Nick thought what the heck and walked over to Johnny Balboni and sat down on the cold ground next to him.
Johnny reached over and grabbed a piece of cardboard and handed it to Nick, “Sit on this. It won’t be so cold.”
Nick took the cardboard and slid it under himself. He said, “Thanks, Johnny. How are you doing?”
Johnny stuck out his hand and wiggled his hand, “So, so. I do okay, You don’t look so good. You got girl troubles?” he said.
Nick shrugged his shoulders. He didn’t feel like talking. He started to get up, but stopped when Johnny put his hand on his arm.
“You got to talk to somebody or you gonna go nuts. Me, I live by myself. I don’t tell anybody what you say to me. I’m not gonna make any judgements. Before you tell me your problems, here’s an apple, I got two of them, we’ll eat and talk, that’s a good combination,” said Johnny wiping the apple first on his raggedy overcoat, then handing it to Nick.
Nick took the apple from Johnny and took a bite, “Thanks, Johnny. I was hungry. I didn’t eat lunch today.”
“Okay, what’s going on? I got all day to listen,” said Johnny.
Nick took another bite of the apple, chewed it, looked off across the ally, swallowed his bite, and began to talk. He told Johnny how he wanted to go to college out of town. He told him how he needed a scholarship so he could go to college. He told him how and why his dad got laid off. Nick talked for twenty minutes. Johnny sat beside him, listening, occasionally nodding his head.
When Nick finished, he said, “I spilled my guts, Johnny. The way my life is going is I’m waiting for the next bad thing to happen. I’m on a losing streak and there is nothing I can do about it.”
Nick scrambled in a bag, You want a candy bar, I got a couple or three in here?”
“No, you keep them,” said Nick.
“What for? You a growing boy, you need your strength. Here,” said Johnny handing Nick a Snicker’s bar.
“Not a problem. Now we gonna start with the first problem and then we gonna work through the rest of them,” said Johnny.
Nick’s first thought was I have homework to do. I have to study for the SATs. I made a mistake sitting down.
Before Nick could decide what to do, Johnny said, “What’s the problem in calculus? Maybe I can help you with it.”
Nick turned to face Johnny, “You know calculus?”
“Hey, maybe I’m 87 years old but I still know calculus.”
“How do you know calculus? Johnny asked.
“We gonna talk all day or you gonna show me the problem?” Said Nick.
Nick pulled out his iPhone and showed Johnny the photo of the calculus problem Mr. Durlo put on the screen. “I can’t figure out how he got the answer. I admit I wasn’t paying attention.”
Johnny didn’t say anything, he took Nick’s iPhone and stared at the screen. He held the iPhone in his right hand. His left hand gestured in the air. After a minute he handed the iPhone to Nick and said, “Listen up. You got any questions, you tell me after I splain it to you.”
Nick nodded. Then Johnny began taking Nick through the calculus problem one step at a time. Twice, Nick wanted to ask a question, but he stopped himself. By the time Johnny finished, Nick understood the problem and how Johnny arrived at the answer.
“I understand it perfectly, Johnny. I can’t thank you enough,” said Nick and started to get up. Johnny’s hand stopped him again. Nick took a deep breath and sat down.
“Not so fast, Nick. I’ll be here the next two days at the same time. I’ll help you with your calculus. You gonna do okay on the test, don’t you worry about it. That’s the first thing. The second thing, you gonna have disappointments in life. They happen to everybody. What you got to do is never give up. If you quit, the game is over. You as good as dead. But if you keep trying, you never know what’s gonna happen tomorrow, maybe the sun will shine on you.
“But, Johnny, it’s my dream to get out of town and study someplace else. I don’t have a chance,” said Nick.
Johnny shook his head, “Who told you that you don’t have a chance? Somebody send you a letter telling you not to try?”
“No?” Said Nick.
“Then you making this stuff up. You don’t know until it happens, You understand me?” Said Johnny.
Nick thought about it for a minute, then realized Johnny was right. He knew he was making it up.”
He turned to Johnny who was now standing. Johnny said, “I can’t spend anymore time today, I got to make my rounds. You remember what I tell you and I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”
“Right,” said Nick.
How does Johnny Balboni know calculus? Will Nick’s bad luck change? Come by tomorrow for another chapter in the Christmas story.