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A Philosopher of Sorts

by Dr. Vince

There was this guy who was on break at work one day, when he came across an article about the cynical Greek philosopher, Diogenes – how he lived in a bathtub because he realized he could only occupy so much space at any given time, how he walked about the streets of ancient Greece on sunny days carrying a lighted lantern and claiming that he was looking for an honest man.

And in this article, there was a reference to the legendary Greek comic playwright, Aristophanes, and his famous oration about love in Plato’s dialogue, The Symposium. It was a comparison of sorts between different schools of cynicism. He became fascinated with both of these men – their ideas, their lives. The very thought of their notions about every little thing appealed to him tremendously.

And so, one day he went home, and he said to his wife, "I want to change my name."

She stopped what she was doing and looked at him most curiously. "Change it to what?" she asked.

He looked at her with great determination. "Aristogenes," he said.

She said, "Aristogenes – What the hell kind of name is that?"

"A really big one," he said. "Five syllables. Count them if you like". But she couldn’t be bothered.

Well, he went and changed his name, and bought a book about ancient Greek culture. He discovered, while reading it, that he had very much in common with the ancient Greeks. And he very much considered the possibility that he might well be an ancient Greek in a modern man’s body. In fact, he considered it so much that he came to believe it. And as far as he was concerned, there was no use in concealing it. He had no use for being modern, up to date, ‘with it’ as people would say. As far as he was concerned, he was ‘without it’, and very much ‘with’ something else.

And so he moved himself into his bathtub. He brought in an ashtray, a TV, a small stereo, a few games, some books and a pillow and blanket – he was cynical enough to be modern even as an ancient Greek. Well, it enraged his poor wife to see him spending countless hours in an empty tub. But she tolerated it for some time, until finally it got the best of her. "Are you crazy?" she asked one day. "Why do you spend all your time in an empty tub? Are you trying to prove something? Because I’ll tell you something – what you’re proving is that you’re a nut."

He looked over at her, most annoyed, and he said, "Did you ever stop to think that the universe might be made entirely of water?"

This strange question momentarily gagged her intellect. "No," she said. "I absolutely, positively never god-damned did, you crazy son-of-a-bitch."

"Well," he said pensively. "Maybe you ought to. It might do you some good."

And she went away angry, but she did think about it because she wanted to believe that there might be some outside chance that he had stumbled onto something which would make her happy. After all, for all his strangeness, he did seem happy. But none of this did her any good, and so she continued to pursue her belief that he had simply gone mad. She found it easier and easier to ignore him, most of the time. But sometimes she found that he would say things that made ignoring him nearly impossible. He would say things like "Imagine that earth, air, fire, and water are the only true elements. Everything else is a cheap copy. Imagine that!" Or he would say, "Sorry, honey, no beans tonight. I have a big geometry problem to work out." Things like this would always get her attention.

But one day, he outdid even himself. He hooked a giant extension cord to a lamp, and he walked for hours around the house carrying it in broad daylight. She said, "What in the hell are you doing? What is wrong with you?"

He said, quite calmly, "I’m looking for my soul-mate."

She glared at him. "I have no idea what in the hell that means," she said. And, of course, it was clear to him that she didn’t. And that made other things clear to him.

His wife died quite suddenly in her sleep just a few days after this exchange. He wasn’t quite sure, but he had a sneaking suspicion that it was from the hemlock that he had put in her coffee. He had gotten the idea from an old story about Winston Churchill that he had read in another article in a magazine while on break at work. Apparently, Churchill had been drinking, and had gotten into a bit of a spat with a woman with whom he had been dining. She was angry at him, and said, "Sir, if you were my husband, I would put poison in your coffee." And the unflappable Churchill answered, "And madam, if you were my wife, I’d drink it."

He had always thought that this was extremely funny, and he felt a strong need to match it in some way. And now, in his mind, he had. He imagined his wife dying from the poison and saying to him, "If you were my soul-mate, you wouldn’t have put poison in my coffee."

"Oh yes I would," he said. "But if you were my soul-mate, I would have told you."

Well, the coroner didn’t bother with a serious investigation into her death. It was a standard autopsy with standard results. She simply died because her heart gave out. But he knew that it was much more complicated than that. He knew that she died because his heart had given out. And then he recalled finding her dead that Thursday morning. There she was – a featherless biped – dead – in his bed – enough said. And this thought reminded him of poetry – of Greek poetry. And he thought about perhaps buying a book about it. Meanwhile, he turned on his lamp and walked out the door.


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