Jacob Morgendorffer, Esq.
A Friday Evening
Late autumn, 1990
The Morgendorffer house was tranquil. The effervescent Quinn was gone, spending the night with five other little girls celebrating a classmate's birthday. Jake did not envy that child's parents. He shuddered thinking of riding herd on six chattering dynamos dropped in the middle of the buzzers, flashing lights, and dancing animals of a Pizza Forest restaurant followed by having the same six girls hopped up on sugar and caffeine descend upon your house like dwarf berserkers. In Jake's mind, it was a punishment that even hang 'em high judges would hesitate meting out to the most harden of criminals. In a just world, it would be the Sisyphean fate of Terry Perry Barlow, the man who unleashed the horror that was the Pizza Forest franchises on the unsuspecting parents of an unprepared nation.
Helen also was gone, spending most of the last two weeks in Manhattan, helping represent one of her firm's clients in Federal Court. She did not like the separation from her family but knew that a great showing on her part would be a huge boost toward a partnership. The fact that Ms. Davis choose her to assist on such an important case signaled that they thought that she had more potential than the other associates in the firm. Helen thought that next Thursday would see the end of the case but there were no guarantees of that happening. Jake missed his wife terribly but secretly hoped that the proceedings continued beyond that day. If it did, he planned to take the girls to see their mother for the weekend travelling to New York on a train, something he thought that the girls would enjoy and he knew that he definitely would.
Only Daria was with Jake. Supper out of the way and Daria's piano practice done, they shared the living room in a comfortable, companionable silence. Daria curled up on the sofa with a book while her father, seated on a recliner, scanned paperwork that he pulled from his briefcase.
Unknowingly he sighed, just loud enough for Daria to notice.
"What's wrong, Daddy?" she asked.
Jake glanced up perplexed by his eldest daughter's seemingly out of the blue question. "What was that, Kiddo?" he asked.
"What's wrong?" Daria repeated.
Jake shook his head. "Nothing actually," he answered. "I was just looking over some resumes. Mr. Gupty is leaving the firm so I need to find another associate and probably another secretary. I know that Miss Brahms has been seeing Mr. Gupty and I think that it's getting serious."
"Well, Miss Brahms has made no secret of either her desire for children," Jake told her. "Or of her plans to be a stay-at-home mom when she does have them but I'll deal with that when it arrives. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, eh?"
"Why is Mr. Gupty quitting?" Daria asked. "He just started last year. Doesn't he like you?"
it's nothing personal," her father assured her. "He went out of his way to make
certain that I understood that he had nothing against me."
Jake sat the resumes down to give his daughter his full attention. "You see, Daria," he began. "Mr. Gupty wants to make the world a better place. Before he became an attorney, he was a social worker. He is now going to go to work for non-profit where he thinks that he can help more people."
"You help people," Daria pointed out.
"Yes, I do," Jake replied. "But Mr. Gupty wants to help people in poverty and poor people rarely need an estate lawyer."
"Idealist," Daria snorted.
Jake arched an eyebrow. That his just turned ten year-old daughter would use such a word did not surprise him. Daria was unusually clever. The grammar school curriculum scarcely tested her. To starve off boredom, Daria regularly sought other intelligential challenges such as having her mother teach her French and endeavoring to (so it seemed to Jake) read every book in both the school and town libraries. Jake thought that she would start perusing the University's collection before she began high school. To help her stay well rounded, Jake guided Daria toward music with piano lessons and toward art by enrolling her along with her friend Jane who shared her interest and talent in community education programs for children in crafts, drawing and painting. Helen moreover taught her the basics of pottery after she resumed her own youthful pursuit in the medium.
Because Daria did display a tendency toward indolence, Jake additionally insisted that she participate in some athletics. Originally, Daria swam for the local AAU club but unlike her sister Quinn or their neighbor Trent, she proved to be somewhat less than kin to an otter. Subsequently, she tried soccer and basketball before hitting upon the winning combination of Jake's twin sporting passions tennis and golf. It proved to be a happy blend of exercise and the chance for father and daughter to spend time together.
In light of all of that, Daria using the word idealist did not surprise Jake but the sarcasm in her tone as she said it did take him off-guard. "Why do you think Mr. Gupty is wrong?" he asked.
Daria closed her book after noting the page number and sat it on the end table as she formulated her thoughts. "I heard Mom once say that no good deed goes unpunished," Daria said. "I think that she's right. Every time I try to help someone at school, they get mad at me."
"Do they get mad at you or do they get frustrated at themselves for not being able to understand what it is you are trying to explain to them?" Jake asked.
"They yell at me," Daria replied. "I don't care why. All that counts is they do."
"It's difficult to remain open to people, Daria," Jake said. "Sometimes the maxim 'people are no damned good' seems to be the truest thing ever said but to get the grain we have to shift though the chaff."
Daria grunted. "I rather be left alone."
"The world rarely allows us our desires," Jake pointed out. "Besides, there is something that feeds the soul when we help someone else without it being quid pro quo."
"Without it being what?" Daria asked.
"Quid pro quo," Jake repeated. "A Latin phrase. It means something for something. What I mean in this case is helping someone without expecting any favor or gain in return. Simply helping someone because they need it."
Daria folded her hands under her chin while thinking. "Such as you and mom watching over Jane and Trent so much," she said after a moment.
"Well, yeah," Jake replied. "I suppose. It's not a very dramatic example but the small considerations that we show our brethren do help make the world just a little better."
"Like the President talking about a thousand points of light."
"That's right, kiddo," Jake answered. "No one person can change the world but sometimes, Daria, with something as simple as a smile you can ease someone else's burden just a little and change your own small corner of the world for the better."
"Dad, c'mon," she said in disbelief. "A smile."
"Yeah, a smile," Jake replied. "A smile acknowledges someone. When you're lonely that is very powerful comfort and can be enough to help get someone through his day."
"So I don't smile much," Daria snapped. "It's not like I'm being mean to everyone, Dad,'
Jake held up a hand before Daria's tirade could continue. Helen regularly exhorted her eldest daughter to smile more often, which was a sore spot for Daria her father understood. "No, Kiddo," he said calmly. "You'd scare people if you suddenly started grinning at them. They'd probably think that something evil is sneaking up behind them."
Daria laughed before asking, "What do you want me to do then?"
"Just be a little more open," he replied. "And maybe a little slower to judge."
Daria nodded in understanding but her face clearly displayed her apathy to the idea. "What you want is for me to start being friendlier to more people."
Jake chuckled at her utter lack of enthusiasm for the concept. "No, Daria," he said. "At least, not like what you're thinking. I don't expect you to become everyone's best friend. The truth is you're like me in one respect; we're both pretty much loners. We like to keep people at arm's length with only our family and a friend or two close to us."
"You do?" Daria asked in surprise. "But you're with people all day."
"Yeah, Kiddo, I am" Jake laughed. "I have dozens of clients and there are dozens of people who work in the same building or who are in my unit or whose path I cross frequently but in reality, the only friends I truly have outside of family are Charles Ruttheimer and the Yeagers although I haven't seen Coyote and Willow in ages."
"Jane's my only friend," Daria ruminating on her father's confession absently said. "And I guess Trent."
"You guess?" Jake asked.
Daria waggled her head. "It's not the same. It's more like he's my older brother too."
Jake smiled. "An older sibling's not a bad thing to have," he said.
Daria who had yet to find any advantage in being the eldest shrugged. "I suppose."
"The point I'm trying to make, Daria," Jake said getting back on track. "Is that you don't have to be everyone's best friend but you should treat everyone with kindness and should not dismiss their dreams or ideals just because you don't share them."
"I would not make the decision Mr. Gupty has but I respect his choice. It is his life and he should walk down whatever path he sees fit unless logic and experience eventually proves it to be wrong."
"Okay but than if that's the right thing to do," Daria began. "Then it is okay to think someone is an idiot until they prove they're not."
"Well, that's one way to look at it," Jake replied trying to rapidly think of an argument to stem the tide of the heretofore unsuspected budding cynicism of his daughter. "There is nothing amiss about being cautious about people but to my mind based on my experience, the better way is to give them the benefit of a doubt, assuming the best in them until they show otherwise."
"Why?" demanded Daria.
Jake sighed. "Have you heard the term self-fulfilling prophecy?"
Daria shook her head.
"What it means is that basically we find what we look for in people, situations or ourselves," Jake said. "If you expect someone to be an idiot, then you seek out proof that he is one."
"Of course," Daria replied.
"Yeah but what happens, Kiddo, is that our minds color what we see to fit what we expect," Jake responded.
Daria frowned. "What we see is what we see."
"No, we don't," Jake replied. "As the Jesuits are famous for saying 'Truth is perception.' Or to put it another way, we don't see what our neighbor sees when he looks upon the same thing."
Daria shook her head vigorously. "Something is what it is," she forcefully said.
"Am I tall?" Jake asked.
Daria opened her mouth to reply but quickly shut it as she narrowed her eyes. After a moment, she nodded slowly. "I would say that you're tall," she replied. "But a basketball player wouldn't even though you are the same."
"That's right, Daria," Jake said. "We always need to take the time to try and see through the other fella's eyes. He might surprise us."
She sighed. "All right," she said. "I'll...try"
Jake chuckled. "Daria, I love you just as you are. I do not expect, heck, I will not want you to be 'Miss Congeniality'. Like I said, just keep an open mind about people and maybe give them a helping hand when you can."
"I love you, too, Dad, "Daria said reaching for her book. "But I still think that being a hermit would be easier."
"Easier, yeah," Jake replied picking up the resumes. "But unless God himself has led you to the desert, it would be a very empty life."
Tydings Elementary School
The Following Monday
Jane and Daria stopped in the middle of the hallway. Jane shook her head.
"I wish we in the same class," she said as she had for at least three times a week since school resumed in August.
"Hopefully next year," Daria replied. She missed having Jane sit beside her as she had for the first three years of school but was more inclined to accept a situation that she could not change.
"Yeah," Jane drawled in return. "See ya at lunch. Sloppy Joes today."
"Yippee," Daria intoned blandly. "See you."
"Wouldn't want to be you," Jane replied over her shoulder as she pushed open the door to her class.
Daria watched her friend disappear inside before walking to her classroom next door. Her desk was halfway down the first row. The desk behind hers was empty but behind that one sat a slender boy with unruly black hair. As usual, he was staring at one of his textbooks, today his math one, like an ape would stare at an aircraft carrier.
Daria emptied her backpack and started to sit down. She stopped.
"Darn it, Dad," she muttered exasperatedly under her breath as she turned around.
"Is something wrong, Kevin," she asked in an almost pleasant tone.
Kevin looked up. "I just don't get it," he whined plaintively.
"It's multiplication," Daria thought. "What's not to get?"
"What's the problem?" she asked aloud.
Kevin shook his head as a melancholy mask slid onto his face. "I'm just stupid like everybody says."
Daria slid her chair beside Kevin's desk and sat down. "You're not stupid," she assured him. "You just having some trouble getting this is all. Let's see what we can do."