Mathematically impossible

imagesNo point in lying. I have no angle here. It’s a given that I hate geometry. My hatred for geometry goes on in both directions for infinity in a straight line with no end points. It’s not perpendicular to anything. It can’t be bisected. Or triangulated. I’m not going off on a tangent when I say it just is what it is and always will be.

My postulate of perfect hate for geometry was forged in the tenth grade of high school when I was sweaty and nervous and doodled absently as my teacher drew imaginary three-dimensional objects on a chalk board and conjured up endless applicable theorems as dry as ghostly chalk dust powder hovering briefly and beautifully in the air after you bang two erasers together.

I was going to go to college. A pretty bright guy. Everyone thought so. Didn’t I read a lot? I mean, an awful lot for someone not a librarian or serving a life sentence in jail. But the geometry teacher didn’t care a whit about any of my prodigious reading. If I was putting on airs, cloaking myself in the ways of smart people to fool my fellow students at West Rowan High School on the outskirts of historic Salisbury, North Carolina, known as the former site of a large overcrowded Confederate prison for captured Union soldiers, then math was the chink in my armor, and she saw right through me.

I stood naked and exposed in front of the entire class in my ignorance when my name was called in her class. I always shrunk low in my seat when she began scanning the room for answers as if a red hot poker was being shoved in my face. It was the one class where I died inside a little each day, wondering what would become of me.

In History class, my right arm was often waving wildly about in the air to answer questions in a manner that might provoke some sort of injury. I might be spotted one day in an orthopedic surgeon’s waiting room with my arm in a sling from a separated shoulder. “How did you get that?” a commiserating high school football player rehabilitating a torn anterior cruciate ligament might well ask as we waited to see the busy doctor. What would he make of my earnest pedantic response? “Well, I just knew that the chairman of the provisional government of the French Republic at the end of World War II was Charles de Gaulle. And I had to tell the world.”

In English class, I was trying desperately to “transcend” and “sublimate” as my teacher Ms. Sloop had inspired me to do. The dystopian world described in the novel “Lord of the Flies” where children hunted other children like wild animals for sport on a desert island devoid of any parental authority reminded me of my bus stop in my little leafy subdivision Pine Valley. The novel was required reading for the class, but it felt oddly familiar. My list of life circumstances I wanted to transcend was long, and I hung on her every word, spellbound by her worldly wisdom and the far-out psychological concepts she casually deployed.

But in geometry class I was the village idiot. My dad sprang for a tutor to give me some help with the class. It was a loving and thoughtful idea. If only the pretty college sophomore he provided hadn’t had strawberry-blonde hair, perfume that permeated my brain and a slight smattering of freckles on her face that I would have enjoyed playing connect-the-dots with for hours on end.

The tutoring sessions were surprisingly unproductive in the sense that my ability to solve geometry problems remained pathetic. I can remember her scent to this day, a sweet aromatic fog that enveloped me. I did learn the meaning of “smitten,” though there was no chance of a reciprocal relationship since she was dating a college quarterback. It was all the more reason to transcend and sublimate.

I somehow made it through geometry. Navigated its treacherous theorems. Went to college. Never used one thing I learned in geometry class. Someone else calculated the square feet of carpeting we needed in our home in Ocala, Florida, which we bought high and later sold low in defiance of traditional real estate economic theory. My wife, I think it was or must have been. God bless her. And I believed I was done with all that geometrical nonsense forever. Until my 15-year-old son entered the tenth grade this year.

Geometry, my old nemesis, was back.

If we lived in Salisbury where my parents still reside, we’d go to Avery’s cousins in nearby Kannapolis for help. They are perfect little math geniuses. Precious mathletes who never seem troubled by planes and angles and lines. I try not to begrudge them their precocious math skills. It isn’t their fault. It’s a genetic gift from my brother-in-law’s side of the family.

But we live in New York City, and we’re pretty much on our own. Damned Yankees in a geometric hell. Not quite disowned, but not mentioned proudly in public spaces amid recent acquaintances by my sister’s family. More often referred to in hushed whispers to longtime friends in the same manner you’d relate the latest doings of questionably reformed convicts who were once family friends or a great aunt who once underwent shock therapy to treat her disturbing behavior in a more primitive psychiatric climate.

Avery has a math tutor now who helps decipher all the impossibly complex shapes and bone-dry maxims that apply. I may not remember any of the geometry I learned. But I did recall some of the pitfalls I fell into while trying to learn it.

His tutor’s name is Zack. I can’t detect it if he bothers to wear any type of cologne or aftershave. If he does, it’s certainly no distraction at all for Avery who threatens to nod off during every tutoring session and must often be prodded back to attention.

I hope Avery marries as well as I did, or he will have to collect dozens of small carpet squares and place them in all the rooms in his home in patchwork fashion to fit the available space. Such an explosion of color and varying textures might be transcendent.

Mathematically impossible

2 thoughts on “Mathematically impossible

  1. Richard Cress says:


    Ah, Mrs. Sloop…

    I like your description of injuring your arm by waving too frantically in class, then sitting in the doctors office next to the football player. Reminds me of “Alice’s Restaurant” where Arlo Guthrie gets put in jail sitting next to “Mother rapers. And father stabbers. And FATHER rapers.” One of them sidles up and asks “what are you in for?”, and Arlo answers “littering”. And they all move away from him, until he adds “…and causing a nuisance” and they all moved back.

    1. I love that song. I love that Arlo says somewhere in the middle of it, “But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.” As if we should disregard most of what he just said. I often feel like I’m in danger of going off track when I’m writing and leaving the point behind. I want to add a little note in a similar vein to let people know that this is not the topic, and I’ll presently be getting back to the topic. I love that the song takes about 18 minutes. And that he says somewhere during the song, “We’re just waiting on the chorus to come around,” as if he has absolutely no control over that moment. Glad something I wrote evoked the memory of such a cool song.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s