Imaginary Numbers

              A new radio episode of "Vic and Sade"

                         by Bill Kincaid
                       Ann Arbor, Michigan
                          24 March 1997

              copyright 1997 by William H. Kincaid

          Well, sir, it's late afternoon as we approach the small
          house halfway up in the next block, where we find young
          Russell working with some papers at the library table
          in the living room and his mother talking on the

SADE:     Well, I wouldn't worry about it too much, Ruthie.  You
          know how these things are.  I'd be willing to bet that
          by next Saturday a week all that frizziness will be
          gone and your hair will again be your crowning glory,
          as they say. (PAUSE) Um.  Uh-huh.  Well, it's bound to
          be a temporary thing.  No, no, I wouldn't do that if I
          were you -- at least not just yet.  I'd wait . . .
          (PAUSE)  No, I'd wait to see whether it improves, and I
          just know it will.  Look, I have to go now.  I'll come
          over tomorrow and see how it's getting along.  Then
          we'll know more about what to do.  Yes . . . Yes . . .
          O.K., all right.  I'll call you tomorrow.  Goodbye now.

SADE:     (TO RUSH) I heard you come in and settle down at the
          table, but I couldn't break off my talk with Ruthie.
          She's in such trouble.  Well, hello there, Willie, my
          boy.  Did you have a good day at school?

RUSH:     Hi, Mom.  Yeah, things were pretty much at their own
          normal, dismal pace.  Except . . . what's the trouble
          at the Stembottoms?

SADE:     Oh, she's going to a wedding of one of Fred's cousins
          in Peoria the weekend after next and so she got herself
          a new permanent.

RUSH:     Didn't sound like she was very happy with it.

SADE:     No, that's the problem.  It turned out so frizzy
          looking that Ruthie's in a tizzy -- fit to be tied is
          more like it.  I even thought she may start crying
          right there on the phone.

RUSH:     Oh, that must be a bad case of frizziness to have her
          in such a tizzy.  I've heard tell that the frizzies are
          bound to cause the tizzies.

SADE:     Now, there's no reason to be so smart-alecky, Willie.
          You wouldn't know what a woman feels like when she's
          got the frizzies -- especially after she just put out
          five whole dollars to get them.

RUSH:     I see.  It's a financial crisis as well as a hair

SADE:     Well, the money crisis isn't nearly as bad as the
          frizzy crisis.  What are all those in-laws going to
          think if she shows up with the frizzies?  It might be
          different if she was going to her own cousin's wedding,
          but in-laws . . .

RUSH:     Yeah, I suppose she always wants to put her best head
          forward with in-laws.

SADE:     Well, I told her things would get better, and I'll go
          over tomorrow and see what's what -- at least cheer her
          up a bit about it.  But what are you doing here at the

RUSH:     Oh, I thought I'd knock off a bit of this homework this
          afternoon before I did anything else of lesser
          importance.  Notice that he said this with a self-
          satisfied grin.

SADE:     You got some ulterior motive, my ever-loving son?

RUSH:     No, no, I just got to thinking . . .

SADE:     Because this is unusual enough for me to suspect
          there's some deep-seated reason why you've taken up
          with homework so diligently here even before supper
          time.  You don't have a temperature, do you?

RUSH:     I just got to thinking on the way home about something
          that happened in algebra class today.

SADE:     Did Bluetooth Johnson get his teeth all stuck up with
          homemade taffy again and then get called on by Miz

RUSH:     No, it was something she told us about and then we
          talked about in class.

SADE:     Did Miz Monroe get off the subject of mathematics and
          talk about the real world?

RUSH:     No, it was about mathematics.  She said there was such
          a thing as imaginary numbers, and we're going to be
          including them in our work over the next week or so.

SADE:     Imaginary numbers?  Why, aren't there enough real
          numbers to play around with, so that they have to go
          and imagine numbers on top of that?  What on earth do
          they look like, something from Mars, maybe?

RUSH:     No, they look like real numbers, but we call them
          imaginary numbers.

SADE:     Are you fooling your old mother, here?

RUSH:     No, no.  It's pretty complicated, but they really do
          look like real numbers.

SADE:     Do you think your old mother -- your old poorly
          educated mother -- could understand what you're talking
          about if you explained it?

RUSH:     Sure.  An imaginary number is defined as the square
          root of a negative number.

SADE:     See, I understand that right away.  (PAUSE)  What makes
          that so strange?

RUSH:     Well, you see, if you square any number, the resulting
          number is always positive, even if the original number
          was a negative one.

SADE:     Whoa, there, Willie.  You mean if I square a number
          like 3, the answer is always positive?  That would be
          nine, right?

RUSH:     Yes, that's it.

SADE:     And if I square a minus 3, I get the same positive
          answer of nine?

RUSH:     That's it exactly.

SADE:     Well, how can it be that squaring a positive or a
          negative number can give you the same answer?

RUSH:     That's mathematics for you.  It's just a rule you gotta
          accept.  I guess the people who invented mathematics
          just set the rules the way they thought they'd work out
          best.  Who am I to question these nitwit geniuses?

SADE:     Now, where do the imaginary numbers come in?

RUSH:     Well, if every number that's a square is a positive
          number, we can find the square root of that number and
          it's either a negative or a positive number, like your
          number 3 or minus 3.

SADE:     I wonder if I can get through this conversation without
          getting one on my headaches.

RUSH:     Well, don't start a headache yet 'cause there's more to

SADE:     Every mother should be interested in what her brilliant
          son is learning in class, even if it's algebra.  Carry

RUSH:     So, if every square is a positive, what if you tried to
          find the square root of a negative number?

SADE:     What's so hard about that?

RUSH:     You see, it's because there's no number, plus or minus,
          that produces a negative square, there just can't be a
          square root of a negative number.

SADE:     Now you've done it.  I think I've gone over my
          capacity, in spite of my high-level evaluation of my
          own brain skills.  Uh-oh, here comes your father up the
          front steps.  Maybe you can teach him this new-fangled

VIC:      (ENTERING)  Hi-de-hi, ho-de-ho, my dear family.  Are
          you all gathered to welcome the breadwinner home with a
          cheer and a great huzzah?

RUSH:     One great huzzah to you, oh worthy breadwinner.

SADE:     (TO RUSH)  Talk about imaginary numbers, there's one
          for you.  (TO VIC)  Hi, sweetheart, we're just having a
          mother-to-son discussion about his homework.  Maybe you
          want to join us?

VIC:      Sure, friendly people.  Just let me get my things hung
          up and I'll be right with you.  Seems to be quite a
          departure from the daily routine, eh?

RUSH:     Just a question of what we learned in algebra today.

SADE:     It's a new kind of numbering that we probably should
          all be aware of, just in case we might need it next
          week Tuesday.  (TO RUSH)  You think that could be
          possible?  I hope your father can understand this
          better than I can.

VIC:      There, now, what's the scoop, George?

RUSH:     We learned about imaginary numbers today in algebra and
          Lance Wallingstone made a joke about them.

VIC:      Is he someone new?  Never heard of Lance before.

RUSH:     Yeah, he just transferred here from Barcarole, Indiana.
          He's a pretty good kid, with a good sense of humor.  We
          call him Rollingstone.

VIC;      And what was this great joke Rollingstone came up with?

RUSH:     He said imaginary numbers must be the house numbers
          they put on your castles in the air.  (CHUCKLES)

SADE:     (DRILY)  That's pretty funny all right.

VIC:      Maybe it was funnier in front of a classroom of
          adolescents who had absolutely nothing on their minds.

RUSH:     Well, you may be right.  We did laugh pretty hard for
          such a simple, what you may call, bone mow.

SADE:     Bone mow!  Listen to your son, would you, Mister Gook.
          He's on his way to being educated, or I miss my guess.
          Bone mow!  I never.

VIC:      Anyway, was that all there was to it?

RUSH:     I guess so.  Mom and I were just talking about the idea
          of imaginary numbers.

VIC:      It's kinda slipped my mind what they really are, sonny
          boy.  Would you fill me in again?

RUSH:     Sure, I can tell you what imaginary numbers really are!
          And that's a joke, too.  (CHUCKLES)  How do we come up
          with these so easily?  (CHUCKLES)

SADE:     It's pretty technical, Vic.  It almost gave me a
          headache when we were discussing it.  But it's still
          early, so maybe it still will.

RUSH:     Well, since every number squared is a positive number,
          it's impossible to have a square root of a negative
          number.  See, it's that simple.

VIC:      So, you can't have a square root of a negative number?

RUSH:     That's right.

VIC:      So, such a number doesn't exist?  Not here or on any
          other planet?

RUSH:     Not one that's been discovered so far, gov.

VIC:      And so, why do we need them?

RUSH:     I don't know yet.  I think the teacher's gonna explain
          that in the next few lessons.

SADE:     You'll make sure you're there for that explanation,
          won't you, dear son?

RUSH:     Oh, yes.

VIC:      And scurry home with the news to your dear, loving
          parents, so they'll be just as elucidated as you, eh?

RUSH:     Yeah, sure.

VIC:      Of course, I'm not completely unacquainted with
          imaginary numbers, you know.

RUSH:     Do you use them at the office, gov?

VIC:      No, but I've been exposed to a multitude of imaginary
          numbers in my day.

SADE:     You never mentioned anything like that to me.  What are
          you talking about?

VIC:      Well, I just don't go blabbing every nitwit thing that
          ever happens to me, do I?  I'd have to keep talking
          nonstop, I'd think.

RUSH:     Where have you seen imaginary numbers?

VIC:      Well, it occurs to me that it must be imaginary numbers
          that win the daily numbers game, because I never run
          into a winner.

SADE:     (SHOCKED) Are you telling us that you have gambled away
          our money on the numbers game?

VIC:      Oh, no, but I have a friend who lays down a nickel now
          and then, here and there, anywhere and nowhere.

SADE:     Who in the world does that?

VIC:      Well, I can't say.  It would be destroying a confidence.

RUSH:     Well, I'm glad it isn't you, gov.  I'd have a hard time
          facing up to the fact that I'm the only son of a big-
          time gambler.  (SNICKERING)

SADE:     Now, you wouldn't be pulling our leg, would you,

VIC:      My, no.  Why would I tease you about such an important
          idea as imaginary numbers?

SADE:     I think you probably do know more than you let on.

VIC:      I have run into other imaginary numbers.  Almost every
          time a woman tells her age . . . .

SADE:     What a horrible thing to say!

RUSH:(CHUCKLING) That's pretty funny, gov.  How about when a
          woman gives a man her dress size, or shoe size?  Does
          that fit?

VIC:      Now you got it, my bright son.  Oh, and fit.  (LAUGHS)
          I just got it.

SADE:     Well, aren't you two a couple of comedians!  I think
          you ought to quit your job and go on the radio.  Maybe
          you could take the place of Jack Benny on Sunday

RUSH:     (LAUGHING) Maybe we could, gov, maybe we could.

SADE:     And just a minute here.  It's not all one way, you
          know.  Those imaginary numbers come in right handy when
          some man tells you his golf score.

VIC:      Ho, ho, HO.  We're being counter-attacked, my little

RUSH:     Will we survive?

VIC:      Oh, I think we'll come through this without stain or
          strain.  But I think the enemy is trying to do a number
          on us.  (LAUGHS FROM VIC AND RUSH)

SADE:     And another thing.  It occurs to me that you can see
          imaginary numbers any day of the week if you go to the
          right place and look.

VIC:      Where's that, old girl?

SADE:     Just go over there on Maple Street to the used car lot
          and look at the mileage on any of those cars sitting
          there.  Some man has imagined those numbers, I'm sure.

VIC:      (LAUGHING HARD AND CHOKING)  You know, George, I think
          she may have won this battle, after all.  What do you

RUSH:     (LAUGHING)  You must be right.  I'm all out of bone
          mows, myself.

VIC:      I guess it's truce time, whatta ya say, Sade?

SADE:     Oh, all right, now that you've admitted I've got the
          last dig in.

VIC:      Oh, oh, wait, just wait a minute.

RUSH:     Something new, gov?

VIC:      Yes, yes, although men are much more guilty of this
          abuse than women, I'm afraid.

SADE:     O.K., out with it, old man.

VIC:      Well, there's a season and date for imaginary numbers
          that affects the whole country.  Tell me what it is.

SADE:     I can't think of what it would be.  How about you,
          Willie boy?

RUSH:     I'm at a loss, too.  We give up, gov.

VIC:      Well, in the late winter every year a lot of people
          fill out those government income tax forms and on March
          15th all those imaginary numbers gather together in
          Washington, DC.  (LAUGHING)  It's like an annual
          convention of imaginary numbers.

SADE:     I've had enough.  I'm on my way to peel potatoes for
          our humble supper.

RUSH:     Did you tell gov about Mrs. Stembottom's problem?

VIC:      Oh, what's wrong?

SADE:     Frizzy permanent and a wedding coming up in Peoria.
          She's in a tizzy.

RUSH:     Yeah, one of those frizzy tizzies.

SADE:     Don't mock her now, Willie.  It's a woman's tragedy.
          You don't know what we women go through with our trials
          and tribulations trying to look decent for our men.

VIC:      You trying to cheer her up?

SADE:     Yes, I promised to come over tomorrow and see if
          there's any improvement.  Maybe I'll make some of that
          peach cobbler and take her a big dish of it.

VIC:      That's nice.

SADE:     Um.  Wish there was something else I could do. (PAUSE)
          Um. . . . (CHEERILY)  Maybe I'll tell her about
          imaginary numbers . . . .

                         FADE OUT

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