Session 4

I’m riding in the passenger seat of a van, four hours away from our destination. The woman driving is a co-worker; we’re headed to a university to talk to college students about coming to work for our company.

“How have you been since the divorce?” she asks.

“Not … not terrible. Okay, I guess. The boys are okay, which is the main thing.”

“Did you end up using the visits?”

“Yeah, they’ve been helping. I think I have four sessions left… or maybe three.”

“What have you learned?”

“That the divorce has left my priorities kind of screwed up when it comes to relationships… and that I try to buy affection.”

I look over at her. She’s more than halfway through her pregnancy; she volunteered to drive because her vehicle is so much more comfortable than mine.

“How many kids do you and Adam plan to have?” I ask, changing the subject.

“We plan to have three, which means one more after this one. We’re so excited.”

“How are you feeling?”

“So much better this time, there’s no comparison.”

Silence for a full minute.

“What does that mean, ‘buy affection’?” she asks.

“I guess it’s a pattern he picked up on.”

“Have you dated anyone since the divorce?”

“Oh, yes, I went on a date with a girl from my son’s day care who turned out to be way, WAY too young; then I dated Karen who interned here last year…”

“Seriously? You and Karen? How long?”

“Six weeks maybe. I don’t think either of us was really feeling it. And now I’m…”

“… now you’re what?”

“Not really seeing anyone to speak of.”

“Have you met anyone you really like?”

Truthfully, the answer was “yes”. A woman I had met who was going through a divorce of her own. But my rule was, “Still married = off limits,” a rule I thought wise to keep in place. As I sat thinking these thoughts, she seemed to guess some of it.

“So there is someone?”

“Yes, but she’s going through a divorce, and I don’t want to go there. Once that’s final though, I’d like to… although I doubt she’d be interested…”

“Well, that made absolutely no sense. If you like her, ask her out. That’s how this is supposed to work.”

I thank her for her advice. “Rejection has always felt worse than acceptance feels good,” I say, as she turns on to the state highway.

It strikes me though: it never even occurred to me to mention Lisa.

= = = = =

“How are things going with your mystery relationship?” he asks me, about thirty minutes into our session.

“She never laughs,” I say. “Nothing I say strikes her as being funny.”

“And that’s important to you?”

“Yes, I suppose it is.”

“Do you want to know why I think that is?”

Usually he tries to get me to explain myself; if he is going to cut through the questions and do it himself, I’m certainly not going to stop him…

“Because you want her to be with you for the delight being with you brings, not for what you give her. You want LOVE. Not barter. Not even barter that results in sex; you want love.”

“Love?”

“Yes, love. That thing that men supposedly don’t want. Look, your ex-wife left you because she realized she was a lesbian, but she did love you. She’s never wanted anything from you, no alimony, no money, and there’s been no real rancor over the divorce. I think there’s a part of you that’s trying to assert control: you think if you are in a relationship where you are paying for everything, you have control. But you hate it, because that’s not you.”

I stare at him, dumbfounded. “Damn, Doc, people told me you were good.”

= = = = =

The boys are asleep in their rooms; I’m reading an old book in bed. Her home number pops up on my pager. I pause a moment before calling.

“Hello,” she says.

“Hi.”

“Did you want to get together Friday? You said the boys would be at their mother’s.”

“Yes,” I say, more or less automatically.

“Thank you for the spa package last weekend, that was heavenly. Do you mind paying my rent this month? I’m a little behind.”

A pause.

“No problem,” I say.

Cultural Echoes

Among statements that are almost always good advice, “never read the comments on a YouTube video” is right up there. Unless, of course, you are seeking confirmation as to some theory concerning the sickness our society is rife with, in which case, you certainly will find ample evidence there.

Today, though, I want to look at one particular thing, and that is the almost universal connection between nostalgia and music. Many people believe with unwavering conviction that the best music ever written was written when they were young. They also believe every piece of music written today is horrible by comparison.

I read it about the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, and the comments are virtually verbatim except for the change of decade. Singers (or bands) now have no talent, back then, people had talent and could touch the heart, etc., etc.

Now, when I myself was young — my teens and twenties were the 70’s and 80’s — I was aware of this tendency among adults, particularly as I started playing the piano in public for money at a fairly young age. I concluded then that “first music” was like “first love” in its tendency to seem better than perhaps it really was, because of (1) the emotional nature of the age; and (2) lack of anything to compare it to. I would probably now add (3) the tribal nature of young people, given how school tends to add a social element to life that many people never get anywhere else. Music is one of the main elements of inclusion (or exclusion) within the tribe.

Because I had to learn a lot of old music for my work, I concluded that there had always been good (and bad) music written, and most likely, always would be. I’m about as anti-tribal as they come without being a misanthrope, nevertheless, I realized and experienced the power of music for social (and sexual) connectivity.

I also learned that every bad thing about human intolerance also gets acted out through people’s musical preferences. This is another example of how almost every good and great thing in life, in the wrong hands or used the wrong way, can be a bad or even horrible thing.

So I am not prepared to decry all music written since {fill in the blank}. I realize that people will continue to talk about how much better music was in the old days, whichever particular “old days” they happen to favor.

I also realize, as I’ve said elsewhere, that the YouTube comment section is, frequently, the modern equivalent of the public bathroom graffiti of my youth. The impulse to post anonymously offensive messages is not a new one.

It’s still kind of depressing, though.

Session 3

“You seem perturbed.”

“I am. I spent a small fortune this week, money I don’t even have, buying jewelry for this woman I’m seeing. And she only really kind of hinted at wanting it.”

“Yes, that stuff is quite popular. Miss Lathermore,  our receptionist, just got a bracelet she was showing off to everyone a few days ago. The nurses were oohing and ahhing over it. I don’t really get jewelry. Luckily, Mrs. Ibis has never been that big of a fan.”

“I’ve been thinking… you might be right about me trying to buy affection; I think you’re on to something. What can I do about it?”

“Are you ready to start talking about this relationship you are in?”

“Um… almost. I haven’t introduced her to the boys; I’m not sure the relationship will last long enough. She’s an expensive sort of girl to date.”

“Is she the materialistic sort?”

“Yes, very baldly so. She says that I have what she wants, and she has what I want, so the relationship is pretty much perfect. She thinks love is a big hoax, a scam. Everything, she says, is about tradeoffs.”

“She doesn’t really seem like your type,” he said, musingly. “What do you get out of the relationship? Sex?”

“That’s pretty much it. That, and a more interesting-to-read credit card bill.”

“Do you agree with her, that love is not a real thing?”

“No. Love is real. I mean… she’s younger than me, and very attractive. I’ve never had anything like this happen before. I’m… a gentleman, I guess you’d say. Women feel safe with me, they are safe.”

I laugh, thinking about two other women I had dated. “I’ve known others who wanted me to spend money on them, but I never got anything in return. A least this one has her own sense of honor.”

“You call that ‘honor’? To fuck you in exchange for money?”

I stared at him. “You aren’t a typical therapist,” I say, at last. “Yes. She uses me, and I use her, each with the others’ full knowledge and consent.”

“How many people know about your relationship?”

“No one.”

“Why is it a secret?”

“It’s … not entirely appropriate, given what each of us do.”

“Ah, a work relationship.”

“Sort of, yes… I don’t really like feeling as though I have to buy love, because that is how I feel. What do I do about it?”

Now it was his time to stare. He took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes. “Gambling and spending addictions are among the hardest to overcome, and it sounds like you have a bit of both. If you don’t mind me asking, is the sex addictive?”

“It’s okay. Honestly, she’s a little skinny for my taste.”

He laughed. “Yes, young, thin, and willing, men hate that.”

= = = = =

“I love this hotel, I’ve always wanted to stay a night here,” she says, in between eating grapes on the bed.

“I thought a weekend out of town would be fun. Last night was.”

“Let’s go shopping today.”

She sees the look of reluctance on my face.

“Maybe I can persuade you,” she says.

She does.

Fat Saturday

My computer hasn’t exactly died, but it’s kind of had a stroke. Writing on a tablet is doable, but not great, because I have big, clumsy fingers. Today, so far:

At the Gym at 5 AM.
At work by 7:30 AM, stopping once per hour to post a poem.
Watched one Facebook live video, and chatted with another friend on Messenger.
Ate way too much all day.
Left work about an hour ago, now sitting in a parking lot writing, because there’s shade.

There’s a couple on a date just walked by, and they both look like models. I’m envious. I look more like a model of Jabba the Hutt. Or maybe his cousin, Pizza the Hutt.

I had toffee eclairs with lunch, a food too decadent to be mentioned in decent company. It’s possible that things like that have contributed to my weight gain. Or maybe it’s a punishment for past wrongdoings.

Another young couple headed into the restaurant in front of me. That young man looks very nervous.

Maybe he’s going to propose.

Maybe she’s going to reject him.

Maybe he’ll wistfully look over at the model couple I saw earlier and wish he looked like that.

Maybe she’ll look over at the model couple I saw earlier and wish he looked like that, too.

Or she might say yes. She looked pretty happy…

This is why I should never people watch.

Chewbacca Bread

My wife likes to randomly call things by the wrong names to get me to laugh. It frequently works.

For example, last night, we went to an Italian restaurant. After the waitress had brought ciabatta, my wife moved the plate towards me, asking “Chewbacca bread?” in a cheerful voice, causing me to practically choke on the drink I was sipping.

In everyday life, I am irritated by people using the wrong terms for things, which means, in corporate life, a stream of constant irritation. For example, people frequently conflate the terms “flesh out” (make more substantive or add details to) and “flush out” (draw something out that’s hiding so you can shoot it). I’ve heard things described as “jury-rigged” (the ethnically insensitive term “Jerry” being long out use) and an irrelevant point described as “moat”. 

There is also, of course, the world of corporate consultant-speak, a place that delights in torturing the language. I believe the practice of randomly using nouns as verbs came from there, through terms like “leverage” (which is a thing, not an act). I’ve heard the term “socialize” used a lot the last few years to mean “let more people know” as opposed to “turn over to government control”, the latter being the term’s actual meeting.

And yes, I know language is living and not static and new usages emerge. It’s misusages that aggravate me.

Unless my wife does it, in which case, it’s hysterical.

Hobbies

I needed a new hobby, so I’ve started collecting calories. 

It’s going really well; I’m way ahead of schedule. The way I see it, success comes when you have achievable objectives. 

This banana split, for instance, represents a tremendous opportunity: not only can I meet my calorie goals, I can internalize them. If you don’t actually become your hobby at some point, how dedicated were you, really?

I’ve had some interesting hobbies over the years. I have collected

  • Dust. Those were the “dating years”.
  • Witty comments it was too late to make. Pretty much high school.
  • Second-hand opinions. That hobby is very popular still.

Well, enough reminiscing, I have 2,715 calories to collect.

Raisin Bread

In real life, I’m a moody and rather homely guy who is best known for being quick-witted. Not kind, not smart, not even well-spoken — no, being sharp-tongued is what is most commonly mentioned as my leading personality characteristic by those who are around me the most.

I’m not a mean person at heart — well, not anymore, I’m not — but I do find it hard to pass up a good line when they occur to me. Which is to say, pretty often.

People who read my poetry might conclude I’m a very emotionally connected person in reality. I most decidedly am not. I am fairly tuned in to other people’s feelings, it’s true; however, it’s an oddly timid thing, under most circumstances. I’m very unlikely to initiate conversation with strangers, for instance.

Real emotional connections are amazing — the first time I had one, I never, EVER wanted to go back to having meaningless conversations again. The real thing was so great, so perfect… why go back?

It was kind of like when I first had raisin bread toast, and I couldn’t figure out why we ever bought any other kind of bread. Yet, here it is, years later, and I’ve had shockingly little raisin bread.

Maybe I’ll go have some now.