Straight Skinny 'Adding it All Up'

May 9, 2013 

According to numerous studies done by numerous institutions and published in numerous publications, the average person will have a much higher earning potential with some sort of math degree. Basically, this means that if I understood what E=MC squared meant, I would be driving a Lexus built in this decade instead of a 15-year-old Buick LeSabre. My math skills are just good enough to realize that when I look at my bank account every two weeks, the numbers referring to what I get aren’t higher than the numbers referring to what I spend. As it turns out, a 15-year-old car is just like a teenage child. It wants things constantly. It also needs things like gas and fresh oil and brakes that stop completely when you put your foot on that wide pedal.

For all the precision involved in the science of math, in every day life, we all know that numbers mean absolutely nothing. When I sign up for a $40 phone plan, I end up paying $53. In addition to the plan itself, there can be access charges, federal excise taxes, local taxes, state taxes and universal service charges. I understand the state and local taxes, but why exactly does the universe need a cut as well? Is this to deter some intergalactic invasion of some sort? I just want my phone for texting and accessing the Internet, not for searching for signs of intelligent life on Mars. (Although, if I could find signs of life on Mars with my phone, I’ll bet I could parlay that into enough cash to buy a slightly used Prius. That would be sweet.)

I have several pairs of pants that are all numerically the same size, but numerically, they don’t all fit around my waist the same way. Now, depending on how much carb-loading I’ve been doing, I know my waist fluctuates, but that hardly accounts for the huge disparity. There’s some secret formula involved in pants sizing and I have my suspicions that it started with some disgruntled math major who couldn’t get a date to the prom. As depressing as it is to put on the size 18 because sometimes the size 16 feels a little tight, it’s far more depressing to find that the 18 feels tighter in the thighs than the 16. When it comes to my thighs, I really don’t appreciate anyone fudging the numbers.

Manipulating numbers never works when I try to do it for my own benefit. For instance, when I go to bed at 2:00 a.m. and get up at 7:00 a.m., I can never make that seem like eight hours of sleep. Strange. I thought when you got older you needed less sleep. I’m not sure how much older I need to be to be considered “older”, but just the other day, I was super excited to see that Fiber One now makes a chocolate flavored cereal. When it comes to numbers in general, the concept is almost always depressing. Personally, I’m tired of gaining and losing the same two pounds each week. (Actually, I have no hard evidence that it is the same two. All I know is that it keeps popping up on the digital display on my scale.) Everything about weight involves counting and measuring and making deals with the devil. I can have the 2,000 calorie milk shake if I don’t eat anything else of substance all day. Certainly all of my experience with a measuring cup should count toward some sort of degree.

On a brighter note, I’m getting a nice big tax refund this year. But think about what a tax refund is to begin with. It’s money I lent the government and now they’re graciously returning it to me, which they only do because I ask. And if my dad wasn’t an accountant, I’d have to pay to ask. I am getting far more back this year than usual because of a school credit. However, compared to the amount I owe the government in student loans, the refund is a drop in the bucket. Also, unlike the money I lent the government, I have to pay them interest. Untangling the math involved in taxes is a thankless endeavor because the tax code is about a thousand pages long. That’s as long as a Stephen King novel. It also happens to be just as scary.

Weather forecasting is another big numbers game that permeates our lives on a daily basis. High temperatures mean that I have to work harder to camouflage the gooey parts of my body. Mold and pollen counts determine whether or not my office is going to sound like a third world country’s TB ward. Meteorologist is a good job if you can get it. Considering how much goes into converting Celsius to Fahrenheit, I imagine there’s a considerable amount of math involved in this job. If I could figure out what a barometric pressure does, I could get a car that doesn’t have a cassette player.

Ultimately, I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person. It’s not as though I’m completely hopeless when it comes to math either. When I recently had to take Algebra for my online degree, I knew how to find the answers on Google. (Just kidding...a bit.) Often times at work, my job as a graphic designer finds me having to convert fractions into decimal points. Ask anyone their thoughts on fractions and they’ll tell you that anyone who can do that on a regular basis can’t be too mathematically challenged. Unfortunately, my math abilities aren’t going to aid me in my quest to become independently wealthy. For the time being, I’ll just have to be content with the ability to calculate the point at which repairing my car is more expensive than buying a new one. I just hope that when that time comes, I’ll have enough to get a car with one of those fancy CD players. Dare to dream.

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