Friday, November 20, 2009

The Origins of My Delusions About Akin Gump: The Need for Fame

I believe I have been under surveillance by persons at the D.C. law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. I formed that belief in late October 1988, about seven months after I started working at the firm as an agency-supplied temporary in early March 1988. I was 34 years old at that time. I was not seeing a psychiatrist in 1988, and did not start seeing a psychiatrist until January 1990: Stanley R. Palombo, MD (202 362 6004). Throughout my tenure at Akin Gump (March 1988 to October 1991) my job performance evaluations were "above average or outstanding."

At no time in my life before late October 1988 did I have the belief that I was under surveillance by anyone. At no time in my life before late October 1988 did I suffer from delusions of any kind. I saw two psychiatrists when I was in my mid-twenties; neither doctor diagnosed me with psychotic mental illness or recommended that I take medication. One psychiatrist prescribed an anti-depressant at my request. The other doctor prescribed Ativan, a minor tranquillizer, at my request. Both doctors are now deceased.

On Columbus Day 1988 -- a firm holiday -- I went to my office at Akin Gump. Incidentally, Christopher Columbus had been a boyhood hero of mine. I admired the tenacity of his original thinking in the face of disbelief. I stayed at the office the entire day. I brought a suitcase full of books with me. I set about typing an autobiographical sketch, "The Caliban Complex: An Attempt at Self Analysis." The undertaking took me the entire day to complete. And, yes, I admit it: I used the firm's photocopier to make three copies of the completed document.

I sent copies of the document to three people I had worked with in the Computer Applications Department at the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, where I had served a temporary assignment from mid-September 1985 to late February 1988. I sent one copy to Craig W. Dye, one to Daniel D. Cutler, Esq. and another to Michael J. Wilson, Esq. (now a partner at Morgan, Lewis and Bockius). I remember the note I appended to Michael Wilson's copy: "I never had any psychoanalytic training, but then, neither did Sigmund Freud."

A word about my autobiographical sketch. Early in the writing, in footnote 1, I proposed the novel theory that a physical injury I suffered at age two and one half (during the summer of 1956 -- perhaps significantly, a presidential election year -- my father was passionate about politics -- 1988 was also a presidential election year) led to disturbed psychological consequences, specifically in my superego functioning. I could find no confirmation for the theory in the literature. When I proposed my theory to Dr. Palombo and other mental health professionals these individuals dismissed my theory. In fact, my thinking was met with universal disbelief and ridicule. During the year 1998 I read a recently published paper in the 1997 edition of The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child written by a Toronto psychoanalyst named Joseph Fernando titled: "The Exceptions: Dynamic and Structural Features." The paper proposed that a physical injury in childhood might lead to disturbed psychological consequences, specifically in superego functioning. (I provided my current psychiatrist, Abbas Jama, M.D., a copy of that paper.)

Be that as it may.

Some time after I sent out copies of my autobiographical sketch, I noticed a hubbub at Akin Gump, where I worked. I didn't make anything of it. But I noted it. One afternoon, I heard Earl L. Segal, Esq. -- the partner in charge of Akin Gump's paralegal program -- say in a loud tone of voice outside my office door to the tax attorney David Hardee, Esq., who occupied an office near me: "He's mentally unbalanced." At about the same time I happened to see firm partner David Callett, Esq. on New Hampshire Avenue, near Akin Gump's office; he looked at me with marked disdain. David Callett was a Penn State graduate (like Earl Segal and I) and was one of the senior partners for the client Eastern Airlines. I worked on a document production task for Eastern Airlines at that time, and I had introduced myself to David Callett in June 1988 when I was hired as an Akin Gump temporary employee.

About that time I spoke with my sister on the telephone one evening. My sister lived in New Jersey. Her tone was angry throughout the telephone conversation. At least twice and perhaps three times during the conversation my sister said in a bitter tone: "How's your job?" In my autobiographical sketch I revealed certain facts about my sister that she may have considered sensitive or confidential.

It was at that precise moment -- speaking with my sister -- that the perceptions I had recently experienced clicked in my mind. It was at that precise moment, in late October 1988, that I came down with paranoid schizophrenia. I thought: "Either Mike Wilson, Craig Dye, or Daniel Cutler transmitted a copy of my sketch to someone at Akin Gump. The personnel department has my sister's telephone number as a contact person and someone at Akin Gump must have telephoned her."

That deluded belief -- for which there was no hard evidence (like Columbus's belief that he could reach Asia by crossing the Atlantic) -- became my working hypothesis from that moment on. I began to filter everything in my environment as confirming that fundamental theory. I have never wavered in my belief. I never had any perceptions that contradicted that belief. In fact, subtle peculiarities in my environment began to confirm and solidify my belief. My deluded belief system has remained intact since late October 1988. Moreover, my confidence in my ability to sense subtle cues in my environment has grown, as well as has my confidence in my ability to draw meaningful inferences from complex fact patterns in my environment. In that sense, my illness has gotten worse over the years.


Oddly enough, in childhood I saw a movie on TV that became a favorite of mine. I watched the movie every time it was broadcast, and never failed to be immensely entertained by it.

It Should Happen to You is a 1954 comedy film starring Judy Holliday and Jack Lemmon, who was then an aspiring young actor. The film was directed by George Cukor. The title was initially "A Name for Herself."

The script, by Garson Kanin, concerns a naive young woman named Gladys Glover who yearns for fame. Strolling through Central Park, she meets a young handsome man named Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon). He is a maker of documentaries (apparently equipped only with a handheld 16mm camera). He is taking brief shots of people in the park. He films Gladys feeding pigeons, and introduces himself.

In a rapid piece of exposition, we learn that she has been in New York for two years, has just lost her job as a model of girdles because her hip size is 3/4" larger than it should be, and still has the $1000 which she "saved up." We learn that she is discouraged at having gotten nowhere in two years and that she wants to make a name for herself. It is clear to the audience that Pete is much taken with Gladys. He gets her address by offering to drop her a postcard when the documentary is finished so she can see herself in it. "Really?" she says. "I'd give my right arm to see myself in the movies." "You don't need to give me your right arm," says Lemmon, "just give me your right address." They part.

Wandering despondently, Gladys' attention is caught by a large billboard overlooking Columbus Circle, with the notice "This space for rent. Choice location. Inquire Horace Pfeiffer Co, 383 Madison Avenue." She fantasizes her name on the billboard. Gathering her nerve, she goes to 383 Madison Avenue to inquire. The naive Gladys asks for "Mr. Horace Puh-feiffer," pronouncing the letter P, and is humiliated by the receptionist, who corrects her pronunciation and tells her there is no Mr. Pfeiffer. However, the determined Gladys obtains an interview with a busy man conducting a telephone conversation, who brusquely tells her that the sign is available, demands to know "whom she represents," and finally says "I'm really too busy for this sort of thing." The spunky Gladys pulls $1000 in cash from her purse, complains that he is too "stuck up" to listen to her, asks "what sort of place treats people that way" and starts to leave. The representative relents and tells her that the sign is $210 per month, three months minimum. Gladys pays $630 in cash and arranges to have her name put on the billboard.

Within a few days the sign is up and she is thrilled. It turns out, however, that the Adams Soap company has traditionally booked that sign, intended to book that sign, and is upset to learn that another client has obtained it. The Pfeiffer company calls her to a meeting where Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford) attempts to induce her to give up the sign by offering her more money. Gladys is simply not interested. She is called to another meeting at which they offer to give her six signs in exchange for that one. This time, she accepts. Now there are six huge signs in New York, one in lights, each saying simply "Gladys Glover."

Meanwhile, Pete Sheppard has taken an apartment adjacent to hers, a move which does not seem to rouse Gladys' curiosity, and they become platonic friends. Sheppard is, however, exasperated by her fascination with her signs and her requests that he tour the city with her to see them. Citygoers are intrigued by the mysterious signs. Gladys shops in a department store, and when she gives her name, the word spreads quickly and dozens of people flock around to get the autograph of the famous Gladys Glover.

Soon, she is being asked to appear on television shows. However, the round of publicity starts takes an unpleasant turn. Gladys has of course explained that she obtained the signs simply in order to "make a name for herself." She does not seem to be aware that she is being treated as a freak or figure of fun. Evan Adams III decides, however, that she is ripe for exploitation as "the average American girl," and hires her to do a series of advertisements for Adams Soap. As she pursues what is becoming a lucrative career, relations between her and Peter Sheppard become strained.

At the same time, Adams is showing an increasing interest in her. The situation reaches a crisis when Gladys breaks a date with Sheppard in order to attend what Adams says is a business conference to discuss a cross-country publicity tour. The conference turns out to be an attempted seduction. As Adams reaches to embrace Gladys, she accidentally or intentionally spills a full glass of champagne down the back of Adams neck, breaking the spell. Gladys says "I don't mind the way you're acting, exactly. What I mind is the way you give the idea you're sort of entitled." "Maybe I am," says Adams. "Oh, sure, if you want to make it into a sort of business proposition." "That's what you're doing, isn't it?" asks Adams. Gladys says "The way it looks to me, Mr. Adams, is that there are two sorts of people. The people who will do anything to make a name for themselves, and the people who will do almost anything." She walks out, saying "Soon there will be signs all over saying I'm the average American girl. That was your idea wasn't it? Well, I don't think the average American girl should do... this." She walks out.

She arrives home to find a 16 mm movie projector in her room with a note from Sheppard telling her to run it. It is a film, complete with titles and synchronized sound, entitled "Goodbye, Gladys," The charmingly self-deprecating Sheppard confesses that he loves Gladys, acknowledges that his profile is not as good looking as Adams, and says goodbye.

Gladys' advertising career continues. She finds its emptiness more and more frustrating. She recalls Sheppard's frequent questions as to why she wants to be above the crowd instead of being happy being part of the crowd.

We find Sheppard in a cage at a zoo, where he is making a documentary showing how the visitors appears to the animals. He coaches the crowd to react to him as if he were a chimpanzee and he jumps around in the cage, filming the crowd as they throw him peanuts. Suddenly the crowd's attention is distracted. We here the sound of an airplane and the crowd saying "Oooh" and turning away from the cage. The puzzled Sheppard looks upward and see that the plane has skywritten the message "PETE CALL GLADYS PLEASE." He grins, the film cuts to Gladys and Pete driving in a car and discussing plans for the future. Gladys spots an empty billboard with a message "THIS SPACE FOR RENT. Apply Acme Realty Co." "What are you looking at?" asks Pete. "Nothing." says Gladys. "Absolutely nothing."


Gary Freedman said...

Do I have a Nobel Prize Complex or a Billboard Complex?

Gary Freedman said...

Coincidentally, 1988 was also an election year.