We knew Simone was a special little girl almost from the moment she was born. Her two older brothers, 11 and 8 pounds at birth respectively, had cleared a path for her like pulling guards on a student-body sweep play, and she had literally popped out of her mother’s womb after an easy delivery.
A smile of satisfaction as she completes her first syllogism!
She didn’t cry as newborn babies are expected to do. Instead, she looked around the delivery room and the assembled crowd of medicos with a look that said “An absurd universe just got a little crazier–’cause I’m here!”
We named her “Simone” after Simone Weil. My wife held out for Hannah Arendt, but for once I put my foot down. “If you ever try to scold her,” I said, “she’ll start the whole ‘banality of evil’ thing, that’s why she put glue in the cat’s fur. Trust me.”
Arendt: “Not my fault. The cat was making paper dolls.”
Early on she showed signs of the seriousness that would make her a two-time winner of the Outstanding Sense of World-Weary Resignation Award at Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Daycare. Whenever one of her uncles or aunts would say “You’re so beautiful, sweetie,” she’d repeat EKR’s gag about the most beautiful people being those “who have known defeat, struggle, suffering and loss.” That always cracked up the relatives!
Kubler-Ross: “Stop it–you’re killing me!”
When we first noticed she’d come out of her shell a little bit and started playing dolls with her friends, we offered to buy her a Barbie Dream House. She said no, her doll didn’t need that much room, it was a self-denying Simone Weil doll, it could make do with just a frugal apartment.
“The garret apartment is yours, Little Simone!”
She’s daddy’s little girl, that’s for sure. She never wastes time on books about horses or girl detectives, no sir; she’s at it every night with the Wittgenstein and Husserl and Heidegger. Personally, I wish I could get her to share my love of J.L. Austin and ordinary language philosophy but hey–you can’t kick the Kinderkick soccer ball for them, and you can’t make their philosophical choices for them.
Still, I’ve warned her about reading too much existentialism. It can turn you into a bitter, negative person as I was in my undergraduate years. You’ve got to breathe the fresh air of monadism every now and then, I’d tell her.
J.L. Austin: The Anti-Babe Magnet
“Leibniz?” she’d scoffed. “Please–that guy thought the world would run out of music eventually.”
“If only it had,” I said ruefully. “We wouldn’t have another season of American Idol not to watch.”
She turned back to her text, but I knew something was wrong so I sat down next to her and put my around her.
“Everything okay, punkin’?” I asked.
“Yeah,” she said, unconvincingly.
“Been thinking about death again?”
“I’m always thinking about death!” she said, brightening.
“Okay, so–what’s on your mind?”
She inhaled, and looked over at her bust of Aristotle. “If there’s an afterlife–and that’s a big ‘if’–will you and I be together, daddy?”
I hugged her tight and couldn’t help but choke up a little. “I don’t think so, sweetie.”
“Actually, no it isn’t, sugar,” I said with a sigh. “Back in the 80′s, daddy made an awful joke about herpes.”
“It’s a disease that never got to be as popular as AIDS,” I said. “People thought it was a tragedy, but it turned out to be just an inconvenience.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it doesn’t kill you. You get it for life, and it stops mommies and daddies from playing OB/GYN with each other when it flares up, but that’s about it.”
She was silent for a moment. “So . . . you’re going to hell?”
“Probably purgatory,” I said as I fiddled with a Descartes action figure she’d been told to pick up after dinner. “I’ll probably be there until the end of time.”
That seemed to make her feel better, but she didn’t exactly perk up. “Anything else?” I asked.
“Like ‘Being and Nothingness’ nothing, or real nothing?”
She sighed as heavily as a 75-pound, ten-year-old girl can. “Well, there’s a boy . . .”
I should have known. It’s at about this age that I started teasing Sue Ellen Pfeiffer, saying she didn’t know Plato from her elbow, stuff like that.
“Who is it?”
“Jean-Paul Camembert. Down the street.”
I knew the insufferable little twit. Wore a beret, smoked a bubble pipe as he strolled around the neighborhood with his hands clasped behind his back. He’d probably have tenure before he was thirty.
de Beauvoir and Sartre: “Are you getting this all down, you secondary sex-object you?”
“Well, we were playing sidewalk cafe in his new Playskool Cafe le Dome when . . .”
She hesitated, and I knew she was having a hard time facing her newly-discovered knowledge of an existential boy’s inhumanity to his girl.
“Tell me, honey,” I said. “That’s what daddies with bachelor’s degrees–with honors–in philosophy are for.”
She sniffled a bit, then began haltingly: “He started bossing me around, saying he was the big philosopher and I was just his . . . amen . . .”
“Yes. He looked down at his plastic play food and yelled ‘You call this a crepe? Il est merdre!”
Nothing breaks a father’s heart like the thought that some boy has deliberately gone out of his way to hurt his little girl. I was enraged, but I tried to calm myself before speaking. “Sugar,” I said, grasping her by the arms and looking her right in the eyes.
“Yes,” she said, beating back tears.
“If any boy is ever . . . ever . . . guilty of mauvais foi with you, I want you to run right home and tell daddy, okay?”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Let’s Get Philosophical!”