Do you remember how to find the hypotenuse of a square?
Do you even know what a hypotenuse is? Do you care?
Why is that? Because it’s useless information. Well, I’m sure it’s useful for some people. Maybe .0005% of the population. People whose job it is to figure out hypotenuses. And geometry teachers. But that’s about it.
Do you remember that show, Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? It wasn’t that the kids were so much smarter than the adults. It was that the kids still had to know stuff that they would never use again for the rest of their lives. The adults had forgotten it about thirty minutes after they graduated.
I understand that they are doing a better job of teaching life skills in school nowadays. That’s a good thing. Maybe it helps offset things like teaching kids how to survive an active shooter situation.
But I digress.
When I graduated high school, I could probably figure out a hypotenuse. I could undoubtedly diagram a sentence and tell you the principle export of Guatemala (bananas).
But I didn’t know anything useful. I didn’t know any life stuff. I hear what you are saying; that was my parent’s job. Well, that’s not the way things worked either. I didn’t grow up in the Cleaver household. And, to be honest, Beaver got most of his life skills from Lumpy and Eddie.
But, once again, I digress.
My ignorance of how things worked struck home the first time I had to write a check. Pay to the order of. What does that mean? And why are there two places for the amount? I think it was when it was time to pay a deposit on my first apartment.
I had just turned eighteen, and we were at the dinner table, enjoying our usual ritual of total silence when I spoke up. “I’m moving out.” My mom said, “What? Why?” My dad said, “OK.”
And I did. I borrowed a truck from work and a friend who helped me load my meager possessions and move into a small duplex in a rather unsavory part of town. I went by the real estate office and stumbled through the Writing of the Check, picked up a key, and moved into my new digs. It was a dump.
But that’s not the day I first adulted. It was the following Saturday. After I cashed my paycheck on Friday. Here I was in my new home, a pocket full of money and a list of things I needed. And I needed a lot of stuff.
I needed food. I definitely needed food. And it needed to be something I knew how to cook. So it would all come in a can. I was a single guy, so I needed beer. And I needed a whole lot of other stuff. Shower curtains, towels, toilet paper, napkins, plates and silverware, mops, brooms and cleaning supplies (I was still ambitious at that point), and all the other little essential things one needs to set up housekeeping.
First stop was the grocery store. I figured I could get everything I needed there. If not, there was a Zayre’s down the road. The current equivalent of Walmart. So, I stepped into the grocery store and stood there with a look on my face. You’ve seen the look. I can still see them today. A husband walks in the grocery store for the first time in twenty years with a list from his wife. That look.
But hey, things were labeled pretty clearly, so I grabbed a buggy. They didn’t have those little buggies back then, this was a big eighteen-wheeler looking buggy, and I hoped it would hold everything I needed. So, I circled past the first section that had all that colorful stuff, mostly green. I didn’t know what any of that was for. Finally, I found the canned food. Dinty Moore beef stew and Hormel Chili. You know, real food.
I went gleefully up and down the aisles, piling in all the stuff I knew I needed and some that I hadn’t thought of. Like a dustpan. If I’m going to buy a broom, I might as well get a dustpan. And a bucket. What good is a mop without a bucket? Finally, I ended up in the cooler section in front of the beer.
How much beer could I get? See? I was being an adult. I saved the beer for last. Add up everything in the cart, subtract it from the money in my pocket, and the rest equaled beer. That high school algebra was still sticking with me. X = Money — Cart. Solve for the Beer.
It turns out I had about five times as much stuff than I could afford. I remember standing there dumbfounded, embarrassed, and more than a little scared. I couldn’t afford the things I needed. Welcome to adulthood.
I might think that cart is still sitting there in front of the Budweiser and Miller. There was no light beer back then and nothing that didn’t come out of Milwaukee. But that grocery is long since closed down and has gone through several other lives.
I drove up the road to the next grocery store and started over. This time it wasn’t a list of things I needed in my head, but a list of the least amount of stuff I could get by with.
Fortunately for me, I soon learned two things. First, if you are a kid in your first apartment, your relatives will give you a lot of stuff. Yeah, I guess I could use a couple of towels. Drip drying takes too long. I also learned about fresh food. Not because it was fresh and healthy, but because it was cheap. At that time, I could buy a pound of meat and a lot of veggies for about three bucks and make enough stew to last me a week. Goodbye, Dinty Moore.
I hope I’m right. I hope they are teaching life skills in school now. They should. How to write and balance a checkbook. How to budget a household. How much shit costs.
Because nobody should have to wait until they are standing in the grocery aisle like a deer caught in the headlights. Until much later. When your wife gets sick, and she sends you to the store.
“Honey, your list says laundry detergent. There’s about 300 kinds here.”