Fear of Math Or, How I Became an Amazon Reseller

On a warm June day eight years ago I received a phone call from the director of a summer school program.  I had worked as a librarian in the program for three years and assumed my application had been accepted for the upcoming summer session scheduled to begin in two weeks.  The director apologized as she told me the librarian position wasn’t available that year but, she added brightly, “I’ve got you down for a 5th grade class!”  I have a piece of paper from the State of Michigan that says I can teach 5th grade but I’d never done it.  I knew enough about 5th grade to know it’s the year when deodorant becomes especially florid and that’s the least of the hormonal issues.

“How bad could it be?” I thought.  Four hours a day, four days a week for eight weeks.  “I can do that,” I reasoned, making a mental note to stop by the drugstore and begin an antihistamine regimen.

“What’s the theme this year?”  As a seasoned summer school veteran, I knew that a content area was featured each year with special emphasis for student improvement.

“Math!” she chirped.  The paper from the State also says that I can teach Math but it’s just not a good idea.  I asked if a younger grade was available; my math experience is with kids who come up to my belt buckle and who, like me, are most comfortable when counting on their fingers.  The director demurred, all of the lower elementary positions were filled.  I asked for some time to consider the position.

“You’ll be fine!” she enthused.

I hung up and tracked down a fifth grade teacher who had spoken excitedly about the new math program in the district.  I told her about my conversation with the summer school director and asked her to show me what 5th grade was learning in math.

“Sure!” she beamed as she pulled out a piece of copier paper.  “Let’s take a multiplication problem, 15 times 3.”  She drew a grid of squares on the paper and marked lines through several squares, turning some into pairs of triangles.  “You put the 1 here, the 5 here,  the 3 here…”  she said as she quickly entered the digits into (seemingly) random triangles.  I could feel my eyes widen.  “And there’s your answer: 45!  Easy, right?  So much better than the old way of laying out a multiplication problem!”

Was I smarter than a fifth grader?  I knew the answer to that one as I dialed the director’s phone number.

After work that afternoon, I stood in the middle of my home office and considered my situation.  I was paid 10 checks each year.  The last would come in two weeks and I wouldn’t receive another paycheck until September 15, after the next school year began.  My math problems aren’t  limited to basic arithmetic, I have abstract issues, too, such as adding money to my mental ledger before I actually earn it.  In my mind, the summer school checks were already in my bank account ready to cover things like my mortgage and utilities.

“Rats.” I muttered as I tripped over a pile of hardcovers in the middle of the floor.  “And I won’t have an excuse to avoid cleaning the house this summer, either.”  I examined the spines of the books scattered on the floor.  I would never read these again and, being a librarian, they were in mint condition.  Write in a book? Turn down a corner? Never!

Amazon BoxI pulled up Amazon.com on my computer and typed an ISBN from one of the books I had tripped over.  The lowest listed price for a used copy in “Like New” condition was more than the original publisher’s price.  I checked another ISBN; the lowest listed price was near the original.  I clicked over to the Amazon tab detailing their policy for resellers.  I was slightly annoyed that Amazon was getting a finder’s fee for renting me a few bytes of space on their server.  On the other hand, I wasn’t interested in marketing my stash personally.

“Okay, Amazon, you’ve got a deal.”

Being a librarian I am, by nature, into minutiae.  At Amazon’s site, I typed ISBNs, cleaned up listings, entered my prices, happily clicking away on my keyboard as Rhapsody hummed in the background.  I came up for air and realized it was about midnight.  Neat piles of books settled alphabetically around my office.  Piles of CDs and cassettes sat waiting for the second wave of entries.

When I logged into my email account the next morning, I discovered I had sold five books overnight.  “Yikes!”  I need to get shipping supplies!” Details, details.

I never worked summer school again.