Pythagoras and unlocking the secrets of seventh-grade locker combinations

Emmitt B. Feldner • forThe Review

One of the bad things about growing old is that you keep getting reminders of just how old you really are.

They seem to come faster and faster, more and more often, as time goes on.

The latest came this week when our oldest grandson, Ty, started middle school.

He’s in fifth grade this year, so he no longer goes to elementary – or grade – school, which just makes his grandparents feel that much older.

I could say it seems like it was just yesterday that I was going into middle school, but who am I kidding – for me, even yesterday doesn’t seem like it was just yesterday.

And actually, I’m old enough that I never went to middle school.

Back in my day, it was junior high – and you didn’t get there until you were in the seventh grade.

It’s just one more thing that seems to be going faster these days.

Being in middle school means that Ty now has his own locker – another step on the road to adulthood, I suppose.

Nowadays, they seem to have all kinds of fancy shelving, attachments and decorations for school lockers, whereas we just had nothing more than a plain metal box.

Ty seems to have this locker thing all figured out and I just hope he doesn’t run into the same misadventure I had the first year I got a locker.

That, as I said, was in seventh grade.

One day early in the school year, one of the upperclassmen – the junior high and high school were all in the same building when I went there – sold me a list of what he said were different locker combinations.

I know, but I was just a naïve seventh-grader – and hey, at least I didn’t buy an elevator pass from him.

I knew better than that – it was only a one-story school building.

This was also a time when they split up the boys and girls for several periods a day, including the period before lunch when the boys had shop and the girls home economics.

Never mind that there were probably at least a few girls in our class who would done a lot better than I did in shop.

After lunch, the boys went back to the shop room and the girls to the home room for a half hour of study hall before going on to our next class.

That was when I got hall pass and headed out try out my secret list of locker combinations.

I don’t think I’d gotten past the first – failed – attempt when the home ec teacher saw me out in the hallway and came out to see what I was doing.

She caught me with the list of numbers in my hand and wanted to know where I got them.

I knew better than to give up my source, since he was bigger than me – for that matter, just about everybody in the school was bigger than me.

I told her I’d found the paper on the ground in the hall but I’m not sure if she bought that.

She offered me a deal, though.

We happened to be studying the Pythagorean theorem in math class at that point.

Since she knew my father was the chairman of the mathematics department at the high school, she figured I could help some of the girls in her study hall who were having trouble with it and she’d forget all about the list of locker combinations – after she destroyed it, of course.

That was an offer I couldn’t refuse – especially since the home ec teacher somewhat resembled Don Corleone, even if this was a decade before the Godfather movie came out.

I started showing the girls in the study hall how to do the Pythagorean theorem – for those of you who have forgotten it, it says that in a right triangle, side a squared plus side b squared equals side c squared.

Somehow, the home ec teacher saw what I was doing and came to the conclusion that I’d been using the Pythagorean theorem to come up with the locker combinations I was trying out.

Who was I to disillusion her, especially when it saved me and a certain upperclassmen who still remains unidentified.

I don’t think Ty’s quite up to the Pythagorean theorem yet in his math studies, so he’ll have to rely on some wily seventh- or eighth-grader if he wants some extra locker combinations.

I wouldn’t recommend it, however – even if I’m not sure if they still have home economics teachers in these new-fangled middle schools.

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