By Ned Hickson
When my daughter entered middle school this year, 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. As many of you know, I suffer from acute directional dysfunction-- 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 Wal-Mart.
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 in terms of "clicks," which is a unit of measure based on kilometers and the use of a special navigation device. Were I trying to find my way out of enemy territory, this device would be about as useful to me as a Superball. 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.
So when my daughter opened up her geography book and started talking about longitude and latitude, and 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-died.
The truth is, 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, some of the islands were vacationing around Florida.
Clearly, this explanation would only lead to another pained expression from my daughter, and quite possibly the kind of parent-teacher conference I'd been hoping to avoid until she began chemistry.
"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 Russia and Africa," I said helpfully.
"Russia?" she asked.
"Yeah," I said, tapping what I knew to be the world's largest land mass, not counting Shaquille O'Neal.
"That's the Soviet Union, 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 know. However, in case you're wondering, it was still smaller than Shaquille O'Neal.
You can write to Ned Hickson at:
The Siuslaw News at P.O. Box 10, Florence, OR 97439.