Lord Biro

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic

Grad school hadn’t turned out as planned.

Paul proposed his master’s thesis in late autumn as part of a student architectural competition to a room full of classmates and professionals. The latter half of the event, the actual defense, was scheduled for the end of the second semester. The winner would receive a scholarship to study at the Royal Institute of British Architects. His advisor, Victoria, thought it would be a good idea for Paul to submit his entry, despite his not having ever heard of RIBA before. “You’ve worked so hard on it,” she said.

A few classmates laughed openly during his fall presentation, the thesis of which involved building a house on water out of recycled materials. When one of the other advisors - a thin, reedy-voiced man whose name Paul couldn’t remember - demanded, “How do you plan on paying for this?” Paul responded sarcastically, “By taxing you heavily.” Though he immediately regretted it, he had to admit, it felt pretty good and it got a laugh out of Victoria, the only instructor who seemed to understand where he was coming from.

“Good morning!” she quipped the next day. “How is my favorite hell-raiser?” Paul noted how Victoria, ordinarily a textbook example of received pronunciation, enjoyed throwing in the occasional American witticism.

“If only,” he said wearily. “I might as well start robbing banks with how everything went down.”

“How so?” she asked.

“Yesterday was a disaster.”

“I wouldn’t say that.” She readjusted her reading glasses and removed a notepad from her tattered leather handbag. “There’s nothing wrong with people questioning your project. Believe me, it happens a lot in this field. Imagine being a woman and having to deal with such things. You’re a grown man. Don’t take it so personally.”

He had to hand it to her - she was charitable but tough. And in this case, correct. He glanced around the room. The place looked as though it were carved out of chalk. Everything was painted white. Though the crown molding and classical-inspired decoration on the fireplace gave the room an elegant look beneath the glare of the fluorescent lights, everything looked…tired. The walls, the wainscoting, the plastic chairs, and Formica tables. For the many times the hearth had probably warmed the room in the past, it had been reduced to a sad-looking ornament planted in the middle of the far wall, as though it were a forgotten relative at a retirement home.

Paul turned to the windows. The school abutted the British Museum, with the windows of this particular room opened up on this day to the back of the complex. He saw workers gathered around the hulking shell of a massive air conditioner. One of them picked up a wrench and climbed inside the gaping maw to the guts of the mechanical beast. There was a loud clang followed by a sternly enunciated curse.

“It’s just that…”

“It’s just that what?” Victoria asked.

“I was hoping for a little more enthusiasm and support.”

“It’s not like they said you couldn’t do it. They simply wanted a more thorough investigation as to what you were doing.”

“But I don’t know what I’m doing!”

“That’s fine,” she said, suddenly shifting to a softer tone. “It’s still the beginning. As long as you have something penned in the next couple of weeks, you’ll be fine.” She stirred her tea and took a sip. “And when I say ‘penned,’ I mean have a few chapters written out, Lord Biro,” she laughed.

A few weeks back, Paul and several of his classmates gave a presentation. In his desire to one-up the competition by displaying some literary verve, he had included a Lord Byron quote to further their case. Unfortunately, Paul had absentmindedly typed “Biron” precipitating the word-check on the laptop to note it as “biro,” which, he quickly learned by the smattering of laughter, was the British term for a ball-point pen. So there on the large projector screen, for everyone to see, were the timeless reflections of Lord Biro. Victoria was still chuckling about it weeks later.

“But they don’t think my thesis is solid,” he said. “So what do I do?”

“Well,” she said, as she grimaced through her cup of Yorkshire Gold, causing Paul to wonder if she was dissatisfied with the tea or having to deal with yet another man’s inability to problem solve. “Elaborate on your thesis idea.” Her eyes, now little fissures, were scanning him. “Well? Out with it, you.”

Victoria always showed great interest in her students. And she was particularly interested in Paul, who was much older than the others. She once asked him about it.

“One of the reasons why I came over here for school was because I didn’t have much going on at home,” he conceded to her during one of their early meetings, “My grandparents died and left me some money. I didn’t have any other family. I couldn’t find a decent job…and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted one. I did the nine-to-five office thing for a decade and then I got laid off a couple of years ago and it was the best thing to happen to me. But then I realized that most people don’t feel that way because they have obligations. I drifted away, I guess. It got to the point where I didn’t even want to go outside or hang out because people are so blindingly caught up in simply working. Mostly because they had to. They were conditioned. But I realized that my feeling this way was my problem; that they weren’t going to change because many of them didn’t know any better. Or if they did, they couldn't do anything about it. I just find it difficult to spend so much of my time doing something that doesn’t fit my parameters, and since I now had resources why not try something new? I know some people want that life, to be grounded by something; a career and a spouse and kids. But I’m an American, right? If anyone should be able to dictate their life, it’s me. An American.”

“But what prompted you to move to London?”

“I liked it here when I was on tour with my band back in the 90s,” he said. “And it was far enough away from the states while still sharing a common language. I thought maybe if I got out of Dodge for a while, I’d find something new.”

“You were at a crossroads.”

“That sounds about right.”

“So you want a more relaxed life?”

“Is that what I’m saying through my thesis?”

“Well, there’s something inherently relaxing about living on the water,” said Victoria. “Of course, there’s also no shortage of beaches, rivers, and other assorted bodies of water overflowing with red-faced tourists and their spoiled, recalcitrant offspring.”

“So why does that have to be relegated to vacations?” asked Paul. “Why can’t people live like that all of the time?”

Victoria tapped the arms of her eyeglasses with a forefinger. She looked at Paul then nodded her head.

“Okay, that’s a good start…” she said, flitting her silver hair back over her shoulders. “The inherent calm that emanates from the rhythm of water, the cyclical aspects, and all the residual elements that occur through nature… but some would also say that there could be chaotic elements as well,” she ruminated. “Think about how throughout the history of humanity, people have been trying to tame nature…and how water has contributed to this spotty track record of accomplishing such an achievement…so, with your thesis, you’re talking as much about a lifestyle choice as a design or sustainability measure.”

“Well, I’d like to think that all of those things go together,” he said. “If you lose sight of one of them, then the rest fall by the wayside.”

“I see,” she nodded. “And yes, they do go together.” Victoria thought for a moment, tapping her pen on the notebook she used to mark the progress of her students. She then tore off a page and began writing down the names of architects and writers for Paul to research.

"Here is a list of people I think you should read," she said.

“You think it will help?”

“Yes, I do," she replied. "I like your idea. Especially since you’ve introduced this personal aspect to it. But you need to realize that this is more of a philosophical aspect and that it will take some convincing. I’m not saying it can’t be done…but as they said during your earlier inquisition, you need to elaborate and back up your theories. So chop-chop, Lord Biro.”



Submitted: May 03, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Kurt Garrison. All rights reserved.

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