Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lao Tsu, part 1

(PART 1 OF 3)

He was one of those people who could turn anything he touched into gold. Derek would be heard saying something like: “lately I have wanted to try sculpting”. A couple of weeks later he would have several new pieces of sculpture in his house, and they could rival the work of someone who had devoted a lifetime to the art. For this reason, I often resented him because of my own insecurities, and yet I was careful to maintain our friendship, thinking that maybe somehow his genius would rub off on me. Or, at the very least, when Derek was discovered by the rest of the world, I would be mentioned in the footnotes of his biographies and encyclopedia articles. And in the end, he was simultaneously very likable and pleasant. Over the years since we had become neighbors, we became good friends.

His latest project was beekeeping. Not something that a person usually gets famous for, but Derek rarely seemed concerned about that. He would get so absorbed in each new hobby and would talk of nothing else until he perfected it. It was intoxicating to him, and to a lesser extent to those around him. It was all very interesting to us, and profoundly irritating at times. I never thought I would be jealous of another person's beekeeping abilities, but when he talked about it he had the enthusiasm of a child. I'm sure that was what I envied most. Not just his intense focus, but the joy each new challenge (if they could be called challenges in his case) brought to him.

One Saturday we were golfing. Golfing is one of the few things that I find tolerable to do with him, but just barely. I am a better player, but he is good enough to make the game interesting and occasionally beat me. I have been golfing once a week for the last fifteen years. When I mentioned I was a golfer, he had asked me all sorts of questions about golf, saying he had never tried it and that it looked like fun. He went out and bought his clubs that same day. Derek has only ever golfed with me, which makes a total of about fifteen games. He has won four of them. On this particular day, though, I was in a good mood, probably because I developed a comfortable lead early on in the game. This didn't seem to bother Derek, though. He was not competitive with anyone but himself. I always thought he would play no differently if I weren't there at all. The only time he would get upset is if he performed significantly worse than his average.

It was on this windy day in April that I finally asked Derek what I had wanted to almost since the first day I had met him. I approached it cautiously.

“You've really taken to golfing, haven't you?”

“Well. It is a lot of fun. I see why you you like it.” was his modest reply, true to form. But I wasn't about to let that pass for anything.

“That's not what I mean. Lots of people like golf. In fact, see those people over on the next hole? They're friends of my parents. They love golf. Their family has golfed here for generations. But on one of your good days, you could beat all of them. And this is your fifteenth or sixteenth game, isn't it? Do you understand what I'm getting at?” By now, my voice was raised a little with excitement

Derek was silent. I had made him uncomfortable. I would have expected him to be used to people asking about this, and in so doing, letting some of their jealousy show through. He mumbled something about not knowing, eyes at the ground on my golf ball that we had walked to by now. I felt bad for bringing it up and hoped that this would not affect our friendship. We didn't talk much for the next few holes.

After some time I brought up his bees. Derek didn't reply at first, and when he did it was to my earlier question.

“I'm sorry.” He said. “I—I know I have a knack for things. I know it annoys the hell out of people. I don't mean it to, but it has ruined several of my friendships, and at least one girl has left me over it. I've tried giving up my hobbies, or acting dumber than I am, but it never works. Man, I sound like such an asshole right now, I know. I don't try to be but . . . well . . . I've had some opportunities that others haven't had.”

Derek's parents had died when he was almost too young too remember. He had been raised by his uncle and aunt who were well enough off, but so were my parents. Clearly there was something more going on than opportunity. Genes, maybe? Derek could tell by my expression that I had no idea what opportunities he could be referring to.

“Like Teachers. I've had some good teachers and uh, friends too.”

“Like who?” I asked.

Derek got quiet for a moment and looked at the ground. Then he took a deep breath and continued.

“Sure, I've had some good teachers and friends I guess, but there's one in particular, who is not really a typical friend or teacher or anything else. I have never told anyone this before, but there's a man who comes to visit me sometimes. He started coming when I was very young. It was right after I lost my parents. Maybe I had only just turned three? Sometimes when I was by myself I would hear wind that would rustle and get louder and louder until it was almost howling. Then I would hear footsteps, and suddenly he would be there, walking into my room or around the corner of my house while I played in the back yard.”

I stared with a worried expression, but Derek continued.

“At first I didn't like him. He would interrupt my playing to make me memorize something, or practice something, or meditate, or do some other task that he said would benefit me later in life. Other times he would just come and have me tell him all about my week or month, like what I've been up to and how I've been feeling. Sometimes it drove me crazy, but I have come to usually look forward to it. It slowly turned from work into the most meaningful things I do. Whenever I don't see him for more than a week, I worry...”

As strange and absorbing as Derek's explanation had been so far, the tense he had been using struck me as odd and I interrupted him “You mean he still visits?”

“Yes. I saw him last week.”

Part 2

4 comments:

Grace Rich said...

I'm super interested thus far, and can't wait to read the other instalments.

I just have one point of criticism... bookkeeper is the only word in the English language (as far as I know, (you being the scrabbler might know differently) that has three double letters. So, just as a spelling correction, I think it should be allowed to enjoy it's triple double glory.

T.R. said...

Don't worry; "beekeeping" has only two double letters because it only has one "k", so "bookkeeper" still reigns supreme as the word with the most sets of double letters (and consecutive ones at that). But I talked to the word "bookkeeper" recently and it heard about your concern, and wants to thank you for it, and asks how you are doing.

The Mediocre Gatsby said...

I like this story.

Laverna said...

Curious for more.