Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No Witty Title Today

Yesterday, I typed this entry up. I had a clever title, but with a click of the mouse, all my creativity was gone. Today's entry documents the first written account of my hate affair with math. It was only after years of cashiering that I became proficient in the basics. I could count out the change before the register told me the amount. I can figure and add a 20% tip to any restaurant bill, and use that same skill to take 75% off already discounted women's winter wear.
My math life wasn't always like this. In second grade, I remember feeling a little lost when we counted up pennies and dimes and nickels. It was like I couldn't recognize that a penny was one tenth of a dime, which was one tenth of a dollar. And the half dollar? Fugetaboutit.
I have a distinct memory of my dad "helping" me with math homework in fifth grade. It was late. I was sobbing with misery and frustration. He would not let me go to bed until I got my homework done. Dad couldn't understand why I couldn't understand how to subtract 872 from 2000, for example.
Today, I can look at that problem, add 3 to get 75, add 25 to get 900, and then add 1100 to get 2000, for a grand total of 1128. It was all the carryng and borrowing from the zeroes that blew me away.
"But it's a ZERO! How can I borrow anything from it? It doesn't HAVE anything!!!" I cried. "What the hell is the matter with you? Why can't you get this! It's not really a zero!" Dad also cried.
If only he had put me in a minimum wage job behind a register for a year, then I would have understood the value of every freakin' penny.

March 24, 1987

Dear Francie,
I am really depressed right now at 8:54 pm. I cannot understand how to get formulas for algebra. I HATE THAT CLASS!! Mr. Ockenhouse is a cheap teacher! I don't know why he was hired, he himself said he was terrible at math when he was in school!

Yeah, the Ockenhouse dynasty. Mr. Ockenhouse always reminded me of Jack Sprat. His wife, Senora Ockenhouse, taught Spanish. In 8th grade, we took a quarter of Spanish, and then a quarter of French to see which we liked and would pursue to meet the state foreign language requirement.
Senora Ockenhouse had a lot of "junk in the trunk", if you get my drift. She was tall, big, loud, and not inviting to meek, quiet little smart kids like me.
Madame Stern, on the other hand, wore funky culottes in weird fabrics. She especially liked les grenouilles (frogs). One pair of culottes had frogs on them. She enjoyed art and reading, and the finer things in life, which I did too. Hence, my 4 years of French, even though she always asked about my crabs (see earlier post).
Senora Ockenhouse was always pregnant. They had 4 boys and I think, finally, a girl by the time I graduated in 1991. They drove the first minivan I ever saw.
Damn, I wish I could remember what I typed last night. I am sure it was witty and would inspire many comments.
Oh yeah, Algebra was the only class I ever cheated in. To be fair, it is also a math skill I have actually used in real life. I make quilts, so geometry is my friend. Calculus, which doesn't even USE number, for chrissakes, has never helped me figure yardage. Trigonometry, taught by Mr. Bongiovanni, has never appeared in my adult life. I got B's in Trig, though-my best math grades ever.
Mr. Bongiovanni was a big Italian (naw-did you think he was Irish?) wrestling coach math teacher, which you'd think would have scared the trig into my brain, but he was super nice and a good teacher. I won't go into Calculus, except to say that the teacher wore WHITE linen pants through which you could see his underwear.

1 comment:

April said...

If you single-handedly bring back culottes, you will be be my HERO. It sounds French, no? I believe they were the sister of the also unfortunate "jams."