Home Page Photo

The Big Stupid Review


American Dream Serialization (Early Chapters)
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Maurice Stoker
Introduction to Jim Chaffee's Studies in Mathematical Pornography by Tom Bradley
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream Title Page by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 1 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 2 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 3 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 4 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 5 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 6 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 7 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 8 by Jim Chaffee
Studies in Mathematical Pornography: Chapter 9 by Jim Chaffee
Modern Tragedy, or Parodies of Ourselves by Robert Castle
Totally Enchanté, Dahling by Thor Garcia
Hastini by Rudy Ravindra
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 5 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
Unexpected Pastures by Kim Farleigh
Nonviolence by Jim Courter
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 4 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Poet Laureate of Greenville by Al Po
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part VI by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 3 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part V by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part IV by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 2 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part I by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part II by Thor Garcia
The Apocalypse of St. Cleo, Part III by Thor Garcia
The Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter Volume 1 Translation by W. C. Firebaugh
DADDY KNOWS WORST: Clown Cowers as Father Flounders! by Thor Garcia
RESURRECTON: Excerpt from Breakfast at Midnight by Louis Armand
Review of The Volcker Virus (Donald Strauss) by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
Little Red Light by Suvi Mahonen and Luke Waldrip
TEXECUTION: Klown Konfab as Killer Kroaked! by Thor Garcia
Miranda's Poop by Jimmy Grist
Paul Fabulan by Kane X Faucher: Excerpt from the forthcoming Infinite Grey by Kane X Faucher
Operation Scumbag by Thor Garcia
Take-Out Dick by Holly Day
Patience by Ward Webb
The Moon Hides Behind a Cloud by Barrie Darke
The Golden Limo of Slipback City by Ken Valenti
Chapter from The Infinite Atrocity by Kane X. Faucher
Support the Troops By Giving Them Posthumous Boners by Tom Bradley
When Good Pistols Do Bad Things by Kurt Mueller
Corporate Strategies by Bruce Douglas Reeves
The Dead Sea by Kim Farleigh
The Perfect Knot by Ernest Alanki
Girlish by Bob Bartholomew
The Little Ganges by Joshua Willey
The Invisible World: René Magritte by Nick Bertelson
Honk for Jesus by Mitchell Waldman
Red's Dead by Eli Richardson
The Memphis Showdown by Gabriel Ricard
Someday Man by John Grochalski
I Was a Teenage Rent-a-Frankenstein by Tom Bradley
Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Fred Bubbers
Believe in These Men by Adam Greenfield
The Magnus Effect by Robert Edward Sullivan
Performance Piece by Jim Chaffee
Injustice for All by D. E. Fredd
The Polysyllogistic Curse by Gary J. Shipley
How It's Done by Anjoli Roy
Ghost Dance by Connor Caddigan
Two in a Van by Pavlo Kravchenko
Uncreated Creatures by Connor Caddigan
Invisible by Anjoli Roy
One of Us by Sonia Ramos Rossi
Storyteller by Alan McCormick
Idolatry by Robert Smith
P H I L E M A T O P H I L I A by Traci Chee
They Do! by Al Po
Full TEX Archive
Side Photo for The Big Stupid Review

Studies in Mathematical Pornography: American Dream - 3

By Jim Chaffee

Chapter 3
Centering: Expectation Zero

There existed one major advantage to teaching the only session of elementary statistics. Unlike multi-session classes like calculus marching lock-step to a fixed curriculum towards a joint mid-term and final exam written and graded and curved by the whole teaching team, I got to write the two exams myself. That made the dull content worth dishing up.

In every undergraduate math class, text and paced syllabus came down by decree, and no one teaching them had wiggle room in dispensing grades. Ninety percent determined by the final, the other ten percent from the mid-term. No credit for homework and no "extra credit." Merciless not only for students; those teaching multiple sessions had their students' performance compared publicly. As if a genetic precondition, the same faculty year after year drew the stupid students like bugs to a light.

The room assigned me for this statistics class occupied an outer and back portion of Tilton Hall, ancient stone monstrosity facing St. Charles Avenue and Audubon Park removed scant steps from grander monstrosity Gibson Hall on the top floor of which resided the mathematics department. Unlike the math building, the roof of Tilton Hall leaked, forming a waterfall in the center of the room during the frequent short but violent downpours. No matter how hard I tried, it proved impossible to change rooms or get the roof fixed, as though planned as a test of my concentration. I never missed a beat as the class listened for the sound of rain so students could regroup around the sudden cataract.

I entered without book or notes as usual, still feeling the hash buzz, and stood waiting for exact time. Forty students enrolled, but only thirty or so ever showed up for class, the same ones modulo an occasional attendee, and they sat silent to whispering. Because attendance didn't affect grade directly, some always decided they'd pick up the requisite information before the final; athletes in particular decided their tutors and athletic department pressure would get them through. But I harbored fun little tricks to play, questions like Explain why a random variable minus its expectation has expectation zero.

Right up front sat the class hotty, a cheerleader type with button nose and hair of spun gold pulled back in a bouncy ponytail. Innocently, it seemed, displaying compact, connected legs, wearing expensive-looking leather mules that accentuated developed calf muscles when she walked.

The first day of class she'd approached me saying she never did well in math but she needed to learn this material and to pass the course. I looked into clear blue eyes and saw someone who believed in truth, fidelity, Jesus and the American dream. Someone who would someday transform into a suburban mother of children; her round, high ass spread wide and hanging cellulite-cratered over thighs gone to gobs of more cellulite; those well-contained breasts, now protruding like rounded hills hinting at perky nipples, submitting to gravity after duty as feeding bags, sagging flat against a thickened trunk and gone to wrinkled dugs with the release of the Cooper's ligament. I shuddered at the vision of elongated, chewed nipples on the ends of those two future sacks. But for now, tight calves and firm thighs bounding with potential energy for cheering leaps, displayed in short skirts, distracted. And she would always have her button nose, no matter how its base contorted with wrinkles.

Professional to the end, I told her if she attended all the classes, paid attention and took notes, read the text and did all the assignments, asked questions when she didn't understand, she'd do fine. She became a devotee, regular, diligent with questions about homework and my oft obscure lectures that distorted the incomprehensible text.

At the bell I began without hesitation, hitting the material on the syllabus regardless of whether Red had gotten that far or not. I plowed through variance and standard deviation, explaining carefully why one squared the difference between the random variable and its expectation. I labored over it, making sure they understood that the expectation of the expectation equaled the expectation, talking about moving the origin of a distribution of mass to its center to get a new random variable centered at zero but with the same spread. I told them I would ask on the final that they explain why this expected difference between a random variable and its expected value was always zero, one of the questions separating As from Bs.

I made a joke about the standard deviation as understood in my neighborhood without actually uttering the word fellatio, and wondered how many of the blank faces busily writing in their notebooks understood what the hell I meant. One girl sitting in back of the class, a brunette I found devoid of physical charm who always waited around after class asking questions and trying to chat me up about the Quarter, smiled at the reference.

As the rest of them shot out the door at the closing bell, she hung back, then called to me as I made a break for it as well.

"Mr. Butcher?"

I turned to find her standing close behind me and re-examined her carefully, part of my project to classify female form and its relationship to my own sexual attraction.

No makeup. Thick brown hair that looked black until up close, pulled back into a short, bunched bobtail with a strand hanging free down the right side of her face. Brown eyes, round and unexceptional, set wide apart above a rounded nose with tiny nostrils perched at the end of an extended, straight, broad bridge. Her mouth drew a line minus the usual hint of a smile that differed from this look only by some miniscule turning up of the ends of unadorned lips, the upper full for a longer expanse than the lower but neither exceptionally thick nor thin nor long. A straight face tapered slightly just beyond the mouth to an abrupt finish in a round, fleshy chin, discordant counter to a high forehead and otherwise longish face. I decided her full cheeks gave the impression of a cylindrical face, when in reality at the eye sockets the swoop towards the chin would have been more pronounced without them. But her brows, dark and thick, ragged, preceded the rest of her features, stark against pallid epidermal canvas.

"Yes, Miss Cone."

"I heard your mother died. They said it was why you were gone last week."

She wore small silver hoops hanging from elfish lobules bottoming the pronounced round helix of the outer ear.

"It's true."

"I'm sorry. Are you alright?"

The slight frown turned to a pout which I assumed to be an attempt at a more pronounced frown. It almost charmed, better than the smile she usually presented.

"I'm fine. Her death was for the best; she was riddled with cancer."

"That's terrible."

"Well, there are not many deaths I consider lovely. But hers was possibly on the far side of bad, though of course there were atrocities committed in World War II that rivaled it. Are you aware that the Balkan fascists decapitated with hand saws?"

She stared, trying to look wide-eyed, but it was an impossibility.

"I had a question about the standard deviation," she said. "Your substitute got to it in the last session and said it was not as good a measurement in some ways as using the median."

"Well, we might get into that a bit later. It turns out that the expected value minimizes the variance, while the median minimizes another dispersion measure, the absolute mean deviation. But median and mean are the same for symmetric distributions, though these two dispersion measures are not."

"Oh," she said.

"Averages accentuate outliers, something medians avoid in sampling statistics. I might say something about it when we get to sampling. But don't worry, we won't bother with this median stuff on the test."

"Can you tell me some good places to visit in the Quarter?"

"What are you looking for?"

"A not too expensive place to have a drink with a friend, get some food, like a sandwich."

"Try the Napoleon House. They have draft beer and they serve good sandwiches, a fair mufalleta, not like Central, but good and also decent Pastrami, similar to the one at Maspero's. It isn't so bustling as Maspero's; they play classical music on a record player with the only rule being the record must finish before it is changed, and they make a decent drink called a Pimm's Cup. Try that."

"What's Maspero's?"

"An old slave exchange, they say, so they call it Maspero's Slave Exchange. Sandwich place, but a little too in and out for my taste; they have a lot of hippy waitresses. If you just want to eat and then go, it's okay, but I prefer The Napoleon House. You might try Mollie's Irish Pub if you're out drinking late. They're open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and close only on Fat Tuesday at midnight for a few hours. The bartender Sam is a good person if you're in trouble. He's black and bigger than me and gallant, too, and will see to it you get out of danger and into a cab."

"Fat Tuesday? What's that?"

"My, you are uninformed. That is Mardi Gras day."

"Well, I wish I knew more. I don't have anyone to guide me. It's my first year."

The pensive hint of melancholic smile she often wore when amused began to play around the edges of her mouth; abruptly it bounced into a broad grin that pooched her cheeks and exposed a hidden dimple centered halfway between her lower lip and the boundary line of her chin. A pair of wrinkles at the ends of her mouth offset the cheeks and would have made the whole thing appear to be a smirk were it not for the literality emitted from her eyes.

"Where do you live in the Quarter?" she asked.

"On Bourbon Street, past the commercial district, the first block where the night-time traffic barricades end. It’s the eight hundred block, near Lafitte's in Exile."

"What's that?"

"A gay bar. I live in the heart of the gay section."

The smile faded and she backed away enough for me to appraise her body without being obvious. Her usual attire: long black skirt hiding her shape below the waist; ribbed boat-necked blouse outside the skirt like a tunic accentuating heavy breasts well constrained within a bra, and also a bit of midriff roll. Turned down collar surrounding the neck line. I had not seen her wear anything but long skirts that hid her ass and legs, thick-soled brown loafers, and blouses that showed off her tits.

"I need to go study," I said. "I have my oral exams this week. But this is one of my office hours, so if you have more questions tag along. I have a class next hour."

"No, I don't have more questions," she said, still hanging back and giving me a serious once over.

"Have fun in the Quarter, but be careful. It can be dangerous. It attracts creeps."

I turned and left the room. She didn't walk out with me this time.

Having grown up in Las Vegas where there'd been ads with photos of showgirls in the newspaper, women I later ran across on the strip in apartment buildings sunbathing topless, it became a personal code of honor to avoid outside influence from magazines, advertising and other commercial sources pimping what to find sexy. This showed up in Asia. My comrades in arms, brainwashed with the Playboy model of feminine charm, ached for round-eyed women with heavy tits, skinny asses and hams for thighs, not exploring their unbiased reactions to what centuries of local cultural preferences had filtered into existence. I let sexuality happen of its own accord, not by some book, and found charm in many of the Vietnamese women, though they aged into crones far earlier than US women. It seemed they loved my fairness, a blue eyed towhead. The Japanese I found less appealing, but I still had a fling during my short stay, not something so simple in Vietnam where everything off-base was off-limits. But that changed when I got to the CAP unit.

I caught Red in his carrel with sandaled feet up on the desk reading The Wall Street Journal. He wore his brown hair in a pony tail and never shaved or trimmed his red beard. His brown eyes lit up when he laughed, and he laughed a lot. Lean and wiry, he looked as if he could put up a decent fight, but I'd never seen him make any sort of threatening moves toward anyone. I assumed he would make such a move only if necessary, without warning. Despite his friendly demeanor, disarming smile and infectious laugh, he had come out of a tough environment, a big northern city, had been busted for selling drugs in high school, obtained a GED while in reform school and once out gone to Mexico to live and work the import angle for a group of entrepreneurs. One of his projects was growing magic mushrooms and he tried to get to the city of the priestess Maria Sabrina without success, the Mexican police blocking out the undesirables, mostly hippies, after Gordon Wasson made her famous. He'd eaten plenty of mushrooms down there but couldn't grow them artificially, not even the mycelium, all of it expiring when exported, and the whole thing had been a bust. Now during the rainy season he ventured out into the countryside to collect cow paddies, plopping them on a table in his living room where they sprouted the blue-staining Psilocye cubensis.

He looked up through tiny round lenses perched on the end of his nose. "Hey, Whitey. Thought you'd call when you got in."

"I hung out for a day with Lori, then studied. Got that fucking exam."

"There are notices all over the department. By the way, you got some babes in that class of yours."

"Think so? I hadn't noticed. Look, I'm done studying for this exam. If I don't know it by now, I'm dead meat anyway. You want to get together for a bit after class?"

"Uhmmm, I guess that'd work. I told Lynette we'd go to a flick tonight, but she has class until late, so we'll go to the late show."

"What're you gonna see?"

"I think maybe The Man Who Would be King. Huston. Why don't you come along?"

"Maybe. I'm a bit concerned about money. These trips cost me a bundle in plane fares, all on my credit card."

He went back to his newspaper and I sat in my carrel and worked on a pre-print of a paper my advisor had given me on infinite sequences of conversation laws for certain partial differential equations, specifically so-called evolution equations. My advisor seemed particularly excited about the Korteweg-DeVries equation for reasons I had yet to ascertain. This was where he seemed headed in his research and he wanted me to do something with it. I had other ideas, but decided it might lead to a quick topic. He'd be a visiting faculty in Britain next year, with the possibility of time in Russia at Moscow University where there was a guy with students doing research on conservation laws for PDEs, though from what I saw it was peppered with damned heavy machinery from differential geometry and cohomology, shit my advisor avoided. His coming year away was why we'd rushed to get the orals done. I'd be on my own, and it suited me. I'd have time to look into stuff I wanted to look into without the blinders he forced me to wear.

The tall black secretary came in asking for me. I judged her height at five ten, five eleven or so, since the top of her head came up to about my eye level. I'd learned to judge height by this measure, and she was about four, five inches shorter. With women heels made it a problem, but she didn't wear any, only flats. Her chocolate skin dappled with light brown freckles made her sexy as hell, not to mention almond eyes and a round ass that smiled even when she wore skirts. No grimace in that ass, none at all. And a healthy set of tits she kept as covered as possible. Married and faithful, they said. Not that it mattered. Women are like streetcars; if you miss one, another'll be along.

I stood to greet her. She liked me; I could see it in her eyes.

"Mr. Butcher, there is a woman on the telephone wanting to talk to you."

From her mouth a tailing laughter of words floated to my ears. She had the New Orleans' lilt in her voice; not like the ragged Irish channel accent that reminded me of guys I'd met in the Corps from Brooklyn or the obnoxious yat that I found grew more pronounced when a gaggle of natives yammered together, nor the garbled marbles-in-the-mouth roll one found in the Creole women of color, those plush orange-tan to milk-chocolates with honeyed lips and giant round eyes given to corpulence with age and difficult to approach when young and ripe.

"Mizz Dupre, I don't know any women in this city. None at all."

"Well, can you come on down to the office and tell her that. Oh, and Joelle and I are sorry about your mother."

I almost said she'd had it coming but held back.

I picked up the phone on Mrs. Dupre's desk.

"Butcher here."

A woman's voice I didn't recognize.

"Manly," she said, a name I eschewed, wondering why the hell a bunch of drunken Welsh immigrants would persist in handing out such a handle in the New World, "it's Bobbi."

When I didn't respond, she added, "From the student legal aid office."

The social worker who'd helped me gain access to the athlete's gym, among other perks, not to mention some extra money from the state, all for my disability. Not a friendly sort, so calling me had to have some motive I would likely not find pleasant.

"Miss Lowe. I recognized your voice. Just a little dazed right now."

"Of course. I'm sorry about your mother." All icy professionalism on her end. "There are some people having a little dinner at Commander's Palace tonight and I wonder if you might come along. I think you'd like them, assuming you can spare the time. I know your exams are coming up."

"How did you know about that? Those exams are inside the math department."

"I have my sources, Mr. Butcher."

I played along, unable to tell if she was putting me on. Her invitation carried no warmth.

"I'm done preparing for the exam, other than trying to stay sober. But I really am a bit short right now, financially that is. The trip out to Arizona wiped me out, put me in debt in fact. And Commander's Palace is a bit rich for my blood in any case."

"You'll be my date. I pay. Is that a problem?"

"Not if I can repay you later, but at a place I choose."

"Then you'll come?"

"Sure. What time and what do I wear? I don't have a tie."

"It is required, but I think they can give you one at the door. But you need a jacket."

"What kind of jacket?"

I noticed Joelle, Mrs. Dupre's partner in the office who had earlier saved me from Momus, smiling at her desk as she eavesdropped.

"A sport coat."

"Don't have one of those. Got a hooded sweat jacket, black leather jacket and tan leather baseball jacket."

"You don't dress up much, do you?"

"Not if I can help it. But the leather jacket does have a collar. It was an expensive gift from the rehab institute in Kansas City when I graduated from college."

"Wear that, then. I know you have khaki pants. Wear those and a plain shirt with a collar you won't mind draping a tie on."

"Okay. Now what time?"

"Eight. Do you want to meet us there?"

"Sure. I can take the streetcar."

"No, I'll pick you up. Between seven thirty and quarter to eight. But please, wait downstairs. I hate to stop in your neighborhood."

"Okay. I know it's a hassle. I'll be down there at seven thirty."

As I cradled the phone, Mrs. Dupre said in a mocking tone, "Don't know any women, huh? I'll bet you got them lined up."

Joelle said nothing, just continued smiling down at her desk. Called herself a Creole, with skin like porcelain and luscious mouth like a red flower in bloom, gently contoured full face partially covered by falling straight black hair; her black-rimmed doe eyes reminded me of my first real lover's eyes. She'd been of Italian descent and big trouble in the end, but those eyes my father had called bedroom eyes captured me the moment I looked in them. Joelle had them.

"No, its business."

"At Commander's Palace?" Joelle asked.

"Monkey business," Mrs. Dupre added.

"I don't get involved in that sort of thing. I'm gay. Remember?"

Mrs. Dupre shot me an arched eyebrow smirk and Joelle shook her head. I thanked them and returned to the carrels, where I told Red I wouldn't be able to make it tonight after all.

"What's up?"

"I got a date. Commander's Palace."

"Wow. That's pricey. Thought you said you were broke."

"I'm the date, so it's on her."

"Sweet. Now you're a gigolo."

"It seems."

I grabbed my notebook and went off to class at the end of the hall, my advisor lecturing on symmetry groups, conservation laws and PDEs, a lot of it explicating the stuff by a guy from the University of Minnesota who'd written the paper I'd stared at in my carrel. My advisor would be overseas next year working with this guy who had an appointment at Cambridge, maybe do some seminars in the Soviet Union. I'd looked at some of this guy's papers and wasn't all that impressed, but I didn't know shit. I found more interesting some of the stuff the Frenchman visiting from Stanford presented in his seminar, but I didn't say it aloud.

After class I spent an hour and a half at the gym. I had developed a routine at the VA hospital I kept faithfully. Nothing heavy. Worked up to bench pressing four hundred pounds at one time, but I now did repetitions of two-fifty, sometimes three hundred. Some meathead had tried to convince me I needed to do three times my body weight, but the idea of bench pressing five hundred twenty five pounds sounded stupid.

I worked out three times a week: chest with bench press and incline press; back, shoulders and arms; and on the longest, slowest, excruciating day I worked legs, carefully, to strengthen and stretch the bad one. That had been the real feat, getting that developed; when I started at the VA I could barely walk, but now I could do an easy two miles or so without limping, assuming I didn't cramp it too long, like sitting on a goddamn airplane. Running for the most part was out of the question, but that was what had gotten me into the athlete's gym: they had the only new-fangled no-impact aerobic equipment.

© Jim Chaffee 2011