Wednesday, October 1, 2008

700 Billion Trillion Million Bajillian

Years ago, I never could "get" the concept of square footage. It's not that I'm dumb. I'm just...relational. Yeah, that's the ticket. Relational. I am an "experiential" learner. I don't always learn things just by reading. I have to get my arms around stuff. I have to read a bunch more things that relate to the first thing I read. If I read a political article and it quotes three or four people or mentions a related historic event or discusses a geographical place, any of whom I had never before encountered, then I have to toddle off and read about those quoted people, those historic events and those places. Then I'll finally "get" the article. Context. It's a good thing. And holy shit, it takes a long time to learn that way.

But I bet I know a lot more than most people when I'm done.

So, back to square footage. My Dad was a meanie to his first 5 kids, but he'd somehow gotten it out of his system by the time I came along. He was grumpy and yelled a lot, especially when he came home from the office and looked at all the faces of all the people he had to support with his business somehow. It was usually not a good idea to cross his path before he had his pre-dinner scotch. And even after dinner, it wasn't a smart idea to get him involved in your homework. He probably destroyed one of my sister's mathematical abilities forever, when he tried to explain the concept of "perimeter" to her. He dragged her down to our basement in Philadelphia and sat on the couch in the kids' "wreck room" and made her walk around the outside edges of the room at least 20 times. Each time she returned to his scowling, impatient face he'd demand, "So? What's it called that you just walked around?" All she could so was sob.

Consequently, I never asked my Dad to help me with my homework. Although, I probably would have "gotten" perimeter the first time I walked around it. Because I'm an experiential learner. And because I watched all five of my brothers and sisters get yelled at by my Dad, which taught me that I better have answers whenever anybody asks me anything, and fast. I could probably write a book with the first half of it recounting the miraculous right answers I have pulled directly out of my ass, and the second half of the book would be full of hilarious blabbering answers I came up with that were not even close to the right answer, but they either bored or amused the questioner so much that they eventually let me off the hook.

"Say, what's that tree over there?"
"Well, by the looks of it, we know it's definitely not a conifer. Those kinds of trees, like the blue spruce my mother favored at Christmas time, don't grow in these parts. After all, it's Hawaii and there's a proliferation of palm trees here, specifically of the non-date variety. But this is no palm. No siree. It has variegated leaves too, which narrows it down to a small group of, well, variegated leaf trees. So, it must be more rare than non-variegated leaf trees. And the bark is very, very shiny and hard, which rules out those trees with spongy bark that they make wine corks out of. No, it's more like an ironwood tree, er, bush, uh...treebush. But not of the desert family of ironwood. No. Since we're not in the desert, of course. And those berries are orange, which, if they're anything like Pyracantha, then they are almost definitely poisonous and should be avoided by small children, small dogs, and small old people. Oh. Maybe it's a Pyracantha bush?"

If I slow down for a second, you know, take a breath, look in the least bit confused, they might just kill me, or ground me for life. So, I just keep on talking.

My sister is probably smarter than me, and can learn by reading. Maybe she can learn better by hearing someone talk. We never talked about it. But she sure as hell can't learn by being yelled at. And she never learned the art of bloviation like I did. She's quiet.

So, back to square footage. I used to be a draftsman. That was way before people started calling me a draftslady, or a draftsgal, or a draftswoman. I was just a draftsman, in a room full of draftsmen (the men kind), all of us getting shiny calluses on the front of our third finger, from bearing down on our mechanical pencils. Yes, I have inhaled the tinny scent of graphite, and have lived to tell the tale. I've drawn louvers and door jambs and roof hatches and computer housings. I've drawn piping diagrams for oil refineries at Union Oil in El Segundo, California and schematic and wiring diagrams for some damn electrical thing or another at Intel. I measured and plotted things while wisely keeping tolerances in mind.

So, you might imagine that I understood that linear footage meant one foot stuck to the end of another foot and a whole bunch of one foots strung along in a single, solitary line, making up a total of some amount of linear feet. And it wasn't at all a stretch of my imagination to understand that square footage was like one of the linoleum tiles in my mother's kitchen. Each side was 12" or one foot long, so, one tile was one foot squared (whose perimeter, by the way, was 48") (And don't ask me why it was squared instead of quadrupled. Don't ask why it's times 2 instead of times 4. That involves isosceles triangles and pentagrams and the devil and would take me too long to explain.). Got it.

But here's the big problem: How big was 35,000 square feet? Or 1200? That's what I had a hard time with. I am not into sports. So I have no idea what anybody means when they say something is the length of three football fields. Now, if I had hold of a brown leather ball, and I was running my ass off with 8 black guys the size of my mother's twin Frigidaire running after me, I would know exactly what the length of a football field felt like. It's experiencing the thing that counts. Feeling what it feels like.

So, when I bought a condo that measures 1200 square feet, I finally got the concept of square feet. Because I know what it feels like to stand in the middle of 1200 square feet and look around. When my brother bought a 35,000 square foot building to house his business, I knew what 35,000 square feet felt like, when I stood upstairs and looked down on his shop room floor. So, if somebody tells me they have a 10,000 square foot home, I visualize about 1/3 of my brother's office and about 10 times my condo.

Got it?

OK. So why the hell am I babbling on about this? Because somebody fucking asked me if I "got" how much $700 billion or $1 trillion was, and since I have not had the chance to cram thousand dollar bills down my toilet so I can intimately understand how long it would take and how tired my arms would be and how pissed off I would be and how evicted I would be by the time I flushed $700 billion down the crapper, I have yet to really "get" how much that is.

So, as usual, at the threat of a question dangling in the air that I...horrors!...don't have an answer for, I just babbled on and on in this post, in the vain hope that nobody would catch on to the fact that I don't rightly know how much $700 billion is. And then they'd kill me.

But lucky for me, some guy named Scott emailed me today, out of the blue, with this very, very, very long sentence (I know a lot about length):

Can I please get my video posted on your blog?

Just like that. Then he put a link on the next line. Then he said:


Ah. A man of few words. Such a relief.

I hesitated. Little flashes of porn flitted through my brain. "Oh please Scott, don't be sending me a porn link. OK Scott?" And I clicked.

And Scott explained, calmly and clearly, without forcing me to go to the treasury and count it out myself, how much $700 billion really is. It's as big, and thorny, and shiny-suited and poisonous as a Pyracantha:

Scott Brown
Clean Green Productions
"Be the change you want"

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