Thomas Barnard, writer
Contact c2003-2016 Thomas Barnard
I was in love with my psychiatrist. Except, of course, in the current coin of the realm this gets relegated to the status of transference. Not real love. Virtual love. Transference, a half-way house on the way to the real thing. I don’t know that any of us lives for such distinctions. We’re not waiting for some old prospector to look over our shoulder to tell us the stuff in our hands is fool’s gold. We want him to tell us that it’s the real thing. The genuine article.
Unfortunately for me, I had the feeling this exquisite creature was always nearly about to drop me as a patient. There wasn’t enough sufficiently wrong with me to require her services. She wouldn’t take my money without some good reason. I was neurotic. I had anxieties, but that wasn’t enough. I thought of Woody Allen with his legendary anxieties – he had his psychiatrists, analysts. It didn’t seem fair that she should drop me.
She was Russian and had this wonderful accent. If for nothing else, I went just to hear her accent. And she was gorgeous. I was willing to pay just to have this gorgeous woman speak to me, give weight to my problems. It was like going to my masseuse. Say again, massage therapist. She, too, was gorgeous. Life was working to make money to be able to afford therapy from beautiful women. That was life.
Therapy came from the Greek, therapeia, service, from therapeuein, to be an attendant. The woman who cut my hair was another of my attendants. Haircuts could be wonderfully sensual. Tingly, hitting all the high notes, now moving down to the low notes. Comb, comb. Cut, cut. Comb, comb, comb. I would have her cut it all off, but it grows back so slowly now. As it was, I didn’t need to see her more than once a month, and then I’d say, “Another of my nothing haircuts.”
I wanted to dazzle Sophia. Dr. Petrosian. I told her about my dreams. I told her my dream about how aliens came to earth and dug up graves, whole cemeteries with intent to disturb. They wanted the spirits, poltergeists, wraiths, in upset. And although their purpose was to stir up the anger of such spirits, I had the notion they could control them, ride them – like wild horses. Rope them, train them. Then I could see: they used this upset to drive their spacecraft the way gasoline drives a car through the use of controlled explosions.
All very interesting, Watson, but what does that have to do with the problem at hand? Sophia didn’t really care too much for this dream stuff. Interpretation of dreams was passé. More of an art than a science, and this was a material girl. You could tell that from the Mercedes she drove. In fact, I was only a marginal patient, more of a customer.
Psychiatry had gone away from the study of dreams to the immediate restoration of psychological equilibrium. But I was out of synch with my times. I loved the pictures of Sigmund Freud’s office, his study. The books, the Persian carpets, the Menorah, the sofa. A true Taurus. The man loved his possessions. And with his rich imagination, he was the perfect therapist. Attending to the patient. The patient luxuriating on the sofa. Speculating, “What do you think that means?” Free associating. Horse. Sex. Cactus. Kinky Sex. Endowing the patient’s dreams with more meaning than Rothschild had money.
These days Sophia was more likely to prescribe drugs. It was shown that traditional therapy, talking, did little good in empirical studies of the matter. Drugs were by far more dramatic. I had nothing against them, and neither did Freud, who used cocaine. But Freud, in the end, was a man who loved his luxuries. His cigar, his womb of a room, even his thinking was a kind of luxury. Sophia once confessed that she would love to do psychoanalysis if only she weren’t so busy. But psychoanalysis was a thing of its time like Pullman cars, or a month at a Swiss spa, or a week long trip on an ocean liner crossing the Atlantic.
Sadly, treatment in the 1990s was a lot like McDonalds. In and out, quick. Could fast food operators have realized that their paradigm would so drastically change the nature of psychological treatment? And many is the time I’ve seen her clean off her desk of McDonalds packaging as I came in for my hour. Still, she was gorgeous. And if I don’t have the Persian carpets and the Menorah and the sofa, I also don’t have the cigar smoke and the crusty visage of a curmudgeonly iconoclast. I have the scent of Obsession wafting towards my chair, and a model worthy of Goya’s Naked Maja to look at.
I could see the layout in Playboy. The Sirens of Psychoanalysis. After all, they had done an issue on the Women of Mensa. But visually you could see how psychoanalysis would work so much better. The sofas. The Persian carpets. The Sigmund Freud look-alikes in the background for voyeuristic interest. Or maybe just a photo of Freud hanging on the wall in the background. For contrast.
Was this reverie the reason for the glazed look in my eyes that she remarked on? Could I, in my forties, still be mooning like an adolescent in a history class? You bet. There was a problem sometimes with these therapy sessions, and that was that I had to generate conversation when all I wanted to do was glaze out. Just look at her and close my eyes and smell the scent wafting my way.
“Mr. Ambrose, I’m afraid that I don’t tink dat I can justify these zessions anymore to the medical management. The PPO.”
“Why?” Damn the Preferred Provider Organization.
“Well, dese days everyone is looking at the expense of treatment, and if I can just prescribe some drug at $20, it’s cheaper than an hour session with me. Even discounted for the PPO, it’s still a $120 per hour.”
“But what of my anxieties?”
“I’ll prescribe some Atavin.”
“What does Woody Allen do?”
“Probably he has to pay out of his own pocket.”
“Everyone is watched so closely these days. If I don’t prescribe some drugs, some reviewer for the PPO will say I’m too expensive, and they’ll drop me from the list. I see a lot of patients through the PPO, I can’t afford to jeopardize my standing with them.”
“I understand.” Orwell was right about Big Brother, we just didn’t realize he would turn up as an insurance company’s remedy against medical inflation.
“I’ll write out a prescription. You have the PCS card, you can get the generic version, it won’t cost you more than five dole-lars.”
“Well, I’ll take the prescription, but put me down for next week. I’ll pay for it. Even if my PPO doesn’t think I need these sessions, I do.” After all, the PPO only paid $50 towards the hour anyway. With the impossibility of measuring mental distress, medical insurance companies treated such conditions with distrust. In California, always on the cutting edge, employees submitted worker compensation claims for the mental stress of being fired.
“As long as you understand that we cannot submit these to the PPO.”
“In that case, I’ll see you next time.”
“And the fee will be?”
“Ordinarily, I charge $150 per hour, but I suppose I can give you the PPO rate.”
If I were really in love would I quibble about the rate? Sure I would. Money was the chief thing couples argued about. It turned up in countless articles in the Sunday newspapers.
I wondered if it would make any difference to her if I told her I had been one of the chief programmers for the Patriot missile. That I had developed many of the algorithms that made it home-in on targets so successfully. All she knew was that I was a programmer. A dull fellow, a nerd.
Naturally, I dreamed that my
problems would be so interesting that she would see me for nothing. Make
excuses to have dinner with me.
What then would make a difference to her? Money, probably. A millionaire, a billionaire. Women have a duty to nail down the wealthiest guy they can get. They owe it to their mothers, who maybe missed the mark by a mile. Happily married to their spouses… Scratch that, mothers grown used to their husbands, still lusted after the monied guy, and saddled their daughters with their unfulfilled desires.
And money still wins over interest, hands down. But it was my feeling that interest was the dark horse. That interest would win by a head. Where was the proof? Proof started with the entertainment guys, Spielberg, Hitchcock created interest and money. Spielberg had made a billion, and even a singer like Dean Martin had been the largest individual owner of RCA stock before it became part of GE. Entertainment and suspense was the tip of the interest iceberg. Education might turn out to be the main course. The Discovery Channel showed how much people really wanted knowledge. Intelligent conservatives loathed the public education system with its strong union, but soon it wouldn’t matter. Parents could buy courses from great professors on video for their children. And children could find out things for themselves on computers and over the internet.
from the journal of Stephen Ambrose
Transference. The problem is that at the end of your life (which my brother constantly reminds me is coming up) you discover you never had love. All you had was a mother’s nurturing, puppy love, an infatuation, a crush, an hormonal imbalance, a security thing, first love, rebound love, more rebound love, transference. You never had full-grown, full-blown adult, unclassifiable love. All you had was transference, and they wouldn’t even let you call that love.
I thought my journal entry was so good I shared it with my sister, Amanda, with whom it was possible to share such things. Amanda was built on the same blueprint I was. She was tall and slender, a redhead. Fair skin, of course, she had perfect posture. The years of ballet, I suppose. Even my posture would improve when I started tango.
She was very simpatico, charming, but at the same time she was a dead eye. I felt she was superior version of myself. Where I mooned about getting an advanced degree in paleontology, she was there, doing it.
She said, “You know, it’s a nice entry. It conveys a feeling about love we all experience, but these days it’s either testosterone or oxytocin.”
“I said hormonal imbalance.”
“Yes, you covered all the bases,” she smiled. “Even I don’t like to think it’s all chemical, but it is.”
“Then you’d be administering drugs like Dr. Petrosian.”
“Even that is a bit of an art. First, they gave women a terrific dose of estrogen to prevent conception. Now, it’s a lot less. Or now they give you tetracycline, not only prevents babies but clears up your skin. And they’ve learned if a woman’s diet is too lean, she may miss her period altogether. But keep at it, maybe one of those entries will work out.”
“You idiot. You fell in love with your shrink.” Abner, brother.
“I didn’t say that.”
“You just said she was attractive. You forget: I know you. How much more do I need? Don’t you know everyone falls in love with their shrink?”
“Yes, I know. They call it transference.”
“Drool over her all you want. She’s only in it for the money. You’re not even really a patient ‘cause you’re not sick. More like a client. What is a client? A regular customer. But client is too elevated. You’re just a customer.”
“Nah, even customer is too much, you’re just a regular, a weekly john. That’s what you are.”
Count on family to spare you the Novocain.