Jerry Zezima: Math confusion

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?

Answer: One.

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