I miss her.
I. Tonia and Little Bit
Honolulu has many bright spots. One of the brightest for me is a young lady named Tonia.
Tonia is an acquaintance with whom I love to chat when she stops by at the Coffee Cove for iced coffee on her way to work at the salon where she is a hairstylist. She is quite lovely, of Swedish extraction, a slender petite, twenty-something brunette with green eyes and a pixyish Irish smile. She is an independent-minded, single woman with a affectionate daughter whom she takes to school and to piano lessons in their black pickup truck. Tonia is from back East and dresses accordingly, often blackly, a color which, in my opinion, serves the beauty business very well. I envision her having her own salon some day, for which I have suggested, because she is so tony, the name Tony Tonia's.
Yes, Tonia is a very bright person, and she is fun to converse with because I sense from her countenance that she is almost up to some mischief but won't actually go through with it; I like being on the edge of rebellion, yet not really getting into trouble, don't you? What sort of trouble it might be in Tonia's case, I cannot say. She has a liberal sense of humor which sparkles against her conservative black dress. Black was, by the way, a color also favored by the original missionaries to Hawaii. Yes, Tonia is faithful. She might laugh at the political authorities, but she does not talk trash. Her relationships are enduring ones, but she definitely does not cotton to the concept of marriage as an institution for her in particular.
Perhaps my psychological makeup disposes me to favor Tonia because of her occupation. My 1984 psychological profile indicated my positive affinity with occupations such as college professor, lawyer, public relations director, reporter, interior decorator, and beautician. Instead of the above, I took up the lowest occupation on the scale, accountant; I did well at that, but the real accountants thought I was an odd ball. Perhaps I would fit right in doing hair next to Tonia's station.
Furthermore, I lived back East for many years; Tonia reminds me of my liberal days there in contrast to Hawaii, which is, I assure you, a very conservative state under the Sun. Moreover, she is her father's daughter, and I do appreciate that. In fact, if you must know, I have not only a Platonic interest in her but a fatherly one as well.
Tonia is from Middleboro, Massachusetts. When I asked her why she left the home town she often spoke so fondly of, she said, laconically, "I was grown up." She lived in New York City for a couple of years, then moved to Hawaii because a Ouija board spelled H-A-W-A-I-I. SInce I was curious about the origins of her vivacious nature, I asked her about her
Tonia said she was raised by her father, Francis Carlson, a man who is very good with machines and with animals. She showed me a photo in the Gazette dated November 10, 1994, of Mr. Carlson with a parrot on his shoulder. The caption reads: "Hun, an Amazon parrot sitting on owner Francis Carlson's shoulder, was the object of interest of school children as he was spotted in some trees around the Mayflower-Burkland School complex a couple of weeks ago. Carlson was able to catch his parrot, which had escaped four days earlier, by offering him a handful of cranberries."
Then Tonia showed me a full-length photo in the Gazette of her father walking a turkey, with the caption: "Carlson can be seen each day walking his pet turkey on Warsham Street. He does not plan to eat it for dinner tomorrow." Alas, Tonia reported, the turkey was stolen that afternoon, no doubt making a good dinner elsewhere.
"What an fascinating man," I declared to Tonia over my third cup of one-hundred percent Kona coffee. "On the one hand he is mechanically minded, fixes machines, builds motorized bikes, harvests cranberries, and on the other hand, he loves and cares for unpredictable animals. I can just see him walking a turkey, and you straggling along behind with your doll."
"I didn't have dolls," Tonia responded, a trifle indignant. "We had lots of animals instead."
"Tell me about them."
"Well, there was my little horse, Little Bit," Tonia smiled broadly, "who had a mind of her own. She had kind of a mean streak. When you got on her she had the attitude, 'Well, I'll show you a thing or two.' One time I got on her and she took off like crazy. There was nothing I could do except to hang on for dear life and go along for the ride."
"Where did she go?"
"Several blocks away, to the Jehovah's Witness church."
"Good God, whatever for?"
"The grass. She loved the grass there," Tonia was still smiling broadly, her eyes twinkling with the very memory. "And the pigs loved to eat the flowers there too," she offered.
"Get out of here! What's with that church, anyway? You had pigs too?"
"Yeah, chickens, ducks and pigs. We had a little chicken who adopted a duck and took it everywhere, even slept with it. Oh, I used to ride a 700-pound pig instead of my horse. Anyway, the church called the cops about one of our pigs eating the flowers, and the pig did some jail
"Tonia, what a great story. So you didn't have dolls, just pets. Does your daughter play with dolls?"
"No, she doesn't like dolls. She likes to do other things, like play the piano and do her math."
"Math? What will the world come to with little girls playing with math instead of dolls?" I mused jokingly.
"She just won an award for her math."
Tonia's daughter is nine-years old now and, as I said, she is an affectionate child: she readily accepts everybody. When Tonia brings her around I enjoyed interacting with her. However, when she became keen on computer toys, I sadly surmised that I had been replaced by a toy. Not to worry, Tonia assured me recently, her daughter has figured out the toy and has put it aside.
II. Tonia and Dolls
Dolls have been around as long as human beings, I thought as I sipped my coffee and gazed at Tonia's charming face, but perhaps as we become more civilized we should abandon them as being too primitive for our own good. Playing with dolls appears to be very similar to the practice observed by Portuguese sailors in Africa, where men were seen using carved figurines in their magical religious cults. The Portuguese called it fetishism, meaning "that which is made in order to make believe." The objects were believed to have some sort of supernatural energy or mana that could be manipulated. The practice advanced to the anthropomorphic belief that the entire universe could be represented by a man.
"I've heard of queens who had dolls. Mary Queen of Scots had a great collection she would play with," I remarked to Tonia. "I admire her for not giving up her Catholic faith on the scaffold. She said she was born a Catholic so she would die one."
"Oh, yes, I know grown women who have dolls," Tonia responded, thumbing through the morning paper for the horoscopes.
"Hey, look, here's an article about Barbie dolls, about Barbie's 40th birthday," I said, picking up the Feature section.
"Capricorn," Tonia had found my sign.
"Yes, I know. I'll have a big opportunity today at work, I should pay more attention to my sweetheart, and my family may surprise me. But I have none of the above. it's my horror-scope, as usual, reminding me of what I don't have," I went on pessimistically. Tonia gets a kick out me when I adopt that attitude. "Try wait, Tonia, listen to this about Barbie. Somebody criticised her for giving kids unrealistic ideas, so an Italian writer, Luca Goldini, says 'Children notoriously fantasize while they play. They act. They want to become that which they are not, often pretending to be doctors, teachers, mothers, anything but kids.' She says that adults should give up trying to control kid's fantasies. 'the richer the fantasy, the more fun they have...but I don't believe that any child of normal parents actually dreams of one day having a pink camper or a horse with a platinum blond mane.'"
"I think they're selling dolls," Tonia said.
"I think so. It says here Wall Street is commemorating Barbie's birthday with a workshop to teach girls how to be economically literate, to be financially independent. That reminds me of what Marx said about worshipping commodities."
"He said we project a power onto products that they don't have, then bow down to them. So we worship stuff."
"I think so."
"Maybe we should have Barbie Babysitters, Barbie Teachers, Barbie Parents," I fantasized, "so we won't need the real people."
"They've already got that," Tonia said, looking at the clock, "Hey, I've got to get to work soon."
"Try wait a minute, I remember a good doll story."
"Yeah, during the big Iconoclasm Controversy when the Byzantine emperors tried to get rid of image worship. It was the upper classes of society versus the middle and lower classes and the monks who owned a lots of property and who had power over women and the poor. They had icons and images of saints they worshipped, but had to keep them hidden. The Catholics argued the images were just educational devices for illiterate people. Anyway, you know how women are, mystical, so they are into magic and stuff like that."
"Some are like that," Tonia partially agreed.
"Well, the wives of Iconoclastic emperors had to hide their images under their clothes, under cushions in their apartments, in drawers, and so on. Every once in awhile they would get caught worshipping an image of a saint, so you know what their excuse was?"
"They would say they weren't worshipping images, that they were just kissing their dolls!"
"Yeah, one empress in the ninth century, the Asian wife of Theophilus, called the Blessed Theodora because she restored image worship, was seen by the emperor's jester with her images. He asked her what she was doing, and she said 'These are my pretty dolls and I love them so.' So the jester told on her, and when confronted, you know what she told her
"No. Dave, I've got to go. What did she say?"
"She said she and her attendants were just looking into mirrors, and the stupid jester thought the reflections of their faces were images of saints. So Theophilus had the jester flogged and told him never to mention dolls again, and he didn't."
"That's a funny story," Tonia shook her head from side to side, gathered up her things along with her second iced coffee, "but I've got an appointment coming in at nine."
"Oh, please don't go."
"Please stay, I pleaded. "What am I going to do without you?"
"Get a life, maybe?" Tonia joked, walking to the door.
"OK, see ya later alligator."
III. Tonia and Socrates
Alas, Tonia had departed. She is a good listener, and I was about to deliver an impromptu lecture on dolls. Fortunately, she left me enough food for thought to sustain a lecture to myself.
Something about that creature named Tonia inspires me, I thought. Is it her intelligence, her youth, her beauty, or am I just fantasizing, avoiding reality with my dream of her? Is she, as men say, a doll? No wonder so many women object to being called dolls; I'll bet Tonia would protest. But, then again, maybe not. She might employ the motive behind it to her advantage. That is how smart women get men to eat out of their hands, is it not? Is not superficial cosmetics the magic medicine that transforms the individual woman into the Cosmos? Appearances are deceiving, yet they have been known to enchant and even heal the soul.
Nevertheless, I mused, women are alive and dolls are dead. Dolls have no will of their own. Who would want to be a doll? Do little girls who play with dolls become inanimate dolls who must depend on men's fantasies to enliven them when they grow up? I hope not. That certainly is not the case with Tonia, for she had no dolls.
Of course dolls today are more lifelike than yesterday. Even so, kids seem to prefer the funny looking, furry creatures; they seem more alive, more irregular than dolls uniformed according to the various roles they are to play. And if all that is too boring, kids have complex computer toys to keep them occupied. Still, something is lacking, namely, Life. Who in their right mind would want to be a doll or a machine? If someone acted like a doll or toy we would think they were crazy. Most children like animals most of all; they seem to have an almost instinctive attraction to living creatures. There is something very engaging and unpredictable about life. It is full of surprises. To a certain extent, it is self-moving.
The living creature has a mortal body, its machine, but it also has an immortal self-moving soul. At least that is what we are told by Socrates and many others who have had the leisure to ponder on ultimate subjects.
My Platonic relationship with Tonia, and the story of her horse Little Bit, brought those speculations home to me after her departure from the Coffee Cove. There was something wild in Little Bit, and it was a wildness that sensed where it belonged. I think we all have a little bit of the wild, undomesticated animal in us, a wildness that knows exactly where it wants to go. And in our feral case, it is even more wild, even more mad as it ascends to absolute freedom in divine order. In fact, that wild nature of ours enharnessed is the fertile ground of our flowering cultures.
Socrates told Phaedrus that we should not be frightened into preferring the rational over the irrational, in that instant case the rational friend over the irrational lover whose senses are disturbed; for, he said, only the mad have the gifts of our greatest happiness bestowed upon them by the gods. He spoke of the gift of prophecy, the gift of cathartic relief from troubles through prayers and purification rituals, and the gift of poetry, the very font of our spiritual development. He said we must understand the nature of the soul, first of all, in order to understand the all the rest. We must understand that souls are immortal because they move themselves, because they are self-moving.
"For every body that is moved from without is soulless; and every body that derives its motion from within itself has a soul, since that is indeed the soul's nature." Plato quoted Socrates.
Socrates informed Phaedrus that it would take forever to render an abstract explanation of that truth, thus, for the sake of brevity, he would use a myth. Mind you, Socrates had said at the outset of his conversation with Phaedrus that he could not be bothered with myths, yet now he resorts to a myth. In this conversation he also criticized the fancy speeches of sophists, then went on to give a great lecture on rhetoric. He had an ironic sense of humor I think. Anyway, here is the myth:
The soul is a composite union of powers in a team of winged horses and their charioteer. The gods have good teams. But others have mixed teams: each charioteer has a handsome, noble horse of good breeding on the one hand, but on the other hand he has just the opposite, therefore his task is troublesome.
The problem is that souls lose their wings and descend from the perfect order of Heaven down to Earth, where they take the form of mortal bodies that appear to be self-moving. I interpret that to mean--forgive me for putting words into the horse's mouth--that the charioteer is torn between Heaven and Earth, that he suffers here because he is being drawn and quartered by his horses!
Why do horses lose their wings? Because the charioteers have not trained their unruly horses well, so they are weighted down by them. To make matters worse, there is a great deal of competition to get to the summit called Reality where the soul's real pilot dwells invisibly in perfect order. Some teams are rising, some descending; there is much jostling and trampling in the process. As for the poorly trained teams who are so desperate to ascend to the summit:
"Not one of them is able to gain a glimpse of Reality; and so they go away and feed on the food of illusion. The reason for this great eagerness to behold the place of the truth is that the pasturage proper to the best part lies in that meadow; the wings on which the soul is to be borne aloft must find their nourishment there."
Well, then, just what is a soul to do in these circumstances? Why, of course, find a god and follow him to the top:
"This is the Decree of Destiny: whatever soul has followed in the train of a god and has caught sight of the truth, it shall be free from harm until the next revolution; and, if it can continually do this, it shall remain forever free from harm."
But if the soul loses sight of Reality, it shall fall to Earth for yet another cycle, and it is a law that the soul who has not seen much Reality shall NOT be planted in a beast at its first birth. But the soul who descends having seen the most of Reality shall be planted in a philosopher, a follower of the Muses, or a lover. Descending down the ranks from there we have: a monarch or warlike ruler; a statesman or a business man; an athlete or a physician; a prophet or a priest; a poet or other imitator; a craftsman or farmer; a sophist or demagogue; a tyrant. Alas for the poor poet, formerly so enthusiastically gifted by the gods! According to his disciple, Plato, Socrates had mixed feelings about poets.
Well, that explains everything important. Or maybe not. Whatever is the case, my self-lecture or soliloquy left me wondering: What ever happened to Tonia's mare, Little Bit? I can envision Little Bit galloping lickety split to Jehovah's Witness Church, with Tonia clinging for dear life to her mane, then onwards and upwards for a taste of the good and beautiful life of wisdom, justice, courage and temperance.
I pray she stops again for coffee along the way. Yes, indeed, Honolulu certainly has its bright spots, and Tonia is one of the brightest.