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Chapter Twenty-six 


 

Beyond the Monoperspectival Norm

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            He felt lousy after seeing Drake in the hospital. The idea of him being back at school in January was troubling because of his strange lack of coordination. He could imagine some bastards at school cutting him down behind his back. Some guys are like that: they'd cut him down until there was nothing left of the guy. He could try to protect him but he couldn't be there all the time. Life isn't perfect but all the more reason for asking why there was such a damn rush to bring him back here. Throw him into classes and he'll find it tough because he will have missed the second half of first term. Happy as hell Taylor had had the balls to say exactly what they were both thinking.

            Back at the house they grabbed their things and were off by eleven. Reid nipped up to Drake's room to borrow his tweed jacket because he thought he'd need something decent to wear in the New York pubs. But he also knew Taylor would get a kick out of him wearing tweed. Reid didn't bother calling his mother to tell her he would be in Toronto to drop off Drake's car in a few days. He just wanted to take off and be done with it, so they sped past students on their way to classes, their bags full of books and minds full of stress. Before hitting the highway he and Taylor purchased large coffees and a bag of day-old doughnuts for the road. With music playing from the radio and sunglasses on, they hit the road with that feeling of infinite possibility. The air was cool outside but the sun was hot through the windshield. With hardly any traffic midday on a Friday, he sipped coffee while Taylor did all the talking.

            "You know McFetty, Swampa is really cool." Taylor had been spending more time with her and had, as a result, been seeing more films at the student-run theatre he always went to.

            "I agree."

            "I mean she was really confident with herself, even in her sexual gig. I like that. She's someone I can talk to. I don't think I ever had that back in high school. She's open-minded and listens to everything I have to say. I know sometimes I talk a bit too much and say some pretty out there things, but she doesn't seem to mind. She doesn't judge. So there's some freedom there, which I think I need right now. I don't think she's politically correct either. I like that too." That was the big thing on campus these days: political correctness. Reid didn't really care one way or the other, but Taylor had a beef with it.

            "It's good she doesn't judge," he said to encourage him.

            "Last night she was telling me last night about her version of a George Orwell passage from Nineteen Eighty-Four, when he writes:

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

 

            "Swampa said that she thought it should be:

WAR IS FREEDOM
STRENGTH IS PEACE
IGNORANCE IS SLAVERY

 

    "I've been pondering it and I think she's onto something." Reid experienced the familiar pang of fear because this was another shortcut he had taken during high school. He had elected to read only the study notes of Nineteen Eighty-Four instead of actually reading the book, which made him doubt his true worth. In the court of his mind, there was more evidence for the prosecution. He was slowly realizing that his foundations were built on sand, which ate at the core of who he was.

            "Sounds right," he said, not venturing further.

            "I've decided that I'm not politically correct; I'm personally correct," Taylor said. "Or should I say personally true, that is, true to myself. I'm not going to adhere to what is considered objectively correct by the majority. I'm looking beyond the dominant monoperspectival norm."

            "Monoperspectival? There's a word you don't hear everyday."

            "If you really think about it the concept of political correctness is conformism of the worst kind: it's intellectual conformism. I'm telling you, it's really just Big Brother incognito." They passed a patch of pine trees that had been planted in long straight rows. "Keeps the thoughts of the masses in line. I'd say a cultivated intellect is a strong weapon against the powers that be. It's done so stronger individual's don't assert and develop their own beliefs which could potentially cause a threat to the power structure. What did Eric Blair say? Some are more equal than others." Reid didn't want to ask who Eric Blair was, but it was Taylor.

            "Who is Eric Blair?"

            "That's George Orwell's real name."

            "Listen, you want to take the Heritage Highway to Cornwall? It's more scenic and we're making good time." He thought Taylor would prefer the scenic route.

            "Sure, good idea." They took the turn off and after ten minutes saw a fort by the water as they approached Prescott.

            "Cool, check out that fort."

            "Now that's an old fort," said Reid. Built on a mound of earth at the base of a shallow peninsula, it was a modest compound with only one wooden blockhouse surrounded by a fortified fence of sharpened logs with pointed ends. Halfway up the mound were more log spikes jutting out of the earth at an angle designed to stop troops attacking the fort.

            "Let's pull over and check it out," suggested Taylor. Reid pulled off the highway and parked beside the fort. They got out of the car, walked up to the front gate, and read the historical plaque by it's entrance.

FORT WELLINGTON

The first Fort Wellington was erected on this site during the War of 1812 to shelter British regular troops and Canadian militia defending the vital St. Lawrence River transportation route. In February 1813 these soldiers crossed the ice to capture Odgensburg N.Y. When rebellion threatened Upper Canada in 1838 the fort was in ruins. Construction had scarcely begun on the present fort in November 1838 when a band of Canadian rebels and American sympathizers attacked; they were defeated nearby at the Battle of the Windmill by troops assembled at the fort.

 

    Reid looked across the river at America and stroked his chin in thought. Looking downstream he could sense whispers of history hidden in the waters of the St. Lawrence River.

            "You know my great-grandfather was a colonel in the British army," he said. "I remember my grandfather telling me how he fought in the Boer War with Churchill." That was when he remembered to bring up the possibility of visiting his grandfather in Montreal.

            "Cool. Awful war they say. Those Boers were a harsh foe."

            "Taylor, my grandfather lives in Montreal and I was thinking we could stop by to visit. The reason is that he's in the middle of a hip operation, and knowing him he'd appreciate a surprise visit."

            "Hell, I don't mind. Give him a call. Have his number?" So unselfish.

            "Yeah. Actually I do."

            "Alright, call him." There happened to be a public telephone beside the historical plaque at the information window, so he took out my little book of numbers and called his grandmother.

            "Reid? Is that you?"

            "Yes Gramma, it's me."

            "Ah-" there was a brief pause. "It's so good to hear your voice."

            "How are you?"

            "I'm fine, dear; just fine. Grampa is at St. Luke's for his surgery you know, he's finding it tough."

            "That's why I'm calling. I'm on my way to Montreal and I'd love to see you and Grampa if I can."

            "Oh! Your grandfather will be so happy. I'm on my way over to see Grampa in about two hours."

            "We'll be in Montreal in two hours Gramma." He looked over at Taylor at the station wagon amazed at the co-incidence.

            "Will you meet me here dear?"

            "Why don't I meet you at St. Luke's just in case we run late? My friend from university and I are driving to New York so we'll be able to have a visit but won't be staying overnight. I remember where St. Luke's is Gramma so I can meet you there."

            "That's fine dear." Back in the car they hit the road again driving beside the St. Lawrence River.

            "Did you know Beluga Whales are found in the St. Lawrence?"

            "No," said Taylor.

            "Yeah, and the whales that are found dead in the St. Lawrence because of the pollution are treated as toxic waste because of the level of toxins in their system."

            "That's sick. Pollution is way out of control. How could our parents let this happen?" Taylor shook his head as they sped by the riverbanks of the mighty waterway to the Atlantic Ocean. "We live in the polluted hangover of the Industrial Revolution, the distant smoke of World War Two and are now are chilled by the suspicions of the Cold War."

            "Wonder if it'll ever stop."

            "My brother sent me another letter this week," he continued. "He loves Thailand. He said he's braving the sun since we now have a hole in the ozone layer that causes skin cancer. These days being a beach bum isn't safe any more. And that's what I always wanted to be, to be honest. I'll tell ya, it ticks me off royally."

            "That's a gip." Reid leaned against the driver door, sat back and put on the heater. "The death of the beach bum."

            "Seriously. Our generation, those of us who were born in or close to the Summer of Love in '67, is inheriting an entirely new piece. There is so much change from technology and the sharing of information that we're in some sort of in-between stage in history. We have to deal with affirmative action and a divorce rate that's at forty percent. Television has brought history and science and even live wars into our living rooms, like an electronic window that looks out to affairs of the world so that now we have an information overload. We've grown up with this constant onslaught of information which is resulting in some sort of decision paralysis."

            "Yeah, I know what you mean." Decision paralysis.

            "We're crossing from the fifties to the 21st-century is one great leap, from one set of values to another. Nihilism is a dangerous thing."

            "That's a word I'm hearing a lot these days. What does it mean exactly?"

            "It's when you make the transition from old beliefs to new beliefs, for a society or an individual. The leap off the fence of deference to the side of belief is a struggle. That movement between niches can be deadly." Taylor looked solemn and serious.

            "I always wondered what nihilism meant." His usual scepticism of Taylor's dubious opinions vanished when he saw the meaning in his words: his grammatical metamorphosis. He knew instinctually that was what he was going through.

            "Nihilism is prepositional: from the stream to the banks."

            "Without crossing the terrain of nihilism there is no creative evolution, only a stagnation in growthless time."

            "Heavy, but I can see that."

            "Being a Renaissance Man these days is so rare because things have become so specialized, or should I say hyper-specialized. I refuse to categorize myself into some well-defined label in a system that is way out of whack. No thanks."

            "The division of labour syndrome."

            "Exactly. I'm not going to narrow myself into a specialization just when I'm hitting my prime." Bitching like this felt healthy.

            "I recently read that modern North Americans work longer hours than serfs did in the Middle Ages," said Reid.

            "Slave labour," he replied shaking his head. Nearing Montreal they drove over a small rodent already splattered on the tire marked pavement. Its guts left a trail in the traffic's wake. Taylor let out a laugh.

            "I'll let you in on a secret McFetty."

            "What's that Taylor?"

            "For those of us who wear tweed, the rat race is finished: both rats made lots of money but one of the rats lost his family and the other rat died of a stroke." Hearing all this from someone else reassured Reid that he wasn't insane in a world gone mad.

            "You know Nietzsche's famous line God is Dead?"

            "I have," said Taylor.

            "Well you know how God died?"

            "I do not."

            "God laughed to death."

            "Laughing at us?"

            "Yep."

            "I can see that. I mean aren't we really just sophisticated algae on a spinning rock among billions stars in one of one billions known galaxies and we take such pains to think of our extreme importance." The sun was like a tangerine suspended in the dirty white haze over them, with its outline as fine as a razor.

  

Chapter Twenty-seven 

The Grip

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            They drove along the highway through light traffic, crossing onto the island of Montreal, which cured an onslaught of memories. It brought him back to this time when during a family visit he had brought his new baseball mitt. He asked his father to play catch but his father was too busy inside the house. When my grandfather heard him Reid remembered him scolding his father for saying no. It was strange to see anyone telling off my dad. So his grandfather, who must have been about 75 years old, agreed to play catch. His old baseball mitt was one of those Joe DiMaggio jobs with huge fingers and the pocket that was right on the palm of your hand. He called it his Charlie Brown glove. He was halfway through his baseball season so he could throw the ball with accuracy. When they started to play catch he was throwing it pretty soft to old Grampa because he was afraid he'd hurt his hand or break a finger or something, but he said he should learn to throw the ball harder, so Reid started to really chuck it. He kept catching it easily in his Charlie Brown glove with the big fingers and encouraged him to really throw it. After a few more chucks, Reid threw the ball as hard as he could. He remembered him catching it as if he was lobbing the ball. He couldn't believe that his throws weren't hurting his hand. Then his grandfather asked him to pitch with the whole wind up and everything, so he started chucking fastballs all over the place. Even if he missed the mark the old guy was able to catch them with his long arm. Knowing he could throw as hard as he could and they would be caught, Reid soon found his groove throwing at maximum velocity. Every time it was a good ball he yelled: "strike!" It seemed like he could do everything, my grandfather. Reid was so tired after a while he had to tell him he needed to stop because his arm felt like a wet noodle. When they finally stopped he put his arm around my shoulders and said: ‘well done lad.' Coming from him, it meant everything to him. Life seemed perfect that afternoon on the front lawn. It was one of those times that stick with you your whole life.

            They drove through Point Claire and the old homes by the water past some restaurants and cafes that lined the boardwalk. Past the old seventeenth-century Catholic seminary on Mount Royal and then Redpath Library and the weathered turrets of McGill University, they watched students in duffle coats stroll between university buildings and the ivy-covered fraternities.

            "The frats" said Taylor. "There's Sigma Chi, and that ones Delta Kappa Epsilon."

            "There's my Dad's fraternity right there: Delta Upsilon." He looked at the doorway and somehow felt the presence of his father. To him the fraternity looked desolate and void of life.

            Taylor glanced at his watch. "We're making good time."

            "Yeah. We're in no rush."

            "You know my grandfather is really cool."

            "Oh yeah?"

            "He cycled all through Europe when he was my age. Apparently he took off to Paris after World War One when he was sixteen, played tennis, toured on his bike and went to the Sorbonne."

            "Your grandfather went to the Sorbonne?"

            "Yeah. He loved the French language."

            "He just missed the Great War?"

            "I think so, but all his older brothers fought in the war. I think he was born in 1906. He was the youngest of six sons in a family of eight."

            Around the corner and down the road was St. Luke's Hospital where they pulled in to the parking lot. Inside they asked for his room.

            "Room 707," said the nurse with a strong French accent. "It's on the seventh floor on the left, in orthopaedics." They stepped off the elevator on the seventh floor and went past the nurse's station to room 707. From just inside the doorway, Reid saw my grandfather lying in bed without being noticed. Taylor had enough sense to hang back for a minute. His grandmother was there standing beside him. She looked the same but his grandfather looked pale and his hair was now pure white. Seeing his trimmed white moustache and his hair combed back with Brylcreem made me feel like he was home. That's when he stepped to the foot of his bed.

            "Oh! Reid!" said his grandmother when she saw him, but he kept his eyes on his grandfather lying in bed.

            "Hi Grampa," he said. It was strange because for a moment he didn't recognize him. He had shown up completely unannounced so no wonder it took him a second.

            "Reid!" His bright blue eyes squinted into a laugh. He said his name so loud that a nurse entered the room. "See Blondie? Here's my grandson. And you thought I was just feeding you a line."

            "So this is your grandson Mr. McFetridge? He looks like you, but he's more handsome." He watched his grandfather's eyes well up. Reid walked to his side and held his clutching hand in a grip of a handshake. Tears began to roll down his cheeks.

            "You certainly have grown son, hasn't he Ma?" He looked at Reid's grandmother, who had her hand over her mouth.

            "He is always talking about you," said Blondie. "Your grandfather is like a broken record." She slapped his leg in a friendly way.

            "You're taller than your old man now aren't you?" He pretended his eyes weren't wet and kept on smiling, amazed at seeing Reid.

            "Yeah, I think I am."

            "Yes, I can see it. Over six feet. Maybe six-foot two?" Reid held his grip around his grandfather's hand shaking it and about to release it. "My grandson Reid Edward. Name after me." He looked at his wife of more than fifty years.  "Did you arrange this Ma?"

            "No dear," she said with her face fully wrinkled with a smile. They both laughed which was contagious enough to make everyone laugh. Taylor stood in the doorway looking at the wet cheeks and McFetridge features of Reid's grandfather. The blond nurse stood in awe at the transformed patient.

            "Amazing," she said to herself shaking her head, and then nodded at Reid's grandmother.

            "Grampa" he said squeezing his hand a little more.

            "It's the hip that's bad, not the grip!" Laughing aloud, Reid's grandfather increased the strength of his grip.

            "You'll be out of here in no time Grampa." He unashamedly squeezed Reid's hand and let out a cry.

            "Oh God."

            "There's just one more Mr. McFetridge," said the blond nurse.

            "You've already had one?"

            "Ah..." He let out a deep breath and shook his head. "They buggered it up son." The strength of his grip weakened.

            "There was an infection," said the nurse. "This one will only be a simple operation." Suddenly he began shaking Reid's hand in a gentlemanly hold.

            "It's good to see you old boy, eh, Reid. Have you ever grown." The tears had left salty paths down to his chin and the icy strength returned.

            "I love you Grampa." It was as if his tears hit his eyes so suddenly that his face still held the same look, almost as if he were unaware of the waves swelling in his eyes.

            "Ah, I'll tell you...ha!" He stopped shaking Reid's hand and just held it. "I'm proud of you Reid, we're very proud of you son."

            "Thanks Grampa." Reid went to release his grip but was again held by his grandfather's big hand. For a moment Reid didn't have a grip but then grasped his hand with a renewed strength. His grandfather's hand felt twice as big as his own.

            "Look at you two" said the blond nurse.

            "That's my boy Blondie, the youngest of the McFetridge clan." With a nod he released Reid's hand. Calmly, he took out his handkerchief from somewhere and blew his nose.

            "This is a friend of mine from Queen's," he said, pointing at Taylor at the door. "Taylor Goth, one of my housemates." He waved at my grandfather.

            "Hello Taylor."

            "Hi Mr. McFetridge. Nice to meet you."

            "Ah, the damn hip you know." He sat up more and got some of his old swagger back.

            "Hello Taylor," said Gramma McFetridge turning to him. "I feel like he's family. Come here dear; let me give you a hug. All of this is so emotional." Taylor awkwardly bent down and let Reid's grandmother embrace him.

            "Why do you let this character call you Blondie?" said Reid, looking at the nurse and pointing at his grandfather. She smiled and watched the patient let out the distinctive McFetridge laugh that shot to ends of the corridor, which caused strands of white hair to fall to either side of his head. The weak muscles in his neck were fully exposed through the light blue hospital gown he wore.

            Taylor stepped to his bedside and was greeted with the disproportionately large hands of Grampa McFetridge. Taylor turned his arm with body English to sway the strength of his hand.

            "That's a fine grip Mr. McFetridge."  Taylor's eyes gleamed.

            "You're a strong young lad aren't you Mr. Goth?"

            "Sure." The confidence of Reid's grandfather contrasted against Taylor's bashfulness.

            "Yes, I can see it." Reid looked at the diagonal contours ingrained in his forehead, a mark of distinction that bore a common brotherhood.

            "I'm happy you came you boys. What, you must be here to chase the French girls then eh?" He gave Reid a wink.

            "Actually, it looks like you've done that yourself Grampa!"

            "Did you hear that Blondie?" They laughed again except this time Reid looked into his grandfather's eyes and didn't look away. It was strange: his grandfather's character coming out in him. For the first time he was seeing Reid as a man.

            "Oh Mr. McFetridge, what it would be like if you were fifty years younger, and single!" She grabbed his forearm as their laughter filled the room with the same unique cadence.

            "If I could only turn back time, eh old boy?" Blondie took her cue and left. That's when Grampa leaned closer to Reid. "Remember what I always told you Reid: don't let anyone ever tell you life is short because it's not. It's long."

            "Yes, I remember Grampa." He was proud as he looked at Reid standing beside him.

            "And don't forget son: time is the most expensive thing a man can spend."

  

  

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...       
 
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