Fuck You, I Get Results
Phil counts undulating genitals to fall asleep. He counts them backwards to stay awake.
Tracie checks her bicycle tires, squeezes them to see if they need air. She does this every night in her dream, and it’s the first thing she does. Usually the tires are full and she will get on the bike, take off down the brightly lit street where she lives and turn the corner into another dream. On some nights the dream-tire is flatter than an unused condom. She remembers in the morning. It’s a gauge of her self esteem—that’s the obvious interpretation. But what do I know.
Laura keeps a bottle of sunflower oil on her nightstand. Before turning out the light, she applies a dab to the center of her forehead, three dabs in the crook of each elbow and a generous lathering over her navel. Once the lights are off, she will recline atop the covers naked for as long as it takes the anointment to dry. When she wakes up, she is clothed in her nightgown and nestled beneath three blankets, but the last thing she remembers is lying exposed, the oil still cold on her skin.
I have no nightly rituals. “What. I don’t.”
Phil has an addiction to strip clubs. That’s why he’s here—or, the symptom, I should say.
Tracie- well, Tracie’s complicated.
Laura has chosen to keep her pathology private. I could guess, but I shouldn’t.
I’m here because I wish to change my sexual orientation.
"Stop saying that, it’s not hypnosis. Didn’t you read the brochure?" says Tracie.
Tracie and Phil are always arguing. Phil shakes his head.
"Well it’s not hypnosis. It’s not even related. That’s like calling a wrench a screwdriver."
Phil rolls his eyes. "Metabolic manipulation, whatever. It’s a guy in an office with a PhD hanging on the wall next to a New York Times article on his controversial innovative technique. You sit down with this pompous know-it-all for an hour, and when you leave, you want different things. I call that hypnotism."
"Would you guys relax?" Laura has a paperback novel in her lap. Her position in the cushioned chair is asymmetrical.
The waiting room of Dr. Alder’s famed practice was designed to look as unlike a waiting room and as much the antithesis to famous as possible. The ceiling is low and without fluorescent lights. There are no magazine racks and no ambient music playing. The blue walls are decorated with landscape paintings of pastoral northeastern settings, and the chairs are comfortable but not new. A couple of them have stains, and I wonder if those are on purpose.
With a tickle of reluctance, I hang my painted leather jacket on the wooden coat rack.
The four of us are enrolled in group sessions. This is our second one. It’s kind of like therapy, except that it’s completely different, and Tracie would feel compelled to publicly apologize for our ignorance and then scold us if we called it that.
"So what exactly is he doing to us?" I inquire. My words hold onto the rim of my mouth like a kid clinging to the side of a swimming pool. I’m not shy, but I sure do sound like it at times. Sometimes I accidentally speak so softly people can’t hear me- women, that is. Men seem to hear me just fine. "If he’s not planting suggestions, or any of that subliminal stuff, I mean, what else could he be doing? He hasn’t given us any pills, and I don’t see any fancy laser machines. All he does is facilitate discussion. And listen."
Women get mad at me because they think the low volume of my voice is contrived to make them scoot closer. I don’t even go for women, I just happen to have a proclivity for feeling people’s breath on my skin, and it’s one of those fetishes that transcends gender. I should probably stop admitting that to people…at least at bars. I wonder if my fetish will go away when Dr. Alder fixes me and makes me permanently straight. We'll see.
Laura closes her book and sets it down on the glass table without her page-holder. I think she’s mad at me. "He hasn’t done anything yet, hon, he’s just observing. Why, do you feel different?”
I run my hand along my side. “Well no, but-”
“We’re still in the profiling stage. Wasn’t that his exact wording?" Laura speaks patiently. No, she’s pretty far from mad at me.
"Then why the group format? Why not just see patients individually, like a normal-"
Tracie sits upright. Tracie is like a fire and everybody else looks like water to her. "Jake, think about it, we’re all equally befuddled. If you keep up this questioning, I might have to strangle you and breathe on your face."
"Yes, I know it’s pointless to ask. But if you had to venture a hypothesis?"
"For some reason he wants to see us interact. It makes about as much sense as his inability to accept monetary payment for his procedures."
"Yeah, what’s up with this barter system?" Phil chimes in. He’s been quiet today.
"Beats me, but he did say that his modes of compensation, odd as they may seem, are part of the treatment itself. And a vital one.” Wow, I sound like a commercial for the clinic. I just want Tracie to know that I was actually paying attention. I hate when people are annoyed with me. It’s a weakness.
"Well then what’s your guess?" says Laura.
I shrug. "Has to be a mental placebo thing. Even though he claims it’s physiological."
There is no bland music to quench the silence.
Phil looks at Tracie. “You got halitosis or something?”
“What?” Her brows are a question mark and her mouth an exclamation point.
“You threatened to breathe on his face, is that an inside joke I missed?”
The door opens and the receptionist walks out holding a notebook and a smile. She looks like a comic-book character I can’t quite place. "Dr. Alder is ready for you." She motions for all four of us to be escorted in.
Last week we spent the whole hour talking about our bedtime habits. I can’t imagine what we'll talk about this time. I trust we'll just be talking.
He doesn’t lump patients together at random. The pairings are made with careful consideration. You start with a one-on-one interview, and then he assigns you to a group of clients—“team," as he calls it—with complimentary traits. He likes to assemble teams of two men and two women. And they have to be strangers. If a married couple comes in, he'll split them into two different groups.
Phil is unbearably attractive. Dr. Alder made me describe to him my physical preferences in detail, and I know he made us teammates just to torture me. Phil is a construction manager, he’s been married fourteen years, he does fifty sit-ups every morning, he has thick shoulders and a bellowing voice, and he cusses. Cussing makes me blush. And he’s always got stubble on his face. He’s not ruggedly handsome so much as, well, avuncular, I guess you’d say. He’s rude but polite at the same time. Kind of an imposing presence. When I say 'blush' I mean- well…
Laura is a real sweetheart. She teaches third grade, which has to be the most exhausting occupation on Earth, but it doesn’t show on her face. She’s one of those liberal, amiable teachers who wears comfortable sweatshirts and billowy checkered pants and talks in an animated voice and keeps lots of plants in the classroom and can talk for hours about each one of them without losing any animation in her voice.
Tracie wears makeup like it’s a weapon. She works in public relations or something. She’s the kind of person who if you're walking down a city street and your pace is naturally slower than hers, she'll openly resent you for it. She’s pretty in a fuck you, I’m pretty kind of way. I think Dr. Alder wants me to fall for her once I’m, um, cured. We'll see.
“I’m going to start this session by posing an open-ended question to the four of you.”
Dr. Alder has thinning hair that’s turning a golden deep-fried color at the tips. He wears thick glasses that seem to slouch on his nose. His beard is just thick enough to make his expressions ambiguous. He sits in his chair as though he’s strapped in and expecting turbulence, but serene.
“In your own words, I want you to tell me about the real world, in the form of an oral essay. One at a time, of course. I want you to matter-of-factly describe to me your perception of life on Earth as if I were an intelligent visitor from a foreign galaxy who happens to speak the same language and understand the same colloquialisms. I'll get your answers one-on-one and have the other three step out of the room. You will be recorded so that we can all hear each other’s responses when we reconvene.”
Laura talked about love and compassion and spirals. I didn’t quite follow what she said about spirals, but I dug the love part. “When people are open to the universe, the universe shows us possibilities.” That made sense. I wish I could have had her for third grade.
Tracie talked about survival of the fittest. She sounded like she incidentally delivered the same speech more than once a week, and that it never had much to do with her audience.
“Fuck, I dunno, little green gnomes control everything.” That was all he could get out of Phil.
Dr. Alder sits perfectly still and comfortable in his clinician’s chair. His mannerisms do not betray boredom or intrigue. He doesn’t scribble notes on a clipboard like psychiatrists in the movies do.
“Okay, let me see if I got it straight. The world? Okay. Wow, that’s a tough one." I’m conscious of my fidgeting. Suddenly I remember all the times I’ve fidgeted in the course of the past two days, and it disturbs me to think of all my instances of fidgeting I don’t remember. "I guess I'll approach the question scientifically. Would that be pretentious?"
Dr. Alder clasps his hands. His abdomen inflates. His hands ride the respiration like tandem surfers.
I chew my lip, envious of his cool. "Okay, I see how this works; I’m supposed to just let myself talk uninhibited, like one of those freshman writing exercises- okay, okay, the world. It starts with the average joe (that’s joe with a lowercase j). I once heard an acronym, I think it was FLES—Functioning Link in an Equilibrating Society, yeah, that’s it. Like we’re all particles striving for equilibrium, a macrocosm of…I flunked chemistry. I should shut up before I make an ass of myself.”
“You're permitted to make an ass of yourself.”
I look around the office for body language cues, and then remind myself that Dr. Alder and I are alone.
“Fles, fundamental unit of corporate consumer culture, is one bad-ass motherfucker whom I strive to emulate. By now his fertility has been co-opted by what he sees on television, and that’s his great sacrifice; he buys shit, factories make shit, people with Ph.D.’s design prototypes for shit, people with MBA’s market shit and people with charisma make episodic brilliance to inspire Fles to stay tuned so he can make an informed decision on what shit to buy. Fles has values. And most importantly, Fles has a big pulsating rock-hard babymaker that he parks in the garage every night. Fles knows how to make the world turn, and the world begs for more.”
I can feel something turning, and it ain’t the ceiling fan.
“Supply and demand, or something. Am I ranting?”
"I would suppose your peers find a unique charm in your self-conscious apprehension."
"Why would you say that?"
"Positive feedback loops are the most powerful sculptor of idiosyncrasies, in my philosophy. Agree?"
"Very well. Did you have more to elaborate on my question?"
"Hold on a sec. You're not the first to point out that I’m bashful, but you really think it’s an endearing quality?"
"You place great importance on my reactions, and that is where you differ from your three comrades. Most people simply talk and don’t give a damn. You, however, approach each listener as not only a sounding board, but you feel indebted to them by the mere fact that they're listening. This makes them feel appreciated and valued, but also overwhelmed. Yet what impresses me is that the momentum of your content is uncompromised by your sensitivity; you make your point with the same clarity and conviction as somebody who’s brazen. However, your sensitivity forces the listener to be engaged in what you're saying, which, should they happen to not share your perspective, can be an exhausting experience for them."
"And…this ties into my sexuality?"
"I’m not prepared to hurry to any conclusions. I’m not a doctor. My ambition is not to push you out the door with a cured, thank you stamp on your forehead."
"The world…what can I say? My motto is, I try not to let work get in the way of my productivity. You know, like the Mark Twain quote? Yeah, you get it."
Dr. Alder gives a slight nod of sympathy. The man is completely unreadable.
“Then you’ve got religion. I don’t really have anything to say about that."
"You most certainly do."
"A proof starts with axioms, an urban high-rise starts with concrete and sanity starts with faith. It has to do with Fles and his happiness, somehow. Okay, that’s all I got."
"Jacob, why do you desire to be desirous of women?"
"It’s Jake. No second syllable."
"Does there have to be a reason why?"
"As a matter of faith, yes, there does."
"Well, just the simple stuff. I want a family. A natural one. I don’t want kids who come home from school with black eyes asking daddy and daddy why- um, I’m not really comfortable discussing this."
"That’s what I needed to know. Why don’t you invite the others back in."
We look at each other. Like family, kind of.
“By now I suppose you're all skeptical of this process. If you're not wanting your money back by this point, then you suffer from problems that are beyond my scope of expertise."
We laugh. Dr. Alder’s sense of humor is an accessory that fits right in with the modest decor of the waiting room, the awkward intentionality of it. We’re all beginning to like it.
"Which brings me to a topic of pertinence: payment. I’ve been vague on that, and will continue to be. On your way out, you will each recieve an envelope with a personalized letter communicating a labor assignment. This job duty is to be carried out in the exact manner and timeframe described. You can think of it as a magic spell, if that’s how you would think of it. Just understand that accurate compliance to the details is uncompromisable."
Why did I get a hard-on thinking about Tracie breathing on my face right at that moment?
My task is not an easy one.
"I went to the john and hung up my painted leather jacket in stall number two before taking a dump in stall number one. What, I don’t like my jacket to see me doing ugly things. It’s a special jacket. And my naked ass? Not so special."
I intone the anecdote to the wall, pretending I’m speaking to a person. Pretending I don’t give a damn.
"So anyway, it took some time and aggravation to, eh, work things out—I’ve been cranking purchase orders all day, ate a lamb-chop burrito for lunch, and I forgot my forty ounce bottle of spring water at home, so I was a little- I'll say it, constipated."
When I’m trapped somewhere or lost in some wilderness freezing, I like to picture myself in a comfortable place looking back. I practice telling the story of my present circumstance. I practice to see where the nuances are, to feel around for humor, and to stake out awkward points, and to wonder who I might tell the story to first. It’s just, I’ve never done it out loud. I’ve always felt that would be crossing a line. A sacred line.
"Anyway, by the time I flushed, I wasn’t thinking about my jacket. So I walk out of the stall feeling light as a feather and- mind you I’m working overtime, the lights are all out. Nobody else is depraved enough to be there at Six pm on a Friday. Needless to say, I didn’t expect to be startled by another human in the bathroom. I’d say it scared the shit out of me, if I, y'know, hadn’t just got done taking one. I quickly realized that what my eye had mistook for a person was in actuality my jacket. Got my heart pounding pretty good. Now I’m sure that little story went in one ear and out the other because you're still hung up on the culinary masterpiece I alluded to: you heard me right, a lamb-chop burrito—yeah, it ain’t Mexican and it sure as fuck ain’t Greek; it’s all mine and it’s delicious, and I’m the only one who will ever think so. Unless you're, uh, brave enough."
I want Tracie. I want her bent over the couch, and I want more of her in my face than just air expelled from her lungs. This is too easy.
Where am I? I take a slow breath—not a deep one per se, just a slow one—and look at the line I’ve just crossed. I’m out of the bathroom, my jacket is on, and I’m talking to a cubicle wall.
Three hours later I’m still talking.
Dr. Alder’s secret envelope instructed me to find a private—and "somewhat intimidating"—setting and talk to myself until my body will no longer permit me to talk to myself. How exactly he makes his living from me talking to myself I’m not sure, but this is only the beginning, I trust.
I picture Tracie twitching in her sleep while Tracie — the ethereal conscious Tracie — checks the air in her bicycle tire. I picture myself wondering what shape that tire is in, and wanting to think that I could fill it up, that I could lean over, kiss her on the forehead and reach into her world to pump her ego tire to full pressure so that she can launch herself down the block and create her next world.
The feeling is different when it’s a woman, I can’t explain it.
I work hard and I max out my credit card and every night I now whack off to Playboy, and I get results. Survival of the fittest, harmony with the universe, little green gnomes, equilibrium, sunflower oil, faith, happiness for the common man, fucking right I get results.
| COPYRIGHT 2006-2011
Portland Fiction Project
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED