A 39-car train loaded with 417 tons of coal leaves Philadelphia at 6 a.m. going west at 68 mph. Meanwhile, a 54-car train carrying 209 tons of kumquats departs Boise at 4:43 a.m. traveling 47 mph. At what time will the trains pass each other in Minneapolis?
You’ve just witnessed my worst nightmare. I hate numbers — for a number of reasons.
No. 1 — From the moment of birth, everyone seems to be reduced to a number, the lowest common denominator in society. To Mom and Pop, I was little Patrick Louis. But to the rest of the world, I was No. 8.
“Congratulations, Eddie,” another dad might have said to Pop as the two men stood at the St. Elizabeth’s Hospital nursery window watching a roomful of squirming Winston Churchills. “Let’s see, that’s number eight for you, right?”
No wonder I was crying like a banshee. I wasn’t hungry and I didn’t have a diaperful. I just didn’t want to be known as No. 8 for the rest of my life.
From birth on, the numbers in your life just keep multiplying. Every time they add one, they subtract one from the real you. You get the feeling that there is someone up there with a giant paint-by-numbers set coloring in your whole life.
Feeling a little sad today? That’s a No. 42, Misty Blue.
The first big number most people get saddled with is the Social Security number. To the government, schools, future employers, anyone who deals with money, you are now 573-29-4286. You really should memorize this number. But if you don’t, don’t worry. It’s the number your mom will indelibly ink onto your underwear elastic when you go off to college.
“Geez, Mom. Why did you have to write my number in my underwear? All the other guys will laugh at me.”
“Nonsense,” she’d say. “There are 25,000 other people at that university and there could even be another Pat Kuhl. But there won’t be another 333-32-8903. That’s my boy.”
Everybody has a lucky number. Unfortunately, mine is 3,988,285,348. So far, it hasn’t come up in the lottery.
Actually, I have several lucky numbers, including 1. That’s how many years I have till I turn 65. That “golden age” when I’m supposed to fold up my journalism tent and ride off into the sunset. Of couse the way they keep raising the optimum retirement age, I may still doing this when I’m 90.
I first thought about my magic retirement number way back when I was a cub reporter in the 1970s in Corpus Christi, Texas. Somewhere, buried in the stack of papers given to me by the personnel department (human relations departments hadn’t been invented yet), was a line that read. “Eligible for retirement benefits: 2016.”
Yeah, right, I scoffed.
2016 didn’t even sound like a real year back then. It was a football score: St. Louis Cardinals 20, Los Angeles Rams 16. It was one of Captain Kirk’s star dates. It was 15 years beyond “2001” — the furthest ahead that even the most futuristic moviemakers could think.
Heck, by 2001, I thought, I’d be driving a hovercraft, taking a pill to stay in fantastic shape, vacationing on Jupiter and talking to my computer.
Well, it’s 2015 and I’m driving an 11-year-old Nissan Sentra with starting issues. They say if I don’t get in better shape, I’ll have to take more pills. I spent my last vacation painting the house. And, yes, I do talk to my computer all the time. Usually, I’m begging: “Please don’t freeze up again before I finish this sente ...”
32-30. That was the size jeans I wore in college. The good news is the second number is the same. Now, 32 is the number of weeks I’d have to go without solid food to get back to a size 32-30.
Throughout life, you are pressured to be No. 1. “Look out for No. 1!” the how-to book covers scream. Obviously the authors have never taken a walk in the pasture of the in-laws’ farm. They’d be crying, “Look out for No. 2!”
Did you ever notice that the root of “numbers” is “numb”? That’s what they do to my brain.
Lots of people play the numbers. I don’t.
If someone says, “I’ve got your number,” you know you’re in trouble.
And if a sinister-looking man who talks like Marlon Brando says, “Your number is up,” you’re in deep trouble. About 6 feet deep, to be exact.
We won’t even get into dogtag numbers, drivers license numbers or serial numbers here.
After all, my days are numbered. But if you leave me your number, I’ll get back to you.