Visigoths in Tweed

The old rowing club sign on the river in Kingston

A novella

Published 1994

©Copyright MMXX

Table of Contents

Chapter 1 – The Student Ghetto

Chapter 2 – The Living Tree Principle

Chapter 3 – Overcoming Neophobia

Chapter 4 – Socrates’ Big Swinging Ice Pick

Chapter 5 – Life as an Adjective

Chapter 6 – The Timestealer

Chapter 7 – Range of Multiplicity

Chapter 8 – The Banks

Chapter 9 – The Means is the End

Chapter 10 – The White-Haired Doctor

Chapter 11 – Mortally Wounded

Chapter 12 – Visigoth Code of Ethics

Chapter 13 – Cognitive Dissonance

Chapter 14 – The Chinese Laundry Café

Chapter 15 – Catching a Crab

Chapter 16 – Sheer Recklessness

Chapter 17 – Shattered Glass

Chapter 18 – In His Father’s Voice

Chapter 19 – The Dreamstealer

Chapter 20 – The Vine of Resentment

Chapter 21 – The Golden Mean

Chapter 22 – The Altered Eye Alters All

Chapter 23 – Missing the Middle Part

Chapter 24 – Anima

Chapter 25 – Taylor Not Afraid

Chapter 26 – Beyond the Monoperspectival Norm

Chapter 27 – The Hip, Not the Grip

Chapter 28 – Visigoths in Tweed

Chapter 29 – The Unseen Hand

Chapter 30 – The Ice Bridge

Chapter 31 – Dislocation

Chapter 32 – Pouring Heavens of Valhalla

Chapter 33 – So Then…

About the Author


Dedicated to the memory of

Nicholas Shaw.

Let us admit to ourselves, without trying to be considerate, how every higher culture on earth so far has begun. Human beings whose nature was still natural, barbarians in every terrible sense of the word, men of prey who were still in possession of unbroken strength of will and lust for power, hurled themselves upon weaker, more civilized, more peaceful races, perhaps traders or cattle raisers, or upon mellow old cultures whose last vitality was even then flaring up in splendid fireworks of spirit and corruption. In the beginning, the noble caste was always the barbarian caste: their predominance did not lie mainly in physical strength but in strength of the soul – they were more whole human beings (which also means, at every level, `more whole beasts‘).

– Friedrich Nietzsche

The only reason for human failure is man’s lack of faith in their true self.

– William James

Author’s Note: What is a Visigoth?


Visigoths, (West Goths), a member of a division of the Goths. One of the most important of the Germanic peoples, the Visigoths separated from the Ostrogoths (East Goths) in the 4th century AD, raided Roman territories repeatedly, and established great kingdoms in Gaul and Spain.

Chapter 1

The Student Ghetto

Kingston, Ontario, Canada September 1986


Life-altering events tend to happen in a bottleneck of time. For Reid McFetridge everything started during his freshman year of university – those days of indulgence and undiminished possibilities. Everything was different back then, more relaxed, more free, more wild, which might have had something to do with what happened to him. It started the first week of university: Frosh Week. Orientation week was a baptism of fire. He had heard rumors and whispers that students purpled their faces with purple dye and shaved their heads with Mohawks with the enthusiastic encouragement of their group leaders called Gaels. Having been founded by the Scots in 1844, the tradition had something to do with Scots painting their faces before battle. Reid was to learn that traditions ran deep at Queen’s University. Right off the bat he was to realize that the big things at the school besides academics were drinking and rugby and engineering – in that order. To some that’s all that school was, engineering and some drunken rugby games. If you were an electrical engineer, played varsity rugby and liked to drink, then you were in your preferred milieu.  

The first day for Reid was a blur but he remembered the first sign of impending mayhem first surfaced on the way to university when he saw a large canvas sheet hanging over a road sign along the highway.



Beware of the

Gaels of ‘86

“We’re getting close,” he said, trying to subdue his nervous anxiety.

“The cops must expect this vandalism every Labour Day weekend,” said Drake, his best friend since childhood.

A corpulent woman in a passing car gawked at their over-packed horse trailer they pulled behind them. The horse trailer was Drake’s; he had already brought up his horse to a farm north of the university the previous weekend so they were using the trailer to transport their stuff to their house at school. The last items to be packed were two mountain bikes strapped to the roof.

“I guess we’re travelling at maximum density,” said Drake, as he tried unsuccessfully to stretch out his long legs.

Reid looked at the layers of ancient limestone at the sides of the highway sneaking out from vast patches of flaxen grass rumbling in the wind in slow waves. Past miles of fallow fields of deathly yellow and rolling fields lined by broken-down wooden fences through a mixture of maples, oaks and birch spreading east down to the shores of Lake Ontario, his uneasiness grew in the ruckus of invading gusts from his open window – his neatly combed hair now a dishevelled nest.

Both of them knew the way to the campus from a visit they did to the school last winter on an organized tour.  Their guide had continually referred to Queen’s University as “the Harvard of the north,” as if he had to define a Canadian university by American standards.

The turn off for the school was just past an old defunct drive-in theatre where weeds had overrun the parking spots. Within minutes the electricity in the air was contagious driving through the epicentre of the action, music blaring into their station wagon. Decrepit lawn chairs were scattered on soiled front lawns of old Victorian homes with banners bearing allegiance to a brewery or brand of beer hanging from balconies where students relaxed drinking and yelling at people on the street. Some stood shirtless around barbeques under the mature maple trees that lined the street. Despite the heat many students were roaming around in their university leather jackets. The student ghetto during Frosh Week was all a big party he had been told, but he hadn’t imagined anything like this.

A stray football hit the station wagon when they turned onto their street past a big house with a turret on the corner.

Most freshmen spent their first year of school in residence but both Reid and Drake hadn’t been accepted. It was based on a lottery because there weren’t enough spaces in the dorms. So during the summer they had gone to Kingston to find a house in the ghetto. Most of the places smelled of stale beer and had holes in walls, with hardwood floors scraped and worn and dented from parties and wear and tear, but that was part of the student ghetto culture: future business and political leaders living in short-term squalor.

Two people stood on the lawn of their house when they pulled up in their over-packed station wagon.

“Well, you must be either Drake or Reid Mc-something,” said the student, short and compact and wearing a baseball cap.

“I’m Reid,” he said, nervous.

“How are ya? I’m Taylor, your new housemate.” A smile dominated his face under his cap covering a crop of short black hair.

“Hi Reid. I’m Michelle,” she said, her skin shining in the sun.

“Are you-“

“No, I’m not in your house. I’m over there.” Michelle pointed down the street packed with people throwing footballs and Frisbees, laughing and drinking beer – a colony of unsupervised youth in a concert of celebration of newfound freedom. Concerned-looking parents glanced around apprehensively at the dramatic lack of supervision and obvious underage drinking. Music blared from stereos poised behind open windows.

“Why don’t I help you guys unpack?” said Taylor. “But before I do that why don’t we all have a beer?” His easy-going disposition was accompanied with a grin of unquestionable mischief.

“Oh, no thanks guys” she said. “I should be getting back to my place. My housemates are probably wondering where I am.” Michelle placed her finished beer on the front porch.

“Ah, c’mon.” She looked from Taylor to Reid with a small tilt of her head, her pale eyes sparkling metallic green under a mane of shimmering brown hair. When she smiled he noticed the delicate creases around the edges of her mouth.

“Don’t forget to come over to our barbecue tonight. See ya later.” Taylor was clearly in his element.

Casually nonchalant, Taylor turned to them. “Yeah, barbeque ce soir. Good way to dive into things right off the bat.” He went inside the house while he and Drake sat on the front porch surveying the ambience under the umbrella of blue and leafy green. They surveyed this surreal new environment, full of freshly graduated high school kids letting loose after working hard to get in to this top university in Canada. Each one had been an ‘A’ student to be accepted to Queen’s. This was supposed to be the cream of the crop but what they saw was celebratory mayhem.

“What’s with the Mohawks?” Some had shaved their head on the sides like a Mohawk Indian. 

“I don’t know,” said Drake. “But I can deduce the purpler the jacket, the redder the eyes.” Taylor arrived with the beer.

“Shall we have toast gentlemen?” Taylor raised his dangly arm for the toast.

“Yes, a toast Taylor. What shall it be?”

“A toast to the burning bush of our prime.” The three of them clinked their bottles and drank their first beer of university. Soon the booze enliven his person as the alcohol hit his bloodstream, his tolerance to booze very low. The amber liquid began to cool his turbulence and anxiety.  It didn’t take Reid long to merge into the vibe of the ghetto and soon feel a new culture beckoning. Slowly they dismantled the trailer full of stuff while continuing to drink more beer.


On their way to Michelle’s barbecue they came across a group of students sticking their faces into a big barrel full of dark purple liquid. They were gulping it down.

“Look at this stuff! It’s in a garbage pail!” Reid looked at the student bent over it.

“What’s with this purple drink?” Drake looked at Reid but Taylor answered.

“It’s called Purple Jesus. Grain alcohol and Kool Aid I think.”


Why?” Drake didn’t like the looks of it.

“The story goes that the Gaelic tribes of Scotland used to cover their faces with a purple dye, and drink aqua vitae before they went into battle.”

“I’ve heard of Purple Jesus but what the hell is aqua vitae?” Flushed, Reid looked at these people dunking their heads into the barrel and drinking this deadly concoction with interest.

“Yeah. I think it means `water of life’ or so my brother told me. It’s Latin or something.” They watched students drink like horses. “Here-” Taylor went to the barrel on the lawn and put his head down and drank the deep purple liquid.

“Ah! It’s a Queen’s tradition man!” His teeth were stained purple when he smiled.

“So what’s it like?” Reid curious.

“Wicked! Tastes just like grape juice.” Taylor smiled at the girl beside the barrel. “But with a twang!”

“You guys want some?” She offered them cups and they all scooped a cupful.

“To our prime!” said Reid, raising his cup.

“To our bush!” said Taylor.

“To Jesus!” said Drake.

He took a sip of his purple drink, watching waves of students walk down University Avenue with drinks in their hands.

“This is good,” said Reid, smiling.

“I can hardly taste the alcohol,” Drake perplexed.

“It tastes just like grape Kool-Aid.” He was thirsty from the heat so he couldn’t help drinking it down fast. Cold and sweet. He and Taylor took a second hit before they left for Michelle’s barbeque.

Crossing the main street they were accosted by drunken students with the sides of their heads freshly shorn so they stuck together in the storm of verbal abuse by these roaming Gaels. Reid quickly surmised that the Gaels with Mohawks and purpled faces were the most abusive to freshmen. As he walked he was having a glimpse at the dawning of a new freedom. No more curfews, no more rules, and finally no more strict parents.

They arrived at the barbecue with the cups of Purple Jesus in their hands. A live band began to play in a house across the street inside, attracting people from the roving mobs. That’s when Taylor disappeared into the house. Reid saw Michelle with a friend and walked over to them.

“Can you believe this?” Stumbling students who had finally broken free from their ball-and-chain lives of high school surrounded Reid. A stereo set up in Michelle’s living room window competed with the sounds coming from the band. The scene was becoming surreal under the warm western glow of the setting sun in an atmosphere pungent with the smell of barbequed cheeseburgers.

“So what’s your major?” Michelle’s eyes still sparkled in the light, standing beside her housemate Daphne.


“Commerce? That’s unfortunate,” she said.


“Well because there’s so much you can study and you chose business? Isn’t business just common sense?” He didn’t have a reply to this, and it bothered him somehow.

“I’m studying philosophy.” Something in Reid’s gut dropped, a heaviness that drew him downwards as if a chunk of lead had materialized. He looked in her eyes and saw an inviting depth which both attracted and somehow threatened him.

Then Taylor reappeared.

“I’m Dionysus with a Mohawk!” Reid laughed at the contrast of his strip of jet-black hair against the freshly exposed white scalp around the sides of Taylor’s head. He hadn’t taken a lot of time to fit right in.

“What happened to your hair?” Michelle with her hand over her mouth.

“Well, some of it is lying on the dining room floor.”

“Why?” asked Daphne, her teeth glowing against her tan.

“Perpetrated in the name of tradition! I only have one Frosh Week to live, n’est-ce pas?” From the half-bald figure in front of him, all Reid could see was the pink glaze in his eyes.

“Who’s Dionysus?” Daphne trying her best to understand.

“He was the Greek god of wine and truth!”

“Did Dionysus have a Mohawk?” The question caused Michelle and Reid to laugh harder.

“I don’t know, but I suspect not,” replied Taylor. “I think Mohawks are a North American phenomenon.”

“You’re crazy,” said Michelle. Taylor’s teeth were definitely stained purple when he smiled.

“Let’s go across the street to where the band’s playing,” Taylor said, like a magnet to action. Under the rusty light of the setting sun, the five of them walked across the street where they were immediately swallowed up in the stream of people. Taylor, with his freshly shaved Mohawk, emerged as a target for abuse by upper-year students. The Mohawk showed he was willing to play the game and be initiated fully into university life. Two purpled Gaels wearing their leather jackets and sporting Mohawks grabbed Taylor by the shirt.

“Frosh!” they yelled. “We command you to drink this beer.” They took out a fresh beer and a funnel from their bag.

“What? Through the funnel?”

“You know the drill Frosh.” One of them lifted the funnel above Taylor’s head and began pouring the beer into it. Taylor, with an eagerness that seemed to backfire on the two Gaels, put the end of the tube in his mouth and gulped down the beer. But just before he was done, one of the Gaels poured the beer he was drinking into the funnel without his knowledge, but he drank it all. When he finished, he belched and said:

“Thank you gentlemen.” This earned some laughter from bystanders watching. Then it happened. A stray football hit him in the arm. Seizing the football, he underhanded it to Reid and said: “Going for the long bomb.” He took off down the street.

Thinking there was no way he would catch it with so many obstacles in his way, Reid threw the Nerf football sky high over the trees way down the street. Taylor saw the launch of the ball and quickly weaved through people trying to keep his eye on the ball. They could hear him yelling, not words, but slowly raising his voice the closer the ball came. They all stood watching Taylor running for the ball. There in the distance, he saw the baby-white skin of a shaved scalp with hands outstretched knock over a lawn chair, the final leap propelled him forward to catch the ball and tumble onto a driveway, bloodying his elbow. Because he was so loud, there were a dozen students who witnessed an impossible catch. Fearless, the guy was a real-life madman. His parents would label him a bad influence. But his parents weren’t in Kingston so he tried to enjoy his baptism into his new world.

And Reid attributed that catch to what happened the following day.

Chapter 2

The Living Tree Principle


Still early the next morning considering how late they had been up, Drake knocked on Reid’s door to see if he wanted to take a tour of the campus. He glanced out of his window and saw the deep blue of the sky.

“Sure, give me five.”

When he went downstairs he saw Taylor asleep on the couch directly under the sun coming through the bay window in their living room.

“He didn’t even make it to his own bed,” said Drake. Lying on his back he was wearing his Birkenstocks and a tweed jacket.

“Why’s he wearing a tweed jacket?”

“Not sure, though I think he had a woman over here last night and he was going on and on about how cool tweed jackets were.” Small beads of sweat had formed on his upper lip, and a phone number was written on his hand with a name above it.

Outside in the fresh morning air people were pedalling their mountain bikes with swift assurance. The large amount of debris on the dew-coated lawns and cup-covered streets made the ghetto look like a combat zone. Across the road a student unloaded her things while her mother surveyed the carnage of the previous night’s festivities. Her Mercedes’ licence plate read:


Beyond the bewildered mother an old Vietnamese woman was picking up empty bottles and cans, her old gym bag full of refundable goods.

Within a couple of minutes they were at the main campus intersection beside the John Deutsch Centre and Sidewalk Café, already packed with students sipping their morning coffee. A culture of academia, Reid loved it. From the street in front of huge stained-glass windows that dominated Douglas Library the university crest was engraved over the corner window with the words:


engraved under it.

“Know what that Latin means up there?” Drake usually had answers to the obscure.

“From my shoddy Latin I’d guess it means knowledge is the doctrine of stability, or philosophy is the means to stability, or some variation thereof.”

“Philosophy. I don’t understand why anyone would study philosophy,” he said to Drake. “I mean what’s the point? What kind of skill do you have with a philosophy degree?” Ivy covering the library wall was mostly dead but had a few live strands of healthy green leaves jutting up from the partially dead root. They walked past the nineteenth century Fine Arts building with the three gothic arches in front of the two sets of old wooden doors, rounded arches flanked by two huge turrets with narrow-arched windows.

“You know my Dad always said that to,” he went on with his one-sided conversation about philosophy. “And I must say I agree with him. How does writing an essay on Plato’s contribution to Western thought give you the skills you need to find a good job? I just don’t see it.” Reid extended his hands as if giving up, but he knew he was speaking about Michelle.

“Don’t you see that that’s not the point?” replied his best friend. “It’s not a question of knowing Plato’s contribution or why Hegel was important. It’s about learning how to read and learning how to express ideas in writing. And to learn how to think critically. To determine what is truth and what is not.”

“I don’t know about that. You’re reaching.”

“It’s about learning how to express yourself and articulate thoughts, the kind of skills that benefit you every day, and affect the way you look at the world.”

“But what kind of job can you get?” This question was an unsolvable contradiction that had rapidly become a blind itch. But if he were honest, it was a question that had bothered him since he chose his major months before.

Drake pointed at a limestone building with the architecture of a church, a five-story tower with a bell and clock with crisp Roman numerals contrasted against its black-lustred background. A Queen’s tricolour flag flew in the breeze above.

“Do you remember when we studied the Living Tree Principle last year in history class for that chapter on the constitution?”

“No, not really.” All of it was a blur.

“Well,” he sighed. “Simply put it’s a term used to describe how constitutional law is always changing and growing, not stagnant and not resistant to change.”


“Some people are open-minded and are able to listen to new ideas and different opinions, while others who are close-minded don’t allow any new ideas in.”


“So can’t the Living Tree Principle also be applied to people?”


“Couldn’t we represent a changing and evolving constitution ourselves?”

“We’re living trees?”

“Yes, better living than dead.”

“That sounds ridiculous Drake,” his voice now impatient.

“Reid, don’t be so narrow-minded. It’s the fastest way to living in a cesspool of fear.” Words specifically chosen for him.

“I’m not narrow-minded, man.”

They walked to a bench beside a rugby pitch to watch a group of girls playing an organized scrimmage of rugby. Amid dropped passes and timid tackles, it was the first time Reid had ever seen women’s rugby.

“Think about philosophy. It’s the study of wisdom. How can wisdom be a useless thing in life? It’s the study of the greatest minds who ever lived. I wouldn’t call that a waste of time. You’d use those thinking skills every day of your life. Probably save you from making many a tragic mistake throughout your life.”

“Never thought of it in those terms.” Reid enjoyed the smell of churned up moist grass and looked across the field at the goal posts.

“In a way it’s likely the wisest thing a man can study.” The smell of the hot soil permeated into the potent air around him, making him a little light-headed.

“Yeah. I see where you’re going with that.” That look that Michelle had given him flooded his mind. It was the threatening aspect that had bothered him, as if he had a blind spot to it all.

They saw an elderly gentleman strolling across fresh divots at the end of the pitch who wore a Deerstalker and dipped his hat at Reid and Drake.

“Very professorial.”

“All right. That’s it. I’m going to take philosophy for my elective. What the hell.” Reid’s words were firm but his resolve was thin. But he was keen to take a class with Michelle.


When he and Drake strolled in to the house Taylor was slouched on the couch in his surf shorts reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. Judging from the out-of-whack angle of his body and stern brow, he had been enthralled for a while. Reid approached slowly but the hardwood floor creaked just enough for Taylor to turn with lightning quickness, his eyes wider than seemed possible that showed complete abandon. It took a moment before Taylor’s rubicund face returned.

“Good book?”

“You scared the hell out of me.” Taylor marked his place with a pizza coupon. “Well yeah, it’s a good book. Alphas, epsilons, soma; it’s prophetic.” Reid fell on the old lounge chair beside the couch. “Non-conformists buggering off to Greenland, man.” Sitting up, he looked like a guy who could talk for hours about books, but wasn’t encouraged by Reid.

“Listen Reid,” he said sitting up. “I went to the gym this morning-“

This morning?

“Yeah, this morning. And I saw a note on the bulletin board that said the novice rowing try-outs are on the weekend: Saturday morning at seven.”

“Rowing?” Taylor put his book on the table.

“Yeah. I don’t know about you but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. My brother rowed in his first year when he was here. I think I’m going to show up at the tryouts, and it would be cool to have a wingman.”

“I don’t know, man.”

Taylor looked at Drake sitting on the other chair.

“You’re doing your equestrian piece, right?” Drake nodded. Then his eyes narrowed on Reid.

“C’mon man. I know where it is. We can ride our bikes.”

“Ah, I don’t know Taylor. I’ve never rowed before.”

“So, neither have I. It’s novice. No one has.”

“Well-” To Reid it didn’t make any sense to complicate his term with rowing; it didn’t fit into his plans.

“The point is that you haven’t done it before. Rowing will be a new experience.” Drake nodded in agreement.

“Yeah McFetty, why wouldn’t you?”

“I wasn’t planning on it.”

“So, neither was I.” Something in Taylor’s eye made me think about it. The idea of being on water was luring. But more than that was the idea of being on the team with Taylor. It was easier than doing it alone. He had to admit to himself that the idea was gaining momentum.

“What exactly is the deal then?”

“I talked to the guy at the athletic centre and I think he said the season would last into the late fall, and that there would be a regatta almost every weekend starting in two weeks. Practices are in the morning at six at the rowing club, starting early next week. We’ll all be rookies.”


“And for the tryouts there’s a twelve-minute run and then five minutes on the rowing machine,” he added nonchalantly.

“Ah, I don’t know,” he answered cautiously, thinking of his father. His father expected A’s and nothing else this term. He had expectations to fulfill.

“As my brother always said to me: `don’t be neophobic.'”


“Yeah, afraid to try new things. Listen, just because you’ve never rowed is no reason not to. Just think of the girls that we’ll meet at the regattas, and the other schools we’ll visit, and the road trips.”

“Mmm, the regattas could be fun,” he said like an expert fence sitter, careful not to commit.

“Well then, whaddya say?” He didn’t answer. “`But when one is young,'” Taylor said, pointing his finger in the air like a teacher, “`one must see things, gather experience, ideas; enlarge the mind.'” Taylor chuckled. “The Russian said that in Heart of Darkness. I can’t agree with that enough. You?” He knew Taylor would be a cool wingman.

“Okay, I’ll ride to the tryouts with you.” A youthful mischievousness unleashed itself in his gut with these words.

Chapter Three

Overcoming Neophobia


To acclimatize students to their new culture and to meet other freshmen, the parties and Purple Jesus and abusive Gaels and live bands continued all week long. Frosh groups met midday and then began drinking and planning for their days of activities, from registering for classes to strange events like the grease pole. At Taylor’s urging, he accompanied him to witness this strange tradition. Engineers, purpled and drunk on Purple Jesus, stood in a mud pit around a greased pole 70-feet high and tried to organize themselves to climb the pole and snag the Scottish tam that was at the top of the pole. They stood on each other’s backs and tried to use their shirts to help them cling to the pole covered in black grease – anything to help them get to the top. But all the while the older engineers lined the outside of the pit and threw tomatoes and other vegetables and eggs at them in an effort to prevent them from achieving their goal. It was whispered that the muddy pit was full of nasty things, including urine and fecal matter. Reid didn’t smell any of this though he did catch a whiff of urine. So he and Taylor stood safely back from the shenanigans since it was exclusively an engineering event. But it left an impression on them both as it was so completely over-the-top and pointless to them, although the engineers argued it was an exercise in using their creative minds to achieve the impossible – a crucial skill for any engineer.

And the frosh engineers did manage to grab the tam at the top of the grease pole, albeit with several injured and bruised in the process.

At the end of the week their fourth housemate finally arrived. Alex, a thin and freckled redhead was the opposite of Taylor. He had missed Frosh Week completely so he could work an extra week before coming to school on Friday. In the big picture it was difficult for Reid to rationalize missing Frosh Week for an extra five days of minimum wage, the opportunity cost being immense. It was clear to see from his greasy hair and threadbare flannel shirts he hadn’t grown up with much money. So it wasn’t surprising when he heard Alex was majoring in commerce. They would be in the same classes.

After he unpacked he came into the living room as he and Taylor discussed the rowing tryouts tomorrow.

“Have you bought your textbooks yet?” asked Reid.

“No, I was going to do that today,” said Alex.

“So was I. I think we still have time.” So they both left with their booklist for the bookstore. Being in the crowded bookstore with all those students elbowing and jostling made him feel like he was about to burst. It was an understatement to say it was crowded; it was more like academic sardines. Alex bought all his books second-hand but Reid only bought one book. He just didn’t feel like buying business books. In fact he realized he wasn’t interested in studying business. He knew it was easy to say he chose business because of his father but it was a cop out. It was his decision and one he was already regretting. Standing there in the over-packed university bookstore he grabbed his side with his hand as if he had a cramp but he didn’t, though it made him feel better. He couldn’t breathe so instead of purchasing commerce textbooks he ended up in the philosophy section, which wasn’t packed with people. He flipped through every book they had practically with strange titles and names of philosophers like Schopenhauer and Wittgenstein and Kant and Hume. Glancing through these philosophy books took him away from his pain. It was there in the philosophy section in the bookstore that he realized that he truly did want to take philosophy for his elective.

Balls to Monty!” he said in the bookstore scrum. He checked the syllabus. He decided he wasn’t going to tell his father about it and bought the textbook for the philosophy class he wanted to take.


He and Taylor cycled down to the rowing club on Cataraqui River before six. It was way off campus – maybe seven kilometres – which was good. Reid was already tiring of all the parties and drinking and all the craziness.

The rowing club was old. It had those smells that old clubs have that are made out of wood. Maybe it was the smell of history but it brought him back a hundred years. Plaques from past rowing titles adorned the walls, along with other regalia including a pair of antique oars, past ribbons and flags and old rowing skulls. He liked the club immediately, which made him nervous because he knew then he really wanted to make the crew. Over fifty guys were there. It was a relief they started with a twelve-minute run because he was able to channel his nerves into the run to place third. But pulling on the rowing machine called an ergometer for five minutes proved to be a lot tougher.

“Are you okay man?” a voice was saying. Since he had never rowed on an ergometer before, he didn’t pace himself properly. The contraption was like a rowing machine but the handle was a simulated oar of a boat that was heavy that had to be balanced horizontally on a wheel so it forced you to have good technique. He had misjudged how demanding it was. When he watched the first few rowers on the ergometer, they had proper technique and made it look easy, but he didn’t have any technique. The long metal ‘oar’ was shimmying all over the place when he started, so he focused on keeping it straight as hell. Then, after everything had been going well for the first couple of minutes, his arms and legs turned into warm, boneless rubber. He almost panicked with so many guys standing around watching. He was more concerned with finishing the five minutes without falling off. He kept pulling at the same pace until the next thing he knew he was frantically unlacing the straps from his feet and stumbling off the ergometer.

The last two minutes were a blank.

His hands were shaking like hell and could hardly control his numb arms. When he stood up his legs were so wobbly that he damn near walked into someone. He hated people gawking at him when he was trying his best not to fall off the damn thing.

Feeling nauseous he stumbled on the grass outside the rowing club on the verge of dry heaving. Unable to sit down on the grass because it was too muddy, he finally had to lean on the side of a trailer loaded with rowing boats that smelled of wood glue.

“Nice one McFetty, you kicked come serious ass.” Taylor was standing beside him unintentionally sucking in the oxygen he needed. Leaning on Taylor for support, he looked out to the water feeling a cold haze flood his head like a chilled ocean wave. Then he saw stars and thought he was going to faint.

“Where’d you snag all that stamina from?” Taylor’s words sort of snapped him out of it.

“I go running with Drake,” he replied by reflex. “What did I pull?”

“I think you pulled over sixty-two fifty. The top is still Harold.” Looking back he saw Harold in the crowd, the largest candidate who had biceps the size of Taylor’s calves.

“Yeah but Harold-” he started to say, still light-headed.

“Yeah, he’s strong. You must be among the top three or four combined,” he said. Then he caught the coach looking at him. A short stocky, third-year medical student, who looked as if he had been up all night at the hospital, gave Reid a nod acknowledging his five-minute piece.

That nod was all he needed to know that he had made the Queen’s crew.

Chapter 4

Socrates’ Big Swinging Ice Pick


Later, after the tryouts were over and he and Taylor were told that they had both made the team, they smuggled in a wineskin of Purple Jesus into the stadium to watch the big end-of-Frosh-Week football game. Like the others they wore one-piece coveralls to combat the carnage of the game. They both had a riot. Maybe it was where they were in the stands but everybody was drinking from wineskins and squirting each other with the purple liquor and passing people above their heads, or maybe it was because they were happy to have made the cut, or maybe football games during Frosh Week were always that wild; it was pure mayhem. Singing, drinking, laughing and on perfect summer’s day, they hardly even watched what unfolded on the field. But they didn’t care because they were having the times of their lives. The experience was a never-to-be-topped peak to a memorable week. But the non-stop good times had to end, and with its end came the day Reid had been dreading: the first day of classes.

That day was mass confusion and total chaos. Most students had no idea where their classes were. During registration earlier in the week they were given a wimpy little map but it was way out of scale. It was so crappy Taylor cracked that they must have done it on purpose. And half the buildings didn’t even have signs. One would think that such a top university would have spent a little time making a decent map or at least made sure that the buildings had signs. Someone in the student government had dropped the ball. It was a fiasco.

Reid wanted university to be different from high school, and expected professors to be sporting white beards and wearing tweed jackets and antique spectacles, and who used interesting words and clever turns of phrase, but that wasn’t his experience for his first two classes.

Making it to class one minute before it started because he couldn’t find Dunning Hall, he entered the packed lecture hall self-consciously looking for Alex. Inside it was instant claustrophobia. Packed right up to the last seat. Not finding him, he sat down in the front row in one of the last available seats. When the professor walked in he didn’t think she was the teacher. Instead maybe she was a secretary or teaching assistant. Very tall and thin and wearing a navy-blue business suit, she looked pissed off.

“This is Commerce 101, section D. Anyone who is in the wrong class please get up and leave now.” Tone very firm. After a brief silence a few people were in the wrong class. Raising a large Styrofoam cup of coffee to her mouth, she allowed them to leave without disgrace, watching them with what appeared to be a pout.

“My name is Dr. Deely. I am your professor for this semester.” She lowered her head for another awkward sip. Why she was wearing a man’s suit? What was she trying to be? Then she glanced at the student right beside him.

“Will you please pass out these course outlines to the students.” His heart jumped into his throat. He hated sitting in the front row, especially for the first class. No one spoke; you could have heard a pin drop.

“As you can see from the hand-out, there will be a bi-monthly quiz worth twenty percent of your grade, a midterm worth thirty percent, a term project to be worked on in groups. That’s worth twenty. The final exam in December will be worth thirty. Any questions?” No one moved. It felt like a starting gun had gone off at the beginning of a race. He had done enough racing to get into this university so the last thing he wanted was more of the same. When does it stop? After a minute he felt burnt out and indifferent, and wanted to be anywhere else but there.


After the class he found Alex in the same flannel shirt he was wearing yesterday. He said he was sitting in the back row. Having the same math class they walked together. He seemed to know where he was going. Jeffrey Hall was two stories high from the outside but it had a winding stairwell three levels below to a large auditorium. Descending the steep cement steps the air cooled so that sweat turned cold. Someone had turned up the air conditioning to a thousand degrees below zero. It was worse than a refrigerator; it was dangerous. Within a few minutes he was shivering in his sweaty shirt.

“I should have brought a sweater,” he said to Alex. “No, two sweaters.”

The lecture hall was over-crowded so that some students had to sit on the cold cement stairs, but he and Alex were able to grab the last two seats in the back row. They were so high up the professor lecturing at the chalkboard was actually a full level lower. Metal chairs scraped raw against the unfinished floor because the tips of the metal legs had worn through.

It grated the ears.

When Alex pulled out his textbook he saw Reid didn’t have one.

“”You don’t have a textbook?” he said, looking concerned. A pronounced line between his eyes crept to life. He said he didn’t.

“Studying math at university seems so wrong when there are so many more interesting subjects out there,” Reid said flippantly. His was surprised at his comment.

The teacher, carrying a large pile of papers, was a small Chinese man. The murmur died down and the tension in the room grew.

“Ha. This is Math 110: Differential and Integral Calculus,” he said with a thick accent. “I’m Mr. Wong.” Straining to understand what he said through his thick accent, he wondered how many others could understand what he was saying. It scared him; a math teacher who couldn’t enunciate words well did not bode well. Short choppy words that were garbled were a bad combination.

He turned to the chalkboard and began writing high school formulas on the board. Mr. Wong spoke as he wrote out axioms and formulae, board after board, looking tiny in contrast to the twenty-five foot high blackboards. When he filled one board he would push it up so another square of black came-up from below like a rotating chalkboard. He couldn’t be bothered to write them down; Alex scribbled them into his notebook. What made it worse what how Alex breathed through his nostrils and made an annoying hissing sound. He didn’t realize it but every time he breathed there was faint whistle that bugged the hell out of him.

Two people sitting on the steps beside Reid talked the entire class, oblivious to what the math teacher was saying, in a language that was foreign to him. The chilled air emitted through the vents swept off the cool pavement into the marrow of his legs, so he reached down and pulled up his socks. Mr. Wong kept writing mathematical hieroglyphics in an endless mass production of squiggles and lines until the first board he wrote on resurfaced from a full rotation. After a while, the nostril hissing and the constant whispering bothered him so much he was steaming angry when the class finally ended.


Reid trekked across the arts and science quadrangle from his calculus class to the philosophy department beside the music building, the uneven pavement cracked and scattered with trees and mountain bikes. Climbing the stairs to the third floor he found the classroom at the end of the hall, and sat down in the third highest row under a high sloping ceiling where he was level with two painted portraits of former heads of the philosophy department above the chalkboard. One was a portrait of a man leaning back in a big chair in a tan jacket with a bushy white moustache smoking a pipe, with a large window showing a field of evergreens behind him. The other portrait was of man with a white beard and grey tweed jacket with rows of books in the background. The most obvious thing about the portraits was the look of intelligence. This was what he thought classrooms would look like at university. These two men were different. They looked so together, like they were comfortable with the fact that they were outcasts. Being a philosophy professor had to be about as individual as anyone could be.

They weren’t trying to fit in anywhere.

When Michelle walked in she saw him after a quick scan of the room. With her knapsack draped over her shoulder and red t-shirt and ponytail, she looked very laidback. Unlike his business class, there were no preppy button-downs or topsiders here. She climbed the worn steps and sat beside him.

“I didn’t-“

“It’s my elective,” he replied, anticipating her question. She pulled out Fundamentals of Ethics and placed it on the desk.

My word,” she said and smiled. Her green eyes were lit up as if electricity pulsed through them. Reid could see the light metallic green with little flakes of light in them for a moment. All he did when he listened to her talk was observe those incredible eyes of hers. He liked the lines around her mouth but those green eyes were really something.

The mild rumble of voices quieted down when the professor entered the half-filled lecture hall. He was young, with a bowl haircut covering his forehead that made his head look perfectly round. But he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt. No business suit or tie or anything – just a regular short-sleeved golf shirt with the top button done up. And there was the way he walked too. He walked on his toes, sauntering. He was on time but he moved as smooth as maple syrup, floating on the balls of his feet. The only thing that was professorial was his wing-tipped Oxfords, and even those had seen a lot of action. He realized he had been expecting someone with a goatee and Birkenstock sandals and hair down to his ass.

“Good afternoon everyone, I am Peter Bakhurst, your teacher for this course. I trust all of you have been keen and read the first chapter in your textbooks?” His voice was peppered with an English accent that could be heard when he said ‘chapter.’

The classroom was quiet until the student to his right laughed. His stomach seized with panic. Reid thought the professor would think that his laughter was because of a comment that he had whispered. Bakhurst smiled and raised his hand, holding it for a split second and then whipping his finger in a that’s it! motion.

That is what I would like to see in this class. That is what I want from each of you.” Bakhurst surveyed the class, looking briefly into Reid’s eyes until he stopped at the guy sitting beside him.

“Thank you mister…” Bakhurst invited him with a nod to volunteer his name.

“Pyke, Arthur Pyke.”

“Who’s confused? Anyone?” Everyone looked uncomfortable. Reid certainly did, but Michelle was smiling – and getting it.

“Just for the record class, it will be easier for you to learn if you assert yourself and ask dumb questions.” Reid rarely put up his hand to speak in class because the down side of putting yourself on the line is simply too great. There was very little upside, and too much to lose if you give a stupid answer or ask a stupid question.

“The only stupid question is the question that is not asked. Questions are a rite of passage. The word ‘question’ comes from the Latin verb quaestus, which means: to seek. It is a quest to understand. Through questioning one can seek enlightenment into the art of living. I call it Socrates’ big swinging ice pick. One can use the question-and-answer Socratic Method to break up the frozen seas within us.” There was some tentative laughter from somebody in the front row, but Professor Bakhurst walked confidently in front of the lectern and stroked his chin.

“The word `ignorant’ comes from the Latin verb ignorare, which means: `to ignore,’ and to ignore is a choice.” He wrote the two verbs on the chalkboard. Reid didn’t know whether to copy them down or not, or what he was getting at.

“Pyke, why did you laugh? Can you tell the class why you laughed?”

“Because you couldn’t have been serious,” he replied. Some students looked uneasy as Bakhurst took a sip from a can of Coke he had brought in with him.

“You laughed because you had enough courage in your interpretation that I wasn’t serious. That is what I would like all of you to do in my class: to learn how to think for yourselves.” At the blackboard he wrote: THINK FOR YOURSELF. His writing was a hybrid between writing and printing. He looked at the words on the blackboard, then at Bakhurst. He froze when he caught his questioning eyes.

“The art of philosophy lies in its application to living life. ‘Attend to thyself’ is an old maxim of Socrates. The basis of moral philosophy is the investigation of how best to live your life. To do this you must wrestle with questions that arise as to whether one way is wiser than another. Most of us never think about these questions. Most people go through life ignorant of serious moral inquiry. They choose to adopt the norm when the norm may not be the right – or wisest – path for them.”

As he walked in thought to the lectern, Bakhurst looked at his pupils not as a mass of people but as a group of individuals. He looked at each of student in the eye. Reid had never heard people speak like this before. It was if he was talking only to Reid.

“Samuel Johnson once wrote: `Wonder is a pause of reason.’  I want this classroom to be a sanctuary of wonder, a place to think with your imagination and to explore possibilities and find your true path.” He brought his hand back on his chin. A hand was up, and with a nod the student spoke.

“What’s wrong with reason?”

“Nothing.  I have no beef against reason, in fact we cannot function without it, but reason, as you may or may not know, is only part of the picture.” He put his head down and walked, hand back on his chin.

“I want to be clear about something: we need reason but not only reason. Martin Heidegger, a twentieth-century philosopher, wrote `Thinking only begins at the point where we have come to know that reason, glorified for centuries, is the most obstinate adversary of thinking.’  And, just as Einstein believed, it is my opinion that imagination is more important than knowledge. Use your imagination to further your understanding of questions. As I used to say when I was a young chap, `too much reason makes a fake baby.'” There was some selected laughter from certain areas in the classroom.

“And there’s nothing more tragic than a fake human being.”

Something inside of Reid, like a light or a flame, suddenly came alive when he said these words. There was something in it that addressed a long and ongoing dialogue he has been having with himself. For the first time in his life he wanted a teacher to go on, to speak more and to teach him more.

“Reason is crucial for survival but so is the imagination. Reason should not be given free reign over the imagination.” Bakhurst stood with impeccable posture at the lectern, paused, and continued. “I regard that the two major components of man’s mind are the imagination and reason but it is the job of the imagination to see over the harmonic interplay between both. Intellect lies in the synergistic interaction between reason and the imagination, and this balance is an art.” Bakhurst held up his hand and brought it down to add meaning to the word ‘art.’

Reid looked over at Pyke’s notes. All he had written was: TOO MUCH REASON MAKES A BABY BLIND.

“You will be learning about Aristotle’s concept of the Golden Mean, and how it is the artful balance between these two given poles, which can channel this energy into a higher quality of life.” Michelle was on the edge of her seat still grinning, and trying to suppress her excitement. He sat back in his chair and noticed that Bakhurst’s books had remained closed beside the lectern. Professor Bakhurst picked up the pile of papers on the desk beside the lectern just as the bell rang.

 “Please don’t forget to pick-up the course outline as you leave. They’re here.” He pointed at the pile. “Try to read the first half of chapter one for next class. It’s only a half dozen pages. If I could give all of you some advice about reading philosophy: please take your time. Re-read it if it doesn’t speak to you directly. Every sentence should help describe a thought; please be patient in your learning.” Students packed up their books but Michelle and Reid sat still listening to Bakhurst.

“And remember people, the trick is to always carry a dictionary with you because language is the nomenclature of expression, and wordcarpenters are never caught without one.” Michelle nudged him in the elbow, and pulled out a brand new Funk & Wagnall’s Standard College Dictionary. Like a mechanic with her toolbox, Michelle was not going to let any word pass her by.

Chapter 5

Life as an Adjective


After the first few weeks of classes Reid’s life began to settle down to an agreeable degree of sanity. Rowing filled his early mornings and classes filled his days, and social engagements filled his evenings. He didn’t care about his tests for his commerce classes; it was his philosophy class and the readings that had his interest. Never before had something spoken so directly to him. He had no idea people wrote like that; it was like discovering a new colour and new smell and new vista all in one. Not only did he make a point of doing all his required readings, he tried to read the recommended readings too, which hadn’t ever crossed his mind before. But that’s what happened; he had finally discovered a source where words meant something.

Finally he had found a lair of writers who got to the point.

The early mornings became a time to enjoy rowing on the Cataraqui River. Getting up was tough at first, but after a couple weeks he and Taylor had developed a system of waking each other up at 5:15am just in case one of their alarm clocks didn’t go off. It was usually still dark out when they hopped on their mountain bikes to ride off to the rowing club. And the darker it became at dawn, the colder it became. Getting rid of the shivers was his first task when he hit the morning air. There were some mornings when Taylor could hardly get himself out of bed due to the previous night’s excessive partying. He was a work-hard, play-hard maniac. Somehow he could party all night and then get up to row hard for two hours at the crack of dawn. On the mornings when he was hungover Reid could smell the alcohol fumes emitting from his pores.

They put the boat in the water at 6am every weekday.

Reid rowed in the number-one seat, or bow seat, and Taylor was in front of him in the two-seat so they became known on the crew as Bow Power. There were more than a few times Taylor didn’t come home at all. It was not uncommon to see him leaving the campus pub with a girl and spending the night in the girl’s dormitory. Despite his carefree lifestyle, Taylor never once let the crew down or failed to be there in spirit as well.

That’s the way it was with him.

At the first regatta on the last weekend in September at Trent University, the crew raced to a distant fourth, two full boat lengths behind the winning crew from the University of Western Ontario. But the result didn’t bother them; he and Taylor had loads of fun at the regatta. Since they were in the novice division they raced first after the initial heats so they had lots of time to drink the traditional drink of regattas: schnapps. It gave them all sorts of time to get into mischief. But the rowing coach Loren Orris, whom Taylor had started to call Orson Buggy, wasn’t happy at all with the crew’s performance. So when they returned to Kingston he made rowing practices tougher.

Orson Buggy started to include the dreaded twenty-minute piece during each practice. Orson Buggy yelled from his little outboard motorboat as the eight rowers splashed atop the water with burning legs and weakened arms. The twenty-minute piece was a grind but Reid kept his mind off the pain by enjoying the scenery along the Cataraqui River. The only good to come out of the dreaded twenty-minute piece was where the crew ended up: miles away from Kingston surrounded by ducks and flocks of Canadian geese in a bay of thick forest. When resting after twenty minutes of fast rowing they listened to the sound of golden-eyed loons in the slow rising mist surrounded by tall straw-coloured marshes and rich smelling maple.

Some mornings were like a Group of Seven painting.

Both he and Taylor continually went out to the campus pub, but it was Taylor who seemed to be expanding. His happy-go-lucky nature grew over time. His Mohawk a constant conversation piece when he met new people, he brought out the best in his fellow schoolmates. His ability to love life intimidated Reid’s inability to comprehend how gregarious people embraced life, so he chose to remain aloof.

The second week after the Trent Regatta, Reid relaxed on the couch after an economics class. Just as he was beginning to relax Drake came in.

“Reid, how ’bout we go up to the farm.” He had been so busy with rowing and the pub he hadn’t been up to the farm with Drake since the summer.

“Nice one. I need a break from graphs and charts.”

When they arrived at the farm and the smells seeped into his nose, he felt the tension of the day evaporate under the October sun. Beside a red barn with the word SALISBURY painted in faded white paint was a traditional gingerbread house with four proportional windows and gables flanked with corners of beige brick. The porch housed some old furniture and a rustic table – like a postcard of a country home. A footpath laid with freshly cut wood chips starkly contrasting the dark rich soil led to the stables where a few people milled around with horses. The freshly hoed soil emitted a strong aroma of earth that – to Reid – was like a medicine.

Through the open doors to the stable a women was sitting on an upside-down metal bucket in casual conversation with another woman who was brushing her horse. The stable smelled of fresh leather and horses.

“Good Day Mrs. Wilkins,” said Drake, half a step in front of Reid. “How’re doing today Madison? Looks like you got those new boots.” They both casually greeted Drake. He left Reid there to speak to Madison: the daughter of the owner of the farm.

“’Bout time,” Madison replied. Reid saw that she was blind in one eye. “Who’s this?”

“”This is Reid,” he said. That was the extent of the formalities. Embarrassed, he glanced at both of them and hesitated.

“Hi Reid. Ever been here before?” Madison’s plentiful blond hair carefully tucked under her riding hat, boots hardly creased, pretty features bred like a good racehorse.

“No.” In the silence he felt a paralysis of not knowing what to say. “Been busy at school I guess.”

“So you’re friends with Drake?”

“Best friends you could say.”

“He’s a good rider.”  The sweaty cotton shirt clung to her skin revealing her style of sports bra.

“Is that Reid with an e i or a double e?” He was expecting a punch line to a joke that never came.

“Ah, it’s with an e i,” he said, feeling as if he may be falling for it.

“Did you know that your name means red in Gaelic?” In her paddock boots and chaps Madison looked at him with her welkin eyes.

“Yeah? I didn’t know that.” He asked her if she was a Queen’s student.

“I’m a fourth year English major.” She smiled. “What about you?”

“Commerce.” The word hung in the barn like an impostor, and Madison took her eyes off Reid.

A horse sneezed.

“I should let you get back to your horse.” He straightened his posture and left the stable for the practice field where the sky was cloudless and the grass along the fence dry like straw. Putting his foot on the bottom plank of the fence, he breathed deeply and watched a flock of birds fly out from the red and orange and yellow maple trees beside the barn as the breeze picked up. He thought about how he spoke to his father less frequently as the days went by, a result of his growing indifference to his old life and outdated goals.

“Reid!” He was startled.


“Want to take a run?” Face full of colour as he pulled up on his horse. “Get you in top form for the rowing championships next month.”

“Yeah, alright.” He trotted on his horse named Phineas while Reid ran beside him along the perimeter of the field. The breeze warm and fresh with the aroma of fall.

“Did you like Madison?”

“Yes. Who is she?”

“She lives here on the farm. Really kind person.”

“Love interest?”

“One never knows. She’s absolutely stunning though.” Reid thought of the eye.

“Did she have a bum eye?” Drake sighed.

“One of these days you’ll see that beauty is inside Reid.” Tone impatient. “Let’s just say she had an accident when she was a girl.”

“So that’s why you’ve been spending so much time up here.”

“You’re smarter than you look.” Drake seemed as happy as he had ever seen him at that moment. “Speaking on which, how is that philosophy class you and Michelle are in? Liking it?”

“He’s a pretty sharp guy, our prof,” he said. “There’s something about Bakhurst that’s different, which is refreshing.”

“Have you told your father yet?”

“I think my parents would have a hernia if I told them I was taking a philosophy class. They’re paying for my education and if I turned around and told them I was studying philosophy, I think they’d have a baby. And why should I?”

“Because they’ll find out eventually. And because your father pays for your education.”

“So let it be eventually then. You know the irony is that it’s way more interesting than commerce – the most boring subject in the history of the world.”

“I have been thinking about my own little philosophy,” he said glancing over at Reid.  He pushed his riding hat back exposing his sweaty curly hair. “It’s sort of silly but what the hell.”

“I don’t mind if it’s silly.”

“I’ve been thinking that you could look at life as either a noun, a verb, or as an adjective. For me life is a verb.” Drake negotiated Phineas over some wooden debris along the perimeter of the forest as Reid watched out for grasshoppers flying into his face. “Life for me is something to be achieved through action. Through my actions I define who I am, right?”

“Alright. I can see that.”

“Living life as a verb is revered because men of action achieve things. They achieve greatness.”

“Yes, like Sir Francis Drake.”

“The example I always think of Sir Edmund Hilary.” He glanced at Reid.

“Life as a verb. All right.” Salty sweat slid off his skin stinging his squinting eyes.

“Life could also be lived as a noun. I would say the vast majority of people view life as a noun, like it was something one is born with without working for it. It is a thing and idea that is just sort of there – like a couch – with no impetus or desire to do anything, except to look around and enjoy the scenery.” Drake rode with confidence with his new thoughts.

“Life as a noun. The modern phenomenon of a couch potato. Yeah, just take a look at Michelle’s roommate Barbara. What does she do with her free time? Watch soapies.”

Exactly. They watch life go by. They don’t do anything. They regard life as something they own for nothing.”

“Sure. Static as opposed to dynamic.” Reid dodged drooping branches from weeping willows wavering in the wind.

“The third way one could live is as an adjective. This is the way of the artist. That is the way that I think Taylor lives. This, I believe, is the most admirable. Somehow the artist can extract the manifold of adjectives from the everyday and, as it were, live in a finer array of colour.”

“I can see Taylor as a poet.” A butterfly grazed his lip.

“So in all life’s harshness, the adjectival poet is able to enjoy the irony in life. Taylor, I would say, is a unique case. His yoke is particularly wide.” Drake straightened his posture and looked at Reid.

“Yes, a wide yoke. He can enjoy the poetic flow of each day””

Right. I’d call him an adjectival dilettante.”


“Yeah,” he said. “Taylor seems to have a far-reaching albumin.” They approached a group of sparrows darting through the ruffling branches.


“The egg white which I think is almost a hundred percent protein. Taylor has both a wide adjectival yoke and a far-reaching albumin of coordination.” This was precisely what Reid had seen in Taylor throughout the rowing season. Then he remembered a quote he had come across from his Nietzsche readings.

“I came across a quote the other day that applies here: ‘The product of the philosopher is his life (first of all, before his works). That is his work of art.’ Friedrich Nietzsche wrote that.” Drake kept riding as if he hadn’t heard what Reid said, but he could tell he did because of the way he was riding Phineas.

“Yeah, I like that: living your life as a work of art.” He nodded into the breeze. “Someone’s studying.”

“It’s not studying. It’s reading for the sake of figuring out my life for Christ’s sake.”

“Maybe you’re going through a grammatical metamorphosis?” he said softly.

“I’m sorry?” They approached a fork in their trail, one path veering left back towards the farm and the other veering right to an unknown path.

“You’re unknowingly morphing from a verb into an adjective.” Drake picked up his pace and chose to take the path to the right. Reid followed the horse up the path until they came to a hill where he passed Drake to take the lead at the crest of the hill. The new path opened up into a forest of red, orange and yellow leaves. In a flash Reid saw his life as a sentence: at birth a noun then being led to an adjective via the trail of the verb.

Despite the rocks and incongruities in the multi-coloured forest, their new path was more exciting than the trail along the perimeter with its inhibiting weeds and incessant grasshoppers.

Chapter 6

The Timestealer


Reid was saturated after lectures all day and was bothered by 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 tried to relax. On the coffee table there was a piece of paper with a phone number and something below it. He knew Taylor’s writing.


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,” said Reid, not meaning to verbalize his thought.

“There is no other footwear better than Birkenstocks,” he replied. 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 and continue reading his book somewhere else.

“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 in the gut.

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 wear 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?” Taylor asked rhetorically. “It’s the original. One should wear a tweed jacket with pride.”


“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,” he continued. “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 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 Xi’an – located at the end of the Silk Road in central China. 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 because there are no street lights here, and barely any electricity. 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-dozen 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 meat cleaver – 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 shack, 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 central 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-pallor’d 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, Reid 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 sensed 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 7

Range of Multiplicity


After leaving his place Reid sat in Wallace study hall in front of the tall cathedral windows beside old portraits of past university presidents above the century-old stone fireplace. The air, still warm as the sun ebbed in and out of the clouds, produced momentary magnification of divine light. A cathedral of knowledge.

Reid in Wallace Hall

Above the fireplace was an inscription of the university motto in old weathered brass letters and in an old English font:


That, he thought to himself, was what SAPIENTIA ET DOCTRINA STABILITAS meant.

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, returned with some tissue paper and 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 in a way 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.

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.

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 study hall despite the voices within his head. Rubbing the back of his neck and breathing in the stillness of the room, he packed up his books and left for the lightning.

Outside, Reid walked under a rainless sky ignited by clusters of lightning strikes 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 deeply and restlessly, 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 – to chase the streaks of light coming from the heavens, and 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 mountain 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 old Fort Henry across the causeway.

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 was healthier than sitting and stewing; it was a release of the wisdom and insights that propel a man forward to greatness.

If he did not move he would implode.

He felt the urgency of time pressing against him as if his time would be snapped from him, as if his awakening would never come and he would find himself old and infirm without ever going forth into the dynamic world that lay outside his immediate vision. It might have been impatience or it might have been the simple act of motion that lured him out into the lightning skies – 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 about. It might have been desperation he was feeling, perhaps because he was letting opportunities slip through his fingers without knowing the doors in front of him were there to open.

He had 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; that he was wasting time in his most crucial time of his young life, and missing 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 he wanted to go was unsettling and detrimental to his mental health. 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 life path full of riches but none monetary. Not knowing his future undermined and jabbed at his self-esteem, riddling his confidence with bullet holes shot by his own hand. So strong in desire yet so unsure and fragile in direction, he was a sitting duck for any strong-handed blow. His old belief system was crashing around him leaving his vision obscured by the dust and debris of nihilism, 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.

Soon he reached the river by the armed forces barracks and crossed the bridge over the Cataraqui River, 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 old colonial architecture 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 struggle in Upper Canada.

Reid refused to live as a noun. Instead he thirsted for more through action. He wanted to celebrate his youth and his newly discovered talents but restrictions from his parents 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 northeast 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 he moved in solitude and bliss over the rocks and roots 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 and started reading with his pen light. 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. 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. If Nietzsche believed: Knowledge kills action; action requires the veils of illusion, then he had to engage the Great Scrum and learn for himself the nature of living life – its smells, its touch and all of those aspects that remained elusive 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 were like magnets looking for iron in the form of wisdom, and soon 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.

Like his father who didn’t have time for anything but work, there was a profound opportunity cost choosing a 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 to start and what to do.

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 in the forest. With the sun now set 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 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.

Chapter 8

The Banks


Reid had never seen an old film that was as good as The Razor’s Edge. Taylor had insisted he would like it despite the fact that it had been made in 1946.

He was learning to listen to Taylor.

After the film they went to a bar for a few beers. Reid was thirsty after his cycling and was eager to do something after his bout with Nietzsche and the others.

“There’s the girl from the Princess Court,” said Taylor, motioning with his head in the direction of a long-haired girl wearing denims. Reid recognized her and her friend from the theatre and waved. She waved back and Taylor lit a cigarette.

“We are gentlemen that they seek,” said Taylor from behind a halo of smoke.

“That’s what you would call positive thinking.”

“I’m in, you?” Reid straightened his posture. The words of the great artists and thinkers spilled through his mind.

Yes,” he said. “I’m in.”

“To the Visigoths!” said Taylor, raising his pint glass. “Sköll!” Clinking their glasses together, they drank the marrow of their pints.

The floor was packed with bodies like sardines, sweaty and exuberant and fuelled by optimism and hope. They danced in a collective beat until the band’s second encore, after which the two girls invited Reid and Taylor to their apartment for a “nightcap.”

Movie posters on the wall and shelves of videos above the television were all over their messy apartment. Film equipment and a tripod was stacked in the corner beside boxes of film.

“The truest souls in mankind manifest themselves as bankers,” said Taylor, leaning back on the couch with Marsha.

“Bankers?” Heidi said. Reid had trouble suppressing his smile at Taylor’s deadpan.

“Think of a few of the biggies: Beethoven, Van Gogh, Nietzsche; they had to become bankers because they had chartered vast stretches of the uncharted seas of the soul!” Taylor was practically yelling above the music.

“Bank?” asked Marsha. “Why do you keep saying bank?” She looked at her roommate.

Art, I mean. Sorry, did I say bank?”

“I thought you were talking about banking,” she said. “I’m glad you weren’t.” Marsha moved closer to Taylor on the couch.

“So what are you guys studying?” Heidi sat on the floor leaning against a shredded chair.

“English, you?”



“What about you Reid?” Heidi asked. He wanted to say banking but couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“Commerce,” he answered, with noted embarrassment.

“Oh.” Silence for a moment.

“So, have you made any films yet?” asked Taylor, who was sensing possible disaster.

“I made one for my honours thesis,” said Marsha, black eyeliner matching her torn black denims. “I’m working on one now but I can’t seem to save the money. The amount of money I have to pay to the bank for my student loans is already killing me.”

“Swamped with student loans, hmmm.” Taylor shot a glance at Reid with a glimmer in his eye. “We should call you Swampa.” Heidi didn’t find it funny but Marsha and Taylor had a good laugh.

“As in Marsha? Swampa?” He nodded. “That’s funny. I ought to remember that.” Marsha reached for a cigarette and Taylor lit it for her.

“Chivalry is alive and well,” he said, smiling. Heidi looked depressed, which de-motivated Reid.

“I don’t know, I can’t find a decent paying job in the meantime to even get by.” 

“What about getting a job in the film business in Toronto?” asked Reid, determined to make an effort.

“I don’t want to live in a big city right now.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t want to settle down with all those hidden responsibilities of the rat race. It’s…” she stuttered, looking at Taylor. “It’s all a no-win situation.” The disc ended and the silence brought a heavy feeling of despair into the room.

“I agree,” said Taylor. “We’ve inherited a system that doesn’t work. Democracy is somehow broken.” She reached out to Taylor, making Reid feel even more awkward.

“We have to fix it then,” said Marsha. “Will you fix it for me Taylor?”

Sure baby.” Smooth as melted butter. “We need a philosopher-king up there on the throne so education will improve and everyone would be better off. No loans, no grief.” Heidi stood up.

“I’m going to bed,” said Heidi. “I’m tired.”


“Yep. Bushed.” She sighed. “Goodnight.” She walked over to her bedroom and closed the door.

“Heidi’s a little sensitive about the topic of student loans.”

“Why’s that?” asked Reid.

“She decided a year ago that she didn’t want to continue being a doctor-“

“A medical doctor?”

“Yes. She graduated from medical school last year doing her internship here in Kingston where she found out that she didn’t like being a doctor. That was roughly a year ago and she had until the first of the year to reinstate herself as an intern again.” Taylor’s hands disappeared under Marsha’s sweater.

“And now that it’s past?”

“She’s lost her licence.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that she would have to go back to medical school if she ever wanted to practice medicine. But I don’t think that’ll ever happen.”

“What does she want to do?” asked Reid.

“She doesn’t know.”

“She knows she doesn’t want to be a doctor,” said Taylor, embracing her with unchecked moxie.

“What do you want to be Swampa?” He was beginning to feel like a third wheel.

“I don’t know. All the funding for the arts is drying up.”

“I should get going,” said Reid.

“Do you want to listen to some more music Taylor?” asked Marsha.

“Sure. Anything you want baby.” Taylor stayed.

Chapter 9

The Means is the End


The night he returned from his Fort Henry ride Reid dreamed that he was walking in some shallow rapids in the swift current of a river with Michelle at his side. She had taken her shoes off but he was afraid of cutting his feet on the rocks so he had kept his shoes on. “Let’s cross Reid” she yelled back at him as she waded onwards toward the far bank. At that moment he slipped on some rocks and fell into the water. When he stood up he couldn’t find her anywhere. He stood frozen in indecision as to whether or not he should risk being taken by the currents and try to find Michelle or not.

Then he woke up with severe dry mouth.


Later the next day, he sat with Alex in the dining room.

“How’d you get that?” he asked in a cranky voice.

“Well,” answered Alex, “because of the annual interest on the principal is more because of the increased investment in research and development, and…” Reid stopped listening because at this point he just didn’t care about accounting. He looked at Alex and silently mocked him and his greasy red hair. Closing his textbook in frustration, he grabbed the first section of the newspaper and turned it over to the back page. His stomach tensed when he saw the words it in the top right hand corner.

A true artist will let his wife starve,

His children go barefoot, his mother

Drudge for his living at 70, sooner

Than work at anything but his art.

-George Bernard Shaw 1856-1950

Starve. He didn’t want to believe it but he did, and felt the ghosts of ancient truths rumble in the air. Life as an adjective had its difficulties. And challenges.

Every once in a while he and Drake would go for a run together because it gave them a chance to catch up. They were both busy and seldom had time to chat one-on-one without Taylor or Alex being around too. Drake spent most of his time riding Phineas at the farm. He was hoping to qualify for the Olympics that were coming up. And he was spending more time with Madison.

Every time they ran together they made an effort to change their route a little bit to explore more streets of Canada’s first capital city. They decided to run straight to Lake Ontario and then south along the boardwalk towards the penitentiary. It was windy so waves smashed against the rocks as if the lake had become an ocean.

“I saw a thing in the paper the other day about the amount of chemicals that are being dumped into the Great Lakes every year,” Drake said, pointing to the lake beside them. “You aren’t going to believe this: 341,000 tonnes of toxic waste were dumped into the Great Lakes Basin in 1985 alone! Think about that for a second. 341,000 tonnes in one year; not pounds but tonnes! That’s only one year! I mean where does it all go?” Reid looked up to where the wide mouth of the St. Lawrence River meets Lake Ontario and pondered the toxicity under the surface.

“Harsh,” said Reid. “Very harsh.” Their pace quickened as they ran in silence for a moment along the waterfront. The November wind blew against their bare faces as they ran along the boardwalk.

“Ten, twenty years of that and you have a wasteland full of chemicals and toxins that can’t be good for the human body.” Their pace quickened as they ran in silence for a moment along the water’s edge.

“To me it sounds all the same: unaccountable corporations wrecking Nature for shareholders’ profit. We’ve grown up in a world where screwing up the water supply and clear-cutting the land is the norm.”

“Eastman Kodak was responsible for 3,600 tonnes of toxins alone,” said Drake, long legs increasing rapidity. While running Drake’s speech came in bursts between every couple of breaths.

“The mammoth chimera rears its ugly head again,” he said, a feeling of powerlessness came over him. “No one can stop it. And I hate it when you can’t do anything about something that is so wrong. It makes me want to scream.” Reid picked-up his pace to keep up as they passed the hospital. “I don’t think I even have any perspective anymore.”

“The public is so numbed by the magnitude of the numbers that it loses its significance.”

Factual numbing,” Reid added.

“Yes, factual numbing. People don’t seem to notice whether it’s 341,000 pounds or tonnes, or for that matter what the word ‘toxic’ even means.” Drake took a few deep breaths as the chorus of seagulls overhead drowned out his last words. 

“You’re right. What’s another million tonnes of toxic waste dumped into Lake Ontario?” Heading towards the marina beside the penitentiary, Reid looked across at Wolfe Island and saw a limestone church perched on the hill.

“Taylor was telling me that this stretch of water freezes in the winter,” said Drake. “And that you can cross the ice if you’re daring enough.”

“Are you sure it freezes?”

“When Taylor’s brother was here he crossed it but apparently it’s pretty hairy.”

“I don’t know. It looks pretty far.”

“He said it was a sort of mark of distinction if you could cross it. You know Taylor, he’s in to that kind of stuff.”

“Yeah, he’s a bit of an extremist.” They both ran and studied the body of water to Wolfe Island for a few moments.

“If you’re up to it we should try it this winter.” Reid didn’t think it was possible.

“Sure. If you do it then I’ll think about it.” Only the sounds of their breath at regular intervals and the cold rubber soles gripping the boardwalk could be heard as the path veered close to the water’s edge. Drake let out a short laugh.

“Remember that Will Durant quote I told you about?”

“The one about the banks?” said Reid.

“Yeah. If you remember, I think it goes: Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting, and doing the things historians usually record; while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry, and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks. Historians are pessimists because they ignore the banks for the river.

They ran in silence for a moment.

“Yes, the banks.”

“Taylor liked the quote so much that he now refers to ‘the arts’ as `the banks.’ Then he started to get carried away,” Drake said, trying to suppress his laughter. “He said `Oliver Stone is an awesome banker‘ to Alex with a straight face. He didn’t understand what Taylor was talking about when he referred to something as `a good bank’ or `a cool bank.’ The only thing Alex could do was assume that the person was good with their money.”

They both laughed.

“That’s funny because last night Taylor after the film he said in all earnestness to these two girls we met that he had been off to do some banking. And then he said the film `was only a trust company.’  He said that the novel it was based on was `definitely not a full chartered bank,’ despite the fact that the author who had written the book the film was based on, was an `international banker’ who had been translated into many languages. Taylor had a field day with it.” They rounded the corner at the main intersection and headed down to the riverbank trail.

“You know, I’ve been thinking about you and your keeping-your-eye-on-the-prize strategy, and I have concluded that I can’t agree with it. My conclusion is a pretty simple concept, but then simple is good.” The air was crisp under the overcast haze as they ran for a few moments in silence.

“You mean sticking with commerce?”

“Yeah, that was how this conclusion came about. I played it through and it doesn’t work.”

“And how’s that?”

“Okay, if someone has a goal to become the world’s best widget-maker let’s say, they would spend their time studying and working hard at becoming the best one they can be. Right?”


“Conceivably, they could spend thirty or so years of their productive lives trying to achieve their goal but never make it.”

“Never make it?”

“Or they could make it. The point is what happens when you finally make it to that point? You become the best widget-maker and then what? It’s a fleeting moment; reaching your goal is just a sliver of time.” As Drake spoke he used his hands to emphasize his points. “Let’s say you find out that you’re the best widget-maker in the world on your fifty-fifth birthday. You’re ecstatic and you drink some beer and celebrate your accomplishment, but inevitably you wake up the next day and then what do you do? After you reach your goal then what?” Drake was looking at Reid whose eyes were now on the wet ground in front of his feet. He caught Drake’s eye.

“I don’t know Draca, what do you do afterwards?” They ran beside the massive cement walls in front of the Kingston Penitentiary.

“You go work the next day and do the same thing that you have been doing as before. Nothing changes. You have reached your goal, and then you continue what you have been doing before that point in time. See, the amount of time it takes to reach that sliver of time is far greater than the end itself, and therefore the act of reaching has more significance that the point of having reached.”

“So the end doesn’t justify the means then?”

“Right. The trick is that the end doesn’t justify the means, rather the means is the end. It’s the day to day that matters most. The goal isn’t that fleeting moment of reaching the end; the end is ironically in the everyday.” Drake looked over to him as they passed the Olympic Harbour, his long legs worked with an even flow of energy that showed an understated coordination.

“I guess that’s what Henry David Thoreau meant when he said `A day is the epitome of a year,'” said Reid.

“It’s a teleological process.” Reid didn’t know what `teleological’ meant and he didn’t have the breath to ask. Instead he said:

So it’s about squeezing as much toothpaste out of the tube of life as you can.”

As they crossed the intersection at the foot of the hill, a bus that had turned left spewed harsh exhaust out of its bowels just as they ran through its wake of fumes. Reid held his breath for a brief moment to try to avoid it. Up the hill there was a misplaced telephone pole on the left side of the sidewalk between the sidewalk and the road so Drake took the lead through the tight spot.  In front of a limestone church called The Good Thief St. Dismas, Reid passed him when he slowed his pace. As Reid pressed on with the top of the hill in sight he couldn’t hear the pitter-patter of Drake’s shoes. Taking a quick glance behind him and saw Drake kneeling down on one knee on a grassy knoll in front of the spired church.

He stopped. At first sight it looked like Drake was throwing up, but his hands were grabbing at his chest.

“Drake, are you okay?” He ran back to him.

Drake had fallen back on the grass and was struggling to breathe. He was violently sucking in air as if in a seizure. “Drake! Can you hear me?” His body was completely limp between gasps for breath. He pulled Drake upright to keep his air passage straight to enable easier breathing. Then he had immediate eye contact with a man in the first passing car. When he raised his hand the car stopped in the middle of the road holding up traffic. The driver opened the back door as he hauled Drake by his armpits into the backseat, holding Drake propped up straight so his windpipe was unobstructed. The violent gasps for air grew further apart from a few seconds to four- and soon to ten-second intervals.

Soon Drake’s pallor became dull green, even a shade of blue. His six-foot, four-inch body was fighting to keep alive by the might of contracting muscles to get air into his lungs. The driver passed cars on the shoulder of the road and beeped his horn at every car he passed, his middle-aged wife looking at them with terror in her eyes. She held her hand over her mouth but then turned back to the front to watch her husband drive recklessly on the shoulder, straddling the curb when he had to. For a second Reid thought they were going to crash. He was beeping his horn when they pulled up to the emergency. Immediately hospital personnel appeared outside and opened the car door.

“What happened?” asked the paramedic.

“He collapsed when we were running!” They saw Drake’s limp body and blue face. With the stretcher already beside the car, he was rushed through the sliding doors. He hadn’t breathed for at least a minute.

Reid stood on the driveway relieved to have the body in the hands of doctors. The driver stood beside the car looking at him through the corner of his eye. He wanted to tell him “leave me alone!” but there was something in the man’s eyes that was kind and compassionate. Thoughts raced through Reid’s mind in a jammed confusion

“What happened son?” The driver’s face was blank. “Son?”

“We were running and he keeled over, then he started to struggle. He couldn’t breathe. Then you, and now…” Reid put his fingers through his hair, his forehead still warm from the run. The woman had walked around to the driver’s side of the car moving with motherly assertiveness.

“Come dear,” she said, reaching for his arm. “You must be in shock.” She gave Reid a hug and he shivered from the cold air blowing off the lake.

Chapter 10

The White-Haired Doctor


An hour later Reid sat in the waiting room under the low ceiling trying to recall exactly what had happened. The air was thick with the stench of sickness and cleaning fluid, too claustrophobic to think clearly. The ceiling was supposed to be white but was stained yellow from decades of nerve-wracked smokers. In the corner there were some children throwing around toys and people spoke to each other in loud voices. The television was loud and oppressive. He could hardly sit still. He didn’t feel grief, only a numbing impatience.

Taylor had biked down from the house after Reid had called him but he didn’t say much because there wasn’t much to say. Reid had also called Drake’s parents.

“Reid McFetridge,” someone said. He jumped to his feet. From the waiting room a nurse led him to a small room with an armchair and some cheap paintings hanging on the wall. There was a Bible under the lamp beside the chair that looked like it had never been opened. Three doctors stood in the room as he entered, but it was the white-haired doctor who spoke to him.

“Reid, I’m Dr. DiLeo.” Reid didn’t care who he was. He sat in the chair across from him but couldn’t look at him in the eye for some reason.

“I know this must be painful… Drake is breathing now with the help of a machine. He was what we call D.O.A. Do you know what that means?” Dead on Arrival! His stomach churned and he could feel the dried sweat becoming moist again on his forehead.

He nodded.

“Could you tell us what happened?” he asked. “You were out running and…” His paternal voice sounded caring and wise. He trusted the voice so he lowered his head and told him everything that had happened. There were no interruptions while he spoke. Only his voice resonating against the four walls, the three doctors and God. After he finished, the doctor spoke softer to him.

“Did you know of any health problems Drake had?”

“None. He’s the fittest guy I know. We’ve been running together for years.” The doctor didn’t say anything. “He never complained of anything, and I don’t think he had any injuries, at least none that I know of.” Again there was a silence that deafened. Reid couldn’t take the silence. “What happened to him doctor?”

“He suffered a heart attack.”

Heart attack!” He felt a chill go down his spine like piano keys. “That was a heart attack?”

“We don’t know what caused it, Reid. He appears to be a healthy, strong young man with no previous history of heart trouble.” The white-haired doctor dipped his chin towards the floor and sighed, and then one of the young doctors spoke.

“Did you attempt C.P.R.?” His question made Reid shake suddenly, adrenaline stirring. He looked at the young doctor and wondered if he knew those words would remain in his mind for the rest of his life.

“No,” he replied to the white-haired doctor. “He was contorting too much. I mean his whole body was in spasm to breathe. I couldn’t have given him CPR.” The deadened pause caused him to struggle for air. His lungs suddenly felt like lead.

“We’re not saying you should have son,” DiLeo assured him. He could feel beads of sweat covering his upper lip. “Drake is in a coma.” A deep pang of guilt shot through him to the far reaches of his soul.

Coma? I, I don’t understand.” All of it defied logic.

“Neither do I Reid,” said the sad blue eyes under the bushy white eyebrows. “Neither do I.”

Chapter 11

Mortally Wounded


The next morning he woke up on his bed still fully clothed and with his shoes on. Images of the night before paraded through his mind like the rat-tat-tat of a machine gun, the taste of whiskey still burning his tongue and throat. It was Taylor who kept buying the drinks last night. The last thing he remembered was yelling at the waitress because Taylor kept buying drinks and she never bothered bringing him his change. Taylor was rich and the guy was medicating him pretty seriously but she was blatantly taking his money. Taylor didn’t bother asking for change because he was more concerned about him. He said he needed to ‘mourn’ but instead Reid just got really drunk and huffy as hell at the waitress. He couldn’t remember her face but he remembered the black roots of her peroxide-blonde hair, which, as Taylor pointed out, was classic poser headgear. She was trying to be someone she wasn’t. That was probably what got his goat the most.

She was a poser.

Getting out of bed and saw his running clothes beside his desk, which made his stomach cringe with a thousand shards of glass. A tidal wave struck his nose that watered the eyes. His stomach raw and torn, he noticed his left hand shook. Grabbing it with his right hand, the pinkie was shaking. He whispered the word palsy in his mind, but the pain was in his stomach.

It felt as if it was bleeding.

There was no rowing practice because it was Sunday so he put on his winter coat and left the house. He walked to the campus café and bought two big muffins and a large coffee, relieved he didn’t see anyone he knew. He left the café keeping his eyes down as he walked towards the hospital by the lake. When he finally got there, he wasn’t prepared to enter so he walked to the water’s edge and sat down on the rocks. It was cold – colder than usual for late October. He had left his gloves at his place so he ate his muffins quickly and washed them down with coffee. Hot java warmed and soothed his barroom-weathered throat, and fortified his spirit. He savoured the coffee, something he never drank back in high school. Trying to keep his mind away from Drake, he looked across the water to Wolfe Island, beautiful, rocky and rugged, named after General Wolfe who had liberated Canada from the French but was mortally wounded on the battlefield.

Mortally wounded. Why didn’t they just say he was killed? So many little things like that he didn’t understand. 

Under the grey skies the leafless trees shivered in the biting wind beside an old two-story limestone Martello tower. Everything had been normal only twenty-four hours ago. Drake’s parents would be there at the hospital, which scared the hell out of him so he procrastinated as much as he could until the coffee was gone and the icy gusts cut into the marrow of his legs. Looking at the empty cup in his hand, he wished he had more hot coffee to stare out at the frozen water and escape to the other side.

It was like returning to the scene of a crime. The Ketchums were both standing beside Drake in the intensive care unit. Mrs. Ketchum’s eyes were puffy and red, and she held her son’s hand, while Mr. Ketchum stood on the other side of the bed, pensive and brooding. His striped dress shirt stuck out against the dull white hospital walls. Mrs. Ketchum walked up to Reid when he entered the room and gave him a hug.

“Oh Reid, it will be all right,” she said. Her breathing was irregular and her eyes swelled with tears.

“How’s he do’in?” he asked. Unable to emote, his tone had a mild cheerfulness, which caused Mr. Ketchum to look at him curiously.

“Better,” he answered. It frightened him at what he saw. Drake had tubes running through his nostrils and his mouth, both held in place with surgical tape on his chest. The only thing that was audible was the breathing of the machine that kept him alive. It was the same noise that Reid had seen a hundred times on television but this was different.

Everything smelled sickly.

The Ketchums had been told what had happened by the doctor, so they didn’t ask him anything about the run. The three of them stood around Drake for what seemed like an eternity. The large plastic tube that went into his mouth was the respirator that kept him breathing, and the small plastic tube that ran through his nose was the nasal gastric hose that fed him. The liquid that went through his nose went directly into his stomach, and the intravenous hooked up to his arm nourished him with fluids. He was also hooked into a catheter to drain his urine. From these four contraptions, Drake’s life was sustained.

Strangely, Reid was fascinated by the entire apparatus, which seemed to still his heart and divert his mental energy away from the tragedy. But the monotony of the respirator began to hypnotize him causing him to lose focus. When the reek of human sickness passed through him he felt light-headed. Soon claustrophobia overwhelmed him like a wave of panic. He was suddenly thirsty from the dry air of the hospital.

“Why don’t you go out and get some fresh air, dear? You look a little pale.” Before he left he glanced at Mr. Ketchum, who gave Reid a glaring look that suffocated him. That was all he needed to flee from the hospital and not look back.

Chapter 12

Visigoth Code of Ethics


Walking across campus from the hospital, Reid couldn’t help feeling contempt toward the students with their knapsacks full of books hurrying in herds to their classes. It was a never-ending race and a race he was tired of.

At his house he found a note on the dining room table:


If you’re bummed out come over to Michelle’s.

We’ll have a fire going.

The Visigoth

Alex came down from his room. They hadn’t seen each other since before the run.

“Is Drake still in a coma?” Uneasily he looked at Alex’s dark eyes.


“Are you okay?”

“Yep.” He shuffled and was awkward.

“I know you missed the accounting class so I can help you with the assignment if you like.” Reid wanted to laugh but he was too spent.

“I really don’t care Alex.” Alex’s nervous tension made him red in the face. Reid sat on the couch and put on the television. Alex sat on the couch beside him. Then the phone rang. Alex handed him the telephone.

“Hi Reid.” Her voice soft.


“Why don’t you come over? We have a fire on.” His first reaction was to say no because he wanted to be alone, but the thought of watching television or discussing accounting with Alex was smothering.

“All right. I’ll be over.”

When he arrived Michelle embraced him. Her roommates gawked at him as if he were a rapist or murderer. When he looked back at the four of them sitting on the couch gawking they quickly turned their heads back to their mid-afternoon soap opera on television. They went to the other couch in front of the fire in the main living room.

“How are you feeling Reid?” Michelle’s voice was full of empathy. Her mouth was sad but she didn’t make any attempt to hide it.

“Oh I don’t know, tired I suppose.” Taylor, hearing his unsteady voice, leaned forward and put his hand on Reid’s shoulder.

“It’s all right buddy. He’ll be up and around in due course.”

“I don’t understand how this could happen.” He shook his head and choked a little.

“The whole thing doesn’t make any sense,” she said, raising her hands. Taylor nodded in agreement. The unwanted silence oppressive.

“What exactly happened?” Michelle asked, breaking the silence. Reid’s fear seized him; this was why he wanted to be alone. He began telling the story keeping his voice down because he didn’t want Michelle’s housemates to hear him, but her housemates thought he was being considerate for not disturbing them while they watched their program. Barbara tried to listen to Reid, intermittently turning back to watch her soap opera. Reid glanced at her a few times to insinuate that it was none of her business but she persisted. He was almost finished when she stepped forward, her upper lip with a whiff of a moustache.

“But from what I’ve heard,” she said. “Why didn’t you give him CPR?” Reid didn’t move a muscle except his left hand. It started to shake all over the place so he put his hand in his pocket. Taylor noticed his palsy but no one else. But he couldn’t say anything. He opened his mouth but there was nothing there. In that moment he felt a shadow come over him, like the sun being hidden by clouds, and the darkness cooled something, a light maybe, and churned his gut. He wanted to slap her like you would strike a puppy for peeing on the floor.

“Do you mind,” Taylor said to her, angered.

“I’ll catch the rest of the story from Michelle,” she said.

“It’s none of your damn business,” said Taylor as she left. “So rude.” He gave Taylor a nod.

“It all happened so fast,” he said. “He was still breathing in gasps until right before we got to the hospital.” Taylor picked up his cigarettes and lit one, seeing Reid’s hand shaking again when he took it out of his pocket.

“You know,” said Taylor, trying to alleviate the heaviness in the silence, “I’ve always lived my life by the words of the bard: life is sweet if you know where to bite. I always thought I would know where to bite, but this,” he motioned with his hands in the air. “This doesn’t fit. There’s no beauty in it anywhere.” Taylor rubbed his diminishing Mohawk.

“Maybe it takes something like this to jolt you out of your idealism Taylor and make you see that there are things you can’t control,” said Michelle, sounding maternal, caring. “You can control where to bite but you can’t help when you’re bitten.”

“All idealists have their utopia” Taylor replied, leaning back in the large chair, confident. Smoking. Reid stared at the fire.

“Taylor, you can’t help how you feel when the things you can’t control bite you,” she said, emotion surfacing. “We have probably had it all pretty easy up to this point in our lives, but it’s impossible to go through life unbitten.” She looked briefly at Reid.

“I agree,” replied Taylor. “The very foundation of life is pain and sadness because of our mortality. With this underpinning, any beauty that you can find becomes that much sweeter.” He took another drag from his cigarette, looking comfortable in his grey tweed. “And if the foundation of life is pain and sadness, one must be strong to deal with it, and strength I believe, is a derivative of one’s spiritual muscle. The weaker spirit is broken by a lower threshold of pain and the stronger spirit affirms the sadness as the first premise of life. It thus seeks strength from precisely all the non-sadness in life. One is regressive and the other one is progressive.”

“Oh come on, that is such rubbish,” she said. Reid was weary but Taylor was animated.

Spiritual muscle, I believe, does exist. And to build muscle of the spirit one must cultivate the little barbarian within. Overcoming pain is as simple as choosing to value the non-sadness over the sad. I have come to refer to this as the `Visigoth Code of Ethics.’”

Visigoths?” Michelle incredulous.

“My family name, Goth, is Spanish so I am a Visigoth. The western branch of Goths, though Visi doesn’t mean west. It comes from the word visual, meaning beautiful.” The ancient flame in the fireplace reflected his toothy grin. Michelle looked at Reid and then back at Taylor, his Mohawk now a floppy mess.

“You’re unbelievable,” she said. For the first time since it happened, he laughed. All three of them laughed together. For the first time in a long while, his loneliness was quelled by his new university friends.

Chapter 13

Cognitive Dissonance


The next day when he and Taylor were in the living room he had a call from Mrs. Ketchum saying that Drake had come out of his coma. They left on their bikes for the hospital.

There was a feeling of hysteria in the room when he and Taylor arrived. For a second they stood sheepishly in the doorway. The Ketchums, one on either side of Drake, turned in fright when they saw them standing there staring at Drake. Reid thought he was drugged because he was slurring his words. A nurse approached them from behind so he stepped through the threshold into the room. It was stuffy. Mrs. Ketchum turned to Drake, who was sitting up.

“Do you remember Reid?” He thought it was all a bit theatrical but when he looked at Drake something in his stomach sank.

“Drake, how’re doing?” he said, trying to keep things light. Drake looked drunk when he rolled his head over to his father with his mouth slightly open.

“Do you remember Reid?” Mr. Ketchum asked. Drake rolled his head again in the excitement, still with his mouth half smiling. Mr. Ketchum pointed at Reid. “He’s your good friend.”

Drake was looking below his eyes so he bowed a little to meet his gaze.

“Yuh,” he said and then laughed. Again he swung his head over toward his father and then back to his mother. He tried to lift up his arm but it was caught by Mrs. Ketchum.

“Now now, Drake,” she said with firmness. Drake laughed again, and drooled. Reid saw the saliva soaked in his hospital gown below his chin. He kept his crooked smile on Reid as Mrs. Ketchum wiped his chin. Drake looked at the nurse when she left and then mumbled something unintelligible. He whipped his head around to his mother this time, then rolled it back. Again he lifted his arm only to be caught by Mrs. Ketchum.

“You’re excited dear. Try to relax.” There was the quietest momentary pause Reid had ever experienced. The silence was broken awkwardly by Mrs. Ketchum.

“It’s been a lot for Drake. All of it has been overwhelming. He’s having trouble remembering, you see. He’s a little groggy.”

“Groggy,” he repeated. Groggy! He’s not groggy; he’s got brain damage! He wasn’t breathing when he arrived. How could I not have seen it? Reid felt an overwhelming urge to grab him by the arm and yell “No!” The tragedy of it all hit him first in the windpipe, then in the nose.

“Ah…” He took a step foward by reflex. Mr. Ketchum looked at him from behind his tired eyes.

“The doctor said it will take some time for him to regain his memory and motor skills. Dr. DiLeo also said it’s natural for there to be a slowness of co-ordination after an accident like this. He believes the first days are the most important. Drake has what is called cognitive dissonance.” As he said this he nodded his head, which was meant to tell Reid something but he didn’t know what it was.

Concealing his confusion, he gave Mr. Ketchum a nod in return, just enough for there to be an unsaid understanding between them – an understanding that he refused to accept.

Drake lifted his head and with his clenched hand reached towards Reid. He tried to say something but fumbled with the words as if his lips were numb after a visit to the dentist.

“Drake is going to be moved out of intensive care up to the second floor,” said Mrs. Ketchum.


“Probably tomorrow.”

“Ah, I’ll try to be by tomorrow.”

“That will be fine,” Mr. Ketchum replied in a voice constricted with emotion. At that moment, just as he wanted to leave, Drake giggled like a child. Reid thought he should stay but he had to leave. With a million things running through his head, he and Taylor left the hospital through the automatic doors. He felt the cold air hit his moist face and the impact was new reality he didn’t want.


After leaving the hospital, they walked towards campus in silence. The truth was that he didn’t understand why Drake had a heart attack and didn’t understand why he was now slurring his words and drooling. It wasn’t my fault he had a heart attack, he thought to himself; it wasn’t my fault he was groggy!

He watched students rush off to class and remembered a commerce test he was missing. But he was indifferent to it all. Learning about profit and loss statements and how to maximize revenue through selling widgets just didn’t turn his crank since this thing happened with Drake. It all seemed trivial and beside the point. Since he always cared about things and always made an effort, it was strange he couldn’t muster any sort of play.

Reid couldn’t find his footing.

“Wanna go in for a coffee McFetty?” They were passing the Sidewalk Café where students read and drank coffee and munched on banana muffins.

“Nah,” he said. They were almost home when he felt Taylor’s hand on his shoulder.

“Listen man that was a biggie this morning. Whaddya say we merge to the pub for a pint of beer? We can play hooky for a day and forget about things for an afternoon.” Reid was pretty tired because he damn near cried when he heard these words and felt his new friend’s hand on his shoulder. He had this sensation hit his nose and then his eyes started to water, so he looked away from Taylor, shrugged his shoulders and kept walking down University Avenue straight for the off-campus bars downtown.

Sometimes words didn’t need to be spoken.

They ended up in a bar called AJ’s Hangar. It used to be a movie theatre so it was huge inside with high ceilings and the original stage where bands played. Two airplanes hung from the ceiling. One was a white Cessna and the other was a smaller red one, but both were real planes. It was dark inside so you could sit in the corner all day and never know it was daylight outside. They found a table in the corner and Taylor went off to get a pitcher of beer at the bar. Reid didn’t see him go to the telephone but when he came back with the beer spilling in his hand, he said he called Alex to tell him they were here in case anyone called.

“Al said he might join us.” Reid didn’t really mind as long as they didn’t talk about what they saw this morning at the hospital. Taylor kept filling up Reid’s glass with beer even if there was only half in it. He had to hand it to him; the guy knew what to do in situations like this. Reid had to admit that as far as roommates go, Taylor was all right. He had enough sense to realize that Reid wasn’t too interested in school today. When he noticed Reid’s hands were shaking, he started in on Daphne and how hot she was and how he thought she liked Reid. It worked for a little while because Reid started thinking about her and what it would be like to be with her. But he didn’t really care one way or another.

If it happened then so be it, if not, then no big deal.

It ended up being almost fun after a few glasses of beer, sitting there without worrying about classes and getting mildly drunk. Taylor was paying for the beer and they were both throwing them back at a rower’s pace. Reid was just starting to relax when Alex came in. He looked at Reid nervously, which made him uncomfortable.

“You didn’t miss much at the test,” he said, hesitating. “It was pretty easy. Ah, it was the stuff you and I were studying, so I’m sure you’ll have the same test when you write it. I can write out what was on the test if you want.” Reid felt like laughing.

“I don’t care Alex.” Alex’s nervousness made him red in the face. He was trying to be one of the boys but the guy was like one of those square pegs trying to fit into a round hole. Reid wondered for a moment if he was a bit like that too. If he was then his square edges were becoming more rounded.

“We don’t talk shop in a bar,” said Taylor, scolding Alex for his transgression. The guy took it to heart and Reid felt sorry for him. That’s just how Taylor worked – he always says it like it is. Directly. He poured Alex a beer and after the first glass he mellowed out. His tolerance was probably half a beer. Reid didn’t mind him some times because he always knew what he was dealing with – no deception and manipulation or guile there to be sure. There was something in his eyes that was so innocent that Reid couldn’t help trusting him. The guy could swipe a pencil off your desk or use your shampoo but if you missed a test he would tell you exactly what was on it. He realized he was lucky to have these two guys as housemates.

“I just got a part-time job,” said Alex. “I found out today. Boy, I need the extra bread.” He was in good spirits, and glowed with a shade of resigned self-esteem. He had just started to date a Chinese girl who seldom came over to the house because it was rumored she was afraid of Taylor. He had recently picked up the habit of smoking and had learned how to blow smoke rings, or as Taylor called them, `rolling `O’s’.

“What’s the job Al?” Taylor asked.

“I got a job with the Queen’s Walk Home Service. They were looking for people so I applied.”

“What’s a walk home service?” Taylor grabbed one of his smokes.

“You don’t know what a walk home service is?”

“Why do you think I asked what it was Al?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, what is it?”

“Oh sorry. It’s a service the school provides to walk girls home after dark.”


“Because it’s dangerous. You know, sexual assault. And because of the union they pay well.”

“Well, it’s certainly a way of meeting girls.”

“I guess so.”

“Bring them by our house if they want to warm up on the way home.”

“I can get some studying done in the office when it’s slow.”

“Reading any good books these days Al?”

“Well, finance is interesting.”

“I mean non-academic stuff.”

“You mean outside school?”

“Like novels.”

“Novels?” Alex looked at Reid.

“Discombobulated?” said Taylor.


“Are you reading any novels man?”

“No. I don’t like reading.” Taylor’s eyes opened wider. “I don’t have the time Taylor.” There was condescension in Alex’s voice.

“Dan Aykroyd once said: `we mock what we don’t understand.'” Alex took a puff on his cigarette and sat back looking fidgety. Reid couldn’t think of two guys less alike. He let them talk while he made himself invisible. It’s just what he wanted, but at the same time he didn’t want to be alone.

“Listen Reid, we’re all sporting some inner turbulence. Try to shake it off.” Taylor filled his glass with more beer. He was staring in space because he was reliving the images of Drake’s swinging head and his clenched fist.

“Reid, snap out of it!” He was startled out of his thoughts.

“What do you want Taylor?”

“Listen, take it easy. No one is saying you have to justify how you feel. I know it must be hard but there’s nothing you can do about it. There’s absolutely nothing any of us can do. Nothing.”

“Yeah, but…”

“Answer me something Reid, what can you do about it?” He was motionless as he waited for an answer.

“There has to be something,” he said.

“O.K. then, what is it? Brood, is that it? Pout? Sulk? Look morose like you? If there’s something we can do then tell me what it is. I’m all ears.” Reid supposed he was right but he just didn’t have the energy to joust with him. Instead he looked at Alex saw the awkwardness of how he smoked. He held his cigarette like a woman.

Taylor, seeing what he was looking at, said to Alex:

“Nice smoking technique Al. Come on man, get some style for Christ’s sake!”

“What?” With his mouth half open, the smoke from his cigarette billowed into his eyes causing him to squint. Just then Taylor reached over and put his hand on Reid’s shoulder.

“It’s okay brother, Drake will be okay.” Reid’s eyes began to water again. Boy, he thought, am I ever tired.

Chapter 14

The Chinese Laundry Café


Sitting at the Chinese Laundry Café after class, Michelle leaned forward with both hands wrapped around her coffee cup, her sheepskin duffle coat draped over the back of her chair. It was where they sometimes went after their philosophy class.

“I wanted to ask a question but I couldn’t,” she confessed.

“What was the question?” With the chill in the air, she kept her scarf around her neck.

“It was something like: Is choosing one’s niche like magnifying one’s muse?”

“Hmm, good question.”

“If so, then maybe one’s chosen path in life should be that which inspires your muse to magnify your 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. I mean there’s so much out there to read, to learn. One needs an entire lifetime to get through it all.”

Or do it all. The larger the equation, the larger the sum.” Michelle’s eyes were timeless green and steady.

“These days one has to be an übermensch to get their sums worked out in time.” He used one his new words he had come to know from Nietzsche. 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.”

“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 it also broke down his fear of these new ideas. “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 wills.  v.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, to 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?” he asked, playfully.

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

“Time,” he replied. “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.” 

“How are you going to do that?” Michelle Chatsworth smiled at him.

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

“What will you do?”

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

“Where would you go?”

“Southeast Asia, maybe.”


“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 join me?”

“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. If he was an artist, that would change everything.