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Do The Math! - Dr. Vern

Posted in News on February 11, 2014
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Contributors: Dr. Vern

Crow. It’s what’s for dinner. You see, I owe an apology to teachers everywhere. As you may have guessed, there’s a story behind this one. It dates back to yours truly as a young man, cooling his heels in the vice principal’s office. Although he readily conceded everybody was entitled to their opinion, the vice principal asked me, in that beleaguered tone of somebody who buys Maalox by the case, if I thought I had used the appropriate manner for delivering my speech.

I will give the vice principal kudos for using the word “speech” to describe the incident. “Outburst” may have been a more accurate term. In retrospect, despite how enticing it may have seemed at the moment, it’s definitely a rhetorical question when the teacher asks if you’d like to stand on the desk and share with the whole class.

In my defense, at the time I was young and stupid, but I’m much older now. And I most certainly am not afraid to admit I was wrong. As an adult, I would indeed be using at least some of what I learned in high school. It turns out those long-ago math classes finally did pay off when it was time to build a radiator shroud for my ’63 Willys wagon. The original overhead-cam Tornado engine was long gone when I bought this rig. That exotic powerplant had been replaced by a run-of-the-mill Chevy small-block V-8.

As a grouchy old man (more on that later), one thing that really irks me is poor workmanship. If, for some odd reason, you’d like to see something sketchy up close and personal, pop the hood on practically any Jeep with an engine swap. Rarely will you find a conversion that looks professionally done from start to finish. Once the engine has been shoehorned into place, it seems the old brain clutch must have started slipping when wrapping up the details. I’ve seen coat hanger wire for throttle linkage. Wire harnesses really shouldn’t be spliced with household wire nuts. Don’t get me started on those ugly universal flex radiator hoses.

"The scent of burning genius filled the air"

Probably the biggest sin I see over and over is the lack of a shroud for the radiator. After a few years of watching the coolant temp hover near the red zone, it was time. Building a shroud was no small task, I don’t mind telling you. The fan diameter was wider than the radiator, so the shroud had to be tapered. The engine tips down towards the back, so this meant the fan wasn’t parallel with the radiator. The protruding part of the shroud would be an angled, wedge-shaped slice of a cone, a complex shape if there ever was one.

Safely tucked away in the darkest recesses of my brain, mostly surrounded by ’70s TV trivia, those old math formulas roared back to life. The scent of burning genius filled the air as long-dormant neurons fired for the first time in many years. I added A² + B² and found C². I worked out cosines and tangents as if I had never stopped. I think I even calculated the meeting point if a train headed west from Chicago at 40 mph and a second train headed east from Denver at 60 mph. When I finally set down my tin snips and rivet gun, the shroud fit perfectly and looked as cool as the temp gauge was now reading.

As satisfying as this feat was, I’m still not sure this epic accomplishment justified all five years of high school. To get my money’s worth, it’s time to revisit literature class, too. Forget Shakespeare and his indecisive “To be or not to be.” I’ve long known what I wanted to be: a grouchy old man. For that liberating freedom, I have another high school teacher to thank.

Before I explain, I should point out schools are doing it wrong when trying to get students to read. Rather than book reports, discussions about themes, and so on, just ban the foolish books. A little reverse psychology is the only sure-fire tactic. Or maybe they were trying double reverse psychology, but it didn’t work.

Despite my best efforts, one little snippet of education accidentally got through to me. In William Sayoran’s The Human Comedy there’s a grouchy old man who defends his prize peach tree from the neighborhood kids. Knowing full well it was a rite of passage for the kids to steal the peaches he secretly relishes his role in the game. At that moment I knew my destiny, but I would have to wait many years to become a proper grouchy old man.

Grouchiness as a young man doesn’t go over very well. With age, however, a little grouchiness is sort of endearing. I’ve had to wait an entire lifetime for this freedom, and I plan to make the most of it. With my newfound grouchiness, people don’t bother asking me questions anymore. After lifting your Jeep to fit a set of 44s, it goes through U-joints once a month and you can’t figure out why? Neither can I. Need help moving? I’m busy that weekend. Anytime my phone rings, I now just pick up and then hang up right away so it won’t even go to voicemail.

The possibilities are endless, limited only by one’s imagination. Best of all, whenever anybody says, “Have a nice day,” I just tell them, “No thanks, I’ve got other plans.” The only downside is that occasionally those plans include fixing crow for dinner.

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