Our Common Language
Excerpted from That's Life, Samara Brooks by Daniel EhrenhaftCopyright © 2010 by Daniel Ehrenhaft. Excerpted by permission of Yearling, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Before I get beyond the basic stuff you need to know about me--my name (Samara Brooks), my age (thirteen), my hair (black), my weight (forget it), that heinous mole next to my nose--there is one thing I'd like you to know about a certain theory of the universe. The theory goes: If humans ever come into contact with an alien intelligence, our common language will be math.
Say a UFO lands and a strange creature walks out. Odds are that we won't be able to welcome it with a big "Hi!" The creature might not even speak. It might just snort, or gesture with whatever limbs it may have, or try to beam its thoughts telepathically. So we will have to find a way to break the ice. And almost every Nobel Prize-winning scientist out there believes that math is the only natural extraterrestrial icebreaker. In short: Once we figure out a way to count to five with, say, a fire-breathing land squid, pleasant chitchat is sure to follow. "Sweetie, I'm so glad you visited Earth. And that outfit is so cute on you. It matches your tentacles!"
I mention this because math is also the common language of con artists.
Just so you know, I will be conning you for the remainder of this story. I think it's only fair that I tell you up front. On the other hand, I will also be completely honest. That may sound like a contradiction, but it isn't. I will be conning you in the sense that I'll try to get you to see things from my point of view, so I might leave out certain vital information that would allow you to see things differently.
In other words, I won't lie. I just might not tell the whole truth.
Here's an example: I've already left out some vital information. When I was speaking about an alien intelligence, I was also speaking about God.
You know who else leaves out certain vital information, other than con artists?
Okay, I realize that some people might be offended that I call God an "alien intelligence." Some people might also be offended that I decided to run a gambling ring out of my school's cafeteria at the beginning of eighth grade, and that I nearly swindled my class president out of sixty-three bucks. If you fall into either of these categories, please put this book down and go buy Chicken Soup for the Soul or some such and live happily ever after. But if you enjoy a good con, stick around.
An Outstanding Balance of $441.50
It's hard to pinpoint the exact moment when the insanity began, but I figure it's probably best to start with my first big creative writing assignment of eighth grade. As scribbled on the board by my English teacher, Mr. James, it read: Make me laugh! Describe the funniest moment of your summer vacation!
THE FUNNIEST MOMENT OF MY SUMMER VACATION
BY SAMARA BROOKS
My summer vacation didn't have any funny moments. Seriously, I'm trying to think of one. It wasn't tragic or anything, but "funny" isn't a word that leaps to mind. We didn't go on any funny trips to funny places. We didn't go anywhere, so really, it was more of a summer break than an actual vacation. Plus, my parents were both super-busy. My dad's trying to make partner at his law firm, so he works insane hours. My mom works at a nonprofit organization that tries to help poor people. This is a good and noble cause, of course, but she had to stay late almost every night of the week. Maybe there were more poor people than usual. Sorry if that sounds harsh.
Anyway, I know I'm supposed to make you laugh, but I only laughed-like really, truly "Ha-ha-ha!" out loud-just once. It was at dinner last week, when I swindled my brother, Jim, out of five dollars.
Picture the dinnertime scene: Jim and I were home alone, eating macaroni and cheese in the living room. I was trying to watch Celebrity Poker Showdown. Jim, as usual, was staring into a massive math textbook with a look of panic on his face. His big nose started twitching, the way it always does when he's freaked out.
Jim's nose looks like a beak. Not that this really means anything, but still, I mention his beaklike nose because at times like these, I feel like writing BIRDBRAIN on his forehead. Jim is about to be a _senior and he can barely add two and two. Worse, he's applying to MIT and plans to take AP Calculus this fall. He wants to be a big-shot scientist.
"Just help me with this statistics problem," he begged.
"Not now," I told him. "Come on, I'm watching this. It's the final round. I'll bet you anything that fat guy from Law and Order will fold."
"Samara, if you don't turn off the TV, I'll fart. I mean it."
I hit the mute button. "Jim, your statistics problem isn't the problem in front of you. Your statistics problem is that you don't understand statistics. So here's my help. Statistically speaking, chances are about one in eight billion that you'll get into MIT. So just watch this round with me."
"What kind of seventh grader even talks like you? You're like Dr. Frankenstein."
"Technically I'm an eighth grader now."
"Whatever. If you don't help me, I'll tell Mom and Dad that you lied about giving up Blackjack. COM, and you'll be in big trouble," he said. "I bet they'll take your laptop away."
Since I'm a gambler by nature, I knew that Jim had the upper hand here. I hadn't given up Blackjack. COM. Hardly. I'd been spending at least three hours a day on it, if not more. But what else was I supposed to do? I'm too young to get a job, and my parents didn't want to pay for another year of camp. Best just to quit while I was ahead.
From the Hardcover edition.