Four Lines from TV and Movies that Need to Go Away

June 13, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’m as excited as anyone about the golden age of television in which we’re living. There are still bad TV shows and bad movies, but the best of what’s available is so damn good, it’s almost enough to make you forget that the world is going to hell. And for that I am truly grateful. But there are still some details of human behavior and dialogue that the writers are getting wrong, glaring defects which undermine the credibility and quality of even the best shows. Perhaps you’re enough of a rabid fan-girl or boy to overlook them, but my hope is that after reading this article you’ll become pedantic and fussy, like me, and find the offenses described below grating and intolerable.

1) “I Promise” or “You Promised”
Funny thing: nobody ever says these words. And if in some moment of weakness they do, they certainly don’t mean them seriously, or expect others to take them seriously. Promises are seldom made in modern life, and when they are, they’re routinely broken. Plans change. People disappoint each other. It’s completely unremarkable, and yet the tired old premise of The Promise is sill wheeled out as a plot mover:
“I had to hitch a ride on the undercarriage of that helicopter ’cause I promised my son I wouldn’t let his balloon fly away! My son has leukemia, by the way.”
Or, conversely,
“I know you’re caught in a crossfire between terrorists and mobsters, but you promised you’d pick up Chinese takeout for me!”
This kind of dialogue causes a wave of revulsion and contempt in any viewer who’s paying attention. Just stop it. Find another way to move the plot forward or to create interpersonal tension, or whatever it is you’re trying to do. We know you’re wicked smart, that’s why you’re in the big time now, with budgets and special effects and everything! Whoo-whoo, we believe in you. Write something different, or it gets the hose again.

2) “Don’t Do This”
If you haven’t noticed this scourge already, you’ll soon curse me for pointing it out. This line shows up in everything. No one knows why. In grim police procedurals it’s directed at the killer halfway through his ritualized killing, a “this” he’s clearly going to do anyway. In outer space dramas, it’s directed at the misguided hero about to attempt a complicated rescue which probably won’t succeed, and which required him tying up the other cast members, but unfortunately not gagging them. In romantic dramas it’s sobbingly said to the half of the couple who, for some noble but misguided reason, is breaking off the perfect relationship.
What’s the problem with these three seemingly innocuous words?? Well, I’ll tell you.
In each of my examples, the specificity of the unwanted action is clearly really important to the people doing the protesting. So why don’t they spell out what it is they’re so vehemently against? Why risk being misunderstood about such an important matter? If I were the villain I’d feel compelled to say “Don’t do what? Wear the chocolate colored tie with the sky-blue suit? I say it works. It works, damn you!”
I guess the intended effect is to make us believe that the speaker is just too overwrought to spell out what the “this” is that shouldn’t be getting done. But in that case, why utter this very specific yet extremely vague phrase? Why not simply yell “Don’t?!” or perhaps “Uuurgh!” Or, on the other end of the clarity spectrum, “I would prefer that you keep the plutonium-235 rods suspended in their aqueous cooling solution, as this insures a more manageable outcome for all concerned?”
Do you see what I’m getting at? The “this” in “Don’t do this” requires a mental act of reasoning, of synthesis, that is just not credible from someone in a state of genuine alarm / crisis / panic. Yet, if they’re so damn calm and reasonable, why don’t they say what they mean?
Now, say it was an actor attempting to reason with a director about to shoot a scene in a non-believable manner, with unconvincing dialogue. This is the proverbial exception that proves the rule: a very rare situation in which saying “don’t do this” makes perfect sense.

3) “You Weren’t There for Me”
Another thing nobody says. This one’s a bit of a paradox, sort of like Schrodinger’s Cat but with less physics. Here’s how it breaks down: If someone (usually a parental figure, in the scenarios where this tired sentiment is trotted out) really wasn’t there for me, then guess what? I don’t really expect them to give a damn whether I think they were there or not! Complaining that someone wasn’t there for you presupposes an emotional climate in which being “there” for someone was valued and normal — thus, decidedly not the milieu to which the complaining party is accustomed.
Depressingly, when a hitherto remote parent or other family member becomes a bit more emotionally available, we’re usually grateful even to get that much. We may still opt to tell them where they can stick it. But, if we want to capitalize on this moment of emotionally glasnost, saying “you weren’t there for me” is just not where most of us would put our energy.
I won’t say that this scenario is impossible. I mean, once in a while the cat turns out to be a dog. But generally, people who have been neglected don’t go around expecting the neglecters to care about them! People are actually somewhat adaptable. They look elsewhere for support, or they become fiercely self-reliant, or perhaps they become frightening yet charismatic serial killer/cannibals. What they don’t do is go around saying “you weren’t there for me” to which the only reasonable answer is “and where was there exactly, you whiny little puke?”
Saying “well, these characters are all cops” or “hey, the action takes place in another solar system” does not make this line more believable. It just adds distracting guns and lasers and space alien dive bars and whatnot.

4) “I Believe In You”
Again, though we all know what this is supposed to mean, no one ever says this in everyday life. It’s like the difference between classical Arabic and everyday spoken Arabic in that respect. Okay, it isn’t at all like that, but the point is, no one ever says “I believe in you.” Not even at a wedding or a funeral. And if they do, I will mock them unrelentingly. Even if, nay, especially if, it’s at a wedding or a funeral.
Some people “believe in” a god or whatever, but to say you believe in the existence of a fellow mortal who’s right in front of you is just damn silly.

There is still plenty of bad dialogue being written — we all have our favorite groan-worthy examples — but eradicating these four culprits would be a great start. Then we could look around see what else there is to complain about.


A Tour of the Conflict (a non-fiction piece from the early oughts)

June 13, 2018 § Leave a comment

Brown University Graduate Students and the Drive for Unionization

A historic school set in the historic East Side neighborhood of Providence Rhode Island, Brown University squats majestically on Brown Street, girdling the crest of College Hill, then spilling down in a wash of red brick and wrought iron to the busy retail thoroughfare of Thayer Street. Though increasingly colonized by big names such as Gap and Urban Outfitters, Thayer still retains a degree of chic, with its international restaurants and slightly grungy record and clothing stores. Here the mostly well-to-do student body may be seen shopping, talking, laughing excitedly, studying in cafes — young, high-spirited, excited to be alive or sometimes cloaked in blasé hipness.
Among their number are the various graduate students — not quite so young, or carefree — existing in a liminal state in regard to many things, including their status as students, or teaching assistants, or research assistants, either subjected to or speaking in the voice of academic authority; and their status as either transient visitors or full-blown residents of the city (some of these degrees take a very long time to acquire). They can be spotted sometimes by their in-between age (if they look their age), or by the piles of other people’s papers or blue books they are sometimes carrying, or maybe by something staid and resigned about their manner, something which says, “well, I’m in it for the long haul, I may as well get comfortable.”
One place where many of them are inclined to get comfortable for long periods of time is a café with the forgettable name Ocean Coffee Roasters, a semi-basement beanery with good food and blaring punk rock and noise music on the stereo. A “regular” here is Sally, an Art History graduate student who drinks enormous quantities of chai, sits for hours, often just staring off into space. Then, like many of her colleagues, she’ll suddenly remember an appointment or a waiting classroom and flee as if from a burning building.
Today, on a sunny day in late October, Sally is hunkered comfortably in her usual slouching posture beneath the café’s clock, but she is not happy. I have asked her a couple leading questions about problems she has vaguely alluded to, with the university’s faculty and administration. Rarely at a loss for words, Sally lets loose with a lengthy response in which she enumerates her complaints.
“From the midterm on, I’m inundated with grading, plus having to run discussion groups, teaching the texts, any other sort of logistical work…” She goes on to say that, for this labor, she feels that she receives insufficient and inconsistent compensation. She recounts one semester when, in a professor’s absence, she took on the task of giving an Architecture lecture, although this is a subject outside of her field.
“When I went to put in my hours, I told them I had done an extra eight hours of work. They told me I was basically ‘putting one in for the team.’ That kind of abuse — this after-the-fact finding out — I find really unacceptable.”
As for the regular stipend which she receives — about $12,800 per year, with no health care provision — she finds this inadequate for living in the area.
“I’ve been here for five years, and we’ve never received any kind of substantive increase in our salary, but the property values around this area have surged dramatically.”
This increase in property values is, ironically, partly the fault of the university and its students. In the past decade, the cost of tuition at Brown and another local institution, the Rhode Island School of Design, have risen precipitously. This has attracted a more affluent student body then the city previously hosted, and these young people tend not to flinch at inflated rents. Thus the East Side has lost some of its local color, as many of the rental properties have become affordable only to the students and various yuppies, many of whom have moved to the region from Boston or New York. One area that preserves much of its character, in spite of its proximity to the university, is a neighborhood located south of the campus.
Fox Point. Though certainly not untouched by gentrification, this funky region of historic houses — some fixed up enough to merit a plaque from the Providence Preservation Society, some not; and others less historic, hideously shingled or painted a cruel pistachio green which seems to jar with the prevailing New England aesthetic — is home to many Portuguese- and Italian-American families. Most have been here for several decades and still retain a distinct culture. The old women dressed in black, the career housewives who watch everything out of their windows, the remote old Portuguese men, imbue the area with a solidity of place, a feeling of neighborhood, of security, illusory though this may be. The Family Pub, the Silver Star Bakery with its age-old neon, Friends Market with its museum of small and smaller housewares, and Madeira Liquors all coexist with the shiny chosen children who make the city — a small section of it, anyway — their plaything.
There are fewer and fewer non-collegiate renters in this area, because most simply cannot afford it; and, Sally would add, there are few graduate students who can truly afford to live even in this relatively modest section of the mostly posh East Side. And now an old storefront, situated on Ives Street, the main thoroughfare of Fox Point, has become the home of a new neighbor: the United Auto Workers have taken taken up residence at number 198, at the behest of some — though by no means all — of the graduate students of Brown University.
Luisa, the UAW’s local representative, is one of two full-time UAW staff working in this site, as she puts it, “proximal to the university.” They occupy a spacious, nearly empty first-floor room which resounds with the ringing of phones and the clacking of computer keys. Pleasant, articulate, and bespectacled, Luisa radiates a quick intelligence and an engaging manner. In spite of the air of hubbub and urgency in the office, she obligingly pulls up two plastic chairs so I can question her about what the UAW is doing here.
Luisa presents the UAW’s presence in Providence as a response to a need.
“Graduate students here called the UAW and several other unions after having fought for control over how much their health insurance was going to cost,” and ultimately settled on the UAW because “more power was going to come from the union than from ad-hoc groups.”
She explains that dues from current UAW members are paying for her to do her unionizing work. It turns out that the UAW are old hands at this sort of thing, and that the unionization of graduate students is not a new phenomenon. By Luisa’s reckoning, the first in the U.S. was the University of Wisconsin, which has apparently been unionized since 1969. About one in five graduate students nationwide is a union member, and of these, half are members of the United Auto Workers union.
Luisa goes on to recount her own formative experience of the power of a union, while she was studying at UC Santa Cruz. After “a very long fight against a very intransigent employer,” her union won substantial changes which took effect throughout the entire California state university system. Luisa is also currently a member of a writers’ union, and encourages me to join one as well.
This background at least partly explains Luisa’s ability to rattle off complete and well-formed sentences about the usefulness of a graduate student union, about how their struggle is part of the larger struggle of part-time workers generally to get a fair deal, not only in academe but also in offices, factories, or even at home, where they do piece-work for distant, unaccountable companies.
In this cultural moment, the most revolutionary concepts are seamlessly incorporated into a syllabus and taught without a trace of irony or incongruity to the children of the ruling class. In the humanities, any contentiousness is subject to the smoothing effects of this accustomed relativism. During Sally’s tirade against the Brown University administration, her tone is so neutral that I have to keep reminding myself that these are issues of flesh and blood, that she idsn’t going to suddenly shift gears and start arguing the other side of the issue as an intellectual exercise.
The friction between students like Sally, and the students who are for various reasons opposed to the current union drive has, I am told, lessened somewhat. They have settled into their oppositional roles, and feel less ruffled and panicky than they did while their positions were coalescing. But I wanted to meet with the opposition, just to be sure.
Making my way back from Fox Point to the Brown campus, I pass through a gate dedicated to the soldiers who fell in World War II. More red brick and black iron, leading to some dormitories and the Lincoln Field Building. This charming edifice contains some charmingly cramped old offices with incongruous iMacs, and a meeting room whose walls are papered with posters about planetary exploration. Here the core members of At What Cost?, a loose organization of UAW-opposed students, meet to discuss strategy. Today they are also meeting me, as a useful practice session for the more important meetings to come with university administration and the Labor Relations Board.
For some reason all the members of At What Cost? are in Science and Mathematics. Hector, the most vocal and articulate of the group, is an Economics major; Candace is in Engineering, and acts it — terse and no-nonsense; and Benjamin is a young enthusiastic Geology grad student. As they tell me, their departments are superior in sources of outside funding as compared to departments like Sally’s (Art History), but they are at a disadvantage in their struggle against the union because they do not have full-time employees to do their organizing and campaigning work.
We sit at a long oak table in a room that seems part conference room, part fraternity parlor, to discuss this disparity of resources, and other issues. Benjamin and Candace tend to cede control of the floor to Hector, who becomes increasingly comfortable with leading the discussion.
The union drive has, they fear, developed a momentum of its own, even though, as Constance says, “I had no say” in asking the UAW to come to town. According to Hector, “they call it a grass-roots effort,” but this approach has clearly “left a lot of people out of the loop.” He points out that there are existing channels, such as the Graduate Student Council, for addressing grievances; and that these channels have been neglected in favor of the UAW, which will “institutionalize a conflictual relationship.” In addition, if a union is established, the dues, which are not cheap, will be more or less compulsory for all incoming grad students whether they wish to join or not.
Hector makes his points in a methodical, economist-like way. Without the pressure of a union, he claims, the administration generally raises stipends by about five per cent each year. If contracts are under negotiation with a union, it becomes unlawful for the administration to make any changes, for good or ill, until negotiations are concluded. Thus, as recently happened at a major university, stipends can be frozen for as long as two years if the parties are in a deadlock. Hector also takes issue with the composition of the bargaining group, the union members who would actually have a say in making policy. Research assistants would be excluded from the bargaining group, according to Hector. And, as it happens, a disproportionate number of graduate students in the sciences are research assistants, “performing cutting-edge research and bringing in grant money.”
The whole thing clearly feels coercive to Hector and the others. He also questions the UAW’s motives for being here in Providence. This once-mighty union has, according to Hector, lost half its membership since the 1970’s. “They’re trying to get their membership up.” Of thei UAW’s current 750,000 members, there are some white collar workers, but the majority are still, as the union’s name indicates, industrial workers. This makes the UAW’s politics problematic. They have recently fought against legislation that would improve emissions standards. The UAW also has a contentious position on H1V visas, which are what all most of Brown’s foreign graduate students to stay in the U.S. for the protracted periods their schooling requires.
Hector runs out of things to say, and my tape recorder runs out of tape, amid techno-geek jokes that the IC chip is still recording and this is just a ruse to get them to speak more frankly. They invite me to attend a “social,” an event paid for by the Graduate School to get its various members to mingle. This is taking place in one of the more hideous buildings on campus, with a drab 70’s-style interior fortunately relieved by large pictures looking out at a yard of sorts where smokers gather in the crispening air.
Beers are distributed. There are discernible knots of self-described “nerds” amongst the slightly more stylish students of English or Comparative Literature or Latin-American Studies. One such knot is untied by the garrulous Sally, who is also in attendance, wearing something flouncy and silken. Her arrival is a welcome distraction from laborious rounds of introductions.
Sally wants to talk to Hector, who is sensibly dressed in a flannel shirt and jeans. After remarking on the new decorum which has developed in their conflict, Sally begins to describe her unfair workload in somewhat more strident tones than she had used with me earlier. Hector stresses that his group is not anti-union, “we’re anti this union right now.” His tone is conciliatory, but Sally does not seem placated. She goes outside to have a cigarette.
Feeling out of place with the scientists and engineers, I follow. Soon the subject is changed: Sally is airing her views on the pretentiousness of the local music scene, the “wannabe rockers,” as she calls them, who serve her coffee every day. This strikes me as biting the hand that feeds, but I resist the urge to draw any larger conclusions out loud.
It is difficult not to wonder what motivates someone like Sally. It seems as though many of them are in school because they could not function in any other environment. Graduate degrees lead to post-docs which lead to teaching positions. They thrive on the order that an institutional setting provides. And the union is also an institution.

My Favorite Movies That Don’t Exist Yet

September 28, 2016 § Leave a comment

Bourne in the USA: The quest for his true identity leads super-agent Jason Bourne to New Jersey, where he realizes that he is in fact Bruce Springsteen. His well-maintained physique and lightning reflexes are attributable to the Boss’s abstemious lifestyle and relentless schedule of no-holds-barred performances.

Bourne on the Fourth of July: Rendered paraplegic after an 18-hour car chase, Jason Bourne / Bruce Springsteen bitterly imagines all the fight scenes in which he will now never be able to participate.

No Brexit: In a parallel universe, a “no” vote to Britain’s exit from the EU causes a cascade of positive effects, ranging from lasting peace in the Middle East to cures for overpopulation, Ebola, and cellulite, to the successful colonization of Mars and Pluto.

Jaws Eleven: Ten mutant offspring of the Great White from the Jaws movies team up with the villain “Jaws” from the Bond movies to take down a floating casino that threatens their watery habitat. Cameos by George Clooney as the voice of Batman and Sean Connery as an endangered coral reef.

Road Runner: In this post-apocalyptic romp, Deckard the replicant-hunter teams up with “Mad” Max to take down a rampaging mutant emu terrorizing motorists on the highways of Massachusetts. The Farrelly brothers reprise their collaboration with Something About Mary’s soundtrack artist / troubadour Jonathan Richman in this whimsical dark comic ode to car travel in New England.

Zombie Agrarian Utopia: Weary of all the inflicting of terror and the eating of brains, a band of zombies decides to experiment with communal living and heirloom tomato farming in rural Pennsylvania. Wacky high jinks ensue as a nearby Amish community assists at their first barn-raising and introduce the younger zombies to the concept of the “rumspringa.”

Jason and Madea: In this final movie of the hugely popular “Madea” series, Madea’s young husband Jason threatens to take off with a king’s daughter, whereupon Madea threatens to kill all of their children. The ensuing bloodbath makes Jason realize that Madea’s threats are not to be taken lightly. Co-written by Tyler Perry and Euripedes.

2001: Henry IV: A sci-fi historical epic most notable for this classic exchange between corpulent astronaut / thief Falstaff and sentient spacecraft / prince Hal:

“Open up the pod bay doors, Hal.”

“I can’t do that, Falstaff.”

“I said open up the pod bay doors, Hal.”

“I know thee not, old man. How ill white hairs become a fool and jester!”


August 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

Controlling, controlling. I’m always stuck controlling things even though I don’t particularly like it. It does not excite me. Some people say that the way this country is going, everything is spiraling into ever greater disorder. But they don’t know what that would really look like. I have to imagine it – I have to imagine total chaos, and then figure out how to hold us back from that. I have to hold the populace back from the brink that their animal natures would like to plunge us over. No one becomes an animal alone – you drag others with you. I have to think about that, too.

My cabinet asked me if we should build more jails or more schools. I said, “What’s the difference?” They laughed nervously. They thought I was kidding. I said, “Okay, build both.”

To me, because I have to look at the truth without flinching, there is no difference, no difference between a stockyard and an internment camp, a school and a jail, a video arcade and a halfway house. Any place we stop the animal man for a moment, any moment we can steal from him is worth it, any moment long enough to make him think, “I am not alone. I am a part of this machine called the state, which lives and breathes and functions and will never die. I am not an animal.”

One time I overtook my motorcade by a block or two. It was an accident. My driver and I were discussing our favorite sports teams, and suddenly around us we heard the quiet, just the purring of my limousine, as our voices stopped. A foolish, primitive impulse made me roll down the window. I saw that we were in the no-man’s-land between the capitol and the other cities, an expanse of gray dirt and rock, a red sun spitting jagged light beams through a sky of dust, and far off in the distance, hills that were neither majestic nor beautiful.

Then I saw it, the stateless person. What a horrible sight. It was a male, with greasy curly hair curling around his head and neck. His clothes were a beige the same value as the gray of the landscape, and he stood as straight as he could, but it was clear something had bent him over for good.

The worst thing about him was his eyes, which fixed upon the car and then fixed on me. They burned, these eyes, not like fire but like embers that refuse to go out completely, and he only looked at me for a moment before he was looking through me. I shuddered. He could have no use for rulers, this creature who lived at the margins of earthly existence, lived in the place where men become animals again; in fact he carried that place around with him, threatening to infect others with chaos, with uncertainty, with a death that lasts forever. Already I could feel that place infecting me.

I wanted to believe that he could be reintroduced, that he possessed some capacity, some skill that would allow him to re-enter the cities again.

“What is your trade?” I shouted at him. My driver had stopped. We waited for the motorcade to catch up. Where were they? The stateless person had not heard me.

“What is your trade?!” I shouted again.

“Killing kings.” was his reply, and his black eyes that had been looking through me looked away.

I rolled the window back up. My driver opened his door and, emerging from the car, emptied his sidearm into the air around the stateless person. Every shot missed. I saw that my driver was sweating, and realized I was sweating too. The stateless man only stood there. He seemed to be getting smaller, or, no, we seemed to be receding before him.

“I don’t understand it, sir, I –” my driver stammered, pulling another clip from a jacket pocket.
“Never mind about that,” I screamed. “Just drive!”

We turned around and the motorcade engulfed us. The cars and motorcycles were covered in streamers of pink and blue. They had been slowed down by a parade of beauty contest winners.

“We will punish the laggards, sir,” my driver said, his voice shaking. “This is unacceptable!”

“It doesn’t matter,” I said. Feeling strangely calm in my mind I told him, “Let’s just go home.”

My New Year’s Resolutions

January 1, 2014 § 4 Comments

In the new year, I plan to avoid gainsaying, second-guessing, and question-begging. Also grandstanding, stargazing, and compound nouns in general.

I will resist the temptation to make ad hominem attacks, at least until I understand what that means.

I will try to be kind to those less fortunate than myself, while striving to avoid the appearance of noticing that they are less fortunate, so as not to imply that they are in any way inferior to me. Though this may end up looking like the callous disregard of previous years, I at least will know the difference.

Emulating W.C. Fields, I will not drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast. I will resume smoking. To chastise myself for these pleasures, I will at all times indulge in them to the point of illness.

I will arbitrarily add new or revoke old resolutions during the course of the year.



June 20, 2013 § Leave a comment

How asinine of me to have thought I was in heaven. Heaven gives itself away with its own fluffiness. It’s a place you can’t imagine because reality is more interesting. Reality keeps you preoccupied. Not always such a bad thing. Like this snow outside the window. It’s white and humped by the wind, and it sounds like it’s breathing. It sounds like it’s walking on itself. And the light is so strange, as if the whole world has been put inside a cave, and the only light comes from this phosphorescent stuff that keeps falling from the ceiling of the cave.

Always in life there are amazing events coinciding with utterly believable events, transcendent feelings co-existing with the most tawdry longings. That’s the way of it. We are dragged up and down at the same time. It never all comes together, not even now, not even here in this perfect, perfectly rundown little house here in the woods in Upper Peninsula Michigan. Because Marty has arrived, and has his own ideas.

“Matt! Matt!” I hear him calling. “What are you doing? We got worried about you, man!” I can hear him advancing, from the front door through the house in his oblivious way, clinking and creaking, carrying a bag of beer as always. Soon he’ll be here in this room, where I’ve been interacting only with some sheets of paper for a long time. I fell asleep trying to describe snow, and now that I’m awake, it’s falling, snow upon snow, the earth giving itself back to itself in its endless cycle of munificence, in its selfish generous way. Marty also gives of himself, back to himself, and to the world, but it’s different. Louder, for one thing.

“Hey, man!” And there he is, long hair flapping, big arms flexing from his ridiculous fishing vest. “TV’s in the car, man! Help me set it up! We’re going to watch the game in here.”

“Which game?” I ask him, rubbing my eyelids with my fingertips.

“Which game?! The Super Bowl, man! Saints versus Colts!”

“Oh, great,” I say, half-trying to remember the last time I cared about such things. Nineteen-seventy-nine, I think, and it was halfhearted even then.

Marty lunges to the kitchen and puts the plastic bag of beer into the sink. He walks from room to room like a puppy unleashed, admiring the size of the place, and the big picture windows.

“I always forget how awesome this place is! How long you been here? When were you going to call us?” There’s no trace of recrimination in his voice. This is the wonderful thing about Marty, and most of the rest of the old gang. I can picture them all out together on a summer day, on some remote spit of land on the lake, constructing one of their dead tree sculptures for no audience, for no one but themselves, and to pass the time. They don’t care. They have the right idea, the best idea, probably. But I have a different idea now, and can’t find my way back to where they are. Can’t, or won’t.

I reflect on the passage I’ve been trying to write, and on the islands on the lake where we used to go, those islands whose beauty couldn’t answer anything, couldn’t solve any of the problems of life. I suddenly want to alter my consciousness. A beer, yes, a beer with Marty would be just the thing. Not the game so much. Maybe he’ll agree to watch it with the sound turned down.

I get up to go and see where Marty has got to in the house. He has disappeared. I look down into the sink. There is no beer either.

Doctor Fred

May 17, 2013 § 2 Comments

You opened my letter, you crazy, crazy bitch!”

Lynn’s psychiatrist was turning purple with rage, something he did with alarming frequency. He had a panoply of outsized reactions. Banging his head against the dry erase board was a particular favorite. He also liked throwing things, and kept a pile of erasers and plush animals on hand just for this purpose.

“What exactly is so difficult to understand? You take the letter to my colleague. It’s a sealed letter, a professional letter.” He emphasized every syllable in professional.

“Now we have to start all over with someone else. He was the best, a specialist, a genius, really. Now we’ll have to make do with some hack, I guess.”

He made a great show of pawing through his Rolodex. He looked older when he bent over like this, chin receding into neck, bald spot bashfully throwing through an expert combover. Lynn wasn’t listening to him. She treated Doctor Fred’s procedures and theatrics like a game. But she wondered why she continued her sessions with him, in this spartan office decorated only by his framed credentials from a long-discredited school of Gestalt psychology. Her life was relatively full without this. And she was smart, smart enough to see through people and even to enjoy seeing through them. But she was greedy for life. She wanted it all: the ecstatic, the uncomfortable, the seedy, the dysfunctional, the inexplicable. Doctor Fred was a mystery, in the way that water is mysteriously blue, and even after someone explains to you why it’s blue, it remains a mystery.

But she could feel that Doctor Fred was genuinely losing his patience with her. Through his mannered raging, she sensed a real rage building. She would have to up the ante, in order to maintain his interest and not drive him away. She looked through the gauzy nylon curtains of his shadowy office, and saw the intense June sunlight like a beacon, trying to enter. Life is out there, she thought. I don’t know what this is in here.

“Oh Doctor Fred,” she said, “can’t you see I’m in love with you!”

The words surprised her, a little. They hung in the air, and in the almost-silence an air conditioner hummed from the law offices next door.

“Ah, what a relief,” said Doctor Fred, staring at her, producing a checked handkerchief from his pants pocket, then pointlessly putting it in his shirt pocket. “That means the transference is working. I was so worried, so worried about you, Lynn, that you were completely lost to yourself…”

And Doctor Fred began to cry, very quietly.

His hand reached across the desk toward her, but it was only a gesture, he didn’t really touch her, or want to. A frisbee flew past the window. Adolescent voices could be heard yelling outside. The sun continued its slow parade of heat and light, outside. Lynn settled more comfortably into her chair.