David Hoppe

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:: Mea knucklehead

by David Hoppe


That, and others like it, was the word used by my freshman high school wrestling coach, Mr. Ziemek, to characterize my performance.

Most of the time, he just rolled his eyes toward the fieldhouse rafters and turned away.

I thought of Mr. Ziemek after discovering that I had committed an egregious error in a story that ran as part of NUVO’s 25th Anniversary coverage. I based a story about the parallel lives of NUVO and Circle Centre Mall on the grossly mistaken premise that both were the same age. In fact, Circle Centre Mall is five years NUVO’s junior. Look it up: you will find that the mall opened 20 years ago, Sept. 8, 1995.

Of course, I did look this up. Before writing the story. I looked at the date. I still got it wrong.

Which brings me back to Mr. Ziemek. You see he was also a math teacher. It was not only his misfortune to have me on his team my freshman year, he had to see me again a year later, this time as a member of his General Math class.

As my botching of the dates regarding the respective birthdays of Circle Centre Mall and this publication indicate, math has never been my strong suit. That’s why I was in General Math, a class you could say was Math For Dummies.

In those halcyon days, before there were such things as STEM, high stakes testing or, for that matter, a technocratic insistence that all kids soldier through a Sisyphean career of required math classes, in high school and college, there was such a thing as mercy. Someone like me, with no demonstrable aptitude for numbers beyond an ability to balance a checkbook and roughly figure a tip of 15 percent, was allowed to say farewell to math and set sail for more congenial territories in the world of academe.

I’ve often wondered what would have become of me in the numbers-crunching grind that passes for schooling today. How taking courses in which there was no hope of excelling would have twisted how I felt about my education. Adding a few lower grades on required courses would certainly have affected my grade point average for the worse. And that might have kept me from being accepted by the college of my choice.

Having seen me get my nose rubbed into the pungent density of a wrestling mat, Mr. Ziemek — “Coach Ziemek to you!” — found himself presiding over my struggles with numeracy. Instead of that mat, there was a blackboard to contend with.

We got through it somehow.

Coach Ziemek doubtless went on to coach athletes whose performance in the gym was way more satisfying than mine could ever be. As to the math, well, I can assure him that my checking account is in order.

That said, I have to admit that, even after all these years, I can sometimes look at a number and not see it. That’s how I blew the Circle Centre date.

I am still a knucklehead.