Wordcarpenter Books

Chapter Fourteen 


The Chinese Laundry Café


    Sitting at the Chinese Laundry Cafe after class, Michelle leaned forward with both hands wrapped around her coffee cup, her sheepskin duffle coat draped over the back of her chair.

            "I wanted to ask a question but I couldn't," she confessed.

            "What was the question?"

            "It was something like: Is choosing ones niche like magnifying ones muse?"

    "Hmm, good question."

            "If so, then maybe ones chosen path should be that which inspires your muse to magnify ones inner music." She spoke with her usual Vancouver twang.

            "Muse, music; I've never thought of that connection before." Reid looked at the reflection from three mirrors hanging on the yellow and turquoise wall and caught the profile of her angular nose. Pretending to be in thought, he looked for his own profile but instead saw a black dragon painted above him.

    "You know, I'm always so amazed at Bakhurst's mind," she said. "The man has some sort of photographic memory the way he can quote a philosopher on a whim, like that Kierkegaard quote he said today." 

    "I wrote it down." Reid pulled out his notebook.

            "I wish I could remember it."

    "Here it is."  Reid's foot began thumping to the beat of the music. "There are many people who reach their conclusions about life like schoolboys: they cheat their master by copying the answer out of a book without having worked out the sum for themselves."

    "I like that one."

            "Yeah, it's cool."

            "Bakhurst is a classic." Michelle liked to use the word classic as an expression in the same way as Englishmen would be tempted to say brilliant. It had become a staple in her diet of words.

            "I have a feeling that Kierkegaard quote was directed towards me for some reason."

            "Why?"  She smiled.

            "Well because he doesn't want me to get by without doing all the readings."

            "Funny, I thought the same thing."

    Reid looked out the window and said: "Don't you feel like you need more time to work out the sum; that there just aren't enough hours in a day to read it all."

    "Or do it all. The larger the equation, the larger the sum." Sue's eyes were timeless green and steady.

            "These days one has to be an übermensch to get their sums worked out in time." Michelle leaned forward again to speak.

    "Übermensch, excuse me?" Eyelashes catching the light.

            "Über meaning over and mensch meaning man, though it's not gender specific. Mensch is actually more like the English word human than man."

            " Über, I've heard that before."

    "Overman is the exact translation. It's been translated as superman but that's not quite accurate. It's more like beyond man, or a man that thrives on overcoming."

            "Overman has - to me - a much different connotation that superman." He nodded.

            "Nice one. I agree." He nodded. "Zarathustra is Nietzsche's übermensch. He exercises his will to power to overcome and become who he is. In a nutshell that's the overman." When he looked at her he realized that he genuinely liked talking with her about ideas, and this broke down his fear. "Do you have your Funk & Wagnall's on you?" This was fun.

            "I do."

            "Why don't you pull that puppy out and flip to W."


            "Yeah." Grinning, she pulled it out. "The word is will."

            "Will, okay." A moment of flipping pages and she spoke: "Here we are then, will." Michelle cocked her head slightly to mimic Bakhurst and read:

will: (wil) n. 1. The power of conscious, deliberate action; the faculty by which the rational mind makes choice of its ends of action, and directs the energies in carrying out its determinations; in popular usage, choice, purpose, or directive effort.  2. The act or experience of exercising this faculty; a volition or a choice.  3. Strong determination; practical enthusiasm; energy of character: He works with a will; also, self control.  4. That which has been resolved or determined upon; a purpose...

    Reading on in silence, she skipped a part. As Michelle spoke she subconsciously expressed herself using her hands and fingers.

7. A conscious inclination towards any end or course; a wish.  8. A request or command - at will, as one pleases. - v. willed, will-ing; third person singular, [resent indicative willsv.t. 1. To decide upon; chose.  2. To resolve upon as an action or course; determine to do.  3. To give, devise, or bequeath by a will.  4. To control, as a hypnotized person, by the exercise of will.  5. Archaic To have a wish for; desire. -  v.i. 6. To exercise the will.  [Old English willa].

    She looked up from her journal with a warm sheen on her skin, her long scarf hanging down the fine definition of her neck.

            "The power of conscious deliberate action; direct effort; volition; practical enthusiasm; energy of character; a purpose," he said, distilling what he had heard.

            "This is what leads one to their will to power, and as you say, become who you are," she said. He nodded.

            "Very interesting." She laughed at him for grabbing his chin like Bakhurst.

            "So what are you going to do about it?"

            "What?" Playfully.

            "Your problem with working out the answer?" He knew with Michelle he needed to give it some thought so he mulled for a moment.

            "Time, I need time."

            "You know, the first step to becoming who you are is to first find out how, then from there it's a function of effort and time."  Michelle Chatsworth smiled. 

    "How are you going to do that?"

            "I need time off from commerce. I need to get away for a while." He thought of Nietzsche and waiting to long to act.

            "What will you do?"

            "Not sure. What about you?"

            "Backpack around, maybe tree-plant for some cash over the summer."

            "Where would you go? "Southeast Asia?"



            "Yeah, there too. Definitely." Michelle's bottom lip quivered and her hair fell from behind her ear.

            "Why don't you do that next year Reid?" She kicked his foot under the table. "I could join you." She pulled her hair behind her ear.

            "And what, drop out?" The thought of that independence threatened his fragile nerves.

            "Stay with me in Sydney."

            "You're going to Sydney?"

            "I begin second-year at the University of Sydney next January." Her hair fell off her ear again but she left it hanging over her cheek. Reid saw her skiing background from the fine creases around the edges of her smile. 

            "You're going to be living in Australia next year?" Michelle reached for her coffee and nodded. Her smile crinkled her Nordic wrinkles. "Michelle, nice one." She crossed her arms from the cold November draft coming through the old windows.

    "Well, why don't you?"

    "It doesn't fit, that's why. Ah, and my Dad would freak, that's another. Besides, it's too late anyway." He looked up at the large Chinese umbrella that hung from the ceiling over the corner bar.

    "Stop being so repressed Reid. It'll give you problems in the future." He fidgeted. "And never say never."

    "Repressed? Come on." The word struck him in his solar plexus like an electric volt of angst. He thought somewhere in his cluttered mind that he looked like his father when he was angry, even with his stiff upper lip.

    "You can do so many different things Reid. The problem for you is overchoice."

            "You mean überchoice." He tried to smile but couldn't.

            "In my opinion your dad sounds like a dreamstealer." When he looked at the flicker in her pupil the radiance through her green eyes was like sunlight. He felt a wind of insecurity from her confidence, seeing how she was changing before his eyes.


            "You're an artist Reid." Her ethereal face caught Reid's frightful glance; he tried to usher the words out of his mind but he had been listening.


Chapter Fifteen 

Catching a Crab


            At the end-of-season championships in St. Catharine's, the nine of them stood beside the picturesque riverbank in their light blue rowing jerseys with old-fashioned yellow and red horizontal stripes running across the chest. In the late autumn morning the crew rejoiced in their season-ending race with a few parents and teachers who had come out to see how the Queen's rowing club would fare. The two thousand-metre course was outlined with lines of floating markers on the outside of each eight lanes with a long white banner suspended across both the start and finish lines, which gave the course a carnival feel.

            When Reid thought of all the effort and twenty-minute pieces, the final race happened in a blink of an eye. It was the usual sequence of events: lining up at the starting line, hearing the gun and then the frenzy of splashing and the thrusting forward of the boat. The race was anticlimactic. Most races in rowing are because it's so intense that you can't really look around during the race. He did remember seeing the finish though - it was close. The crew came fourth but all four boats were within half a boat's length. Reid was happy that the season had ended because now he could sleep-in. Looking across the river was a richly sunned bank of autumn maple trees; Reid resolved to enjoy the rest of the day and not think about his best friend still in the hospital.

            All nine crewmembers stood on the riverbank with their gear at their feet and sipping schnapps while cheering on the Queen's boats. Even the coxswain Sanjay was partaking despite his season long abstinence.

            "Fourth is bad," said Sanjay. It was strange to see a guy who hardly did anything other than study and be a coxswain suddenly blossom into a real flesh-and-blood person. With a bit of schnapps in him Sanjay was transformed from a ghost of a person into his true self, cheeks rosy with a brown hue.

            "Fourth! It was close as hell Sanjay," said Taylor. All of them stood around Sanjay, the new man.

            "We didn't even get a medal though, and after all that training and all those twenty-minute pieces."

            "Not sure how tough it was for you, coxswain," said big Harold, biceps bulging. The engine of the boat.

            "If we were a half a boat length ahead we would've won!"

            "Hell it was a good race. You guys should be proud," said Orson Buggy, with a rare crooked grin.

            "Did anyone see that guy next to us catch a crab? He just flung out of his seat!" Taylor was the happiest of the crew, thrilled at the sight of a body flying through the air into the water.

            "He did!" said Sanjay. "I saw it too! The guy caught a crab!" In the recoil stage of the stroke the face of the oar caught the water and jammed the handle of the oar into the rower's chest, throwing him clean out of the boat.

            "I thought he was going to land on me!" he bellowed. No one else had noticed the flying body except Taylor and Sanjay. Leave it to Taylor to find something in such a heartbreaking defeat, thought Reid. But it was Taylor who buoyed the spirit of the crew, which made them all happy and proud of our season.

            Soon spirits were high on the riverbank, more bottles of peppermint schnapps consumed. They attracted other rowers from different schools, including Reid's old girlfriend from high school Erin Hopkins. It was a complete surprise because he didn't know she rowed.

            "Reid! I can't believe it's you!" He squinted in the sun and only saw her ivory white teeth. From her white cross-trainers to her brown hair wrapped in place with a red bandanna, she was the epitome of the female athlete.

            "I didn't know you were rowing," he said, holding his hand up to block the sun. She hugged him. It happened so fast that he was more concerned not to spill his little plastic cup full of schnapps all over here back, which he did.

            "Of course not!" she said. "How would you?" Cheeks flushing, he wiped split schnapps off his hand onto his pants and then took a sip.

            "Would you like some schnapps? We're all celebrating." She started to laugh, which made him feel about three feet tall. It was chilly outside but he was sweating.

            "How did you do in your race?" she asked.

            "We came fourth, but it was close." Taylor, aware of his peculiar unease, stepped in with light-hearted bluster.

            "But it was close!" he said. "We were fourth all right but only by a half a boat length. Another half boat length and a bit and we would be sporting a gold medal." Taylor, smooth as butter.

            "I didn't see your race because we raced right after you," she said. Reid damn near collapsed when she smiled warmly at Taylor. "Aren't you going to introduce me Reid?" He was busy trying to think of something witty to say but everything was too hectic in his mind, dormant insecurities surfacing.

            "This is Taylor, my housemate," he said.

            "I'm Erin, an old friend of Reid's from high school." Friend? You mean girlfriend!

            "Means poet in Old English. Pleasure to know ya." Taylor glanced at him for a second. "How did your boat place?"

            "We won." Cheeks still radiant from the race.

            "Well done!" Taylor, ever the gentleman, poured her a glass of schnapps. He raised his glass to her victory, Reid following suit but not really included. A roar of cheering slowly rose to a crescendo when the men's varsity boats jousted by them to the finish line. Reid glanced at her glistening skin and saw the small white hairs on the top of her neck still moist from her race. When the roar died down a crewmember of Erin's called for her.

            "Oh, it looks like we're going." She looked deep into Reid's eyes and put her hand on his forearm. "I'll see you tonight." As she was walking away she turned back. "Save me a dance like the old days." In another moment she was lost into the crowd of blue and white jerseys of the University of Toronto Blues rowing team.

            "Reid, she's stunning."

            "Yeah," he said, frowning. He put on his Patagonia pullover to fight off the northerly winds. "That's the problem." His end-of-season elation turned into anxiety that churned his stomach, fuelled by peppermint schnapps.



Table of Contents

1.     The Student Ghetto
2.   The Living Tree Principle 
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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