Late in June, Marcy finally comes home, leaving her Mexican boyfriend behind. It takes a while for her to adjust to America again. In Mexico, she says, when you encounter someone in the plaza, he or she will ask 20 questions of you, and stand and listen while you answer every one. To do anything less, on either side, is considered ill-mannered.
Jake would be a complete social failure in Mexico.
“Have you taken your placement tests?” I ask him as he sits at the computer, deftly defeating enemies with Austin.
Nothing — not even a glance my way.
“Have you taken your placement tests, Jake?” I ask again. In a month, we drive him to freshman year at his college of choice, Hamleyherst, and he needs to take the tests so he can schedule his courses. Classes fill up. To get the ones he wants, I’ve explained again and again, he has to take the tests.
His eyes shift toward me, just for a moment. “What?” he asks, his voice deliberately dead, to discourage me from this.
“YOUR PLACEMENT TESTS!”
He claps his hands over his ears. “Christ! You don’t have to shout!”
“Maybe I do! Did you take the tests?”
“Not yet.” Enunciated crisply, to warn me I’m on thin ice.
“I don’t have a graphing calculator.” Eyes back to the screen.
“Yes you do!”
A sigh, so heartfelt, so sincere, so pitying of the depth of my stupidity. “Not the right kind of graphing calculator.”
Oh. Math, he’s announced, is his intended major — to spite me, I swear. The opposite of words. “What kind do you need?”
Abruptly, we’re engaged. “This,” he says, smiling brightly, pulling up a webpage that shows a Texas Instruments TI-89 Titanium Calculator. It costs $199 plus shipping.
“Where’s the titanium?” I ask.
His glance turns withering again. “That’s just the name.”
“Well — what makes it worth $200?”
“It has Prettyprint.” He rolls his eyes at my blank expression. “It lets you … ” Pause. “It shows equations … ” He wants to explain it to me, I think, but it would take so long to do so, because I’m such a moron. And Austin is waiting. “It’s just the one I need,” he says. “If you can’t get it for me, never mind.”
I order it for him. He knows I will. The day it arrives, he texts me at work:
I LOVE MY CALCULATOR
I look up “Prettyprint” on Wikipedia and find out it’s a function that makes the display in the calculator window look like an old-fashioned typeset equation instead of computer shorthand. Basically, it’s a font elegance enhancement. I find myself oddly pleased that this matters to my son.