The Second Third, Week 11: Number-Crunched

Blogger's Note: The whole idea behind these "Second Third" posts can be found here.

First, let me say that when I launched this Second Thirds thing, it wasn't supposed to become the only thing I'm writing here. That's not the intent, and I will get better about posting more.

On a somewhat related point, ever been so busy you get nauseous if you look more than a few hours ahead? Most of today I couldn't remember what day of the week it was; I'm still not sure what day of the month it is; and I told people in my noon meetings that we needed to get started so I could get to my 11 o'clock appointment on time.

Which brings me to the point here: I'm terrible with numbers.

I was a good student in school, and math was no exception. Of course, my junior-high math teacher Mr. Thurston pointed out from time to time that my sister did better on timed tests than I did. But that's no surprise, really: speed has never been a strength of mine, to the point that, when I was firming up my schedule for senior year of high school, I chose Physics over Typing — never mind my writing aspirations.

I'm a Word Guy, but now I fear it's become a crutch. Jodi balances the checkbook and pays the bills. Jodi manages the calendar and orders the food. What do I do? I write eight-page Christmas letters. I haven't had an actual math class since high school — I skated by with a couple of lab science courses. I'm a Word Guy.

The thing is, now I'm clueless. It's not doing math that's the problem anymore; I can't remember numbers. Even ballpark numbers. Oh, I'm still the man of the house, and can throw a figure out there like it's the Gospel, but increasingly my number are not grounded in anything resembling fact.

Case in point: last weekend, a friend asked how many Christmas trees we sold at the KC Christmas Tree Lot. Without hesitation, I said, "We bought 700, and sold all but 10 — we made $5,000 after expenses."

He's a math guy. He said, "You sold almost 700 trees, and you only cleared $5,000 profit?" Then he politely added, "Well, with expenses, maybe..."

I thought a moment. I could tell that he could tell the math didn't work. Where had 700 come from? I racked my brain. No idea. If we had sold 700 trees to make $5,000, we would have made just...not even...not very dang much per tree.

"Uh," I said, "I'm wrong. We didn't have 700 trees. I have no idea where that number came from."

I looked it up later. Closer to 250 trees.

Anyone can forget a number. But I swear, my father-in-law can look at cattle jogging by and estimate the worth of a herd based on the latest price per pound. My dad once solved an engineering problem his mentor was convinced would force him to learn trig, apparently by using arithmetic and common sense. My kids can estimate better than I can, as can Jodi.

I wracked my brain on the way home from work tonight and realized I remember how to do fractions and percents. But it took some doing. I need to exercise my numerical mind. In my Second Third, I should probably take over the checkbook or something. But don't tell Jodi.

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