The first day of class Mr. Ringer walked up to the board and wrote: 15x + 6 = 36.
“Solve,” he said.
Everyone’s hand shot up. We’d learned this the year before and were eager to demonstrate our knowledge.
“X equals Bite Me.”
“Correct.” Mr. Ringer wrote another: 3x + 3 = 27. “Yes, you, Tate.”
“X equals Suck It.”
7x + 13 = 69.
“X equals Who Gives a Shit.”
4x – 7 = 33.
“You’re a Candy-Ass Little Bitch,” said Will Brown.
“Wait, Mr. Ringer,” said Brian Mason. “For that one, couldn’t X also be Eat My Ass, You Saggy-Balled Bag of Dicks?”
“Or Get Off My Back, You Raging Douche?” said Matt Spinks.
“Or Nobody Loves You and You’re Going to Die Alone?” said Ashley Campbell.
“Those work just as well. Amazing job, everyone. Now let’s move on to something more complicated.”
Rob Obremski raised his hand. This was his first year at West Oaks. He had transferred from somewhere back east and had sat by himself at lunch.
“That’s not right, Mr. Ringer.”
“What do you mean, young man?”
“I mean none of that is right. Those aren’t the answers to the equations.”
Mr. Ringer rolled his eyes. “Please, professor, enlighten us.”
“For one thing, you need a number to solve. A very specific number. Everybody’s been giving you words. It doesn’t make any sense.”
“What doesn’t make sense about Nobody Loves You and You’re Going to Die Alone?” said Ashley Campbell.
“It doesn’t make sense because four times X minus seven is thirty-three. That means the answer has to be ten for the equation to work. Four times ten is forty, and—”
“I’m afraid that’s not how we do it here, Mr. Smartypants,” said Mr. Ringer.
Everybody laughed except for Rob Obremski.
“I don’t understand.”
“That’s too bad,” said Mr. Ringer. “Your transcript showed a lot of promise. Please, come with me.”
Mr. Ringer marched to the door. Rob Obremski collected his books and pencils and followed him out.
Our teacher came back five minutes later. We spent the rest of the period doing Rob Obremski impressions.
“‘Duh, X minus seven is thirty-three,’” said Will Brown.
“‘That doesn’t any make sense!’” Mr. Ringer said in a high-pitched voice, pushing up his imaginary glasses.
The next day, in English, I got a pass to use the restroom. In the hallway I passed Mr. Bright, the remedial math teacher, and Rob Obremski, seated in small desk chairs.
“Seven X plus thirteen equals sixty-nine,” Mr. Bright said.
“X equals Shove It Up Your Ass, You Sick Piece of Shit,” said Rob Obremski.
“I think you’re getting the hang of this,” Mr. Bright said, the light reflecting off his teeth like a torch in the dark.
Josh Cook received an MA in English from Indiana University in 2009 and is currently working toward an MFA in Creative Writing through Lindenwood University. He has self-published two novels. He lives in Indianapolis with his wife and two dogs.