Here is today’s test in basic arithmetic: If you had two grade-schoolers and one college graduate who happens to be the kids’ grandfather, and you gave each of them a math quiz, how many would flunk?
If, for extra credit, you guessed the dummy was me, go to the head of the class. I’ll be up there, too, sitting in the corner and wearing a dunce cap.
It all added up to humiliation when my granddaughters Chloe and Lilly, who are in fourth grade and first grade, respectively, engaged me in a mathematical challenge after I took them off the school bus.
“How was your day?” I asked when we got in the house.
“Good,” both girls responded.
“What did you do?” I inquired.
“Math,” Chloe answered.
“Are you good at math?” I asked.
“My teacher says I’m a multiplication master,” Chloe said proudly.
“That’s very impressive,” I said.
“Were you good at math when you were in school, Poppie?” Chloe asked.
“No,” I confessed.
“Poppie was in school a long time ago,” Lilly noted.
“I’m going to give you a math test,” Chloe said. “What’s 8 times 7?”
I thought for a moment, then took out my phone.
“Who are you calling?” Chloe wondered.
Lilly saw what I was doing and shrieked, “He’s using his calculator! You can’t use your calculator, Poppie! That’s cheating!”
“The answer is 56,” Chloe said.
“I knew that,” I said feebly.
“No, you didn’t,” said Chloe. “How about 9 times 8?”
“Don’t use your calculator,” Lilly commanded.
I hesitated while running the numbers through my head.
“Seventy-two,” Chloe said.
“I guess I’m not a multiplication master,” I said with a sigh. “Now I’ll give you a test. What’s 10 times 10?”
“One hundred,” Chloe answered instantly.
“I’m good in addition,” Lilly said. “Ask me a question.”
“What’s 5 plus 5?” I asked.
“That’s easy,” Lilly responded. “Ten.”
“Here’s a harder one,” I said. “What’s 60 plus 8?”
“Sixty-eight,” said Lilly, adding: “That’s how old you are, Poppie.”
“Thanks for pointing that out,” I said.
“Now I’ll ask you a question,” Lilly said. “What’s 300 plus 300?”
“More than I have in my bank account,” I said.
“Did you become a writer because you can’t do math?” Chloe wondered.
“Yes,” I admitted.
“Does that mean you don’t have to know anything?” Lilly asked.
“Not exactly,” I responded, “but close.”
I didn’t tell the girls that when I was in high school, my worst subject was algebra. Here, as I dimly recall, which is how I recall most things these days, is the typical algebra problem:
“The Smiths are leaving New York for Boston at 9 a.m. averaging 55 miles per hour. The Joneses are leaving Boston for New York at 10 a.m. averaging 50 miles per hour. Question: At what point in the 200-mile journey will they pass each other?”
Answer: WHO CARES?!
I once put that down on a test. I flunked.
When I got to college, I decided, for one semester, to major in business. In an economics class, the professor called on me and asked, “Mr. Zezima, what’s the difference between macroeconomics and microeconomics?”
My answer: “The spelling.”
I flunked that one, too.
My wife, Sue, does the family banking. If it were left to me, we’d be in debtors’ prison.
“Poppie, I give you an F-minus,” Lilly said when class was dismissed.
Chloe was a little more charitable.
“You get an A for effort,” she told me. “But if you want to be a multiplication master like me, you really need to do your math homework.”
Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service and is the author of six books. His latest is “One for the Ageless: How to Stay Young and Immature Even If You’re Really Old.” Reach him at [email protected] or via jerryzezima.blogspot.com.