© 2017 by Jerry L. Croasmun
We were proudly walking down the narrow road when a large antique vehicle rumbled by, creating a mini-tornado. The sudden gust of air caused me to lose my balance and covered my new dress with red desert mud. The truck came to an abrupt halt as I recovered from the graceless tumbling act. A gaunt, old man climbed out of the cab. I had seen cadavers with more meat on their bones.
My first instinct was to escape the zombie looking creature and run as fast as I could. Both he and his truck looked like they had seen better days. Yet, he seemed sincerely concerned about our welfare.
"You kids okay?" he inquired in a raspy whisper.
I was a month away from graduating high school when the powers of the Universe allowed our paths to cross. He seemed friendly enough, on that April day in 1990, but the first time I laid eyes on him, he scared me a little. Honestly, he scared me more than a little.
"What the... what are you?" I yelled as I rose from the desert floor both dazed and confused.
My younger brother Ben was beginning to turn pale and I was not far from fainting when the man approached.
"Sprechen Sie deutsch?" he asked.
We stood speechless and clueless as if an alien or someone with a foreign tongue had spoken.
"Do you speak German?" he then asked using perfect English.
"Na... ah... No," Ben finally answered.
"I am sorry we had to meet this way. I am Herr Woodrow Gershom Specht."
The frail-looking, old man could not have weighed much more than one hundred pounds. His receding hairline was a majestic white and silver, but it was his eyes that kept me in a near hypnotic trance. Those big green, skull sunken eyes seemed to draw me in. Yet, it was the childlike glitter and sparkle that kept me fixated and focused on his every word.
Why had our paths crossed and what kind of magnetism had drawn me to this lifeless man and his strange vehicle? My head hurt from thinking about these and countless other questions.
Life seemed simpler back then. I was nearly eighteen, very naïve, and had a lot to learn about life and ultimately death. Society, as a whole, was a lot more trusting and genuinely cared for their fellow man. We were our brothers’ keepers and took responsibility for the welfare of our neighbors and their children.
Ben and I agreed to hitch a ride to the local diner in the tiny man's mammoth truck. We bounced up and down the narrow, dusty, red dirt road. The cab was equipped with only two seats, the driver's and another for a relief driver. We shared the passenger's seat and the ride was anything but comfortable.
The strange former military vehicle was a 1963 model of the Mercedes-Benz engineered and German built Unimog. The word Unimog is a combination of UNIversal-MOtor-Gerät. Gerät is German for device or unit. I paid little attention to the fading "Arcade Adventures" signs on the doors of the blue and yellow truck.
"Many cities and government agencies own and operate similar machines in some of the harshest conditions and places in the world. In my opinion, a Unimog is the best mid-sized off-road truck ever made," said our chauffeur. "The new sports utility vehicles can't hold a candle to what my twenty-seven year old truck can do."
"Fraction bars create fractions," Herr Specht said, changing the conversation. "A fraction is only a fraction if there is a fraction bar. Fractions are the most divisive things on earth; they by design cause division. Life would not exist without division, yet the fraction bar also fosters relationships by joining two parts together."
He spoke with a sense of authority and I felt he knew what he was saying, but he had lost me at the first mention of fraction bar.
My head hurt and I needed a frosty cold root beer. I managed to squeak out, "What did you say?"
"Fraction bars create fractions. Numerator over the denominator."
"Did you know," he asked, "the Egyptians are thought to have been the first to introduce and use fractions?" He didn't wait for us to respond. "An Egyptian fraction is the sum of single unit fractions. The numerator is always one and the denominator is always greater than one. Each denominator is unique, as ancient Egyptians never used common denominators. Using Egyptian fractions is an ideal way to divide things into equal shares or parts."
2/3 = 1/3 + 1/4 + 1/12
Herr Specht did most of the talking as he shared his knowledge and wisdom with Ben and me, his new surrogate students. When we arrived at the little diner, "numerator over the denominator" was getting stuck in my head.
I'd never been fond of fractions and saw no connection as I longed to eat a delicious, mouthwatering pizza.
"Should we add anchovies?" the little old man asked.
Ben and I exchanged glances as we read each other's mind.
"No, thank you. That sounds a little fishy to me," Ben said politely.
We also disliked black olives and had always jokingly said they reminded us of sliced cockroaches. Yet, on that day, we chose not to share our distaste or opinion. Root beer, after all, had proven to aid in the digestion of many unpleasant foods in the past. We agreed to share a sausage, cheese, and pepperoni pizza smothered with an abundance of black olives.
Ben's favorite waitress, Helen Marie, was our server that day. She always called him Benjamin and they enjoyed sharing stories and jokes. Ben began the friendly teasing session not long after she had brought our drinks and finished taking our order.
"Helen Marie, how long will our pizza be?" He emphasized the word long.
"Silly Benjamin. Last I looked, your pizza wasn't long at all. Hold onto your saddle and britches. One very round and circular pizza coming up." Helen Marie smiled as she walked away to help other customers.
"Remember, fraction bars create fractions. The fraction bar is what makes a fraction a fraction," the old man said as he drew a horizontal line on the white paper placemat. He then added a single dot above and below the line making a division symbol. "Fractions are simple division problems."
Attempting to change the topic of conversation from math, I shared, "I'm thinking of registering for a human anatomy course."
That was a mistake as it led Herr Specht to begin rambling on and on about more and more numbers. "Over 95% of the mass of the body is made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. Other trace elements include salt, calcium, and bananas."
I thought he was joking and laughed. He smiled and began to write various symbols and elements from the periodic table on the placemat.
65% O—oxygen; 18% C—carbon
10% H—hydrogen; 3% N—nitrogen
NaCl—sodium chloride (salt), Ca—calcium
Finishing his illustrations, he looked up. "Life is all about fractions and their corresponding percentages."
I could hardly believe my ears, but had no doubt Herr Specht was speaking the truth. I was in awe and began to realize I had never met someone with such a diverse intellect before.
I started to drool when Helen Marie set the pizza on the table; I was more than eager to eat.
Ben, eyeing the pizza, exclaimed, "I'm so hungry my stomach thinks my throat's been cut."
We both snickered.
"I would like to say a few words before we eat," said the malnourished looking man.
Thinking he wanted to say a little prayer of thanksgiving for our food I bowed my head, folded my arms, and closed my eyes.
"Look at this beautiful circular masterpiece. The perimeter of the crust’s outer edge forms its circumference of 56.52 inches; just over 56 1/2 inches around. Our pizza measures approximately 18 inches across in diameter with a radius of 9 inches or 1/2 the diameter."
I would have preferred a simple prayer and thought, "God is good, God is great. Now let’s eat."
He continued, "The fraction bar is the most important part; without it, fractions would not exist. The cook prepared this pizza pie and divided it into eight nearly equal slices. Eight pieces make up this pizza. The denominator is eight and is placed under or below the fraction bar."
"Herr Specht, I like that. The denominator is down under just like Australia and New Zealand," I said.
"Yes, numerator over the denominator. There are 360 degrees of scrumptious, gooey, delight before us with each piece forming angles of varying degrees. 360 ° divided by 8 means each slice represents approximately 45 °."
Thinking only in oven temperatures, I worried the pizza was getting cold. My stomach started to churn with hunger pains and I feared embarrassing rumbling noises would soon follow.
Herr Specht then served the pizza and said, "We each now have 1/8 of the pizza or one out of eight pieces. Together we've removed 3/8 and 5/8 remain. The one, three, and five are the numerators and appear above the fraction bar. They show the parts or a portion of the whole—the denominator, which is 8."
3/8 + 5/8 = 8/8
"Eight-eighths is eight over eight; eight out of eight; or eight divided by eight. No matter how you say it, the answer is always the same: one. We are sharing one whole pizza. Fractions having the same whole number for both the numerator and denominator are always going to equal one."
1/1 = 1
8/8 = 1
101/101 = 1
I began to look down convinced we were never going to eat, but was suddenly startled to attention when he declared, "Let's eat."
"Amen, Brother Ben. Shot a rooster killed a hen. The hen died, the rooster cried, and we all went home satisfied," I said joyfully.
The old man looked at us and said, "Numerator over the denominator. And don't forget the fraction bar."
"Yum, this is very good pizza," I exclaimed while wiping my mouth with the napkin trying to conceal the remains of the cockroach stunt doubles I had just spit out. Root beer could only do so much to fool the taste buds; I was in a desperate need of a refill.
Read Chapter 2--Pizza Pi
Read Chapter 3--Helen Marie
Read Chapter 4--Shoshana
Read Chapter 5--The Wall Of Division
Read Chapter 5--Calendar Magic
Read Chapter 6--Opposites Attract
Read Chapter ?--Tacos
Click here to listen to .mp3 audio for Chapter 1--Fraction Bar
(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW
Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society.
Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.