A reader named Dunstan from Lafayette, Louisiana, takes me to task for saying that a boy named Dunstan in the U.S. would be subject to rock-throwing at recess. “My parents moved here from Montreal when I was seven,” he says. “People made fun of my accent but not my name.” Dunstan was named for a character in Robertson Davies’ Fifth Business, which he urges me to read.
I’ve been a fan of that novel since college, when a friend (eventual boyfriend) and I — I can’t believe I’m going to admit this — declared ourselves (in honor of the novel’s protagonist) “polymaths.” A true polymath is a walking encyclopedia, always in search of greater knowledge.
In our case, the thirst for knowledge focused primarily on making mix tapes that, the setting being Florida, inevitably included at least one Jimmy Buffett song. We took classes like “Asian Arts & Concepts” (which we retitled “Asian Farts and Contraceptives”), “French Literature, 1850-Present” (in translation) and “The Russian Cultural Heritage.” And we each purchased a hardcover thesaurus, so that we could comb through it and make lists of synonyms for each other. Nights he parked in the Duckpond area of Gainesville, Florida, and we talked about books, pretending that we did not want to kiss each other.
You know how this story ends: the eventual relationship was a failure; the polymath thing at last played itself out; we are still friends.