|circa, one-meeelion years ago|
A million years ago, I was a fifth grader. I sat next to Paul Miller most of the year. (HI, PAUL!)
OK, maybe it wasn't a million years ago.
Maybe I exaggerate.
OK, for sure I exaggerate. I graduated high school in 1991; feel free to do the math.
Our teacher's name was Mr. Capes. I want to say his first name was Ed, but that might be cloudy. Let’s face it—as a fifth grader, I just called him “Mr. Capes”.
He was my first male teacher, and I remember being a little freaked out about that.
It turned out just fine, though.
He recognized that I was a
smart-ass bright child, and, save the one paddling he was forced to give me (I’m reasonably sure it involved the lobbing of an ill-timed f-bomb), we got along swimmingly.
He figured out pretty quickly that I loved to be right, and would take advantage of this fairly often during open reading. He’d let me sit on a stool at the front of the class while he sat at his desk, presumably grading papers, as the other kids took turns reading aloud. My role was to facilitate the turn-taking and proper pronunciation of words as we worked through books like White Fang and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea. That is to say, I’d give my fellow students two attempts at a word before I blurted it out for them.
Now, in my memory, I was gentle. Nurturing. Knowledgeable, but not all knowy-pants*.
I have met myself, though, and I’m pretty damn sure it didn’t go down like that … which might just explain why RoseMarie Wilder seemed to want to kill me on a regular basis.
Pretty much every day in Mr. Capes' class brought the noon ABC Radio News and the Paul Harvey Show.
To this day, if I hear the ABC-radio brass intro, I wait to hear Mr. Harvey’s voice. (I cried when I learned he died. I was sitting in my car in a grocery store parking lot. It was raining, and tears coursed down my face as I sat there, thinking about all of the wonderful things I learned from his show and what a loss the world had just endured.)
We’d listen to the noon news, then The Rest of The Story, and Mr. Capes would quiz us about the things we'd just heard. (“Page three!”) Those who got the right answer the fastest got candy thrown at them. I gained a whole extra butt cheek that year.
Fifth grade brought many lessons: I learned how to properly protect an egg during a parachute drop, how to make candied apples, how to cover books in clear contact paper to protect their covers, and how to grow alfalfa sprouts in paper cups. (My fifth-grade palate was impressed when he served those sprouts on saltines atop a pillowy bed of American-flavored Easy Cheese. So fancy!)
One day, Mr. Capes went around the room, asking the class what our favorite numbers were.
I scoffed. Loudly.
I rolled my eyes as though already a teenager.
When he got to me, I refused to play. I told him I didn’t have one. He wanted to know why.
“It’s stupid. It’s like having a favorite COLOR. There’s no point. It’s not like your favorite pet. It’s not even alive!”
I can’t imagine (uh HUH) why he would have been exasperated with me at this point, but he very clearly was.
“Just PICK one!” he demanded.
Not to be forced into anything so ridiculous, I did. But on MY terms.
With a Tony-worthy sigh, another dramatic eye roll and one massive gust of an exhale, I said, “Fine. One million, four-hundred thirty-six thousand, two-hundred twelve … point eight.”
Poor Mr. Capes.
He stood there, staring at me, gaped mouth.
As an adult and a parent of a
smart-ass bright child myself, I can say with a certain degree of surety that he was either a) plotting my death or b) picturing me as a cute, sweet toddler … to save himself from plotting my death.
“WHAT?” he hissed, lunging toward me a wee bit and shaking his head as if to clear any waxy build-up from his ears.
“One million, four-hundred thirty-six thousand, two-hundred twelve … point eight.”
“That’s the one? THAT’s going to be your favorite number?”
The red in his face faded back to a non-cardiac-emergent color as he exhaled slowly through his mustached lips. His next move was brilliant—he managed to not only save face, but to challenge me, as well.
This guy had my number, after all.
“Alright then. If you can remember that number for a week, I will buy you a Tab.
A Tab? YES!
(For those of you who don’t remember Tab Cola—it was super awesome. It was dark, cold, bubbly, certainly toxic and most appealing—came in a pink can. PINK, y’all! MODELS drank from pink cans!)
I didn’t commit to a lot back then, but I committed myself to this.
Yes, you read into that properly.
A week passed, and I got my Tab Cola.
And to this day?
My favorite teacher: Mr. Capes.
My favorite drink: Iced tea, no lemon. (What? Tab was only awesome when you thought cool people drank it.)
My favorite number: 1,436,212.8
UPDATE: All these years later, I found a jewelry maker who created a piece showcasing my favorite number in copper, my favorite metal! Come on over to 365 and check it out!
* "Knowy-pants" is a term coined by one Tammy Swift, the funniest woman I’m lucky to know. If you’re smart—and I know you are, 'cause I don't hang with no dummies—you’ll make yourself a cup of coffee, unplug the phone, ignore the kids and go read everything she’s ever written.