[Note: This is a novel being presented in installments, one chapter per week, every Friday, from May 4 to August 24, 2012. The full novel will be published in its entirety in September 2012.]
-Morning Jonathan, how are you?
-Good, good, thanks. How are you?
-I’m good. Did you have a good weekend?
-Yeah, it was pretty good.
-What did you get up to?
-Oh, not too much. Same old, same old. You?
-Yeah, mostly the same. We went to this great restaurant on Saturday, an Italian place, I will have to give you the address, I highly recommend it.
-Great, thanks. I’m always looking for somewhere new.
-They made the best fettuccini I have ever had.
-Wow, really? You better let me know where this place is. I like Italian.
-Sure, I will let you know.
-Great, thanks. Have a good day.
-You too, Jonathan.
Jonathan sat down at his workstation and turned on the computer. The obsolete machine took forever to start up. In the meantime, Jonathan changed out of his sneakers in to his dress shoes. He felt like Mister Rogers having indoor and outdoor shoes. The only thing he was missing was a change of cardigan.
-Hey Jonathan, how was your weekend?
-It was okay, you?
-Oh man, did you see the game on Saturday? It was unreal.
-Oh did you go, Philippe?
-No, I didn’t, but watching it on TV gave me goose bumps.
-Wow, that good, eh?
-Did you not see it?
-No, I missed it. To be honest I don’t even know the score.
-What?! Are you kidding me? You didn’t watch?
-It was the best game of the year. It might even be the best game I have ever watched.
-Well, maybe not the best, I remember in ’93, but this was pretty close.
-Wow that’s quite a statement.
-I think this is the year.
-It’s still way too early to say that.
-You didn’t see the game. I’m telling you this is the year. They look so good. You really need to believe me.
-You are right, I didn’t see the game, but there is still two thirds of the regular season to play. Slumps happen. Not to mention that the playoffs still have to happen. Anything can happen then.
-Jonathan, you just need to watch them play.
-I watched them play last week!
-Yeah, but you missed Saturday. Saturday they were on another planet.
-Sometimes I think you are on a different planet, Philippe.
-If it’s the same planet as them, I’d be okay with that.
-Who knows, maybe I’m the one on a different planet.
-Yeah, it seems like sometimes I’m just drifting in and out and everyone else is doing their own thing. Sometimes I’m in sync, and other times not so much.
-Have you had a coffee yet?
-You want to go?
-Sure, why not.
-Just let me go drop off my stuff at my desk.
Jonathan took the opportunity to check the box score for Saturday’s game. Philippe was correct in describing a commanding performance, but Jonathan was steadfast in his belief that you can’t determine the champion this early. The best he thought most people could do was name a handful of teams that had a good shot. Usually everyone agreed on the same handful. That was the best prognostication to expect.
-Ready to go?
-Yeah, I’m, let’s go.
-So what did you get up to this weekend?
-Oh, not too much, just the same as always.
-Did you visit your girlfriend?
-Yeah, I did.
-How is she?
-Oh she is the best; she watched the game with me. Just the best.
-Haha, I meant more in general, how is she doing?
-Ah, I see. She is doing well.
-How about you? Any ladies?
-Not at the moment, no.
-Why not? You are a good looking guy. If you don’t mind me saying. I’m not gay or anything.
-Yeah, I know. You were just talking about your girlfriend.
-Right. I just meant it’s a bit odd for another guy to compliment on looks.
-I don’t think so. I don’t find that odd.
-You don’t? I mean it’s a bit unusual, but I just wanted to give you a boost of confidence. I mean, with that mustache, you could be a young Tom Selleck.
-Haha, thanks. That’s the idea.
-Have you raised a lot of money?
-A bit, yeah. It’s hard though when everyone else is doing the same thing.
-I don’t think I could do it. Do you think I would look strange with a mustache?
-Are you asking me to comment on your looks now, Philippe?
-Oh, right. I just meant I have never been able to wear a mustache. Even my beard is just something that comes from a lazy few days. I don’t let it get out of control. I don’t know if it would look right at work. People might, uh, give me odd looks. Do people give you odd looks, Jonathan?
-I don’t know. They kind of just give me the same look they always do.
-Maybe it’s because a mustache suits you.
-People have said that. I don’t know what that means.
-I mean, it just looks like you could have a mustache.
-I do have a mustache.
-No, but I mean for real.
-This is real.
-You know what I meant.
-Yes, I did, but I like to be facetious, it’s when I’m at my best.
-Facetious? I don’t know that word. What does it mean?
-Oh, it sort of means that I was being serious but in a silly way.
-No, not really. A bit. I don’t think I explained it well. It’s just being facetious, I guess.
-It sounds like, uh, feces. You know?
-Yeah, I hear that. In a way you could say that I was being shitty, I guess.
-Would you say that?
-Not in polite company.
-I’m not polite?
-You are very polite, Philippe. It’s another English expression. It means like in more formal situations.
-You are wearing a tie, Jonathan, how more formal can we get?
-Hmm, let’s see if I can explain this better. You and I are friends, wouldn’t you agree?
-So in friendly situations, like between you and I, we speak in more familiar terms.
-Oh okay, like in, uh, French, we use the tu form?
-Yes, perfect. It’s exactly like that. You use tu when you talk to someone you are familiar with, your friends, your family, and people like that.
-Right, and we use vous when we talk to our boss or our elders, or people we don’t know.
-Exactly. What’s that called again?
-It’s the politesse.
-Now where do you think the English got the word polite from?
-Oh! Very clever.
-So I should not use words like shitty around my boss or elderly people, or complete strangers.
-No, but I wouldn’t recommend using it around anyone. It’s not a very good word.
-It’s not polite.
-No, it’s not polite. Also, it’s just a really lazy word that people insert instead of actually describing. How was your dinner last night? Oh, it was shitty.
-Not a good image.
-No, the last thing I want to do is imagine feces all over my food.
-Do you eat fast food?
Jonathan burst in to laughter. Philippe was still working on his English; he had a strong command of the language though he still needed to figure out the nuances, but damn, if he didn’t have great timing on jokes.
The two men stood in line at the coffee shop and joked further about small differences in understanding that inevitably come up when one was speaking their second language.
Back at his workstation, Jonathan began his day with earnest. Opening up the word processor and typing up a short note his boss had requested.
-Did you want to go for coffee?
-I’ve already gone, thanks. I just got back.
The day continued along like that. It always seemed to.
-Hey, you are no help.
I’m sorry, Jonathan, but I have got to place you in a believable world of ennui. The least you can do is put up with it for the sake of me telling my story.
-But I don’t want you to tell your story. You are going to make me look like a pathetic fool.
-Yes, but that’s not the point.
Well, what’s the point?
-The point, if there has to be one, is that through the magic of words we can create our own fantasies. We can escape the doldrums of the cold modern world. Yes, I know that I sit in an endless sea of sky blue cubicles. But wouldn’t I rather be outside, flying through the blue sky? I could be a superhero. This could be my cover.
You are not a superhero, Jonathan. You are my protagonist. I like you.
-You have a funny way of showing it.
What would be the fun in lavishing you with riches? Do you think anyone would want to read about that? It’s not you, man. It’s not.
-You didn’t have to make me balding.
No, but people like flaws they can relate to.
-So, what am I supposed to do? Give me some instruction. Anything, please.
I thought you were on a journey of self-discovery. I’m just trying to facilitate it. I don’t want to force anything. I have never enjoyed the use of deus ex machina in stories. It’s ham-fisted. I think we’re both better than that, Jonathan.
-Do you want me to keep sitting here at this workstation?
Would it be believable for you, as a character, to leave in the middle of the day from work?
-No, I suppose not. Unless I was sick.
Jonathan is not sick.
-You think you are pretty fucking clever, don’t you?
A little, yes. But, I will try to take it easier on you. I will skip the story ahead to when you get home from work. You can take it from there.
-You are a bit of a control freak.
I thought I was being relatively benign. Light touches here and there, that sort of thing. You are the one who is trying to author a novel for your generation.
-I think people will relate.
The title might grab their attention, but it’s a bit much, don’t you think?
-‘Funeral for the Young’?
Yeah, people will think it’s about fourteen year old meth addicts joining suicide pacts.
I don’t know. It just seems far scarier than the banal collection of university rememberings of an office worker. I think readers would go in to it expecting to be shocked with ritualistic cults and the like. Your story might bore them.
-Crazy things happen.
Yeah, sure. But are they really all that unique?
-They felt unique at the time.
How many books, television shows, and movies have you witnessed describe the exact same type of events?
That’s right. It’s all been done before.
-But I want to tell my story. My story has value!
-It does, I swear it does. It may not be new, but I can tell it in a new way.
Well, go ahead. You are in that place.
Jonathan sat at his desk and began to type.
Upside Down Week
‘“It was a tradition that started in second semester and continued throughout our university careers. In the middle of every semester, usually when we had midterms or papers approaching, Nick, Gio and myself would go nocturnal. It usually worked without much fuss. I tended to only take classes early in the day and then evening courses. That allowed me the opportunity to go to sleep in the afternoon. Essentially my courses were inversed to match my body. My evening courses were now the first thing I saw in a day and my morning classes were the last. In the interim, the three of us would gather at night and talk philosophy, drink black coffee, and work on our papers or study. It was damned quiet during the middle of the night. There was a reassuring peace about it. Lost in the hustle of student life was the realisation that things can slow down, that we really can control the pace of our lives, that there might be a way to appreciate our time and our place on this planet. I loved upside down week because it added meaning. It was ours and it was special. We knew lots of people who pulled all nighters, and we were among those people ourselves, but that was not the same. An allnighter was fraught with stress, a need for speed, a pressure to deliver something at the end. If someone stayed up all night writing with the intention of having a finished essay what chance would they have to slow down and smell the proverbial roses? We were not trying to do that. Upside down week, as much as it was about flipping our schedules around for the sole purpose of being different, was also a quasi-spiritualistic journey. It was our peyote walk through the desert. Minus the peyote, walking and desert. It was in these quiet hours when Nick or Gio would reveal far more about themselves than they would ever let on during the daylight. You can truly learn about a friend by sharing silence comfortably. Not that awkward silence where both parties feel that there ought to be words, but a comfortable silence that just is.
In our second and third years, when we lived in a house together, Nick arranged his rather large bedroom like a living room and it became the headquarters for late night philosophy sessions and by extension, the home of upside down week when it rolled around. In his room, Nick had moved two futons around a coffee table and put his bed at the back of the room, out of the way. It almost became the last refuge of the house, as it became the only clean room left. Living with four guys had not produced the tidiest home and efforts to regulate it had left it running amok. As a terrifying parallel to our planet’s own devastation, it really did seem like rather than clean up the boys were content to destroy everything in their path and continue on to cleaner rooms before they too would become scorched earth. Nick’s room was the last refuge and the boys gathered there in the middle of the night, presumably after waging war and destruction elsewhere during the day. It was in these moments that we would enter in to, without intended irony, philosophical debates about the purpose of life. I had argued that the true purpose of life was to create, in whatever form. The way that the boys had created a mess was not really what I meant. They could also learn to create clean dishes. They could create a healthy living environment. They could create reasonably responsible hygiene habits. They could create relief for the long-suffering roommate. Ah, philosophy is filled with wonderful hypothetical situations. I was not interested in trying to use the Socratic method to try asking them about the good life and emptying garbage bins. There were only so many ways to try to influence behaviour and this was not it. Unfortunately, in this case, leading by example, while a morally superior method, was also ineffectual. If you want to get others to do dishes as soon as they are done with them, then you, too, must wash dishes immediately. If, like myself, you prefer to wash dishes once a day, to include the bowl and spoon from breakfast, the small plate and fork from lunch, the large plate, fork, knife, pan, and spatula from dinner, along with likely one or two glasses and a coffee mug, with small spoon, then you will find that it becomes impossible to change the behaviour of others. If they see you leave behind that plate and fork, then they, too, will leave behind their plate and fork. Your intention of washing it later may not be in their mind at all. Perhaps they have no intention of washing it ever because they saw you appear to have no intention of washing now. Or, perhaps, they do have the intention of washing it later, but their idea of later is much longer over the horizon than you might imagine. A horrible habit of the boys was to leave a sink of dirty dishes in perpetual existence. They would grab new dishes from the cupboards until the cupboards were bare and then they would reach in to that dirty sink and wash exactly what they needed for their meal. When they were finished, they would then return the used dish to the sink, possibly for safe storage. That pile could sit in the sink up to six weeks before the pressure would get to me and I’d have to wash every last dish, letting them air dry on tea towels spread across every flat surface I could find in the kitchen. The table, counters, and stovetop would all be used. The whole vicious cycle would begin again the moment someone grabs a bowl resting on the table, and return it to the sink after cereal. It didn’t even have a chance to end up in the cupboard. That was the problem with doing a large load of dishes, it didn’t have to be six weeks worth, but even doing my day’s use of dishes, there would be free riders. One fork, Jon, just one fork, it’s all I used. You wouldn’t mind, cheers. Jon, you are already doing all these, you mind if I toss in this plate, thanks. What a bunch of clueless dicks.
Aside from the domestic issues, there was always a reason to enjoy our time together as roommates and upside down week was the epitome of our friendships. We could get drawn in to intense debates that only people who truly can appreciate debate – the juggling of ideas in a masturbatory display of intelligence – would want to be around. There are many people I know who are extremely intelligent but cannot enjoy the back and forth of a solid debate. For women, especially, there is often an unease to even witnessing the jostling of two young bucks, butting heads over ideas. I’d like to apologise, but for most of us, young educated men in the twenty first century, there are not really too many options to show our capacity, and by extension, our worth. In older times, it may have been perfectly acceptable to beat your opponent with a blunt object, but that’s assault, brother, we’ve got laws against that now. Heck, we’ve got laws. That alone shows that we’re beyond the point of when demonstrating our own superiority could ever be done using violent force. Sure, sports can do that, in their own way, demonstrating the physical attributes of athletes, but that’s hardly the only way to show who we’re. For most of us, young scholars, our best athletic days passed us by long ago, if ever. But in the use of our minds, in our minds we’re just getting started. I don’t know if we ever fully talked the idea through, but if we’re to believe anything about progress (and there are doubts) and the evolution of man, whether on a macro, micro, or meso scale, we need to also consider within one man. There has got to be a drive within us to move beyond our caveman like behaviour in our youth (though I realise that this story so far has demonstrated the opposite). At the point that we metaphorically stand on our hind legs and begin to think, it’s time to think seriously. The natural progression, if possible, has to be to think deeply and with meaning on subjects. In the meantime, we’re encouraged to practice those abilities on quick exchanges of half held beliefs and ideas. That’s how I see debates. When we shoot the shit and get in to back and forths about trivial items, they are exactly that, trivial. But the process is important and it allows us to develop the abilities we need to apply ourselves to this world beyond the state we were in when we entered it. It’s not religion, it’s not buying some other viewpoint at face value, it’s creating our own worldviews that shape every miniscule detail of our existence. If somehow that comes about out of some dumb debate, possibly concerning the exact birth year of a minor league athlete or the number of letter Ss there are in Mississippi, I cannot argue with the process. We’re a generation of deep thinking, deliberative people, and that should never be mistaken for indifference, even if it results in irreverence.”’