A Grammarian Stuck In A Medical Drama

I’ve never really been one for games.

Just ask my brother. He spent a childhood wrestling with my apathy. I grew bored with jigsaw puzzles, lost interest in Monopoly, and walked away from pick-up flag football. Not surprisingly, when he and his bespectacled friends began playing all-night sessions of Dungeons & Dragons, I was not invited to participate. (Which, in the end, is definitely for the best. But still.)

Take Connect Four, The Classic Vertical Four-In-A-Row Game. Simple enough, right? Tic-Tac-Toe, and then some? Well, I waded into the deep end of the Connect Four pool recently, and while I didn’t quite drown, I was flailing my arms and swallowing gallons and gallons of chlorinated water.

Jigsaw puzzles, Monopoly, flag football, Dungeons & Dragons, Connect Four — what’s the thread?

I transferred from Holmes Elementary in Oak Park, IL, to Devon Elementary in Devon, PA, when I was eleven-years-old. I went from a sixth to a fourth grade math level overnight. Were the suburban Chicago schools that bad? Were the suburban Philadelphia schools that good? Did it matter?

I spent the balance of sixth grade struggling to catch up. I was poked and prodded by guidance councilors (including, I kid you not, the Rorschach Test — on an eleven-year-old, can you imagine!?!). At one point, at my mother’s (well-intentioned) insistence, the school district sent the head of developmental learning to observe me. ME!?! Eleven-year-old me! Spied on by a tall, curly-haired, geeky lookin’ dude!

I distinctly remember taking a standardized spacial relations exam in junior high school. It was one of those number two pencils deals. Basically, they gave us illustrations of geometric objects with fold lines, and quizzed us on what shape they would take if folded. I have no idea how I did, but I’m pretty certain I considered shading those little ovals in the shape of a surf board.

I was tutored in math — algebra, geometry, you name it — throughout high school. I spent almost two years preparing for the SATs, and still barely eked out 1200.

My very first college course — 8:55 Monday morning — was Logic 101. Seemed interesting in the course book. “Logic 101 introduces students to logical arguments, uses of language, definition and meaning, fallacies of relevance, presumption, and ambiguity.” Fallacies of relevance!?! Cool! How abstract, how collegiate, how academic is that?

Sweet sweet pickled butternut squash on a popsicle stick, it was Hell on Earth. It was sentential calculus. It was numbers and symbols. There wasn’t an iota of language or — for that matter, meaning — for miles. I went to my professor after my first exam with beads of sweat busting from my forehead.

“Professor, I got a 56% on our first exam. I wonder if you can suggest a tutor?”

“Don’t worry about it kid. With the curve, a 56% is a C.”

The curve? Huh?

To this day, I avoid math like the plague. I still carry my ones. (“You may want to avoid other people seeing you do that,” my mom once suggested.) I intuit my checkbook. I ballpark. I’m a word guy, a concept guy. I’m all about the gestalt, the overall, the big picture. I can’t plan my moves two steps ahead. I can barely see my next move.

But I can sing about it.

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