another, I used a different tactic I learned from my encounter with Madeline. “No, ma’am,” I’d say, “we’re out at the moment but there’s a really good chance we’ll get some on the truck tomorrow or possibly Christmas Eve. If you’ll just leave me your name and number, I’ll be glad to give you a call to let you know if any comes in.”

By doing this, I’d collected the names and telephone numbers of six women plus the delectable Madeline’s before the end of my shift on December 22nd. That’s not a lot, but considering I didn’t even have a little black book to write them in, it was a start. In fact, in my current state, I’d have taken any of them to bed…or to a private corner in the stockroom, if such a place actually existed. No, I knew I wouldn’t be directly trading molasses for sex, but I had obtained valuable information that I might use over time when my circumstances were improved after my new job started and I had a real place again.

With those thoughts in mind, I took my cart to the storeroom as the loudspeaker was asking people to make their final purchases since the store was closing in five minutes. On my way out, I was walking back down Aisle 9 to make sure I hadn’t left anything out of place or any cardboard on the shelves when I saw her looking at the open slot on the bottom shelf where, at most any other time of year, jars of molasses would be gathering dust.