Tag Archives: binomial theorem

The Girl on the Left.


awkwardEtiquette: Useful. Nice is only a side benefit.

Oldest daughter, exasperated, from backseat, to me: “Mom? MUST you narrate EVERYTHING you see? As if it’s your business in the first place?”

Me, non-plussed by this surly teenaged dismissal: “Why, yes. Yes, I do.”

Oldest: “You’re the only one who can even SEE them.”

Youngest, cheerfully, having had the foresight to pipe up earlier:I call shotgun,” and therefore sitting in the catbird seat, immediately to my right, now pipes up: “I can see FINE.

No words are necessary. The heat alone from the backseat is enough.

Words come, anyway.

Oldest: “Why do you even CARE about them, anyway?”

Me: “Because it SUCKS to be the girl on the left.”

Youngest: “I don’t know what you’re talking about at all.”

Oldest (still furious, about my car-to-car meddling, and the whole shotgun thing in general, since she knows quite well she’d completely understand what I was talking about if SHE COULD JUST SEE FOR HER OWN DAMN SELF): “ohKAY, why does it suck to be the girl on the left?

I grin, happy at last: my chance to give a short lecture on the nature of awkward situations. (It has to be short, the girls know, because we are headed for the bank, which is coming up just a few turns away.)

The car in front of me has three people in the back seat: on the left, there is one brunette ponytail. In the middle, there is a blonde ponytail, who is being bear-hugged, and generally molested by, a burly boy – probably a footballer – on the far right.

This jock is so into his blonde ponytail that he keeps nuzzling his squeeze – and is ending up squeezing the girl on the left ever-over, ever-closer to the left-side passenger door. She doesn’t turn her head, not once, not ever. She is graciously bearing this indignity; why, I do not know.

I myself would have given them a good shove back, and suggested they find a room or something. Well, maybe not “find a room,” since that’s pretty cliché.

Perhaps instead I would “accidentally” drop my purse, lunging forward towards that endlessly annoying hump in the middle, knocking them BOTH toward the RIGHT side passenger door. When they both responded: “HEY!” – as if “how dare you interrupt our foreplay?” I’d smile apologetically, while at the same time planting my ass just a little further to the right, with my big fat backpack/purse/knapsack, or what have you tucked to my left, in between the passenger’s side door and myself.

Cozy but effective strategy for flipping the awkwardness back over onto THEM. My, aren’t we ALL awfully close now? Still want to kiss her, quarterback, now that I’m practically on her lap?

If THAT didn’t send the intended message across, I’d wait till the next big smooch, break out my math homework, and tap the blonde ponytail on the shoulder right in the middle of tonguing it.

Hey, Brittany, did you understand what Mrs. Meyer was talking about when she ran through that binomial theorem today, because I’m TOTALLY lost? Mind taking a look at my notes for a sec, and seeing if they make ANY sense to you, because I’m about to have an EPIC FAIL here.”

Then hold aforementioned binder right up to yon spit-covered face, with innocent smile.

Basically, you get the strategy: incredibly annoying politeness until the people you’re being annoyingly polite to either catch on that they’re being ludicrously rude, and stop, or just stop out of sheer annoyance. Either way, what can they say to you? You’re being incredibly polite.

The beauty of politeness. Don’t let anyone tell you that politeness, etiquette, good manners, is to make other people feel BETTER. That’s just a side benefit.

Etiquette is for one main thing only: So you ALWAYS know what to do in any given situation, without being embarrassed. That’s it. It’s almost as practical as money. Which is why most people who’ve had money for a long time have good manners.

It’s not really snobbery. It’s sensible.

Best of all? YOU can do it, too. Just keep reading this blog, and I’ll learn ya.

My daughter, of course, at 13, could not rest at letting me be right.

What if she didn’t mind?”

Me: “You think the girl on the left ENJOYED being squeezed over while the two of them sucked face?”

Oldest, grasping for straws: “Maybe she’s a lesbian.”

Me:In that case, she’d have to be a pretty CHARITABLE lesbian; don’t you think otherwise she’d be jealous?”

Oldest: “Maybe she IS a charitable lesbian.”

It DOES take all kinds to make a world. My oldest COULD be right. The one thing I DO know? At 13, the one thing Mom isn’t, is right. About anything.

For everyone else? Take my word for it. If you ever find yourself The Girl on the Left? Try etiquette.

Ah, etiquette: the most effective way to be obnoxious and get away with it.

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But I didn’t WANNA go to school…


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The worst was the “A, B, C, D, E, and F” days. I was in homeroom, so, obliged to follow the teacher’s rules of raising my hand before speaking, I dutifully raised my hand as she, in the robotically- cheerful-but-could-turn-on-you-any-moment-way that only teachers have, was chirping, “Now, today, I think, is a B-day that you’ll be following on your child’s schedule.”

I’d examined the schedule. Arm beginning to ache, the lovely, midway pregnant, still graceful, no makeup, about my age teacher (whom I’m sure had never been in the real world, but rather instead had simply never left school—just moved to the power side of the desk) — at last acknowledged me.

“If B, D, and F days are the same,” I asked, “and C and E days are the same, why don’t they just have A and B days?”

Duh, right?

Then again, I’d worked for a time as Management in Real World Big Business, where the Bottom Line was an Important Thing. Also, so were Budgets, where you Cut to the Chase, and Axed Everything that was Unnecessary. Including people, which was one reason why it had sucked, and I now prefer my life as a starving artist.

The teacher was patient with me, the ignorant parent. She shrugged at first. “It’s just how they do it,” and turned, apparently thinking I’d be satisfied with such a ridiculous answer.

“Why do they do it that way?” I asked her back, at the same time thinking to myself: it is SO not fair that she doesn’t even LOOK pregnant from the back. When I was pregnant, being only five-foot-one, with all my height in my legs, from about three months in, I look like I swallowed a torpedo. And that’s about the nicest thing you can say about how I look pregnant. She WAS one of those gorgeous, glowy girls, I had to hand it to her. 

She turned around, surprised I still existed, and gave me another Colgate grin, and another shrug. “It’s just their system. It’s just the way they do the days here at this school.”

As if slightly different wording would make me go: “Ooooh, I get it. Shut up, Ms. Bushey.”

Echoes from my own school experiences came flooding back. This little Open House adventure, concocted by who knows whom, was for parents of my daughter’s middle school classes to live through a truncated “Day In The Life” of their own kid.

Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies, I thought. Better still: ask me no questions. I’m the teacher.

“I’m sorry, I still don’t understand,” I tried once more — in all seriousness, not to be annoying, but because I really didn’t get it, and I never WAS one to sit there, unsatisfied. I had no problem bringing the entire classroom to a dead halt while I stubbornly would attempt, although often fail, to make the teacher stop, and go over my question until I got it. After all, if I didn’t get the binomial theorem, there were likely others who didn’t and simply didn’t have the nerve to speak up. “Why?”

This time I got a terse: “It’s just the way they do it. I don’t know why.

Okay, I thought, at least that’s an answer. At least you admit you don’t know. As she turned her back on me again, I silently mouthed to the parents in the seats one row back: “I wouldn’t last a day here,” and they started to giggle.

This WAS turning out to be just like real school for me.

I felt a little hornswaggled by the whole deal, to tell you the truth. The paper had only said: Open House, 6:30 p.m. – not “Go to School for Three Hours, and no Smoking.”

Because the law says you can’t smoke on school grounds, although I am buddies with the cop on duty at the school, who TOTALLY would not bust me – I know this, because during “lunch” – I came over to her. “Hey, Officer Boss! Be my friend, okay, cuz I have no one to sit with.”

She laughed. “Not one of the popular kids yet, huh?”

“Well, that, and you can protect me.”

“True. I’m the only one here with a gun. At least, I should be. Let me know if you see anyone else with one, okay?”

“I’ll be sure to let you know, Starsky.”

Officer Boss – besides having the absolute best cop name in the universe – is a drop-dead beautiful but tough as nails (on the outside) police officer stationed at the middle school. She knows every kid by name, including mine, and keeps tabs on them all. While not by nature a police lover, I do like her a lot – and a few others on our town’s force. They happen to be quite cool.

I tried calling Peter during class switches, but the cell service was spotty, and besides, the teacher made me put my cell phone away when he walked in. Poor Peter, who couldn’t really hear what I was saying, wasn’t sure if I was calling for help, letting him know I’d be home soon, or reciting the multiplication tables.

That teacher I actually liked a lot – he, like myself, does not believe in homework. I wanted to jump out of desk and high-five him. One other teacher, when I asked her, told me she thought homework should take no less than thirty minutes.

The kid has seven classes. If every teacher gives thirty minutes of homework (see how much I learned?) that’s three and a half hours of homework – on top of a full day of school.

How many grownups have to keep working almost four hours after they get home? It’s outrageous, really. No wonder middle-schoolers have such terrible attitudes. I know by the time I left, I had a pretty rotten attitude myself. (Plus, I was dying for a cigarette.)

It was an excellent idea they had – making us live our kids’ lives for a few hours. It was illuminating to meet their teachers, walk the halls of the school, smell that school smell that takes us back to our old, powerless days. When teachers walked the earth like giants, and principals were kings and queens.

I addressed every teacher by his or her first name. Ha ha.

By the same token, I made sure to offer my volunteer services whenever I could – in an attempt to be part of a solution, not just a needling prod. For instance, in my daughter’s English class, I sympathized with her teacher who was obviously frustrated at having to “teach for the test” – the obnoxious standardized test the state administers.

One aspect is determining “fact from opinion.” As a former journalist, I offered to be a guest speaker. She nearly cried out with delight. Points for my kid.

Points for my kid from me, too, for keeping her chin up in an oppressive environment. Kids ask me all the time if I’d rather be a kid or a grownup. I don’t have to think about it.

Grownup, hands-down. I can do all the kids’ stuff I want to – plus, I don’t have to go to school, and I can eat frosting out of the can.

Unless there’s another open house where they make me go to school again, the sneaks. But I think it did me some good.

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I’m with stupid.


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I'm with stupid. Thank goodness.

I

It takes someone really, really intelligent to pull off stupid.

I don’t mean your ordinary, garden-variety stupid — the kind of stupid I encounter like this:

Me, to my dog, Tucker:Arrêt. Assieds. Viens ici.” (Meaning, in informal French, “Stop. Sit down. Come here.” More about this later.*)

Onlooker (or is it “onlistener?”): “Your dog speaks French?”

Me: (struggling to restrain myself from flicking their head with my thumb and forefinger) “Well, he’s really terrible at correcting my French, I’ll say that much. But mostly he’s a good listener.”

Because dogs don’t speak ANYTHING, DUH.

So I don’t mean THAT kind of stupid. We’re all immersed in THAT kind of stupid everyday, and actually we can view it positively.

especially when we do something that makes us feel developmentally disabled, like struggle for an embarrassingly long time pushing on a door you’re supposed to pull, when you tuck your skirt into your pantyhose, or when some joker at the party ruins your joke by saying something annoying like “What do you mean you don’t remember the binomial theorem?”

especially when we do something that makes us feel developmentally disabled, like struggle for an embarrassingly long time pushing on a door you’re supposed to pull, when you tuck your skirt into your pantyhose, or when some joker at the party ruins your joke by saying something annoying like “What do you mean you don’t remember the binomial theorem?”

We can feel like geniuses, especially when we do something that makes us feel developmentally disabled, like struggle for an embarrassingly long time pushing on a door you’re supposed to pull, when you tuck your skirt into your pantyhose, or when some joker at the party ruins your joke by saying something annoying like “What do you mean you don’t remember the binomial theorem?”

Or worse, when you’re wasting time online and get sucked into those horrid IQ tests, and realize that you really aren’t even dull normal. (Why don’t I know the capital of Greenland? Did I ever? Do I need to? Does anyone else? Do they even, in Greenland?)

Still worse is when your nine-year-old comes to you with her math homework, and you — you, who began your own college career as a math major before you realized you didn’t have the imagination for it and became a writer instead — goggle at it, desperately turn the workbook upside-down in the hopes that perhaps that will help, and then feign a casual shrug, rationalize that you are encouraging their independence and say: “We learned math a different way when I was in fifth grade. I suggest you ask your teacher.”

Okay. So now that we’ve ruled out the kind of stupid I don’t mean, let’s talk about the kind of stupid I do mean.

I have enormous admiration for actors like Brenda Song, Suzanne Somers, and Ashton Kutcher, all of whom play, or have played, characters who are so dim they border on nearly retarded, were they to inhabit real life. It takes an extremely intelligent actor to pull that off.

You can tell, because less intelligent actors try to do it and it just doesn’t work. They actually ARE stupid, and it shows.  The jokes aren’t funny, the timing is off, the whole thing falls flat.

Two days ago, my older daughter, who is 12 going on 22, and I, were having a very funny exchange, making fun of each other because she is a golden blonde who dyes her hair red, and I am a redhead who dyes her hair blonde.

(I do this, not for the blonde thing, but because my naturally auburn hair grows in dark – but the very second I step into the sunlight – winter or summer – my hair lightens considerably, making it LOOK as if I color my hair. So I figured, what the heck, why not play?)

Hence, blonde jokes are inevitable. Now: my oldest has developed a rapier wit that leaves you bleeding before you even feel the knife. I’m funny, but her dad is funny too – in a very dry way. She’s gotten the best of both. She’s a colossus of brainy humor, and you NEVER see it coming.

I am at the stove, obediently cooking bacon for the girl, who is growing like a beanstalk and already towering like a willow over me. She is sitting on the kitchen island, swinging her long legs, sitting bolt upright, hands crossed over her chest, lips pursed.

“I don’t know if I can eat that,” she says, in a too-sweet voice. “Is bacon a meat?

Not quite catching on yet, I turn a head. “Boy, you really ARE blonde.”

“Well,” she continues, à la Valley Girl, “I’m re-evaluating my commitment to meatatarianism.”

I hop onto the stupid train with her. “Well, it’s a spiritual thing, you know. A real commitment has to last, you know, like, at least, like, a few hours, at least – you know?”

“Are you a vegetarian?” she asks, big blue eyes wide.

“I don’t know,” I respond helplessly.

She tilts a sympathetic head. “It’s Oh-Kay…” she says, extending the vowels, “everyone experiments sexually.”

I was gone after that. Not only was I flabbergasted that my 12-year-old could make such a clever joke, but I was delighted that she was intelligent enough to play stupid so very well.

* I speak French to my dog for two reasons: one, he is more intelligent than most humans, and once I taught him all the commands in English, he got bored, so I decided to reteach him everything in French. The other reason is that I don’t have anyone else to speak French to, so I speak French to him.

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