Wednesday, March 22, 2006

My many math teachers, part one: Pre-Calculus

Mr. B. was a spry old guy who liked it when his students called him by the nickname his platoon buddies had given him in the Korean War. Grey and tiny, he had a jolly face with bright eyes and a quick smile. Zest came off of him like sweat, but it was apparent even to a roomful of adolescents that this joie de vivre was, at least in part, due to him being a bit of a pervert.

At first, it was a scary to be in his class. Pre-Calculus had a reputation for being an unpleasant brand of mathematics and it was widely known that Mr. B. subscribed to that “let the students teach each other” philosophy of education. This meant that he’d pick a problem out of the textbook, call a random student up to the blackboard, and have them struggle with it for as long as it took. The prospect of this was troubling to me. I was a shy lad, with all sorts of mathematical deficits, so I figured that the class would quickly become an extravaganza of public humiliation. It didn’t work out this way, though, at least not for me. Within a week or two, it became clear that Mr. B. only wanted a very specific sliver of the class to report for blackboard duty–namely, the pretty and well-developed girls.

There were about four of them and they each got a whole lot of experience working through differential equations. Mr. B. would sit among us, the males and the late-bloomers, beaming, lecturing, and offering enthusiastic encouragement. This little habit of his was so obvious even a roomful of fifteen year olds noticed it, but we didn’t consider it that outrageous. After all, most of us boys enjoyed staring at these girls’ asses as much as he did, while the girls who managed to evade his attentions got a free hour to sleep or do their nails or whatever. Naturally, none of us brought his behavior to the attention of the administration.

One time, he made me help him take his boots off. It was early in the morning, and I dropped by his classroom to hand in some late assignments when I found him bent over in his chair, grunting and wheezing. “Hi, Mr. B.!” I called out and he jerked upright.

“Oh, he-hello, Kevin,” he said, and it took a moment for the strained grimace on his face to ratchet up into usual smile.

I wanted to get out of there as quickly as possible. I put down my homework and turned to go. “Well, see you second period!” I declared, but his voice rang out again before I could make my escape.

“S-s-say, Kevin?” he asked. “Could you give me a hand with something?”

“What is it?” I asked, looking at the clock and fidgeting like I had to get to glee club or something.

In my memory, a slight red glow came to his withered cheeks. However, this may just a post-hoc embellishment on my parts. “C-c-could you bend down and untie my boots?” he pleaded. I felt I had no choice. This could make the difference between a C+ and B-. I reached down and, as furtively as possible, yanked at the frayed laces until they came loose. I stood up then and walked backwards to the door, ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

“That good?” I asked. He was leaning back, his smirk firmly fixed now, and he was scraping his heavy boots off onto the floor. I remember he wore thick, wooly socks. “Y-yes-s-s...” he said, “Oh, yes-s-s...”

I must have thought something like, Well, that was fucking weird, before I pushed open the door and fled for homeroom as fast as my feet could carry me.