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18 October 2005 @ 09:25 am
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I shall meet today ungrateful, violent, treacherous, envious, uncharitable men. All of these things have come upon them through ignorance of real good and ill. – Marc Aurelius

The time has come for all good cows to rise up and come to the aid of their pasture. – Gary Larson

Klein had run from Noah’s Vault and from the forest as silently and fast as he’d been able to after Boko had fallen asleep next to him, and he’d reached the city he’d come to it from during late afternoon. He hadn’t had any more idea of where to go than when he’d run away, but the forest had been going to be out for a while, that much, he’d been sure of. He’d scanned his mind for anyone he could have turned to for advice as to how to deal with the situation he’d been in, and the only name that’d occurred to him had been Ivan, his storytelling teacher from what’d seemed like longer ago than it’d been.

He’d been the only teacher who’d given him his home address to deliver a late assignment to once, and the only person whose counsel he’d felt he could trust even only a little at the time. He’d felt bad at the thought of imposing on him, but neither of the two places he’d lived in until then had seemed like they’d have been a good idea to return to, so the only third option he’d been able to think of had won out.

- Come in. I haven’t seen you in a while, and you’ve been seeming too interested in my classes to miss them without due cause. Stop me if I’m getting delusional, mind you.
- Not at all.
- What’s been keeping you, then?
- To make a long story short, the day I dropped out of school was the same day on which I got kicked out and sent away to fend off on my own.
- Holy crap...!
- I’ve read about jobless youths without a penny to their names having been disowned before, so there’s got to be some kind of established procedure people are expected to follow in situations like this, right?
- Kind of.
- Don’t get me wrong, I’m not asking for your hospitality or anything, but is there a soup kitchen or homeless shelter I could go to or somewhere I could find work at that you know of anywhere near here?
- I’ll look into that. Listen, normally I’d never do something like this, but I think we know each other better than most kids and teachers usually do, and I don’t mean to come off like an alarmist, but this is a rather desperate situation you’re in, so actually, I do think it’d be okay for you to sleep on the couch here for a week or two, at least until we can find somewhere else for you to go.
- Are you serious?
- Just don’t think of this as moving in permanently.
- Of course not.
- This is a temporary fix until we find something more suitable.
- I can’t believe this, thank you so much!
- Can you help out around the house a bit while you’ll be here?
- Um... I’d love to do my share and earn my keep any way I can, but I’m not really sure based on past experience that there’s much I’m good at.
- We could pay you for it, you know.
- Please don’t, I’d really feel bad about making you waste your money on my lousy services.
- If you ever want to make a living, you’re going to have to learn to sell yourself a lot better than that, you know.
- I’m just being honest, sir. I feel bad enough about taking advantage of your generosity as it is.
- Why don’t you at least give it a shot and let me decide whether I’m wasting my money or not on my own?
- Okay, but I’m not promising anything.
- Don’t worry about it.
- If you say so. I can start right now if you want.
- You can start tomorrow. After what you must’ve been through, I think you’ve earned some rest for tonight, don’t you?
- All right.

The next day, after having struggled with his insecurity for a while, he'd finally been able to bring himself to try washing dishes, cleaning the floor and doing laundry again, which had left him several free hours for the rest of the day, and he’d looked up at Ivan incredulously when he’d handed him twenty dollars for it.

- You’re right, it’s not much for the time you’ve put in. Would thirty seem more reasonable to you?
- I actually thought twenty seemed like too much! Did you look at the actual dishes, floor and clothes after I’d been done with them?
- Yes, and?
- Weren’t they all washed all wrong? Didn’t they all still stink even after I’d been done with them?
- Of course not. What would have made you think that?
- An ex of mine always used to tell me they did, so I ended up thinking I couldn’t do any of this right by anyone’s standards.
- Then maybe you’re better off being her ex than not, wouldn’t you say?
- Probably not a bad way to look at it.
- Her loss, no use crying over spilled milk and all that.
- Thanks.
- Just because you can’t please everyone all the time, that still doesn’t mean you can’t please anyone at any time, right?
- Didn’t it take me too long?
- You took as long as it took not to do a rush job.
- I don’t think I did a perfect job.
- My students never all get 100% marks on my class, and they still pay me.
- You’re already giving me free room and board for several days, remember?
- I know. That’s why I didn’t give you more than that for your trouble.
- Um... Okay. Thanks, Ivan. Sir.
- Ivan is fine.
- Why are you doing so much for me?
- Did I ever tell you about my daughter, Klein?
- I... I didn’t even know you had one.
- Lost her father to a drunken driving car accident and her mother, who’d become my wife, to a stress-related heart attack a few years ago now.
- I’m sorry to hear that.
- Thanks. Anyway, the thought of what could have happened to her if her mother hadn’t remarried me in the meantime is something which really bothers me a lot, and I didn’t like to think of you having to go through something similar to what she’d have had to go through if that’d been how things had turned out, does that make any sense to you?
- You know, I think it does.
- She’s supposed to come over to visit tonight, actually. She’s already moved out and gotten a job as a philosophy teacher at another college, but the school year’s just ended a few days ago and she’s going to stay over so we can catch up a bit for a few days. I have a trip I’m leaving for a week and a half from now, and between that and the final exams I still have to correct, if I had household chores on top of everything, that’d significantly reduce the amount of quality time I could spend with her.
- I see what you’re saying.
- So, you don’t have to feel that guilty about staying here. You’re helping me out of a jam too.
- That’s good to hear, sir. What’s she like?
- Her name’s Emma, she’s... too complex to sum up in one sentence, really. I’ll introduce you to her when she gets here tonight so you can find out for yourself.

Ivan hadn’t lied. Emma had been unlike anyone Klein had ever met before.

- Is that a leather jacket?!
- It’s fake, but it sure drew your attention, didn’t it?
- On a minotaur, it kind of stands out. Re-appropriation with a twist?
- If you can call it that.
- Most minotaurs I’ve seen had much longer horns than yours.
- Well, a lot of women are having them done.
- You’re a philosophy teacher and a comedian?
- That depends, are you a tough room or an easy crowd?
- I’m just surprised you’d still have a sense of humor left in you considering the loss you’ve been through.
- You end up having to develop one as a coping mechanism or you go insane.
- Since you asked, I’m generally more of an easy crowd than not, but that’s just because I don’t think I’m funny enough to be entitled to be critical of other people’s jokes.
- You don’t want to over-extend and expose yourself to retaliation. I’m sure you’ll agree that having shorter horns means less chances of being taken by them.
- I suppose that’s true.
- Besides, I can't have them be so long that they scrape against the ground when I'm upside-down, can I?
- You spend a lot of time upside-down?
- Most wrestlers and gymnasts do. Sound mind in a sound body and all that.
- Aren’t you afraid that dividing your attention between that and philosophy’s going to give you worse results in both than you’d get in either if you focused on it?
- I think that’s directly related to philosophy.
- How so?
- For example, take a look at the expression ‘right-side-up’. It’s kind of implying that being upside-down must be wrong, isn’t it?
- I guess, yeah.
- But upside-down is just a different perspective to look at the same world and people from. If there’s going to be divine judgement then it’s only fair for someone to play devil’s advocate. I like using my feet as extra hands and my hands as extra feet because I think it’s healthy to find new uses for old things, to use them in ways they weren’t intended for. Conventional thinking is that hands go in the air and feet go on the ground. I think anything can go anywhere I want.
- If you’re such a non-conformist, why’d you become a teacher just like your old man, though?
- There’s nothing wrong with influence itself, Klein. You just have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.
- Do you have an answer for everything?
- Gods, I hope not! What a dreadfully boring person that would make me.

Klein hadn’t been able to hold back a chuckle at this.

- I’m sorry, it just seems weird to me because, back when I was in school, I didn’t know what I wanted to be, but I knew what I didn’t want to be, and that was the person teaching the class.
- It’s not that I think that the education system we’ve got is the best possible one we could have, just so you know.
- Really? What do you think is wrong with it?
- Too much adapting students to teaching, not enough adapting teaching to students. Too much passing on the fears of our elders, not enough helping people find work they enjoy doing. Too much separation between subjects, not enough about how they interconnect. Too much rote memorization, not enough teaching a man to fish. We could power the entire city with the energy produced by Rabelais spinning in his grave.
- Why are you teaching in school at all, then?
- I think that if anything’s ever going to improve about the world we live in, there has to be a fundamental revolution in the way we think, and philosophy teacher seems like a decent job to have to try to contribute to that.
- Fair enough.
- What do you think is wrong with school?
- Communication between students and talking back at the teacher are both discouraged, so I don’t see how they’re supposed to help people learn to socialize or to treat each other as equals. Plus it makes people think learning is for children so they become afraid of allowing themselves to learn after it’s over because they think it implies that they’re like children.
- My father calls himself a teacher who learns and a student who teaches.
- That’s got to have something to do with why he was my favorite teacher.
- What have you been studying, anyway?
- Advertising, mostly.
- Bleah, how dreadful.
- Can’t blame me for dropping out, can you?
- I suppose not. As a herbivore I’ve never been too fond of the concepts of branding, of pulling wool over eyes or of corporations treating people like property.
- I used to know a guy who treated property like people. It’s not enough to just turn something wrong the other way around to make it into something right, let me tell you that.
- Actually, that is not a bad summary of the kind of non-dualistic, non-binary thinking I hope some of my students will walk away from my class with. I think that’s what the Hindus mean by opening your third eye. You are preaching to the choir, you know.
- Sorry for not having brought anything new to the discussion like I thought I had.
- That’s okay. Sometimes I don’t mind being the choir being preached to. It’s a good reminder that maybe I’m not crazy about everything. Listen, I may be here to visit my father and all, but he does go to bed a lot earlier than I like to, and I’ve been intending on going out for a drink tonight after he’d be asleep. Wanna come?
- I’m surprised you’d still drink after your father would have died in a drunk driving car accident.
- Drinking doesn’t mean I have to get drunk and getting drunk doesn’t mean I have to get behind the wheel, right?
- I’d have thought you’d have valued your clear thinking too much for that.
- I think being drunk often means allowing yourself to look at life how you usually wouldn’t, isn’t that what a lot of philosophy is about?
- Hey, if philosophy says it’s okay for me to go out and get drunk as a skunk, who am I to argue?
- Philosophy comes in handy that way.
- I’m finding that out. Where would we be going, anyway?
- It’s called the Bolgia. You’d love it, Klein. It’s the worst place in the entire world.

So she’d taken him to the Bolgia, where, after they’d gotten a few drinks in them, she’d climbed up on the ring to show him some of what she could do, which he’d honestly seemed at least somewhat impressed by.

- So, how well do you think I handled myself up there?
- You’re very defensive, aren’t you? You stomp back on the mat with your bare hooves and make come-hither motions to provoke and prompt your opponent into attacking so you can apply counters a lot, but very little of the charging going on is coming from you. You sit back, wait, watch, analyze, and seize opportunities when they present themselves.
- Have you ever seen bull-fighting, Klein?
- I’m not drawn to it, so no.
- I’m not either, but I did see it once anyway.
- What was it like?
- It was the most horrifying thing I’ve ever seen, but I did learn something from it.
- What’s that?
- When the bull charges ahead without thinking as soon as he sees red, all he gets for it is skewered.
- I think the whole set-up is so unfair to begin with that it’s no wonder the bull would get angry.
- It’s unfair enough to justify the bull’s anger, that’s undeniable, but there’s a difference between doing something about what makes you angry and only doing something about being angry.
- So you think the bull just shouldn’t do anything?
- I may fight defensive, but I was still out there on the ring tonight, wasn’t I?
- I guess that’s true.
- My father ran on the road, my mother ran at her job, and it got them both killed. People say bovines are slow, but when bovines run, there’s a stampede. There’s no point in being the fastest runner if you run off a cliff.

At that point in his life, the words ‘off a cliff’ had really resonated with him.

- Life may be full of mazes, but the patience to follow the wall leads out and shortcuts lead to dead ends. Easy answers may be expedient, but I don’t think I can lay claim to intellectual integrity without the patience to search past them for as long as it can take. Or at least that’s my personal take on it. So, what do you think...?
- I guess the right answer would have to be that I’m going to need some time to think about it before getting back to you on that.
- Smart man.
- Doesn’t it get painful for you to keep getting hit while you’re waiting for your opponent to make a mistake you can capitalize on, though?
- I can take a punch if that’s what it takes for me to win a fight. I’ve put myself through some exercises to increase my pain threshold you probably don’t want to hear about, but I couldn’t recommend them for everyone, now that you mention it.
- Try me.
- I’ll start with a tame one: I sleep on a wooden board at night.
- I’ll pass.
- It helps my posture and back pain a lot, you know.
- Glad to hear it’d be working so well for you.
- There’s exercises I could try to teach you so you’d be able to cope with psycho-emotional pain better if you want too, but you couldn’t reasonably expect them to work overnight, be one-size-fits-all or solve everything either.
- So the exercises are supposed to teach me patience by taking a long time to work?

Emma hadn’t been able to hold back a laugh at this.

- If that’s how you want to put it, sure.
- Should I not mention to your father that we came here tonight?
- I already told him about it.
- What did he say?
- It doesn’t matter what he said. What matters is, I told him.
- Does he do any of this stuff?
- Depends what you mean by ‘stuff’. No wrestling or gymnastics, if that’s what you’re asking.
- So what exactly does he do?
- Capoeira.
- Have you ever tried it?
- Only a little, but still enough for me to figure out that it’s not for me.
- Why not?
- The kicks are begging for heelhold takedowns, the cartwheels for pile-drivers, the headbutts for running headlocks and the sweeps for leg locks. My father says you have to be willing to stick your neck out if you want to get results, but I have my share of doubts about that. It wastes too much energy on unnecessary movement and it looks like it’s trying too hard. I don’t like the cowbells or the goatskin beating drums. Not that I have any sacred cows or anything, but goats are such noble animals, wouldn’t you say? They’ll eat just about anything without discrimination. No wonder the discriminating would’ve linked them with demonic imagery.
- What kinds of interests and activities do you share with him, then?
- I remember once when I was a kid we went to the zoo and when no one was looking we put up a sign which said "Please do not feed your ego at the animals' expense". A bit sophomoric in retrospect, but harmless, and it must have raised a few eyebrows in its day nonetheless. We are going to go catapult plushies over a fence together at an anti-globalization protest a few days from now. It’ll mean staying home from the Bolgia on the night before, but I think it’s worth the sacrifice. Does that count?
- Can I come with you?
- Are you serious?!
- I wouldn’t have to bring any throwing rocks with me, would I?
- The only things you’d have to bring would be your sign, your feet and your voice.
- So you’re letting me come along?
- Of course. The more the merrier. You know how those things go.
- A little. I may not like advertising all that much, but I still wouldn’t mind doing some for something I actually believe in for a change.
- If I told you you’d probably need to wear a gas mask I could lend you, would that turn you off of this?
- We’re going to need gas masks?
- I’d understand if you’d rather stay home, you know.
- Bah, why the hell not? It’s not like I’ve never coughed, laughed or cried on my own before, right?
- Not that you should have to, mind you. We can’t stop the police from throwing smoke grenades at us, but if you wear a gas mask fitted on just right, you can create a space for you to breathe in that you can carry with you, a space in which the smoke can’t reach you.
- Eloquently put.
- You’re not just saying that because you’re trying to get into a relationship with me, are you?
- I can honestly tell you that I’m not.
- Am I that unattractive?
- No, are you asking me because you’re trying to get into a relationship with me?
- I can honestly tell you that I’m not.
- Am I that unattractive?
- Not really.
- Thanks.


So, what do you think...?
 
 
 
Ameliapadparadscha on December 28th, 2006 06:02 am (UTC)
I think that Emma is right on about goats. ;)

Emma has a lot of interesting points, but I admit I haven't connected with her like I have with the others. But I think I share the joking AND serious aspects you mention in the next chapter, but for different reasons. To me, humor is intertwined with everything, even tragedy. Instead of pushing people away, I think that humor connects people to each other--it allows them to share a moment in a unique way.