Written: November 18th, 2007, 9:14 (UTC) By: omer
Note: this post is part of an ongoing novel. You should probably start at the beginning here.
The novel continues here.
And, once it was on, they started the Internet connection process, and Orr disappeared for a few seconds to grab another chair. When he returned, Tom was sitting in front of the computer, a spot usually reserved for Orr, rubbing his fingers along the keyboard.
Orr brought the chair next to him and said, "You wanna drive?"
Tom grinned at him. He said, "I think I know what to search for."
And, in fact, he did. After the connection reached its crescendo and inevitable denouement, he opened Internet Explorer, ambled to Google, and searched for "learning SAT words for math geeks."
And, near the bottom of the first page, they found an ideal result: "How to: the Geek's Guide to Studying for the SAT." It was a detailed guide, split into two sections, a rather terse section on studying for the math section "when you know it all already," just to get the best score possible, and a much more detailed teaching the Greek and Latin prefixes and suffixes, and eventually entire words, in terms of equations and geometrical figures. For example, the a three-line tag under the title "SAT Language for the Nescient Geek" revealed the equation: "ScientL ~ Science, Conscience, Prescient, ... ~ Having to do with knowledge; NeL ~ Negative, Negation,... ~ Not; Ne+Scient = Not + Knowing = Ignorant." Just below the tag-equation were two giant circles, sitting side-by-side and together taking up most of the width of the page. One was labeled "Science" and the other "Math." And, inside each were several other circles, some sitting inside others, all labeled, either in the circle itself or with an arrow pointing from above or below, with a subfield of either science or math: chemistry, geology, geometry, and within geometry, trigonometry, graphing, topology, and so forth. Orr had heard of many of them and knew what those meant, but some, like "homeomorphisms" were new to him. Below these layered circles was bold black rectangle, reading (in white text): "Use what you know," after which each of the scientific and mathematical words was defined and then broken down (in equation form) into its constituent parts. (Orr: "Geometry has to do with the earth?!" Tom: "Chemistry is an Egyptian word?!") And, to their (or at least Orr's) surprise, the two were thoroughly enjoying a website about the English language. And, they continued their bemused amusement for another two hours before finally admitting that their brains had absorbed as much as they could in that night and decided to spend the rest of the night playing Honor Fighter.
"The Geek's Guide to Studying for the SAT" (and more specifically "SAT Language for the Nescient Geek") became Tom's and Orr's main material for studying. They went to the library the following day and found two heavily-penned Princeton Review preparation guides from 1990 and checked them out. But, they found that only half of it was devoted to language, and of that, much was spent on long prefix, suffix, and word lists, supplemented by periodic quizzes and the occasional reminder that now might be a good time to take one of their sample tests in the back of the book. It reeked of the confining atmosphere of school, especially when compared with the nontraditional, intellectual, and targeted nature of the Geek's Guide. And, though the Geek's Guide was less thorough in its lexicon (even on the subject of prefixes and suffixes) than the its discarded counterpart, it mimicked many of the sections in the latter, replacing quizzes with riddles, and tests with complex sets of equations, some mathematical, some linguistic, "mixing pleasure with pain."
The Geek's Guide was just one of many small-time websites made by freelance web-developers during their free time, who maintained their websites with only a small loss by using Google AdWords, who were filled with dreams, philosophies, and project ideas, some good and some bad, and who remembered the days prior to the 2000 recession with a mixture of dreaminess and horror. Such websites would crop up and vanish regularly, as their developers dreamed them up and then tired of maintaining them when they failed to take off, and a new dream presented itself, one that (this time) would replicate or surpass the successes of the recession's survivors: eBay, Amazon, Google, and so forth. In fact, a month after taking the SAT, Orr tried to show the website to Tomer for him to reference the following year, but it had already vanished into an "Under Construction" sign with the canonical construction worker and a single line of plain text below, that read, "See my other work here." And, when Tomer checked again the following October, hoping to replicate or surpass the successes of his brother, he, as he later told Orr, "finally learned how to meet singles in my area."
Luckily, before the website imploded, Tom and Orr managed to spread news of its existence to their friends, and gained an enthusiastic convert in Toff, and even reluctant ones in Kelly and Arthur (whose dabbling in the humanities and the sciences had left them feeling equally comfortable, and uncomfortable, in both). In fact, Toff found it even more fascinating and wonderful than Tom and Orr did and started spending much of her programming class exploring the various nooks of the website, including links to other geeky language sites and sites devoted entirely to riddles. She would write down the riddles and the language games (if you have "Two + Two = Four" and each letter stands for a different numeral, which letters stand for which numerals to make the equation true? There is a synonym for "heap" that is thirteen letters long and has and has as its fifth through eighth letters an anagram for a famous city; which city is it? ... and so forth) and then work on them while pretending to take notes during class. Needless to say, her grades began to stumble, but as they turned downward, her interest and skill with riddles began to skyrocket. She started to bring crosswords to school, and after a month stopped using a pencil. And, before the end of the semester, her grades reached a nadir and began a quick ascent, though to all outward appearances, she was paying less attention than ever.
The day, in early November, of the SAT, which all five friends had decided to take together, she pulled Orr and Tom away from the two others (who were, at any rate, locked in a debate about whether emulators were worth the trouble), and, without saying a word, gave them each a long hug and then passed them each a small slip of paper. She then walked between them back to the others and, loudly, "Frankly, I don't see what all the fuss is about." And, instantly the two were upon her with heated polemics (for if there is one thing that unites enemies it is someone who says that their struggle is unworthy), leaving Tom and Orr to stare at each other and at her and then down at the pieces of paper in her hand.
Orr said, "We should have asked her what the papers were for."
Tom said, "At which juncture? When she was squeezing the life out of us or when she was walking away?"
Orr said, "Either."
Tom said, "I don't think she really wanted to talk."
Orr said, "Still. I could have used an explanation."
Tom said, "We always have our scraps of paper." He rolled his eyes and grinned.
Orr said, "Yeah..." and stuffed his in his jeans pocket, "... in a few hours. For now..." he fished in the same pocket, first pulling out the scrap, then pulled an entire sheet out, filled with the prefixes with which he was still struggling. He then stuffed the scrap back into the pocket.
Tom said, "What does quotidian mean?"
Orr said, "Oh, God... It's not 'quotable'; I know that much."
Tom said, "Think math... Or, think what Toff's scrap isn't."
And, at once, Orr could see the place on the website, even part of the environment he was in (right next to the door, at the computer facing it, in the computer lab). "Quot" was like "quotient" and "idian" was like "day"... and there it was, as if illuminated on the computer in his imagination: "daily, normal."
Orr grinned at Tom and said, "Good one." And then looked down at his page just to be safe, and there was the equation he had scrawled hurriedly the previous night: "QuotL ~ quotient ~ as many as (5 / 2 means 'how many 2s are in 5?'); idian/sag ~ dieL = day; quot+idian=as many as there are days = daily ~ commonplace." And, next to it, Orr had written, "idian/sag?" since he had still not made sense of that piece of the mathematical definition.
He flipped the page over and began scanning its back side, which consisted of the two great circles of math and science, and as many of the word and definitions as Orr could fit. Though, by now, he knew almost all of the words, so studying it did not help with last-minute cramming, it helped him transform a small chunk of his nervousness into self-confidence. My vocabulary, he thought to himself, has accumulated exponentially. He undertook to use even more esoteric vernacular. This test will be as... He paused. Tom was acting cyclically: glancing at a crumpled page in his hand, muttering to himself, glancing back down, grinning, and repeating. Easy, thought Orr... What's a synonym for "easy"? And, very slowly, some words started popping into his head, first completely useless (pizza!), but slowly closer and closer, and just as the word "facile" began to form in his brain accompanied by dizzy elation, an adult called out for everyone to be quiet and that they would be signing in and showing ID and then entering the room to take their test. The students silenced at once and began shuffling, like metals attracted to a magnet, to a desk, where a man sat with a clipboard and a scowl.
After the test, Arthur drove the rest to the Double Rainbow Bakery and Cafe (a small, college-student-filled cafe a few blocks East from the University of New Mexico that served mostly pastries, coffee, and atmosphere, but had won Arthur over for its Mexican food), where they had planned to spend a lunch chatting about the heroics and tragedies of the test. When they arrived, Arthur started with a blow-by-blow description of how he had run out of time on both sections, but thought that he'd matched his prediction of 1100 perfectly. "If we were playing 'Oh Hell!'," he said, "You would all be in some serious shit."
He then turned to Kelly and said, "How about you? Gonna beat me again?" (She had scored 1110 on the PSAT, just above Arthur's 1100.)
Kelly looked up from her menu. "Me?"
Arthur said, "Who else?"
Kelly thought about this and then pushed her head back into the menu. "Okay."
Arthur said, "Okay?"
Kelly said, "Yeah, okay. I did okay. I did fine. I did well. I did okay. Let me choose some food, okay? I'm starving."
Arthur tried again with Tom, but with no more success. Tom was too busy twisting his fork in circles on top of his napkin to sacrifice more than a syllable's response at a time. Toff was preoccupied examining a spiral notebook that she had extracted from some unknown pocket or crevice in her clothes, though Orr thought he saw her glancing up occasionally at him at Tom, and her face was almost as pale as Tom's, a skill hard to emulate.
So, finally, Arthur turned to Orr, and he and Orr chatted happily about the test, how Orr had actually spotted the word "quotidian" and was so excited that he forgot the definition, how Arthur had recognized the term "neophyte" from "Diablo" and almost laughed in triumph, only to realize that he didn't actually know what the word meant other than, perhaps, "soon-to-be-dead target," and so forth. The whole time, Tom and Kelly managed to distract themselves with menus, utensils, and food until the meal was over. And Toff, in the end, didn't order anything, but sat and doodled in her spiral, and though she glanced up occasionally, whenever Orr (or anybody else) looked over at her, she would look up at the ceiling, holding a pen to her chin, and after a moment, continue to doodle.
And, by the time he dropped them off, even Arthur had lost his chipper mood had dissolved into melancholic silence. And, Orr wondered whether he should be more nervous. But, for better or worse, he wasn't.