College Algebra, James Brown (not THAT one), and Minty-Fresh Breath

My brother graduated from Vanderbilt University with a double major.  One of those was Math. That’s right, folks.  I said MATH.  

I, on the other hand, chose a major based on the fact that it required only two, count ’em — TWO, math credits.  And even then I had to take College Algebra twice.  Actually, I didn’t take the whole class twice.  If you stick around, I’ll try to explain not only that, but how the strange title up there came to be.  Plus, you’ll also learn that this little episode ranks right up there with my recent post about honeymooning in Hawaii as one of the most embarrassing moments in my life.

Picture it.  Mississippi State University.  Fall semester, 1988.  I’m a freshman; I’ve just pledged the sorority I wanted; I have late 80s hair — big and bouncy, complete with a ginormous, honkin’ bow.  I’d made some wonderful and funny friends.  Holla, Ginny, Kristi, and Diane!  (You might remember her from the story about Dipti.)  And I’d just found out that I’d been matched with the sorority big sister whom I’d hoped for!  (Wink, wink, big sistuh, if you’re reading!) 

At any rate, life was great.  Except for College Algebra.  For one thing, the class was taught by a grad assistant who clearly didn’t want to be there.  You could tell by the fact that he said, “I don’t want to be here anymore than you do, so let’s just get started,” at the beginning of every class.  A dead giveaway.  Plus, whenever someone asked a question, he would sigh loudly, and after a half-hearted attempt at answering, he would say, “It’s just algebra, guys.”  GUYS?

Gasp!  A Yankee?  In Tara?

Oh, Lord.  I knew this was going to be an uphill battle.  Math…taught by a Yankee….who clearly didn’t want to be in the middle of Mississippi teaching an entry-level course to a bunch of ding-dongs such as myself.  I liked-to-have died right there.  I would’ve died for sure, had I not hung onto the fact that his name was James Brown.  And he insisted on being called James.  Not Jim.  Not Jimmy.  Not even Jake.  So I figured that he had to have a sense of humor about his name.

Well, I found out later that I was wrong.  But I’m getting ahead of myself.

For a couple of weeks or so, I went to class and even got there early, which meant that I had to practically run from the class before it.  I did my homework religiously, or at least I tried to.  It made NO sense to me.  None.  But I tried.  I went to the Math Department’s help center and provided those tutors with a good laugh.  We had our first quiz or test, and let me tell you that when I saw that score I was ecstatic.  I’ve never been so happy to see a 40 in my life.  However, I decided to make an appointment with the not-so-godfather-of-soul-nor-sense-of-humor-nor-tact teacher and explain my fear of all-things-Math.

I got to thinking about this poor Yankee being in the deep south and how he might feel kind of like a fish out of water.  What if he were being a sourpuss because he missed his Mama or something?  I thought about all the things that my sweet new sorority sisters had done to make me feel welcome and less homesick, and I decided that I would pass on the kindness.

You know, we southerners hate to show up at somebody’s house empty-handed, especially if we don’t know the person very well.  So, I set out to show my Yankee teacher a little southern hospitality.  I flew up to Diane’s room to talk it over and get her opinion.  We decided that since this fella talked to people all day, it would be nice to have a little jar of mints on his desk and that a bucket of candy was a safe thing to take.

I bought a red tin bucket and some paint pens and got to work.  In all my cutsie cleverness I wrote It’s just algebra! on it, complete with little dots on the tips of the letters.  You know, Happi Name-style.  Then I filled it with peppermints and butterscotch candies and tied lots of curly ribbon ALL OVER IT.  I cringe just thinking about it, but I’m sure I was oh-so-proud of it back then.

I bee-bopped off to my appointment, ready to explain my difficulty with math but assure Mr. Brown that I would try my hardest and accept whatever suggestions he had to offer.  There I was…my little “happy” in hand with an enormous bow in my hair, I’m sure.  

I immediately got off on the wrong foot by going, “Dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah-dah…I feel good!”  

He was not amused, as I was evidently not the first person to greet him with that little diddy.  He just stared at me.  I turned 97 shades of red and started talking at lightning speed, thanking him profusely for his time and explaining that Math had been difficult for me since about 7th grade when my teacher told me that I had a “mental block,” blah, blah, blah.  I told him that I would try very hard to do well; that I’d brought my test and hoped to go over it with him; and as a thank-you for his time and patience….ta-da!  Here was a little something for him!  

That man looked stunned, and about all he managed to say was something like, “Oh.”

Yes, that puts a nervous college freshman at ease.  “I hope you like peppermints and butterscotch candy.  If you don’t, I’ll be glad to bring you other stuff to put in there,” I offered.

“Well.  I’m a diabetic,” he said, and I finally noticed THE MEDICAL ALERT BRACELET he was wearing, “so that bucket is kind of like a grenade for me.”

At that moment, I knew exactly what a deer feels like when caught in headlights.  And then I started praying something along the lines of, “Dear Lord. Puhleeeeze.  If you will just let me have the superhuman power of becoming invisible at his very minute, I’m pretty sure I won’t ask you again for a long, long time.  And if you won’t grant this prayer, please just let me die right here.”

Do you know what?  I’ll bet you anything that poor man was praying something like this:  “Dear Lord, Please give me the superhuman powers to just disappear and get away from complete morons like this big, honkin’ bow-head.  I just don’t think I can take another one of them, Lord.”

Obviously, neither prayer was answered.  I’m not really clear about what happened next.  I’m sure I apologized for having unintentionally tried to send him into a coma, but the details are fuzzy.  I can’t say with any certainty that I stayed long enough for him to go over my test with me.  It appears that I’ve blocked the rest of my time with him from my memory.  When you’re 18 and you’ve just made a complete idiot of yourself in front of your teacher, it’s probably a pretty normal response.

I finally emerged from the Math department, carrying the bucket of death candy, and Diane was waiting for me because she’d gone with me for moral support.  She’s such a good friend.  When I told her what happened, she was furious.  One of the wonderful things about Diane is that she defends her friends fiercely, and if she thinks one of them has been wronged, well, she is              U-P-S-E-T.

He did WHAT?  He didn’t even say ‘Thank you, I can’t have any, but I’ll be glad to share them with visitors.’ Oh, he is vile!  I have a good mind to march in there and give him ‘What For!’ That was just TACKY!  TACKY, TACKY, TACKY.”

Everybody needs a friend like Diane.  When you’re too embarrassed to be mad, she’ll be mad for you.  And then, when you’re both old enough to laugh about how silly you (meaning ME) were, she’ll laugh with you until you cry.  But she’ll still tell you how tacky that teacher was.

Well, maybe he could’ve been a little nicer, but when I look back on it I get a big kick out of the whole thing.  Yes, I was completely mortified, but no real harm was done.  And since he WAS tacky enough not to accept my little bucket of candy, I had minty-fresh breath for months.  At least I wasn’t embarrassed about my breath for a while.


Note:  I eventually dropped the class and took it again as a junior.  I’m more than happy to report that I loved the course and passed with an A!


8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Mrs Lemon
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 08:27:53

    Tacky – just plain tacky!


  2. Kelley
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 10:39:09

    I knew the moment you said that you got him a bucket that you were going to dig out the paint pens and dotted letters!

    That story was great and I seriously laughed out loud. I see a lot of myself in that story!

    I’m thrilled to try your low carb recipes! Here is my e-mail: : )


  3. Kim H.
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 14:29:19

    Oh my gosh – hysterical! I can so relate to doing bone-headed things in my youth, but I don’t know if I have the flair for telling the stories in the same way you do.

    I’m soooo out of my comfort zone with math – my husband teases me all the time that if it doesn’t come in a nice round multiple of ten my whole brain shuts down and alarms start going off… he’s really not that far off!


  4. Pop
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 18:59:48

    Marian—there is a blog called “home by another way” that is written by a Buckner worker who is with David and Amy in Africa. She has some pictures that David hasn’t put up–one in her little pink bathtub. Sorry to converse with you this way, but don’t know an e-mail address. Love, Mary Carol


  5. Jen
    Nov 07, 2008 @ 23:30:27

    I swear. Reading your blog is one of the highlights of my day. You are too funny. I miss being able to walk down the hall and hear your laugh. This story made me laugh out loud! And I have a “Diane.” Her name is Kelley. In order to get through it all, God gave us those angels. I’d be lost without her.


  6. kim sue
    Nov 09, 2008 @ 08:03:44

    “tacky, tacky, tacky”


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