Math Class, Old School

by gillis

We used to call him “Fred Flintstone” behind his back because he bore a strong resemblance to the cartoon character. He had shoe polish black hair tinged with gray around the edges, his suit jackets never coordinated with his pants, and he claimed to be color blind. But I can tell you this, Mr. Anderson wasn’t deaf. He could hear a pin drop, or the kid behind you whispering you the answer if you were just called on, and unsure.

By the end of the fall, Mr. Anderson had actually painted my name on his chalkboard detention list, stating he was, “sick of having to rewrite it every day.” He said if I didn’t have to stay after school with him, he would put a line through it and I would know I could skip detention that day. It seemed a reasonable system.

One of Mr. Anderson’s signature moves was the chalk toss. If you weren’t paying attention to him, he would throw a small piece of chalk at your head as if to say, “Wake up, kid.” He didn’t do it with malice, and he had amazing accuracy for a guy his age, which we estimated to be somewhere between grandpa and dead. He kept hundreds of pieces of colored chalk, along with several erasers, in a large, #10 can on the edge of the chalk tray. The can itself was far too wide on its own to balance on the chalk tray, but because it was so heavy with chalk, the chalk tray didn’t have the nerve to push it off. When you were called up to work on the board, he’d hold out the can for you to take a piece of chalk. We all knew the drill.

One fine day, when my thoughts were occupied with ways to keep my feet off of Billy Corbett’s sacred book tray so he and I wouldn’t end up in another fist fight, I must have had a faraway look in my eye because ole Fred Flinstone took it upon himself to give me a wake up call. He hit me with the chalk upside my head. Only this time, instead of throwing one piece at me and offering the can to the student who was working on the board, he threw the can at me and held the little piece of yellow chalk out. I went down like a bag of rocks. And I stayed down for about 30  seconds, stunned and dazed. The room fell silent. I pulled myself up, off of the floor, and into my seat. I picked up my pencil and opened up my notebook. Mr. Anderson walked over to the board, drew a crooked, chalk line across my name, and resumed class.