TT Outrage: the Prologue
by, November 5th, 2011 at 11:08 PM (6377 Views)
A highly competitive 10-year-old mathlete (in the days before mathletes technically existed) named Jimmy Thornton sits at his wooden desk, distracting himself from anxiety by reading the words carved into the wood by previous generations of students. One strikes his fancy.
Hmm, thinks young Jim, didn’t Stephen Daedalus find a similar word etched into his desk in Dublin? But no sooner has Jim begun to calm himself with literary references than the gravel throat of Mr. Glarow, 5th Grade math teacher, intrudes, reanimating all his prepubescent hormones of anxiety and dread.
“Your performance on this test, class, was as usual abominable,” Glarow says.
A salt-and-pepper crowned and tweed-coated Pittsburgher in his mid-50s, Charles “Chuck” Glarow is a distinguished looking fellow with more than a passing resemblance to William Hopper’s character, Paul Drake, the private investigator for Raymond Burr’s lawyer, Perry Mason, namesake of the original B&W TV version of the legal drama.
Jim thinks to himself that no matter how much authority Mr. Glarow looks to possess, he is simply incorrect about at least one of his student’s mathematical performance on this particular test, which was not really a test at all, but rather a species of child’s play for Jim, just as all the other so-called tests this year have proved to be child’s play, leading to a cumulative 100 percent perfect average since the first day of class back in September.
The melancholy groans of his fellow students only make that tiny portion of Jim’s brain that is properly described as sociopathic smile. Clearly, they are examining their grades on something that for them has proven, in fact, more than a test: a trial or tribulation, perhaps, or maybe a sentencing--and are now finding that their formerly average F’s—50 percent, say, or maybe 45 percent marks—have plummeted even closer to Absolute Zero.
Young Jim’s anxiety dims as he finds himself thinking about the genius of the Kelvin scale. Oh, what a foil for my own perfect score these dullards’ best work will serve!
And then the unthinkable happens. Mr. Glarow, who despite his rugged good looks, who despite the endless stories he tells about hunting bears in the mountains of West Virginia every weekend during bear season, who despite these and many other claims to manliness, still lives at home with Mother, this Mr. Glarow, this oddity and enigma of a private school fifth grade mathematical instructor with an arsenal of weapons at home and, presumably, an endless supply of freshly laundered underwear cleaned by Mother, hands an exam paper over to young Jim—a lad who does not punch other kids, who does not speak out during class, who does not outwardly do anything whatsoever that might be construed as “bad” (although on the inside, it is a different matter, oh, a very, very different abattoir of a matter, young Jimmy will not deny this!)—and in this moment of handing over the examination paper our earnest outwardly beatific knowledge-loving catenary-curve-graphing mathlete begins ever so quickly to dissociate.
At the top of the paper, in giant numerals as red as arterial blood, a scarlet number, so to speak: 90%.
Dazed to the point of vertigo, Jim forces himself to focus. His sharp eyes, their pupils constricted to mean needle pricks by humiliation, scans down the pitiless manuscript, searching for errors. Finally, he finds the problem that he has somehow, against all odds, “missed.”
Ever so quickly, like a human ENIAC, he does the recalculations ten times in a row, lickety, at it were, split. Ten times he gets the same answer: the answer is 5. Jim looks at his answer on the paper. The answer here, too, is 5.
The right answer, Jim knows, is 5; the answer he put down is 5; there is absolutely no wriggle room here, no reason in all the known, parallel, and largely speculated upon universes, be these 3D or 2D--no, none, zero reason to mark this problem wrong.
Jim’s senses clear. His eyes dilate. Mr. Glarow, the tormenting, mistake-prone, stylishly dressed, bear killing Mama’s boy ignoramus, is going over the test, problem by problem, asking the herd of braying dullards to explain what they did in getting their comically boneheaded wrong answers.
Soon, Jim knows, he shall reach problem No. 7: the problem whose answer is 5, whose solution Jim has clearly written as 5, whose method of solution, the “work” portion of the “show your work mandate” required for full credit Jim has shown in all its jejune ridiculous completeness…
“All right, then, class,” says Mr. Glarow at last. “What is the correct answer to Problem No. 7?”
Jim’s hand is instantly aloft, waving—but not obnoxiously, not one of those wavings accompanied by sounds of mmmm ahh mmmeee mmmeee, like a hungry dog anticipating the dog food bowl’s deposit by its jowls, not one of those waves at all, but rather a respectful wave, a salute almost, a collegial wave of the sort that one reasonable human being might use to gently gain the attention of another human being, the second human being having made a monstrous mistake, but the first human taking great pains to just alert him of the error without characterizing the nature of it, as monstrous and imbecilic and offensive to the gods as surely this particular-character-defect of a mistake this whopper is, i.e., the one made by Chuck Glarow, dashing in his tweed coat and umbilicus ascot, the private school teacher and injustice administrator nonpareil—to this self-same character Jim says, “Mr. Glarow, sir! You seem to have made a small error here on my test sheet. For as you can clearly see, I put a 5 as the answer for No. 7 and you inadvertently marked it wrong. See: a 5!”
And just like that, Mr. Bear-Killer Glarow descends furiously upon the sparrow of a boy, and picks up Jimmy by his blond hair, literally drags him from the desk where Foetus is carved, jerks him into the air, yelling, “That is not a 5! That is an S!,” which, in fact, doesn’t sound at all like an S, so heavy is the air now humid with raging spittle everywhere, as if the Blessed Mother’s Son has suffered a stroke and can only twist his voice box into screaming, “That ish an Eshhh! An Eshhh!”
And flinging Jim around the classroom like a flimsy fabric remnant, all in one motion, the innocent and infallible mathlete’s pupils constricted again to the tiniest apertures imaginable, as if his eyes are conspire to allow him no more than the merest impression of his misbegotten unjust fate, Mr. Glarow seizes with his free hand a piece of chalk, screeching a gigantic S that snake-curls its way across the far reaches of the blackboard, the class all the while agog, and no sooner has the S taken shape then the teacher cracks his student’s head upon the pitiless slate at the top of the S, and shoves the boy’s hair against the chalk, and in one curvilinear motion erases the whole obscene letter, yelling, “Essshhhh! Esssshhhhh! I’ll show you what happenshhh to thoshhe in my classhhh who answer math problemshhh with an Esshhh inshhhstead of a Five!”
And he throws Jim under his desk, seals any possibility of escape by sitting his 190 lb. bulk on the desk chair and scoots halfway into the hollow space, as all the while the classroom of dullards—finally awakened to the one subject they love now and will always love—wake up and snigger at the sheer delightful cruelty of it all!
But Jim, staring out at his peers from the small open slatted space beneath the desk’s front, sees that for all the joy his comeuppance has brought them, it has unnerved them, too; for how can even the stupidest among them now fail to see that nobody, nobody! escapes forever the power of mean-spirited authority when it decides to slither out and take exercise in the way it invariabl prefers to take exercise. Even Glarow himself, Jim is suddenly certain, whose mother’s hold has never loosened around his lunatic neck.
At this moment, Jim turns his neck to see if kicks—surely easily deliverable, sight unseen, within the desk’s little prison chamber—will soon enough start raining down upon his kidneys. But Mr. Glarow’s legs, he sees, are wilted, their fury spent, his simian, tweed-sheathed arms slumped over in the evacuated space between his legs.
It is there, between in the spaces between the teacher’s black-haired fingers, Jim sees the tufts of his own blond hair alternate like torn trophies.
Note: I invite you to check back soon to see how uncannily this vignette relates to USMS.