The American Failure of the Metric System

We spilled more than secrets in that hotel room. Some wine, some coke, a box of yardsticks (.9144 meters).
 
Helene was there to teach me about the metric system.
 
Instead, we taught each other about love.
 
Congress had just passed the Metric Conversion Act of 1975, “to coordinate and plan the increasing use of the metric system in the United States.”
 
She was a measurement attaché from Paris, bringing the wisdom of base ten to small town America.
 
I was the mathematics coordinator for all of eastern Colorado, 26,000 square miles of rocky buttes and farmland (67,340 km²).
 
She came to show me how it all worked, counting to ten again and again on her French fingers.
 
The attraction was immediate: first we were inches apart, then centimeters, then nothing.
 
We spent the week together, flung across a pile of “Meet Mr. Meter” worksheets for third graders. I showered her in the easy drugs and room service French fries of my country.
 
When Sunday came, I asked her not to go, to stay and spread the system with me.
 
“It will never work,” she said, biting my earlobe. “America loves it inches.”
 
“It could work,” I said, “I can convert.” She smiled and dragged a finger from my collarbone downwards (43.18 centimeters).
 
“Oui?”
 
“Oui.”
 
But when I woke up, she was gone.
 
I was alone (1).
 

 

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Front page image by Anita Carril.

 

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