Hugi Magazine #33: MP3 Power

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Balancing Equations (Written by Boreal)

"If you take something away on one side, you gotta take it away on the other. You gotta keep the equations balanced. Why can't you get that through your stupid little heads!" Miss Graves shouted, swishing a ruler in the air.

Lenny felt uneasy. He thought he understood, but now he wasn't sure. Everything about this new school -- its pale green walls, the flickering fluorescent fixtures, the unfamiliar faces, and especially the frowning face of this algebra teacher -- made him uncomfortable, made him doubt his every thought.

His attention was fixed on the ruler. However next to him, Benjamin, was turned and whispering something to the pretty girl behind.

Whack! The plastic ruler shattered on Ben's head. Lenny was fairly sure that teachers weren't allowed to do this, but he wasn't about to raise the issue.

Away from school, especially in the basement workshop at home, he felt confident. The fact was, he had an intuitive grasp of mathematics. He loved solving puzzles. The more difficult, the more he rose to the challenge.

He had taught himself electronics, and was now working on the ultimate: a computer. With the assistance of his friend, Danny McCormick, they connected the thousands of wires necessary to make the thing come alive. Projects like this left little time for mundane tasks, such as homework.

One day Miss Graves had a softer look. She explained that evidently she had left the classroom unlocked, and that someone had stolen her grade book.

To reconstruct the grades, she called on each student to tell what they thought their grade was. It was emphatically stressed that the honor system applied.

Most thought they rated about a C, but Lenny was sure he deserved at least a B. After all, he had solved problems that no one else had gotten. Miss Graves disagreed, recalling his missed homework assignments, and loudly proclaimed he was getting a D.

Lenny's school career lingered on in a similar vein. He eventually graduated from high school and was somehow accepted into college. There he got an electrical engineering degree with a minor in math. By then he liked school, and his grades showed it.

Danny, on the other hand, pursued a business degree at a near-by university and dreaded math. He was a year away from graduating, and had put off the math requirement until now.

Lenny spent his free time tutoring students at the university while he looked for an engineering job. Danny was one of his students. Lenny patiently led him through all the problems in the calculus book. It was a struggle, but when finals week arrived, it looked like he was ready.

The day after the calc final, Danny arrived at Lenny's apartment with tears in his eyes. He explained, "Most of the problems weren't too bad, but one I wasn't sure of, so I took a quick peek at the paper next to me. Unfortunately that was the very instant old man Taylor was looking in my direction. I couldn't believe it! He walked over, picked up my exam, and tore it up! He told me to get out, that I flunked.... Now I won't graduate."

Danny's solution to this new math problem was to apply his business acumen. "I'll pay you to take the exams."

Lenny was sympathetic. "Well, if you're gonna cheat you gotta do it right. Enroll in a night class, and I'll take the course for you."

The summer session was a casual affair. Attendance was not taken, and homework was not required, although strongly recommended. The grade would be determined solely on quizzes, the midterm and the final.

This was ideal, but what really topped things was that the woman explaining this was none other than Miss Graves. She was "Professor Graves" now, however still a "Miss." Apparently she was loved as much outside the classroom as in it.

Lenny didn't bother going to class, except for the exams. He didn't even open the book. Having tutored the course, he didn't need to. He aced every test, and Danny paid up.

The day of the final arrived. This was to be 50 percent of the grade for the course. It was essential, and Danny agreed to pay appropriately.

Lenny arrived just as the bell rang. Miss Graves met him in the aisle. She seemed to recognize him.

"Is your name McCormick?" Lenny suddenly got that queasy feeling from high school.

"Err, yes ma'am."

"You don't have to take the exam."

Oh oh, Lenny thought, the game's up. She figured it out. He eyed the exit. Danny may be screwed, but no one knows who I am -- that is, as long as I don't get tackled.

"Your average is so high it doesn't matter what you get on the final. You'll still get an A."

Everyone in the room looked over. Lenny relaxed, and smiled, and then realized his mistake. These summer students were slow. They were being graded on a curve. By not going to class he was unaware that he had become a conspicuous pimple on one end of that curve. The last thing he wanted was to attract attention. He quietly left.

Lenny didn't say anything to Danny; not sure if Graves was telling the truth, or if she had in fact figured out that he wasn't McCormick.

A few days passed, then Danny came over. He had his report card, and it had a big... fat... A. He gratefully paid up.

Lenny didn't feel obliged to explain what had happened. Later that week it struck him that equations do indeed balance, but sometimes it takes years.