Tag Archives: mathematics

Orwell’s 2+2=5 at the ATT Store

Original             Cover     Wikipedia

In the second grade, I learned to add a column of numbers. Then, I learned how to add across a string of numbers to reach the same conclusion. In both cases, 2+2=4.  Now, decades later, O’Brien’s question to Winston in George Orwell’s 1984  and the anticipated response that 2+2=5 which means Winston is thoroughly broken resurfaced.

It all began Sunday when the red star topped the Internet Wi-Fi icon in my computer taskbar. No internet. I tried all the techie fix-its. Still no internet. On Monday, suffering heavy withdrawal symptoms, I drove to the local AT&T store to buy a new modem.

I was greeted promptly by a smiling woman seated at a round table similar to an oversized DVD disk next to a man with a tablet. She asked my first name and entered it in her iPad. Another smile. “Violet, there are only two waiting ahead of you,” she said.

I sat at the opposite end of a turquoise faux leather bench from a short man, age undetermined. His hands rested on a cart filled with a large cardboard box sealed with clear packing tape. His eyes darted back and forth to the door as if expecting the police to arrive and confiscate his boxed treasure. A tall, thin man with no socks browsed the iPhone displays. One plus one equals two waiting. But the numbers didn’t add up or across because there were four customers ahead of me.

The smiling team member (make that employee) kept working with the puzzled tablet customer. He looked more confused with each explanation.  The other associate (again, make that employee) left her customer with a more perplexed look than Customer #1.  That employee stood, tugged her stretch jeans upward, pulled her shirt down over the fleshly gap, and called the name of the man with the cart.

Eyes aglow, he smiled and lifted one hand like answering roll call in second grade. Slippy Pants approached him with a wary eye toward the box. He showed her what appeared to be a past due bill, whipped out a thick wad of cash that looked like he had emptied an ATM on his walk to the store—or perhaps retrieved it from the box before resealing it.  She took the cash, entered a key code on a door to a back room, and reappeared minutes later with a receipt. She accompanied Customer #3 to the glass entrance and held the door wide. He maneuvered the cart outside. Then, Slippy Pants returned to Customer #2, the woman on the far bench, and worked with her phone a few more minutes. When nothing was accomplished, Slipp Pants repeated the tugging ritual before she called No Socks. Two plus two equals Customer #4.

No Socks slid onto a vivid orange contoured seat that reminded me of the John Deere tractor I rode on when I visited a childhood friend on a farm. Slippy Pants struggled as she climbed into a seat opposite him at the bistro table.

After another long wait, Smiley mouthed to me, “Thank you for your patience.” She continued to work with her perplexed customer while I waited.  O’Brien was right. Two plus two equals five.

Finally, my turn. I drew the short straw—Slippy Pants.

Read my next post to see how my interrogator left me thoroughly broken.





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My Father, the Mathematician

Clothbound notebookMy father kept a miniature clothbound notebook in his work shirt pocket and tucked a stub graphite pencil in the special slot in the pocket flap. He recorded the names of homeowners where he tended their yards and gardens and marked his earnings—usually $4 a half-day for his regular clients. He transferred those notes to a ledger every night.

His evening routine seldom varied. He cleaned his reel-style lawnmower and cloth catch basket in the backyard, wiped the yard rake and hedge clippers, and stored them in the toolshed. He came in the back door and washed up for supper. On warm summer days with plenty of daylight, he returned outside and puttered around checking the garden or tending his roses. At dusk, he settled at the kitchen table with the ledger and an indelible pencil in his hand. He touched the pencil to his tongue often to keep the purple pencil fluid as he transferred his earnings to the ledger. On Saturdays, after returning from grocery shopping, he copied each item and the price into the ledger to track the budget. We grew our own vegetables, so the basics included a pound of thick-cut slab bacon or bucket of lard, sugar, flour, oatmeal or Cream of Wheat, and sometimes Postum, and Velveeta cheese. He mulled over the last grocery list prices. He checked the essentials Mama had told him she needed for cooking and calculated the cost.  After our town required inside sanitation, a new item appeared on the list. Toilet paper.

No more trips to the outhouse! No more harsh pages from the Sears and Roebuck catalog. Scott tissue entered our home for the first time at nineteen cents a roll. Then it escalated to twenty-nine cents, a price my father called outrageous considering the purpose. He restricted the purchase to a single 1,000-sheet roll at one time, only buying more when that roll neared the paper tube.

Clothbound LedgerOne winter evening during a slow period with no yard work, my father removed the thick rubber band from his wallet and peered inside. Then, he labored over the grocery needs using prices from the previous journal entries. He shook his head when the scant necessities totaled more than he had budgeted. He shook his head in dismay. He walked into the living room and asked Mama what she could cut from the list. Her response sounded like there would be no way to bake bread or cook without every staple. He returned to the table and hastily made more calculations. Chair legs scraped the linoleum as he stood and made four long steps back toward Mama.

“The toilet paper we have now,” he said in a hushed tone like it was a dirty word, “will last out the week if the twins only use four squares every day.”

My quiet mother, who usually nodded her agreement to his budget calculations, protested. “They can’t do that. They’re girls!”

I don’t remember what item he omitted. I only know it wasn’t the roll of Scott.

Toilet Tissue



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