The Freedman Archives: Part II

The following is a collection of letters written by Gary Freedman to his imagined friend.

Monday, December 31, 2007

Relying on the Kindness of a Friend

Growing Up Jewish in the South

by Jesse Raben, Founder and President of

Mr. Raben and I were friends and coworkers at a local law firm during the Reagan Administration, late in the last century.

Mr. Raben--now a practicing attorney--was intelligent, inner-directed, idealistic, and independent in thought and action.

Twenty years later, I still remember one incident vividly. I was in 8th grade at Aycock Junior High School. A boy named Darryl Massey had been bothering me everyday in class, calling me names, sometimes making reference to the fact that I was Jewish. I asked him to stop, but he continued.

I didn’t know what to do about it. I brought the issue up around the dinner table one night. My older brothers quickly talked of opening up a major can of whoop-ass on Darryl. Unfortunately, they were in high school already and were offering only moral support. In any event, I wasn’t looking for a fight. Aycock was a school that paddled, yes, paddled, kids for fighting. All the same, I warned my parents that there was a chance I was going to get into a fight with Darryl next time he insulted me.

In gym class a few days later, Darryl started in, calling me names, calling me wimpy, that sort of thing. I knew that his taunts were not worth fighting over. A couple of the other guys broke us apart as we circled each other, shoulder to shoulder (this was the common middle school, pre-fight ritual, just to show that you were ready to go at anytime). I picked up my books and started to walk off, angry, but fine with my decision to leave. As I was walking away though, Darryl yelled out to me “He’s just a damn Jew anyway.” I lost control when I heard his words. I turned quickly, dropping my books, adrenaline shooting through my veins, tears welling up in my eyes, and rushed toward him as fast as I could move.

I grabbed his shirt with both of my hands, staring into his surprised eyes. I pushed him hard against the wall and then swung blindly at his face. Three fists seemed to land in the space of two seconds. As I started to launch another blow, a hand caught my fist in mid-air. Coach Medley, the gym teacher, had heard the commotion and ran out of his office. As I looked at him, I heard the rest of the locker room cheering in my favor. I looked at Darryl, who was now being restrained by another coach but struggling to get free to come after me. I struggled as well, but wasn’t going anywhere under Coach Medley’s grip.

I faintly heard Coach Medley tell me to go along my way -- that he would take care of things. I walked out of the locker room, shaking, scared, but so proud of myself. I had done it – I shut Darryl Massey up. For me it did not matter whether he ever called me a name again or not. I had this victory for today and that was what mattered. As I walked along to my next class, he came running after me, yelling and screaming more names. I stood my ground and told him I would fight him anytime. Darryl’s friends laughed at him, came up to me, and told me not to worry about Darryl anymore.

I think about that fight every now and then and wonder whatever happened to Darryl Massey. I remember that his mother died the next year – someone ran out to tell him while he was in the middle of football practice. I saw him when he came back to school after some time off. I approached him and said I was sorry about his mom. He wouldn’t shake my hand, pride, I guess, but I took no offense. He just stared at me.

I was born in Durham, North Carolina, and while my family moved around, we finally settled in Greensboro, North Carolina after brief stops in Miami, Winston-Salem, and Israel. All of this was before my seventh birthday. My dad worked at teaching hospitals in Durham and Winston-Salem. We moved as he found more interesting opportunities.

Living in Washington, D.C. for the past ten years, I can reflect on what it was like to grow up in the South with some perspective. There were not many Jews where I grew up. I was one of five Jewish kids – three of whom were my two brothers and sister – in junior high. There were about 3,000 Jewish families altogether in Greensboro, with a much more significant population in Charlotte. But we had a strong community. We participated heavily in BBYO and USY – two organizations that we could really identify with and find other Jewish kids our age who had the same interests. Greensboro had (and still has) synagogues and youth groups. While larger Jewish populations are much more common in the South now than when I was growing up, there are still nowhere near the numbers of Jews in major cities of the East Coast, Midwest, or West Coast.

Most of my contemporaries’ parents seemed to have moved from the Northeast at some point . Everyone had their own reasons for moving to North Carolina. Growing up Jewish in the South -- to answer the first question you may have on your mind right about now, yes, there are Jews in the South, even in places like Greensboro. And, to answer your second question, we had a real Jewish existence, with matzah, apples and honey, and even a sukkah. No hamhocks, collard greens, or fatback.

To me, growing up Jewish in the South meant putting up with overt anti-Semitism. It wasn’t just being called dirty Jew or Jew boy. It was also a reminder from a 200 pound sweaty fifth grader, chasing me down a hall at camp to tell me that unless I found Jesus, I was going to burn in hell. It was the Ernest Angley Faith Healing Hour and the fifteen Baptist preacher channels (when we finally got cable). I even heard people suggest that we should have to go to school on Christmas because we did not celebrate it. And there were the KKK and even the Nazi party – which, as you can imagine, made life fun.

Anti-Semitism came in two forms –hatred and ignorance. By ignorance, I mean not just a lack of knowledge, but a lack of willingness to learn and understand. It came in the form of always asking about Hanukkah, or why do you have matzah in your lunch box, or how come we don’t get off for the Jewish New Year when you got off for Christmas? Although it could get tiresome, I didn’t mind answering the questions especially if I felt like it might have some positive effect and maybe change a person’s feelings towards Jews.

While I harbor no ill feelings regarding the ignorance, I still feel pangs of resentment and a little fear regarding the hatred, even though I learned that the hatred also stemmed from ignorance. I don’t know what to say about the hatred I experienced. It is what it is. I doubt it will ever disappear. (And this, we all know, does not restrict itself to the South.)

Looking back, I do believe that a lot of the anti-Semitism that came from kids my age was largely a result of ignorance and stupidity, although there certainly were some very smart kids who used anti-Semitic and racist slurs freely. Who knows, maybe they learned from their parents. It would not surprise me given that I constantly heard my friends’ parents using derogatory names for blacks as part of their everyday language.

I remember another boy who used to tease my brothers and me after I got to high school. Walter something or other. I think he was my brothers’ age, but in any event, older than me and bigger and stronger. I remember him not because of the teasing and the anti-Semitic remarks, but for something he said to me one day. I was standing by my locker one morning, getting my books together. This was about the time Walter would typically give me a hard time. This day was different, though. He walked up to me and I looked at him, bracing myself for some remark. He looked back at me and said he was sorry for saying the things he’d been saying. He’d watched the television miniseries “Holocaust” and told me that he never knew about the suffering Jews had had to endure. He apologized again and walked off. I stood there somewhat shocked. I had no idea what to make of what he said.

I don’t think I ever said another word to him after that day, but I know that when I did see him, there was a good feeling in my gut and a smile would usually come over my face.

Monday, April 11, 2005

The Confessions of a Psychoanalyst


Hey, buddy. I haven't seen you in some time. That may change. I'm thinking more and more along the lines of returning to the Cleveland Park Library on the one-year anniversary of "The Catastrophe," that is, the ban you imposed last April 21. I think that would be fitting and proper. I talked to my psychologist, Dr. Bash, about returning as a patron to CPK, and she raised no objections. In fact, for some time, she had been suggesting that I return to my neighborhood library.

I'm taking a new antipsychotic medication, Geodon. It's great. The old antipsychotic I was on, Zyprexa, was a disaster. It had somnolent properties and it raised my serum lipid levels. It also caused weight gain. My cholesterol was off the charts, at 296. My triglycerides were 90 points too high, also. (Of course, I was also eating a lot of yogurt. But it was nonfat.) As I mentioned last week, I was sleeping about 14 hours per day on the Zyprexa. Do you see why I wasn't taking my medication last year? It's really a form of cruel and unusual chemical therapy, so to speak.
But the Geodon is a great med. It does everything Zyprexa does therapeutically, but with none of the side effects. You may wonder why a doctor would prescribe Zyprexa. Well, for one thing, some people can't take Geodon. It's contraindicated for people with heart disease. People with Q-wave problems, and so forth. You know, the sinus node and all that. I guess President Clinton would have to stick to Zyprexa if he were to develop delusions about a vast right-wing conspiracy.

I feel like I've got my groove back. I'm able to work out at almost my old level. Also, I've been considering getting a part-time job to supplement my scam operation on Social Security. Would you believe it? Social Security actually buys that crap that I'm mentally disturbed. Now, really. Just because I have no social life, I believe I'm under surveillance, and I believe I have special mental powers -- like the ability to pick up and interpret social cues that other people can't see.
I saw William at the CVS on Saturday. "Gary!" he called out to me. It's Mr. Freedman to him, by the way. (Not that I have anything against William. At least I don't have any more of a grudge against William than I have against any other DC employee. But that's an entirely different suburb.) I just have a problem with too much familiarity. People lose respect for you when you get too friendly. At least that was President Nixon's belief. (Richard Nixon was apparently oblivious to the possibility that paying no federal income taxes or obstructing justice might impair a public official's ability to garner respect. But he was concerned about the consequences of too much familarity. And they say I have mental problems!)

Tell William that he may address me as Der Freedman (as Craig the Embalmer used to do). Or he may address me as Mr. President. But watch the "Gary" crap. I don't want to lose respect with the masses. William asked me if I was taking any day trips. Yea. Right. I take day trips through my own inner fantasy world. It's great. No frequent flyer miles, but you don't have to take your shoes off at the airports. At least I don't. Actually, I didn't tell William that. I told him I was just hanging out. (I wish I had a buddy to hang out with. A real buddy, that is.) Of course, I did take a day trip last October to the psych ward of DC General, courtesy of the Metro DC Police. And wasn't that a dream come true?

I told William I was on a sabbatical from the library. He said, "I know." I guess he would know. How could he not know?

Be that as it may.

I have another archival document for you to peruse. What you historians call a "primary source document." Back in the year 1991 I saw Dr. Lawrence C. Sack, a psychiatrist/psychoanalyst, for treatment. Dr. Sack was a really great guy -- and supersmart. He had a bachelors degree as well as a medical degree from Harvard University. And he graduated first in his high school class. Really great guy. Unfortunately, he died in 2003 (August 5 or August 6, I can't remember). I saw him three times in May 1991. (The first consult was on May 13, 1991. I remember that because it was the anniversary of Sigmund Freud's circumcision. The "bris," as Jerry Seinfeld would say.) At the conclusion of the first consult I asked Dr. Sack, seeking reassurance, "Do you think I'm psychotic?" Dr. Sack replied: "We're all psychotic when we dream." That hardly put my mind at ease.

An odd detail: Dr. Sack used to take his shoes off during consultations. It reminded me of the story of Moses and the Burning Bush, when Moses was instructed to take his shoes off. "Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground." An odd association, don't you think? Dr. Sack had a portrait of Sigmund Freud on a wall in his office. Freud's image glowered down on me during the sessions, adding a touch of solemnity to the proceedings.

In any event, I had to quit the treatment because I believed Dr. Sack was talking to Malcolm and Earl. Though that, in reality, was a rationalization. I had to quit because I liked Dr. Sack too much. I can only sustain a relationship with people about whom I have strong ambivalent feelings. Dr. Palombo -- now, Dr. Palombo I loved, but I also despised him. It was a real love/hate relationship. That's familiar and safe mental territory for me. Craig the Embalmer was another person who I both loved and hated. My investment in Bob Strauss is also ambivalent.
And, of course, there's you, buddy. Though I can't say I love you. It's more like a "like/hate" relationship I have with you. Der Raben -- well, Der Raben I really didn't know that well. But from what I could gather he wasn't a really hatable kind of guy. I don't think Der Raben and I could ever be good friends. There just wasn't the correct "love/hate valence." Better friendships through chemistry, as they say.

Same thing with Dr. Sack. You couldn't hate the guy. So, I quit my therapy after only three sessions. I used the excuse that I thought he was talking to Malcolm and Earl -- it was as if I had to invent a grievance against Dr. Sack.

So, the basic story is I can only befriend people who I both love and hate. -- And Social Security thinks I'm mentally unbalanced. Go figure!

In any event, Dr. Sack's son, Robert Sack, MD -- also a psychiatrist -- was kind enough to let me have a copy of his father's clinical notes of my three consults with his father. I typed them up, so you can see what a seasoned analyst had to say about me. The document really just confirms what I've already written about. But I thought you'd be interested.

The Autobiography of Lawrence Carlton Sack


A troublesome -- aren't they all? -- new patient, thirty-seven years old, raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father had a typical petty bourgeois Jewish Orthodox background. The patient's mother was a Polish-Catholic. He is highly intelligent, a compulsive talker, extremely narcissistic and exhibitionistic. He hides his intellectual arrogance behind ironic self-deprecation. He cannot stop his diarrhea of talk, because it is his way of denying his essential constipation -- his total inability to give of himself. His working for a large, prestigious law firm in the capacity of a paralegal (the patient trained as a lawyer) is not only a denial of his own failure to assume responsibilities, but reflects his inner feeling of guilt that only in a state of misery can he find a perverse fulfillment in life.

He gave me no chance to explain what psychoanalysis is all about, claimed to be very familiar with it, and proceeded to show that he lacks even the slightest understanding. He seems to think psychoanalysis is a self-serving rattling off of complaints and accusations leveled at others and oneself, instead of recognizing the serious introspection and contemplation it ought to evoke. He is capable of neither of the latter, because he feels he is so worthless that he cannot be serious about anything that touches him -- not his own self, nor his family, nor those he works with.
He wants to do everything himself without any relation to, or contribution by, another person, in a typical masturbatory phallic fixation. He permits no one, including me, to make any contributions to his life. Obviously, he has spent years at his self-justifying ruminations, where even his self-criticism is meant only to show how shrewd and honest he is about himself. Mainly the self-criticism serves to let him go on exactly as before without internalizing his guilt to the degree that he would need to do something about it; it serves him to avoid any need to change. He is convinced that to rattle off in this way becomes psychoanalysis when he does it aloud with me listening.

Despite his long account of all that went wrong in his life beginning with infancy (!), there is absolutely no realization of his sickness -- his complete inability to relate to another person. How can he, when all he sees of the world is his own projections, which he is certain are true pictures of reality?

He sees psychoanalysis as one vast catharsis, without the need for any deeper insight or internalization. Everything is just one huge ejaculation. I doubt if he can establish even the minimal transference that would enable him to analyze. Probably his selecting me for an analyst typifies his unwillingness to give up his bondage to his Jewish past. I wonder if I should have insisted that he go to a gentile analyst. I may still have to transfer him to one.

In our brief talk before treatment began, I asked him why, given his feeling that his troubles originate, in part, with his identification with his father's Orthodox Jewish background, he selected me, as his analyst. He could not understand my point, saying that no gentile analyst could ever understand him. He speaks as if the issue were finding an analyst whose sympathy and understanding are endless, as were his parents' -- not his own coming to understand himself. His selection of me for an analyst suggests that deep down he does not want to transcend his own background, and so chose an analyst who will not alienate him from what he pretends to hate, but without which he feels there would be nothing left for him or his life. It remains to be seen whether we can overcome this handicap.

Since he thinks his need is to spill out, uninterruptedly, I shall let him, for a full week. Then we shall see if he can stop the spilling long enough for analysis to be possible.

He carries on as if to convince me that all the cliches of a spoiled Jewish boyhood are indeed valid: the overpowering, overindulgent, overprotective mother and the ineffectual father. Essentially the hour was one long alibi. I am to understand that if he cannot meet life, cannot relate to another human being, it's not how he construes things, but because of his parents and their background, along with two specific traumata.

He is a master of the alibi, and like the clever lawyer that he is, he plays both sides of the street. He blames his misery on both kinds of trauma: the physical (an injury to his oral cavity -- at age two-and-one-half!!) and the psychological (his mother's lack of empathy). He must be certain I will see him as the suffering victim, no matter what kind of theories I hold about physical or emotional trauma as causing behavior like his. Actually, it is not traumata, but only his disgust with himself, that forces him to defeat all those who love him (his parents, his potential friends, etc.).

The tirade against his parents, especially his mother, is uninterruptible. A few times I indicated the wish to say something, but he only talked on more furiously. His spiel was like a satire on the complaints of most of my patients, and on the tenets of psychoanalysis: a satire on the dominating and castrating father, and a mother too involved in herself and her own life to pay much attention to her son. This extremely intelligent young Jew (or half-Jew) does not recognize what he is trying to do -- by reversing the oedipal situation, he is trying to make fun of me as he does of everyone, thus asserting his superiority over me and psychoanalysis itself. His overpowering love for his mother is turned into a negative projection, so that what becomes overpowering is the mother's love for him. Overtly he complains that she would never let him alone, was all intrusive -- behind which lies an incredibly deep disappointment that she was not even more exclusively preoccupied with him. While consciously he experienced everything she did as destructive, behind this claim is an incredible wish for more, more, more. His is an insatiable orality which is denied and turned into the opposite by his continuous scream of its being much too much.

Even the most ordinary, everyday request from his mother, such as her reminding him to send a card on his father’s sixty-sixth birthday, is experienced by him as the most unreasonable demand, forcing on him a life of guilt and indebtedness to his parents. Whatever the mother did for him was always too little; the smallest thing she requested was always too much.

After listening all day to the endless complaints of patients about mothers who were never interested in whether they did or did not eat, whether or not they defecated, whether or not they succeeded in school, it should have been refreshing to listen to an hour of complaints about a mother who did exactly all that -- but it was not. It was so obvious that he felt cheated at not being given enough. No doubt he is tortured by memories of his past, and by his present inability to be a man and enjoy normal sex. But he certainly makes the most of it, and nowhere do I see any effort on his part to free himself of this bondage to the past. Obviously be expects my magic and that of psychoanalysis to do this for him.

An important clue, to be followed up later: he is fascinated by his father's constipation, which is so stark a contrast with his excessive masturbation and incessant, diarrhea-like talk. This seem like an interesting fixation at the phallic level, as though the father's constipation has made him so anxious about his own ability to produce that to compensate, he produces without interruption -- whether by masturbating, talking, writing letters, or intellectual productions and achievements. If he does not learn to hold in and store, but continues this indiscriminate discharge, analysis will certainly fail.

If I were to give a name to this patient after this first hour, I would call him "The most unforgettable character I've met." This is not because the patient thinks this designation is true of his mother, as he sees her (as is so of everyone and his mother) but because, while he wishes to believe the foregoing, his major effort is to impress me with himself as "the most unforgettable character I've ever met." Poor soul. Instead of trying to get from me the help he so desperately needs, he tries to impress me with his uniqueness. Everything he accuses his mother of, he is himself, in the extreme. She exploited him because she loved him so much. He exploits everyone because he loves no one.


Despite the same incessant stream of talk little new material. Speculations arrived at by the end of the last hour seem borne out today. As a child, he masturbated, preferably on the toilet, in line with his father's constipation which emerges ever more as a central experience leading to a negative identification. The father cannot let go. The son cannot hold anything in, or hold onto anyone. The father, out of incessant fear for the future, chose and stuck to his job in a garment factory. This influence is internalized by the son as fear about his masculinity. For this he finds only one defense: the excessive masturbation which seems to prove his body is working, but at the price of self-disgust. Because this patient wants not a penis that gives pleasure, but an instrument that expels its contents; he feels a self-assurance which his masturbation cannot give him.

Otherwise it was a repetition of the first hour's contents. In the deliberately vulgar language of the patient, I would entitle this session "Whacking Off." He uses much obscenity to impress others and fools himself into thinking he is liberated, while actually he is expressing his loathing for himself.


It becomes increasingly clear that this patient has read too much about psychoanalysis while understanding nothing -- for example about castration anxiety. What he does not see is how desperately he wishes he had a castrating father, and how deeply disappointed he is because what he encounters instead is only what he experiences as a castrating mother. But even as he complains of how castrating she is, he cannot help admiring her inner strength, which alone seems to sustain the entire family. One gets the feeling that he has to see her as castrating, because he needs to see her as being strong enough to protect him. It becomes also more clear that his true sickness is the refusal to recognize his parents' deep love for him, because that would mean the obligation to love them back, and later, other human beings. Instead, he clings to his vision of all human relations as exploitative power platys. All this gives my patient the particular "Jewish Blues" that formed the leitmotif of this session.

[Following this session, the patient terminated the analysis. The patient’s paranoid fears about revealing himself were transformed into the fear that I was disclosing the contents of his sessions to his employer. LCS]

In fact, Brian, the above material is drawn from “Portnoy Psychoanalyzed,” by Bruno Bettelheim. Bettelheim wrote the tongue-in-cheek analysis of “Portnoy’s Complaint” (by Philip Roth) in 1969. The paper was first published in Midstream Magazine and later reprinted in “Surviving and Other Essays.”

Check you out next week, buddy. By the way, have you taken up gargling. Has the little lady ever discovered you gargling in the bathroom?

Monday, August 16, 2004

Under the Boardwalk


Hey, buddy. I write to you once again from my exile: an unquiet oblivion made all the more unquiet by these very letters.

How's it going? Another August 15th has come and gone. Yesterday was Napoleon's birthday. Did you rise to the occasion?

Listen, buddy. I like you. I really, really like you. In a nongubernatorial way, of course. That's a little party humor. A little Jersey Democratic Party humor. Who ever said a Jewish kid and an Irish-Catholic kid couldn't be good friends? I mean really, REALLY good friends?

Well, it looks like the party season is upon us, here at 3801 Connecticut Avenue. Mardi, the front-desk manager, is going all out arranging a party for the residents that she is tentatively scheduling for Saturday September 19. She's planning this as a chance for residents to get to know each other.

Mardi has been thinking about the idea of making the party an ice cream social. What the hell is an ice cream social? Mardi was talking to David Dickenson about having an ice cream social. (Dickenson, if you remember, is the lawyer, who, because he is a lawyer, can't be friends with me--according to The Mad Monk.) Even David Dickenson was baffled. Ice cream doesn't sound like something you could serve with beer. If you can't have beer, what's the point of a party? Who wants to get together over a plate of ice cream? This isn't the Creamery at Penn State.

I'm a lot of fun at parties, did I ever tell you that?

I think I told you the story about the Christmas party I attended at my old place of employment, back in Philadelphia--The Franklin Institute. This was back in December 1977. I was a mere youth of 23 at the time. I was besotted. They didn't serve beer--or ice cream. I was drinking gin and tonics all night. The effects of gin can creep up on you, after a time.
The party was held in the Rotunda of the Franklin Institute: a massive, classically-designed space that features a huge statue of Benjamin Franklin. I tried to climb on to the statue. Climb up the statue, actually. I guess if you had been there, you would have called the cops on me, buddy, and had me kicked out. Or had someone else call the cops for you.

One of the employees, a middle aged-gentleman named Jack Byk, sorted the whole sorry mess out. Jack Byk was a computer expert at The Franklin Institute Research Laboratories, where I worked. He was a native of Vienna, Austria. I don't know if he spoke Spanish. We got to talking. Mrs. Byk was also there.

Some time later, Jack Byk said to me: "Do you have any friends?" I lied. I said yes. He said: "That surprises me. The way you talk. Your interests. I have kids your age. You have nothing--absolutely nothing--in common with them. You wouldn't fit in with my kids or their friends at all." Yes, that's a lifetime problem for me. I'm unique. Too unique for my own good. I'm not a mixer. I'm like straight tonic water. Who drinks straight tonic water?

You know the British don't add ice to their gin and tonic. Only the Americans do that. Americans live dangerously, I suppose. Queer, though, don't you think? But that's neither here nor there. I've been thinking about the four Stanleys of late. Everybody should have at least four Stanleys in his life. Well, I've had mine.

February 1972. My sister and brother-in-law had a party at their apartment for members of my brother-in-law's family. I was 18 years old at the time. I was in my first year of college. I was chatting with the wife of my brother-in-law's maternal uncle, Stanley Weinstein, M.D. Dr. Weinstein was an internist who died in about 1980. Dr. Weinstein was a proud graduate of my high school, Central High School -- where he was a member of the German Club and a Barnwell recipient. (That's an academic award). I don't know if he spoke Spanish. Dr. Weinstein got his M.D. at Jefferson Medical College: Murray Cohen is the head of trauma surgery at Jefferson. Murray Cohen is Fredric's brother, the French-speaking mohel who dabbled in presidential politics. Am I getting a little too loose with my associations?

In any event I was talking to Dr. Weinstein's wife, Janet. Janet Weinstein later told her sister-in-law, my brother-in-law's mother: "I couldn't believe he was only 18. He talked like an adult. I've never talked to an 18-year-old who talked like that. He sounded so mature and knowledgeable." The Weinsteins had three sons. One son, Michael Weinstein, Esq., is a tax attorney in Philadelphia. I think Malcolm and Earl talked to Michael Weinstein about me back in 1992.

October 1987. I was working at Hogan & Hartson at the time. I went to a "wine and cheese" party (not a beer and ice cream party) at the Capitol Hilton that was sponsored by the temp agency that I worked for at the time. I took Cindy Rodda with me. Cindy Rodda was a full-time Hogan employee who I worked with.

It just happened that there was a reporter at the Capitol Hilton from "The Voice of America." He was interviewing the guests (all temporary agency employees) about The Wonderful World of Temping in America. He was doing a story for "The Voice of America" on the phenomenon of temporary work. I guess people in other countries would find that an exotic topic.

I spoke to the reporter. He thrust a microphone in my face. You know, the whole deal. I talked and talked about temping. The whole world of temping. My experiences temping, and so forth. The reporter was wowed over. He said: "I have never talked to anybody like you in my life. You are the most unusual person I have ever talked to. You know, I think I'm going to lead my story with my interview with you. You're going to make this story!"

Yes, people find me to be a tad different, if not a tad askew.

January 1990. I had my first psychiatric consultation with my old psychiatrist, Stanley R. Palombo, M.D. He asked me about my background and so forth. He asked me where I went to college. I said, "Penn State." "Why did you go to Penn State?" he asked. I thought the question was odd. I didn't know what to say. He asked: "Was it for financial reasons?" I said: "Yes." Financial reasons were as good as any other reason. I inquired about why he asked such a question--a question that seemed to me rather odd. He said: "It's the way you talk. I thought you would have gone to one of the finer private schools." Who the hell did he think I was, Glenn Fine? Two degrees from Harvard, Oxford on a Rhodes Scholarship, and a future at the Justice Department as a presidential appointee? No way, man. Dr. Palombo himself is a graduate of Columbia--one of the finer private schools in upper Manhattan.

I have a remarkable talent for making myself sound smarter than I really am. It's a gift. 1972. The year of Watergate, the Nixon-McGovern presidential campaign, and the Munich Olympics. Mark Spitz and all that.

Remember Watergate? The president's aides made an illegal back-door entry and the whole thing snowballed into extortion and hush money. At least Nixon kept the whole thing presidential. Nixon wasn't governor material. He proved that in California in '62. Ask Len Garment; he'd be the first to say, "Nixon was not governor material."

In the fall of 1972 I entered my second year at Penn State. I took an introductory course in public speaking and swimming. Public speaking is a required course at Penn State. At Penn State students also have to pass a swimming test in order to graduate. Don't ask me why. Query: How many swimmers has Penn State ever sent to the U.S. Olympic team? I can remember the locker room after swim class. Things would get a little gubernatorial with Bruce Stein, lathering up General Bonaparte; Stein had a very public relationship with the little man from Corsica. (By the way, did you ever wonder where Napoleon stuck his hand when he wasn't in uniform? Now that's a mystery that needs some investigating!)

The public speaking course I took was taught by one Stanley Cutler, a young fellow who was himself a Penn State graduate. The whole course was really a course in Stanley Cutler. He had a gift of the public gab--as you would expect--and his favorite topic was himself: his likes and dislikes, his opinions about the world at large, and so forth. From a psychoanalytic perspective, Stan Cutler was a lot like Bruce Stein, but without the lather.

In point of fact, Stanley Cutler was an ideal candidate for psychoanalysis. I don't mean that in a bad way. I mean that the way a training analyst, an analyst like Stanley Greenspan, would mean it. Cutler would be an ideal patient for a candidate-in-training: an easy, but rewarding classic neurotic. Cutler had a lively inner life, but he was strongly object oriented. He had a strong libido that was expressed in rich and varied sublimations: his orality was expressed in his professional work (as an instructor of public speaking); his phallic tendencies were expressed in his competitiveness and (controlled) performance anxiety. He had strong exhibitionistic/voyeuristic tendencies; he loved to perform in front of an audience, as well as watch and evaluate the performance of others.

He was fascinated by the quality of charisma: the ability of an individual to capture the interest and attention of a group of individuals. He spoke of Jack Kennedy's charisma in terms reminiscent of Lance Morrow's observations in "A View from the Shore." Cutler talked about how Kennedy, walking into a room, would arouse the curiosity and awe of the audience. There was something electric about Jack Kennedy, Cutler might have said; it was as if he altered the chemical structure of a room simply by entering it. Thirty-two years later, I still remember (or think I can remember) "Olam Cutler," as my Hebrew-speaking friends would say. "The World of Cutler."

Cutler said he thought Sally Struthers had a hot body. Struthers was the actress who portrayed Archie Bunker's daughter on the TV show "All in the Family." I don't even remember the character's name played by Struthers; Archie Bunker used to call her "Little Girl." "All in the Family" was a popular show in the fall of '72. Cutler himself was married and had a little girl (she liked to masturbate, so Cutler reported). Yes, it may have been introductory Public Speaking, but it was an advanced course in Cutler.

He said he liked classical music. His musical tastes didn't seem too sophisticated, though. I think he said he liked "Finlandia," by Sibelius. That piece is what you'd call a "potboiler." At one point he said he was selling his car. A student voiced an interest in buying it. Cutler told the student he'd have to arrange the financing. That was the end of the discussion. Cutler struggled with a cigarette addiction. He had to have a cigarette at certain times. He said his wife was nagging him about quitting. Say what you will about cigars, Professor Freud, but sometimes a cigarette is more than just a cigarette.

I think he mentioned that he had a brother who was a medical doctor. And that he had a scar from an old football injury--in a private place. Or maybe that's my confabulation. Mark Twain once remarked that the older he got, the more vivid the recollection of things that had not happened.

Incidentally, I can remember only one other student who was in that class: Joe Kaplan. Kaplan used to carry a copy of the U.S. Constitution around with him. Kaplan is now a practicing attorney down here in DC: the named partner in Passman & Kaplan. Joe Kaplan was active in student politics. Presidential not gubernatorial.

Be that as it may.

Cutler's students had to give three speeches. The first speech was expository. I recall the speech I gave concerned the energy crisis and alternative fuels. Cutler said the speech was overly-dense with facts; the speech contained too many facts for an audience to assimilate. He gave me a grade of B.

The second speech was intended to be argumentative. I spoke about organized labor. The speech was pro-labor, the type of material that goes over big in the Northeast--states like Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey. Who knows, if things had gone a little differently for me, I could have had a chance in gubernatorial politics. Shaking hands with the unemployed, and all that.

Cutler was very impressed with the speech. He said it was the best speech he'd heard a student give for at least the previous two terms, or something like that.

The third and last speech was a "speech about nothing." "Nothing" in the technical, Seinfeldian sense; not nothing in the common, colloquial sense. I talked about happiness: how elusive happiness is. I offered the notion that the way to avoid disappointment in life is not to seek happiness, but simply to enjoy the happiness that life brings our way. Yes, even at the age of eighteen I was a pessimist. "I should have known there was already something wrong." An eighteen-year-old kid who quotes Spinoza. Baruch Spinoza. One of the great socially-maladjusted misfits of Western Civilization. He lived out his years in total seclusion after he was excommunicated by the rabbinical authorities in Amsterdam. Spinoza was a radical free-thinker whose ideas about religion made him persona non grata in the local Jewish community. Yes, Spinoza got himself banned from his local synagogue. The branch-rabbi called the municipal authorities and had the guy kicked out. But not just for six months; the ban was permanent. It was a devastating loss for Spinoza; he liked his rabbi. I mean Spinoza really, really liked his rabbi. The older man had been a second father to the young radical.

In any event, I remember Cutler's comments at the conclusion of my "speech about nothing;" they were positive. He gave me an "A." Cutler made the unforgettable humorous observation: "You must be a lot of fun at parties." I am, buddy. More than you know!

Something interesting happened in my next class that afternoon: Miriam Groner's Biological Sciences class. A student in Cutler's public speaking class was also taking Dr. Groner's biology course. He called out to me in Groner's lecture hall: "You are weird, man. You are so weird." I guess my thinking was too radical for the kid. My references to Spinoza sent him over the top. I see that particular minute experience as paradigmatic. I see myself as having what is called in psychoanalytic circles as a "high transference valence." My thinking, my behavior, the things I say are so totally my own, so independent, so unconventional that they have a polarizing effect. Some people have a strong positive reaction. Stan Cutler, for example, loved my speech. The tough politician, Joe Kaplan, smiled at me during the speech (that's why I remember him, I suppose). Other people--or at least one other person--had a strong negative reaction. Maybe I'm like Richard Nixon; people either loved Nixon or hated him--intensely.

Cutler was a big George McGovern supporter. McGovern was the Democratic candidate for the office of President of the United States in 1972. "If only he could do something about that immobile upper lip," Cutler once said. Cutler was one of those radical, anti-Nixon, anti-war freaks. Though I remember an observation he once made about President Nixon. It was odd. As of the fall of 1972, it was not known what, if any, involvement Nixon had in the Watergate affair. Cutler said with absolute confidence--despite his opposition to Nixon's politics--"Richard Nixon is an individual of the highest personal integrity. He had nothing to do with Watergate, I can assure you of that." Would you trust a used-car salesman on the encomium of Stanley Cutler? What Stanley Cutler did not know--what no one could have known in 1972--was that Nixon would eventually be driven from office in disgrace, and that this strange, tough, determined, brilliant man would make a comeback from physical illness and mental injury as dramatic as Napoleon after Elba, emerging in later years from his self-imprisonment to confound his critics and enemies.

Running for President is no one-year crash effort, but a way of life extending over a number of years. It is a grueling, debilitating, and often dehumanizing ordeal that exacts an extravagant price not only for winning but also for the mere running and losing. A marathon obstacle course, it consumes time, money, and humans like some insatiable furnace.

As Len Garment would say: Running for President is actually a lot like a course of treatment in psychoanalysis. Believe me, Garment knows.

Ah, yes! That reminds me. My last session with The Mad Monk, Dr. Bash. "Dr. Bash," I opened, "here is the name and telephone number of the rabbi at my local congregation, Adas Israel. Maybe you could call him." "Why would I call him?" asked Dr. Bash. "Maybe he could tell you about the social events at Adas Israel, things that I could get involved in." "No," said The Mad Monk, "you'll have to call yourself. You don't have to talk to the rabbi. Talk to somebody in the office. She'll tell you about the social events. I think they have something every Friday night. You could go there on Friday night. People come from all over. Baltimore, Virginia. They get a large crowd of people. Five-hundred people, something like that. Out of all those people you can find somebody to be friends with."

"But Dr. Bash," I said, "maybe Rabbi Wohlberg speaks Hebrew. The two of you could speak Hebrew together." "Oh, big deal!" said The Mad Monk.

We then got into a learned discussion concerning the Hebrew letter "tav." "Dr. Bash," I asked, "what does 'Adas' mean?" "Adat," she said, "it means 'nation.' The Nation of Israel. It's Adat. Not Adas. You know the Hebrew letter 'tav?' It is pronounced 's' in Yiddish. But in Hebrew it's 't.'. I don't know why they call it 'Adas' instead of 'Adat.'" I commented: "You mean like Shabbat and Succoth." "Yes," said The Mad Monk. "Shabbat is the Hebrew pronunciation and Shabbos is Yiddish. Succoth is the same."

You live and you learn.

"Anyway, if you go there on Friday nights, you don't have to talk to anybody. Just go," said Dr. Bash. Actually Dr. Bash's comment is less comforting to me than it appears or was intended. Those were the very words Dr. Bash used to encourage me to go to group therapy. "Just go. You don't have to talk. Just sit and listen. When you're ready to talk, you can talk." The reality was different. The group leaders, Nicole and Debra, said at the outset that it was an active group. That everyone was expected to participate. A group member was not permitted to simply sit and not participate.

Back in the summer of 1978, when I was 24 years old, I went on a group tour to Italy. I didn't talk to people. They thought I was weird. I sat next to an older couple on the plane over to Italy. One day I happened to be walking behind them. Another group member said to the couple: "You see that young man walking behind us?" "Yes," the lady said disdainfully, "we sat next to him on the plane." "Why would anyone go to Europe alone?" "He looks like he's too smart for his own good." So much for just sitting silently and not talking.

There's an irony about my social relations and social difficulties that Dr. Bash is not picking up on. A polarized quality. You'll notice that she keeps encouraging me to get involved with other people; particularly people in groups, such as group therapy or at Jewish functions. She holds out the possibility that I can get along with people and form relationships. In her mind the future is full of possibilities.

Yet my past interactions have been notably disturbed. I was thrown out of group therapy in March 2004. I was fired from my last job at Akin Gump, where I was alleged to have been potentially violent. I was fired from my job before that, at Hogan & Hartson. I was banned from my local library in April 2004; the police were summoned to escort me out of the building. I've had difficult or dissatisfying relations with all of my psychotherapists since 1992. Yet, Dr. Bash reacts to my pessimism about my social difficulties as if those difficulties carry no implications at all about my potential for social adjustment. "I can't make friends," I say again and again. And again and again Dr. Bash says, "But did you even try?" "Don't contact Brian!" "Don't call Nicole!' "Don't call Earl Segal or any other attorneys at Akin Gump!" "Call someone at Adas Israel!" You see how polarized this world is? I'm continually getting thrown out of environments; it's rare for me to leave an environment voluntarily. That's not entirely normal. Hasn't Dr. Bash herself noticed the polarity of the injunctions she directs at me: "Don't call those people, they don't want to have anything to do with you!" and "Call these other people, maybe you'll make a friend!" Oddly, Dr. Bash talked about employment. She referred to my not working and the fact, as she put it, that "I don't want to work." What's odd is that this particular session is our tenth. For the nine previous sessions, she said absolutely nothing about my working. When I met her in her capacity as my case working in May 2003, August 2003, and December 2003--that's all she talked about. "You need to get a job. You are employable. It's a sin in the Jewish religion not to work." Then when I started to see her in therapy in June of this year she said nothing about work. Yet at this session she mentioned my getting a job. It just struck me as odd. She made the comment: "You know, it can be harder to make a friend than to get a job." Whatever that meant. Actually, it's harder for me to make a friend than it is to hit it big at the Maryland lottery. But that's another story.

"You know, Dr. Bash," I said, "something that bothered me about Nicole in group therapy was when she said I seemed content with my life. Why did she say that? I found that so disturbing. I'm absolutely miserable. I long for some kind of connection with someone. My life is painful for me. How could she say I seemed content with my life?" "She's just a student," said Dr. Bash, adding, "it takes many years of experience to be a psychologist." I said: "But even a layman would know that somebody who is totally isolated, who is obsessed with an imaginary friend, who writes letters to an imaginary friend, has to be deeply troubled, very much in psychological pain." "She's just a student," repeated Dr. Bash.

"You said last time that you thought I was different from other therapists. What did you mean by that?" "Well, Dr. Bash, you tell me what I should be doing. You tell me to make friends, and so forth. Other therapists were not so coercive."

"Did Palombo tell you what to do?" "No, not socially. He didn't try to coerce me into making friends. But he tried to encourage me to get a better job. I was working at the time. I had a law degree. He thought I should practice law instead of working as a paralegal."

"What about Sack? Did he tell you what to do?" "Well, I only saw him three times. But in those three sessions, he didn't tell me I should be doing anything. He was more purely psychoanalytical."

"The last therapist I saw, the one at GW (Meghana Tembe), was totally non-directive. She never told me I should be working or that I should try to make friends." Dr. Bash said, again: "She was just a student. She doesn't even have her degree. In fact, she when she left GW this spring, she went to Baltimore to continue her education with another program." The reference to "Baltimore"struck me as odd. Note that at the beginning of the session, Dr. Bash mentioned that people come from all over (Baltimore, Virginia) to attend functions at the Adas Israel Congregation. That's something I always notice: when people refer to the same thing in different contexts. Why Baltimore?

"Dr. Shaffer didn't coerce me to do anything, Dr. Bash." "She probably gave up," said The Mad Monk.

"I don't think I can make friends." "But you never tried," said Dr. Bash. "My relations with my therapists must say something. The fact that I typically don't like them. The fact that even when I like somebody, I find some excuse to quit, like with Dr. Palombo and Dr. Sack." "Why did you quit Dr. Palombo?" "Well, I had seen him for about a year. And I suppose that I wanted to get closer to him. I wanted a closeness with him that was not feasible given the nature of our professional relationship. I couldn't take that strain in our relationship. So I quit." "And Dr. Sack? Why did you quit him?" "I thought he was talking to Malcolm and Earl." "Dr. Bash, what do I tell people at social events when people ask what I do. You know, they always ask that. 'And what do you do?' What should I say?" The Mad Monk replied: "Tell them you're between jobs." Maybe I should tell them I'm between commitments. I guess if I really want to impress people I could tell them I've been a patient at some of the finer state hospitals: Bellevue, St. Elizabeths.

But seriously, Brian, that's one of the reasons I would like to be friends with you. I feel you know me already, you know my whole history. It's like you're the Claire Hirshfield of Gary Freedman; you know the whole history of my campaigns "from Egypt to Borodino," as Claire would say. I don't have to deal with that "getting to know you, getting to know all about you" crap. Getting together with you would be like putting up a pre-fab house. All the hard part is done already. You just sit down and--"voila!" as Fredric would say. Talking to you would be like talking to a brother.

A few weeks ago, I asked Dr. Bash to call you, Brian. She said, "No. A friendship can't be forced." What I find interesting is that Dr. Bash has no qualms about coercing me to do things. She thinks she can force me to make friends. Believe me, it won't work.

"Dr. Bash, are there homosexuals on the kibbutzim in Israel?" "No. None." "So there are no boys who grew up on a kibbutz who became homosexual?" "No. There are no recorded instances." "So," Dr. Bash, "doesn't that support the notion that homosexuality is environmental. That it arises as a result of the effects of the family environment on a boy?" "No, homosexuality is genetic," said Dr. Bash. "Do you know what genetic means?" asked Dr. Bash. Do I know what genetic means? I wrote the book!

"Do you consider yourself homosexual?" asked Dr. Bash. Actually, I rarely consider myself at all. "You know who started the Kibbutzim?" asked Dr. Bash. "It was idealists who cared nothing about money. They came from Russia and elsewhere. They wanted to create an ideal society. All the early leaders of Israel started out on the kibbutz. David Ben-Gurion, Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir--she lived in the United States, but she was originally from Russia or somewhere--they all started out as members of the kibbutz. They were all idealists. Some of them came from rich families originally. From rich families in Europe. Good families. But they gave it all up to live on the kibbutz. Some of them even walked all the way to [Palestine]."

The Mad Monk was hinting at the (fundamentally bizarre) argument (or confabulation) that because the founders of the kibbutzim (who also included the early political leaders of Israel) came from "good families," without any genetic tendencies to homosexuality, they passed on their genetic purity to subsequent generations of kibbutzim. Hence, the lack of any recorded instances of homosexuality on the kibbutz. I wonder what she was really saying, analytically speaking? (Not to mention the burning question: "What the hell is going on in Trenton, New Jersey?")

You never know what incredible things you'll learn when you first step foot in Dr. Bash's office. I have to tell you, Brian, in my twenty-seven years of psychotherapy, this is the first time a therapist has ever mentioned the name of Israel's former Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol. No, really, buddy. I'm serious. The subject just never came up. Can you believe that? "So I start with a new therapist in September." "Should be. The new residents start in September." "You know, Dr. Bash, I'm looking for a male therapist." "I know," said Dr. Bash softly, her voice trailing off.

"I just wish I had a brother instead of a sister," Dr. Bash. "A brother is no better than a sister," said Dr. Bash. "I mean symbolically. I wish I had a friend who would be like a brother to me." "Did you write a letter to Brian this week?" asked Dr. Bash. "Yes. I wrote Brian a ten-page letter on Monday. I write a lot about you, Doctor."

The Mad Monk asked me if I planned to take a vacation. A vacation from what? From my fantasy camp of a life? I should shell out money to go on a vacation so I can get away from Washington where I do nothing? I can do nothing here. For nothing.

"Dr. Bash, I was thinking, I could visit Israel and stay there with your relatives." "My relatives? No way!"

"You know, Dr. Bash, Dr. Sack died almost exactly a year ago. He died on vacation." "Oh," said The Mad Monk, "it's terrible to die on vacation. How old was he?" "Sixty-nine." "Oh, that's young." (It's actually four years past retirement age, according to Dr. Bash's reckoning. Remember a few weeks ago: "Malcolm Lassman is 65? He must be retired. His son must have taken over his practice.)

"Oh, I forgot to mention, Dr. Bash, but I saw Charles last Friday, Friday August sixth. You remember Charles, the guy who's in charge of the circulation desk at the library? He was very friendly. He said: "Hi, Gar. How's it goin'?" That's more than I get from you, Brian. You need to be spending more time with Charles. You might learn something about being a human being. "They're having a party in my building in September, Dr. Bash." "That's because people go on vacation in August. You need to get in touch with Adas Israel." "Well, I'd like to go to the party in my building first, and see how I get along with a small group of people." "How many people will be at the party?" "Well, there's about 120 units in my building." "Oh, that's big." "So, maybe there'll be about 50 or 60 people at the party."

Gotta run, Brian. But not for Governor of New Jersey or anywhere else. Gotta make plans for the party. I'm a lot of fun at parties, Stan Cutler's sarcasm notwithstanding. Check you out next week, buddy.

Monday, August 09, 2004

The Personal Trainer

Hey, buddy. How's it going? Just give me the facts, man. I just want to know, in point of fact, how you're doing? Mind you, no bloody metaphors!
I don't mean to sound like Jerry Seinfeld (not that there's anything wrong with that!), but what's up with personal trainers? What is the psychology of the personal trainer and the people who hire them? I don't get it.
There's a guy in my building, a Newmanesque, portly fellow. I doubt he's a U.S. Postal Service employee, though. He lost some weight with the help of a personal trainer. The trainer used to come to my building a few times a week. Tubby and the trainer would work together in my apartment building's fitness center. Tubby would work out on the treadmill, the trainer standing at his side. The trainer would tell Tubby to increase the speed, slow down, or stop altogether and get started on another activity. Like Tubby couldn't do that on his own? He needs to pay somebody to tell him what to do? Could anyone please explain this to me?
I can't see paying some purported Sports Authority to tell me what to do. It's like, "Look man, I'm the Sports Authority. There's a right way to work out and a wrong way to work out. I'll teach you the right way. I'll show you what you've been doing wrong. I'll motivate you." Who needs that? I certainly don't.
I work out every day. Forty minutes. I work out strenuously. I sweat like a pig (actually pigs don't sweat, of course; they don't have sweat glands--it's a bloody metaphor). I'm in good shape; my blood pressure is consistently about 120 over 70. I never fail to work out. If I don't feel well, if I'm tired -- whatever -- I get my ass into the fitness room and I work out. I know that when I'm done working out, I'll feel better. That's my motivation. I take two days off--Saturday (Shabbat, as The Mad Monk would say) and Sunday.
I was reading in a recent issue of New York magazine that even Bob Morgenthau, the Manhattan D.A.--the tough-as-nails Manhattan D.A. for life (or for eternity, as it looks right now)--has a personal trainer come to his apartment once a week. Can you imagine that? Serial killers don't intimidate Morgenthau, but the guy's afraid of a treadmill!
I've been working out every day now, just about, since April 1986. I can remember I started working out every day while I was working at Hogan & Hartson. It was the week my supervisor, Sheryl Ferguson, went to Ixtapa, Mexico on vacation. She had a rotten time. But I enjoyed my workouts.
I can be incredibly lazy and unmotivated in many ways, in many areas of life. But, in other ways, I'm a highly self-motivated person.
Law School. My first year of law school was 1979-1980. I spent my first year of law school in Spokane, Washington at a third-tier law school. Too many alcoholic conferences in college with my old professors in my undergraduate days; my academic record was none too stellar. In any event, I spent my first year of law school three thousand miles from home, in Philadelphia. I had no friends, no family, no support of any kind. I didn't make any friends in law school. I was a hermit. The Hermit of Spokane. My mother died in the beginning of January 1980, the start of my second semester, first year. You know how rough the loss of mama can be for a "laughed-at mama's boy." So there I was. Three thousand miles from home. No family, no mama, no friends, no support. The pressures of law school. And, of course, I was struggling with severe mental illness.
I completed my first year in the top 15% of my class. The Chief Justice (Bob Strauss's poker buddy, Wild Bill Rehnquist) finished law school in the top 15%, too: impressive, huh? I just plugged along. My grades were good enough that Temple Law School in Philadelphia accepted me as a transfer student, second year. I transferred to Temple, where I got my law degree in May 1982. By the way, Temple accepts precious few transfer students. Ask Bob Reinstein, the dean at Temple Law. He'll tell you: "We accept only a handful of transfer students."
My point? I did that on my own, without emotional support, encouragement or persuasion. I was motivated to go to law school, on my own. I was motivated to complete law school, despite my tribulations, on my own. I didn't have, or need the help of, someone to motivate or encourage me.
Other examples. Last year, I had a few extra pounds. I wanted to lose weight. I settled on a diet routine and I followed it. I lost about 20 pounds.
I used to be a heavy cigarette smoker. At one point, back in 1993, I decided it was time to quit. I quit: no patches, no drugs, no motivational programs. I just quit. I haven't touched tobacco in eleven years.
I had a bit of a drinking problem a few years back. I was drinking a six-pack of beer every day. Robby can confirm that. You know Robby, at Cleveland Park Wine and Liquor? Anyway, I thought: "Man, this is getting out of control. In another few years, I'm not going to have a liver." I cut back on my own. No Alcoholics Anonymous. No motivational programs. No family member telling me I better quit. I made a decision, and I carried it out. That was it.
Back to my original point. Personal Trainers. What is the psychology of the person who needs another person to tell him to work out, or do anything for that matter? Don't ask me. I have no idea. The concept is totally alien to me. It seems to me that you can divide the world into two classes of people: self-motivated people who do things on their own and unmotivated people who need encouragement and actually benefit from encouragement. We live in a world of sheep and shepherds, as it were.
Be that as it may.
What I've come to see is that The Mad Monk, my psychologist, sees her role as being that of a personal trainer. She sees her role as being the person who will badger, coerce, encourage, persuade, and exhort me to do things the right way. "You need to work. You are employable. It's a sin in the Jewish religion not to work." (Am I even employable?) "You need to join a group. You could benefit from group therapy." (Didn't group therapy turn out to be a disaster for me?) "You need to publish your book. You need to work on your references, your bibliography and your table of contents." (Is my book even publishable?) "You need to get involved with people. That's the only way you'll make friends." (But do I even have a capacity to make and maintain friendships?)
Fundamentally, Dr. Bash functions as a personal trainer. She's trying to get me to do what I need to do to meet my goals. But she herself doesn't really help me in any way with the intrapsychic problems and limitations that impair my interpersonal functioning. In her mind her role is simply to motivate and encourage.
Do I need a "personal trainer?" Can I benefit from a "personal trainer?" Furthermore: What is the reaction of a self-motivated person to a personal trainer? I suspect it's not positive, to say the least. If a personal trainer tried to motivate me, my reaction would be: "Listen buddy, why don't you just back off. I don't need any of your f*****g advice. I'll do this the way I want to do it. If I need your help, I'll ask for it." How do you think Donald Trump would take to some interloper telling him how to run his business? Do you think Donald Trump listens to Tony Robbins' motivational tapes in his spare time? I don't think so.
My feeling is, I may screw up my life. But if I do screw up my life, I'll do it my way. I'm a self-motivated, self-destructive fool.
Returning to the metaphor of the overweight person. There are personal trainers and there are cosmetic surgeons, who do liposuctions, tummy tucks, and gastric bypasses. When I started to work with Dr. Bash, I thought I was getting a "cosmetic surgeon" who would do something. Actually do something. Turns our she's just a personal trainer. That's what supportive psychotherapy is. It's a motivational program. Unlike psychoanalysis. In analysis or psychodynamically-oriented psychotherapy the therapist does something. He provides an atmosphere for self-exploration and development of the self. Dr. Bash provides nothing in the way of a therapeutically-salutary environment. She does nothing but tell me what I need to do. But the bottom line is, I already know what I need to do.
I already know that sitting alone in my apartment is not going to help my social life. I know that the only way I can have any chance at all of making friends is to place myself in social situations. What kind of moron wouldn't already know that? So we have The Mad Monk telling me: "You need to get involved with people, you need to find a place where people congregate--such as a synagogue (reform, conservative or orthodox), a place where people speak Hebrew, a place where people eat food," and so forth. Like I don't already know that? The fat person knows he needs to lose weight. He knows that diet and exercise are the only way to do that on his own. But it's also recognized that some people can't lose weight with diet and exercise alone, and that hiring a personal trainer will not motivate some people who suffer from obesity. For some people, some intervention into internal functioning is required. Hence, the gastric bypass. Have I mixed too may metaphors here? Have I become lost in a maze of metaphors--contradictory metaphors? So be it!
At my last session with Dr. Bash, I presented to her what I call my "Statement of Principles." I read to her a series of statements about myself: "non-negotiable" points, as it were, about my psychological functioning. I wrote the statement in order to deal with the extreme frustration I experience with her week after week: the frustration of having to deal with her endless exhortations. "You need to do this, you need to do that."
This is what I told The Mad Monk.
1. I am totally isolated socially.
2. I experience my social isolation as extremely painful and distressing.
3. I have a lifelong history of social isolation, shallow social relations, or difficult social relations.
4. I like few people; I would prefer to be alone than socialize with people who I do not genuinely like.
5. I will not develop social relations simply by mingling with a random group of people. I am bashful, oversensitive, sincere, and melancholy. I require solitude, but I value friendship, which I consider a "sacred relation." See Arieti, S. "Creativity: The Magic Synthesis," at 345 (New York: Basic Books, 1976). How does a person with my personality qualities make friends by mingling in a random social setting?
6. I have severe personality problems.
7. My social needs, limitations, and capacities are determined by my intrapsychic personality problems.
8. Of all the therapists I have seen since 1990 (and I've seen many), I genuinely liked only two: Dr. Palombo and Dr. Sack, both psychoanalysts. Even in the case of these two individuals who I liked a great deal, I found it impossible to sustain a relationship. I quit my therapy with Dr. Palombo after one year; I saw Dr. Sack only three times because I thought he was communicating with Earl and Malcolm. In effect, I experience emotional distress even in the company of optimally empathic individuals. This is far more serious than simply "a lack of social skills."
9. I had very disturbed relations with several therapists; in 1996 a social worker tried to throw me out of her office (after I began to argue with her).
10. In 1989 I consulted my Employee Assistance Program provider (Sheppard Pratt). The social worker (who recorded her opinion that I was "a brilliant man" in her case file) made a psychiatric referral mindful of my personality needs. She referred me to Floyd Galler, a Harvard M.D. (and a personal friend of Dr. Palombo--Dr. Palombo and Dr. Galler did their psychiatric residencies at Harvard together). (The social worker's name was Kathleen Kelley.)
11. I experience my relationship with you, Dr. Bash, as a strain.
12. I like Brian. I would accept Brian as a friend (to whatever degree he would feel comfortable with me). (Definitely no touching or rubbing!)
13. I believe that Brian likes me a lot more than his manifest actions indicate.
14. I would accept other people as friends.
15. I do not know how to meet people who I could befriend, based on my specific needs, limitations, and capacities.
16. Re: therapy-- I have firmly held ideas about my personality that will not change through persuasion or exhortation. I view the mind as being far more than simply a collection of consciously-held ideas that can be changed through persuasion.
17. People who I would accept as friends are:
Eric H. Holder, Jr.; Glenn Fine; Craig W. Dye; Jesse Raben; Brian Brown; Ari (The Jewish Kid); Captain Brad Matthew Dolinsky; or other persons of like persuasion.
18. It may be that I do not have the psychological capacity to form and maintain social relations. The evidence, in my opinion, is inconclusive.
So much for my Statement of Principles. I had hoped that my statement would place my dialogue with Dr. Bash on a new, meaningful level.
But her response left me crestfallen. Big surprise! What do you think the first words out of her mouth were? "Did you ever think of joining the Rockville Jewish Community Center?" Now she has me traveling to Rockville to meet people. Aren't there people in Washington? My question is: Do they speak Hebrew in Rockville? Because if they don't speak Hebrew, what's the point? I thought: "This is it. This is utterly hopeless. Everything I just said went in one ear and out the other. The Mad Monk failed to address any of my concerns--all valid concerns--and fell back on the same old saw: "Interact with people, and you'll eventually make friends." How many times do I have to repeat this? "Interacting with people is a necessary condition to making friends. Interacting with people is not be a sufficient condition to making and maintaining friends. Intrapsychic factors can impair social functioning."
I've come to see that Dr. Bash confuses an inner sense of alienation with feelings of loneliness and isolation. A sense of alienation will impair social relations; affiliation with others will not overcome a sense of alienation, however. The notoriously alienated writer Franz Kafka was unable to overcome his existential sense of isolation even in the presence of his several close friends.
How have I decided to cope with The Mad Monk?
I made a commitment to myself. "I'll just talk about Brian. I'll do to her what she does to me. She drives me crazy with her impenetrability. I'll do the same to her." In fact, a few weeks ago I pointed out to her the symmetry in our behavior towards each other. "You know, Dr. Bash, you complain about my obsession with Brian. You tell me that Brian and I will never become friends and that I should stop talking as if Brian and I will become friends. Well, you do the same thing with me. I am not going to change simply in response to your attempts at persuasion--that's not what psychotherapy is about. And yet, week after week, you rely solely on persuasion, knowing that nothing's going to come of it. We are mirrors of each other. My behavior is a parody of your behavior." She didn't get that point either.
The Mad Monk glanced over at a calendar on the wall. "Look," she said, "it's almost September. Next month will be Rosh Hashanah. Why don't you call your sister. Rosh Hashanah would be a good opportunity to get together with your sister." (Keep in mind: according to Dr. Bash I'm not Jewish. But that's another story).
I haven't talked to my sister in eight years. As far as I know my sister may have moved to Hong Kong. I'll tell you this, Brian, I'm not flying to Hong Kong for Rosh Hashanah. Do they speak Hebrew in China? You have a sister, don't you, buddy? It's pure hell. I wish I had a brother. Don't you ever wish you had a brother?
I told Dr. Bash that I thought my sister got me fired from my job. "The things my sister told Malcolm and Earl got me fired from my job," I said. "Your sister (in point of fact) didn't get you fired from your job," replied The Mad Monk. Notice that Dr. Bash interprets my statement in terms of factual rightness and wrongness, instead of looking at the psychological implications of my statement. My statement indicates (as with Drs. Palombo and Sack) that I have paranoid ideations even in relation to optimally-empathic persons, here a sibling. Shouldn't Dr. Bash be giving some consideration to what that implies about my ability to relate to complete strangers at The Rockville Jewish Community Center? Dr. Bash seems incapable of putting the pieces of the Freedman puzzle together and seeing me as a unique person with distinct limitations and pathology. In her eyes I am a generic socially-isolated person who can benefit from interacting with others. What's the evidence that I can connect with other people?
In seeming exasperation Dr. Bash said: "Well, soon it will be September and all this will be over with. You should be assigned to a resident in September." I noted silently at this point: "Dr. Bash referred to the month of September in two different contexts: (1) getting together with my sister at Rosh Hashanah and (2) the fact that I will be transferred to another therapist in September." I wondered what that signified.
Dr. Bash said she viewed my "Statement of Principles" as a positive step. She said that months earlier I said that I didn't want to change, but now I recognize the importance of change. I disagree. I've always wanted friends. I've always wanted to change. But friends on my own terms; change on my own terms. Certainly, I am still adamantly opposed to submitting to Dr. Bash's exhortations. Believe me, I'm not traveling to Rockville! I fail to see how my statement indicates a desire to change. I'm mystified.
I wonder if Dr. Bash has any appreciation of the concept of triage. I don't think so. Murray Cohen (Fredric's brother) can explain. The bottom line is, maybe the odds are that I can't change. Maybe Dr. Bash is just making matters worse for me by encouraging me to do things that will not result in any positive outcome. Perhaps she simply arouses my frustration by raising my hopes. Certainly, her act of encouraging me to join group therapy, which had disastrous consequences, did nothing more than raise my expectations then frustrate them. I think Dr. Shaffer, my previous therapist, had the right idea. It was as if Dr. Shaffer's thinking was: "Right now he's not ready to change. I will provide an empathic environment for him where he can vent his feelings every week. When he's ready to change, he will change. I will not coerce him. It will not be healthy for him." My condition remained stable during the entirety of my treatment with Dr. Shaffer (1999 to 2003). I stopped seeing Dr. Shaffer in February 2003. Two months later, in April 2003, I started writing these letters to you, my empathic buddy. And the rest, as they say, is history. I was assessed for commitment to St. Elizabeths in March 2004, following the disastrous results of my entering group therapy consistent with The Mad Monk's recommendation; I was escorted from the library by the police in April 2004 following Dr. Bash's act of holding out the possibility of a real friendship between you and me ("Maybe you and Brian could go to lunch together," said The Mad Monk in March 2004).
Be that as it may.
The Mad Monk then tried her hand at psychotherapy. "When you contemplate the possibility of entering a social situation, what feelings do you have?" I thought for a moment, then responded: "Futility. I have a feeling that it will be futile. That nothing good will come of it. I have feelings of my hopes being raised by the possibility of meeting people I might like, but also I have the firm feeling that it's all futile--and I have a tormented feeling." Is that not an analytically cognizable statement?
You've heard of the line, buddy, "like a kid in a candy store?" My feeling about entering a social situation is -- "like a diabetic kid in a candy store." I feel simultaneously a craving but also a tormented feeling that it's all futile. Doesn't that mean something?
Almost grotesquely, Dr. Bash dismissed my response and offered the suggestion: "Do you feel fear, would you say you feel afraid to enter a social situation." I said (with a crushing feeling of frustration): "No. Futility." The Mad Monk replied: "I know, you said that before. But I want to get to the idea of fear." I said (holding back my anger): "Dr. Bash, you asked me a question. I gave a sincere and thoughtful answer. An answer that's worthy of further inquiry. You simply dismissed what I said, and interpolated your own agenda. (pause.) I JUST WANT TO BE FRIENDS WITH BRIAN!" (As I said, I stave off madness with references to you, Brian.) "You see how you use Brian to avoid dealing with feelings you don't want to deal with," said The Mad Monk. Indeed! Actually, I felt like telling The Mad Monk at this point that she's an imbecile; but I thought of you, buddy, and I kept my cool.
I suppose I was wrong. I thought I felt futility. But according to Dr. Bash I felt fear. She must be right about what I'm feeling. She's the professional authority; I'm just a layman--a mentally disturbed layman at that. That reminds me of an anecdote about Goethe. There was a biographer of Goethe who, in the face of Goethe's claim that at a certain time he had dearly loved a certain lady, remarked in a footnote: "Here Goethe is mistaken." Even geniuses aren't always factually right, you know. But what about the issue of futility? Is there no psychological significance to a patient's report that the prospect of a social situation arouses feelings of futility? No doubt there are any number of possible psychological determinants of feelings of futility.
I'm just a layman, not a professional authority, but just off the top of my head I can cite one possible prototype in childhood for overwhelming feelings of futility in adulthood: feelings of futility as they relate to the prospect of social relations.
That possible prototype would center on the so-called rapprochement phase of development. Greenberg and Mitchell write: "The advent of rapprochement places a new set of demands on the toddler's mother. From her point of view the onset of this phase may appear to be a regressive development. The child who a few months before had appeared to be so independent, and so content in his independence, has become more needy, more anxious, more demanding. How should she respond? What she does will depend on her conscious and unconscious attitudes toward both symbiosis and separation. Some mothers welcome the opportunity to reimmerse the child in their own caretaking and in their own body, thereby stifling the drive toward separateness. Others reject the child's new dependency in the belief that 'he's a big boy now,' overlooking the legitimate needs of the subphase. [Margaret] Mahler stresses repeatedly that the mother's reaction at all subphases, and particularly during rapprochement, decisively influences the final outcome." Object Relations in Psychoanalyst Theory at 279.
Might not a mother's failure to respond to the child's phase-appropriate dependency needs--his legitimate needs for narcissistic nourishment--promote tormenting feelings of futility in the child about approaching mother for the gratification of his emotional needs? Might not such a child learn to take refuge in the "splendid isolation" of his own world of fantasy?
There is a tight fit between the implications of Mahler's ideas about rapprochement and the paraphrase of a statement of Shengold's that I offered in an earlier letter: "The emotional connecting necessary for embarking on social relations is initially more than soul-murdered people can bear. They learned as children that to be emotionally open, to want something passionately, was the beginning of frustrating torment. The deeply ingrained bad expectations are felt toward parents and all "grown-ups" [and are later felt toward the peer group and potential friends]." Shengold, Soul Murder at 312.
I told Dr. Bash that I had no respect for her professional opinions. "None at all?" she asked. "No, none," I said. "Well, if you don't want to accept the opinion of a professional . . . "
You know you're in deep s--- when the therapist starts pulling rank: "I'm the professional, you are just a layman. Who are you to reject my opinion?"
I very much need the acceptance and corroboration of people I respect. I want desperately to have ties to a knowledgeable therapist. These connections give me narcissistic nourishment, and when I don't get it, it's a terrible strain for me. I feel I'd rather write these letters in solitude to an imaginary friend than talk to Dr. Bash. Here, on the quiet page, I am master. Here I can express my thoughts. Here I don't have to concern myself with the rightness and wrongness of my ideas. I can simply express my thoughts and feelings, as I would wish to do, without the help and support of an intrusive Other.
By the way, Brian, I was thinking about how dubious Dr. Bash's ideas are concerning the weight of her opinions, and her dismissal of the contrary professional opinions I offer to her on the grounds that I probably "do not understand technical material."
Ask Bob Morgenthau or Bill Rehnquist about the following. Our legal system empowers jurors to make life and death decisions about the accused based on the assessment by jurors (all laymen) of contradictory expert testimony. Let's say that in a capital case, the jury votes to acquit on the grounds that they accept the testimony of defense experts and reject that of the prosecution. What action could the court or the prosecution have taken before trial to insure that the jurors might be able to assess expert testimony "correctly?" NONE AT ALL. Can the jurors be required to take psychological testing to determine their mental fitness? A resounding "No!" Can jurors be required to take IQ testing to determine whether they are intellectually fit to assess expert testimony? A resounding "No!"
This notion that Dr. Bash has that she's the expert and that I have to acquiesce in her professional opinion is nothing more than an expression of her own grandiosity and her conventional notions about authority. Further, Dr. Bash's notion that any conflict between her opinions and my references to technical material must be resolved by imputing a lack of understanding to me of technical material is more grandiosity. All she's saying is that she is always right. That is, no professional person could possibly publish any material that might conflict with her opinions. It must be I who misunderstands the published material. My advice? Go to a courthouse, lady. I remember Ellen once saying: "I've heard enough contradictory testimony by psychologists during my years on the bench to fill a thousand kreplach!" Simply because Dr. Bash is "the authority figure" in our relationship means nothing to me. My notions about authority are unconventional.
Now to my great discovery. This past week I thought of something about The Mad Monk that I never thought before. To me this insight explains a lot about my feelings of frustration in dealing with her.
Psychologists distinguish between what they call "divergent production" and "convergent production." Tests that permit only one right answer, such as a math test or the SATs, would be said to assess convergent production. Tests that are open ended, that permit the test subject to answer in any way--such as the Rorschach test--would be called tests of divergent production. In convergent production, the answers are assessed on the basis of "rightness" and "wrongness." In divergent production, on the other hand, the responses are neither right nor wrong; the responses are assessed in terms of meaning. That is, what does it mean that the test subject responded in a particular way.
"Convergers, who tend to specialize in the 'hard' sciences, or possibly in the classics, have the kind of intelligence which shows at its best in conventional intelligence tests of the kind in which there is only one correct answer to a question. They are less good at 'open-ended' tests in which a variety of answers are possible. In their spare time, convergers pursue mechanical or technical hobbies and show comparatively little interest in the lives of other people. They have conventional attitudes to authority, are emotionally inhibited, and seldom recall their dreams. Divergers, in contracts, choose the arts or biology [note that traditionally psychoanalysts have a background in medical science] as their preferred subjects. They are less good at conventional intelligence tests, better at open-ended tests where creative phantasy is demanded. Their spare-time activities are connected with people rather than with things [note that while I'm socially isolated, I write about people; the Unabomber, a socially-isolated mathematician, wrote about technology]. They have unconventional attitudes to authority, are emotionally uninhibited, and often recall their dreams." Storr, A., Solitude: A Return to the Self at 89-90. What I have observed about Dr. Bash is that she continually, if not invariably, assesses my statements in terms of rightness and wrongness--that is, as if my reports were convergent productions. And, of course, in Dr. Bash's assessment she's always right and I'm always wrong; she's the authority figure, in the conventional sense of things. In many, if not most, instances my statements call for an assessment of meaning; that is, my statements should be seen as neither right nor wrong, but rather as expressions that call for interpretation of meaning. A good example: Dr. Bash asked at an earlier session, "What would you like to do with Brian if he were your friend?" I said: "I'd like to maybe just sit on a park bench and shoot the breeze with him."
Dr. Bash interpreted my statement as convergent production, and looked for a way to assess my statement in terms of rightness or wrongness. "That's not [IN FACT] a friendship. What you are talking about is [IN FACT] an acquaintance. Do you have a dictionary at home? Look up the word 'friend' and look up the word 'acquaintance.' YOU'LL SEE I'M RIGHT."
"In point of fact," if I may be permitted to say that, my statement "I'd like to sit on a park bench and shoot the breeze with Brian" is a convergent production--an expression of my wishes, conflicts, and prohibitions as they relate to my notion of friendship, however warped that notion of friendship is. The statement calls for an interpretation of meaning, not an assessment of factual correctness. You don't say to a Rorschach test subject, "You say that looks like a horse, but most individuals--the jury of public opinion, as it were--say it looks like a butterfly. I'm sorry, you answered incorrectly. You need to change the way you view this inkblot." The Rorschach, as a test of divergent production, calls for an assessment of meaning not an evaluation of factual correctness. The divergent production of the Rorschach test subject is a non-factual universe of pure projection; yet that universe is psychoanalytically cognizable. Likewise, a patient's report in psychotherapy calls for an assessment of meaning. The psychoanalyst Jeffrey Masson reports that during his training a senior analyst offered advice on how to work with a paranoid patient: "the universe she is taking you into is a [projective] paranoid universe. You must float along with that paranoia. Do not seek to stop it or even to understand it or you will break the spell." Final Analysis at 100.
What frustrates me is Dr. Bash's exquisite ability to rechannel or redirect my divergent productions into the appearance that they are in reality convergent productions that call for an assessment of factual correctness.
At the most recent consultation I said that I suffered from attachment problems. I simply do not connect with people. I attributed my feelings of futility about embarking on social relations to my possibly having experienced emotional loss or frustration in childhood.
I said that I was attracted to psychoanalyst William Niederland's notion that individuals who experienced significant emotional loss in childhood tended to react to even trivial social frustration or the prospect of social frustration as if they faced something overwhelming. "When did you suffer emotional loss in childhood," asked the Mad Monk. "Well," I said, "I mentioned that I lost an early attachment object (my maternal grandmother) when my family moved from my grandmother's house, where I had lived for the first six months of life." Dr. Bash proceeded to focus exclusively on factual issues:
1. Perhaps I misunderstood technical material that attributed importance, as a matter of fact, to the first six months of life.
2. I did not in fact lose my grandmother; she continued to visit me.
3. I do not in fact remember the first six months of life.
(A competing expert might testify that Dr. Bash ignores the fact that pre-verbal (pre-representational) experiences are significant--and will be expressed in therapy in the form of disturbed affect or "acting out" and not as verbal representations. When I told Dr. Bash that I got into an argument with a social worker in 1996 ("acting out" behavior that might have related back to my infantile experience) and that the social worker tried to throw me out of her office, Dr. Bash replied: "Maybe we should take a look at that. MAYBE I CAN TELL YOU WHAT YOU DID WRONG.").
And my concerns about attachment difficulties? What happened to my "feelings" about my attachment to significant people in my background, which is undeniably a significant issue for me? My feelings got lost in a maze of factual assessments by Dr. Bash. Perhaps I'm wrong about the importance of my relationship with my grandmother. That particular fact does not vitiate the importance of an attachment disturbance in my psychology. The problem is that anything I talk about will be assessed by Dr. Bash in terms of factual correctness.
Well, buddy, I'm facing a new week. Am I feeling futility or fear? Just the facts, man. Maybe I'm sensing futility. Or would I, in fact, be wrong? Maybe it's fear that I feel? I need you to tell me what I'm feeling, damn it! I can't feel my feelings correctly without your advice. Am I right or wrong?
Check you out next week, Brian. You've been a good sport!

Monday, August 02, 2004

A Schumannesque Mood

Hey, buddy. How are you this week, my dear American friend?
July 29. I'm still in a Schumannesque mood, a labile mood. You know the old expression: "If it ain't got that swing, it don't mean a thing." As the saxophone-playing, numbers-crunching, dismal scientist Alan Greenspan would say, my mood -- like the national economy -- cycles between irrational exuberance and dark pessimism.
By the way, have you ever been to a party at Alan Greenspan's and Andy Mitchell's? I'm sure Bob Strauss has--Strauss and Len Garment are old friends of the Greenspans. Strauss attended the Greenspan wedding, back in about '97; they were married by a local judge--a little old Jewish lady from Brooklyn. The Greenspans have this beautiful grand piano in their home. I suppose Condy Rice has played it. If she played anything, she'd probably have played Brahms--her favorite composer. You know the reason Condy Rice likes Brahms? Brahms never really finishes off a musical phrase--he goes from phrase to phrase, without any conclusive cadences. It's a lot like President Bush's foreign policy. He starts a war in Afghanistan then segues into a war in Iraq. Not that I'm criticizing the President. I love Brahms; say what you will about Brahms, but the world is a lot better off without conclusive cadences, in Iraq or elsewhere. Today is the anniversary of Robert Schumann's death in the asylum, where he admitted himself after he tried to commit suicide. I suppose you could say he was suffering from a serious downturn in his mental economy.
There is a note in Frederic Chopin's diary dated July 30, 1856: "Schumann died today. Or, maybe, yesterday; I can't be sure. The telegram from the asylum says: YOUR FRIEND ROBERT SCHUMANN PASSED AWAY, FUNERAL TOMORROW. DEEP SYMPATHY. Which leaves the matter doubtful; it could have been yesterday." In fact, Schumann died on July 29, a stranger to the world, with only his wife, Clara, and his dear friend Johannes Brahms at his side. Schumann appears to have suffered from manic-depression: the real kind, not the fake variety they specialize in at GW. I myself was diagnosed with and treated for manic depression at GW by Suzanne M. Pitts, M.D., back in 1992 - 1993. I was prescribed lithium-based medication. Turns out I had the fake kind of manic depression. Pseudo manic depression, I suppose, is the technical name for it. Apparently the illness is recognized by the U.S. Social Security Administration; they've already paid out more than $100,000 in benefits based on my initial diagnosis at GW in 1993: pseudo manic depression. I have to hand it to Dr. Pitts, though. She had the hard task of making all this sound authentic to the Feds. She's the Colin Powell of psychiatry. Suzanne Martel Pitts did wonders impersonating a psychiatrist, as if she were a real doctor. I think they got Dr. Pitts straight out of central casting.
I'm in a very dark place (if you'll pardon the expression): a sad, raw, dark place -- all day, every day. There is no moment to leave it. There is only time for sleep. Even though it exhausts me emotionally and uses me up, it is the price I have to pay. What is my reason for battling my nightmarish struggle for life when I could end it so simply? I may fool you all . . . you know, I may finally do something. . . . Then perhaps Freedman "will do something to redeem the last sixteen wasted years." Yes, the last sixteen years, since I started working at "The Firm," have been a nightmarish waste.
I can't get the image of Robert Schumann's final days out of my mind: the harrowing days just before the great composer entered "The Dead Poet's Society." Those dark days were horrible. The treatment of mental patients in the nineteenth century was barbaric. Has anything changed? Schumann's doctors probably killed him, inadvertently.
In general, the medical director at the asylum where Schumann was confined associated mental illness with what he perceived as sinful behavior. This was in keeping with his diagnosis of "incomplete general paralysis"--French psychiatrists had attributed the condition to "immoral excesses such as alcoholism, 'violent passions,' or sexual overindulgence." For a cure, the medical director's approach was to deal with the body. Mental problems would then heal of their own accord. Treatment included cold baths, copper- and opium-based medication, and strict regulation of diet. In an attempt to purify the patient's system, an increasing regimen of laxatives and diuretics preceded by substantial meals, heavy in calories were prescribed. Reacting strongly to this barbaric treatment, several patients (possibly including Schumann) protested with hunger strikes. The staff responded with a number of tortuous devices intended to force them to eat. In desperation, patients were restrained and force-fed (with a diet of port wine and meat extract) by means of enemas. Schumann's death was attributed to starvation; he died "in a state of extreme emaciation" reportedly resulting from his "frequently refusing all nourishment."
Three years before Schumann died, he befriended Johannes Brahms--"The Talented Mr. Brahms"-- who was about twenty years younger than Schumann. The two composers became great friends. In fact, so great was the attraction between Schumann and Brahms that Schumann insisted the younger man move into his house. Brahms was at Clara Schumann's side after Robert tried to commit suicide, and he was at her side after he died, in 1856. Brahms ended by falling in love with Clara. There are stories that the relationship between them was more than platonic, but it is hard to believe that Clara would have given herself to Brahms. Her mind, from everything we know about her, did not work that way. She was the widow of the great Robert Schumann, and she became a professional widow who wore mourning clothes all her life. For Clara Schumann, every day was Tisha b'Av. Brahms never married. This past week I had several recollections, peculiar recollections--uncanny recollections--relating to Robert Schumann.
Years ago, during my pre-morbid youth (in the days before the onset of my pseudo manic depression), I worked at The Franklin Institute Research Laboratories, in Philadelphia. One of the managers there--my boss, in a sense--was one Bernard E. Epstein. I -- like Bernie Epstein -- had always had a fondness for the Schumann symphonies. You should have heard Bernie's wife, Aida, play Schumann's "Trauemerei." The Epsteins had a great party at their home in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania, in April 1970, during Pesach. (Coincidentally, at that very moment, the precocious Rubenstein was doing an extended "concert tour" in south Florida; now there was a lad whose fingers could make the young ladies swoon). Delicate Japanese lanterns were strung in the Epstein garden, and wires hidden among the trees produced Mozart concerti to accompany the delicious food the Epsteins themselves had cooked and the 1953 Chateau Lascombes wine (kosher l'Pesach, of course).
From what I hear the Epstein party wasn't a drunken orgy, but then Bernie Epstein was no swinging Mormon, though he may be some day. The Mormons have given up polygamy, I hear, and now invest their energies in converting Jews posthumously, without their consent. Personally, I have to say, if I were a Mormon I'd prefer doing a clan of eager women at my pleasure than waste my time converting dead Jews. But hey, that's me.
The Epsteins didn't invite me to the party. I wasn't cool enough or hip enough for them (or Rubenstein, for that matter). Bernie Epstein, a saxophone-playing, syncopated Joy-Boy, was a flashy guy: hip, makin' the scene. You know the type, Brian. The Epsteins were into Schumann, cork-lined walls and furniture designed by George Nakashima, a Japanese immigrant. I suppose they thought I wouldn't fit in with their crowd. Aida (also known as "Didi") studied piano under Danny Barenboim; Danny and Aida were Argentine lanzmen. They spoke Spanish together--like two Viennese schoolboys. Did I ever mention that? In any event, Aida Epstein entertained the guests at the piano. She played Robert Schumann's "Trauemerei," among other things, so I hear. (She didn't play Chopin; Frederic--the composer, not the mohel--wasn't cool enough for the Epsteins either). I suppose the Japanese-born Cecelia Segawa Siegle was one of the invited guests; she's now a professor at The University of Pennsylvania.
That's an odd recollection, don't you think? In sum, I can remember that in April 1970, when I was 16 years old, Aida Epstein (an individual I have never met) performed Robert Schumann's "Trauemerei" (a piece that lasts at most about three minutes) at a party that I myself did not attend.
Then, something else. In 1993, when I was in treatment (actually I'm being polite--the correct term would be "treatment") -- when I was in treatment with Suzanne Pitts--an internationally recognized expert in the diagnosis and care of pseudo manic depression--I related an anecdote from childhood. A Scene From Childhood, as it were.
I told Dr. Pitts that when I was about ten years old I had seen a movie about the life of Robert Schumann, broadcast on television, titled "Song of Love." The movie, made in 1947, starred Katherine Hepburn as Clara Schumann. Those were the days before Katherine Hepburn aspired to be an oak tree for the amusement of Barbara Walters. I told Dr. Pitts that I was emotionally moved by a scene in the movie that takes place at a party (I don't think the Schumanns served matzo, but then, of course, I don't know if the party took place at Pesach). At the party, Clara Schumann chastised Franz Liszt about Liszt's showy performance of Robert Schumann's song, "Widmung."
Dr. Pitts used to complain that all I did was relate meaningless anecdotes, rather than talk about my "feelings." All I can say is, check the DSM-IV, sister! One of the diagnostic criteria of pseudo mental illness is an obsession with meaningless details.
"Pitts--that's an unfortunate name." That's a quote from "The Dead Poet's Society." Did you ever see that movie? The movie takes place at an all-boys school. Like the one that Fredric (the French-speaking mohel who dabbled in presidential politics -- not the composer) and I attended.
Well, oddly enough--or "oddly enough"--a description of that very scene, which I experienced as so moving at age 10, found it's way into Rubinstein's autobiography. (Rubinstein wrote the book while his hands were otherwise unoccupied with piano keys, young ladies, or hanging chads from Chad, Rhodesia -- or Kenya). You think that's mere coincidence? That a trivial detail, a trivial recollection, a seemingly meaningless Scene From my Childhood -- a scene from a movie that so moved me -- also moved the great Rubinstein? All I can say is -- "Pitts: it's more than just an unfortunate name!"
Here's what Rubinstein wrote: "A film which gave me real pleasure was the one which MGM [that's Metro Goldwyn Mayer--not Murray G. Marion] made of the life of Robert Schumann. This time I had to contribute all the music which had to be performed later on the screen by the actors who played Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann, his wife, Johannes Brahms, and Franz Liszt.
It was a moving experience for me to try to imagine how these great artists performed and once I had to play the same piece in different ways. Robert Schumann presented to Clara, his young bride, the lovely and touching song "Widmung" (dedication) and played it for her rather imperfectly but with great feeling. At a great party, at which the Schumanns and Brahms were present, Liszt, who performed his own "Mephisto Waltz," gave as an encore his brilliant and showy concert version of that same song. Clara Schumann, displeased with his showy performance, gave the great pianist a lesson by playing it to him in its original form, simply and beautifully. I had the hard task of making all this sound authentic. Katherine Hepburn did wonders impersonating Clara Schumann, playing the concertos of Liszt and Schumann, and other works, as if she were a born pianist. The whole film was made with love and respect for the subject."
Be that as it may.
The final recollection that concerns Robert Schumann is as follows. Friday evening, March 25, 1988. I had just started working at Akin Gump, my old law firm, in early March. You remember it was also in early March 1988 that I first encountered you, buddy, at the Cleveland Park Library. But that's neither here nor there--or is it?
That evening Public Television broadcast a performance of the Brahms third symphony. It was conducted by Leonard Bernstein. At the beginning of the program, Lenny offered some comments about the Brahms third. He said that it was "the most enigmatic of the four Brahms symphonies." Whatever that means! I don't know what "enigmatic" music is. I've always been particularly moved by the Brahms third. The work was written years after Brahms' great friend, Robert Schumann had died, but contains a musical reference to Schumann. The Brahms third opens with a musical quote, a six-note descending phrase, from the first movement of Schumann's own third symphony. I like to imagine that the entire Brahms symphony, with all its tortured emotionality, was written as a monument to his dear friend and mentor who died so tragically. I always think of Robert Schumann when I hear that music by Brahms. The music makes me think of friendship and remembrance.
Now that's "extreme sensitivity"--in the Schumannesque sense. Imagine recalling off the top of your head that on the evening of Friday, March 25, 1988--sixteen years ago--you heard a broadcast performance of the Brahms third symphony conducted by Leonard Bernstein -- probably because the symphony calls to mind thoughts of friendship, loss, and remembrance. I don't think The Mad Monk gets any of this, or anything else about my personality. She just "doesn't get it." To paraphrase a slogan from the Clinton campaign in '92 -- "It's the intrapsychic mental economy, stupid!"
How is The Mad Monk doing, you ask? She's still mad, mad, mad.
"Did you work yesterday, Dr. Bash?" "Yes. Was it a holiday?" she asked. "Yes," I said, "it was Tisha b'Av." "Did you fast?" I asked. "No. Did you?" "No."
Tisha b'Av, the ninth day of the month of Av on the Hebrew calendar is a holiday, a fast day, a day of mourning that commemorates the destruction of the first and second Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, in ancient times.
"I see you didn't bring in a few pages of your book," said The Mad Monk. "No. I'm not interested in your opinion about my book. The Pope liked it." "The Pope?" "Yes." "Wow," said The Mad Monk. "Why would I need your opinion if I already know the Pope liked my book?" "And how did the Pope get your book?" "From the Prime Minister of Israel," I explained. -- How did the Pope get my book? Now really! How does she think he got the book?
"President Clinton liked the book, too. And Hillary Clinton." "How did Bill Clinton get a copy of your book?" "Through Vernon Jordan," I explained. "Who?" "Vernon Jordan," I repeated. "Vernon Jordan is a partner at the old law firm where I used to work. He's a close friend of President Clinton's." "Did Bill Clinton like the book?" "Sure," I said, "what's not to like?" "I just want to be Brian's friend, Dr. Bash." "But Brian doesn't want to have anything to do with you," she said. "But Brian likes me," I said. "That's why he called the police on you, because he likes you?" said The Mad Monk. "Yes," I said -- as if the reason were obvious. "Brian's a latent homosexual. (I meant that in a good way, buddy.) He likes me and he feels threatened by the fact that he likes me, so he called the police on me." "You have a reason for everything," said Dr. Bash, "but your reasons are all irrational." I felt like saying: "Just because I'm crazy doesn't mean I can't be irrational."
I told Dr. Bash about my plan to send a copy of my autobiography to the Department of Psychology at New York University, Dr. Bash's alma mater. I told her that perhaps as a professional courtesy, the psychology department would review the book and offer comments to Dr. Bash about it. Dr. Bash said the psychology department wouldn't be interested. Maybe the literature department would be interested, she said. I found Dr. Bash's notion incredibly naive. Even educated laymen are aware that a piece of creative writing can reveal a lot about the writer's personality. That Dr. Bash seemed unaware that my book reveals anything of interest about my personality is actually frightening in its naivete.
"Did you watch any of the Democratic Convention," asked Dr. Bash. "No," I said, "I don't like Kerry."
My candidate was Joe Lieberman. Not because of his religion. I just thought it would be cool to have a first lady named Hadassah. In my estimation, John Kerry is lackluster. Any candidate who makes George Bush look charismatic by comparison has got some real problems, in my mind. And John Edwards? I don't know what, if anything, John Edwards does for Barney Frank and the other members of the Congressional Gay Caucus, but I'll tell you this -- I need more than just a pretty face!
You gotta hand it to these candidates. What they go through! The nonstop speechmaking, the rubber chicken night after night, having to shake hands with the unemployed. That's the great thing about being a dictator, like General Bonaparte, the little man from Corsica. You never have to shake hands with the unemployed. You know what I mean, Brian? It's like Barney Frank once said, "I spent an hour this morning shaking hands with the unemployed. But if you have to, you have to!"
I told Dr. Bash that there's a Jewish congregation here in Washington that has a homosexual membership: Bet Mishpachah. The House of the Family. "Would you like to join?" asked The Mad Monk. "I don't know," I said, "it would make me uncomfortable. Not because they're homosexuals. Joining any organization would make me uncomfortable. I'm not a joiner. I like certain people, certain kinds of people--and other than that, I'm not interested in people. I'm a misanthrope. If I'm in a group of people, I just start out with a feeling of discomfort, a feeling that there will be nobody there that I have anything in common with." Dr. Bash said: "That's because you lack social skills."
Again with the social skills. I may be lacking in social skills, but frankly, if I suffer from a schizoid personality disorder, the restrictions imposed on my social functioning by that disorder far outweigh the impairment posed by any lack of social skills. I feel like telling Dr. Bash: "Pick a diagnosis and stick to it." Anthony Storr writes: "One of the most characteristic traits of the people psychiatrists label schizoid is their inability to make close relationships with people without feeling threatened. The typical schizoid dilemma is a desperate need for love combined with an equally desperate fear of close involvement." Schizoid personality disorder is to a lack of social skills what migraine is to a tension headache.
"From my youth upwards my spirit walk'd not with the souls of men, nor look'd upon the earth with human eyes; The thirst of their ambition was not mine, the aim of their existence was not mine; my joys, my griefs, my passions, and my powers, made me a stranger; though I wore the form, I had no sympathy with breathing flesh." That's from Lord Byron's "Manfred," a dramatic poem that was set to music by Robert Schumann, by the way. (Did you know that Lenny made his debut with the New York Philharmonic in the early '40s conducting Schumann's Manfred Overture?)
If you look at the movies that held my fascination as a boy, you see something revealing about my nature; I loved movies about the isolated hero, the hero who was consumed with the pain and passion of the lonely quest. "Birdman of Alcatraz," with Burt Lancaster (I remember being deeply upset by the scene where the prison warden confiscates the Birdman's bird collection); "Christopher Columbus," starring Frederick March; "The Egyptian," the story of a lowly physician who comes to the attention of Pharaoh -- suffers the destruction of his career -- and ends his days in exile in the desert, writing his memoirs (those things only happen on Hollywood sound stages, of course). And Robert Schumann! I should have known there was already a problem. A ten-year-old boy who identifies with a mad composer who dies at age 46 in a lunatic asylum, with one dear friend at his side. What do you say about that, Glickman? Did you hear about Glickman, Brian? He's gone from "The Man Who Bought His Dinner with Food Stamps" to "The Man Who Came to Dinner."
Back to my session with The Mad Monk. "When I was in college I belonged to Hillel. Are you familiar with that organization?" Hillel is a national organization for Jewish students, with branches at various colleges. "They used to sponsor Sunday brunches -- you know, bagels and lox, that type of thing. Well, I used to go. I chatted with people. But nothing ever came of it. I didn't meet anybody I felt I wanted to be friends with."
Dr. Bash asked: "What would you like to talk to Brian about?" "Nothing," I said. I chuckled. I meant "nothing" in the technical, Seinfeldian sense. I think Dr. Bash thought I meant "nothing" in the common, colloquial sense.
"If I were to talk to Brian, it would be a conversation about nothing." "A conversation about nothing?" "Yes. For example, what did you do today?" "I got up and came to work." "See, there's a conversation. I could talk about that with Brian." "But you don't work." "That's even better. Brian and I would have even less to talk about!"
"So you just go to the library once a week now," said The Mad Monk. "Yes," I said, "I just go once a week. I just write one letter per week to Brian now. I used to write a letter to Brian about every day. That was when I used to go to my local library every day -- the branch where Brian works. But now that I don't get to see Brian, I don't feel inspired." "That's good," said Dr. Bash, "out of sight, out of heart." "Out of sight, out of mind," I corrected. "That's true to some extent. I'm just as obsessed with Brian as I used to be, but I don't feel as creatively inspired as I used to. But the obsession is still there."
"Did you get a chance to see Bill Clinton's book?" asked Dr. Bash. "Yes. As a matter of fact, I saw a copy at a bookstore, and I read the first page. It was interesting, but I was disappointed. Stylistically, it wasn't impressive." "It was written by a shadow writer," Dr. Bash explained. "You mean a 'ghost writer,'" I corrected.
"I was thinking of getting Brian a gift, Dr. Bash." "A gift? What would you do with it?" "I could leave it at the door of the library." "Don't do that," said Dr. Bash, "it will get you in trouble." "But, Dr. Bash, I could leave the gift anonymously, simply address the gift to Brian." "Don't do it," said Dr. Bash. "You need to forget about Brian, you need to put Brian out of your mind," said The Mad Monk.
Dr. Bash continued: "You need to invest your energy into publishing your book. You need to find a publisher. I tell you what: if you get your book published, you could give Brian an autographed copy of it. He would look up to you." And this comes right after The Mad Monk said I need to get Brian out of my mind! The Mad Monk is continually undermining her credibility; her ad hoc dissembling undermines any sense of genuineness about her statements.
"But Dr. Bash, Brian already looks up to me. Brian likes me." "That's why he called the police on you?" asked Dr. Bash rhetorically.
"I know Brian likes me. I know people. Let me tell you something. There used to be a young guy in my apartment building. I didn't know anything about him. He used to see me sitting in the lobby. He'd look at me sometimes and smile. Once I heard him talking to the front-desk manager (Elizabeth Joyce). It was just a routine matter. But he was so eloquent. The way he talked, his use of language. I thought: 'He must be a lawyer. He must have graduated from an ivy league school.' Well, after he moved out of the building, I found out his name was Jared Silverman. I looked him up. He was in fact a lawyer, and he graduated from The University of Pennsylvania. So, how did I know that? I just know. I know people."
At this point Dr. Bash said something revealing. She asked me: "Did you talk to him (Jared Silverman)?" Note that just a few weeks ago, I said there was someone in the building who I liked--who I thought I might be friends with (David Dickenson). Dr. Bash asked: "What does he do?" I explained that he was a lawyer. She said: "Forget about it. No lawyer is going to be friends with you." At this consultation Dr. Bash inquires about whether I made any effort to be friends with the lawyer, Jared Silverman. See the inconsistency? Though in all fairness to Dr. Bash, she did not know the time frame of the Jared Silverman anecdote. She might have assumed I was working at that time. But I wonder. Can I be a friend with a lawyer or not? Would I want to be friends with a lawyer?
"Years ago," I continued, "at a law firm where I used to work, there was a law clerk. I knew he was special. I don't know how I knew. But I knew. And I really knew nothing about him except for what I observed. So what do you think he's doing now? He's the Inspector General at the Justice Department. I found out he has two degrees from Harvard. A bachelor's degree in economics and his law degree. He was a Rhodes scholar. You know what that is? And he was a star basketball player in college. How did I know he was special? I just knew."
"A few years ago, there was a young guy in my building. His name was Ari. I think he was a Jewish kid. Ari is a common name in Israel, isn't it? Elizabeth Joyce knew him. He looked like a tough kid. He would look at me straight in the eye. Sometimes he would smile. I felt some kind of bond with him. And we never spoke. It was totally nonverbal. I wonder what he's doing now. I pinpointed him as someone who was going places in life. I just think he's somebody who's done something with his life. He impressed me. Most people are sheep in my estimation. I hate sheep. This kid didn't look like a sheep."
"When I worked at Akin Gump, back in 1989, I worked with a young guy, John Falk--he was a temporary paralegal. He was from Arizona. He was very independent-minded. I liked him. We went to lunch three times. He said he wanted to join the Marines." "You felt comfortable with him?" asked The Mad Monk. "Yes," I said, "he was someone I felt comfortable with." Dr. Bash seemed impressed with what I was telling her. That's rare, I have to tell you. She seemed to accept the idea that I had some kind of intuition about people.
She asked me about the social clubs that my apartment building is in the process of organizing. I explained that the clubs are in the planning stage right now. Nothing concrete has been settled about them. Dr. Bash encouraged me to join something. I didn't tell Dr. Bash that I suggested to building management that they organize a "Nudist Club" as well as a "Brad Dolinsky Fan Club." I suggested to the front desk manager, Mardi, that Brad (Captain Vagina) could give tenants advice on women, dating, and relationships. Mardi told me the Nudist Club was a nonstarter. "This is a conservative organization," she said.
I told Dr. Bash that I felt I was throwing my life away. "I was thinking the other day that I could live another thirty years. What am I going to do, be thinking about Brian for the next thirty years?"
Dr. Bash said: "In the Jewish religion you are allowed to mourn for only one year. Just one year." I guess Clara Schumann, the professional mourner, wasn't Jewish. I know she didn't serve matzo at dinner parties. I told The Mad Monk I had till next April to mourn for you, buddy.
I said to Dr. Bash: "I long for Brian." She wrote that down; she takes notes. She spoke the following words aloud as she wrote them down: "I long for Brian." Actually, I was striking a Hermann Hesse-like pose. There's a line in his novel Demian in which Sinclair says about his friend, "How I longed for Demian!" But it's the way I feel.
"What do you do all day?" asked Dr. Bash. "I lay on my couch, stare into space, and think about Brian."
In fact, right now I have a rendezvous with my couch. Check you out next week, Brian. August 15th will be Vernon Jordan's birthday. Coincidentally, it's also General Bonaparte's birthday. Maybe the three of us--you, me, and Vernon Jordan--could get together for lunch. Just the three of us. I think we can leave General Bonaparte out of it. People might talk.
See you, buddy. Try to keep your moral excesses in check.