Mrs. Jensen, whom I thought was old enough to be in danger of fossilizing at any moment, peered at me through her cat eye glasses. It was one of those terrifying moments in life. I slowly had come to the realization that my name had been called, and I also realized that I had no idea what the teacher had said or had asked just before calling my name.
I shifted uncomfortably in my desk chair. Somewhere from the back of the classroom, a snicker made its devastating way to my ears. I was on the verge of panic, not even sure whether we were studying math or history or English at the moment. Thus, trying to guess an answer, where the appropriate response might actually be 42 or Abraham Lincoln or Psyche Zenobia, was nearly futile.
Up until that moment, I thought I had been having a great week, a lucky week. Only the night before, after buying a pack of ten baseball cards from Spencer Drugstore, I had become the proud owner of an Albert Pujols baseball card! I had tried so hard to get a card of Pujols – the previous summer I had spent forty dollars on baseball cards while trying to get a Pujols card, all to no avail. But last night, last night indeed, had been my lucky night. And perhaps it was my curse too, for I had been studying the Albert Pujols baseball card when Mrs. Jensen called on me.
It was at that moment that Clovis caught my eye. It wasn’t that he was looking at me – that would have been far too obvious, even for Mrs. Jensen – but, indeed, it was the fact that he wasn’t looking at me. My friend was sitting two rows over and four chairs ahead, so I could see him easily.
Clovis was reading a magazine on baseball trivia. Why was Clovis reading in class? If you got straight A’s and never missed a question on a test or homework assignment – ever – the teacher would let you read anything you wanted in class too.
Clovis raised the publication ever so slightly off his desk, tilted it up a bit so that I could see it, and showed me a picture of Hank Aaron. Hank Aaron, the home run king, had always been one of my favorites. Clovis then folded his arms as if he were holding a baby. The baby would signify Babe Ruth, of course. Okay, so Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth were the first two parts of the puzzle.
My friend then pointed to an advertisement in the magazine, and he tucked his thumb onto his palm so that his right hand was holding up four fingers. Advertisement, advertisement, advertisement … ad! Okay, I was supposed to add something. A home run in baseball is four total bases, thus the four fingers. Clovis wanted me to add Hank Aaron’s and Babe Ruth’s home run totals together. That was the answer, or at least it was my guess of what he wanted me to say for the answer.
Hank Aaron hit 755 home runs during his career, and Babe Ruth had 714. The sum of those two numbers is 1469.
“Mrs. Jensen,” I said confidently, the answer is one thousand four hundred sixty-nine.”
Mrs. Jensen was shocked.
“Yes, you are right, but don’t forget you must supply the units. One thousand four hundred sixty-nine … of what?” she asked wickedly.
Even Clovis turned pale for a moment. I suspected it wasn’t because he didn’t know the answer; more likely it was that he wasn’t sure how to relay the answer to me.
His color returned, and I knew that was a good sign.
He shrugged his shoulders. That’s what he did when he would ask why. Why … why … why.
Then he touched his ear. Why … ear. Why … ear. Aha! Not why, but the letter ‘y’, and ear, together – that’s what Clovis was after! He wanted me to say the word “year.”
“The year 1469, Mrs. Jensen.”
“Very good, very good.” She paused, as if debating whether to go on to the next question. She decided to continue the torture.
“And tell me, if you would, what again was it that happened in 1469?”
Clovis was ready for this one. First, he very discreetly did an impersonation of Flip Wilson doing his “Here comes the judge” imitation. Flip Wilson … Flip Wilson. Okay, I’d have to think about that one.
Then Clovis bit his lip and acted as if he were dying, followed by striking a pose that was remarkably similar to that of Mona Lisa. Clovis even had the smile right.
My brain went into full gear. Flip Wilson … lip … dying … Mona Lisa. Flip Wilson … lip … dying … Mona Lisa. Flip … lip … dying … art. Aha!
“Mrs. Jensen, 1469 was the year that Filippo Lippi, the famous artist, died.”
“Very good,” Mrs. Jensen beamed. “You’ve been paying attention after all.”
Well, in truth I had been paying attention, only I wasn’t paying attention to Mrs. Jensen. As I’ve said, the moments before she ran me through her version of the Spanish Inquisition, I had been studying and admiring the Albert Pujols card. That was my tendency in class, day in and day out. I had a stack of fifty baseball cards hidden in my desk, and I would spend hours each day memorizing all the statistics on the back of the cards. I could tell you how many hits Ichiro got last year, or how many strikeouts Josh Beckett got for the Red Sox. If only Mrs. Jensen would ask me a question like that, I’d be golden.
On our way out of the class, Clovis whispered, “Man that was close.”
I gave Clovis a quarter – twenty-five cents – and my Albert Pujols baseball card.
“Albert Pujols! Are you sure you want to part with this?” he asked excitedly.
I smiled and laughed. “It’s yours now. Man, you deserve it, after getting me out of that pickle. I’m lucky to have you as a friend, Clovis.”
That night I went to Spencer Drugstore again and bought one more pack of cards. Opening it up, I was delighted to find that the very first card on the top of the pile was another Albert Pujols card. I was lucky, indeed.