“Good morning, chuckleheads. Welcome to the fourth class, Practical Mathematics. Everybody ready to get their GEDs?”
“Yo, perfesser, GED sand for Goddamned erectile dysfunction?”
“Rod, stay up all night thinking that one up? Think up an answer for this. Lay-Z comes over, wants three spoons of coke. You had a 40-gram brick, took out five for yourself and stepped on the rest. How much blow is Lay-Z going to get? Show your work on the blackboard.” Rodney Witherspoon was my star pupil; I couldn’t stop wondering why he wound up in this class any more than I couldn’t stop wondering why I was teaching it. I glanced at the “hidden” camera, which I was supposed to wave at if trouble broke out. Rod went up to the blackboard and grabbed a piece of chalk somebody had carved into a phallus.
“Dig. Forty gram divide by ten gram inna spoon be four teaspoons,” Fabulous. The kid remembered unit compatibility. I hoped somebody was monitoring a success like this. “Five out the pack leave 35 up-ya-nose. Z get three those spoons. Five-gram divide by four-spoon one and a case-quarter light inna spoon. Ten subtrack buck- twenny-five a spoon leave eight and three Georges. Answer: Nothin’. Lay-Z aint pay me yet.” That left the class “whoot-whooting” for a bit. Rodney went back to the board. “Yo, all you dumb-asses. Z get twenny-four, three-quarter. Have hiself a good weekend.”
“Gordo. You’re up.
One-eye Jim boosts a car. He gets three years. They take out Sundays and a third for good behaviour. How many days is Jim upstate?”
“No days. How somebody gonna drive with one eye? He won appeal, yo.”
Smart kid. “Let’s say he just needed to drive 10 blocks to the chop-shop. A compressed, under the radar trip. Do the math.”
“Two year out, 52 Sunday inna year, 627 days.” Oh, so close, what the fuck happened?
“Close, Gordo. Off by one.”
“Off by none, whiteboy. Next year a leap year, ain’t it?” I should have known that everyone in the class would be fully invested in shortening a sentence, eve by one day.
“OK, Gord. Ya got me. Keep thinking like that and you’ll pass the math part easy.”
“Cat. Your turn.” The second-story man—second-story boy, really, was smarter than these guys but wouldn’t show it. I knew it was grandstanding, but I decided to give him a question from last year’s Etvos Mathematics Competition. “Analog clock. You know. One with hands. What is the first time after 4 O’clock that the minute and hour hands will be perpendicular?”
He looked at his watch. He switched mode to analog.
“Fie afta fo’, an’ 26, 27 second an’ change.” Sonofabitch. Motherfucker. I blew that question when I competed for the Etvos competition All this kid had to do was a close eyeball. Was it cheating?
“Very, very close. Instead of watching the TV tonight, work out the exact answer.” Teach each according to their ability to learn, until they can learn more, and teach yourself along the way. What my supervising teacher kept saying. Good advice.
“No I ain’t, perfesser. Why I gotta do this? Ain’t nobody gonna hire my raggy ass to do nuthin’ since I been in this shithole so-called correctional facility.” Sarcastic emphasis on ‘correctional’. The facility was not a shithole, by any means. It was a youthful offender conservation camp with no bars, a “swimming hole,” sports field, farm, and a thousand acres available for hand-cut logging. Plenty of opportunity. You could learn to be a lumberjack, and you could get into a union. Being on the lumber crew meant you were out in the world for a while. After seeing the lumber safety video – toes cut off, feet chopped in half – many of them opted for the “chain gang.” There were no chains, but plenty of clearing the side of the road. The chain gang crew had an opportunity to attempt caging pot from passers-by. I, having been stereotyped, was made the commissary accountant. When New York ran out of money to pay for prison teachers, I was drafted into being the GED instructor. And then there was the entertainment value of watching the night shift C.O.s fill up their personal cars with state gasoline.
“Maybe nobody will hire you. You want a furlough? See your moms? Get some pussy? Maybe the shoe repair guy is getting old and needs a hand? Maybe your GED might get you into a jobs program. You’re wearing a green shirt, same as mine. I want a furlough. I want some trim, more trim than Nelson’s fleet.” Crickets. Try again. “More bitches than Cesar Millan. You wanna get something happening, do this course, get the diploma. I wanna get something going, I gotta teach this course and you gotta finish it.” Another “whoot-whooting.” Chorus. The class filed out. Two Suits and a Hat came in and sat down opposite me. Big-Suit showed my file to Hat. With my Magna Cum in it. She looked sad, weary.
“Campman Honeycutt,” Gimpy-suit said, cradling my file. You’re Jewish, Honeycutt, aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir. All my life.”
“Says here you attended Catholic services two weeks ago.”
“That’s right. I was invited. Wanted to see how the other half lives.” The Zinger. Toss out a simple statement of fact, watch if the target sweats. Gimpy-suit couldn’t leave well enough alone, setting aside my contribution to their Upstate New York shit-hole.
“Honeycutt. Do you really think teaching math with cocaine exercises is appropriate here?”
“I was taught it was best to teach in the language of the student. I’m not the guy that state money for professional teachers. What was my pass-rate for the last boat?” That quickly ended the discussion.
And there I was. A college kid in the 80s with a friend who had a line on coke coming through a diplomatic pouch. The line worked and the stuff got where it was going, but neither me nor my buddy knew the first thing about running a cocaine distributorship. Dennis Dillon, the Nassau County DA was under political pressure to keep the progeny of the Long Island gentry from the getting drugs. It took about three weeks to crash. We were at a club in a ritzy section of Queens when we met a girl who was, for some reason of which we were unaware, interested in us. It turned out that she had been a dealer, and Dillon offered to get her off if she got info on other dealers. Which turned out to be us.
We were lucky. Governor Nelson Rockefeller — Lock ‘em up for life Nelson Rockefeller—died, in the saddle, as they say, And Malcom Wilson, the Lieutenant Governor, quickly realised that the state would be bankrupted by the number of felons behind bars. I wound up in a conservation camp for six months. I was the Jew, and New York State was running out of money for education for the incarcerated. Sans diploma, I got my fellow prisoners to pass there GED tests. I did get an education. How to make, hide, and operate a still. How to cheat at any game. Having fun watching the corrections officers fill their personal vehicles with state gas.
I had always been the guy who helped out, and went I got sent back down to the city, Six months in a halfway house, recipients of my kindness & largess – I had coached an education expert who had dyscalculia through her thesis, with cooked numbers, of course, and she got me a job. This was the early civilian computer era, when hackers roamed the world hacking, and people figured out to hire these computer experts for themselves rather than having them incarcerated. The job, of course, was to computerise the office. I always volunteered, I always got the right answer, and slid safely into middle class life
And here I am, 43 years later, with my math and computer skills recovering about 40 million dollars from the people my office investigated. The sign on my desk reads “Crime Pays Me.”
The spellings in parts of text are a part of the narrative and are kept unchanged.