Friday, October 7, 2011

Interlude Stories - Cody Kelin


Staring out the window, Lester suppressed a yawn, so weary of being where he was that he could have picked up a one-arm bandit in which students uncomfortably sat and heaved it through the glass. Anything to break out of the confinement, the sense of earthbound limitations these students gave him. The winter grey sky stretched over the campus like a flat dirty sheet, the sun not having cut through in days. Books dropped to the floor brought him out of self-induced stupor.

A student sat in the front row, the writing on his black T-shirt loud and clear: MANWHORE. While Giselle at the back of the class read out a passage in her halting English from Melville’s story Bartleby the Scrivener, Lester wondered what the term meant and how it applied to Nils. Did the boy sell his body? Given his Scandinavian good looks and muscularity, a rash of pimples on one cheek notwithstanding, he’d probably have customers lined up. Really, discretion and appropriateness seemed to be obsolete notions with this crowd.

Apparently oblivious to his own beauty, Nils failed to notice when eyes perused his physique. The protuberant crotch, Lester determined, was a physiological phenomenon, not a deliberate policy. Not like Max, also a body-building student, who posed and strutted, letting his hand hover over his genital region as if to draw attention to the wonder therein, stretched his legs and stared back provocatively at whoever caught his interest, including Lester who was not immune to the charms of muscle. Between Max and himself a connection had already been established when Max had sent a message unrelated to course studies via the college’s student-teacher computer communication system. What did he know about Nietzsche? Lester had replied, quite a lot, why do you ask?

And so it began, the private exchange between student and teacher this past semester, Max sending messages several times a week, pushing for more and more insight and clarification, Lester compelled to reveal his own fascination with the ubermensch of whom Max boldly asserted that he was one, or on his way to becoming one, and he had sensed, now knew, that a sympathetic Lester wanted more. More of what? Lester had queried. You will discover for yourself as you fall under my influence. Then Max began coming by the office once or twice weekly, and forcing Lester by his very presence to pay attention and to admire.

Well, Lester’s own inclination provided the force; Max simply flexed, leaned close, spoke about power and enticed the teacher’s willingness to reveal more than wise reflection would have allowed. As Max wrote in one of his emails: the submission must be given and aspired to be given with pleasure and close attention to this idea...for when we meet, they most probably will be the central topic. Laughing over the student’s pedagogical tone, he nonetheless spent a restless night, panting in his dreams which kept waking him.

The superman-in-training did have these transfixing Germanic blue eyes and, Lester being more obvious than discreet, adjusted himself for his teacher’s all too evident astonishment. Bringing whatever Nietzschean book he was trying to read, Max introduced intriguing concepts, urged speculation about what it meant to go beyond concepts of good and evil, what transvaluing all values implied, quoting from Thus Sprach Zarathustra whose style and concepts inspired Max but which Lester thought rhetorically bloated. Just yesterday, he had dropped by in the afternoon, flushed with excitement, having to speak to someone who’d understand.

“My friend knows how to ride motorcycles. I’m on the back, see, holding on and he’s roaring down the highway faster than the speed of light. I could feel life itself shoot by me like I was on the edge of the universe. Unbelievable experience.”

“That’s what you said last week about skydiving. Then there was bungee jumping, wasn’t there? You know, Max, sensation mongering is not a sign of superiority. That’s not what Nietzsche is really talking about.”

He could tell by the wince that he had shot an arrow into the lad’s pretensions and immediately regretted the impulse to bring him down a notch. Despite having only an adolescent grasp of the philosophy, Max possessed that invigorating urge to rise above the norms, to stand alone upon the peak and look down at those who had failed to be more than what they were. He could become a great man one day if he did not muddle Nietzsche and succumb to mere narcissism. Lester, however, had failed the climb, had confined and cribbed his mind on the low-lying plains: One must still have chaos in oneself to be able to give birth to a dancing star, Max had quoted Nietzsche in one of his emails.

With difficulty, Giselle finished the passage. Lester knew that Max had slept with her and she wanted to be his regular girlfriend, but Max regarded love and romance as stupid traps for the unwary and weak. He called Giselle a wieb in his messages, an insulting term in German. Surely, Nils the manwhore (was that not also an insulting term?) also slept with one or two of the prettier girls or boys in the class. Lester had even imagined himself seducing Giselle of the lustrous black hair to which he was partial in a woman, but never acted on fantasies where teacher-student affairs belonged.

“Sex is for amusement,” Max had said in his office. “I get whoever I want, it’s fun for the moment, but it’s not important. You think about it too much.”

His students skittering with hormonal energy, immersed in the entertainment and advertising world of sex, Lester wondered how they could concentrate on physics labs and English essays when cocks crowed. Now almost thirty years older than they, he had once pushed the intellectual boundaries in university, sparkled and demolished in seminars, had even slept with two professors to demonstrate insurgent powers, but in the end his brilliance had dimmed. He had made wrong choices and, having married, raised a family, sank into the bogs of conventional attitudes and morality, keeping his desires to himself. Until Max strode into the classroom at the beginning of the semester and Lester sensed a shifting of electrons in the atmosphere. As if the leaden sky cracked and sunlight roared through.

The eye contact in class with Max was thrilling, that exchange of secret knowledge by glint and nod. Max had the habit of smirking when other students spoke and revealed their primitive limitations. They had not crossed over that famous Nietzschean abyss the way Max thought he had done, for they all remained as beasts on one side of the chasm while he, and presumably Lester, had dared the balancing act on the rope leading to the other side where ubermenschen transcended the limits of ordinary humanity. Max’s physique was certainly proof of one kind of excellence.

“I need a strong body for my martial arts, to stand my ground. I will never be thrown to the floor.”

In a foolish moment, Lester had asked him to roll up his sleeve and flex his arm so he could see the strength close up.

“Yes, you need to see this.”

He refrained from touching. Max would probably allow it, but would not offer. Lester must always be the one who importuned. Max and Nils worked out together. After a fashion, the two were friends, although Max had confessed that Nils, content with external form, lacked the will to power, something Max construed to justify his own arrogance and which became a subject of their conversation that morning, biceps exposed all the time.

The difficulty lay in Max’s academic work, his recent paper being an incoherent mess cobbled together with inappropriate quotations from Nietzsche, virtually ignoring the topic and its relation to the story, and written in a style of inflated and preposterous imagery, a clumsy imitation of Zarathustra. Despite evidence of a vigorous mind, as an essay Lester had no choice but to fail it. Nils had made every effort to understand and be understood. He had followed the rules. Banality notwithstanding, his work received a passing grade.

Lester didn’t quite know what to do. Enjoying a personal connection with Max, he wanted the student to become all that he wished to be. He found himself craving the dangerous conversations with someone more than half his age, to feel the pleasure of resistance weakening. Of his professional objectivity, subject to the influence of that gaze, Lester had no doubt. Max would be angry with the mark, possibly embarrassed or humiliated, even though his teacher had written kindly and instructively about the paper’s weaknesses. Despite his beautiful body and proud crotch notwithstanding, Nils would remain in the realm of the mediocre.

After distributing the papers, Lester waited at the head of the class while students left. Max pierced his teacher’s heart with an unsmiling glance, then disappeared. Nils fumbled with his books, wrinkling the logo on his T-shirt, then politely asked his teacher for a clarification of a comment.

“Thank you, sir. I’m really happy with the mark.”

“You deserve it, Nils, a very good effort.”

At the end of the day, disappointed that Max had not dropped by to discuss his mark, Lester locked his office door and found his way to the college pool where he swam a half hour as was his custom three times a week. He was in no hurry to pack his car into another traffic jam on slushy streets under a dead sky. Mind-numbing essays waited to be marked on his desk in his downtown Montreal apartment. Really, all this talk about overcoming and climbing peaks and strutting about in superior glory didn’t obscure the fact that he was little more than one of those pedagogues to whom Nietzsche scornfully referred as oxen.

The change room was deserted except for Max flexing and admiring himself in the long mirror at the end of one row of green lockers. Stripped to gym shorts, his body still damp from the pool and reflecting light did indeed appear imposing.

“Max! I’m glad to see you.”

“Yes, of course you are. I knew you would be here.”

Lester disliked the comment, however true, for it reminded him how much his student knew about his private thoughts. Max returned to the mirror, running a hand along one raised arm, caressing the bicep.

“About your essay, Max, I want to talk about it. You wrote a lot of interesting things, but just needed some logical order and a firmer grasp of the text.”

“Forget it. The mark doesn’t matter. Marks are for the herd.”

“Yes, well, it matters if you wish to pass the course.”

Speaking to his image in the glass where he also saw his teacher sitting on a bench, Max smiled, his eyes catching the light.

“You will pass me, you will give me a very high mark because you want to. Anyway, you have no choice. I see into your mind. I know you. Once we meet off campus, you will understand and be free to do what I want, but you’re trapped as long as you stay here. We can’t be free in the college. Look how the veins pop up when I do this.”

Taken aback by the insight, Lester attempted a rational rebuttal, shifted uncomfortably on the bench, searched his sack for his bathing trunks, and could not mount an argument. Watching the youth, he became aware of a weakening in his own mind, a compelling will to submit to the student’s power. The impulse was not philosophical, which Max must have suspected all along. Indeed, what did marks matter in the end?

Max now continued posing for his teacher, adroitly changing positions. Oh, yes, those impressive legs would in time stride across mountain peaks, indifferent to the herds below who could only look up and be amazed. Submit with pleasure and passion, Lester recalled the words from the email. The huge ubermensch loomed magnificently above him, glinting in the mirror and penetrating his teacher’s defences with those blue transcendent eyes.

BIO: This is Cody Kelin's first submission to an ezine, although it is not the first story he's written. He is interested in balances of power between people and how philosophy is often distorted to justify just about anything. He lives in Canada.

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