Mark Richard, “House of Prayer #2”

I’m currently teaching Mark Richard’s memoir, House of Prayer #2, and my students love it. Here’s one of many reasons why:

The advanced-placement class bumps you that fall into an algebra class taught by a teacher who policies with a meter stick she once broke over the back of a slow country boy’s back. She looks at you, the youngest in the class, a cripple too, and she smells a cheat. 

In defining finite and infinite numbers, she says, by definition, finite terms are numbers assigned to things that can be counted. For instance, is the number of grains of sand in Jockey’s Ridge finite or infinite? You’re the kid holding his hand highest to be called upon, eager. You say the number of grains of sand in Jockey’s Ridge is infinite. Miss Meter Stick smiles and says, No, if you could count them, you would find that there is a finite number of grains of sand in Jockey’s Ridge. No, you say, that’s incorrect. First of all, you patiently explain, the ocean is constantly throwing up fresh sand that dries and is blown onto the dune by the wind at the same time the same wind is carrying sand off the dune into the Albermarle Sound.

Second, you say, even as you notice Miss Meter Stick tapping the meter stick against the side of one of her shoes, her smiling face beginning to purple, second, the number of grains of sand in Jockey’s Ridge would have to be considered infinite by her very own definition of being able to count them; if the grains cannot be counted, there is no finite answer, hence no finite number. But if you could count them, she says, as she moves down the aisle of seats to where you are seated, you would eventually reach a number, a finite number, so you’re wrong, she says, poking the corner of your desk with her finger. Then you go fucking count them, you unwisely counter, and you are sent home from school for two days at a time when your father is toward the end of his first affair and is looking for someone upon whom to vent his guilt. You had long before nicknamed his backhands “flying tigers” after his college mascot, Mike the Tiger, whose tiny head ornamented the LSU class ring worn on the hand delivering the often unexpected blows (80-81).

Here’s another reason.

1 thought on “Mark Richard, “House of Prayer #2”

  1. Pingback: Monday Text: Mark Richard’s “The Birds for Christmas” | Michael Fischer

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