Friday, January 15, 2010

Remembering Mr. Bolbach

In Junior High, we were introduced to Algebra. The guide to this new world was Mr. Bolbach, who has remained in my memory clearly to this day.

About 5' 5" tall, he was a fireplug of a man, full of energy. He was about 60 then, at the end of his teaching life. I can still see his bald head and fringe of white hair, his blue eyes, and his signature bow tie.

Mr. Bolbach was passionate about mathematics, and I was a words person. But that didn't stop him from converting me. He would pierce me with his azure gaze from across the room, and challenge me to answer, to question, to understand, to appreciate his great love. A number line stretched across the room over the blackboard, and he would constantly refer to it, which was the best teaching method he could have used. He cemented information visually, and I have never forgotten it.

I also have never forgotten the moment when the light dawned over Miami between me and Algebra. There was this little shift in my thinking, and the magic made itself real to me. It was like a movement from 2D to 3D in my world, and love bloomed. It was all a big puzzle, cosmic, almost divine. Mr. Bolbach got to see me experience that. We must have made quite a picture, the two humans, old/young, short/tall, unlikely comrades-in-arms connected by the electricity of joy in numbers.

I kept in touch with Mr. Bolbach all the way through high school, but then lost track. I haven't thought about him in years, but recently I was talking to a photographer about the time I photographed that deserted school building where I learned so much. I wandered through the rooms, trying to find a way to capture the spirit that had lived there, looking for light and dark corners that would bring interest to my pictures.

I felt no connection until I went into the room where Mr. Bolbach had introduced me to his subject. A number line was up on the wall--the same one?--I don't know. I took a picture of it, now lost. No matter. Mr. B smiles through the years. One man with a mission. Mission accomplished.