When I was in tenth grade, my geometry teacher, Mr. 51, used to give everyone nicknames. Whenever he’d call on you, it would be by your nickname. For instance, there was another Mike in my class (there was always another Mike) who had an after-school job at Burger King. His nickname was “BK Broiler.” And then there were my friend Jeff and me. We were “16” and “14,” respectively. And yes, we’re the ones who gave our teacher the nickname “Mr. 51.” Allow me to explain why, and to then explain what this has to do with today’s number, fifteen.
Jeff and I were always the brightest kids in class, particularly math and science classes. We had something of a friendly rivalry about this; we also shared a lot of interests, not least of which was a deep love of Doctor Who. Despite being in the same grade, though, Jeff was a year and a few months older than me. This became important on a particular day in Geometry class.
The class always had an energy — there was always room for a little bit of talking back to the teacher, and witty remarks were always welcome. Mr. 51 certainly cared about us, but he showed it through sarcasm and snark. If he ever caught you glancing up at the clock, he would take his watch off and put it on your desk. You had to be on your toes. (Did this make Mr. 51 a good teacher? I have no idea.) Anyway, one day I said something that was probably stupid or childish. I can’t recall what it was. Jeff responded with something to the effect of, “Well, what do you expect? He’s only 14.” (Which indeed I was.) Mr. 51 turned to him and asked, “Well, how old are you?” Jeff responded, “16.” (Which indeed he was.) And from that moment, the names Jeff and Mike were gone. We were 16 and 14. (We later found out from another teacher that our geometry teacher was 51 years old, hence the nickname we gave him. Although I can’t recall if we ever said it to his face.)
But a month or so later, I was very excited. It was my birthday, and I couldn’t wait for geometry class. I couldn’t wait to correct him when he called me “14.” Sixth period came. I sat down. Class started. Same energy as usual. Keep on your toes. Smack talk all around, to and from teacher. We must have been going through some problems on the board, because he then turned to me, and said something like, “What’s the next step in this problem, 15?” I shouted, “No!” He said, “Yes!” I said, “How did you know?” He said, “I know everything!”
I found out later that another friend, who had class with Mr. 51 in an earlier period of the day, told him. Damn it.
I have to tell you, I knew I’d be scraping the bottom of the barrel eventually with this “number blogging” project, but I really didn’t think it would start at number 15. Sheesh. This does not bode well.