Saturday, February 28, 2004

Group Therapy: February 28, 2004


Hey, buddy. You know, these letters to you are about the only thing that I find meaningful in my life. A little pathetic, don’t you think? Well, almost the only thing I find meaningful. There’s also “Mozart.” I love “Mozart.” Did I ever tell you about the time my father caught me, alone, listening to Mozart? That was a wild scene!

This morning I had an intimate moment with “the little man from Salzburg.” Ah, Mozart! Wherever he held out his hand, the highest art arose!

Psychoanalysts place great emphasis on what they term “the repressed.” According to psychoanalytic theory, it’s what you are not aware of consciously that directs your life: directs your behavior, your passions, your hatreds—your love of Mozart or “Mozart.”

I believe that too, ardent Freudian that I am.

But I have my own theory. That there’s something to be learned from looking back over the trivial things in your memory. When I look back over my conscious memories, I’m always struck by the possibility of something significant in the fact that I actually remember something. Why that thing?

Let’s say you had a teacher in college. You reflect on your recollections of him. You saw him perhaps 30 times over the course of a semester. He went on mindlessly about this or that. You end up forgetting most of what he said. But a few recollections, a few trivialities, remain. Why? Does that happen to you? Have you ever thought: “There must be some reason why I remember that one thing he said and very little else.”

I had a history teacher in college, Dr. Gerald Eggert. That was at Penn State. I took two courses he taught. History 21 (“U.S. History from Reconstruction to the Present” – the present being the Nixon era, of course) and a course on the history of the American worker.

An anecdote that Dr. Eggert told in History 21 about FDR came to my mind recently, since I’ve been in group. I associate the anecdote to the statements of one of the group members that I’m just an actor—a person who says one unbelievable thing after another, a person who undermines his own credibility.

Dr. Eggert told a story about FDR holding a meeting with one of his advisers, Harold Ickes. Eleanor was present. At the conclusion of Ickes’ presentation, Roosevelt said: “Harold, I agree with you one-hundred percent.” Ickes leaves, and Harry Hopkins enters. Hopkins presents a set of ideas to the President that are the direct opposite of Ickes’ presentation. At the end of Hopkins’ presentation, Roosevelt says to him: “Harry, I agree with you one-hundred percent.” Hopkins leaves. Eleanor, incredulous, turns to the President and says: “Franklin, Harold Ickes said one thing and you said you agreed with him. Then Harry Hopkins came in here, said the total opposite—and you said you agreed with him. Franklin Roosevelt said: “Eleanor, you’re right. I agree with you one-hundred percent.”

Why did I recall that? Maybe I am just an actor—or maybe presidential material.

I used to be a big fan of Johnny Carson. Remember him? I used to watch the Tonight Show all the time.

Of the countless jokes Carson told over the years, I can remember only one. It was in 1989, I suppose. The Berlin Wall had just come down. Carson said: “The Berlin Wall’s come down. What could happen now is that West Germany might re-unite with East Germany—and you’d have One Big Germany. And wouldn’t that be a dream come true?”

I remember in History 19, Claire Hirshfield (The Greatest Teacher Penn State Ever Produced) spoke so dramatically about the unification of Germany, in 1871. Before 1871 “Germany” had comprised a collection of independent states. Prussia created a unified German state in 1871 under Bismarck. Dr. Hirshfield said that the other European powers were horrified. Almost overnight, a new and powerful state—Germany—appeared on the scene, upsetting the existing balance of power in Europe. (And they were right to be afraid! One Big Germany).

In group I’ve been irrationally preoccupied with the idea that my entry in group upset the existing balance. I talked about that. The group said it wasn’t so. The group members explained that there was a lot of arguing and dissension before I arrived. I said I was curious about how the group dynamics changed at the point I entered. Everybody thought that was an odd idea. I attributed the idea to my being the youngest child in my family, born six years after my older sister. I said I had the idea that I had upset the family dynamics upon arriving on the scene. It’s an idea that is somehow satisfying to me but not objectively verifiable. It’s fundamentally an irrational idea. But the idea has a power over my imagination: the idea that everything was going smoothly and swimmingly. Then it was like “Oh, Christ! He’s here!”

My older niece, when she was young—maybe about 6 years old—said: “My mother (that is, my older sister) says she wishes you were never born.” I can imagine Napoleon III saying the same thing about the German Reich!

I just have the feeling that my identifications and my recollections validate the importance of the idea for me it’s important to see myself as a “an emergent collection of fragments,” a new entity that upsets the existing order. I wonder what Claire would say about that? Claire knows everything.


One of the group leaders, Nicole, is a bright young lady. She got her bachelors degree from The University of Pennsylvania. (Dr. Hirshfield got her Ph.D. from Penn). Debra’s undergraduate degree is from George Mason—I mentioned that. I tend to repeat myself. Chuck Reischel likes to point that out all the time, the fact that I repeat myself—with the implication that I’m a tad off my rocker.

Anyway, for some reason Debra and Nicole—two bright young ladies—have brought to mind someone I hadn’t thought about in some time. Lilliam Machado, Esq. Lilliam was a paralegal at Akin Gump in the late 1980’s—during the Reagan Administration. She was assigned to the labor group, and directed the Eastern Airlines document production project. I could tell very early on that she was extremely intelligent. I mean intelligent in the extreme. She was bright and delightful. Very reasonable. She seemed to have a keen eye for people; an understanding of people. (If she were a man, she could have been one of my selfobjects). I worked for her, during my early days at Akin Gump. We got along quite well. I don’t think she found me violent and disruptive, or difficult to supervise. But I was in my pre-morbid state at that time. Make no mistake: by the time my employment ended I was in fact disabled by severe mental illness.

The thing is, Lilliam Machado seems so different from Nicole and Debra. I just don’t see the brilliance in Nicole and Debra that I saw in Lilliam. Oddly, despite the fact that Nicole and Debra are psychologists—Lilliam Machado’s “people knowledge” seemed superior to theirs.

Here’s the lowdown on Lilliam. She entered law school in the fall 1988. “I told my husband, ‘Luis, when I start law school—no more sex. I can’t handle both law school and sex simultaneously.’” Yes, she said that. Poor Luis. She went to Boalt Hall, I think. That’s the Harvard of the West Coast.

Machado, Lilliam
Law Office of Lilliam Machado 1101 30th Street NW Suite 500 Washington, DC 20007 Telephone: 202-625-4349 Fax: 202-625-3336 E-mail: llmachado@aol.comAreas of Practice: labor and employment managementI am willing to serve as a resource to D.C. Bar members on the following law practice management topics: client development/marketing; personnel management; starting a solo practice

Check you out later, Brian. When are we going to do lunch, buddy? I’m still waiting.

Friday, February 27, 2004

Group Therapy: February 27, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s going on with you? You always seem in a balanced state of mind. You have a Goldie Locks personality—not too hot, not too cold.

I, on the other hand, contend with sleepless nights, restless days, fractured relationships and vials of pills that help with the psychological pain—but not enough. Such are the permanent scars of growing up a Freedman. Yes, buddy. I am one sorry sod.

Summer’s right around the corner. Do you ever go to the shore? Virginia Beach, Ocean City, Dewey Beach? I notice you never seem to have a suntan. Maybe you’re not a beach person.

I can tell you there are hazards to being a beach bum. Try eating McDonalds On the Beach. Sand everywhere. You always end up with grit in your mouth, the result of a sandy burger. Ever try to get intimate with a young lady on the beach? Try kissing her On the Beach, all the while managing a sandy burger in one hand. That’s more than any man can handle.

Did you ever do it with a young lady under the boardwalk? To paraphrase T.S. Eliot “Between the erection and the orgasm falls the shadow of the boardwalk.” I remember when I was a kid, on the beach in Atlantic City. The perennially-unsatisfied curiosity about the odd goings on under the boardwalk. I’d run to my mother: “There are people under the boardwalk. What are they doing?” My mother always responded with evasion and a stern admonition not to go under the boardwalk.

I always wanted to do that—a tryst under the boards. But I guess you first have to find a lady to do it with. That’s where my troubles start. Finding the female.

My old friend at Akin Gump, Bob Dillon, used to go to Dewey Beach. That’s in Delaware. Dillon was a paralegal. We worked adjacent to each other in 1991, down in the subterranean depths of 1333 New Hampshire Avenue—the office suite euphemistically termed “The Terrace.”

Anyway, Dillon was an Irish-Catholic kid from Philadelphia. He attended night school at Catholic University Law School. I guess he’s a practiced attorney by now. He was a product of the parochial school system in Philadelphia. Anyway, Dillon and his buddies used to spend summer weekends at Dewey Beach. I think there’s a gay beach up there, though Dillon would have stayed clear of that section I’m sure.

I think I told you about Dillon before, didn’t I? He reminded me of my old psychiatrist, I. Jay Oberman. Dillon, like Oberman, was a “fuck” maniac. Every other word out of that kid’s mouth was “fuck.” Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

Tell you who else I was thinking about recently: David Christopher Tobin, Esq. He was an up-and-coming associate at Akin Gump. He had an office on the fifth floor; I worked on the fifth floor from June 1988 to March 1989. Tobin was Smart and Good-looking. But more than that—he had star quality. I had a feeling he was headed somewhere. I had the feeling also he was someone the partners had their eye on, someone who was headed for early partnership. Of course, he did the partners one better. He left Akin Gump and set up his own firm, Tobin & O’Connor. Do I know people or do I know people?

Be that as it may.

At my last couple of group sessions, Debra suggested that perhaps I was malingering. I don’t know whether I am or not. I know I actually believe the things I say I believe. I told Nicole that I thought I had been under surveillance by firm managers since 1988. Last Tuesday, she asked me if I still believed that.
I said yes. Not only do I believe what I always have believed, but—as these letters attest—I believe I’m still being watched and read. Yes, I believe Malcolm and Earl are behind it all. Malcolm and Earl are behind everything. Very little happens in this world without the knowledge of Malcolm and Earl.

Do you think I’m malingering? Something’s obviously wrong with me. And it must be serious. Whether or not you call me psychotic. I have no friends. I’ve made no friends in the last 48 hours, as you know. I write letters to an imaginary friend. I believe I have the ability to understand subtle meanings in words and phrases people use. I’ve written three autobiographies. Count them. Three autobiographies. I haven’t been to the movies since September 1992. I haven’t had any social contact of any kind since early February 1992. I believe the Pope knows about me. Not to mention President Clinton, Presidents Bush and Bush (Father and Son), President Carter, President Ford and probably enough Prime Ministers of Israel to form a minyan.

Tell me that’s not severely abnormal. I’ve seen countless therapists since 1977. Only two of them I really liked. Dr. Palombo and poor old Dr. Sack. I really miss seeing Dr. Sack in the building. Those were the two biggest mistakes of my life—failing to continue in therapy with either Dr. Palombo or Dr. Sack. I think either of them could have really helped me.

Such is my life. We could friends too, Brian. But that’s up to you. Like President Nixon, I don’t grovel.
One historian writes that Nixon’s narcissistic “preoccupation with himself,” translated into an inability to achieve intimacy with others (on or under the boardwalk). Sound familiar? Maybe groveling is the way to go. Maybe if Nixon groveled a little more, he could have saved his presidency. Who knows what I might achieve with a little well-positioned groveling?

Speaking of Presidents, you know what occurred to me? All the therapists I’ve worked with who’ve been associated with St. Elizabeths Hospital have been a little whacked.

First, there’s Dr. Albert M. Taub. He diagnosed me with paranoid schizophrenia. Nobody agrees with that diagnosis. Dr. Taub supervised residents at St. Elizabeths.

Then there was Dr. Napoleon Cuenco, a St. Elizabeths resident, who diagnosed me as manic-depressive—another diagnosis that’s turned out to be way off base. Dr. Cuenco did my initial assessment at GW in September 1992.

Then there’s Debra and Nicole. I’ve already told you more than enough about those two. All these people are (or were) associated with St. Elizabeths.

What gets me is that it’s psychiatrists and other mental health professionals at St. Elizabeths who have given a clean bill of mental health to John Hinckley. Doesn’t that say something? All I can say, from my experience, is that the folks at St. E’s leave something to be desired in terms of mental health expertise, and these are the same people who want to grant John Hinckley his freedom! I ought to write the Secret Service about that. I think the Secret Service would get a chuckle out of that.

Check you out later, buddy. What are you doing this weekend?

P.S. Let me recommend a recently-published book to you. It’s David Greenberg’s book about President Nixon titled Nixon’s Shadow: The History of an Image. Greenberg is a history professor at Yale. The title is based on Eliot’s poem, The Hollow Men. “Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow.” That line sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

A particular passage jumped off the page when I glanced at the book:

“I don’t know what happened to [Nixon] as a teenager with his mother or father,”
mused his Attorney General Richard Kleindienst, “whether someone caught him
masturbating or something that scarred his character.” (page 235).

People are bemused by me. You know, I’m often asked “What happened to you as a child? Something had to have happened for you to turn out like you did.” I say to them: “’Or something.’ ‘Or something’ happened to me.”

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Group Therapy: February 25, 2004


Hey, buddy. What news on the Rialto?

Yesterday evening, as I was leaving the library I said goodbye to you. You smiled and said “Goodnight, Mr. Freedman.” Brian, there’s no need for you to call me Mr. Freedman. I’m not a formal guy. You can just address me as Mr. President.

Be that as it may.

I propose that for the moment we leave all these questions of salutation on one side and pursue our way further along one particular path.

Yesterday afternoon, Tuesday February 24, 2003, I had a session of group psychotherapy with the two group members and the group leaders, Debra and Nicole.

A few patterns are beginning to emerge in my paranoid mind. I’d like to share my ideas with you.

The session started by my pointing out that I felt there was a group dynamic among the two group members and the leaders—a group dynamic of which I was not a part. I pointed out that at the previous session, there was a point at the end of the session when all the folks seemed to collectively “sigh,” as it were, and went from “therapy mode” to “chat-time mode.” There seemed, at least to me, a nonconscious recognition by the others that it was appropriate at that moment to shift the focus of the session from formal therapy to social interaction. I pointed out that recent studies have shown that women who live in close quarters and confinement (as in a female college dormitory) tend to begin to cycle together; their menstrual cycles begin to synchronize. The phenomenon takes place at a nonconscious level; I compared the phenomenon to group dynamics.

I said I felt left out but also threatened by a collective dynamic. I attributed my feelings to ego weaknesses and ego strengths. I cited my psychological and intellectual independence, but also my fear of engulfment by a group of others. These feelings are typical of the reactions of many creative people to group dynamics.

Anthony Storr, M.D. writes:

It has often been pointed out that creative people are skeptical, and reluctant to acquiesce in the findings of authority just because these have become generally accepted. There are also those who rebel for the sake of rebelling, and who have no creative alternative to offer, but these need not concern us. The point is that independence is seldom a simple trait. It is compounded of both strengths and weakness, aggression and fear. As Hartmann points out, ‘in certain situations the resistance against contamination can be considered an indication of ego strength’; and, as we shall see, ‘ego strength’ is acknowledged by research workers to be a notable characteristic of the creative. Tests which demand a perceptive appreciation and appraisal of the needs of others reveal that creative people are emotionally and socially sensitive. In view of what we surmise about their precocity, this is not surprising. But initially it may seem odd that people who tend to be non-joiners can also be described as socially sensitive. However, if we are right in supposing that the creative are often fearful of undue influence it is understandable that it may be their very sensitivity to what others are thinking and feeling which makes them shun too much company. Moreover, some creative people seem to have only a tenuous sense of their own identity. Indeed, their work may be an expression of their search for identity. Sensitive people, and especially those with a predominantly depressive psychopathology, very easily identify themselves with others; and, lacking certainty in their own uniqueness, feel an especial need to assert and preserve what is felt to be precarious.” Storr, A. The Dynamics of Creation at 189-90 (New York: Atheneum, 1972). (Storr cites with approval the published work of Stanley R. Palombo, M.D. in Solitude: A Return to the Self. I was in therapy with Dr. Palombo during the year 1990; Dr. Palombo was
referred to me by Albert Rothenberg, M.D.)

My concern here was the tendency of Nicole and Debra to interpret idiosyncrasies in me as evidence of psychopathology or ego-weakness, rather than viewing me as representative of a type (specifically, “a creative type”). I believe that in conventional thinking there is a tendency to associate the majority with goodness and rightness and to view the seemingly idiosyncratic as badness or wrongness or symptomatic of pathology. I fear that Debra and Nicole tend to think in the conventional mode. A black person in a group of white people, to the extent he is culturally distinct, is not good or bad; he is part of a class of persons (other African Americans) that have their own cultural values based on collective experience.

Nicole seemed out of sorts from the outset of the session. She appeared to have a cold. In my paranoia, I attributed additional issues to her. I imagined that she seemed somehow chastened. That there had been some conflict with her supervisor along the lines of “Nicole says Freedman is X” and “the supervisor says Freedman is y;” I had the sense that perhaps Nicole had been shown to be wrong somehow in her assumptions about me and felt somewhat put off by me.

If you recall, yesterday afternoon it was raining. I arrived at the group room a little early. Debra and Nicole were already there; but the other group members had not yet arrived. I had the paranoid thought: “I have the feeling Debra and Nicole were wishing I wouldn’t show up today; they look like they were hoping the rain would keep me away, and they could return to the ‘good old days’ when the group comprised only the other two group members. It’s like ‘Oh Christ, he’s here!’”

One of the group members (a white female) had totally misinterpreted something I said the previous week about the other group member (who is black). I had said the previous week in criticism of the black male group member: “You think like a white man.” The white female had been angered by my remark, having misinterpreted my comment as a compliment—along the lines of “You’re black and yet you’re intelligent and articulate. I would never suspect that a black man could talk like a white man.” That’s not what I meant at all. My earlier comment had been meant as a criticism along the lines of “I had hoped that a black man would have more sympathy for a person who’s been victimized by the system. You talk like an insensitive white man.” Debra and Nicole said nothing. The white female might have some cognitive disturbance. She tends to place meanings on things that are said by others that don’t seem totally congruent with the apparent—and in many cases perfectly clear—meanings intended by the speaker.

The first week in group I had said that I only like certain people. It was the white female who became angry and said, basically, “What right do you have to accept or reject other people as friends based on only a casual acquaintance with that other person.”

What was interesting was that at yesterday’s session, the same white female listened silently as the male group member said virtually the same thing I had said at the first session. The male group member said yesterday, “Do you know that feeling you have with some people after knowing them only five minutes—‘I feel like I’ve always known you.’ And conversely, you know that feeling you have with other people that you feel you just never know them and you’ll never really feel intimacy with them?” In my interpretation the male group member’s comments were virtually identical to the gist of my comment two weeks earlier “I know who I like and who I don’t like after a very short time.” Why was my comment greeted with hostility, while the male group member’s similar statement was greeted with an “Oh, sure, we know the feeling” response?

Another point of disparity between me and the group manifested itself regarding what I would term an issue of moral reasoning and ego strength.

I talked about how I had come to a realization in adulthood that my mother was in fact a negligent mother, despite her self-concept as an empathic and responsible parent. The male group member asked for an example, which I proceeded to give. The male group member then tried to disabuse me of my negative evaluation of my mother. He spoke of his parents, and his feelings of “forgiveness” in adulthood. “I realize that my parents did the best they could. I’ve forgiven my parents for things that I was angry about when I was younger.” The female group member stated similar feelings about her family, emphasizing her striving to forgive her family for their inadequacies.

It should be recognized that “a need to forgive” the parent may conceal an unhealthy idealization of the good parent imago; the bad parent imago may be repressed with the associated hostility directed to scapegoats, typically non-parental objects. “A need to forgive” may reflect an ego defense: namely, identification with the aggressor (here, the parent) that may be associated with authoritarian tendencies, including the inability to identify with victims of aggression. See Leonard Shengold, Soul Murder.

Query: At one point in the session Debra pointed out that my anticipation of hostility from other group members—a concern I expressed several times in the past—was the product of an ego defense, namely projection. Why did Debra fail to point out that “a need to forgive” a parent may be the product of an ego defense that denies the parent’s aggressions and deficits (and the structural consequences for the patient of those aggressions and deficits), namely, “identification with the aggressor.” The answer, it seems to me, is obvious: Debra seems to be driven by a need to deny aggression. As I have pointed out before, the ability to deal with the idea of aggression may be a hallmark of ego strength and creative potential; an impaired ability to work with intellectual representations of aggression may reflect conventional ego strength and conventional creative potential.

I just don’t see how the issue of forgiveness comes into this. I know that the issue of forgiveness is frequently cited as an important step in moving forward, but I just don’t think like that. I sometimes am tempted to think that there’s a cultural component to the issue of forgiveness. That it’s a typically Christian value to forgive, but not an important Jewish value. Didn’t Simon Wiesenthal talk about “the limits of forgiveness?”

With respect to ego strength I think that the pertinent issue is the inability of some people “to face unpleasant facts,” as Orwell put it, and simultaneously maintain their mental balance. It’s important to these people to forgive in order to put the issue out of mind.

I think it might take some ego strength to say: “Horrible things were done. There were horrible consequences. I understand—it’s vital to me to understand what happened. I can live with the knowledge of what happened to me. But I don’t forgive, and I feel no need to forgive.”

The related issue of moral reasoning relates to my emphasis on understanding rather than forgiving. My morality says: “You must understand the past. You must understand the nature of the stressor. You must understand how the stressor affected you in order to understand yourself. Understanding what happened is vital to your own sense of identity. I can understand bad things without having to whitewash the badness.”

The analogy I see is the medication Thalidomide. The drug was administered to many women in Europe to remediate morning sickness in pregnancy. The drug caused deformities in the fetuses, deformities that were not foreseen by the drug manufacturer. There is no rightness or wrongness here. The drug company was driven by the motive to manufacture and market a drug to remediate an illness and to make a profit. The drug had unforeseen side effects. The problems caused by the drug are what they are; those problems have to be dealt with. A person affected by Thalidomide need not forgive, in my mind. Though he may justifiably want to understand.

Perhaps the following provides a more apposite illustration:

The mother of a 10-year-old child drives her automobile while intoxicated. The mother is fatally injured in an automobile collision that she caused by her negligence. The child is left with conscious feelings of anger and resentment toward his mother; her negligence deprived him of his mother. The child also experiences the typical structural consequences of loss of the maternal object. He reacts to the loss by rapidly internalizing an ambivalent and unmetabolized image of the mother as both good and bad object. In adulthood, he “forgives” his mother’s negligent conduct. The structural consequences for his ego, however, in the form of unmetabolized superego precursors that dispose him to intense primitive idealization and guilt, will remain. Such may be the “limits of forgiveness” for this individual.

With respect to my early family life, I am driven to understand, but not to forgive. What others see as a moral issue is for me extra-moral, and relates solely to an issue of intellectual concern.

I just feel like I am operating at a different level of ego strength and moral reasoning than the others in the group; not simply the other group members, but, unfortunately, the group leaders, Debra and Nicole, as well.

Another issue. I mentioned that last week the male group member implied that I was a phony, an actor. I mentioned that my response was that his attribution might have been a back-handed compliment. I said that frequently political leaders are described as artificial, as phony, as actors; and that the group member may have been implying that I had leadership potential.

Well, oddly enough—don’t you know it? Yesterday that same male group member talked about my desire to lead and control the group. He said he had the suspicion that I would like nothing better than to have the whole group devote all its time to talking about me. All Gary, all the time. He said that I seemed to want to set down the rules for the group; that I wanted to be the person who would say: “Do this, this is permissible. Don’t do that—that’s impermissible.” He asked me whether I ever had been in a leadership role in the past!

There’s a bit of projection here. Last week, that same group member chastised me about needing to know why I’m in group. “You need to figure out, Gary, why you’re here. Why are you here? What are you doing here? You need to define goals for yourself!” Just who is it who is trying to set down the rules, or invoke rules?

What seemed to be lost on the group leaders, Debra and Nicole, is what might be termed a “pissing competition” between me and the other male group member. We are both—I and the other male—we are both jockeying for a leadership role in the group. But I think that’s lost on Debra and Nicole. They may be caught up with their assigned role as group leaders, and somewhat oblivious of power plays by the group members whose manifest role as “subordinate patients” obscures their drive for power and control.

Another related issue. At about the middle of the session, Debra and Nicole pointed out that it was the appropriate time for me to talk about what my goals were in group. Before I could discuss my goals—which I had a right and “duty under the rules” to do—the other male group member seemed to hijack the discussion. He talked about the fact that since I arrived in group, the group had spent about “80%” of the time talking about me and my concerns. I defended myself by saying that since I was new to an already established group it was natural for me to want to introduce myself and my psychological issues and it was natural for existing group members—and the group leaders—to satisfy their curiosity about who I was.

The long and short of it was that the other group member continued to dominate the discussion for the remainder of the time. I was left with only about a minute or two to address the vital issue of my goals. All this seemed to be lost on Debra and Nicole, the leaders (individuals, I am beginning to fear, are only “leaders”). Debra and Nicole said absolutely nothing about the fact that a vital question had been posed to me to state my goals in group; but that the male group member had usurped my time to talk about his issues and concerns. There are issues here of lack of leadership by Debra and Nicole, and lack of insight about the group dynamics. There are also the issues of perceived threat by the other male group member, his fear of my intrusion and dominance. There is an issue of competition between me and the other male group member. There is the issue of how the passive female group member is a pawn in the group dynamic. Debra and Nicole have failed to point out to the male that before I came along there were apparently a few weeks when the dominant male’s only competition in the group was a passive female. How does he feel about suddenly being confronted with competition from another dominant male. (The other group members view me as “outgoing,” aggressive, and dominant).

Note also that the other male group member’s statement, addressed to me, that I had dominated “80%” of the discussion since I arrived in group carries important implications about the male member’s view of the group leaders, Debra and Nicole.

There are several possible implications, one or more of which is ineluctable. Keep in mind that theoretically nothing can continue to occur in group without the consent (express or implied) of the group leaders. In asserting that I improperly dominate the group sessions the other male member is implicitly saying:

1) The group leaders approve of my dominating the discussions because they are biased against him; or because I have manipulated the group leaders;

2) The group leaders disapprove of my dominating the discussions, but are powerless to change
the situation because they are weak and ineffectual; or

3) The group leaders are unaware that I am dominating the group because they are
incompetent and unable to accurately assess the group process; and possibly

4) The male group member’s failure to address his concerns directly to the group leaders may
reflect a desire to avoid openly criticizing the group leaders, a possible act of manipulative ingratiation.

I have the sense at times that Debra and Nicole seem oblivious to the fact that this is “group therapy” and not individual therapy of a group of individuals. The issues that need to be highlighted by the group leaders are group dynamics. Debra and Nicole seem to lose sight of this and they seem to fall into the quicksand of working with individuals in the group qua individuals—instead of working with individuals as complex entities in a group of complex entities, that as a unit comprise a group dynamic with its own distinct character. Though I suppose that it’s difficult to do genuine group therapy when you have only three people in the group. Still, it seems there are issues of distinct “group” issues that are being ignored by the group leaders.

Yet another issue about the other male member. Since I’ve been in the group he’s said very little, if anything, of an intimate, personally-disclosure nature. He tells a lot of anecdotes; his narrative tends to be discursive and verbose. Why don’t the group leaders say anything about this? Why don’t they try to nudge him into a more vulnerable position? There seem to be complementary issues of dominance and control with the other male group member: his personal control over the personal so that he maintains a façade of psychological invulnerability and strength. Simultaneously, he uses his narrative to control and dominate the group discussion. And of course, there I sit—perpetually ready to dominate and control the group myself.

What’s interesting is my own use of vulnerability as a tool of dominance and control. I took center stage by disclosing personal sexual facts—(so personal and disturbing that I had to be admonished in private by Debra and Nicole not to speak so openly about sexual material). I also used my “delusions” as an attention-grabber, almost the way a Miss America contestant uses her talent to win the talent competition.

These are intriguing issues that Debra and Nicole have totally overlooked. I use personal, embarrassing, or titillating material—or material relating to my psychopathology as a tool to grab attention and dominance. I seem to try to use “charisma” as a tool of power. (See Henry A. Kissinger, Domestic Structure and Foreign Policy. There is a striking, if only superficial, resonance between Anthony Storr’s observations about identity disturbance in some creative individuals, see The Dynamics of Creation, above, and Kissinger’s description of the lack of identity cohesion in newly-emerging states—states that support the ascendancy of charismatic-revolutionary leaders: “The tendency toward a reckless [foreign] policy is magnified by the uncertain sense of identity of many of the new nations. National boundaries often correspond to the administrative subdivisions established by the former colonial rulers. States thus have few of the attributes of nineteenth-century European nationalism: common language, common culture, or even common history. [To paraphrase Kafka, such states might be said to ‘have nothing in common with themselves.’] In many cases, the only common experience is a century or so of imperial rule. As a result, there is a great pressure toward authoritarian rule, and a high incentive to use foreign policy as a means of bringing about domestic cohesion (emphasis added).” [Compare the psychological need for so-called “selfobjects” by creative individuals, as described by the psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut. According to Kohut some creative persons require intimate psychological (nonsexual) relations with idealized others, particularly during periods of intense creativity. Greenberg and Mitchell cite Freud’s use of his friend Wilhelm Fliess as an idealized selfobject during the early period of Freud’s development of psychoanalysis. See J. Greenberg and S. Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory.]

The other male group member hides behind a façade of strength, invulnerability, and parental identification to exercise control and dominance; he has a tendency to usurp a parental or group leader role by offering me advice (on making friends, on avoiding trouble with the librarians or law enforcement, on the need to forgive my mother).

Note that a group member’s assumption of a parental attitude may reflect one or more psychological issues.

1) The assumption of a parental role may reflect narcissistic disturbance based on precocious ego development. The psychoanalyst Phyllis Beren (“Narcissistic Disorders in Children.” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child) points out that children may assume a parental role to compensate for deficits in the parents or as a reaction to parental overencouragement. Parental overencouragement of certain functions in the child may leave other ego functions underdeveloped so that the adult shows uneven ego development.

2) A corollary may be the child’s need to deny the parent’s deficits, a defensive manifestation, namely, “identification with the aggressor.” Such individuals often lack a capacity to empathize with victims of aggression (lack of empathy is a diagnostic criterion of “narcissistic personality disorder”). See the discussion above concerning the male member’s actions in encouraging me to “forgive” my parents for their inadequacies.

3) The assumption of a parental role may reflect an inappropriate narcissistic investment in pedagogy.
See Alice Miller, For Your Own Good.

4) The assumption of a parental role in group may be an act of manipulative ingratiation, an
attempt by a group member to display to group leaders the characteristics of maturity and a capacity for mentoring; and at the same time conceal the group member’s intent to invidiously usurp a leadership role and conceal the group member’s underlying aggression against other
group members who are seen to be objects of “parental benevolence.”

In effect, by assuming a parental role a group member is saying, “You see, I am a good and mature person who shows his concern and empathy for other group members by encouraging and advising them. You, Debra and Nicole, are parental figures. I am really one of you. Do not aggress on me. Also, I am a nonaggressive person myself since, as you can clearly see, I show concern for others; I am not an aggressor.” In fact, the group member’s behavior is simply a denial of his aggression and a concomitant attempt to ward off the aggression of authority figures, namely the group leaders.

Do Debra and Nicole notice that I seem to shrink from a parental role? I said at one point yesterday: “I was thinking about [the female group member] and her problems. And I have no idea how I can help her with her goals.” It’s true that I prefer to talk about myself. The other male group member is right to point out that characteristic about me. But what about the fact that I give other people space to try to arrive at their own solutions, eschewing the parental role of advice (such as “you need to think of the consequences if you write a letter to the Library Director,” “you want to avoid appearing like a crazy person if you want Brian to be your friend,” “you need to figure out why you’re here in group”).

I’m actually amazed and appalled about how much Debra and Nicole appear to acquiesce in the other male member’s usurpation of a parental role in group with his use of advice and psychological interpretation of others—while at the same time eluding the disclosure of personal facts about himself and the underlying motives for his assumption of a parental role.

Final issue. Debra made a comment to me at the end of the hour. It was peculiar. She said that during the session she noticed that I failed to make eye contact while others were talking. I proceeded to address the other male group member, who had done a lot of talking during the session. I said to him: “Did you feel I wasn’t looking at you? Did you have the feeling I wasn’t making eye contact?” He said: “No, not at all.”

Debra’s comment was factually incorrect, which begs some explanation. What I had noticed was that throughout the hour Debra kept looking over at me. This was not a retrospective insight that I made at the end of the hour, after Debra made her comment about my lack of eye contact. In fact, I noted, contemporaneous with Debra’s glances at me, that she kept looking over at me. I thought: “Debra keeps looking at me while others are talking. It’s obvious to me. Why? Why does she keep looking at me?” I found her behavior odd and a tad irritating. I responded to Debra’s glances by deliberately not meeting her glances with my own eye contact.

Tentative interpretation: Debra was trying to get me to look at her. She wanted me to make eye contact with her when she glanced at me. I did not make eye contact with her. Debra experienced my avoidance of eye contact with her as a narcissistic injury. She defensively denied her own narcissistic injury in relation to me, and displaced her feelings onto a third party. Debra’s unconscious thought: “It troubles me that Gary doesn’t look at me when I glance at him” became in her conscious mind “Maybe one of Gary’s social problems is that he offends others by not making eye contact when others speak.”

This insight has paradigmatic implications. When I was in therapy at the psychiatry department at GW, I forwarded a bundle of letters about my then psychiatrist, Dr. Dimitrios Georgopoulos, in early 1996, to a member of the GW Board of Trustees, Harold Baker, Esq., who happens to be an attorney with the firm of Howery & Simon.

A few weeks later, Dr. Georgopoulos said to me: “We received a communication from one of the University trustees. He said you wrote some letters to him. I want to tell you Mr. Freedman, I don’t mind you writing letters about me to third parties, but I caution you that when I leave in June—one of the other residents might refuse to work with you if he knows you have a history of complaining about your treatment.”

In effect Dr. Georgopoulos, a resident in a training position, denied that his feelings were hurt by my complaining to a University trustee; instead he displaced his narcissistic injury onto a third party (another resident) who might retaliate against me.

I don’t mean to make unwarranted accusations about Debra, but the dynamics I describe above are similar to a psychological aspect of anti-Semitism. The anti-Semite denies his feelings of inferiority to the Jew—his feelings of narcissistic injury in relation to the Jew—and proceeds to accuse the Jew of injuring an innocent third party, Jesus. “These are the people who murdered our lord.”

P.S. Buddy—really, that maroon shirt’s gotta go. It makes you look like a clown. Who do you think you are, The Chief Justice of the United States?

Friday, February 20, 2004

Group Therapy: February 20, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up today? Now that we’re such close friends, do you mind if I call you Bri? What do your friends call you? By the way, who’s Andrew. I heard you say you’re meeting Andrew at 5:00 PM. Is Andrew an FOB -- “Friend of Brian?” I guess I’ll be meeting all your friends pretty soon.

I’ve settled on a goal for my group therapy. It’s to be friends with you. I’ve decided to make my goal simple and manageable. Nothing complex. Not all people have an ability to deal with complexity and contradiction. Complexity seems to discombobulate the folks in my group. Really, do goals really matter in this group? Whatever my goal, what can these people help me with—really? My regular therapist at GW never asked me about goals. Last session, I pointed out that we never discussed goals. Her response: “Do you want to discuss goals?” I said, “no.” That was that. So much for goals.

All this has put me in a depressed mood. Yea. I’m blue today. It’s my blue period.

One of my old psychiatrists, who I saw back in 1978, once said to me: “It’s a good sign you’re depressed. If anybody lived like you, and said he wasn’t depressed, I’d be worried.”

That was I. Jay Oberman, D.O. He was a forensic psychiatrist. He used to spend a lot of time testifying in court. He was medical director of the Northwest Institute of Psychiatry outside Philadelphia. He was recommended to me by Neil Sagot, Esq., one of the leading attorneys in Philadelphia. I saw Dr. Oberman from about June 1978 to spring 1979. (The Old Buccaneer used to work at Sagot’s law firm. So did I, for that matter).

Oberman passed away recently. Stomach cancer. I remember when I was seeing him he said his father was suffering from colon cancer, I think.

Oberman underwent psychoanalytic training with Theodor Reik, a lay analyst who had undergone a training analysis with Freud himself. So there’s actually a direct connection between me and Freud. Freud analyzed Reik, Reik analyzed Oberman, Oberman worked with me. You don’t mess with somebody who can trace his lineage directly from Freud.

Anyway, Oberman was a blunt-speaking guy. He said he thought I didn’t even need to see a psychiatrist. He said: “You’re not suffering from anything that a psychiatrist can help you with. Your problem is you need friends.” Right. Twenty-six years later I’m still struggling with that issue. How do you make friends? Basically, as these letters attest, I’ve given up. I’ve retreated to my fantasy world where I have the friend I always wanted: namely, a fat-ass Irish Catholic librarian who likes to fuck.

How’s that for bluntness? That was another thing about Oberman. He had a mouth on him you wouldn’t believe. Every other word out of that guy was “fuck.” Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck.

I’ve reported things he said to me to other mental health people, and they’re incredulous. Jay D. Amsterdam, M.D. (University of Pennsylvania), one of the country’s leading psychopharmacologists, told me in the fall of 1978 he thought Oberman sounded like a “prick” based on the things I told Amsterdam.

Oberman used to tell me that I needed to connect with somebody. Emotionally and sexually. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a man or a woman.” Basically, his prescription was: “You need to get laid.” I can’t remember if he actually said that. But it sounds like something he would have said.

What he did tell me once was really strange. He told me that I needed to find a girl who would give me a blow job. Yes. He used the technical term. Blow job. I wonder if Oberman ever treated President Clinton?

The bizarre thing was the time Oberman started going into the linguistic technicalities of the term “blow job.” (You gotta show Vernon Jordan this letter. President Clinton will laugh his head off). Oberman said: “You know, they call it a ‘blow job.’ But that’s a misnomer. It’s really not blowing, its actually sucking.” Even now, I’m chuckling as I’m setting this down.

Be that as it may.

What I don’t get about group therapy is how a group of mental patients—who themselves have been unemployed for years—can offer anything meaningful to me. I just don’t get it. Both group members are intelligent, articulate people—but they must have some kind of serious psychological problems.

It reminds me of an anecdote I read in a biography of the playwright George S. Kaufman. Kaufman was appearing on a radio talk show with the novelist (or “novelist”) Jacqueline Susann (remember Valley of the Dolls?). Before the show he was chatting with Susann who was talking about a topic that she considered herself expert in: namely, science fiction. Kaufman just stared at Suzann in silence, and Susann remarked: “George, you like you don’t believe a word I’m telling you.” “Oh Jacqueline, I believe you,” Kaufman said. “There’s no reason why I shouldn’t. After all, in 1929 I took advice about the stock market from the Marx Brothers so I see no reason why I shouldn’t learn about science fiction from you.”

That’s about the way I feel about group therapy. It’s like taking advice on life’s problems from the Marx Brothers.

Here’s something that really baffles me. At my last group session, one of the group members got really bent out of shape by my description of my sexual identity. You know, the whole “Rupert/Gerald” crap. My lack of interest in an emotional relationship with a woman. And my desire for a close friendship with a male.

The group member said that was just too incredible to believe. I mentioned that issue in one of my previous letters. His very words were “I know of very few eunuchs in this world.” (By the way, isn’t that strong language? “Eunuchs?” Well, Debra—isn’t that a little strong? You had nothing to say about that strong language, did you, Debra?)
So the group member said: “You must have dated when you were in high school.” (Guess again.) “You must have gone to your high school prom.” (Guess again, big boy.) The comments got cut short when another group member said: “That’s none of your business. His past sexual history is none of your business.”

My point is, right off the top of my head I can cite four different articles that discuss the issue of sexual asceticism—articles that offer pertinent insights into my problems. The group member who said basically that I was full of crap about my sexuality just didn’t know what he was talking about. I kept thinking of that line from Hamlet: “There’s more to heaven and earth than is dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.”

Here’s a list of the four articles:

J. Moussaieff Masson, “The Psychology of the Ascetic.” The Journal of Asian Studies. Masson discuses the issue of sexual asceticism.

Anna Freud, “On Adolescence.” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. Anna Freud (who knew something about sexlessness herself) devotes a section in the paper to the topic of the sexually-ascetic adolescent.

Joseph Fernando, “The Exceptions.” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child. (1997?). The author says about a patient: “She seemed to live in two different worlds: one in which sexuality hardly existed, and one in which it was all too frighteningly present.” A curious and telling irony: At the session on Tuesday February 17th, I was summoned to appear early by Debra and Nicole. They admonished me not to talk about sex in such graphic terms as I had done at my first session. Later, in that very session on the 17th, a group member alludes to my claiming to be a sexual “eunuch.” It’s as if Fernando’s description of a person torn between sexual extremes found some kind of expression in the group session.

Then there’s the paper by Drew Westen, Ph.D. and Jennifer Harnden-Fischer titled “Personality Profiles in Eating Disorders: Rethinking the Distinction Between Axis I and Axis II.” The American Journal of Psychiatry, 158(4) April 2001. The authors state: “Clinically [some anorexic] patients tend to be just as constricted in their sexual lives as they are with food, denying themselves pleasure, avoiding sexual relationships, feeling too ashamed or guilty to indicate to their partners what feels good, and so forth” (page 560).

Dr. Westen is at the Psychology Department at Emory University in Atlanta. He used to teach at Ellen’s alma mater—Boston University. Current email:
You might want to ask Dr. Westen how a guilt-ridden person can get anything therapeutic out of group therapy with Harpo, Chico, and Groucho, et al.

Clearly, guilt plays an important role in sexual asceticism or abstinence. What do the Marx brothers say about that? There are more eunuchs in the world than are dreamt of in your little black book, Horatio.

Check you out later, buddy. Maybe you, me and Andrew can go to lunch sometime. What do you say, Brian?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Group Therapy: February 19, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up?

Pardon my paranoia, but I’m picking up something about the expression on your face today. Like—“Hey, listen—Freedman’s social problems aren’t my problem. I’m a librarian, he’s a patron. That’s it. If he wants to chat with me, fine. But I have to tell you, I like to keep my social life separate from my work life. Even Bill’s never been to my house. And I work with him. We’re friends at work. But that’s it as far as Bill and I are concerned. And I don’t know what I have to do with Freedman’s parables and metaphors. You know, he can use all the parables he wants—about photographers at the World Trade Center, about Father Theodore, about affirmative action, about George Wallace—and to tell you the truth, I found the comparison between me and George Wallace a tad offensive—Freedman can use all the metaphors and parables he wants. But there’s one reality issue. And it’s the bottom line. I’m a librarian and he’s a patron of the library I manage. Period. End quote.” How’s that for a statement of the alternative point of view!

I gotta tell you, as a friend, Brian, nobody’s on your side. Pauline, Charles, William—they all feel sorry for me. They don’t understand your position at all. If you want to stay on the right side of your employees, you might want to rethink your “battle plans.”

Brian, for your own good, I have to warn you. You might find a friend, a loyal friend like me, to be an asset. Look at President Clinton and Vernon Jordan. Jordan stuck with the President through the darkest DNA days. One of my old psychiatrists, Dr. Dimitrios Georgopoulos, said that one of my personal qualities was loyalty. He usually didn’t have very positive things to say about me. But he said it was clear to him that I valued loyalty. Being loyal to others. Based on that criterion, I have a few things to offer you. I may very well be the Vernon Jordan of CPK.

Based on what I assume to be your sexual proclivities—or am I making unwarranted assumptions?—you may need someone to cover your back in case your DNA shows up on some young lady’s dress some day. Second, if you ever run for office, I can provide a liaison for you to the half-Jewish community. Interfaith marriage in the DC area is rampant. The half-Jewish population is burgeoning. I’m half-Jewish myself, as you know. My father was a pioneer in interfaith marriage back in the late forties. Anyway, I can provide a bridge between you and the many half-Jews, quarter Jews, and other fractionated varieties here in the DC area.

Well, that said, let me digress from my paranoia back to my parables.

You know when I was working at Hogan & Hartson, Glenn Fine once came up to me in the second floor library and said: “Hey, Freedman, what the hell is it that you do all day?” I said: “I read, I smoke, and I admire.” So then Fine said: “What is it you admire.” I said: “Believe me, you don’t want to know.” Actually, that’s apocryphal. Fine and I never spoke. But like all anecdotes apocryphal, it should have happened, even if it didn’t.

So, I guess you haven’t come up with an “affirmative action plan” yet, have you? You know, to be on the safe side—to make sure your plan passes muster under Bakke and its progeny (I love that language courts use—“and its progeny”—like lawsuits have family ties), you might want to submit your plan to the Food Court to get its approval.

Anyway, the big issue for me has been to try to come up with reasonable goals for my work in group therapy. I was told I needed to come up with a few goals.

What really troubles me is when mental health professionals use “elective cosmetic surgery” as a model for psychotherapy. You know, like you’re talking to Garth Fisher, M.D.—cosmetic surgeon to the stars—and you say, “Well, doctor, I’d like my nose straightened, I’d like a tummy tuck, and some liposuction—and maybe a breast implant. I’d like to look like Janet Jackson.”

I think a disease model is more appropriate. It should be like this. “Nicole, Debra—I think I have problems in interpersonal issues. I have severe problems in social adjustment (I’m totally isolated and have no friends) and I was fired from my last two jobs.”

I believe that I suffer from serious personality problems that impair my social and occupational adjustment. The underlying problems or personality qualities are:

Extreme anxiety and guilt in relation to drive expression (see Novick and Kelley, “Projection and Externalization,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 1970).

Massive splitting and isolative defenses (see Leonard Shengold, M.D., Soul Murder, 1989).

Unmetabolized superego precursors that dispose me to extreme idealization and guilt (The Psychoanalytic Study of Society, Volume 7, 1976 (Gertrude R. Ticho, M.D., editor)).


I also have qualities that are not specifically or exclusively pathological, but that dispose me to aggression in group environments, particularly groups that exhibit a high degree of group cohesiveness or narcissistic regression (see Kernberg), such as:

Reaction formation against anality (cf. Joseph Fernando, “The Exceptions,” The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child (1997?).

Resistance against regression that is associated with a high level of ego differentiation (Greenberg and Mitchell, Object Relations in Psychoanalytic Theory, discussing Kernberg’s “food metabolization” metaphor).

Creative ego processes including (1) the ability to synthesize opposites, (2) a ready acceptance of complexity and contradiction (“you’re messing with our heads—you expect us to buy that line your pitching; it doesn’t make sense” Group Member), (3) independence of thinking and the ability to dispense with peer approval, (4) the acceptance of alternative view points, (5) ability to express self in words or verbal fluency (use of “strong language” Debra), (6) attention to detail and the ability to invest energy in analyzing seemingly trivial phenomena (“Well, how would you feel if someone else watched everything you did?” Debra).

The social difficulties that can be associated with creative thinking are suggested by the observations of E. James Lieberman, M.D. (a local psychiatrist, 202 362-3963).

Lieberman writes: “According to one theory, creativity depends on the ability to hold opposite ideas in the mind simultaneously, to live and work with contradictions. ‘No mind can engender till divided in two,’ wrote W.B. Yeats. Sigmund Freud not only coped with ambivalence; he raised it to a new level of consciousness. Reaction formation, denial, repression, and dream work are some of the terms he used to accommodate the phenomenon of opposites that he observed in himself and others: Disgust conceals attraction, altruism conceals sadism, behind the fear lies the wish, etc. Many people cannot tolerate such oxymorons in their lives; they feel out of control, or ‘crazy.’ Their notion of sanity stifles creativity. Freud’s elucidation of the dynamic unconscious enabled people to cope better with normal inconsistency and to be more creative as a result.

Freud’s own powerful impulses and emotions found their match in his intellect and self-control. He checked his passion for philosophy with the detachment of a chemist, his yen for deductive reasoning with a disciplined inductive approach. Sometimes he fooled himself, as when he claimed to be unruffled by critics. He labeled himself an obsessive, but he showed signs of (controlled) anxiety, paranoia, homosexuality, and hysteria as well and probably used all to advantage, as he did his own dreams.” Acts of Will: The Life and Work of Otto Rank at 65 (emphasis added).

Remember, Freud didn’t have too many friends. In adolescence he had only one close friend—with whom he “traveled to Gettysburg.” All I can say is he’s fortunate he never worked at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld.

Be that as it may. The question I would ask, given the nature of my intrapsychic functioning, and the probable social consequences, what should my goals in group be?

Buddy, check you out later. I’m still liking you. You may not like these letters, but remember. You’re getting off a lot easier than some of the paparazzi who stalk the Hollywood crowd.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Group Therapy: February 18, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up? I promise to try not to use strong language, you old sheep-fucker, you!

Listen, Brian, what about lunch? I’m thinking that that’s the only forum where we can get together, chat and be ourselves. The library’s too confining, too restricting. You have a job to do here. I respect that. I’m not going to ask that you be my therapist, here at CPK. I’m just going to ask that you think about getting together with me for lunch sometime.

The only practical problem I see is that I only eat at Zagat-rated restaurants. Only at Zagat-rated, Kosher restaurants. Glatt, kosher—at that. That could pose a problem. The only Zagat-rated restaurant in the neighborhood of which I’m aware is the Vietnamese restaurant across the street, Nam Viet. Problem is, although it’s Zagat-rated, I don’t think it’s kosher. Did you ever notice how hard it is to find a really good, kosher Vietnamese restaurant? Besides, I’m afraid that if I were to break the dietary rules and eat at Nam Viet, I might let loose with a torrent of military metaphors from the 60’s, you know, from the Vietnam era. Words like quagmire, dominoes, Tet offensive, and Hanoi Hilton might dominate the whole conversation. It could get very tedious.

By the way, you know what interests me? How people go about getting lunch at a restaurant. Or any meal at a public eatery, for that matter. Did you ever think of the process?

There’s a standard procedure. A standard protocol. First of all, you need to know whether the restaurant requires a reservation. If so, you have to call ahead. Then you arrive at the appointed hour. You get a waiter to seat you. He gives you a menu. You order. The waiter brings the food. You eat. You get the bill. You pay. You leave. If it’s Chinese, you come back two hours later. (Bad ethnic joke, but I do have racist tendencies).

In any event, that’s the basic procedure. You follow the rules, and you get your meal. It’s that simple. Or is it?

What if the year is 1950, you’re black, and you’re in a racist town in the south? Then what? What relevance does following the standard protocol have to explaining what problems you have as a black person facing Jim Crow restrictions? None. Absolutely none.

That gets back to the issue I raised in my letter to you from Saturday—February 14, 2004. I said that at my first session in group, one of the group members said that making friends is simple. You sidle up to somebody you like, you chat—probably about matters of common interest—and you may grow closer over time. If the parties are agreeable to friendship, a friendship will emerge over time. Basically, “follow the yellow-brick road, and you’ll eventually land in Oz.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? The normal process for growth and development of any entity, whether developing a friendship or getting a meal will never explain problems that fall outside the natural process of growth and development. The “average-expectable process” will never, by definition, explain factors that fall outside the average expectable process—factors that impair or defeat the average process.

Notice also how the “average expectable process” can be used defensively to explain away issues that the “powers that be” prefer remain sealed. Let’s say you’re dealing with an employment situation. The employer is a covert racist; he does not admit to racist practices because he knows they are unlawful. What does he do? He invokes the “conventional process” of obtaining employment, and tries to show that the job candidate did not fulfill the conventional criteria. “Well, we require that the job applicant have good speaking skills. At the interview (a conventional condition precedent to getting a job), the candidate did not impress us with his verbal skills. Basically, what the employer will do is show how the candidate failed to satisfy one of the conditions precedent to the conventional process. That strategy will always provide a deceptively rational explanation for actions that actually fall outside the conventional process; in this case, namely, racist animus.

Another metaphor. In medical school, students study physiology—the way organs develop and function under ordinary conditions (or average expectable conditions). But there is also the field of pathology—the study of disease states. The two fields—namely, physiology and pathology—are distinct.

Back to my basic problem: how friendships normally start, grow and are maintained does not explain (pathological) factors that impair or prevent the development and maintenance of relationships.

Another analogy: political science. I still have my sister’s college textbook for her introductory course in political science: Government and Politics: An Introduction to Political Science (by Wahlke and Dragovich). What is political science? The study of states, their functions and structures. What is a state? It is an entity that performs the executive functions for a group of persons who have sovereignty over a territory. Basically, the 601-page text covers issues pertinent to the normal operation of states—what might be termed the “physiology” of the state.

Looking at the text, I had an idea. What if I look up in the index issues relating to “pathological” state action. I looked up “holocaust.” I looked up “slavery.” What do you think I found? You guessed it. Nothing. NOTHING! It’s like looking for an entry on “cancer” in a physiology textbook.

With regard to friendship, the issue for me is not “how do conventional friendships form?” That’s fundamentally an issue of social “physiology.”

The pertinent issue for me is what is the nature of my psychological problems, and what do we know about how a person with my specific problems can overcome those issues to establish social relations. Perhaps, the norm is that people with my psychological problems are lucky if they make any friends in life. Maybe it’s the case that people with my problems typically don’t make friends. That needs to be recognized and the pertinent issues need to be understood.

Pardon me Nicole and Debra—but I am so FUCKING sick and tired of people saying: “Well if you want friends, you just do the following conventional things, and you’ll make friends. If you’re not making friends, you must not be doing things right.” I find it especially disheartening when a black person spouts the “conventional wisdom” about solving life’s problems.

Anyway, thinking about all these ideas I came up with an idea that may apply to me and my social problems.

You’re familiar with affirmative action? As it applies to African-Americans, the idea is that given the fact that blacks are a minority, and given the fact that African-Americans struggle in American culture with what are called “the vestiges of racism,” black people need some protection against the biases inherent in absolutely race-neutral university admissions.

I was thinking about my family environment. It was really a narcissistically-disturbed environment, as Warren Brodey would say (see Brody’s paper “The Dynamics of Narcissism” in the 1965 annual The Psychoanalytical Study of the Child). What about recognizing that I suffer from “the vestiges of narcissism.” And what about recognizing that if I go about seeking admission to a friendship in the conventional ways, friendships will often elude me.

Here’s the radical idea I offer. How about some recognition that I need an “affirmative action program” for making friends?

What do you say, Brian. Let’s do lunch under a social “affirmative action program” that would pass muster under our constitution. Talk to Eric. Or Alvin Poussaint, M.D. up at Harvard. Maybe those brothers have some ideas.

Check you out later, buddy. Remember, George Wallace changed. You can too.

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Group Therapy: February 17, 2004


Hey, buddy. I’m still liking you. A lot. Exclusively. Irrevocably. When I idealize, I idealize for eternity. When I hate I hate for eternity.

I had the outline for a letter all prepared, but I either lost it or left it at home. So I’ll just extemporize.

I just got back from group. I had to have a special session with Debra and Nicole, before group got started. They wanted to review with me the parameters of the group. I was told not to talk about sexual matters or sexual fantasies. That really cramps my style. But the rules are the rules.

I pointed out to Nicole that it was she, last week, who asked what my sexual preference was. I was simply elaborating on an issue that she opened. She told me: “Listen, Freedman, never again. If you ever talk about bearded men (or the bearded lady in the circus)—you are out of the group.” So I guess that’s it as far as the bearded lady is concerned. I can’t talk about her. The fact remains that that’s the main cause of my mental illness today. The fact that I was traumatized by the bearded lady at the circus when I was five years old. And they expect me to change? To improve? Well, let my suffering be laid (if you’ll pardon the expression)—let my suffering be laid on your doorstep, Nicole. I just won’t talk about my early traumatization and its sexual implications.

I was getting some heavy vibes from one of the group members about my lack of sincerity. My lack of genuineness. He basically said I was a phony who’s putting out some real incredible crap. Like how do I explain my statement that I have no interest in women and that I’m not looking for a sexual relationship with a man—with you, for example, Brian. I guess that group member never heard of my old friend, John Paul II. Not to mention John Paul I. Or Paul VI. Or any of the Johns or Pauls who’ve been pope.

Then the same group member said that I come across like an actor. I pointed out that that’s the same thing that people always criticize the President—all the Presidents—for being. An actor. With Reagan it was literally: “The guy was an actor—a third rate actor—now he’s just acting again, in the political arena.” With President Carter, the criticism was: “He tries to be all things to all peanut farmers.” Well, of course, that was true. You can’t trust peanut farmers. They’re a shady lot.

I pointed out to him that his criticism of me—that I’m an insincere, phony actor—could be interpreted as a backhanded compliment. I said: “Aren’t you attributing to me a quality that’s often attributed to political leaders? And isn’t it possible you’ve really identified the fact that I have leadership qualities.” The group member sort of side-tracked the issue by saying that the current President (George W.) is a phony actor. My point exactly, buddy. George W. and I have more than one thing in common. Neither of us was elected President by the voting public and both of us talk in military metaphor.

I was also told that it seems I’m just in group for the kicks—to mess with people’s heads. Well, that’s true up to a point. I do lead a miserably boring life. Group is entertaining, even when it’s not therapeutic.

Once again at group today I got the validation of the notion that strong emotions or strongly expressed ideas are forbidden in group. Debra pointed out that I seem to use very stark language. For example I said that I viewed the group as a “cesspool of moral corruption.” Well, that was pretty strong language for me to have used—not to mention a pretty peculiar notion to express. What on Earth was I thinking when I said that? Sometimes I get carried away. Like The Fuhrer himself at one of the Nuremberg rallies.

Nevertheless, Debra and Nicole told me I need to come up with goals—“goals in therapy.” I really don’t know what goals I ought to have. Maybe you could talk to the girls and tell them in what ways you, Brian, would like me to change. Explain to the girls the person you’d like me to be so that you’ll be my best buddy. How’s that for a goal? I’ll let you set the goals.

Seriously, to tell you what I’m not really getting in group is the distinction between what is simply a peculiarity of a person—an idiosyncrasy—versus what is pathological and therefore something that needs to be changed. People do things all the time that I don’t like. I feel “Well, it’s their right to be who they want to be. If I don’t like it, I should just avoid the person. Or grin and bear it to the extent possible.”

There seems to be little respect for the idiosyncratic in group. It’s like: “You use strong language. You might want to change that.” I would say: “Maybe I need to associate with people who don’t see my strong language as a problem.”

That’s the Jewish solution, by the way. “The goyim (the character “Grace Adler” says that all the time on Will and Grace) can’t stand us. We’ll just have to get our own piece of real estate and set up our own country where we can be ourselves.”

That’s what I need, maybe. My own country where I and my kind can be ourselves. I think it’s called St. Elizabeths.

Here’s a problem. Take Adolf Hitler. He used strong language. He was a narcissistic maniac who had everybody call him The Fuhrer. He murdered millions of people. He left Der Vaterland in shambles—a land divided against itself for the subsequent 50 years. And the Germans loved the bastard. I mean literally, they loved Der Fuhrer. Wagner’s daughter-in-law, Winifred, used to call him “Unsere Selig Adolf”—“our blessed Adolf.” I just don’t get it. This notion that there’s some absolute right and wrong about behaviors. And that simply becoming a particular person will win the minds and hearts of the people. I just don’t get it.

If the worst criminal in world history is beloved by millions, what does it say about a type of group therapy that’s based on turning out a “better person.” What’s better? What’s worse? Republicans despised President Clinton. I happen to think he was a great President. Again, who’s to judge what are desirable qualities, or what are undesirable qualities?

I just keep coming back in my mind to Nietzsche: “It’s as if their spine snapped.” That’s what Nietzsche said about the group response to an individualistic person. He likened groups and their regressive pull toward mediocrity and blandness to a herd of sheep. Strong language, strong emotions, strong individualism, strong anything: these qualities will be condemned by the group. And ultimately, the sheep—even more, the lamb, as Nietzsche said—gains in respect.

To tell you the truth, it’s like the criticism aimed at network TV. Critics say network TV aims more and more to the common denominator, the bland. No breasts, no fucking, and no use for the word f***.

“Well, sign me up cable!” That’s all I have to say.

I’m still liking you, buddy. Yea. I’m thinking that will be my goal. I’m going to tell Debra and Nicole that my goal is to be your friend. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask for. I just want to make one friend. Hitler had millions of friends. I’ll settle for one—and that’s you, buddy. Yea. That’s what I’m going to tell Debra and Nicole next week.

“Debra, Nicole—my goal is for Brian to be my buddy. No sex, no nude wrestling, no wrestling of any kind. Just a buddy. Is that too much to ask for, ladies?”

Check you out later, Brian. Brother. Brother-Animal, you!
P.S. I won’t make you call me Der Fuhrer.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Group Therapy: February 14, 2004


Hey, buddy. Another Saturday at CPK. Looks like you’re having a trying day. Who needs this on a Saturday? But as FDR would say: “To some librarians, much is given; to other librarians, much is expected; you, Brian, have a rendezvous at MLK at 1:30 today to pick up something you left behind—right?”

Did you happen to catch that show on PBS last Sunday about DNA? The show was about the genetic underpinnings of cancer. I was intrigued by the thinking underlying the work being done by cancer geneticists. For years clinicians—as well as histologists and pathologists—classified cancers by the organs that were affected or some histological category—thus you have breast cancer, or skin cancer (squamous cell, epithelial cell, or melanoma); lung cancer (oat cell or mesothelioma), etc.

Recently cancer geneticists have been looking at the genetics of cancers that, until now, had been considered distinct, homogeneous types. The PBS show focused on breast cancer. Until now clinicians (and others) thought breast cancer was breast cancer. But at a genetic level it’s been found that there are numerous subcategories of breast cancer, that are distinguishable by the genes of the affected tissue.

This finding helps explain something that has baffled cancer clinicians for years now. A particular drug may be effective with some patients diagnosed with “breast cancer,” but fail to help other “breast cancer” patients. Why? Possibly because what had been thought of as a homogeneous entity, namely, “breast cancer,” is actually, at a genetic level, several different variants of the disease. The drug that is effective with some breast cancer patients but not others may actually not be acting haphazardly at all. The drug may in fact be effective for a particular genetic subcategory of “breast cancer”; but ineffective for another genetic subcategory of “breast cancer.”

What does this have to do with you and me, buddy? I know you were wondering about that.

At my last group session, I talked about how I would like to have you for a friend. I talked about the fact that I’m friendless (stricken with “breast cancer”). One of the group members offered up a suggestion. He recommended, speaking metaphorically, the standard treatment protocol or “chemotherapy cocktail.”

The group member suggested that I just chat with you. Possibly about issues of common interest. Over time I should just let things build. And over time, perhaps, a friendship might develop.

That recommendation aroused a lot of frustration for me. The group member’s recommendation is in fact the standard idea I’ve always gotten about making friends. The recommendation is, in a general way, how most relationships start, grow and develop. There’s a first step by one party, a reciprocal step by the other party, and over time the parties grow closer—with different levels of closeness, or intimacy, resulting depending on the persons involved and the level of intimacy that seems comfortable for them. That’s the “standard cure.”

But it left me cold. The recommendation aroused a lot of frustration for me. It was so simplistic and so general. It reminds me of something sociologist Dalton Conley said: “Anyone who’s going to sell you on one variable is selling you a bottle of snake oil.” Conley is the Director of the Center for Advanced Social Science Research at New York University. He’s quoted in today’s New York Times (Saturday February 14, 2004) in an article about siblings. (Like you and me, Brian).

It seems to me that if you take the entire population of people with social difficulties or people who are socially isolated, you will find—upon examining the persons at a “genetic level”—quite distinct reasons for their social problems or social isolation.

Tim Norton, the front desk manager in my building, is a very reserved guy. I assume he has friends. But he’s obviously no social butterfly. But when he talks to people you can see he seems fairly conventional. He likes the Beatles, he’s traveled around the world, he has a steady job. He communicates with people in an effective manner, though he’s a man of few words. But what comes across is his conventionality.

I’m very shy. I am very socially isolated. But sometimes I talk up a storm. Like in group. Craig The Embalmer—remember him?— will tell you that sometimes I seem absolutely manic if I get on a certain topic that I’m fanatic about. Another thing is my behavior is unconventional in many ways; these letters are a case in point. Also, my ideas—the ideas I express in these letters, for example—are often unconventional.

So there’s a level at which Tim and I are similar: namely, at a “gross clinical level” we are socially reserved. But when you examine Tim’s behaviors and ideas at a “genetic level,” you find that they tend toward the conventional. When you examine my behaviors and ideas at a “genetic level,” you find them to be unconventional. It’s not only social reserve that hinders my social adjustment; my thinking is simply unconventional. My psychological needs are unconventional: an erotic investment in naked females, but at the same time a strong need for a close emotional attachment to an idealized male: what might be termed the “Rupert/Gerald” complex. And that’s only the beginning. I’ve got a lot of other psychological needs and qualities that are non-standard and would tend to militate against easy social relations.

The simple prescription of approaching others, and engaging them in a “social dance” might be an effective approach for Tim to make friends. That prescription, when I apply it, has led to a life-long history of social frustration. That’s because although Tim and I are similar at a gross clinical level, we differ—perhaps radically—at a “genetic level.”

Brian—I’ve got a few more ideas on this subject. But I’m going to continue them in my next Diary Room session. My time’s running low.

I wanted to get to Captain Brad M. Dolinsky, U.S. Army. I gave you an assignment yesterday. I asked you to find out if Captain Dolinsky is Tim’s “cookie friend.” Well, I’ve got some additional info on Dolinsky. I’ve found out that he’s an M.D., specializing in obstetrics and gynecology (like Fred Cohen—Murray’s brother; and Sharon Malone—Eric’s wife). He has what Will Kirby, M.D. (radiation oncology) (Big Brother 2) would call “an extreme knowledge of the female anatomy.”

Check you out later, Brian. Again, it’s been great, buddy.

Friday, February 13, 2004

Group Therapy: February 13, 2004


Hey, buddy. What’s up?

You know what I’ve been thinking about? Fathers and Sons. And fathers and sons. And brothers. Not to mention Big Brothers.

I think of you as a brother, Brian. You know that. A big brother and a Big Brother.

Have you ever seen that TV reality show, Big Brother? It’s on CBS in the summer. It’s been on TV every summer since the year 2000. (That was the year George Bush got elected—by the electoral college, a scam devised in 1787 by a small group of educated, white males in Philadelphia. I thought George Bush—son of former President George Herbert Walker Bush—was a pretty good president at first, a real Texas-style cowboy. But some time last year, my interest in President Bush Wayned, so to speak).

The premise of the TV show Big Brother is to take twelve people—called “houseguests”—put them together in a secluded house, and video-tape in real time all the interpersonal interactions and goings on in the house. The houseguests have no communication with the outside; neither personal communications with others by telephone or letter nor any access to the media (no TV, radio, or newspapers). The video is edited for broadcast; and that’s the TV show Big Brother. Houseguests vote one person out of the house each week, and the last to remain wins $500,000.

It’s really a fascinating thing, if you’re interested in group dynamics. There are all kinds of twists and turns in the group dynamics, the interpersonal maneuvering and manipulation. The show has been on for four seasons now, and each year, the dynamics are different based on the particular collection of contestants. You’ll find a subgroup of persons forming an alliance against another subgroup; or a group ganging up against an individual houseguest; or single individuals battling it out with each other, and so forth. Just like the maneuverings on Capitol Hill. In the first season of the show, in the year 2000, one of the houseguests, a guy named George, tried to organize the entire house against the producers of the show. That fizzled very quickly when the producers advised the houseguests that CBS had a group of alternates lined up—strikebreakers, really—ready to take everybody’s place. You don’t mess with Big Brother.

That first season in 2000, one of the houseguests was Josh Souza, a tall, athletic guy of Portuguese heritage. There were rumors among the houseguests that Josh had an alternative sexual preference. Whatever he liked besides women I don’t know. But it was clear he liked to “break the seal” of young ladies, and maybe some ladies who were not so young.

He was a good-looking guy with a genius-level IQ. If I had been one of the houseguests that year, sharing the house with Josh Souza, the rumor mill would have been running non-stop.

Souza is a friend of Kai Wittenberg, another professional reality TV-show contestant. But all that’s really beside the point.

One feature of Big Brother is the so-called Diary Room. That’s a room in the Big Brother house where contestants can go, singly or in groups, to talk to the camera. The Diary Room provides a venue for a houseguest to vent his thoughts and feelings. It’s sort of like the equivalent of “the message in a bottle” tossed out to sea. It’s a therapeutic outlet, really, for people to just get away from everybody else in the house and talk out loud to Big Brother—who, of course, remains invisible and unheard by the communicating houseguest. When a houseguest talks to Big Brother in the Diary Room it’s as if he is “in dialogue with himself.” See Garry Wills, James Madison. It’s sort of like a session with a silent psychoanalyst behind the couch. Of course, sometimes psychoanalysts fall asleep during a session—that really happens. I guess sometimes on Big Brother, the show’s producers, who monitor communications with the houseguests, have gone out for a cup of coffee.

I guess you can see where this is going. These letters to you, buddy, are my Diary Room. These letters are my way of communicating with Big Brother—that’s you, buddy. Big Brother, big brother, Brother-Animal, whatever. Also, Father Confessor, I guess. Do Father Confessors nod off, too? I don’t know. I’m not Catholic. I’m just a fake psychoanalyst.

You know who originated the idea of the Diary Room? James Madison. You were a history major, weren’t you, Brian? Madison, the fourth President of the United States, was also a contestant on the late 18th-century reality show, The Founding Fathers. It was a big hit in the 1780’s. The premise of The Founding Fathers was to take a collection of educated, white males—lock them up in a room in the State House in Philadelphia (now Independence Hall), and have them devise a constitution for the thirteen original colonies.

One of the rules of the game was that The Founding Fathers were not allowed to take any contemporaneous notes of the proceedings, or record their recollections of the proceedings. It was like group therapy; people in group aren’t supposed to disclose any communications that occur within group to outsiders. In the case of The Founding Fathers, violators of the confidentiality rule, if discovered, were to be evicted from the State House. Madison had a mind of his own, though. He didn’t follow the rules. He covertly recorded everything—“and the rest, as they say, is” historiography, as Michael Beschloss would say. Beschloss is a historian with a special interest in The Founding Fathers (and The Ruling Sons).

There’s an interesting moral issue there. Game show ethics, I guess you would call it. Madison’s conduct violated the rules of his time, but posterity is grateful for his record. Was Madison morally right or morally wrong to do what he did?

The things I’ve told you about my experiences in group are technically a violation of the rules of group. But, I make my own rules. Just like Vernon Jordan and his friends, in and out of Akin Gump, the law firm where I used to work.

There’s really a whole class of confidentiality violators. I’m one. Madison, The Founding Father conventioneer, was another. Bruno Bettelheim was really a confidentiality violator. He survived a Nazi concentration camp and disclosed his story to the world. Problem for Bettelheim was that his story was so unconventional nobody believed it. Fun for the Nazis, trouble for Bettelheim. Of course, my old neighbor, Dan Ellsberg, was a famous confidentiality violator. He disclosed the secret, sordid history of the Vietnam War, the so-called Pentagon Papers, to The New York Times.

Madison, Ellsberg, Bettelheim, and I all have one thing in common. We have all violated confidences or disclosed material that The Powers that Be—whoever they might be—would prefer remain sealed.

Brian, I gotta go. I don’t want to hog the diary room. Other people are waiting for a chance to communicate using the latest in 20th century technology.

A couple of things, though, before I go.

Do me a favor. Look into something for me. Some time ago, I mentioned that the front-desk manager in my apartment building, Tim Norton, had a friend in the building, a guy in the army, the so-called “cookie guy.” I think the “cookie guy” is Captain Brad Dolinsky, U.S. Army. Captain Dolinsky lives on the 6th floor of the building. That’s your assignment, buddy. Find out if Brad Dolinsky is the “cookie guy.”

One other thing. I’ve decided not to contact the head of the library system to find out if you can be my fake psychoanalyst. I have an idea of what kind of reply, if any, the Director’s office would issue. “Listen, Brown, as far as we’re concerned, you can be a fake psychoanalyst, a fake priest, or a fake accountant. Just do it on your own time, and away from Library property.”

What I’ve decided to do, instead of contacting the Library director, is to contact the head of the Catholic Church down here in DC—Father Theodore. Otherwise known as The Old Man and The Holy See.

I’m not a Catholic, so what can he do to me? He can’t have me excommunicated, much less have my library privileges revoked.

I’d like to tell Father Theodore about my pathetic story—the story of my loneliness and moral decay. I’d tell him about you, Brian, my letters to you, and how I’d like to be your buddy. Remember, Brian, you have your immortal soul to think about. I thought Father Theodore could offer moral and spiritual guidance to me and you, guidance that would help both of us pursue the right path.

Check you out later, Brian. I wish you a long, happy life here at the library on Macomb Street.

Thursday, February 12, 2004

Group Therapy: February 12, 2004


Hey, buddy. Anything unusual happen to you in the last 24 hours; anything unconventional?

Would you believe it? People are still stopping me on the street, saying: “I don’t understand how you think you can understand anything substantial about a person based solely on a few, trivial facts about that person.” Again, I have to say, it’s just a gift, I guess.

Did I tell you about my first meeting with Claudio Grossman, dean of the law school at American University? That was in late August 1983. I was waiting outside his office to meet with him, to arrange a class schedule. He was the director of the LL.M. program at that time. He had just started teaching at the law school. A custodial employee had gone up to Grossman’s office door and removed the name plate “Claudio Grossman,” leaving, I suppose, just the office number.

Grossman came along, looked at his office door, observed that the name plate had been removed and became agitated: “My name plate is gone. Did you see who did this? Who took the name plate off my door?” He went into the administrative office, across the hall, and asked one of the secretaries: “Someone took the name plate off my door. I want it put back on the door. Who did that? Why was my name plate taken off my door?” Again to me: “Did you see who took the name plate off my door?”

I registered Grossman’s behavior as odd. He had a student waiting for him, yet he ignored the student (namely me), and invested his attention and concern in, what was objectively—so it seemed to me—a minor custodial matter. I thought: “There’s an issue of personal identity here.”

I met with Grossman. We worked out a class schedule. I learned nothing of his personal identity. I learned nothing of his complex background: his origins in Chile, his move to The Netherlands—the political issues, including the issue of anti-Semitism, his professional work in the field of human rights, and so forth.

I didn’t even assume he was Hispanic in origin. I associated the name “Claudio” with the Italian conductor Claudio Abbado. I assumed he was an Italian. An Italian-Jew. Well, I was wrong. But, of course, the point is, without any basis in fact—other than Grossman’s odd agitation concerning the removal of his office name plate, I assumed—correctly—that his reaction to the lost name plate involved something of a personal nature that went beyond the objective circumstances, as I knew them.

As I was leaving Grossman’s office, I noticed an art reproduction (a poster!) on the wall. I said: “That’s Kandinsky, isn’t it.” “Yes,” Grossman said, “It’s Kandinsky. It’s a representation of ships. You see the sails?” Quite frankly, I didn’t. Kandinsky is an expressionist. Abstract, you know. It’s sometimes difficult to understand the expressionists among us, don’t you think, Brian? Well, be that as it may, I assumed Grossman had an interest in art.

Another Rubenstein. Or Rubinstein. Have you ever seen Picasso’s sketches of Rubinstein? Have you ever seen Rubenstein’s sketches by Picasso?

There’s a deep structural relationship between Grossman’s fury over the lost name plate and his interest in human rights and the abuses of totalitarian regimes. One of the major components of totalitarianism is the focus on conventional, state-approved values; and the corresponding suppression of individuality. In the Soviet Union, only those values approved by the Communist party were permitted. Contrary values were suppressed; the individuals who held those contrary values were persecuted.

In the Reich, the Nazis took extreme measures to suppress individual identity. Speaking metaphorically, and only metaphorically, one might say that the Nazis removed the name plates of Jewish law professors, leaving only an office number.

There are those fanatics among us—psychotics, really—who believe that the Nazis actually went so far as to tattoo numbers on the arms of persons interned in concentration camps. We know that never happened.

We live in a conventional world, where only the conventional occurs. The accusations made against the Nazis would require us to believe that a state can act contrary to our own notions of conventionality. Of course, we know that can’t happen.

I never tire of repeating: We live in a conventional world, where only the conventional can occur. Allegations to the contrary are the product of sick minds!

Check you out later, buddy. As the Chilean psychoanalyst Otto Kernberg would say: “Hasta la vista, baby!”

P.S. I forgot to mention: I took an immediate liking to Claudio Grossman. But then I learned he wasn’t Italian, and my passion waned.