Man, I used to be so good at math. Like really good at math. When I was in grammar school, math was always my best subject, easily. I’d always get ridiculously good grades on all of my tests. I went to a K-8 school, and when graduation came around, they did this award ceremony where they gave out medals to all of the kids who did the best in each subject. There was this one girl who was a total genius and won the award for every single subject. Except for math. That was all mine.
It didn’t stop there. When I went to high school, they bumped me up a year, so I was taking sophomore math as a freshman. That year was geometry. What a total joke. I remember one time I got an 80 on one of my tests, but it was only because I finished the test early, like I always did, and by this point in the year, I was already acing like every one of my geometry tests, so while I used to finish up the test early and then go back and recheck everything to make sure I had it all right, I stopped rechecking, because I always wound up getting everything right on the first try anyway. But this test I flew through even faster than usual, but whatever, I handed it in and put my head on my desk and waited for the bell to ring. And I got it back the next day, and it was an 80. And I’m just, “What the fuck?” And I started frantically leafing through the test and I saw that, while I was taking the test, I must have flipped two pages instead of one, like they must have been fresh out of the Xerox machine, and they were just clung together, and I missed a whole page of the test. Just blank. And I went immediately to the teacher and I was like, “Come on! I obviously didn’t see this page! It’s not fair! I get a 100 on every single test!” And he’s just like, “Well, sorry. You have to double check.” That asshole. I’ll never forget it. One day I’m going to run into him on the street and I’ll tell him … no wait, even better, one day I’m going to get a job somewhere and it’s going to be a leadership position and I’ll find out that I’m this guy’s boss now, and everything that he does, I’m going to give him a grade for it. And you know what that grade’s going to be? 80. And then I’m going to fire him.
Sophomore year I took trigonometry. Whereas the geometry teacher was a total stiff, lacking any semblance of a personality, the trig teacher was almost exactly the same, but he fancied himself a comedian, and so he spiced up the class with these lame jokes, like this thing he called the “touchdown rule.” Basically, every class, the last kid to sit down automatically got detention. And he would hold up his hands like a football ref and say in his dry monotone, “touchdooooown.” And that kid would get detention, for real. Everyday. I guess it was a way to make sure everybody was sitting down right away, but yeah, kind of a dick move if you think about it. Still, it was more entertaining than my 80% geometry teacher. I’ll never forgive that hack.
Junior year was the best. Calculus. They made us buy this ridiculous calculator, the TI-89, like it cost two hundred bucks. It was almost like having an iPhone, but iPhone’s didn’t exist yet. This thing had a big screen. It ran applications, you know, what we used to call apps before the iPhone came around. You could play games on it. And it did all of this crazy calculus stuff. I felt like I was a NASA engineer in this class. Seriously, it’s like I’m picturing myself sitting in this class, and there’s a thought balloon over my head, and all you see are crazy equations and Greek letters and I’m just writing and typing shit into my TI-89 in this completely alien language of numbers and symbols. That teacher was awesome. He loved technology. He told us that the calculator out of the box may have cost two hundred bucks, but it was worthless unless we knew how to use it. He would tell us every time he taught us a new function or a new trick, he would say, “I just added ten dollars to the value of that calculator.” And he would keep a running tally, like every time he would say that, he’d write the number down somewhere, so that halfway through the year, he’d teach us something, and he’d say, “And that brings the current value of this calculator for you guys to … two thousand and twenty dollars. Not bad seeing as how you bought it for only two hundred.” And it was true. You could do so much with this TI-89.
And then senior year rolled around and it was time for Calc-2. But this teacher sucked. He told us right away that he hated calculators, and that we’d be learning to do stuff the old-fashioned way, like Archimedes did, or whoever invented calculus. (There’s no way I’m stopping to look it up.) Not only that, but he had this stupid rule in class called the “one-hand rule.” Basically, if he saw anybody using two hands on the calculator at the same time, that person got detention. Why? Well, you needed two hands to play games on it, and so now I couldn’t even blow off some steam mid-class to play a few rounds of Galaga when I got bored. Plus, and this isn’t even really a jab at the teacher, but he suffered from severe migraines, which I’m completely understanding of. I mean, the guy’s sick. Fine. But he missed at least two classes a week. So we really didn’t learn anything new. In fact, I felt like I learned more in Calc-1 than I did in Calc-2. But whatever.
Math. I was so f’n good at it. I could do equations for everything. I went to college, I had no idea what I’d be majoring in, but I knew at least that I’d do great in math. But I registered for classes that summer, and there was a huge problem. I went to this stupid all-boys Catholic high school that prided themselves on being better than every other high school in the galaxy. We didn’t have free periods. We didn’t have senior cut days or a senior parking lot. We didn’t have girls. No, just learning. Stupid, boring, learning. Anyway, the school thought it was above everything. Even above the government. We didn’t take New York State tests, we took our own tests, “harder tests,” they told us, “even harder than the hardest state test in any state in the country.” I did great on those math tests. The problem is, they weren’t recognized by the state. So when I tried to register for Calculus 3 in college, the college registrar was like, “well Rob, there’s absolutely no state record of your having done anything past algebra way back in eighth grade.” And I’m like, “Seriously? Isn’t there something you can do?” And they said, “Yes. We are serious. And no, there isn’t anything we can do.”
And freshman year of college I had to take two consecutive semesters of math. And they put me in this stupid class called “Finite Mathematics 1.” It was such a comedown. Such a fall from grace. Such a cruel twisted joke. I brought my TI-89 to the first class and the professor was passing out these stupid baby calculators, ones that didn’t do anything special, ones that had a little solar strip so they didn’t even work right unless you were either outside or directly under a lamp. Come on. I get calculators like that for free just by opening a checking account.
It was a total joke. It wasn’t even up to the level of 8th grade math. I skipped like every single class, took Finite Math 2, skipped all of those classes too, finished up with my math requirements, and then kicked off the dust from my sandals and said goodbye to math forever. What a shame. I remember my high school junior math teacher, that awesome thousand dollar calculator teacher, he would always tell us, “Listen up boys, I know this stuff because I teach it every year. But if you stop, you’re going to lose it all. Real fast. Use it, or lose it.”
And I never really thought about that, because I was so f’n good at math. I was like fluent at this stuff. But then I remember being maybe a junior or a senior in college, and one of my good college buddies, this guy Dan C., he was a math major. And one time he was working on some problem and I said to him, “Hey Big-C, you mind if I take a crack at it?” And he just laughed, slammed down his TI-105 or whatever model they were up to that year and said, “Go ahead, be my guest.”
And this guy was way past Calc-2. And I just looked at this page of numbers and it all meant absolutely nothing to me. Nothing. So I started asking him about it. And through my questions and his answers, I realized that not only was I not up to his level in math, clearly, but I wasn’t even up to my old level in math. I couldn’t even remember the terms I would use to begin to describe what my level once was. I stared at him in a panic. “Dan! You have to believe me! I used to be so f’n sick at math! I swear!” It was true. I used to take entire math tests consisting of one question. And it would take like an hour to do it. And even if you got it wrong, which was rarely the case for me, the teacher could still go back and check out your work, check out how you got the answer, and see where you were going, and give you a good grade. It was like painting. It was like playing the guitar. I know math is yes or no, numbers and numbers and right and wrong, but this was art. This was something really cool. And I totally lost all of it. I didn’t use it, so I losed it.
It’s crazy because, the whole point of this blog post was supposed to be about how I just got back from a week long vacation, and how I really didn’t get too much writing done while I was away, and I sat down here today for my first day back home, and I got all freaked out, just like the math, what if, because I didn’t use it, my writing, I’d somehow lost it. I was going to make all of these jokes about how since I lost my math, that I never use math now, as a rule, ever. And that would have been a pretty wacky blog post I guess. But man, now I’m all serious, and I’m rarely serious, and it’s all because I wish that I stuck with math, because it was pretty f’n sick.