Monday, February 13, 2012

The Unlikely Bookkeeper

when i was small, i spent hours avoiding math in school -- it wasn't difficult in elementary school; my town ran an experiment to see if we could teach ourselves the finer points of math and from fourth grade until sixth, all that was required of me was to complete a series of math worksheets. i was given an period of time to work on them each week and if i had any questions, i could ask my teacher, but i was given the luxury of doing the worksheets as My Own Pace and without any supervision whatsoever. By the time i reached sixth grade i had completed all of thirty worksheets out of the one hundred that were required - so you see, there was a Goal in mind, but we were only gently pushed toward that goal. My sixth grade teacher was panicked by my lack of motivation, he was my first male teacher, with a tendency toward abusive language -- he was dark haired, lithe, and had a mustache - he was an unfunny Groucho Marx. He decided the only way i would complete my math journey to one hundred was to keep me in for recess for the entire year. And he moved my desk next to his desk, while all the other students' desks were arranged in pods of four, i was a pod of one, next to Morrison's desk, his eye ever on me. There would be no daydreaming of ponies or musings of stories, there would only be math. There had been frequent beatings for me on the playground in fifth grade - i was forever being punched, kicked, thrown about - i fought back late in the spring of fifth grade and punched my assailant, a boy who was abused quite a bit himself, right in the nose i landed and he fell back into the swings and blood spurted brightly from his nostrils and for a moment i thought i had killed him, but i had only broken his nose -- the boy killed himself in a game of Russian Roulette when we were 17 and all i could think of was the day i broke his nose. i cried when the decree on No Recess came, but at the same time, my prison would be my protection too. And Morrison sat there with me, every damn day, saying almost nothing, eating his egg salad sandwich, and sipping coffee -- i don't think any teacher would do such a thing today. i progressed from elementary to Jr. high school with no hiccup, my one hundred worksheets of math were completed and the town of Westport declared the experiment a failure the following year and commanded it's teachers to Teach math once again.

i was haunted by math from then on - i struggled through Junior High School Algebra and Chemistry 101 in the eleventh grade practically brought me to suicide. And all that time i dreamed of being a Marine Biologist, because of Jacques Cousteau on the television and a book i received one Christmas on the subject of Whales, but the counselor told me my Test Results showed i had no aptitude for science . . . apparently science was math and math was science, so i was to seek out something more to my temperament, and English was that thing and so that is the arrow i was tethered to, the sea would have to go on without me.

But i was always fascinated with Mrs. Floria - who is Mrs. Floria? She was the Bookkeeper in Trudy Gary's Country Mouse - the children's clothiers my grandmother worked as a saleslady in for some twenty five years, down there on Main Street in Westport. Mrs. Floria was quite elegant, she smoked, and wore bifocals attached to an ornate chain that draped over her tailored shirts - sometimes she wore Lilly Pulitzer skirts and her hair was perfectly coiffed. She worked upstairs over the showroom of the store, and she had a little sliding glass window that she could open to let out the smoke and call out questions to the salesladies. There was a spiral staircase that led to her quarters, her garret, where she counted the money and she humored little me with my ideas that we should install a pneumatic tube system for messages - i wanted to send up little sheets of paper to her and she in turn could send little notes down the curves of the spiral staircase to me, which i would deliver to the ladies on the sales floor. Sometimes i would wander up there and watch her write neatly and perfectly in her green ledger.

Years later i would graduate from college with nothing but an English degree and a part-time job at the library which led me strangely to understand databases -- books on shelves in a library are nothing but the grandest of databases, did you know that? i learned how to manage a database by shelving books - math is nothing but orderliness, that is all it is. But it took me pushing books on carts and placing them on shelves and the Library of Congress system to teach me that . . . it's not esoteric at all, it's about doing things in a certain manner, it's about your ABC's and 123s.

And so the library launched me into working as a database manager for the environment and next thing you know i taught myself how to make maps by digitizing points in space on a tablet . . . which was nothing more than knitting really. This wasn't math it was meditation.

And when i burned out on all that, i took a job that was a bit easier than anything i had ever done, Bookkeeping and i find myself going into my little garret once or twice a week, always dressed as well as Mrs. Floria, but without the cigarette, and i neatly record the numbers in the green ledger and Morrison is in the back of my mind, shaking his head and finishing off his egg salad sandwich . . . he say, "Wolfy, life is short, don't sleep through it."

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