Ancient and vivid memories flooded my mind when I opened the first copy of my book.
|CRACKING THE BOOKS
Daniel Johnston © 1996
In 1992 PennWell Books published my first book, a 328-page opus about how to evaluate an oil company ('Oil Company Financial Analysis in Nontechnical Language'). When the books finally came off the press, PennWell sent me the first copy. It was a medium sized book, as books go, with a glossy baby-blue cover. It was a sacred moment for me when I held my freshly printed brand new book in my hands. As I opened it there was a loud crisp crrraack, and I was suddenly transported back in time twenty-eight years to May 1964, the last day of my eighth-grade math class.
I liked that math class. I was thirteen years old. Life was good. And, I had a natural bent for numbers, equations, angles and especially word problems. I loved word problems. Although, I never got an A in math I did have a B average that year. I figure I was a pretty good math student—considering. Considering I never studied. I still loved math.
Our math teacher, ‘old man Siebenaller’, was a tall angular sort, all elbows and Adam's apple. He even looked mathematical. I got a stiff neck just looking up at him. He had wavy light brown hair and kept fairly busy keeping his glasses from sliding down his long abundant nose. He took his job seriously and managed to keep us under control in a calm and pleasant way. We all liked him and, as one of his best students, I think he liked me too—until that last day.
It was the end of the school year and we were getting ready for a Wyoming summer. The weather was perfect, all sunshine and lollipops! After that—Sheridan High School! There was excitement in the air.
It was the day to turn in our text books. Most of the kids took an eraser to their book to clean them up for inspection.
I wasn’t concerned, my book was in excellent shape. It was a medium sized book as books go, with a glossy tan cover. I remember it well—the cover.
We lined up and each took our turn handing him our book. When my turn came I handed him my book and as he opened it there was a loud crisp "Crrraack!"
He froze, and his eyes bulged as he stared at the book. Everybody knew something was wrong! He shoved his glasses up his nose and turned on me.
"You never opened this book!" he sputtered.
A dark hush engulfed the room. I gave him with a warm smile, trying to hide my fear. I couldn't think of anything else to do. This was a new experience for me.
"This book was never opened!” he said, “You never studied it!"
My mind raced. I tried to look guilty. This had worked for me in the past. And, as time stood still, it occurred to me I had never really understood what the old worn-out phrase ‘cracking the books’ meant until that very instant.
I swore to myself then-and-there that in high school when they assigned me a book I was going to crack it open immediately and wear it out the very first day. I was never going to go through this again.
He wanted to grab me around the throat, that much was obvious. But, ultimately, there was nothing he could do. Too many witnesses. He snorted, threw the book into the box, and glared at me as he turned to the next kid in line.
Everybody suddenly tried to look busy. I went back to my humble desk and kept my mouth shut for once.
Eventually of course, everyone was going to wonder how much time they had wasted studying that stupid book all year long while I had been doing worthwhile things. Hey! That would make a good word problem! And Lord knows, when it came to word problems, I was dazzling.