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Chapter Six 


 

The Timestealer

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            Reid was saturated after lectures all day and facing a big accounting assignment due tomorrow. He didn't feel like going to the study hall or being around anyone. Knowing Alex would be at the library because of the accounting assignment, and thinking Taylor would be out doing something because he usually did, he turned on the television and relaxed. On the coffee table there was a piece of paper with a phone number and something below it. He knew Taylor's writing.

 

THE UNSHAKEN MIXTURE DECOMPOSES - HERACLITUS (530-470 BC)

 

Shaken, he thought to himself; Christ Almighty, I've been in a blender ever since I came to university!

            Just then he heard the creaking of the wood floor.

            "McFetty!" Taylor had walked out from his bedroom with a grey herringbone tweed jacket over his arm and a letter in his other hand. With the colder weather, Taylor had started to wear a second-hand tweed, but he kept wearing his Birkenstock sandals with wool socks.

            "Very determined with those Birkenstocks," he said, as not meaning to verbalize his thought.

            "There is no other footwear better than Birkenstocks." Categorical truth. No discussion.

            "They're really sharp looking footwear." Taylor let it go because he did actually like the look of them.

            "God you watch a lot of TV." He didn't watch a lot of television but compared to Taylor everyone did. Thinking about it he couldn't remember once seeing him watch television, not even a hockey game. If he was reading in the living room and then one of them turned on the television, he would usually sit and talk for five minutes and then leave.

            "What's wrong with television?"

            "Whaddya mean what's wrong with television? It's a timestealer! It sucks away your prime!"

            "Gimme a break."

            "What? You don't think so? How many sitcoms do you watch a week? Ten? That's time lost man! Never get that time back ever. Think about it. Time is finite. It's a waste of time Reid, and you should read more. Reading is quickly becoming a forgotten art because television has replaced the novel. People are now suffering from classics malnourishment." His words were like an indirect punch. Reid couldn't remember the last time he read a novel. He spent his reading time memorizing his textbooks and repeating them on tests with boarding school discipline. And to escape this he watched television.

            "Why is television a waste of time Taylor? I'd like to know."

            "Because it's a means of mind control. You don't even see it do you?" He sat up on the couch in response to his question.

            "Yeah" he replied feebly, "sure I do Taylor."

            "People who where tweed don't watch T.V."

            "What's so special about tweed?" Reid thought his Harris Tweed jacket looked silly on him because his Mohawk was still growing in. Besides, tweed was something his grandfather wore, but he was 85 years old. And it looked good on him - very distinguished with his trim white moustache. But Taylor wasn't even twenty so why the hell was he wearing a tweed jacket, especially with Birkenstocks and wool socks?

            "What's so special about tweed? It's the original. One should wear a tweed jacket with pride."

            "Why?"

            "Because it symbolizes the lost art of thinking." He put on his tweed jacket deliberately, like it was a trophy. The grey-blue colour of Taylor's herringbone tweed brought out the grey glimmer in his eyes. "And because it's pure form and function. They look sharp and they're warm. Tweed symbolizes the cultivation of the barbarian within."

            "Barbarian yes." Taylor looked victorious in the exchange so he handed him a letter.

            "My brother's finally arrived in Bangkok," he said, "after going travelling through China."

            "I thought China was closed to outsiders?"

            "It was until recently." Taylor pointed at the letter. "Go ahead, read this part." He took it from him and read the specified pages.

 

Yesterday I found myself held at knifepoint in a locked room in the ancient capital of China - a place called Xian. It all started when I accepted an invitation last night to stay with a Chinese couple overnight because I arrived after ten o'clock and all the hostels were closed. Everything here closes after nine. I looked forward to a good solid sleep in this one-room hut but that wasn't what happened. I went to asleep at 1:00am after the couple left me for another hut, but was awakened at around 2:30. Both the girl, Alleen, and her boyfriend slipped into the same bed with me. No problem because it was a huge bed and I was half asleep anyway. I actually had a feeling this might happen because they were peasant poor and this was their home. Fine, back to sleep in this room that was only about 20 by 20 feet with no windows with a low ceiling (at least for me). It was around 5:30ish that I was awakened by a wandering hand. This hand was very eager. Alleen had been friendly with me all night but I didn't think that she would make a move on me with her boyfriend right beside her. She was beside me and he was against the wall with his head at my feet. I wanted to sleep but she was persistent with her come-ons. Next thing I knew she took off her shirt and put my hand on her boobs - with her boyfriend right there! I told her no but she persisted. That's when her boyfriend woke up. He, to say the least, was upset!

 

He became violent. He hit her first then he punched my leg. He only hit me once but hit Alleen a half dozens times yelling in Chinese. Christ he was mad. I couldn't say anything in Chinese to deflate his temper. He got up, still cursing like a fiend, and went over to the corner to pick up a meat cleaver. Then he locked the door. Realizing the situation was not good, I got up and gestured that it was Alleen and not me who was at fault, and that I wanted to leave. He didn't like the idea. With the meat cleaver in his hand, his face was ghostly white. He actually stumbled because he was so wound up. She was silent. I thought he was going to hit one of us with the knife - her at first - then me. I became panicky when I remembered what I had learned in my psych 100 class about how a man who's white in the face is more dangerous than a man who's red in the face. He grabbed my hand and then, with the knife in his other hand, he threatened to chop off my fingers. Alarmed is too weak a word to describe how I felt at that moment. To think I was about to lose my fingers just because his sexually frustrated girlfriend had taken off her shirt and wanted to use me. The guy was so incredibly angry that it was futile to argue, especially since I hardly knew any Mandarin. So I decided to withdraw from a senseless challenge. If he wanted me in his bedroom, fine. I kneeled down and began reciting the Lord's Prayer out loud. I just didn't think he would chop me up when I had my back to him in front of Alleen. It worked. He was silent for a few seconds and then directed his anger at his girlfriend who was still on the bed. I stayed there like that, glancing at him now and then waiting until the red pallor came back to his face.

 

But it wasn't over yet. After a few minutes, he began yelling at me again, motioning to me that it was me who had fooled around with his girlfriend. He started demanding that I give him money. First he asked for 30 Yuan. I tried to explain that I didn't want this whole thing to happen, but then realized 30 Yuan was about seven dollars, and a fair price for lodging for a night. I gave him a 10 Yuan note but he ripped it up into little pieces and started demanding 300 Yuan, which was too much. He went a little crazy again but I knew that he wasn't as mad as before because of the colour in his face. That's when I put my hand on his shoulder and the tension seemed to dissipate. I gave him two more 10 Yuan notes instead of the three one-hundred Yuan notes he wanted. He acted insulted but I knew 30 Yuan was equivalent to two weeks pay in China. I said I was sorry that he had to rip up one of the notes, and then I walked to the door where I stood with resolute posture and single-minded determination until he came over and unlocked the door. I stepped out and never looked back...

 

It was strange when he put down the letter and looked around the room because he felt like he had been transported to China and was being held against his will with a meat cleaver waving in front of his face. When he heard the phoney laughter on the television it made him cringe. Taylor had a point God damn it. He did watch too much television.

            "Wow," was all he could muster.

            "He almost lost his hand. And she made a move on him! There's justice for ya." Taylor slouched in his chair and Reid leaned back on the threadbare couch with an image of an ivory-white-pallored Chinaman in his mind's eye. He could even feel the claustrophobia of being locked in a small room with no windows.

            "I can't believe he prayed." He handed back the letter.

            "See, that's living. That is what living life is. That's non-fiction baby! Not watching it on some electronic window. Going out there and doing it. That's life. That's what it's all about. Forget TV man. It'll suck your life away as quick as any drug."

            "Christ Taylor, you're so dramatic all the time."

            "My brother used to be like you - a television junkie."

            "I'm not a television junkie."

            "Now he's backpacking all over the globe. Wherever he goes there are backpackers like him with a common thirst for adventure." Accounting. I have to do my bloody accounting assignment, he thought to himself in an inner rush of restlessness. He regressed in inner strength to a level of feebleness that only he could feel but that he senses all could see.

            "Television junkie, ha!" he said, turning the television off with a flourish.

            "But films are art," he said grabbing Reid's arm. "And if you're in then check out the film tonight at the Princess Court." He didn't let go of Reid.

            "What film?"

            "It's a 1946 film called The Razor's Edge, with Tyrone Power. Trust me, you'll like it."

            "I don't know. Let me think about it. I have a heck of a lot of work to do."

            "I'm leaving the house at 9:10 sharp."

 

Chapter Seven 

Range of Multiplicity

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            After leaving his place Reid sat in Wallace study hall in front of the cathedral windows and close to old portraits of past university presidents above the old stone fireplace. The air still warm as the sun ebbed in and out of the clouds producing momentary magnification of divine light. A cathedral of knowledge. Above the fireplace was an inscription of the university motto in old weathered brass letters and in an old English font:

 

WISDOM AND KNOWLEDGE SHALL BE THE STABILITY OF THY TIMES

 

He had resolved to work hard on his accounting assignment, expecting the high Tudor ceiling would give him the mental space he craved to become motivated. Instead a student who kept on sniffling distracted him. He endured the sniffling with waning patience until finally he left his seat, walked to the men's room and returned with some tissue paper. He handed it to the student with the puffy eyes and runny nose without a word.

            Sitting back down at his seat after an unproductive hour of creaks and sniffles, he reached into his knapsack and pulled out The Basic Writings of Friedrich Nietzsche. Reid had just purchased it from the bookstore despite the fact it wasn't required reading for his class. The orange and rose hue of the sun sank lower down the length of the stained-glass windows He slouched in his chair and randomly flipped through the pages. Aphorisms, essays, and exclamation marks covered more than five collected books in over 800 pages. An hour flew by in an instant. The way he wrote was different; the words spoke to him as no other words ever had. He wrote about the soul as a subjective multiplicity, the higher self and the spiritually noble. Then he came to Part Seven in Beyond Good and Evil.  It read:

 

Facing a world of `modern ideas' that would banish everybody into a corner and specialty, a philosopher - if today there could be philosophers - would be compelled to find greatness of man, the concept of `greatness,' precisely in his range and multiplicity, in his wholeness in manifoldness.[i]

 

            He sat back and looked up at the portraits above the old fireplace. A student who sat in front of the fireplace looked at Reid with a curious chill in her eyes, then he realized that she thought he was staring at her. He began reading again, and for some time sat motionless, absorbed by the words until he came across another passage. It read:

 

The problem of those who are waiting - It requires strokes of luck and much that is incalculable if a higher man in whom the solution of a problem lies dormant is to get around to action in time - to "eruption," one might say. In the average case it does not happen, and in nooks all over the earth sit men who are waiting, scarcely knowing in what way they are waiting, much less that they are waiting in vain. Occasionally the call that awakens - that accident which gives the "permission" to act - comes too late, when the best youth and strength for action has already been used up by sitting still; and many have found to their horror when they "leaped up" that their limbs had gone to sleep and their spirit had become too heavy. "It is too late," they said to themselves, having lost their faith in themselves and henceforth forever useless.[ii]

 

            Reid could feel beads of sweat on his forehead and a dampening of his shirt from the perspiration when he heard the thunder from the heavens. He looked out the stained-glass windows at the lightning lighting up the colours of the windows. His heart pounded in the eerie silence in the room despite the voices within his head. Rubbing the back of his neck and breathing the stillness of the study hall, he packed up his books and left for the lightning.

            Outside, Reid walked under a rainless sky ignited by clusters of lightning that transformed the grey sky into instants of ice-sharp streaks encompassing the canopy of the late afternoon sky. He was still struck by Nietzsche's words as if causing shards of frightening voltage within the skies of his mind. Reid walked to the bank of Lake Ontario and witnessed the hundreds of crooked-finger bolts that dominated the ethers, and wondered at the secret powers that lay outside his narrow scope. The dry skies rained with lightning, rumbled with discontent and erupted an awakening within him.

            Preferring eruption to dormancy, Reid was impelled to move, chase the streaks of light coming from the heavens, to feel alive rather than let his limbs fall asleep. Sometimes it felt good to keep moving. It didn't really matter where he ended up on his bike just as long as he wasn't immobile and waiting. Reid couldn't continue just sitting so he went back to his house, packed a few books and rode his mountain bike out of the ghetto towards Fort Henry across the causeway.

            He felt the urgency of time pressing against him as if his time would be snapped from him, as if he his awakening would never come and he would find himself old and infirm without ever going forth. It might have been impatience or it might have been the simple act of motion, a joy in itself and a symbol and manifestation of becoming. Images of Taylor's brother danced in his mind in far-off China facing danger in the eye, his own life pale in comparison, hurdled and oppressed by unimportant accounting assignments and numbers and profits he didn't care for. It might have been desperation that he was letting opportunities slip through his fingers without knowing doors were there to open, a nagging itch of ignorance that gnawed at that which would give him peace.

            Perhaps it was an intuition that he had chosen the wrong path, and that he was wasting time in his most crucial time of his young life, the branching off to a larger destiny that he might not reach due to poor navigation and lack of vision. Even more was the self-accusations of lack of courage for following a path mocked and determined unprofitable by the forces in his life such as his father. Being nineteen and not having a sense of where you want to go if unsettling and detrimental. He knew he had to push forth and explore in an attempt to find that which inspired him and gave his life meaning. He didn't want to be a nurse or lawyer or mechanic. If he were to be forced to choose he would want to be a philosopher, a great career path full of riches but none monetary. Not knowing his future jabbed at his self-esteem and riddled his confidence with bullet holes shot by his own hand. So strong in desire yet do fragile in direction he was a sitting duck for any strong-handed blow. His belief system was crashing around him leaving his vision obscured by dust and debris, the destruction leaving him rudderless and vulnerable at a time when he wanted firmness and a clear goal.

            But he knew that he wanted to live his life like a work of art.

            Despite the chill in the late-October air he cycled past limestone cottages and colonial carriageways towards the sound of church bells ringing downtown, past kids playing ball hockey in a school playground with knapsacks packed in case the thunder and lightning break and the sky begins to cry. His legs worked like pistons running away from the doubt and timidity that crippled his military resolve, and running towards a goal unseen and unknown to him yet sensed and lured by it. The very act of moving is healthier than sitting and stewing, a release of the nuggets of wisdom and pieces of insight that propel a man forward to greatness. If he did not move he would implode.

            Soon he reached the river by the armed forces barracks and crossed the bridge over the Ganaoque, passing an old World War Two fighter plane at the front arches of Royal Military College. On the road leading up to Fort Henry, he switched into first gear and was out of breath when he reached the top. The hill was steep and was part of the defences of the fort. Dismounting at the old doors Reid walked into the inner quadrangle of the fort, off-season barren but doors left open. Walking over to the protecting wall in front of a deep moat, he could see the kingdom of Kingston with its church spires tickling the sky, its green copper-domed city hall, and waters that murmured with unrecorded adventures of les voyageurs under the lightning skies. Black canons perched on the parapets whistled with the spirits of past soldiers who fought in the numerous battles defending this strategic stronghold of the St. Lawrence River during the early years of Upper Canada and the Dominion of Canada.

            Reid refused to live as a noun, thirsted for greatness through action and was beginning to harness the artistic in the fabric of the everyday. He wanted to celebrate his youth and strength and his newly discovered talents but restrictions and pressures from his parents and expectations handcuffed him. He was haunted by opportunities he could not see and feared the ramifications of not knowing.

            Back on his mountain bike to warm up he discovered a trail that took him across a small footbridge into a birch forest around the east side of the fort, cycling along the unknown path with smooth horizontal karma taking sharp turns under branches and skidding over tree roots. The distant sound of bagpipes filled the air from the nearby army barracks as moved in solitude and bliss over the rocks and creeks of the tree-covered trail. The bagpipes had a calming effect on him so he stopped on the trail right in the middle of the woods, sat down on a fallen tree and pulled out his books. Thunder and thickening clouds brought darkness swiftly but he searched for more inspiration from the greats. Everything pointed him towards movement that fed his restless spirit. Orwell told him: We know that the imagination, like certain wild animals, will not breed in captivity, and Thoreau went into the woods to live deliberately so when he came to die he would know he had lived and had not lived a life of quiet desperation. In his own quiet desperation Reid was screaming his barbaric YAWP to the rooftops of the world, hungry to contribute his verse to the Powerful Play that goes on. He agreed with Nietzsche's spiritual brother Dostoyevsky: Whoever is bold and dares has right on his side, and saw the truth of Isben's words: There is always a risk in being alive, and if you are more alive, there is more risk, which nudged him further along a road he knew he was destined for yet could not find. But it was Samuel Johnson who paved the path for horizons unseen when he wrote: Man's mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions. He was being stretched and taken farther away from his old life of profits and accounting and financial offices. If Nietzsche believed: Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion, then he had to engage in the Great Scrum and learn for himself the nature of the scrum, its smells, its touch and all of those aspects that remained illusive to him. Samuel Johnson pushed him a little closer to the edge when he came across another tidbit: The use of travelling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.

            Reid sought his calling but had not yet found it. He was beset by provocations to move forward but how much farther could he go past the fort?

            His eyes like magnets looking for iron in the form of wisdom, found a passage in Thoreau's Walden.

Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so preoccupied with the factitious cares and superfluous by coarse labors of life that its finer fruit cannot be plucked by them... Actually, the laboring man has not leisure for a true integrity day-by-day; he cannot afford to sustain the manifest relations to men; his labor would be depreciated in the market. He has no time to be anything but a machine.[1]

 

Like his father who didn't have time for anything but work, there was a profound opportunity cost choosing an tiresome and uninteresting occupation. He didn't want to become a machine. He wanted time to ponder, to mull, to do and to explore, but he didn't know where and what.

            But even Lord Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage struck a chord within his restless spirit, speaking frankly to his turbulent soul and assuring him he wasn't alone:
           
  But soon he knew himself the unfit
            Of men to herd with Man, with whom he held
            Little in common; untaught to submit
            His thoughts to others, through his soul was quelled
            In youth by his own thoughts; still uncompelled,
            He would not yield dominion of his mind
            To spirits against whom his own rebelled,
            Proud though in desolation; which could find
A life within itself, to breathe without mankind.
 
            Where rose the mountains, there to him were friends;
            Where rolled the ocean, thereon was his home;
            Where blue sky, and growing clime, extends,
            He had the passion and the power to roam;
            The desert forest, cavern, breaker's foam,
            Were into him companionship; they spake
            A mutual language, clearer than the tome
            Of his lands tongue, which he would oft forsake
For Nature's pages glassed by sunbeams on the lake.

 

            Reid's shirt was wet from biking so the cold of night forced him to stop reading. With the sun setting and the lightning still striking on the horizon he was impatient; he wanted to move - to act - and not let the call that awakens pass him by. So with freezing hands he gripped the handlebars, and his tires spun over the slippery slope of the trail, rejuvenating his rubbery legs into fresh pistons in the inky air. When he felt the purity of a poetic flow as he weaved between the trees, he felt an inkling of optimism cycling back through the military barracks to campus. When he arrived home Taylor was just heading out to the theatre. Reid joined him.

 


[1] P.1637, W



[i]. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism #212, 1883.

[ii]. Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, Aphorism #274, 1883.


 
  

Table of Contents

1.     The Student Ghetto
2.     The Living Tree Principle 
3.     Overcoming Neophobia 
4.     Socrates' Big Swinging Ice Pick 
5.     Life As An Adjective 
6.     The Timestealer 
7.     Range of Multiplicity 
8.     The Banks 
9.     The Means is the End 
10.  The White Haired Doctor 
11.  Mortally Wounded 
12.  Visigoth Code of Ethics 
13.  Cognitive Dissonance 
14.  The Chinese Laundry Café 
15.  Catching a Crab 
16.  Sheer Recklessness 
17.  Shattered Glass 
18.  In His Father's Voice 
19.  The Dreamstealer 
20.  The Vine of Resentment 
21.  The Golden Mean 
22.  The Altered Eye Alters All 
23.  Missing the Middle Part 
24.  Anima 
25.  Taylor Not Afraid 
26.  Beyond the Monoperspectival Norm 
27.  The Grip 
28.  Visigoths in Tweed 
29.  The Unseen Hand 
30.  Dislocation 
31.  Pouring Heavens of Valhalla
32.  So Then...       
 
 

 
A Canandian classic fits this part
 
of Visigoths in Tweed,
 
 Gordon Lightfoot's
 
"If I Could Read Your Mind"
 
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