It’s Isaac Asimov’s Fault that I Showed Up Drunk to OAC Math

Well, he didn’t pour the vodka, exactly. Let me explain how I got to this point.

I didn’t do well in high school, despite being part of the Pace program. I hated it, as a matter of fact, once I fell victim to the convenient fallacy that no one goes to school to be a writer. After I found that out, school didn’t matter to me at all. But reading and writing still did. Among my favourite writers was Isaac Asimov. I always felt as though he was speaking to me. It’s silly to say that, but it’s the way I still feel.
And not just his fiction, but his non fiction, too. While I don’t own all of his books (the Trap Door Spider mysteries are the ones that I don’t have all of and while I have read the Lucky Starr novels, they were library books and I returned them like a good boy should – and so should you support your local library, but I digress) I have read a good deal of them. His book on the Bible helped convince me to be an atheist but still marvel at the Bible a piece of history and a work of fiction. His collection of chemistry essays was essential to me passing high school chemistry class – mostly because I memorized everything he wrote and when it came to the essay question that was worth 75% on the final exam, I merely wrote out one of Isaac’s essays.
I could speak to all of it, mind you, and it wasn’t just rote memorization, I had that much going for me, but it was Isaac’s work from start to finish.

Of his more famous novels, the Robot Novels and the Foundation novels (and I hasten to add, I’ve read Isaac’s novels, I have not, and refuse to read, anything from the franchise. I loathe those and have no interest in reading them whatsoever), those are perhaps my most favourite. And, I’ve always had the thought that he was Elijah, his first wife was Gladia, and Janet was Elijah’s wife, Jessie. If you’ve read the Robot novels, you might have an idea of what I mean. Additionally, I think that in the “Prelude” novels – the most human and I think the best written of anything he’s ever done (save for the short story “The Ugly Little Boy”) – that the character of Dors Venabili is how it is his relationship with Janet evolved.
Anyway, I removed myself from the Pace program not long after coming to Newmarket, but by then it was too late. When you’re seventeen years old and were already brainwashed into thinking that what you love wasn’t what you were allowed to do for a living, your watch tells you it’s half past give a shit and fuck it for the rest of the time. But again, despite it all, I still wrote and I still read. Voraciously. And Isaac was there for me.
I have always enjoyed math, but in high school I sucked at it. Never understood how it was angles could be compared and totalled up and never was brave enough to stand up and ask for help because it was high school after all. You were supposed to be cool, right? Yeah, well, I suffered as a result. As an adult, I’ve come to truly love calculus and the higher maths, so to speak, but in the finite math I was compelled to take, I was failing miserably. The final project, though, could make or break my passing grade.

So, I asked if I could present to the class a simple explanation of the math behind the theory of relativity.
The teacher was an artsy fartsy type. I don’t remember her name, but I do remember her flowing, flower printed dresses and her smile. She was good at math, too, a real good teacher as I recall, and it’s not her fault I failed. My watch told me what time it was and that was all that mattered to me. She had faith I could pull it off. And so did I. I knew it pretty well, as a matter of fact, from “Isaac Asimov’s New Guide To Science”. The explanation was in the back of the book in the appendix. I knew about the evolution of the theory, the role that Michelson and Morley played in it, I knew about the lumiferous aether and the history behind the publication of the paper “On The Electro Dynamics Of Moving Bodies” that changed the world. And I knew that the math behind it was simple and elegant and beautiful. And I knew how I was going to do it. But to tell you that story, I need to tell you another one.
As part of the Pace Program in the high school I was at before I moved to Newmarket, I had to do a presentation for a history class. So, what I did was, I wrote a 10 000 word essay on the evolution of the knighthood from antiquity to present and how it still plays a role in our social classes today. I thought it was pretty good. I still have the essay. I started with a quote from the Bruce Springsteen song, “Dancing in the Dark.”

“You can’t start a fire without a spark,”

Yeah, well, at that point I’d also read a lot of Stephen King and most of Stephen King’s novels have a lot of music in them and the chapters of my favourite Stephen King book, “Christine” all started from lyrics to songs that related to the theme of that chapter. I thought, when you considered that Jacques De Molay, Grand Master of the Knight’s Templar, was burned at the stake, and one of the most famous quotes from the crusades was a knight that said ‘Burn the all, God will know his own’, that making reference to a fire and how it can create as well as destroy, was pretty fucking deep for a fifteen year old boy. But the teacher, who’s name I will not repeat, did not agree. I was lucky to have her as a teacher, too, though, despite her being a little bit of a bitch. Because of her, I will never forget the formula PERSIAT + G. Google it, if you want. It’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I needed to do a class presentation, too. And I suck at class presentations. Badly. I stutter, I sweat. It’s terrible. I was generally nervous all the time, and that made me sweat a lot, and that gave me a terrible case of BO that used to repel even me. I carried anti perspirant everywhere I went and tried to slather it on as unobstrusively as possible, and that made me even more nervous and anxious, and then it became a vicious circle, then I would sweat more and stutter harder. Ugh. Fucking terrible. Leave me alone in a room with a notebook and a pen, and I would stay there for hours. Days. I still will. Although now, you might catch me taking a nap every five thousand words or so.
So, I decided the best course of action was not to be me. I rented a suit of armour from Malabar’s costume’s in downtown Toronto, memorized the life of a knight from history (not a famous one, just a typical one – I’ve since forgotten who it was), and got ready to present in class. I already had a two handed sword. A SCA replica, but a two handed sword nonetheless. I had a horse lined up, but it was too much for me to learn how to ride. And I went into class, stood in front of them, and told them I was a knight from the middle ages and did my presentation. My Pace advisor was Jewish, and I got permission from him to give him a hard time in front of the class, if only to indicate what type of person some medieval knights were.

Fast forward to Newmarket, faced with a similar proposition, I decided to not be me. I dressed in a ratty old sport coat of my father’s, dress pants, a pair of worn shoes. I had something of a teenaged moustache and then I had an idea. Why not try and look older? So, I got baby powder and put it in my hair and in my moustache to look both older and more dowdy, I guess. Dandruff flakes. Absent minded professor. But I was still nervous. I mean, when I was in high school in Scarborough, most of those guys I had been with since grade school. And the others I’d already known for a couple of years. In Newmarket, being at half past give a shit, I didn’t interact with anybody. My other friends encouraged me. These guys in my math class would crucify me. And for some reason, despite not caring, I was a teenager enough to care about that.

So I took a drink. Then another. I think I stopped at four shots. And then I drove to work. Sorry, kids, Daddy drove drunk. And he drove drunk for many years afterwards, but that’s a story for another day. Suffice to say, I wasn’t that drunk. Just, shall we say, fluffy.

And I got to class early and sat behind the desk, with my feet up, hands behind my head, and waited. As the students came to class, they legitimately thought I was a supply teacher. Even when the teacher came to class, she was pleasantly surprised and sat down to see what I had to offer.
I took up 30 minutes of that class, pretending to be an absent minded professor, and explained to them the importance of the speed of light and how simple and elegant and beautiful it was. About how all Einstein did was imagine what it would be like to ride on a beam of light. About how a uneducated, German born Jew, who spent the better part of his youth wandering around Europe like a hippie before being a hippie was cool, managed to think his way out of a problem, using math he learned in high school. All he had to do was to ask questions that no one had ever asked before. All he had to do was ask questions that no one had to courage to ask.
Einstein did all of that, and he changed the way we look at the world.
I talked about it, to a class full of students, because Isaac Asimov wrote about it so beautifully and simply, while I was drunk, because I had no courage or confidence.
I’m older now. I’ve gotten much better at speaking to groups of people, mostly because, every time I do get in front of people, I remember trying so hard to be someone else in an effort to make people see me as other than what I am. And my watch doesn’t read as being half past give a shit anymore, it tells me it’s 8:00PM on a Saturday night.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s