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Math Class


Fri, May 11th, 2001
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Monday, May 7, 2001

My father was a mathematical marvel. He could figure stuff out in his head faster and more accurately than anybody I ever knew. I dare say I did not inherit either his good common sense or his ability to figure. That is not to say that I am completely without some arithmetic. This spring I had the opportunity to stop at an agricultural chemical supply warehouse on business. I was not in a hurry, but I was not inclined to loiter there either. The warehouseman, lets call him Joe, is a good man who has been helpful to me in the past. This time, before Joe could help me, he had to help a farmer load some ag chemicals. I stood nearby ready to help if I could.

Joe rolled out with a forklift loaded with thirty-six cases of Prowl herbicide. Joe yelled to the farmer, "How much of this do you need then, Bill?"

Bill dug into the front of his bib overalls and pulled out the official used envelope of the 2001 crop production season. "It says here that I need 120 gallons of Prowl," Bill called.

Joe shut off the forklift. "Okay. 120 gallons?" Joe asked, "How many cases is that?"

Bill and Joe gathered at the pallet full of Prowl, adjusted their bifocals and studied the side of one of the yellow and black boxes.

"Here we go," Bill said, "Theres two bottles in each box and each bottle holds two and a half gallons."

"So, thats five gallons of Prowl in a box," Joe calculated proudly.

Bill agreed. I thought for a moment he was going to shake Joes hand or pat him on the back. In the meantime, I felt the first pangs of anxiety as I realized how long this might take.

"So, if you need 120 gallons, how many boxes do you need?" Joe spoke this mostly to himself, but Bill and I were keeping right up with him.

"Right," Bill said. The two of them stood near the pallet and looked at several of the boxes as if the answer was printed on them. I felt the hot sun starting to beat down on my forehead as I anticipated spending the rest of my life on Joes loading dock.

I took a chance. "I think that 24 boxes would be what you need," I ventured rather quietly, just so they both could hear.

"Well, lets see," Joe said, "twenty boxes times five would be a hundred gallons. But, thats not enough."

"No. Thats right. Thats not enough," Bill agreed, "But, five times thirty boxes would be a hundred and fifty gallons and I dont want that either."

"Probably twenty-four boxes would do it," I said a bit louder. My mouth was starting to get dry and I felt as though heat waves of dizziness would soon encircle the sun like in those desert cowboy movies.

Joe looked thoughtful. "If we divided a hundred and twenty gallons by five, then we would come up with how many boxes we need," he stated.

"Yes," I thought, "they finally got the equation. It cant be long now."

Joe reached for his pocket. "Ive got to use a pencil and some paper," he said reasonably.

But Joe did not have a pencil and I came about as close to losing my patience as I get. I got very bold and said rather forcefully, "Okay. How about this? Five gallons times twenty boxes is one hundred gallons. And then five gallons times four boxes is twenty gallons. So twenty boxes plus four boxes should be one-hundred and twenty gallons."

Bill looked at Joe and they looked at me. "Yeah, I guess thats probably right," Joe said.

"Yeah," Bill agreed, "thats the way I figured it."

We commenced loading the twenty-four boxes onto Bills pickup. This was a "Laurel and Hardy" event in itself. Bill counted out loud for each box he handled. I was trying to count the boxes as they were actually placed in the pickup. Joe was counting boxes out loud by twos as they left the pallet. We would have been better off throwing the whole pallet of boxes in Bills pickup and arbitrarily taking a few off. Finally, everyone agreed that Bill had twenty-four boxes of Prowl aboard his pickup. I thought that our shadows were much longer than when we started, but now my turn was coming up.

Bill had other plans. "Now, I need 120 ounces of this stuff." He showed Joe his crop-planning envelope as he and Joe went back inside the warehouse. I summoned up my few remaining raw nerve ends and followed them. The leaves on the nearby trees seemed to be much larger than when I had arrived. Spring was maturing rapidly into summer and I was seeing it happen from a loading dock.

The stuff that Bill needed came in packages that weighed one pound and four ounces. It was the same problem. Bill and Joe set about their careful calculations. I looked at my watch. The recently installed battery had gone dead. I imagined that I would not be far behind if I had to go through this again. I stuck my hand up against the box and said, "This is twenty ounces per package so we need just six packages." Perhaps they had learned to trust me or perhaps something in the tone of my voice suggested that they had a potential double-homicide perpetrator on their hands. In any case, the small packages were quickly loaded on Bills pickup.

I thought that now the worst was over. I was wrong. Bill and Joe went over to the counter and started working on how to split the bill into thirds for Bill and his two partners. I gave up. I left the pair to their own devices and went out to sit in the shade on the dock. The vultures circling above me must have been very disappointed when Bill finally got in his pickup and Joe came out to see what exactly I was doing there.

There was no sense getting worked up about it. I know that Bill and Joe would have been perfectly capable of doing their calculations without me. I managed to enjoy the rest of our business together and still enjoy the memory of math class with Bill and Joe.

By Wayne Pike

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