Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Are you now or have you ever been a Colombian drug lord?

hate math. It makes me paranoid, it makes my stomach churn. Whenever I attempt to do math, I can feel the numbers mocking me. Everyone in my family is awful at math-- much to my father's dismay, my siblings and I all tend toward the humanities and the arts. Not an investment banker among us, meaning that we might have to support our parents in their old age by busking in subway stations. I might have to sell my Ivy League eggs (worth 8K!) if my grand plan to be a writer turns out to be a bust.

But in 8th grade, I actually looked forward to math class. Algebra II, with Mr. Zutshi. Because in his classroom, with the help of my TI-82 calculator, I could transform. I was no longer Katie Vagnino, math retard, but a feared and respected South American drug dealer known to my enemies only as "K."

Yes, while Mr. Zutshi was dutifully at the board showing us how to solve x in terms of y, most of the 8th graders in the room were playing a popular game called Drug Cartel. Now, curiously, I can find little information online about this game. I can only assume it's extinct. Google turns up a few lonely references on other blogs, some for a similar-sounding game called Drug Lord. This is weird to me because in suburban St. Louis circa 1994, Drug Cartel was huge. It was hotter than Ace of Base. EVERYONE was playing it.

Not with each other, though -- the calculators weren't advanced enough for that. The only option was to play against the game itself. Drug Cartel operated on a simple concept -- buy drugs like ecstasy ("X"), hash or coke from sketchy jungle guys and sell them in the U.S. After successful deals, more lackeys would be at your disposal to intimidate your enemies. Your status in the game was based on nomenclature -- you start out as a drug runner, then become a dealer, and finally, a lord. In my conservative WASP-dominated private middle school, who could have guessed that kids with names like Hadley and Kemper were trafficking imaginary narcotics during math class?

The downside of Drug Cartel was that you could never really win -- which in hindsight was maybe meant to serve as some sort of lesson about the life of crime. Once you achieved the status of Drug Lord, it was only a matter of time (usually minutes) before a message flashed across the screen informing you that you had become too powerful and had been assassinated. Leaving you with no choice but to start all over again as a lowly drug runner. It tickles me to think that Mr. Zutshi never knew the real reason behind the soundtrack of frustrated sighs that punctuated his lessons. We were interested in "X," just not the kind you have to solve for.

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