The Dreaded Word Problem

Math bookLet’s get this out of the way first: I was a lousy math student. I could, with some tutoring from Friend Shari and Dad, grasp the concepts, but I was too interested in debate and photography to waste time (from my perspective) doing the homework.

Geometry was even a bigger bore: I mean, why bother “proving” stuff that had already been “proven.” Come on, let’s plow some new ground here.

We had soft-cover books

Math book 2We folks in the Class of ’65 had “proof” books of the Concepts of Modern Mathematics. They books were printed on regular 8-1/2 x 11″ paper and had a pink heavyweight paper front and back with some kind of black tape binding, if I recall correctly.

By the time Wife Lila’s Class of ’66 got there, the book was a real hardback with Grace Williams’ name on the flyleaf as an author.

Misses Williams and Rixman were good teachers and extraordinarily patient with the likes of me. I mentioned to Shari one day not long ago that I was sure they gave me a higher grade in their classes than I deserved.

Her¬†theory was that if they thought a student had the potential to accomplish something if they ever pulled their act together, they’d cut them some slack rather than give them a low grade that might torpedo their chances to go on to college. I’m not sure I was THAT pitiful, but I appreciate them giving me the benefit of the doubt.

Wife Lila was more diligent

Math book 5My pink-covered books are lost in a box somewhere in my storage shed, but Lila’s are out on a shelf in plain sight. You can tell from her notes that she took the class seriously. (And, seriously enough that she bought the books at the end of the year.) You can click on the images to make them larger, by the way.

This is a management problem

Math book 3The problem read, “Mary and Jane complete a typing task together in 3 hours. If Mary types for 2 hours and Jane 4-1/2 hours, they complete the same task. In how many hours could Jane complete the task working alone?”

Well, this sounds more like a management problem than a math problem.

  • Is Mary a Chatty Cathy who distracts Jane from her typing duties, which would mean that Jane would be faster alone.
  • Is Jane a supervisor, who is helping Mary learn the job, so she has to do the work of two?
  • If Jane is that slow, shouldn’t we fire her and hire another Mary?
  • What if Jane is the only one in the office who knows how to make good coffee or clear the jam in the copier, and she’s constantly interrupted?

Don’t even get me started on all the unlisted variables in the touring group problem at the bottom of the page.

Who cares how high the tree was?

Math book 4Problem 8 says “During a storm a tree is broken and falls with its tip touching the ground 24 feet from its base. If the top part makes an angle of 30 degrees with the ground, what was the original height of the tree?”

  • Who CARES how tall the tree was originally? It ain’t never gonna be that tall again.
  • If I’m going to climb up the trunk to determine the exact angle, why don’t I just measure the stump, then say, “Hey, Joe, catch the end of the tape and tell me how far it is to the tip of the tree.” Height of stump plus the distance from the stump to the tip of the tree equals the original height.
  • Of course, you’re going to take a productivity hit for the time you take to answer Joe’s question, “Hey, boss, why’d you do that?”
  • While I’m up there measuring the height of the stump, I might as well drag along a chainsaw to whack off the widowmaker.
  • If I do that, I don’t even have to throw the tape to Joe: I can just say, “Joe, cut those pieces up into four-foot lengths, then let me know how many there are.” See, simple math, I get the truck loaded and I don’t have to explain anything to Joe.

Maybe THAT’S why Misses Rixman and Williams held out hope for me: they saw me as a budding practical mathematician, not a theoretical one.

Or, more likely, they didn’t want me to repeat their course.


Class of ’65’s Cool Table

Members of Class of 1965 meet for lunch 07-06-2013Terry Rose Crowell came in to Annie Laurie’s Antiques where I was hawking Smelterville: A Work in Progress and Snapshots of Cape Girardeau on First Friday. In the course of our conversation, she mentioned that select members of the Class of 1965 meet for lunch on the first Saturday of each month at BG’s Old Tyme Deli and Saloon. (“Select” means anybody who shows up.)

Marilyn Dudley Seyer

Members of Class of 1965 meet for lunch 07-06-2013I hoped this might finally be my chance to set at the Cool Table, something that always seemed out of my reach when I attended Central High School. My odds were enhanced when Brenda Bone Lapp posted on Facebook that everybody usually fits around one table. It was hinted that table dancing was known to transpire. In fact, I was told confidentially, it was Marilyn’s turn this month.

Such gyrations much have occurred when I went out to the car to switch out camera bodies because it didn’t happen in my presence. I did notice a glow on Marilyn’s forehead (ladies don’t sweat), so I might have been gone longer than I thought.

Carolyn Lee Barks

Members of Class of 1965 meet for lunch 07-06-2013When I commented that I felt a bit outnumbered at the table, I was told that guys have been known to show up; Jim Feldmeier, in particular.

There was a long discussion about how women were discriminated against before Title IX, but how things are getting better. We talked about how spring sports got the short end of the stick because of early yearbook deadlines. There was also a debate about whether girls participated in track and field sports in our day. I couldn’t remember shooting any.

Susan Valle Perry

Members of Class of 1965 meet for lunch 07-06-2013Talk turned to Cape’s movie theaters, particularly the Rialto, which was owned by Carol Klarsfeld’s mother. Carol got all the money deposited in the penny scale in the theater, something I didn’t know. We longed for the days when you could get Black Cherry soda out of the soft drink dispenser in the lobby. Popcorn, at a dime a box (or with real butter for two bits) was a real profit center. The box, which cost a penny, was the most expensive part.

Accounts of Carol shenanigans became a major topic of conversation. It’s a shame Carol was taken from us at an early age by breast cancer because I’m sure she’d still be doing crazy stuff as a grandmother.

Pat Wright Vogelsang

Members of Class of 1965 meet for lunch 07-06-2013Birthday cards, some of which were AARP-Rated were passed around. I blush easily, so I tried to avoid reading the insides, but they made me do it. This is a rough crowd.

Pat Wright Vogelsang is vamping for the camera while Susan and Marilyn are looking through some of my old Cape photos in the background.

Donna Eddleman Mason

Members of Class of 1965 meet for lunch 07-06-2013

We talked about favorite teachers (Miss Sadler for English and Grace Williams for math), best pizza (Tony’s) and best steak (Wayne’s Grill), the fact that The Missourian always referred to women by their husband’s name (Mrs. Joe Smith, not Mrs. Jane Smith or Jane Smith) and how few kids back then drove their cars to school.

All in all, it was a pretty good day at the Cool Table. They were nice enough to score some books and calendars and even paid for my iced tea. If I had just been around when Marilyn rocked the table, the day would have been perfect.