Chapter 14 – Chicago August 2018.
Our hero recruits an old mate.
Putting his worries on this score behind him Watson set off dine with an old pal. Tim Cherbinik, the friend in question, was visiting the business school. His regular job was as professor of philosophy at the Great Western University (Drummondale, Australia).
Cherbinik was very sharp. His parents had emigrated from Russia to Australia after the fall of the Berlin Wall, where Cherbinik had followed a long tradition of becoming a brilliant student. He obtained his chair at Drummondale at a youthful age on the basis of path-breaking work in semantics. His causal analysis of the meaning of distinguishing adjectives had shaken the philosophical establishment.
Watson had known Cherbinik as one of his lecturers at La Trine University. In those days Cherbinik had affected an appearance that betokened a thoroughgoing contempt for traditional standards of both aesthetics and hygiene. His hair lay in dank and matted locks, his beard frequently contained the remains of yesterday's lunch, his sweaters were washed biennially, his jeans were seldom removed, and his feet were clad in worn-through rubber thongs.
Cherbinik in those days had a physical girth that matched his prodigious IQ. He scorned the '80s vegetarian revolution, and his diet (apart from the odd bar of Club Chocolate) was completely carnivorous. With each bottle of claret - and he often consumed several at a sitting - he became more inclined to seek out the fatal weakness in his dinner companions. The caring-sharing types lay very low when Cherbinik was on the prowl.
Some years after his appointment to the chair at Drummondale Cherbinik spent a year at the Institute for Nuclear War in Washington DC. This invitation had been extended after he spoke out strongly in favor of nuclear armaments at a meeting of the South Pacific Philosophical Association.
Washington had greatly expanded Cherbinik's horizons. He had quickly ascertained that semantics was on the skids. But a colleague at Harvard had introduced him to the rapidly expanding field of business ethics, and Cherbinik soon perceived that this could be a way to generate both a large income and many excuses to be away from the bucolic charms of Drummondale. Jenny James, his Harvard contact and another old friend from La Trine, put it to him straight.
'Tim, there is just one major sacrifice you'll have to make. You'll have to look much more conventional. You lose five stone and I'll get you kitted out. I recommend the Pritikin."
Unpalatable though this advice was, it seemed the only way to avoid a future in which the high point would be Devonshire teas with the graziers' wives. Cherbinik applied himself vigorously to the new regime. Several months and many kilos later he was meeting with Watson to learn more about the possibility of a U.C.-Drummondale linkage.
Bloody hell Tim," Watson exclaimed, "I hardly recognized you. Is there anything the matter?"
“I’m okay John," Cherbinik replied, "I haven't lost my marbles. I've just been on the Pritikin. It's what you'd call exploitation of a profit opportunity."
The waiter handed them their menus. Cherbinik ostentatiously placed his to one side. "I'll have a Waldorf salad and a glass of mineral water," he said. Watson ordered a sirloin and a bottle of Californian red, with French fries on the side.
It was now time to catch up on the news. Cherbinik told Watson the details of his elevation in Drummondale. Watson explained that his mentor at U.C. Inc. had offered him a good job in the London office, and hinted at an exciting new research project.
“Business ethics is a good place to be right now," Watson opined. 'The boys at the Chicago Business School are running hard to catch up to Harvard but there is an acute shortage of suitable philosophers. My guess is hat it would go like a bomb in Oz. The wave of corporate takeovers in the past few years raised a lot of questions that have not yet been resolved. You’ll kill them."
Cherbinik munched on his iceberg lettuce. "I'll sure give it go” he said. "Anything is better than going to seed in a rural outpost. You can tell your mate Bullock I'll be more than willing to do a bit for U.C. if the opportunity arises."
Watson’s final evening in Chicago was spent chatting with Big Harry, who gave him the benefit of various local aphorisms like, "Every man chooses his own permanent income” and 'There ain't no such thing as a free lunch." He presented him with an original doodle of a "Canberra Camel” Camel" which, he explained, "has more than the usual amount of lip and no hump of stored energy The first half of the message was obvious, but Watson was left wondering what the second part meant.
Watson told Bullock that his friend Cherbinik was willing to work with U.C. if the opportunity arose. Bullock pulled thoughtfully on his cheroot. "I've got something in mind," he said. "It's a long shot, but I reckon that sooner or later some country is going to consider selling off a chunk of its territory to reduce the national debt. Perhaps your mate could do a survey of views on the subject in Northern NSW. It would have to be pretty low key of course. But then nobody's going to suspect a philosophy department of doing an thing with a practical application. Even if it did get out it would be regarded as just another ivory tower exercise-"
"I'll phone him tomorrow," Watson replied. He was however a bit bemused. Did Harry seriously believe that nations would solve their problems by selling off territory? But then Harry was the ultimate pragmatist, and if he thought the information was worth paying for, there must be someone who was willing to pay him for it.
Big Harry then switched the conversation to Watson's career. He showed signs of being worried about the possibility of having over-killed the GradStude’s London paper. He asked on several occasions whether it had been sent to a suitable journal. "You should send it to the ‘European Diary Farmers Review’, or perhaps ‘Japanese Economic Notes’," he would suggest. “Remember the C.V."
Watson muttered something about how they would get around to that soon, wondering about the best time to tell Harry that it was appearing in Kurt's journal.
Return to index here.