Monday, August 23, 2004

The Therapist -- A One-Act Play About Nothing


August 23, 2004

Hey, buddy. Well, today is Precedent's Day. So I've decided to do something that has no precedent. I've decided to present a one-act play I've written, "The Therapist," a play about nothing (in the technical, Seinfeldian sense). It's unprecedented, baby! The play is based on my recollection of my last session with The Mad Monk, on August 18, 2004 (with a few interpolations, which are indicated).


[DR. BASH]: Are you still obsessed with Brian?


[DR. BASH]: Did you write him a letter this week?

[FREEDMAN]: Yea. I wrote him a letter, on Monday; it was almost nine pages.

[DR. BASH]: What did you write about?

[FREEDMAN]: It was about Napoleon. You know, Sunday was Napoleon's birthday.

[DR. BASH]: How did you know that?

[FREEDMAN]: Napoleon is a hero of mine.

[DR. BASH]: So you read about that before. So you wrote to Brian about Napoleon.

[FREEDMAN]: Yea. I wrote about Napoleon and you, Dr. Bash. I tell Brian a lot about what we talk about here.

[DR. BASH]: You write to Brian just once a week?

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. At the central library, the Martin Luther King Library, downtown. I go down there. I take the subway. Actually, I go down there partly in hopes of seeing Brian. You know I saw Brian down there on a Monday a couple of months ago, so I figure I might run into him again on a Monday.

[DR. BASH]: What is Brian's last name?

[FREEDMAN]: Brown. Brian Brown.

[DR. BASH]: (laughs heartily).

[FREEDMAN]: Why is that funny?

[DR. BASH]: Maybe it's just me. I think it's a funny name.

[FREEDMAN]: Brian Patrick Brown.

[DR. BASH]: If you got involved with people, you would give up your obsession with Brian. If you made a friend, he would replace Brian in your thinking.

[FREEDMAN]: I'm not so sure about that. I don't think that reality will necessarily obliterate a fantasy. A fantasy can endure even after the wished-for thing is attained. For centuries Jews prayed to return to the Land of Israel. Then the State of Israel was founded. Some orthodox Jews refuse to recognize Israel, the reality, and still pray for, or fantasize about, returning to Israel, even though in reality the State of Israel actually exists. For some Orthodox Jews, the reality of the State of Israel didn't obliterate the fantasy of return.

You know the Hasidim, the ultra-Orthodox Jews? They don't believe in the state of Israel.

[DR. BASH]: Now they do. They used to not recognize Israel, but they do now. There was a rabbi a few years back. He urged them to move to Israel.

[FREEDMAN]: Rabbi Schneerson?

[DR. BASH]: Yes, that was his name. Anyhow, today Jerusalem has a large population of Hasidim. They call them "The Blacks" because of their black clothes.

(At this moment Freedman has a paranoid idea. Dr. Bash earlier laughed at the name "Brown," and now The Therapist refers to the Hasidim as "The Blacks." Freedman has an idea of reference that Dr. Bash's allusions to the colors black and brown symbolically concern the issue of race, and specifically the problem of racism at Freedman's last place of employment. Freedman's idea of reference, like all ideas of reference, is invisible. Dr. Bash does not know that Freedman is having an idea of reference. Only the judges of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals can actually "see" an idea of reference. To ordinary humans, ideas of reference are invisible to the naked eye.)

[DR. BASH]: The Hasidim have bought up half the real estate in Jerusalem. They have their own political party. They see to it that no laws are passed that are contrary to the Bible.

[FREEDMAN]: In Jerusalem.

[DR. BASH]: Yes, in Jerusalem.

[FREEDMAN]: Years ago they didn't believe in Israel. There are two factions of Hasidim. The Lubavitchers and the Satmarers. One believes in Israel, the other doesn't.

[DR. BASH]: Now they both recognize Israel. But in your case, you created your own restrictions. You have cut yourself off from what is available in the world by your own actions. It's different from a religious restriction.

[FREEDMAN]: Yes, in my case it's guilt.

[DR. BASH]: What do you feel guilty about?

[FREEDMAN]: Nothing. It's unconscious guilt.

[DR. BASH]: But you must feel guilty about something.

[FREEDMAN]: No. Nothing. It's unconscious. Freud talks about unconscious guilt.

[DR. BASH]: But even Freud, I'm sure, would say you have to feel guilty about something.

[FREEDMAN]: No, nothing. Unconscious guilt is guilt about nothing.

[DR. BASH]: It has to be about something.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: Let me read to you what Freud wrote in "The Ego and the Id." He writes: "In the end we come to see that we are dealing with what may be called a 'moral factor, a sense of guilt, which is finding its satisfaction in the illness and refuses to give up the punishment of suffering. We shall be right in regarding this disheartening explanation as final. But as far as the patient is concerned this sense of guilt is dumb; it does not tell him he is guilty; he does not feel guilty; he feels ill. This sense of guilt expresses itself only as a resistance to recovery which it is extremely difficult to overcome. It is also particularly difficult to convince the patient that this motive lies behind his continuing to be ill; he holds fast to the more obvious explanation that treatment by analysis is not the right remedy for his case."

Freud goes on to explain, Dr. Bash, that a major issue in treating patients where the overriding issue is a sense of guilt is whether "the personality of the analyst allows of the patient's putting him in the place of his ego ideal." Patients who suffer from guilt--unconscious guilt, "guilt about nothing," require something -- some idea or person or other gratification -- that will act as a "counteracting force of a similar order of strength" as the sense of guilt that is causing the patient's suffering. Imagine a person who is badly in debt; he feels rotten. A rich banker comes along and agrees to provide an unlimited line of credit to the debtor. The banker acts as a countervailing force to the debt; the banker relieves the debts, and the debtor feels relieved psychologically. To paraphrase a well-worn phrase, the banker pays the debtor's "debt" to society.

My idealized fantasies about Brian, or my other friend (Craig), or other people who I've idealized in the past, act as such a countervailing force. What my fantasias about Brian counteract is not loneliness resulting from a lack of social relations; my obsession with Brian counteracts an intrapsychic sense of guilt, a kind of psychological sense of indebtedness. My obsession with Brian is probably not a substitute for social relations; it counteracts psychological distress, rooted in an unconscious sense of guilt that is grounded in structural defects in my ego. The issue is intrapsychic structures. Ask Stanley Greenspan.

Well, what do you think about all this, Dr. Bash?

[DR. BASH (interpolation)]: It sounds like a lot of sound and fury signifying Nothing.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: Exactly!!

[FREEDMAN]: What about at Pesach in Jerusalem? What do Jews in Jerusalem say at the Seder? Do they still say "Next Year in Jerusalem?"

[DR. BASH]: Yes! (Dr. Bash intones "Next year in Jerusalem" in Hebrew.) They say: "Next year in Jerusalem."

[FREEDMAN]: You see, there's a case where a gratification in the real world does not negate a fantasy. They still say "Next Year in Jerusalem" even though they are now living in Jerusalem.

[DR. BASH]: It's a tradition. They want to keep alive the history of the Jewish experience.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: Obsessions are a tradition with me. Even if I make a friend, I'll still have obsessive fantasies that relate back to the internal psychological thing that causes my obsession with Brian. What I don't see is this. If you see it, please explain it to me. I don't see how a gratification in the real world will obliterate a fantasy or obsession that is a product of an internal structural defect. It seems to me that whoever, whatever person I get involved with in the real world, I will become obsessed with him. We saw that with my old friend (Craig). I interacted with him, but I was obsessed with him. Freud was obsessed with Fliess. Freud was happily married at the time. Freud's obsession with Fliess was not a product of interpersonal loneliness; it was a product of intrapsychic structural issues in Freud.

[DR. BASH]: Did your sister marry a Jewish guy?

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. But they sent their daughter to a Catholic school (like Albert Einstein's parents!).

[DR. BASH]: I guess it was so she could get a better education.

[FREEDMAN]: But there's no chance to meet other Jewish kids.

[DR. BASH]: That's true, there's no chance to meet other Jewish kids. I would imagine there are very few Jews in a Catholic school.

[FREEDMAN]: They had a friend, my sister and brother-in-law, had a friend who had a barbecue on Yom Kippur.

[DR. BASH]: That's stupid! Why did they do that?

[FREEDMAN]: To show their contempt for the Jewish religion. They thought it was funny.

[DR. BASH]: So they're those kind.

[FREEDMAN]: You know those kind of Jews?

[DR. BASH]: (disdainfully) Yes. (pause.) Do they have boys?

[FREEDMAN]: No, two girls.

[DR. BASH]: Did they have a Bat Mitzvah? A Confirmation?


[FREEDMAN]: They celebrate Christmas. With a tree and everything. I bought them a Menorah and a Mezuzah.

[DR. BASH]: Do they use them?

[FREEDMAN]: How do you use a mezuzah?

[DR. BASH]: You nail it to the door. Do they use the Menorah?

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. But I was the one who bought it for them. I nailed the Mezuzah to their door.

[DR. BASH]: Did your sister convert?


[DR. BASH]: You see, that's why he married her. They're alike. People marry people who are similar to themselves.

[FREEDMAN]: Maybe I should try to be friends with a Jew instead of with Brian. Brian is an Irish Catholic. I think he goes to church every Sunday. (Dr. Bash smiles.) He's very proud of his Irish heritage. Maybe I should be friends with somebody who I have something in common with in terms of my heritage.

You know when I go to sleep at night, I lay down, I turn out the light and I say out loud "Good night, Brian." Sometimes Brian doesn't hear me. And I have to repeat. "Good night, Brian!" And Brian says, "Good night, Mr. Freedman." He calls me "Mr. Freedman."

[DR. BASH]: You are the author of that.

[FREEDMAN]: I know. I made it up. But I think it's funny. Brian used to call me "Mr. Freedman" at the library. When I was leaving the building at night, I would say, "Good night, Brian," and he would say "Good night, Mr. Freedman."

[DR. BASH]: Why do you think he calls you "Mr. Freedman?"

[FREEDMAN]: He wants to pretend he doesn't know my first name. But he knows it.

[DR. BASH]: Of course he does.

[FREEDMAN]: Brian likes me.

[DR. BASH]: Brian doesn't like you. He calls you "Mr. Freedman" as an act of formality. He wants to keep things at a professional level. He's trying to show you that he doesn't want a social relationship with you. He doesn't want to be your friend. If he wanted to be your friend, he wouldn't call you "Mr. Freedman."

[FREEDMAN]: I just think there's something relating to something infantile about my obsession with Brian. Something that happened to me in infancy, at a pre-verbal level. You know--and I think this is very significant--you know I love Wagner's music. I've loved his music since I was eleven years old. It's never changed. The feelings I have for that music. And the feeling is one of ecstasy. It's this beautiful feeling of ecstasy I feel. I never fail to experience it. And I have those same feelings when I think about Brian. And I can't put it into words. It's as if I experienced some bliss at an age before I had acquired language, but I felt something, and I can remember it in some way. I simply can't use words to describe that feeling. But I can experience the feeling. It's a beautiful thing. The fact that the feelings are the same when I hear Wagner's music as when I think about Brian or other people who I've idealized, suggests to me that the feelings relate back to the same experience. I try to recapture that feeling.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: It is my sublime moment. My moment of bliss. My "glorious moment." I keep thinking I'm like the Rat Man. That was one of Freud's patients. Of all the patients of Freud I've read about, I think I most resemble the Rat Man. His real name was Ernst Lanzer. He was very bright. A lawyer. Freud liked him a lot; he even invited him to a family dinner. Lanzer was tormented with obsessive ideas and bizarre associations. It's the same way with me. Did you know--I never told anybody about this before, so you wouldn't know--I am constantly hearing "Meistersinger" in my head. It's been that way for years. Every time I think about these people I idealize, like Brian, I hear "Meistersinger." It's that particular music that accompanies my obsessive thoughts. With my old friend, the musical accompaniment became really intense. I thought about "Meistersinger' all the time. I couldn't get that music out of my head--for years. It's as if "Meistersinger" and my idealized "friends" were soldered together in pairs.

[DR. BASH]: You know, Wagner was Hitler's favorite composer.

[FREEDMAN]: Yea. You know, they never perform Wagner in Israel.

[DR. BASH]: I know.

[FREEDMAN]: Did you ever hear of the conductor Daniel Barenboim? He conducted a Wagner piece not too ago, in Israel. He had to sneak it into the program. The Wagner piece wasn't listed in the printed program. So he was able to perform the music without anybody knowing beforehand. There was a big protest about that afterwards. I guess some people walked out of the concert.

[DR. BASH]: They'll probably never invite him back. Is he the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic?

[FREEDMAN]: No. Chicago.

[DR. BASH]: Who did you have an obsession with before Wagner?

[FREEDMAN]: Benjamin Franklin. You know, the Founding Father? I was obsessed with him from about age nine or ten, till I discovered Wagner.

You know, I was thinking about something a few days ago in connection with Wagner. I was thinking about what happened to him when he was fifty years old. I'm fifty now. At that time Wagner was at the lowest point in his life. He was debt-ridden.

(The sophisticated theatergoer will know that in the German language the word "Schuld" means both "debt" and "guilt." The reference to "debt" in connection with Wagner relates back to the reference to "guilt' earlier in the dialogue.)

Wagner was being hounded all over Europe by creditors. He lived on the run. He would have been sent to jail if he got caught. He was very depressed. He was considering suicide. He saw no way out of his problems. He had several operas, manuscripts, he had written, in his suitcase. They hadn't been performed. It seemed that they would never be performed. Then a miracle happened. Truly a miracle. The King of Bavaria at that time was a Wagner enthusiast. He summoned Wagner to his court, and paid off all his debts. The King awarded Wagner an annual stipend. I'm thinking maybe my obsession with President Clinton relates to my wish that President Clinton will rescue me.

[DR. BASH]: Bill Clinton only cares about Bill Clinton.

[FREEDMAN]: Yes, he's a narcissist.

I think maybe whatever it is that determines my obsessions and ecstatic feelings also determines my social problems in bonding with people.

[DR. BASH]: What about the synagogue, Adat, Adas, Adat Israel? You should get involved.

[FREEDMAN]: You think I can make friends?

[DR. BASH]: Yes, with people at the same emotional level as you. You know, people develop relationships with others who are at their emotional level. Mature people develop relationships with each other. Immature people develop relationships with immature people. And it has nothing to do with intelligence. You can have an immature person who is very intelligent; he will bond with an immature person. You can have a mature person who is just average intelligence; he will bond with someone who is mature.

[FREEDMAN]: Yes. I've read about that. Did you ever hear of the pianist Vladimir Horowitz?

[DR. BASH]: Yes.

[FREEDMAN]: He was a musical genius, you know. But they say that he was like a child when you talked to him. He was involved with the piano since he was a small child. He was a prodigy. So he never learned how to interact with people. He never gained the maturity that comes with that interaction. So he remained a child.

[DR. BASH]: It's a shame when that happens. That wouldn't happen nowadays.

Your problem is you have a fear of rejection. You need to overcome that.

[FREEDMAN]: I have reason to fear rejection. Brian called the police on me.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: I think I have a fear of rejection. But more important, I think I have a fear of loss. I anticipate loss. It's as if I'm struggling to find, I yearn to find, something permanent in a relationship. "Auf Zeit und Ewigkeit," as Hofmannsthal wrote. I fear loss. They say that's typical in guilt; typical in cases where people suffered loss in childhood. Studies of Holocaust survivors show that they have a fear of developing relationships with people, because they fear the pain of losing the person. I identify with that strongly. I want things to last forever--like Faust!

"One common problem in the survivors of the Holocaust," notes Israeli psychiatrist Hillel Klein, "is a profound fear of getting to love someone. Having lost most, if not all, of their early love objects, they now fear that to love anyone means to lose them and go through the pain all over again. Since they have not been able to work through their losses, such a situation threatens overwhelming depression."

It's a psychological consequence common to all persons who have suffered significant emotional loss in childhood; it's not a psychological problem limited to Holocaust survivors. The experts say that "pathological mourning and schizoid detachment are the consequences of early and severe loss; the ensuing withdrawal from all relationships due to anxiety over future loss and guilt over perceived destruction of the object results in further frustration of emotional needs and dissociated lack of awareness of needs."

[FREEDMAN]: You say I should go to Adas Israel, but, technically, under the Conservative Movement, I'm not even Jewish.

[DR. BASH]: You could convert. But I don't know how they do that nowadays.

[FREEDMAN]: I have a confession to make. Do you promise you won't get angry?

[DR. BASH]: What?

[FREEDMAN]: I wrote a letter to the rabbi. The rabbi at Adas Israel. Rabbi Wohlberg.

[DR. BASH]: You are self-destructive.

[FREEDMAN]: Self-defeating.

[DR. BASH]: Self-defeating, self-destructive. You are self-destructive.

[FREEDMAN]: I told him about my loneliness. How I like Brian.

[DR. BASH]: Why did you tell him about Brian?

[FREEDMAN]: The synagogue is only a couple of blocks from the library. I thought maybe he knows Brian.

[DR. BASH]: He doesn't know Brian. Or maybe he does visit the library, I don't know. Maybe he thinks you're homosexual.

[FREEDMAN (interpolation)]: (aside) Maybe he thinks I'm the Governor of New Jersey, out to double his wardrobe!

[FREEDMAN]: I just think my life is hopeless. So I turn everything into a joke. Everything has a game-like quality for me.

[DR. BASH]: You are self-destructive. Why did you write to the rabbi?

[FREEDMAN]: I thought maybe he would call me.

[DR. BASH]: Did you give him your number?


[DR. BASH]: He won't call you. He's not going to look up your number to call you. Why didn't you give him your telephone number?

[FREEDMAN]: I wanted to play hard to get. (pause.) I thought maybe he would call Brian. Maybe he knows Brian, and maybe he would call Brian. I hoped for that. That the rabbi would call Brian. They are in the same neighborhood. (pause.) I told the rabbi I knew somebody in his congregation.

[DR. BASH]: Who?

[FREEDMAN]: Glenn Fine. You know, the guy who works at the Justice Department. The Rhodes Scholar. We both worked at Hogan & Hartson, the law firm, in 1985--well, it's almost twenty years ago.

[DR. BASH]: Time flies.

[FREEDMAN]: Fine is a big contributor to the congregation. I saw Fine's name on the Internet. The synagogue's newsletter lists Fine as a "major contributor."

[DR. BASH]: The rabbi probably does know Fine if he's a major contributor. In any event, go to the synagogue. You don't have to talk to anybody. Just sit and watch. Nobody knows you. The rabbi won't know you, unless you introduce yourself. Don't introduce yourself. Maybe you'll meet a woman there. You don't have to be friends with a man. You can be friends with a woman. Just go and observe. As I say you don't have to speak to anyone.

I see our time is up. (Stands and walks Freedman to the door.) Have a good week.


Well, what did you think, Brian? Am I Arthur Miller, or am I Arthur Miller? I guess you'd have called the cops on Arthur Miller. "Officer, he uses the word 'Death' as part of the title. See, Officer, 'Death of a Salesman.'"

Be that as it may. Have a good week, buddy. Tell Earl Segal that I'm still out of touch with realty.

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