by cheri sabraw
I never set the world on fire in mathematics. In elementary school and junior high, my placement was in honors math but barely. In other words, I provided for all those annoying whizzes a magnificent “C” that adjusted the curve in their favor.
The only math subject that I liked was geometry. My teacher, Mr. Di Paola, was a great guy full of corny jokes.
He’d arrive in class with his leather briefcase and neatly cut black hair with a decisive linear part, perfect for his subject matter.
I’d notice, ” Gee, Mr. D., I see you got a haircut.” (Always the sycophant, perky little me…) To my compliment he would reply (while unpacking the stacks of proofs he had meticulously corrected), “Actually Miss Block, I got them all cut.”
I laughed out loud. Some of my classmates did too, but most of the other students were too busy checking their homework.
This joke repeated itself every month, for every month he had his haircut, and every month I chose to compliment him. I hoped my attention to his detail would weigh heavily on his mind, especially when he was filling in the bubbles on the grade sheet the night before grades were due.
Let’s see: Cheri Block. Nice kid. Hard-working. Earnest. On the border. B- or C+ ?
Once, after receiving a mediocre test score, I made the mistake of announcing to Mr. DiPaola (and the whole class) that I would never use geometry again in my entire life (I had a penchant for over-statement).
It wasn’t until 1985 when I was teaching American Transcendentalism that my grandiose statement to Mr. DiPiola entered my mind like an old ghost and rendered me an immediate liar. As I drew three circles–one for God, one for Nature, one for Man–and intersected them into a Venn Diagram, I realized I had, in fact, used my geometry to illustrate what Mr. Emerson, Mr. Whitman, and Mr. Thoreau believed.
I was so taken with myself at that moment! I deviated from American Transcendentalism and walked off the topic, deep into the woods of Euclidean Geometry. I regaled my students with the story of Mr. DiPaola, my flippant and ignorant remark, and alas, my average math performance.
That weekend, I called Mr. DiPaola, who was still teaching in the same district, to let him know that little Cheri Block, now 35 years old, had been (gulp)—wrong.
For some odd reason, I am now photographing geometric images. Mr. DiPaola is in his 80’s and I know his son, a geometry teacher in a neighboring district. I must let them know that I owe all of my recent interest in geometry and now, painting, to Mr. DiPaola.