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  • Tall, redheaded, facial hair. He invited me to coffee someplace near the station. I asked if he would be fine if it were a working date. He said he was thrilled by the idea.

    When I left the station, I wandered around a bit, enabling myself to arrive six minutes early rather than sixteen. I ordered myself some chamomile tea and found what I assumed to be him seated at a table with his laptop. We caught each other's eyes, establishing that we were, in fact, there to meet each other. I shook his hand. His name was J-something. All J-somethings run together.

    He talked about policy and technology and I did not even attempt to pretend to be interested. I spoke of dead languages and the ancient world, and disabused him of all manner of notions he'd collected from wikipedia and pop science.

    "Was Stoic philosophy at all present then?"
    "Oh, sure, if you read Tacitus' Histories you'll find all kinds of Stoic suicides littered throughout."
    "Histories. Tony Woodman has got a good translation out. Pretty recent too."
    "I see," he said, tapping at something on his laptop. "I didn't think the Romans would be into something like Stoicism, you know how they were."
    "You mean how they've been portrayed in pop culture?"
    "Well, yeah, if you look at Nero and his dining room."
    "The Domus Aurea depicted a moving model of the heavens. Gazing at the stars was an activity the Stoics espoused."
    "Yeah, but it was still extremely luxurious."
    "Oh, to be sure, but Nero wasn't so much a Stoic as setting himself against them. One might see the ceiling of the Domus Aurea as a reaction against the kinds of things the Stoics said against Nero."
    "That's interesting."
    "And in fact, the Domus Aurea and the grounds that surrounded it were never meant for Nero and his closest friends alone. He set it up as a public park where everyone could come and hang out. Nero's affinity for the lower classes of Roman society was something that always embarrassed the aristocracy, most of whom were your beloved Stoics."
    "Hmm, I never realized how complicated it was."
    "Everything is more complicated than you realize. That's why you should read something more rigorous than what's popular."

    He trailed off and we went back to work. I had figured he thought me an domineering bore, but we went for a late lunch/early dinner soon enough. On the way I spoke of the pride of place classics once had at universities, and the decadence of the liberal arts today. He said that decadence was why he always had a poor opinion of the humanities and preferred what was useful.

    "Who determines what's useful?"

    I rolled my eyes. A pretty word for a non-sentient force fueled by illiterate, unschooled desires.

    We had a tasty meal and ate our fill. The place was filled with football fans and he occasionally, quietly mocked their passion. Soon enough we walked back to the train station where we parted ways. My train arrived ten minutes before his was due. As I heard my train approach, I asked him if he wanted my number, he took it down and asked how my name was spelled. I spelled it for him quickly and stepped on the train.

    I wonder if he was just being polite. And if I do indeed hear from him again, whether I'll remember what the something after J was.
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