When Michael Patterson first sat down next to him in the university auditorium on orientation day, Josef Weeder was pleased to see someone who looked friendly. He'd driven himself to campus the day before in a rented cube van, and did not recognize a single soul on the massive grounds of Western University. Mike had asked him a simple question. Weed (as he was called by his chums), seeing the glazed, faintly panicked look in Michael's eyes, had pounced on an opportunity to get a laugh and maybe make a friend.
He'd found that projecting an air of self-assured comfort and good humour was the best way to put others at ease; it had worked well when he was doing photo shoots of friends who'd never modelled before, and he'd decided to put the attitude to work at his new school. Within the first few sentences to Michael, Weed had proposed a party; a pint or two with new people often helped smooth the way from acquaintance to friend.
He felt a flutter of anxiety in his stomach as he tuned out the “welcome” address and looked around at others in the crowd. He wondered what they were thinking; he'd seen some of them cringing as their parents toured the dorm delivering speeches about the dangers of binge drinking, or trying to hammer home messages about the need to budget.
Weed was aware that his bank balance was exceptionally healthy, and he remembered his father's pride at being able to give money, perhaps too generously, to his son.
He'd sat with his father in the large room that Josef Sr had used as a home office, which was filled with antique furniture, curiosities from exotic locations, and a large assortment of expensive bottles of Scotch. Josef Sr. didn't seem to derive any enjoyment from these treasures; he reminded his son of ancient Chinese emperors who were rumoured to keep collections of thousands of concubines and musicians, always in readiness but never actually called upon. Wealth for wealth's sake. (Weed had friends who lived in apartments smaller than his father's workspace).
His dad sat rigidly behind his vast desk and monologued about how Josef would surely enjoy his time “on walkabout” at university, and anyway what kind of father would let his child live on macaroni and cheese when the family import business had offered such good returns? Josef may be going out in the world to experience public education and experiment with bohemian life but there was no good reason for any Weeder scion to have to scrabble for meals like his parents had done in the old country. Weed held his tongue as he gripped the acceptance letter from Western tightly and reminded himself of how many people loved his photography. Unfortunately none of those people were in the room.
Jo's mother paid mild attention to their conversation while speaking rapidly in Polish to a supplier who'd telephoned a few minutes earlier. She hadn't registered an opinion on his plan to move away to attend University. She had wrinkled her nose at his choice of location and asked why he didn't pick somewhere more exotic to study. Somewhere tropical, perhaps, with those neon-coloured birds. “We have that field office in Tanzania – you could go there and take pictures of Kilimanjaro and get to know our African suppliers.” The focus for his family is the business – photography was a hobby, a passing phase.
His father had sent him off with promises that he'd be supported, and that there was enough money for Josef to study a “relevant” subject after he got his education... Weed was acutely aware that no other possible outcome existed in his father's mind. He was experiencing the kind of certainty only granted to the privileged: connected wealthy men who rarely, if ever, had their views questioned.
Going numb in the auditorium seating, Jo awoke from his funk keenly aware that the money was likely to stop flowing, despite his father's indulgent assurances that he'd have a check every month. His sister had left home to study nursing a few years previously after a very similar conversation across that same desk in the office. For two months she was given funds for food and rent, and then the checks had simply ceased to arrive. Nursing wasn't a status career, the senior Weeders had said. Better she should study law or political science; things useful to the company.
“Don't think anything will be different once you're out of the house. Nothing changed when I moved, except I was even more out of sight and out of mind than before,” Sophie had told Weed when he'd called to tell her he'd applied to study journalism instead of business management.
The elder Weeders had acquired what would become J. Weeder Trading Co shortly after their arrival in Canada. Josef Senior had enjoyed a stroke of luck, landing a job working for a fellow immigrant who was nearing retirement age. The original owner had survived a Polish prison camp, though sadly he had lost his children and been forced to start anew in Canada without any family at his side. Josef worked hard earning the trust and respect of Radoslaw Kuczynski, eventually buying the thriving import arm of the business and taking it on a three-decade journey of growth.
They imported exotic furniture, food, jewelry and small decorative objects - the wholesale division serviced retailers across Canada and in small pockets of the US. The Weeders regularly travelled to visit their crafters, manufacturers and creators around the globe, and they had satellite offices in Africa, South America, Europe, Asia and Australia. Mr. W mentioned repeatedly that he would like to change the name of the business to J. Weeder and Son.
With so much to focus on, Weed's father had never been good at paying attention to the little details of his kids' lives, and it seemed that sending a check to his daughter was a detail too small. Sophie had continued to ask for occasional help with a large bill or tuition payment, but she eventually gave up. If she was to study nursing, she was on her own. It didn't take long for Weed to discover that he, too, would have to struggle for going against the grain.
Weed's first meal as a free bohemian was a box of home-baked cookies given to him by Lucille, the family's maid who had essentially raised him, when she dropped him off at the U-Heave-It depot to pick up his cube van and start his life as a student. He let his memory linger over thoughts of Lucille's cooking until the droning onstage address from the Dean ended, then he collared his new friend Michael Patterson and dragged him downtown to a pizza joint.
“Fill the belly, empty the mind” was a favourite phrase of Weed's. He'd picked up the quasi-Taoist snippet on a summer tour of Asia in his late teens where he'd taken some excellent pictures and acquired a taste for eastern philosophy (although he was supposed to be focusing on sourcing exotic spices for his parents' line of cooking products). They were wise words, though, and Weed had learned when to use them.
Weed got to know Michael better over the next few months, sharing many more pizzas, pitchers of lager, dorm-room pranks and eventually the move to Mrs Dingle's house where they shared a sparse but cool upstairs apartment for an affordable $800 a month cash. Michael knew how to cut loose and enjoy himself, but he'd also kick Weed out of his room if he really wanted to get some work done. Weed appreciated that.
Once Mike had explained that he needed solitude to achieve the “writer's trance”, Weed understood that he was dealing with someone like him – a creative personality with a good work ethic. He suspected they could form a real partnership that would benefit them both.
In the meantime, they learned to survive on a student's diet of ramen noodles, scrapings from the bottom of the peanut butter jar, and the occasional proper restaurant meal if they still had some cash left after they paid their rent. Weed took on odd photography jobs when he could and accepted a gig at the university, helping to maintain their stock of darkroom and digital printing equipment. It wasn't much of a living, but he was too proud to ask for help from his folks.
Weed grudgingly appreciated that he'd inherited his family's work ethic. He vowed, however, that he would never cross the line to workaholism. He frequently reminded himself that he was pursuing the middle path by balancing partying with studying.
After his photography career began to take off, he branched out and began purchasing income property. Today, Josef Weeder Junior puts in hours of hard, detailed work and then leaves the studio behind for hours or days at a time to enjoy the company of his friends and his partner Carleen. Sophie remains his biggest fan, and while his parents never changed, they did at least show up at one of his gallery openings - and looked at his work for the first time. Josef Sr. eventually hired a nephew to start learning the family business. Weed wished them all well and took Carleen out for sushi to celebrate. They are about to enjoy their 8th anniversary and have started to discuss getting married.
- Oh, super. Having a work ethic and wanting to do things for yourself instead of waiting for the miracle to happen is a bad thing.
- Again with the "writer's trance", Lynn?
- Cohabitation is fine as long as it eventually leads to marriage and complaints that men just don't THINK when it comes to being domestic.