In math, at a certain point, you can add and subtract letters
Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from the play "The Origins of Happiness in Latin" about growing up Latino in Miami in the 80s, which won the 2001 National Latino Playwriting Award. It receive its world premiere at the Arizona Theatre Company in Spring 2003.
Published on LatinoLA: August 7, 2002
[MUSIC: THE ALPHABET SONG WITH SALSA FLAVA OR JURASSIC 5 TEACHER SONG.]
I have a teacher in the seventh grade: Mrs. Martinez. Teaches algebra at Palm Springs Junior High School.
The poor lady is about to find out how difficult it is to teach me -- an ultra-creative, completely right brained child, with mild mathematical retardation -- that at a certain point, in math, you can add and subtract letters.
When math gets to that point for me is when it goes: [PUNCHING GESTURE.]
And I go: [THROWS ARMS UP, GIVING UP GESTURE.]
Because I didn't get it to begin with! And now you're telling me to add and subtract the alphabet?! It's hard enough memorizing all those letters! Thank God for the song! But my mathematical inabilities aren't the core of Mrs. Martinez's problems.
Mrs. Martinez is about four and a half feet tall, and I'm not much taller. Her coke-bottle rimmed glasses always terrify me. Like an owl about to scoop up a little mouse.
Every day she shows up with her thin, cotton candy swirl hair, through which you can already see her tender scalp.
She's very matronly and scholarly, yet her ability to write is questionable. On the board, it looks like Japanese. And when I get papers back: "Did I get a D, or is this a prescription for Prozac?"
Hallo class, today we will estody the placing of mathematical digits into an equasion -- that are not numbers...You gasp, I know...[ADJUSTS HER BRA STRAP.] But don't worry, we'll get through this together as soon as PHEELEEPS stops Talking! PHEEELEPS, PLEASE STOP TALKING!
[THE AUDIENCE IS THE CLASSMATE NEXT TO HIM IN THE ROW, BEFORE SHE BUSTS HIM AGAIN, HE QUICKLY WHISPERS:]
She designates me the "talker" because I am the class clown. So every time she wants the entire class to shut up, she aims at me with her torpedo tit bra, and picks on me... But I'll have my revenge.
PHEELEEEPS PLEEEAASE STOP TALKING!
Every day Mrs. Martinez makes us take a math quiz in class and makes everyone pass their papers up to the front row.
Now, I always sit in the last seat of row number 6.
Mrs. Martinez assigns me that seat.
Pheeleeps why do you hide in that back row? So that you can keep talking?!
No, Mrs. Martinez, so you can nail me to the cross every time you want a goddamn scapegoat before the class.
Then she has this futile contest. What she refers to as "The Passing Jew Paper To the Front Conte-est". Now, these are conte-ests for which there... is... NO PRI-IZE!
Where's the incentive, woman?!
Ooookkay estudents now we are going to have the Passing Jew Paper To the Front Conte-est. Everybody ready? Ooookay, jew all look ready. Except for Pheeleeps, who's talking. Pheeleeps, please stop talking! Ooookay, a la ONE, a la TWO, a la TRRREEEE! Pass jew paper to the front!... [ADJUSTS HER BRA STRAP.] OK! As usual row number two has won. And row number six lagged way behind, because you-know-who kept changing her answers, and Marteen was too busy staring out the gweeendow! Class, what do you think is the real reason why row number six always loses the Passing Jew Paper To the Front Conte-est?"
[SHE HOLDS UP SIGN THAT READS:]
BECAUSE PHEELEEPS WON'T STOP TALKING!
Well, one day in the middle of quiz time, Mrs. Martinez makes an announcement.
Oooookay, estudents, I have to go to the ladies room, because Mrs. Martinez's bladder is very full, and the Tacos she had from the caf?teria are going through her faster than one plus one equals, what?
Ooookay, I will be right back in two. Please finish the quiz, and estay there. I'll be back for the Passing Jew Paper To the Front Conte-est. Oookkay?! No sheeting!
With that, she leaves... And by the time Mrs. Martinez walks down the hallway back to class -- she can hear the guffaws of laughter coming from inside her classroom -- and she's pissed!
Ooookay, what is going on here? PHEELIPS -- you, and Usmail are going to have detention tomorrow after class for talking. Oookaaayyy!
I look to Usmail, who has murder in his eye.
"I'm sorry Usmail," I whisper!
Nobody says a word. She is torpedo-tit pissed. So we do the quiz, and by the end of the class, Mrs. Martinez regains her composure.
As soon as the bell rings, she calls me over. I?m terrified.
MRS. MARTINEZ (cont?d)
OOOkkkkay, Pheeleeps. I know that you were talking because when I was walking from the bathroom I heard everyone laughing in the classroom, and I know that you are in the drama class, and no one else in the Pre-Algebra Class of Second Period is that funny. Except for Miguelito but that's because he's cross-eyed.
I'm horrified that Mrs. Martinez says such a thing. I'm like, oh, shit, next she'll criticize my Mork & Mindy lunchbox!
Okkkay, Pheeleps, I heard from the other e-students that while I was aguay, you guere doing immitations of me!
So, what I want you do do for your punishment is to turn in all your homeworks from last week, like you were supposed to.
Oh, no, she noticed I flaked.
... And... I want you -- to do that imitation of me right here and now!
So begrudgingly, I walk up to the blackboard, and in perfect "drama school style" take a moment with my back to her, and turn around as her -- [TABLEAU AS HER..] -- I mean if I'm gonna go down, I'm gonna go down in BLAZES!
And in the middle of my second "Pheeleeps, please" she goes...
Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha! Ay, oh my goodness, my bladder! Ay Dios mio, give me two minutes! Oh my God, I'm peeing! Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!
And there goes a discombobulated Mrs. Martinez, peeing on herself through the hallways of my junior high school.
The next day, Mrs. Martinez advises me:
Pheeleeps, please don't take this as a strrike against jour performance e-skills, but for the rest of this week, jou have detenchon for disrupting the pre-algebra class. Okaaaaaay?
Ah, I now understand the math.
In life, you can add and subtract: PUYAS, BUSTS, JIBES, DISSES, LICKS, INSULTS, UNDERCUTS, SUCKER PUNCHES.
And all these -- can be letters.
For example, Mrs. Martinez gives me an "F".
I, however, get to make fun of her forever.
And well, just today, I used pre-algebra to subtract that very "F" from my seventh grade report card.
Felipe Pire's next solo show is entitled "The Origins of Happiness in Latin" about growing up Latino in Miami in the 80s.