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Ah, I remember with great reverence growing up as a young boy on the tough streets of white suburbia. I had my own gang of sorts...it was more like a posse back then, but in any case, we were the best of friends, until the day the C-bomb dropped. I remember it like yesterday: Skip, Todd, and Lil' Steve were all shooting marbles across the hot concrete sidewalk when I broke the news to them.
"Hey guys, rumor has it that a Calculus book fell off one of the rail cars--let's go check it out."
"I dunno Alex, I'm only in Algebra II now--you remember what happened to Skip's older brother."
Who could forget Skip's older brother?
"Skip had an older brother?" I asked.
"Yeah, I did. He, too, tried to uncover the secret of the Calculus before he was ready. He didn't even start from the beginning of book; he jumped right into differentiable functions! He died of an abstract polynomial overdose three days later. My math teacher said it was just too much too soon."
There was a collective gasp.
"I always thought that was one of those suburban math legends...man, that was your brother?" Todd asked.
"Yeah...it's ok though. I've gotten over it."
"Hey, if I had known about your brother...I...I never would have brought this up," I said trying to console him.
"Listen man, it's cool. I say we check out that book."
There wasn't much to do in the summer of 88'--especially if you were only 8 years old. We thought this would be the beginning of a vivid and incredible adventure, but we were all very wrong. We were young and stupid back then; we were young and stupid with our love of mathematics. They say there are two things that will put a man in his grave: fast women, and abstract algebra. Oh yeah, cancer is probably right up there too. Being only eight years old, we didn't care much for women, but Todd was already a hardcore abstract algebra junkie. One night, his mom walked in on him naked, looking at pictures of the new Texas Instruments calculator line up. He was grounded for a month! Todd had used his TIC so often that he had tiny backwards numbers permanently indented into his fingertips. It's sad to see an eight-year-old like that.
"Dude! I can't believe you just told all them about the calculator incident!" Todd stammered.
"It's called plot development Todd. Plot development," I reassured him.
"Oh cool, like plotting on a plane?"
"Yes...just like plotting points on a plane."
We rode our bikes back to Lil' Steve's house on the edge of town. He lived a humble existence, for sure, but it was math that drove him--not money. Besides, eight-year-olds back then had a hard time finding any employment. We went to his house because his mom was a total math slut, so she was always off picking up math teachers. She didn't even understand the stuff; she was a math groupie. A groupie. Every time there was a big math teacher's convention--she'd be there.
"What's the biggest prime number you know?" she'd ask one of the teachers.
"Oh my...let's see," the poor math teacher would say while loosening his bow tie. "Is it hot in here?"
"Why yes, it is. Why don't you come back to my place? I have latest issue of Multivariable Calculus--the one with Green's Theorem on the cover."
"That offer sounds infinitely radical, " he'd reply, his brow damp with the sweat of mathematical ecstasy. Then they would both go back to some sleazy motel and integrate all night long. I felt bad for Lil' Steve sometimes, but he seemed to handle it pretty well.
"My mom is a fucking math slut," Lil' Steve said, handling the situation pretty well.
"Hey Steve, I'm sure she just went out to buy some groceries or something. Chill out," Skip said as he held Lil' Steve back.
I carefully hid the note that read: "I've gone to a math convention in Idaho. Love, Mom."
After Steve calmed down, we got our supplies together. I grabbed a compass, just in case the math team heard about the calculus book and wanted to start some trouble. The math team had thought they were so hardcore ever since they got their stupid math team shirts. The crew I ran with didn't need t-shirts. "You got something to prove?" I said to myself. "We'll take it to the blue book -- then we'll see what you and your math team shirts are made of." Skip made up some Kool-Aid, and Todd took care of the peanut butter sandwiches. With our supplies packed, and our hearts running on a mixture of adrenaline and Milky Way bars, we got on our BMX bikes, and prepared to disembark.
It didn't take long for us to get to the train tracks, but we were on foot the rest of the way.
"Good thing I brought my pump action shoes. They'll be good for traversing the treacherous landscape, and for fighting off a race of basketball hoop people," Lil' Steve said proudly.
"Steve, that was a movie. There really aren't aliens that can be killed by slam-dunking basketballs through their hearts," Todd tried explaining.
"Dude, whatever. You're just saying that because your mom bought you tennis shoes."
"Must you two fight about your shoes every time we go out?" I asked, acting as the peacemaker. "Especially when everyone knows the shoes with the pumps are way cooler."
Lil' Steve stuck his tongue out at Todd, then me, and then at Skip for good measure, and we continued on our journey down the train tracks. The train tracks are symbolic in many ways: symbolic of progress, symbolic of man vs. machine, representative of social divisions, a reminder of man's place in the world, signifiers of hobo culture during the Depression, a metaphor for the resurrection of Jesus, symbolic of...I began to vomit from eating all those Milky Ways.
"Thank God, that narration was beginning to get too pretentious." Todd said.
"Seriously dude--they're just train tracks," Skip said in agreement.
I wiped the vomit from my mouth, and continued with my narration.
We had walked for what had seemed like hours when we heard noises coming from the bushes. Before we got close enough to see what it was, the math team jumped out!
"Well, what do we have here?" asked a heavyset sixteen-year-old.
"It's Steve, Skip, Todd, and that kid Alex," said a pimple-faced girl.
"Steve...Steve Gordon? Isn't your mom that slut that sleeps with all the math teachers?" asked another heavyset sixteen-year-old, slightly fatter than the other sixteen-year-old.
"Take that back!" Lil' Steve screamed.
"Whatever twerp. What are you guys doing way out in the woods?" asked the fatter of the two boys.
"The poor babies must be lost," said a heavyset girl who was not as heavyset as the heavy heavyset boy, but more so than the heavyset boy.
"We're not babies, and we came looking for the Calculus book!" I retorted.
"Calculus book? You lie! We're not even allowed to use that in high school--there's no way you little kids use...the Calculus." Said Fatty I.
The other guys looked at me with a "now you've blown it" look. I had blown it.
"Yeah, heh heh, I was just kidding. We're actually out here to look at...um...that dead body!" I pointed to the conveniently placed dead body.
There was a collective cry of "Eww!" followed by girl-like screaming, followed by the math team fleeing the area. Once the math team had fled the area we decided to investigate.
"Whoa, look under his arm--it's the calculus book!" Lil' Steve exclaimed.
"He must have been one of those hobo mathematicians," I said.
"So...how are we going to get the book now? The pages are probably all soggy with dead person juices." added Todd.
"Well, we could always just poke him with sticks, and then go into town and look at the calculus books in the adults section at the math bookstore," Skip suggested.
"That works." I said, and we all agreed. And so, we stayed for a couple more minutes poking the dead body, and then returned home.
We remained close friends until the end of high school--after that, things changed. We later learned that Lil' Steve wasn't actually a young boy, but a very short old man. At the end of high school he was 89, and died of a heart attack at graduation from the excitement. Then there was Todd, the abstract math junkie. Rumor has it that after leaving high school he got turned on to nuclear medicine, and left mathematics behind. Lastly, there was Skip. Skip left high school for the Ivy League. Things worked out great in the beginning, but then he got an A- on a Calculus IV test and killed himself. And me, well, sometimes I like to open up my old calculus book and do a few problems just for fun. In a way, I'm like the old college football player that likes to toss the occasional football around, and touch men's asses. The glory days may have left us both behind, but our memories remain. I mostly write now, and think about the old days, the old posse, and the mathematics that we all loved so dearly.
Alex Ayers remembers with great reverence.