Fifty years on, my apologies go out to my 9th-grade math teacher for my tearful outburst in 1963 that left him speechless.
Mr. Allen, early yesterday morning, contrary to my passionate prediction that had held true for all the intervening years up until then, i did indeed use math! What happened was, a pipe going into my radiator had sprung a leak. Now, why that should require the performance of math on anyone’s part, much less mine, may seem like a mystery. So i shall solve it here: To fix the pipe (a few days ago), the plumber had had to cut a slightly wider circle out of my wooden living room floor than had been there before, for the pipe to come up from. After he fixed the pipe ($620: Don’t ask), you could look down through my living room floor, into the basement! That was because the diameter of the hole he’d made was, oh, a half-inch or so larger than the diameter of the pipe. If i wanted to cover up that gap, he said, i’d need to buy a little object called a “pipe collar” at the hardware store. But, what SIZE pipe collar? As the plumber was looking at the leaky pipe, i remember him saying aloud, “Hmm … Is that a one and a quarter-inch pipe, or a one and a half-inch pipe?” And he had to give it some thought, but after closely inspecting and carefully eyeballing it, he guessed right, and went out to his truck and came back with the pipe he needed. But i’d forgotten — or, more likely, never asked — which size the pipe was, and now i wanted one of those little, hinged “pipe collars” to go around it. And they’re sold, he’d said, by “diameter of the pipe.”
I swear to G-d, the answer came to me in a dream! Two nights ago, i woke up with the distinct memory that there is a formula for the diameter of a circle, if you know its circumference. And in my head i was already using the word “diameter” like a rocket scientist, instead of just saying the “distance across!” G-d must want me to do this.
“Pi-r-squared” equals something. i remembered that. Was that the formula i needed? No; if i knew the “r” (radius), i’d already know the diameter, because it’s always twice that. But wait: What the hell was “Pi-r-squared” the formula for? At 2 a.m., i ran to my computer and googled around for a minute. The area! Pi-r-squared is the area of a circle! But that’s not what i wanted. Out of the black of night, i then also remembered what “pi” equals: 3.14159 and then an infinite number of digits after that. It has no end, that “Pi.” i actually remembered that! Then i drew a few circles on a pad and realized that the circumference is always about three times bigger than the diameter.
Gold! I googled around for another minute and found out that, sure enough, the diameter of a circle (or pipe, in my case) is its circumference divided by Pi. Whew! But i have no cloth tape-measure, only the bendy, metal kind, so wrapping my tape measure around my pipe wouldn’t give me an accurate measurement. So i went to the kitchen, cut off about six inches of twine, wrapped it once around my pipe, held it tight between two fingernails where the “answer-spot” was, laid it on my metal tape measure and found that my pipe is four and a quarter inches around. Back upstairs i ran to my pocket calculator, and: It’s a one-and-a-quarter-inch-diameter pipe! (The inside of the pipe, that is: the outside measurement, which i made, yielded the result of 1.32 inches, but they can’t fool me. I knew that would count as a one-and-a-quarter-inch pipe.)
The one-and-a-quarter-inch pipe collar i bought fit beautifully. Sorry, Mr. Allen: I did, indeed, need to use math in my “real life.” And now i’m wondering if Stephen Hawking started this way.