Fingerprints Part 5 —The Wrath of Math

This is the fifth part of a series. Click here to catch up on previous entries.

“Fearful as reality is, it is less fearful than evasions of reality.” —Caitlin Thomas

I was not a good multitasker when I was in college and I am only marginally better now. I am good at unitasking, i.e. going into Tune-out mode. I can focus on something to the exclusion of everything and everyone around me. It is a handy trait to have when the chips are down and all hell is breaking loose, but in the long run it is more of an anchor to drag around wherever I go.

In college, when I concentrated on my Architectural Drawing classes my grades slipped in my other subjects. If I concentrated on my other subjects my grades slipped in my drawing classes. My Calculus grades sucked no matter what I did.

I started out taking seven classes my first quarter and barely kept up with the courses. In 1967 I ended up going to school during the Summer because I was on the brink of flunking out after my Freshman year. My parents and I thought that if I went to school in the Summer when most of the students were gone, I would have fewer distractions and I could get my grades back on track. 1967 was the Summer of Love; It was definitely the Summer of Change for me.

I was repeating my course in Social Studies because I had finished with an F the previous quarter. I was also taking my final course in Calculus, all I had to do was pass this one and I would be finished with college math for good. To round out the Summer Session I had Tennis, English, and Descriptive Geometry classes.

I was in luck with the Tennis classes because the new courts were across the street from the fraternity house, where I had taken up residence after moving out of my dorm room. During the Summer Quarter we had Co-op students, who worked at a job in their major every other quarter while attending school; we had students who stayed in Atlanta to work for the Summer; we had students who were attending classes to get closer to graduation a quarter at a time, and we had me— just trying to not flunk out of school. So much for the idea of having fewer distractions in the Summertime.

Turn Up the Heat and Increase the Pressure

In December of 1966 I registered for the Selective Service System at the Draft Board in downtown Atlanta’s Federal Building. There was a nasty war going on in Southeast Asia at that time and it was the law that every American male, upon turning 18 years of age, was required to register for induction into the U.S. Army. I didn’t have time for the Army, I thought at the time, I had to get my grades up and become an Architect. Damn Bureaucrats!

This might be a good time to mention the lovely girl that I was dating, the one that I had seen all of 4 times in the previous year. It was lust at first sight when we started dating on May 1,1965 and now The Lioness (TL) was attending the University of Florida in Gainesville, while I was at Georgia Tech in Atlanta— 350 miles and a lifetime away.

In the Summer of ’67 TL was at home in Ft. Lauderdale while I was 750 miles away in Atlanta. The time apart was tough for both of us. I tried to drown my sorrows, but the little buggers learned how to swim. The times that we were together were hard for her because I was turning into someone she had never met and did not like very much. Her uneasiness was an insult to me, how could she act like this after we were apart for so long? Our reunions were very passionate and promises were made for a better future someday when school was over.

By now I was one anxious dude who was about ready to explode. My grades in school were dismal and my attempts to improve them only made them worse. My girl was becoming a stranger to me and the U.S. Army wanted to move into my life whether I flunked out or graduated from college. In other words, I was exactly like all of the guys of Draft-age, nation-wide, in or out of college at that time.

My fraternity brothers did their best to teach me Calculus. I was tutored 3 days a week by 2 teams of wizards. They could not get the math through my thick head and eventually I wore out all of them. However, one faint glimmer of hope came in the form of two mysterious visitors who paid a visit just before Finals Week.

Do Not Try This At Home

Let’s call them, Mutt & Jeff, the two guys who showed up one day. They said that they were from one of the colleges in Virginia and belonged to our fraternity there. The brothers took them aside and ran them through the gauntlet of challenges and answers to verify that they were members of the fraternity. Once verified, they became our guests and were treated accordingly.

When they departed they left us the gift of a Physician’s Sample of Amphetamine pills. I had no idea what they were (Crossroads, anyone?), but my more worldly brothers knew (Study Aids, anyone?). I thought that they might be the answer to my math study dilemma (stay awake longer and have more available time to study), so I took one about 2 o’clock in the morning.

Late the next night I found that Calculus still didn’t make a damn bit of sense and I was not the least bit sleepy. I eventually crashed and went to sleep about 6 am the following morning, just over 24 hours to go until my make-or-break final in Calculus.

I woke up in the late afternoon ready to cram math for one last night. I discovered that I was much more tired and less anxious than in recent weeks. As I studied I found out that Calculus was like a foreign dialect to me, so I studied it from that perspective. I memorized differential equations (verbs) and got familiar with factors (nouns). This method worked like magic, my grade for the final was a high F, still a failing grade no matter how you looked at it.

Actions Have Consequences

Once the grades were posted and I saw that I had failed the course I made an appointment to see the professor. My plan was to plead my case and see if by some chance I was close enough to some of the right answers that I could swing the evidence in my favor and squeak by with a solid D-.

On the appointed day, at the appointed time, I knocked on the dark oak door to the professor’s office. I entered the dimly lit office and sat in a dark oak straight-back wood chair in front of a dark oak wood desk. The professor smiled politely and inquired as to the nature of my visit.

I poured out my heart and soul to this man; I explained how hard I worked to keep up in my Calculus classes, all 4 of them; I explained how much I prepared for the exam and how I did my best with the problems that I could not comprehend; I asked for a review of my test, taking into account all the mitigating factors that I had laid out.

To my utter surprise the professor agreed to do just that. He took out my test and went over it page by page, a grunt now and then, a scribble here and there. He asked me a few questions to clarify what he thought I was trying to do with a few of the answers and then he boiled it down to a series of questions.

“I see here that you are in the School of Architecture, is that correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“If I am not mistaken, that means that you only need three Quarters of Engineering Calculus to meet your graduation requirement for mathematics, am I correct?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you given any consideration to changing majors in the future, one where you will need to take more mathematics classes at this Institution?”

“No, sir. I have always wanted to be an Architect and that is the only course of study that interests me here.”

“Here is what I will do,” he said, “I will give you a passing grade in this class if you promise that you will NEVER take another math class in this school. Will you make that promise to me?”

“YES, SIR! I promise that this is the last math class that I will ever take at this school.” It was the last math class that I took at Georgia Tech and I have the D on my transcript to prove it.

I went back to my fraternity house and dug out a half-full bottle of J&B scotch that I had unsuccessfully tried to drink one night. I also gathered up my Calculus textbook and a lighter, and headed out back behind the fraternity house to the gravel parking lot where I set the book on fire and drank all of the scotch. When the ashes cooled down enough to touch, I picked them up and poured them into the empty bottle and screwed down the cap good and tight.

I inscribed the side of the bottle that day:

Math 109

Today that bottle symbolizes of the end of a life that was not meant to be, and the beginning of the life that I was destined to live.

Fingerprints will continue with Part 6.

  11 comments for “Fingerprints Part 5 —The Wrath of Math

  1. My Tropical Home
    April 27, 2013 at 2:38 AM

    Looks like God (or whoever He is in your life) was watching out for you back then 😉 And now I am eagerly awaiting how the Amphetamine comes into play (or not) and everything else in the next chapter of your life. I was the “good and obedient” girl in college and I wish I had conked out like that so I could have figured out what I wanted to do back then…Still, no regrets 🙂

    So the bottle holds a special place in the home? Interesting how an entire Calculus textbook’s ashes could fit inside a J&B bottle…


    • April 27, 2013 at 7:44 AM

      Just to be clear about substance abuse:
      • Yes, there is a higher power at work in my life these days.
      • Pills are not my thing. This incident was a one-time thing that didn’t workout and had no draw for me in the future.
      • The Math bottle has no special place in our home. I spent 2 hours looking for it so that I could take that photo.

      My experience with “conking out” has been that the good times were not any better, and the bad times got worse. I never made any good decisions in that physical, or mental, state.

      Thanks for your comments,


      • My Tropical Home
        April 28, 2013 at 9:07 AM

        Thank you so much for sharing that, Allan, and for clarifying.

        I’m still looking forward to the next chapters.

        Have a blessed week ahead.



      • April 28, 2013 at 11:21 AM

        Thanks, Mary.

        Sent from my iPhone


  2. April 25, 2013 at 3:10 AM

    Well done, good story and well told. We all have these challenges.


    • April 25, 2013 at 11:29 AM

      Thanks, Valentine. Today I am working towards turning challenges into opportunities.

      Sent from my iPhone


  3. April 23, 2013 at 11:53 PM

    Well, what a story! Very entertaining write, I’m looking forward to the next instalment……(Pysics was the bane of my life)


    • April 24, 2013 at 9:47 AM

      Thank you, Sue. Physics is a challenge, for sure, and I am glad that some people paid attention when they were in class. Their contributions to Society have certainly been a blessing.


  4. April 23, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    Very enjoyable reading.


    • April 23, 2013 at 5:35 PM

      Thanks, Rosemarie. Stay tuned for more as the saga unfolds.


      Sent from my iPhone


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