May 8, 2012
I was in Dr. Simon’s office at my regular Thursday session telling him about my past week’s dreams.
While I was talking he was methodically moving his hand over his shaved head as if looking for a rogue hair. I explained that the medicine wasn’t working and I needed him to prescribe something different–something that would stop these horrific dreams, not cause them. “These pills agitate me before bedtime and I need something calming,” I told him.
Dr. Simon, not one to accept suggestions much less criticism, told me to stick with the medication for a few more weeks and if things didn’t get better he’d consider switching me to something new. “Everyone knows what Jung wrote about prescribing medicines,” Dr. Simon said not caring if I knew or not. “Patience, Mirsky,” he told me impatiently. “You have no patience. It’s time that you learn to have patience and then things will be better for all concerned.” His face colored up as he spoke which made his rust colored eyebrows even more pronounced. “Now go stand in a corner facing the wall until I tell you to leave,” he said. “Use the time to think about patience.”
I stood and hesitated trying to decide which corner when the Doctor said, “I’m not going to help with the choice of corner. Which one you pick will tell me a lot about your character.” I walked across the room and stood next to the tall filing cabinet. “Hrrumph,” Dr. Simon said. I snuck a peek at my watch and saw that I still had twenty minutes to go in my session. I was afraid to say anything to Dr. Simon about it because he would only tell me that this was part of my therapy and if I couldn’t handle it maybe I should just take my neurosis and leave. I didn’t want to start with a new shrink so I kept my mouth shut and stood in the corner.
I hadn’t been given permission to leave so I stayed where I was when the next therapy session began. The patient, Arlene S., was having trouble staying faithful to her husband. She told Dr. Simon she was in the super market when a good-looking man asked her what the difference was between Cool Whip and whipped cream. He was cute so I told him to get the whipped cream and I’d show him. We ended up at his house making love and then he told me I had to leave before his kids got home from school. My kids will be getting out soon, too, I told him, and then realized that I’d made a mistake, I wasn’t supposed to be doing this anymore.
“You realized you made a mistake,” Dr. Simon said. “Arlene, how many times do we have to go over the same territory?” Arlene began crying and Dr. Simon snatched away the box of Kleenex when she reached for a tissue. I could hear him pacing back and forth. He was a tall man with long legs and it only took him three or four paces to cross the room–depending on his state of agitation. The longer the stride, the more agitated he was. This was a three pacer. I knew his agitated pace well, I’d been the subject of the “Simon Stride” myself, and it always ended with him standing directly in front of me looking down—a disappointed father looking down at his errant child. “Stop that crying and start thinking,” he commanded Arlene S. “You must think before you go out with another man–not after. After does you no good.”
The poor woman was racked with sobs, which only upset Simon more. “Go stand in the corner,” he ordered, “until you can get yourself under control. While you’re there, Arlene, I want you to envision yourself going off with a man to have an affair. That part shouldn’t be difficult for you. After you’ve taken three steps with this man I want you to imagine me standing in front of you, at which time you will leave him and go back about your business. Is that clear? Of course it is,” he answered for her. “Now go stand in the corner by the credenza and think about this scene over and over and don’t stop until I tell you to.”
All this family talk reminded me that I had to bring my daughter to soccer, my son to karate and marinate the flank steak. My wife could always tell if I didn’t marinate the flank steak long enough. I didn’t want her getting on my case, but I couldn’t chance checking the time and getting caught, so I did nothing.
“Come in, Mary,” Dr. Simon said opening the door to his reception room. He sat down in his chair giving her the option of either the couch or one of the two chairs. From the reflection in his portrait of Dr. Laura hanging next to me I saw that she opted for the wingback. She sat hugging her purse to her chest.
The Doctor’s phone buzzed and he picked it up. “Yes. Oh. I see. Thank you.”
Dr. Simon fidgeted with his unlit pipe for a minute and finally said, “Mary is there anything you’d like to tell me?”
“Well Doctor, I am here to talk so I guess there is,” she said. “There’s something that happened a few days ago. . .” Dr. Simon interrupted her. “I’m speaking of something more recent, like in the past half hour. We had an agreement to be honest with each other, didn’t we?” “I believe we did,” Mary said. “What exactly are you getting at?”
“Empty your purse out on the floor, Mary.”
“Empty it right now, Mary,” Dr. Simon said sternly.
I could hear the contents spilling out and at the same time I heard Dr. Simon buzz for his receptionist. As she entered the office I peeked and saw the pile on the floor. The receptionist stooped and retrieved a large office appointment book, a stapler and a brown lunch bag and walked back out.
“Mary, put your things back in your purse. I am thoroughly disgusted with you. You’ve made no progress at all with your kleptomania and it’s all because you refuse to say no. Isn't that right, Mary?” “If you say so,” Mary answered with a hint of defiance.
“Take your bag and go stand in the corner.”
“But Doctor, my session just began,” Mary whined.
“This is part of your session. I want you to stand there and think about your stealing and how it’s hurt your family and friends. I also want you to realize that you’ve made me feel like a failure for not being able to help you. Along with everything else you’ve swiped, you’ve stolen my self-confidence.” Mary started to say something to assuage her guilt, thought better of it and walked to a vacant corner and stood with the photo of Dr. Joyce Brothers looking over at her. I turned slightly to watch her but instead caught a smile from Arlene S. and turned back. Dr. Simon obviously had scheduled his appointments twenty minutes apart but still had time to kill. He made a call. “Tough day, and you? Not now. I’ll tell you about it over lunch. I’ll be a little late so order for me. Stoly martini up, extra dry with two onions and a twist, a Reuben with extra kraut on rye–I’ll mustard it myself and . . . oh I forgot. Then make it a California Roll and some sushi–eel, salmon, yellowtail, tuna, giant clam, sea urchin and if it looks good mackerel, otherwise fluke. Seaweed salad, no soup. Gotta run. They keep coming. Ciao. Right. Heh, heh. Sayonara.”
The Doctor led in a couple and they took chairs on opposite ends of the couch. They were married for forty-six or forty-seven years depending on whose version you believed. The wife corrected every word out of her husband’s mouth and most of what Dr. Simon said. The husband said very little. Dr. Simon chastised them both–her for being picky and argumentative, and him for being a milquetoast. “What you two need is not separation, but closeness. Go stand in front of the window facing the street. I want you holding hands the whole time, but first I want you to get up and give each other a loving hug.” The woman started to say something and Dr. Simon gave her the eyebrows and she shut up and walked over to the window. She stood there, turned to her husband and said, “Hurry.”
“Shh,” he said softly. “Don’t shh me,” she said. I watched as he stopped about two feet from her. The Doctor said, “Hug.” They both leaned over from the waist and did what only can be described as an “air hug.”
“Hug!” Dr. Simon bellowed. They shuffled forward and engulfed each other in a long-absent hug. They hugged and hugged. They hugged and gyrated and sniffed and moaned and only stopped when they were told to hold hands. He took her hand in both of his and licked her palm and wrist. She grabbed his hand, pulling hers away from his mouth, and brought it to her breast. “Oh.” she moaned. “Yes, yes,” he said. He turned her around to face the window and when she bent over to lean on the sash he proceeded to hump her from behind. Arlene S. was gyrating into the credenza and gave a quick shudder and then began to walk over to the couple. She was halfway there when Dr. Simon intercepted her and sent her back.
The phone buzzed and Dr. Simon picked it up. “Tell him I’ll be there as soon as I can. Send Mr. Cohen in.”
I recognized the voice. It was my cousin, Harry Cohen, whom I disliked intensely. He started his session by telling Dr. Simon that no one in his family respected him and then went on to tell a story to prove his point.
The story wasn’t true–I was there when it happened. Dr. Simon saw through Harry like a pane of glass.
“Harry, here’s what I’d like you to do today. We are going to try an experiment called Placebonic Therapy.” Getting up from his chair and waving his hand at it, he said, “Harry, come sit here. You are going to be the therapist today and you will be working with a patient named Harry Cohen. Mr. Cohen is a bright, intelligent and good-looking man. However, he is also argumentative, prone to exaggeration, a blow hard, insensitive and a know-it-all. You will have a session with this imaginary Harry Cohen who’ll be sitting in the chair you just vacated. Clear?”
“Clear, but what’s the purpose?”
“Aha!” Said Dr. Simon. “That is precisely what you will tell me next week. He then walked out of the office. Two minutes later he quietly opened the door and looked in to see if anyone had moved. No one had. He closed the door. I thought of the Shaggy Dog stories I’d heard as a kid. Minutes later the receptionist walked in and said, “You can all leave now.” No one moved. “Very good,”
she said. “Dr. Simon says you can all leave now.”
I trailed the group as we all left our corners and lined up single file and walked out the door. I saw a woman–obviously Mary–take a pen and a handful of paper clips from the Doctor’s desk and quickly slip them into her pocket. Then she put his framed family picture in her purse. Outside, Arlene S., the woman ahead of me, stopped and whispered to Harry Cohen. She took his arm and together they started to walk off. After three steps she paused and let go of Harrys arm. She looked around briefly then took his hand, pulling him down the street towards some unnamed rendezvous.
I passed a Lincoln with its motor running and pretended not to notice Dr. Simon hunkered down, peeking out the passenger side window, taking notes.