MathMattox

I only learned his name two or three years ago. Norman Mattox. This past Saturday, at James and Nina’s annual “Shed” party, he was the first person I saw when I walked into the room. Norman Mattox. I have to write his name down for posterity because now that we’ve actually had witnesses to our conversation, and I’ve met his wife and youngest daughter, and he’s met Mark, I may never see him again.

For over 25 years, he’s been the Credit Union Man. He became somewhat of a fixture in my working life at Cornell, starting my freshman year in 1977. After the first couple of trips to the credit union, I noticed that I always ended up at his counter. He would smile; I would smile. I don’t remember any words being exchanged – just the passing of pieces of paper.

Several years after I graduated and was working in New York City, I saw him again, across the tracks at the Lincoln Center subway station on the Lexington line. We were going in opposite directions. We did not exchange words – the distance was too far – we waved. I was surprised to see him even though I was never surprised to see other former students from Cornell in New York. I didn’t know anything about him, but I had assumed that he would always be at Cornell; always work at the credit union. What was he doing in New York? I saw him several times after that over my remaining few years in New York, always in similar situations – with wide avenues or subway tracks between us.

In 1987, the year I moved to San Francisco, I saw him again. On BART, riding from San Francisco to Berkeley. He was in the car behind me, but I noticed him get on. This was too wierd.

15 years after that, we ran into each other at the Farmers’ Market, where I finally learned his name. And that he was a teacher. And that he had a wife and kids.

Two days ago, I learned that he teaches mathematics at a public junior high school. His passion is to instill the love of math, the possibility of math, to sixth grade African Americans, particularly girls, before they are taught that girls can’t do math. At school, he is all about math and nothing but math. His email id is mathmattox.

I am no longer surprised to run into him after so many years, which is why I doubt that I’ll see him again.

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