Archive for category: Commuting with Nature

All Things are Simulacrums

02 Apr 2001
April 2, 2001

This morning started out as most weekday mornings do: a rush to get us and the kids ready for work and school and a mad dash to the car, making sure everything and everyone is in place. As we pulled out of the driveway, I said “ding dong”. “What does that mean?” my four year old asked. “Ding dong,” I repeated.

My daughter likes to make up games. She especially enjoys making the rules (the province of four year olds). Often, on the way home from school and work she’ll decide to play a guessing game. You know, “it’s green and has spots on it, what is it?” That sort of thing. “If you can’t think of the answer say ding dong, she’ll pronounce. “If you want some extra time, say dong, dong, dong, three times.”

So, when I, all-of-a-sudden, blurted out those words (I can’t be held totally responsible for things like this at such an early hour!), she was understandably confused. “What’s that supposed to mean?” she asked again. “That’s a simulacrum, sweetheart,” I said, again not knowing how that came out of my mouth.

horoscopeBut the door was open and she wanted to know more: “A sim…what?” “A simulacrum is a sign [where will this end, I thought]. Ummm, let’s see…a photograph of a person isn’t THE person, but a representation of that person,” I started. I struggled to find an example a little bit more on her level. “The drawings I make for you of ponies and unicorns aren’t really the animals but pictures of the animals. That’s a simulacrum.” By this time we were on the subway and well on our way downtown. She continued to repeat the word and, by the time we took the elevator up to the surface, she pretty well had it and its definition down.

As we got to the foot of the school stairway she provided me with one more surprise: “Daddy, all things are simulacrums,” she announced. I laughed a huge nervous laugh. “You are so right, my dear. They are!”

Roland Barthes would have been proud. Her postmodernist daddy was amazed but thinks he’ll save the plural for simulacrum for another day. Art criticism may be in her future—her near future!

Underground Magic

22 Feb 2001
February 22, 2001

As we walked through the door she began her incantation. Raising her hands before her, eyes closed, she began:

I wish, I wish with all my heart
To fly with dragons
in the land of heart

I stared, transfixed, as she repeated her words again and again. I knew her chant from her favorite cartoon show. And I took special note of a four year old’s version of an often-heard rhyme.

Her eyelids moved to the beat of her voice. When she stopped her eyes slowly opened and looked at me. “Now, I’ll teach you how to make a wish. If you say it two times, you get to make two wishes.”


I smiled a deep smile. It had been a tough day at work and if this was a sign of things to come, I couldn’t have asked for a better one! I looked around, suddenly aware we weren’t alone. We were on stage, as my 4 year old daughter and I always were, in the subway car on our commute home.

Only one man had taken notice of us. Considering the strength of my daughter’s voice, I was surprised more people weren’t watching. As she chanted he smiled, but stifled it and looked away whenever our eyes met. I was now enjoying both of them. The dance between her recital and his face was something special. When we arrived at his station, he stopped just long enough to say what an amazing spirit she had. I was sorry to see him go.

This was the second performance of the day. On our morning commute, as we rode the slow elevator to the surface, she and I were packed tightly with others. In the public/private solitude, traditional in this venue, she suddenly broke the rules by loudly proclaiming “I love you, daddy!” in her best theatrical voice.

The smiles were audible and I felt like her carnival accomplice, her shill, trying to bring unsuspecting people into our fold. She, of course, knew exactly what she was doing.

© 2001-2015 Jeff Gates ISSN 1544-4074