Column: X Plus Y Equals NBA and PG&E

By Susan Parker
Tuesday April 10, 2007

“Sit down,” I said to the sixth-grader standing at his desk to my right. It was another day of substitute teaching. I needed to prove that I was in control. 

“What?” he asked, although I knew he could hear me perfectly well. 

“Sit down,” I said again. “Sit down in your seat.” 

“I can’t,” he said. 

“Why not?” I asked. 

“I’ve got ADD,” he said. 


“Yeah,” he said. “You know what that is?” 

“Yes,” I said. 

“Then you know.” 

“Know what?”  

“That I can’t sit down.”  

“But you can,” I said. “And you must.” 



It was 8:30 a.m. and I was already losing my ability to reason. Why couldn’t he stand if he wanted to? 

“Because everyone else is sitting down,” I said. Pathetic. And my explanation wasn’t even true. The six-foot tall eleven-year-old next to the Attention Deficit Disorder kid was also standing.  

“Sorry,” said ADD. “But I can’t sit down. My teacher lets me stand up.” 

We stared at one another. 

“I take pills for it,” he added. 


“They haven’t kicked in yet.” 

“When did you take them?”  

“This morning.” 

“How long do they take to work?” 

“You never know. It could be hours.” 

“Sit down,” I said again. 

“Jeez,” he said as he sat down.  

“Pull your chair up so that you can reach your desk,” I said. 

“Jeez,” he repeated as he scooted his chair forward.  

“And you,” I said to the Goliath next to him. “You sit down, too.” 

“Can’t,” he said.  

“Why not?” I asked between my teeth. I could feel my blood pressure rising.  

“Gotta leg cramp.” 

“Get over it,” I said. “And sit down.” 

He sat, but appeared to be in excruciating pain. His left leg extended into the middle of the aisle. It was long and distracting. I did my best to ignore it.  

We went on with our math lesson, something about X equaling Y. Soon the boys were standing up again.  

“How are you guys ever going to get jobs?” I asked, “if you can’t sit down at a desk?”  

“I’m going to be a plumber,” said the short one with ADD. 

“I’m going to play for the NBA,” said the tall one.  

I gave up. They stood at their desks for the rest of the day.  

That afternoon when I arrived home, I found that my house was filled with the smell of gas. I called PG & E. An inspector came over and diagnosed the problem as a leak in a pipe somewhere under the house. “You need a plumber,” he said as he turned off the gas. “You won’t be able to cook or shower tonight. Someone needs to check this out ASAP.” 

I called a plumber. He arrived the next day. “Four hundred and fifty dollars to test the gas lines,” he said. “Four hundred if you pay cash.” 

“What do you need to do?” I asked. 

“I have to crawl under the house.” 


He shrugged. “Somebody’s got to do it.” 

I watched the plumber as he held a flashlight and wiggled through a small dark opening that led to the bowels of my home. A while later he emerged. “It’s nasty in there,” he said, “but I’ve seen worse. I’ll have to replace the hot water heater and the pipes to it. Two thousand dollars. Less if you pay cash.” 

“Do I have a choice?” I asked.  

“Not really,” he said. “You could get someone else. You could crawl under the house yourself.” 

“Did you ever have trouble sitting in your seat when you were in elementary school?” I asked.  


“Nothing,” I said. “I’ll go get my wallet.”