Monday, November 30, 2009

The Procedure - 2

I found myself returning to the back of Herkimer's house when I had the time. On my way to or from work sometimes, I'd park my car in a dead end in the woods, creep across the backyard, sit under the window and listen. Men, women, young and old. They paraded through the doctor's practice at one-hour intervals and appeared to all undergo the same extreme catharsis and transformation.

After a few days of eavesdropping I discerned a pattern: Patient enters. Pleasantries exchanged. Doctor invites patient to recite his or her litany of woes: relationship troubles, phobias, lack of self-esteem. All these the doctor acknowledges with a grunt. Finally he asks the patient, Are you ready? Yes is the invariable reply. He murmurs soothing words: Relax. Take a deep breath. You're going to be just fine. Then there follows an eighteen-minute gap of total silence. Always eighteen minutes. Always total silence. It ends with the patient's exclamation of unconstrained exhilaration: a sharp cry or tremulous moan, a stuttering gasp. Then comes the flood of tears. Helpless, quaking sobs as of some primeval bereavement. A total letting go. Eventually the punctuating sighs grow longer and the patient returns to the world of words: The doctor is thanked and praised effusively. Semi-coherent avowals of extreme happiness are made. God is often invoked, both in vain and in earnest, and sometimes in blasphemy: My God! My God! Good God. Oh God! God, oh God. I see God. I feel like God. Am I God?

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Procedure - 1

I myself never underwent the Procedure. I tried and I tried. That is, I continually sought out doctors who might give me the necessary referral. None did. For a long time this drove me mad with frustration and chagrin. How could I know how lucky I was?

My original psychiatrist, Dr. Blanchard, was the first to say no.

"What are your symptoms?" he asked. "How do you feel?"

"I feel empty. I feel sad. Purposeless. Depressed," I stated.

The doctor nodded pensively, taking notes. Finally, I summoned the courage to ask.

"Do you think... I could get that, that, you know, that Procedure?"

I felt a pang of shame, asking for what I wanted. As though I were begging for some addictive medication. But is it wrong to ask for what you think you need?

Dr. Blanchard made a wry smile and began tapping the nib of his pen on his pad.

"I'll be honest. I don't think the Procedure is right for you," he said.

I never felt more alone.

"Why not?" I pleaded.

"Because..." He paused and sighed with some exasperation. "Because, Adam – and I know you're not going to want to hear this – because I think you're fabricating symptoms in order to get me to write you a referral to undergo the Procedure. Plain as that."

I was thoroughly embarrassed now. With nothing to lose, I continued to protest.

"But doctor. I know I need it. I know I need the Procedure. I can feel it in my bones. I know my life's not right and it won't be until I get it." I began whimpering now, half in grief and half in humiliation.

"I understand what you're feeling. I understand what you're experiencing," Blanchard continued softly. "But desire for the Procedure does not, in and of itself, constitute a symptom for which the Procedure is indicated. Am I making myself clear?"

I covered my face with my hands and nodded.

"Now, there are plenty of other things we can do for you. I'm thinking Zoloft. Maybe Librium too." He began scrawling on a prescription pad.

"OK," I said, defeated.

"Here, take these and we're going to see how you do. Try to forget about the Procedure. Focus on you for a while. You don't need the Procedure. You just need to stop thinking that you need it. Good?"

I glumly accepted the 'scripts, said goodbye and left.

My obsession had begun one day when I was walking home from town and decided to try a shortcut through the woods. Old paths crisscrossed there; I knew it wouldn't be hard to find my way. I stuck close to the roads for the most part, close to the edges of backyards. This is the anti-street, I thought, glimpsing mirror images of familiar houses through the trees. As I walked by one I heard an arresting sound: a human cry, a wail.

Concerned (and curious), I entered the yard and hid behind a tree. I could hear words now, the voice distinctly female. It seemed to be coming out of the open window to a den or study.

"Oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God, oh God!" she moaned. "Yes! Yes! Yes! That's it! That's it, please! Oh my God... oh my God... oh my God!" She then burst into a prolonged fit of crying, her sobs punctuated by sighs of deep elation.

I knew she wasn't in danger. She didn't need my help. There was no reason to be there save for voyeurism. Yet she didn't seem to be having a sexual experience, either. It was greater than that somehow; an all-encompassing ecstasy. I was transfixed. I wanted to hear more. I crouched down and scurried to the wall of the house, just below the window.

When her tears abated she began to speak again, still breathless.

"Doctor, my God, doctor, my God, that's so good, that's so good, that's so good!" she said.

"Good," a man replied in a calm voice.

"I... I... I... have never felt this good... I never imagined it was possible to feel this good!"

The doctor chuckled warmly.

"Oh my God, honestly, when you did it, I felt like... like..."


"Like I was giving birth to God. I don't know. That sounds stupid."

He laughed again. "People have all different ways of describing how it feels. That's a wonderful description."

She squealed, she yelped, she emitted strange, staccato sighs. She remained unable to contain her enormous pleasure.

"Honest to God, doctor. Everything I ever thought was wrong with me has disappeared."

He made a sound of affirmation.

"Everything, I just..." She began to cry again. "I'm sorry!" she gasped.

"It's OK, it's OK."

"It's just that I... I... I'm so, so, so happy, doctor!"

"I see that, Judy."

"You must get this every time. But I can't stop telling you how great I feel. How thankful I am."

"That's quite all right. It never gets old seeing people react positively to my treatment, believe me."

"Will this feeling go away?"

"I have never heard from any patients that it does. In fact, many have reported a deeper, richer experience over time."

She laughed an airy, delightful laugh. The laugh of someone utterly unburdened and joyful. The ultimate laugh.

"Thank you, doctor! Thank you for everything."

I decided I'd better leave before she did and so escaped quickly to the driveway and to the road. I looked back at the doctor's yellow house, a house I'd seen a thousand times without once giving it a thought. I noticed a sign hanging from a post by the flagstone steps to the porch. It read:

Douglas R. Herkimer

Haunted and bewildered, I walked the rest of the way back home.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Subway Drunk

In the 42nd Street subway station on Friday a two-piece band was set up, an old black man sitting down with an electric guitar and a younger, white man standing up with one. There was a banner on the wall behind them that said, "Mississippi Delta blues." A drunk man hovered unsteadily nearby. There seemed to have been an altercation.

"Dunno what he's drinkin'. But it's a bad sip," said the old bluesman.

The drunkard staggered ponderously, like a movie cowboy with an arrow in his back. He was bland, soft-featured, overweight; in his early sixties maybe. His mouth hung slightly open, expressionless. Thick glasses further obscured his personality. A cipher. A zombie.

The old man raised his arm a couple times, as though the drunk were about to topple on him like a building.

"OK, ladies and gentlemen," he finally said, turning on a drum machine. "Here we go."

The machine stopped. There seemed to be a problem with the machine. The drunk man swayed and lurched. He seemed to want to say something.

"OK! Here we go," said the bluesman again. He restarted the drum machine. And then it stopped again.

The drunk was a few feet away now. A ship progressing out of harbor to the sea.

The old man strummed a few sharp chords on his guitar. The drum machine was going good now. He started singing a song about a woman.

The drunk shuffled into a music store. I saw the wary faces of the employees behind the counter as he stood before them, waiting for nothing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

At the Library

At the library today there was a retarded man, maybe in his mid-twenties, sitting on the radiator by the window. His minder, his guardian – maybe his dad? – sat next to him, at the table. Occasionally, the retarded man would exclaim brusquely, and the other man would reflexively shush him. It went like this:



"Mommy's gone."


"You OK?"


"Mommy's gone."


After a time the minder stood up and his charge did too. Not a word was spoken. They left.