Monday, June 07, 2004

A Huge Epiphany


Hey, buddy. I woke up this morning with this huge epiphany. Of course, a lot of guys wake up in the morning with huge epiphanies. So, there's no need to go into that.
Another miserable weekend. The weather, the boredom, and this weekend -- an added torment. Thoughts about starting therapy with Dr. Bash on Wednesday. Yes, Dr. Bash called me on Thursday afternoon last and told me to see her on Wednesday at 2:00. She was speaking in her professional voice. Not a good sign.
You know how I got started in therapy? It all started 27 years ago. Someone talked me into seeing a shrink. It was a lady who did her practice in her apartment. We sat down and talked. The phone rang. She went through the swinging doors, and I could see into her kitchen. She had a pork roast sitting on the counter, waiting to be placed in the oven. How am I going to take advice from someone like that, I thought? Someone who eats treif. That was the end of my first shrinkage. Maybe if she had been kosher I'd have stayed in therapy with her.
I live in an askew universe of my own making. I've made my way to age 50 with the blissfully oblivious demeanor of someone who doesn't know any better or, more precisely, doesn't know any other way. I happily admit that I have no judgment, so I have chosen a throw-everything-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach to life. I'm a terrible analyzer of what will be good for me or anyone else.. Whatever I think the outcome is going to be, I'm always wrong. Like you and me, buddy. I thought we'd eventually get around to being friends. I thought eventually you'd find me and my letters irresistible, and you'd say something along the lines of "Hey, Freedman, let's get together. Let's do lunch." Man, was I wrong!
I live inside my own head. My own world is the only one that makes any sense at all to me. I often speak as if I'm having a Socratic dialogue with myself. What's funny to me is something the rest of the world doesn't understand. I'm a very private person who lives in his head. When that is interrupted, it interferes with my sanity. I'm fundamentally a very delicate person.
That fragility was captured in my experience in group therapy. The rough and tumble world of group -- the name-calling, the envy, the jealousy, and so forth just set me off. I couldn't take it. I don't respond in kind. I try to treat people with respect. I can't just come right out and say: "He's only here to keep the disability checks flowing." Even though I couldn't stand those people, I could see they were psychologically vulnerable and I had enough empathy that I couldn't just devalue them outright. What I need is not just a tougher skin, but a tougher approach to other people who don't deserve my respect. But then, the way group was, they'd all just pounce on me if I fought back. It's like the old Jewish expression: "Rock falls on jug, jug breaks. Jug falls on rock, jug breaks. Poor jug." That's me, the poor jug.
Like when Craig the Embalmer started working at Hogan, everybody was all over me because I wasn't friendly with Craig. "Have you talked to the new guy?" "He seems like a really nice guy." (Actually I hate nice guys. That's why I like you, buddy). So I was a bad person because I wasn't friendly with the nice new guy.
Then when I started to work at Akin Gump, and nobody talked to me, I was in the wrong. "Oh, he's extremely shy. Or he's psycho or something." Aren't I a nice guy? Wasn't it wrong for other people not to make a social overture to me? I guess not. Poor jug. I remember being so miserable at Akin Gump. I was really in despair.
You know another problem for me is that my delicate nature makes it difficult for me to engage in small talk. I'm totally reluctant to glad-hand. I'm just not a glad-hander. I remember when I started at Akin Gump, I glad-handed with David Callet. I wished I hadn't later on.
I think I'm better off not socializing. I make a better impression if I'm not around. Like right now, for instance -- and for the past 12 years -- I've been making a fantastic impression at law firms all over the city. And that's just by my not being around. It's when I show up at a law firm that the problems begin.
Things were great between you and me, Brian, for the year that I was writing letters to you, staying anonymous. The problems started right after I got up the nerve to give you that gift back in late March 2004. The Beethoven CD. Remember that? Within a month, I was gone. I should have stuck to the anonymous letters. I would have made a better impression by staying anonymous.
The world of my own making, the world of my own fantasy is the only real and worthwhile world for me. It's like: "O.K., this is Freedman. Freedman knows he's just living out a fantasy. Freedman knows it's not real. Freedman is having a good time."
I know how things are going to go with Dr. Bash. Dr. Bash lives in the "real" world. She disdains fantasy. Trouble.
She tells me "You need to change. You're problem is you don't want to change. I can't work with a patient who doesn't want to change." I take that as an insult. I change my underwear every day. What more does she expect? Briefs, T-shirt, socks. I never wear them two days in a row. That's change. And that's about all the change that I can handle. But, do you really need any more change than that?
Dr. Bash is one of these "You need to this" -- "You need to do that" type of therapists. Like I don't know what I need to do! I know what I need to do. The question is how do I do it? I know I need to do more than just lay around on my couch all day. But how do I work if people spread rumors about me and make it impossible to keep a job. It's hard to keep a job when people are spreading stories that you're planning to buy a gun, bring it in, and shoot everybody.
I'd like to have friends. I know I need friends. But just how do you do that? How do you do that when you keep having to face these interlopers from South Africa! I told you the story about Craig the Embalmer. Back in the end of May 1991. We were going to get together. Hang out. At the last minute Craig calls me and tells me he can't get together with me because he has a friend coming in from South Africa. Just how do you deal with that whole South African situation? I just never learned how to negotiate that whole thing. Craig said: "It's an old friend from graduate school. I haven't talked to him in a long time." Funny thing. When I called Craig in July 1993, after not having talked to him in a long time, he said to me: "Why are you calling me after all this time?" You see the contradiction? Again, poor jug!
I'd like to be able to keep my inheritance. You know when you inherit money it's yours. You get to keep that. It's your property. But when I inherited money from my mother, my sister and brother-in-law were waiting in the wings. "Hand it over," they basically said. "We want the inheritance." At that time, back in 1980, my brother-in-law was working as an account executive at Merrill Lynch (he had a business degree). He was making like $100,000 per year. They didn't even need the money. But I had to hand over my inheritance.
Actually, that's my little stab at humor. My brother-in-law wasn't earning $100,000 a year as an account exec in 1980. He had a business degree (paid for by his uncle), but he worked a crappy job as a sixth-grade teacher in Camden, New Jersey - the garden spot of the Garden State. Don't let my sister tell you she wasn't hungry for my inheritance.
Oh -- and yes -- lest we forget, I'd like to visit my local library. But I find of late I can't do that, under penalty of arrest. That's another thing that's been wrongfully denied me. (As you can see I have a virtuoso collection of wounds and angers.) The rules are different for me, apparently. It's unlawful for me to use the computer consistent with its intended use. It's unlawful for me to admit I suffer from depression or that I think about punitive damages or that I refuse to do what I have no legal duty to do. Yes, those things get me in trouble. But other people are allowed to sleep all day in the library. Get into arguments with other patrons. Argue with the librarians (like good old Lori). Talk about masturbation in a loud tone of voice with the librarians. All that's OK. But just don't ever talk about punitive damages. Poor jug.
Another thing with Dr. Bash is my relationship with my sister. "Why don't you call your sister?" "You should call your sister." Like my sister has no duties in relation to me. I'm the sick one. Believe me, my sister never failed to mention that! I'm the one with paranoid schizophrenia or bi-polar disease, or delusional disorder -- or whatever the hell I suffer from at the moment. I'm the one who's been disabled for the past 13 years. Doesn't a family member -- namely, my sister -- have any duties in relation to me? Why is it I who has a duty in relation to my sister. I'll tell you this. David Riess -- he's a local psychiatrist. He's the editor-in-chief of the journal Psychiatry. He says that paranoid schizophrenia is the "cancer" of mental illness. That's illness! And I've been diagnosed with that. You're telling me my sister has no duty to contact a relative with "cancer?"
I think if my sister were to call me, I'm not even sure I'd want to talk to her. She's a nut-job. I feel better not talking to her, really. My sister was a French major. Did I ever tell you that, Brian? Yes, she majored in French -- at least for a time.
French majors!
I admit I have an ugly fondness for generalizations, so perhaps I may be forgiven when I declare that there is always something weird about a girl who majors in French. She has entered into her course of study, first of all, knowing full well that it can only lead to her becoming a French teacher, a very grim affair, the least of whose evils is poor pay, and the prospect of which should have been sufficient to send her straight into business or public relations. She has been betrayed into the study of French, heedless of the terrible consequences, by her enchantment with this language, which has ruined more young American women than any other foreign tongue.
Second, if her studies were confined simply to grammar and vocabulary, then perhaps the French major would develop no differently from those who study Spanish or German, but the unlucky girl who pursues her studies past the second year comes inevitably and headlong into contact with French literature, potentially one of the most destructive forces known to mankind, and she begins to relish such previously unglamorous elements of her vocabulary as languere and funeste, and, speaking English, inverts her adjectives, to let one know that the sometimes even thinks in French. The writers she comes to appreciate -- Breton, Baudelaire, Sartre, de Sade, Cocteau -- have an alienating effect, especially on her attitude toward love, and her manner of expressing her emotions becomes difficult and theatrical, while those French writers whose influence might be healthy, such as Standhal or Flaubert, she dislikes and takes to reading in translation, where she willfully misreads Madame Bovary and La Chartreuse, making dark romances of them.
Be that as it may. So much for my sister, the French major. Would you go out of your way to telephone a French major? Would Fred Cohen go out of his way to telephone a French major? I don't think so.
Another thing Dr. Bash is always recommending is that I eat out. "Do you eat out?" she always asks me. Like I'm going to make friends with diners in restaurants. "Hello. My name is Gary Freedman. I have paranoid schizophrenia. I'm disabled and haven't worked in 13 years. My last supervisor said she was afraid I was going to kill her. And the D.C. Government determined that my coworkers formed genuine fears that I might have been planning to carry out a Columbine-style assault at the law firm where I used to work. Do you mind if I join you for dinner?" Right.
Maybe Dr. Bash thinks I'll meet a hot waitress (or waiter). Maybe mingle with the kitchen staff. Maybe she thinks it'll be like "Rocco meets Jeffrey." And that -- that -- really worked out, didn't it? Rocco DiSpirito and Jeffrey Chodorow (or whatever his name was). Rocco and Jeffrey almost ended up killing each other. Believe me, it's best not to get involved with strangers in restaurants.
If Dr. Bash asks me that again, you know, "Do you eat out?" I'm going to say. I only eat kosher. I only eat at kosher Vietnamese restaurants. And they don't have any in my neighborhood. Listen lady, I don't eat treif.
The thing is I just like very few people to begin with. It's not just a matter of meeting people generally. It's not like you put me with a random collection of people, and I'll mix and mingle and end up befriending people. There are very few people I genuinely like, who I genuinely would like to get to know. And I generally know who I like in the first five minutes. I identify with a passage in J.D. Salinger's short story "Franny and Zoe."
I love this line: "And you make people nervous, young man," she said--most equably, for her. "You either take to somebody or you don't. If you do, then you do all the talking and nobody can even get a word in edgewise. If you don't like somebody--which is most of the time--then you just sit around like death itself and let the person talk themself into a hole. I've seen you do it."
It's like I told you before. I'm a big fan of that TV reality series "Big Brother." That show's been on every summer since the year 2000. So far there have been about 48 contestants. Of those 48 people I only liked one person. My old buddy, His Holiness Hardy-Ames Hill.
I'm an individualist. A nonconformist. Those are the people I like. I'm thinking at this moment of a variation on the old Woody Allen (or was it Groucho Marks) joke: "I wouldn't belong to any organization that would have me as a member." My motto is: "I wouldn't be a member of any organization whose members look to organizations for friendship." Did you watch that TV show "Colonial House?" There were some folks on that show I liked. The Voorhees family. John and Michelle. They were individualists. Nonconformists. While everybody else was attending Sunday church services, they were out skinny dipping, defying the crowd. I think probably John Voorhees had one huge epiphany out there in the woods, the kind of epiphany you don't get at church services.
They (John and Michelle) had no problem saying to the group. "We believe what we believe. And we don't do things just to be a part of the group. We're not going to do something just because it's the norm, or just to conform." John Voorhees spent four years in the Marines and he's tried his hand at writing: short stories and a novel. Creative guy. Yes, a creative individualist. I liked John Voorhees. Very grounded. Good-looking, too.
Well, as you can predict, this whole Dr. Bash thing is not looking too promising. If Dr. Bash starts in with this "You need to do this" -- "You need to do that" crap, I'll just parody her with "You need to call Brian." "You need to call Brian and tell him he has no right to curtail my library privileges." Of course, she'll say: "I'm not going to call Brian." And I'll say: "Well, I'm not going to eat out. Period."
The whole thing is going to end up with bitterness and recriminations, deadlock, stalemate, and argument. I can only really function in an analytic type of therapeutic setting. In analysis, you just talk about whatever is on your mind. It's like these letters, really. You just talk, and make connections. Connections between the present and the past. Connections between the intra-psychic and the interpersonal. Connections between yourself and the analyst; connections between your relationship with the analyst and your relations with other people, both past and present. That's what it's all about. And that's all it's about. Nothing more. Nothing less.
There's an analyst in my apartment building. His name is Martin Ceaser, MD. He graduated from Case-Western Reserve University, but I don't hold that against him. Yes, he's from Ohio, but not all Ohioans are bad people. Dr. Ceaser has an older guy for a patient who does analysis. The guy seems to be in his late fifties, I guess. He's here every day at 7:30 AM. Doing his analysis. Dr. Sack, who passed away last August (August 5th or maybe August 6th -- I can't be sure, as Albert Camus would say), had an older lady in her 60's (I suppose) who did analysis. I guess it's never too late to change your underwear, or anything else.
The thing is I'd like to do analysis, but it's damned expensive. You can imagine seeing a doctor 5 days a week, just how expensive that is. I could afford one dollar per session. I think doctors have an ethical duty to see reduced-fee patients, don't they? I'd agree to see Dr. Caesar for one dollar per session. It doesn't sound like much, but when you stop to think that at the end of the week that's five bucks -- well, that's enough for a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Dr. Ceaser likes Starbucks -- he likes to drink out. A year of "one-dollar-per consult" analytic sessions, and you've got enough money for 50 cups of coffee at Starbucks. Nobody can possibly sit down and drink 50 cups of coffee at one sitting. So that's a lot of coffee. When you think about it in those terms, one dollar per session is actually quite a hunk of change. I gotta run that by old Marty Caesar. See what he says.
P.S. It was a shame about Ronnie, wasn't it? I was thinking about Michael Bergin's comment about Jack Nicholson: "There was something electric about him. It was as if he single-handedly changed the molecular structure of a room when he entered it." Mike Bergin used to be the Calvin Klein underwear model. Bergin changes his underwear every day, so he claims.
As a memorial to President Reagan, I've made an addition to my autobiography. What do you think? Oddly enough, my memorial to Ronald Reagan fits in the section that talks about Jesse Raben. Uncanny, eh? You see, the flora at Rancho del Cielo (speaking metaphorically) is not just a collection of vegetation. It's an eco-system. The psychoanalysts say (and they're right) --these associations are not random; they're unconsciously-determined and they recur, again and again.
He then came out of his room, . . . Hugo Wolf, Letter to His Parents. I rose. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. [He] looked at me, and said: "I have seen you before, I think. You are . . ." Hugo Wolf, Letter to His Parents. . . . Rabenstein? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust. Ah, no, no! Richard Wagner, Letter to Mathilde Wesendonk (April 7, 1858). . . . pardon the slip! Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. . . . Raben? Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust. I must confess that . . . Primo Levi, The Periodic Table. . . . I was born . . . Matt Ridley, Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters. . . . Rabensteiner, . . . Franz Kafka, The Trial. . . . a Jew: Primo Levi, The Periodic Table. . . . but I sign . . . Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years. . . . Raben . . . Richard Wagner, Gotterdammerung. . . . as a pen name . . . E. James Lieberman, Acts of Will. . . . now and then. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust. I thought as much! Richard Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. For a moment the old man was silent. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. I looked at him, lost in astonishment. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness. There was something electric about him. It was as if he had single-handedly changed the molecular structure of the room. It struck me that what I'd heard about certain celebrities was true: they had It, whatever the hell It was. Star power isn't a myth; it is tangible and forceful. Michael Bergin, The Other Man: A Love Story. John F. Kennedy Jr., Carolyn Bessette, & Me. He went in front of me and opened the door of the reception room, which was furnished in a truly royal style. In the middle of the room was a couch covered in velvet and silk. Wagner himself was wrapped in a long velvet mantle bordered with fur. When I was inside the room he asked me what I wanted. Hugo Wolf, Letter to His Parents.
Check you out later, buddy. Stay clear of the decaff.

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