I consider myself an imaginative person; give me a situation and I guarantee you, I can make the most of it.
Say you’re fated to hours driving down a featureless Interstate. How do you escape crushing boredom? Keep on the lookout for owls and crumbling remains of farmhouses or abandoned tuberculosis asylums. Zombified in the dentist’s waiting room? Just sit and imagine the lives of mystery and intrigue of your fellow patients.
There are, however, a few places where scope for imagination is virtually nil. Imagination deserts, if you will — places and situations where no matter how hard you put your little creative brain to the task, there is Absolutely No Stimulation Possible.
The creative juices dry completely up, and one is rendered hopelessly bereft of any entertaining anything to pass the excruciating minutes until the sunshine and stimulation come out from behind the clouds and illuminate the mindscape once more.
Exhibit 1 — The Hardware Store (Alternate title: The Bolt of Death)
I am blessed with a handy husband. He can build things, he can improve things, and he can fix things. What kinds of things? All kinds. Many, many things are fixed, constructed, destructed and otherwise assembled and disassembled in my home.
All these projects require numerous, I mean NUMEROUS, small and precisely calibrated pieces and parts to complete. And many trips to Lowe’s or Home Depot. Sometimes I go along. What does that lead to? Imagination death.
There is nothing to live for in the bolt aisle. Nothing. In vain, I cast my eyes about for some object with a connection to the real world. Something that I can work with. Some recognizable feature of the human landscape that I can relate to. There is nothing.
Instead I behold a sea of small pieces of metal in boxes with incomprehensible numbers affixed. I feel entire body systems shutting down from the lack of input. Hungrily, I look toward the bathroom fixtures, yearning for a healthier landscape where I can dream about brushing my teeth and drawing a luxurious bath in my opulent spa tub.
Exhibit 2 — The word problem to nowhere
This is an idea that I have decried for years: the senseless cruelty and unbelievably death-inducing misdirection of the mathematics word problem.
A train leaves the station at 3:15. Immediately you have my interest. Who is on it? Where is it going? Are we talking present-day Amtrak here, or is this something juicier, like a day trip to London from Downton Abbey for a quickie gynecological exam? And if not, are there suitcases involved?
Now I’m thinking about steamer trunks versus regular suitcases, and why has train travel all but disappeared, except I think California is supposed to be investigating light rail, and even pouring some money into it, but I don’t follow California politics much and … Oh. Wait. What’s this? A MATH PROBLEM?
Mother of God, what a crushing disappointment. Here I am, all interested in this little world that’s been created at the end of the chapter and I’m supposed to come up with an equation to find out when trains are going to get there based on all sorts of ridiculous variables?
Wait. There’s more:
Ella swims four times a week at her club’s pool. She swims the same number of laps on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and 15 laps on Saturday. She swims a total of 51 laps each week. How many laps does she swim on Monday?
Ella. What a pretty name — why, it’s almost Ellen when you think about it. I like to swim but laps are a total drag, what with the flip turns, hello? Water in my nose! And what about when you start panting and get out of breath — in the water, no less. That’s a health hazard, not exercise.
It gets worse:
Laura is making a patio in her backyard using paving stones. She buys 44 paving stones and a flower pot worth $7 for a total of $73. How much did each paving stone cost?
Well, what color are they? Do they match the trim on her house? What kind of landscaping are we talking about here — just flowers, or are we planning an arbor of some kind? And ONE flower pot? Come on, Laura! There’s no way you’re going to have your plantings done before the first of May at this rate. And we haven’t even begun to talk about furniture.
Speaking of home improvement:
Tom, Dick, and Harry arrive early one morning at the job site and get ready to paint a huge, old, Victorian mansion. Tom, working by himself, could paint the whole house in 14 days. It would take Dick 10 days to do the job by himself. And Harry could do the job in 8 days. How long does it take for the three men to do the job working together?
This is just cruel. Huge old Victorian mansion? How huge? When was it constructed? That matters, you know, whether we’re talking about the early Victorian or late Victorian period. Do you know how much paint you’d have to buy to coat one of these suckers? A ton, that’s how much, and it costs literally thousands of dollars — and then you have to paint them again in just a couple years! Which leads to abominations like people putting aluminum siding on 100-year-old houses. SIDING.
Finally, we have this depressing piece of news:
Sarah and John leave Perryville traveling in opposite directions on a straight road. Sarah drives 12 miles per hour faster than John. After 2 hours, they are 176 miles apart. Find Sarah and John’s speeds.
There are no straight roads around Perryville. You are deep in the Boyle County countryside around Perryville, which is the site of the largest battle of the Civil War fought in the Commonwealth. It happened, as Dave Barry likes to say, on the same day all historical events occur, October 8. Listen, Sarah, why are you driving so damn fast — and what are you doing going in the opposite direction as John? Are you all going to the Battlefield or not? Don’t you care about history? John, you’re missing out on an opportunity here.
Thankfully, trips to Lowe’s are rare, dear though they be to my better half, and mercifully, I have very little call to solve mathematics word problems — though that may be changing soon. I’ve got a son soon passing from second grade to third and as he journeys on through the academic ladder, Some day he’ll probably put down roots squarely in the land of calculus or some other incomprehensible country.
Thank God I’ve got a blog is all I’ve got to say, where I can think about train trips and Victorian mansions that are populated by people, not distressing demands for mathematical computations.
And there are no trips to Perryville to plan.