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Full Measure: Chapter 1 Full Measure: Chapter 1
by Bohdan Yuri
2007-06-18 12:41:19
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It was a spring day, hazing the brisk side of change. Josef Korn sat on a park bench waiting for his friend, Myron Melnyk. But Myron was late. It was so unlike him.  Josef tried to distract his feelings by stretching his patience with measured motions, tossing peanuts to the grey squirrels.

Myron was Joseph's last remaining friend. The rest of the best had died off. Sure he still had some lady friends, a gentleman always does. But a man, he believed, needs to talk with other men, "to feel his place in history", and Myron provided that link.

It wasn't that Josef was difficult to like. On the contrary, he was a very amiable, sophisticated fellow; easy to get along with once he accepted your trust. But his standards were high, relics of another era; he'd always test you initially, to see if that trust was indeed genuine, flawless, and most of all unconditional, and acceptance demanded a perfect score. It was his measure of a man's worth, to do what had to be done: duty --- loyalty. It had been forty years since those shadows had accompanied him on the battlefield, black and white measures of the past.

But, unlike the battlefield, where life survived on trust, courage, and wisdom, civilian life, he felt, tested none of those qualities. The men that he'd worked with and managed at the warehouse before retiring ten years ago, they were of a different mold.

With Myron, though, he knew from the moment he saw him that this was a true man, the kind that accepted a challenge and threw back an even greater one.

Ten years ago, after a light brunch with Mrs. Morgan, his landlady, Josef was taking his usual Sunday stroll through the park, alone. As he approached the chess tables, he came upon a braggart of a man who'd proclaimed that before the war, he was a champion grand chess master in Prague. Many took up the challenge but they'd all lost. "Any more pretenders?" the Czech always asked with a champion’s display.

Josef had wished that his game was of a higher level, as he'd wanted to do battle; he’d craved a victory. Instead, he'd noticed a man, who'd been watching children stretching their sinews on monkey bars, approach the table and plainly sit across from the Czech. That man was Myron. Not a word was spoken. He took the first move, a knight.

Josef was mesmerized; he'd never seen such play. Each move was an unexpected pleasure: every attack, every defense was countered by Myron's daring strategy. Less than ten minutes and the king was toppled. Josef loved it. It was clean, and precise, and, he reminisced, much like Germany was before, in the beginning ---like blitzkrieg. The Czech stormed off, cursing, and carrying his defeat in his pockets.

Josef immediately told Myron how he'd admired his play, then asked, "Are you a chess master, world champion, maybe?"

"No, I am a simple conductor. Why, are you one?" Myron asked back, in an accent that baited.

"No, no," replied Josef. "I'm just a parlor player, nowhere near towards your game. Compared to your victory, my play would have been a lost skirmish, and in half the time. I just wanted to tell you....” Josef noticed a gesture of a smile in Myron's eyes, he allowed Myron to proceed.

"Pride can be a poor companion," Myron stated. Josef wondered whose pride. "But perhaps we can still play some day,” Myron offered. "We'll each play to our own fullest measure and see which one can learn the most from each other."

Josef, always anxious to advance any opportunity, blurted out, "How about next Sunday?  I'm always here, at the park, every Sunday...” Myron nodded. And from that day on, they'd met every Sunday, at the same time 3 o'clock, rain or shine, to play chess, and to retrace the motions of their existence. The game became secondary to countless stories from flavourful memories. Myron had many tales to tell of people he'd met along the line and Josef, he told what he could... But, this time Myron was late.

A gust of wind echoed a sharp edge from winters’ past as Josef recounted the war and its tragedies. On the Russian front he'd seen many a man's spirit blown away, defeated. The reckless reaper was a cruel and heartless arbitrator, a collector of corpses, or what was left of them. Yet during the fighting, he remembered, death became a game of numbers as simple as black and white. --- Victory and defeat. It's only time that turns them into nightmares. He bit on his lower lip to mask the remorse. He suddenly wondered, maybe Myron was ill?

Last week Myron had complained about a burning sensation in his heart. And didn't he say that he was seeing a priest this morning?  All these years, Josef thought to himself, not even knowing where Myron lived. "...I move a lot..." seemed like a satisfactory answer at the time. But, now...

Read the other chapters

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Sand2007-06-17 10:58:51
I find this well written and probably reflective of personal experience. I do not automatically connect the attitudes expressed with that of the author but cannot suppress an annoyance at the obvious denigration of women as such. I am a heterosexual male and find in women many individuals who are fully my equal or, on occasion, my superior in many matters so this expressed attitude in the story strikes me as not only unfair but aggressively distasteful.

by2007-06-17 18:09:54
"Personal experience"?

This is fiction.

The characters are fiction.

Paparella2007-06-17 21:05:08
I am very intrigued by this writing as I am by any writing where the game of chess appears. I look forward to its next parts.

The game intrigues me because it is the logical game par excellence. It can easily be played with a computer, and people do, especially those with a rationalistic mind-set. However, in this piece the passion for the game is the pretext for two lonely people to enjoy each other’s company and even develop a friendship. This is quite a contrast to the conclusion of the movie Terminator wherein a mother is happy that her son has found a new friend, a robot.

When students in my Humanities' classes ask me how can mathematics and logic and chemistry be poetic since they appear to form an oxymoron, I sometimes direct them to read the second section of the second book of Vico’s New Science; that is if I detect that they are really serious about their inquiry, and are not just interested in asking a smartass question to impress their peers; other times I throw a seed and hope for it to prout; I give a quick answer even at the risk of being misunderstood; it goes something like this: the way you make it poetic is by narration. You narrate to yourself the story or the history of logic from its beginning in Man’s evolutionary process till today: the narration in itself, even if only in prose makes it poetic. The story of Man humanizes what he has created within history. Even chemistry can thus be humanized via the poetic. Man is his own history.

You will then discover that at the beginning, just as you still see it in children nowadays, what obtains is not rigorous rational logic but poetic logic, a logic wherein imagination and not rationality has a privileged position: a sort of semiotic of signs and symbols. That does not mean that primitive Man did not reason, he certainly did just as children do in their own unique way. How so? Primitive Man and children make sense of reality by using language (without it nothing can begin; in fact they are born with a deep structure of language written in their very genes) which is highly metaphorical; via language the surrounding observable phenomenon is explained via myths and tales and fables; hence the gods.

The gross fallacy of every extreme myopic rationalist is to consider those imaginative modes of making sense of reality as so many lies and distortions of reality not worthy of an adult, as the father of modern rationalism Descartes certainly suggested in his Discourse on Method . Some would even deprive their children of those imaginative tools thus doing a disservice to them.

What the myopic deaf rationalist fails to see is that at its origins primitive man and children may not reason rationally but they surely reason and in fact their mode of reasoning is superior in at least one respect: their reasoning mode makes no dichotomy between the image and the abstract concept or syllogism; it does not even raise a question about them. If modern man cannot retrace its steps to that kind of imaginative thinking he condemns himself to what Vico calls “the barbarism of the intellect.” That is the disaster of modern thinking divorced from the poetic.

Sometimes this very schematic explanation comes across to a student, sometimes it does not, especially when the student is not open to the imaginative and is more interested in what conforms to his mind-set than in a serious answer. In that case I refer him back to Vico with a warning: Vico has been dead for three hundred years now and you cannot ask Vico any smartass questions face to face; so you either you understand him on your own or you don’t. And if you don’t you ought to consider the possibility that the problem lies in you and not in Vico.

So, I say right on Mr. Yuri. Up with the poetic and the imaginative and the fictitious that can deal with any subject matter and do so more effectively than clever by half dry and sterile rationalism where the mind refers back to itself and eats its own tail.

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