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Just Another Point of View: Maybe I WASN'T told there'd be no math, but I should have been warned

My friend Kevin and I were at the Diamond Lake store a few years back, and the power was off.

Because the line of customers wanting to buy stuff was growing, the two guys working there jumped behind the counter and tag-teamed their way through the little crisis, one guy taking the money and making change, the other guy writing down every item and totaling up each purchase.

Never one to let an opportunity to crack a joke go by, I said, “I was told there’d be no math.”

The guy with the pencil and pad looked up at me, his eyes a little scary under the bill of his baseball cap. “What was that?” he asked.

I gulped, knowing full well that never in my life has one of my patented wisecracks been worthy of repeating. But I did.

“I said, ‘I was told there’d be no math,’” I said, wishing suddenly that I was anywhere in the world but in that dark little store. But then the guy with the pencil provided the real punch line — the one I use (with gusto) every time I tell this story, and I’ve told it many times now.

“Who the hell told you that?” he blurted, implying with his glare and his body language that I’d better just take my stuff and get the hell back to my campsite. And you know what? I’ve thought about it many times, but I have no idea who it was that said that. Quite probably because I never actually heard it said.

On the other hand, I’ve lived my life as if somebody really influential told me there’d be no math. I wasn’t allowed to balance my own checkbook until I was far, far into my marriage to the other person who lives at our house.

I never got past general math in high school. While my peers were crushing algebra and trigonometry, the best I could do was moderately complex story problems. Later, at Lane Community College, I devoted one whole summer to trying to master elementary algebra, but I hit a wall and finally just bailed out.

Personally, I blame Mr. Muss, our high school math teacher. He liked the kids who were good at math and made fun of all the others.

Like Marlon Brando in “On the Waterfront,” I used to tell people, “I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am — I mean, a newspaperman, which is kinda the same thing.”

The truly ironic thing about my hate-hate relationship with mathematics is that I really do have a fondness for numbers. I like the repetitious patterns you find in arithmetic, and I believe it even has an indirect bearing on my affinity for music.

There’s the obvious connection with rhythm itself, the varying emotions lurking in different time signatures, etc., not to mention the structure of songs themselves, the downright numerical relationships of chords, fingers on a keyboard and frets on a guitar. And because I was not much more accomplished in high school band than I was in math (in four years, I barely advanced beyond third coronet chair) — which means you spend most of your time “resting” and counting beats and measures for page after page before ever being allowed the occasional toot of the horn.

Fortunately, it did teach me patience and discipline. I can sit in one place for long periods of time. And let me tell you, I can count to real big numbers.

Mikel Kelly maximizes his limited math skills in retirement, making his Social Security check stretch all month and counting pretty much everything he sees.