As we go about life, we come across some pretty fascinating individuals; some of these folks are quite prominent background characters in our stories, and some are just incredible little vignettes of mystery who we only very briefly share a space with. This Interesting Characters series is my way of preserving these humans as they were, elusive and compelling, when they happened to cross into my storyline. So, here they are.
Part One | Plato’s Boy
This term, to fulfill a science & technology requirement for university, I’m taking a course about the history of science and religion. It’s actually quite nice that I have the excuse to take this class, because I really do enjoy learning about evolution of these types of things; giant collective moral shifts are inherently interesting. Anyhow.
Our professor is this old and wise gentleman who encapsulates everything you’d expect from a university professor of history. He’s a slightly round man with white hair parted drastically off to one side and combed neatly across his forehead. His eyes are bright and his suit trousers are always pressed. When he speaks, it’s clear that he holds an immense collection of knowledge about an incredible number of things: history, philosophy, science, religion – you name it. He is a very learned man. Very sophisticated. But, he jokes with the class. We chuckle a lot. The hour and a half flies by.
The class is a split graduate and undergraduate course, and despite the fact that it fulfills an undergraduate requirement, the majority of the undergrads taking the class seem to be there because they are interested in the subject, not just because they just needed to take something to fill the credits.
Among these students is a guy who I’ve taken to calling Plato’s Boy in my head when I see him. I don’t know his name, but I always end up sitting in the desk in front of him. This guy absolutely perplexes me. I am constantly surprised by him. He looks like what I would describe as a fraternity boy from an American movie; he’s tall and lean (with the exception of his absurdly massive pecs), his dark blonde hair is combed up from the front so that it adds an extra two inches of height to him, and his lips are constantly turned up in a way that’s reserved for boys who have an enormous sense of self confidence. He grins when he speaks. I initially thought he was insufferable.
He looks like the kind of guy who should be sporting a t-shirt, khakis, and vans with socks that go halfway up his calf, but in an interesting twist, it turns out that he exclusively wears suits. The first time that I realized he was all dressed up was on a Friday, so I figured for whatever reason that he was an athlete all dolled up for gameday. In retrospect, I realize that I only thought this on account of the fact that the football players at my high school used to do this, and it was a bit silly of me not to think that one through. Regardless, it turns out that Plato’s Boy just wears suits all the time. Every day I’ve seen him, he’s been wearing a suit – jacket, shoes, and everything - and I see him three days a week. That’s a lot of suits, man.
After figuring that out, my analysis of him was just that he was this pretentious, wealthy dude who thinks very highly of himself and is conventionally attractive enough to get away with talking as much as he does in class. You know those types of guys? The ones who are always speaking? And they’re loud – even when they’re just having a conversation with the person right next to them, they speak at a volume that commands the room’s attention? An affliction of attractive men. Plato’s Boy is a bit like that. He speaks a lot, and he speaks loudly, and he wears suits, and he has huge pecs. I mostly just dismissed him.
As the class went on, however, and our professor walked us through hundreds of years of history, it became very clear that Plato’s Boy is actually remarkably well read. Almost absurdly so. Our class is centred very much around Greek philosophy and philosophers, as modern science is sort of the descendant of the ideas of folks like Plato and Aristotle and all their pals (mostly Aristotle though – holy cannoli that man knew quite literally everything), so we chat about them and their works and their influence a great deal. Plato’s Boy is very well versed in just about all of the classic Greek philosophy that has come up in class.
The reason I have come to call him Plato’s Boy is because of one particular dialogue between him and our professor. We were all talking about the pieces that Plato has written, and our professor was going through them all and asking the class collectively if anyone had read any of them before. Plato’s Boy kept nodding while everyone else shook their head, and our professor made the joke that he was the only well-read person in the class. “Which one is your favourite?”, he asked him. Plato’s boy relayed that he enjoyed Republic, but they were all quite good. “Have you read the Crito?” our professor asked. “No,” replied Plato’s Boy. “But I’m working on it. It’s in my backpack right now”.
Okay. Who on earth just casually keeps Plato in his backpack? This guy is just an unbelievable character. I am still amazed at how much he doesn’t fit the box that I put him into. He speaks loudly and he speaks a lot, but it’s alright because he knows so much. He answers all of the questions our wise professor poses to the class, and it’s gotten to the point where our professor won’t let him answer anymore.
As I naturally came to overhear during one of his loud conversations he had with a friend of his in the class, I found out that Plato’s Boy is also part of the Religion Club here at our university. Many of the people in this class are religious, or at least have a religious background, but I honestly cannot tell if Plato’s Boy falls into either of these categories, of if he just took it upon himself to absorb all of the information about the history and theology of these religions just purely because he is fascinated by it.
He belongs in Dead Poet’s Society or something – he is so miraculously out of place & time here. It’s as if a YA Novel’s author concocted him and plopped him here, but you really couldn’t make this guy up. I’m terrified of him, to be perfectly honest. He sits behind me most every class, but the most interaction I’ve had with him is the one time he smiled at me as an involuntary thank you for laughing at a joke he made. The guy behind him had asked him about his suits. “I get them from Goodwill”. Huh. Another fascinating character element. “Everything is from Goodwill. The jacket, the shoes… well, except the socks. The socks are not from there. If you’re going to Goodwill for socks, you might need to re-evaluate some things”. I chuckled. He smiled.
We come across some truly interesting characters. This particular character – a guy I’d pegged as a pretentious dude with huge pecs and a huge ego who buys his suits from Goodwill and reads Plato in his spare time – is a doozy. Perhaps I’ll eventually figure out his name.