Friday, September 29, 2006

It's Not All About the Math

In a three-hour stretch of algebra formulas and fractions about situations involving row boats and the percentage of cars on the freeway during any 30-second window on a leap year, we hear gunfire. I don't look up from my book, because I somehow feel that I'm very close to solving the important issue of how many gallons of gas it takes Billy to visit Suzie if Suzie lives twenty percent further than Billy had planned, and if Billy drives 10mph faster than the speed limit.

I wanted to draw on my algebra archives from 1992, but I failed algebra in high school. No kidding: F. I remember taking that one home to my Dad and watching him shake his head, "We're getting F's now?" It can really make a kid feel bad when suddenly, because you're more into Depeche Mode and your spiral perm, you've somehow given your Dad an F in algebra, too. So I made sure to get at least D's, with the cameo C after that. My strategy paid off. While all the "honors" students became burnouts before their Freshman Orientation, I stored up my stamina for college. I had several semesters-over a year-long run-of straight A's. Including an A- in Calculus.

What does this mean? I still failed high school algebra. And I was writing poetry in the margins of my geometry tests. "If only you could focus on your geometry the way you do poetry," Mr. Wark tsk-tsked, a subtle threat to swipe my teenage angst and share it with the class. Trust me, lame as my poetry was then, an impromptu reading could have really livened things up.

But now, seems even neighboring gunshots can't distract me. I tell myself it's probably just kids lighting up those 4th of July leftovers. Nevermind that I'm in the heart of the Financial District in San Francisco-and it would pretty much be an alien sighting to see a child. Like seeing a lit cigarette in a California bar- it just doesn't happen. Our GRE instructor, a guy our age that is way too excited about integers and exponents, lets us out 15 minutes early.

"We should walk out together," the girl sitting beside me said. "I think I heard gunshots."

We got in the elevator and walked down the dark city streets, not saying too much. It's not that we were concerned about rampant gunfire, or our signature San Francisco aggressive homeless. Our heads hurt from too much algebra, and I was still personally baffled. Did Billy have enough gasoline to make it to Suzie's all right, and if he did, what if Suzie wasn't home?

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