The Square Root of 6400

Genius | By Jeff Friedman

Jeff Friedman

When Jeremy Wiggins announced he was a genius, Bobby Miller said, “a genius at what?” and Ronnie Rappaport raised his baseball bat and threatened to bonk him on the head, if he didn’t “stop it with that genius stuff.” It wasn’t the first time Wiggins had claimed to be a genius, nor would it be the last. We were a class of geniuses: anyone could tell by looking at us—unruly as weeds, yet not quite teenagers. When Wiggins announced he was a genius, Mr. Wales, the gym teacher and recess monitor, ordered him to shut up and do a lap, “Get your fat butt moving.” But Wiggins just stood there, dumbfounded by his own brilliance. Then Bobby Miller doing his best impersonation of Ed Sullivan proclaimed, “Right here tonight on our shoo—here he is: The Genius,” which set off a chorus of boos from everyone, including Mr. Wales. “If you’re such a genius,” Greg Courtney, the best student in our class, challenged, “Prove it. Calculate the square root of 6400.” Who knew if Courtney even knew the answer to that one. Mr. Wales certainly didn’t. Louis Linder blinked cross-eyed and stuck out his tongue at the words square root. Ophelia Snyder blew a giant bubblegum bubble and popped it against Louis’s cheekRappaport dropped the fat part of the bat on his own toe and hobbled off. What’s a square root? I wondered, thinking that if Courtney knew it, it must be key to getting admitted to a good college. “Give me a minute,” Wiggins said. “More like a lifetime,” I replied.


NER Digital is a creative writing series for the web. Jeff Friedman’s fifth collection of poetry, Working in Flour, was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2011. His poems, mini stories, and translations have appeared in many literary magazines, including American Poetry Review, Poetry, 5 AM, Agni Online, Poetry International, Prairie Schooner, Antioch Review, Quick Fiction, New England Review, Big Bridge, and The New Republic.