During my mini book tour to Watsonville, Calif., a few weeks ago, it became apparent that even as a 49-year-old I still have the directional sense of a standard windsock.
If not for the GPS system in the rental car, I would probably be outside of Reno looking for an on-ramp to Sacramento right now.
It’s a disorder many famous historical figures also suffered from, including Christopher Columbus, who discovered America completely by accident while looking for — if memory of sixth-grade history serves me — a faster trade route to WalMart.
I’m the kind of person who must enter and leave somewhere the same exact way in order to keep from getting lost, even if it means walking backwards out of a public facility, such as the men’s room at Safeco Field. I’ve actually had nightmares about being a contestant on The Amazing Race. In it, I am partnered with my friend David, who spent six years in the Marines and therefore still refers to distances as “clicks” — a unit of measure based on kilometers and the use of a special clicking device. Were I trying to find my way out of enemy territory, this device would be about as useful to me as, say…
Because of this, my Amazing Race nightmare always starts and ends the same way, with everyone getting the first clue and then excitedly running off in the same direction. Except for me, who excitedly runs in the opposite direction — and off a cliff with my “clicker.”
It’s a short dream but always traumatic, especially when I wake up lodged between the bed and the wall “clicking” my TV remote.
Back when our oldest daughter entered middle school, I knew it was only a matter of time before my worst fears were realized and, as a parent, I would have to help her with geography. When she opened her geography book and started talking about longitude and latitude, the prime meridian and flat map distortion, I knew it was time for me to buckle down and, as her father, at least try to get out of it by faking a seizure. Seeing her expression, I quickly realized I had already used this technique when asked about “where babies come from,” “algebra,” “geometry,” and why her favorite shirt was now tie-dyed.
The truth was, I used to be good at helping her with geography, back when we could pour all the major continents and countries onto the floor and put them back together, usually with some parts of Hawaii missing because, as I explained, they sank.
“C’mon, Dad. I need your help. I can’t figure the answer to this,” she said, pointing to the last question on her sheet:
Using this flat map, determine the distortion ratio between these two continents.
“OK, looks like The Soviet Union and Africa,” I said helpfully.
“The Soviet Union?” she asked.
“Yeah,” I said, tapping what I knew to be the world’s largest landmass, not counting Shaquille O’Neal.
“That’s Russia, Dad.”
Things weren’t off to a good start but I pressed on. According to the formula, all we had to do was determine the coordinates of the farthest points on each continent, add them up, factor in the distortion ratio, then decide how much a “D” on this assignment was going to affect her overall grade.
As it turned out, we actually DID figure out the correct answer. Don’t ask me how because I honestly don’t remember.
Heck, I don’t even remember how I got back from Watsonville…
(Ned is a syndicated columnist for News Media Corporation. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or at Siuslaw News, P.O. Box 10, Florence, Ore. 97439)