Wednesday, April 1, 2015

On Million Megabytes

Dear Friends,

The Hard Taco song for April is a richly textured bedtime story called, "Grandfather Bluebird." It's a long song, but I promise that its length will not decay with time. Thousands of years after you and I are gone, when all of the world's compost piles have turned into crude oil and heart-shaped diamonds, this song will still be nearly 6 and a half minutes long.

The Time I Hit Someone In Anger
They say you don't really know yourself until you've been in a fight. I never have, but I like to imagine what that kind of self-discovery will feel like.

Wow, I will tell myself afterwards. I never knew I could curl into a fetal position that tightly! I mean, when things got tough, I really reached down... and pulled my knees much closer to my chest than I thought I could. I guess when the adrenaline kicks in and instinct takes over, I can really squeeze my eyes shut and cover my face with my hands!

Until that day comes, I can only draw on the closest experience I've had. This is the story of the only time I ever hit someone in anger.

All of the violence in this story stemmed from this:

It's a brainteaser. You set up matchsticks in this formation, and you are allowed to move one matchstick, and one matchstick only, to make the equation true.

Darren Bodner, a second tier friend who sat next to me in Sunday school, drew this problem out for me one day. "You're good at math," he said, "so this should be easy for you."

No problem. I'll just move one of the matchsticks diagonally across the equals sign so it says 6 is not equal to 1.

"No. That's not it," he said, an infuriating giggle building up behind his words. "Why aren't you getting it? It's super easy!"

Rather than acknowledging that my answer was perfectly acceptable, he started punching me lightly in the shoulder and repeating the same maddening question. "Why aren't you getting it? Huh? Huh?"

My tormentor was not a traditional bully... he was more like an annoying ventriloquist. Whenever Darren needled someone, he would get this huge grin and squinty eyes. Somehow, the more insulting his words were, the less his lips would move. "Why aren't you getting it? Aren't you good at math?"

In the appropriate context, this young man's ability to say "math" without his lips touching could have been a powerful ally in the war on terror. He could have handed off a flash drive to an undercover agent and whispered, "It has one million megabytes of memory," in full view of the security cameras. The greatest ventriloquists in the world would have faltered in that scenario, but not Darren Bodner. Up in the control room, the terrorists watching the footage would just see his Cheshire Cat grin and unmoving lips. They would conclude that he was an irritating schmuck, but they would have no idea how much memory was on the flash drive.

So perhaps, in another life, Darren's talents could have been leveraged for good. But on that day in Sunday school, his lipless derision and rhythmic blows to my shoulder drove me to thoughts of murder.

And I snapped.

I leapt onto the desk, howling wildly and punching him in the chest. To be clear, I wanted to hurt him very badly, but my flailing didn't seem to bother him at all. He just kept laughing and repeating those painfully accurate questions... Why wasn't I getting it? Wasn't I good at math?

Eventually, the teacher pulled me off him. Mercifully, before sending me to the principal's office, she made Darren tell me the answer to the question. He was right... it was easy. And at that moment I hated myself and everyone I had ever met. Most of all I hated matchsticks.

Maybe I didn't learn much about myself during that "fight," but I like to think that the experience shaped Darren's future. That was the day he discovered how much he enjoyed mathematical grandstanding. Perhaps that is what drove him into a career in accounting rather than, for instance, espionage.

That said, if you're still trying to solve the brainteaser, I assure you it has nothing to do with tax preparation.

With warmest regards,