I picked up the phone on the second ring.
“Hey, Uncle Richard, it’s Jerry.” Jerry is my nephew, the oldest son of my oldest sister. He’s in high school and I think he has called me once before in his life.
“Hi, Jerr. What’s up?” I ask, puzzled but curious.
“I’m doing my homework and I’m stumped on a math problem.”
“Jerry, you know I’m a car salesman, right? I can probably help you if you are calculating gross margins or interest percentages but beyond that I’m going to be pretty useless.”
“Mom said you’d probably know. She suggested I give you a call.”
“OK then, shoot!”
“The equation is x2 + 3x = 8x – 6.”
“Hang on a minute Jerry. Let me get a pencil and paper… OK, got it. Give me that equation again.”
“x2 + 3x = 8x – 6”
“OK what have you tried so far?”
“I’ve moved all terms to the left using addition and subtraction. Subtracted 8x from each side giving me
“ x2 – 5x = -6
“Then I added 6 to each side.
“ x2 – 5x + 6 = 0.”
I wrote that down even though I was already lost.
“OK Jerr, then what?”
“Well, I identified the left as a trinomial, and split it into two factors
“ (x – 2)(x – 3) = 0”
“Yeaaaah,” I said floundering.
“I set each factor to 0 and solved them. Then I combined the two solutions into one for the original problem and I got,
“ x = 2, 3
”I’m not sure that’s right though. What do you think?”
I set the pencil down, “What the hell does that mean, Jerry? Is that an answer?” I heard stifled laughter from the other end of the phone. “Jerry, tell your mother that she’s not funny alright? I hear her laughing. And I’m disappointed that you would allow her to manipulate you like this but let’s see if I can help.
“Have you heard of the internet, Jerry? Google ‘factoring quadratics’, you’ll find an online calculator where you can input your original equation and get the answer immediately! And, make sure you tell your mom she’s not funny. Hey are you guys still planning to come over and barbeque this weekend?”