But I’m a Word Person ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
The school mailed out deficiency slips in the middle of the quarter. It was to alert your parents that you were failing a class, or nearly failing, and that you would almost certainly get a failing grade when grades came out at the end of the quarter, unless, in the meantime, you applied yourself assiduously to the subject, hired somebody to tutor you, or generally improved your study habits.
Algebra for me was like a bad dream. I’m sure that Satan thought up algebra on one of his bad days. I hated the class and I hated Mr. Fatty, the teacher. He had a booming voice and I was afraid of him. He wasn’t much taller than me, but he was so fat that his upper arms were like hams and he had rolls of fat on his forehead. He never wore a coat on the coldest days in winter and he sweated all the time. This is the absolute truth. I wouldn’t make this up.
I was mostly a good student, though uninspired. The good students who made decent grades, and would probably go on to college, took algebra. Everybody else—the dumbbells, hillbilly kids, and special education rejects—took general math in place of algebra. I didn’t want to take general math with all those losers—I was sure it would mark me for life—so I signed up for algebra, even though I knew from the beginning it would have its own tragic consequences.
When my deficiency slip came in the mail, I knew I was in for some trouble. I could have hidden it and pretended it didn’t come, but I knew my father would find out about it later (Mr. Fatty lived right down the street from us) and then I would be in double trouble: not only for failing algebra but for hiding the deficiency slip.
After supper I took the deficiency slip out of its envelope, obligingly unfolded it, and handed it to my father with a smile.
“What’s this?” he asked.
“I’m not flat-out failing it!” I said. “I have a ‘D’ instead of an ‘F’!”
All my exchanges with my father were fraught with anger and high drama. He had the parenting skills of a garden gnome. One, two, three, and he was already in high dudgeon.
He read the notice through a couple of times before he realized what he was seeing. I got well out of his way so he couldn’t take a swing at me.
“Do you realize what this means?” he said.
“It means I’m not doing so great in algebra,” I said.
“We’re going down to Mr. Fatty’s house right now and talk to him about this!” he said, getting red in the face.
“No! No! No!” I screamed. “I’d rather die!”
“How can you be failing algebra?” he railed.
“I hate algebra!” I said. “It makes me sick! It doesn’t make any sense! All those X’s and Y’s! All those formulas! I’m a word person! Not a formula person!”
“If you’re not good at math and science,” he said, “you might as well not even go to school!”
“That’s fine with me!” I said.
“I’ll bring the form for you to sign tomorrow.”
“The consent form you’ll need to sign for me to drop out of school. I’ll tell everybody I’m quitting. How about if we make Friday my last day?”
“You’re a regular little smart-aleck, you know that?” he said.
“How about if we move the TV into my room?” I said. “Now that I won’t be going to school anymore, I’ll have plenty of time to watch it.”
“How about if I just kick your ass around the block a few times?” he said.
“Go ahead,” I said, “but I’m still going to hate algebra when you’re through.”
Copyright 2017 by Allen Kopp