I dreamt about Andy Warhol again: soup cans everywhere. Schneiderman says I'm his only patient with post-modernist dreams. I say, you're a friggin' lunatic, and how about you just up my dosage of Wellbutrin and we call it a day? Why does he get to sit there and listen to my story when even I'm sick of hearing it, and then I have to pay him a 125 bucks an hour? He should be paying me to give him my "personal history." This is just the evaluation stage, so he can get the big picture, he says, and then we'll start fixing all the ugly parts. But I shouldn't have to pay for that– I already know the big picture. Let me tell him what it is:
I am incurable. I am permanently myself, for better or worse.
I started seeing Schneiderman at the suggestion of my buddy Baumgartner... and virtually all of my other friends, after I found myself in the private back room of a topless joint on Market St. in San Francisco, paying a pretty young woman named Destiny $140 to engage in what I would describe later as three-dimensional, virtual pornography: It felt the same as jerking off to a photo on the net, except the photo moved around in space and talked, and I could actually touch it and feel real skin.
Most of my friends thought I was much stupider for telling Marcy about it than for actually doing what I did. Most, not all. I tried not to tell the ones who would feel differently about it. What they don't know won't hurt me. I should have known that I was in danger of rocking the marital boat that same morning when I walked into a conference room for the buffet breakfast, big round tables like at a bar-mitzvah, and found a beautiful young woman sitting alone at a table, with, I learn, earnest and legitimate plans to change the world for the better, and due to the particular angle of the way the tops of her breasts are visible and the way they disappear down her dress, I am suddenly filled with such a raw surge of pure sexual desire that I actually overhear a voice in my head declare, quite matter-of-factly, "Of course I would sacrifice my marriage to touch those breasts, absolutely I would." As if it's a no-brainer.
"You've read one too many Philip Roth novels," my buddy Baumgartner tells me. "You've picked a sleazy old Jewish guy as a role model. No wonder you're lusting after young girls for dear life while married to the most miraculously wonderful and beautiful woman on God's earth. How do you put those two things together?"
Baumgartner was no monkey. He paid his dues, only they called it alimony. He got out after 16 years when he found out that his wife had been seeing her art teacher since their second week of marriage. So Baumgartner was nobody's fool.
"My wife played your role in our marriage," he told me.
"What do you mean? I never dated my art teacher– I've been completely faithful."
"But you wanted to. You're just not as courageous as my wife. You're a coward."
Baumgartner was pissing me off, so I stopped hanging out with him. But not before he turned me on to Schneiderman: "He's not your usual therapist. It's short-term. He'll act normal the first three sessions to get what's going on, and then he figures out your song, and you're done."
It was soon after I started seeing Schneiderman that I began dreaming about artists and their work. Warhol and the soup cans were just the latest. You'd think I was an art history major: In my Impressionist dream, I'm picnicking and rowing with Renoir, inside one of his paintings. I want to eat everything– the pinks and blues and roses– just like I want to eat his paintings. In the dream, I try to paint alongside Renoir, and instead of painting a flower, I paste a real flower on the canvas. It only lives a short time, and his painted flower looks more real. It's a pleasant and peaceful dream, with Debussy's Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp playing in the background.
So Schneiderman never hears about it. I only tell him the Renaissance stuff, and the Neanderthal stuff– the hieroglyphics on the cave wall, wild conga drums, me pounding people with big clubs and making love like a grunting gorilla... to Marcy.
The Pollock dream is a nightmare; my whole life splayed chaotically on a canvas.
I dream Picasso's blue period, and I am blue. ("Goin' to Chicago, gonna leave my Bessie behind.")
The Modigliani results in a nocturnal emission. Now that should be the real infidelity. Not the lap-dancer. The Modigliani, who seduces me utterly, and with whom I am madly in love.
And now Campbell's Soup. But it's not the real stuff. I can't drink it. It's only pictures of soup, in the can, just like the Warhol. It's the only dream that doesn't flesh itself out. If Vermeer had painted soup, I'd be tasting the stuff and asking for seconds.
Schneiderman is killing me. Sitting there all superior, humming during our sessions. Humming. He's probably looking at me thinking, "There but for the Grace of Hashem go I." You're trying to tell me that Marvin Schneiderman never pulled his pud in one of those booths on 42nd street? I think I saw him there, for chrissake. And this demento is going to figure out my marriage? And my schmeckle? I don't think so. Schneiderman, Marriage and My Schmeckle, by yours truly. The title of my autobiography.
And what about the waiting room? Does he really think I don't notice what he's up to? The travel posters have come down; the Chagall has gone up. Cows and Russian guys, floating in space, playing violins. The muzak he pipes in is all strings, Fiddler on the Roof without the vocals. And the next week Chagall has been replaced by Van Gogh's "Room at Arles," and the soupy orchestrations play the Beach Boys' "In My Room." He's messing with my head. With my dreams.
Okay, I'm scared of Schneiderman. I used to be obsessed by sexual thoughts. Now I find myself only thinking about Schneiderman night and day. What I'm going to tell him. What he's going to say. I see some born-again kid on the subway with a What Would Jesus Do? Bracelet, and I start designing my own: What Would Schneiderman Think? And when is he going to name that tune?
"What are you really afraid of?" Schneiderman asks me.
"That underneath this façade of 'barely normal' lurks a perverted sexual deviant who's evil, like the Marquis de Sade, though more of a submissive."
"We're out of time. Sit with that for a while. See you next Tuesday."
See what I mean? The way he holds on to the power, keeps you on edge? It would have killed him to stretch the session another five minutes? Sit with that? What the hell does that mean? Sit with this, I think, grabbing my crotch, pretending I'm Black instead of Jewish.
Meanwhile, Marcy feels that she can't and won't confide about my doings in San Francisco to any of her girlfriends, because she is certain they would hate me and not want me around anymore.
Is that true? Am I condemned by womankind?
Why did God make men so horny? What was the thinking in that? Lenny Bruce said, "Men will schtup anything– a tree, mud" and who among us did not ever carve a hole in a rye bread, line the insides with butter, and fuck a loaf? I can't be the only one. I even read about it in Penthouse: Real men fuck bread.
Marriage vs. My Schmeckle Vs. friggin' Schneiderman. I got married, he tells me, but I didn't bring my schmeckle along. My schmeckle is still a bachelor. It never stopped looking and lusting. "Yeah, looking," I say aloud to myself. "Not acting. Not doing. Never." Until Destiny.
My schmeckle cost me an arm and a leg. A 140 bucks to Destiny, plus $40 into the slot in the wall to make the privacy cover automatically slide down over the window, plus the $125 to Schneiderman every week, and that makes for one expensive orgasm. So that's no solution to the schmeckle problem, on a purely financial level if nothing else.
"So, what's going on?" Schneiderman asks Marcy. We're in couples counseling now, another $125 for him to get her history. I think he has the hots for her. I know he does. And now he's whistling, tapping his foot.
"My husband's an idiot," she says.
"Can you say more?"
"I don't need to. I feel complete."
And the sad thing is, I totally agree with her. So now we both have to live with me. It's no picnic (Renoir or no.) I am high maintenance, even to myself– I take up so much time I barely have any left to spend with anyone else. Being me is a full-time job. (Which explains partly why I've never actually worked for a living–I'm self-employed, and I think of quitting all the time. Problems with the management.) I wouldn't want to be in a relationship with me. Unless it was just for the sex.
In the dream, Warhol keeps repeating that famous line– "The best sex is not doing it"– and I realize that Marcy and I, therefore, must have been having great sex for nearly seven years. Because we are champions of not doing it. Why? Because I don't actually like doing it, for one thing. And because I only truly get aroused by people I don't know and love. You could say I don't make love to my wife because I love her. If I didn't love her, maybe I'd want to fuck her. (Is it okay to say "fuck her"? Am I only supposed to say "make love"? Would all her friends hate me?)
"Maybe I'm a slutty little girl trapped in a man's body," I tell Schneiderman, "and that would explain the Betty Boop underwear I'm wearing."
"And how does that strike you?" he asks Marcy.
"Underwear is not our problem. I can live with the underwear."
"Maybe," I say, "I'm one of those she-males you see in the back of the Village Voice, who have the breasts of a woman and the genitals of a man. I used to have dreams like that when I was a kid."
"See," Marcy says, "it's much bigger than underwear."
"Yes," he says, "although actually, even I occasionally like to put on one of my wife's thongs."
Oh this is great. This is the fucking guy, excuse my Hebrew, whose going to to handle our sex problems, and he's sitting there wearing lady's underwear? At least the Betty Boops are boxer shorts–men's. This guy is over the top. I cannot believe this. Under his breath, he's singing: You must have been a beautiful baby, 'cause baby look at you now. I talk it over with Marcy:
"How can we stay with him? How can we talk about our sex life with this guy, knowing he might be sitting there in his wife's lace panties? No, it's out of the question."
"Sometimes shrinks intentionally use self-disclosure as a way of gaining the patient's trust."
"Did you read that somewhere? He has gained my trust– I trust that he's a wacko, and I trust that he has an alternate source of income apart from our 125 bucks."
"Okay, but we have to do something. The Lap Dancer episode shall not go unpunished."
So it's good-bye Schneiderman. No more poking your nose around in my personal history. I call Baumgartner to tell him.
"Listen I have a cheaper solution," he tells me. "Just promise her you'll never do it again, and then don't. And use the money you save to help needy children. You'll feel like a million bucks."
Baumgartner is no monkey.
"So that's what you want?" I reply. "A nice, simple, happy ending? She forgives me, I change, my schmeckle overcomes its fears of intimacy and we live happily ever after. And have a baby. We name it Baumgartner. The end." That shuts him up for a while.
Then I start dreaming of Matisse, everyone dancing naked in circles.
Gaugin, and Marcy's topless in Tahiti while I bite into juicy, tropical fruits.
Rembrandt, and you can look right through me and see my soul. There is a weathered sense of the ancient all around me. Cracked parchment. Dark shadows and wrinkled skin. Mahler's Adagietto. When I wake up from that one, I'm no longer afraid to die.
We decide to go in for one last session with Schneiderman, the lunatic, to tell him in person that we're terminating, and why. I'm going to wash that man right out of my hair. The waiting room is silent, and the walls are empty. As if he knew my last dream: the Japanese brush painting of empty sky, the John Cage piece where nobody plays and everyone listens. Okay, Schneiderman, I'm listening. You got my attention. I was going to give you a piece of my mind but you took it before I could get a word in. We say what we came to say:
"We both felt it was inappropriate for you to share with us about your personal sexual fetish."
"Maybe I felt it was inappropriate for you to tell me about your undergarments," he responds.
Marcy and I are speechless.
"Just maybe," he says. "if you hadn't told me about your Betty Boop boxer shorts, and you hadn't told me about your masturbation exercise in San Francisco, and you hadn't told me that you and Marcy never make love, and you hadn't bored me to tears with your goddamn personal history, maybe you wouldn't be in this predicament in which you presently find yourself. "
"What I mean is." and this next part is true, this is exactly the way it happens: He steps up from behind his desk, dramatically opens one button of his shirt, and begins softly singing, almost in a whisper, "There's no business, like show business, like no business I know" and gradually he peels off layers, one by one, until he has stripped down to his thong bikinis, while belting out the song loud and Ethel-Merman-big, with grand hand gestures and kicking Rockette legs, and then, still singing, he literally ushers us out of his office, while hitting his big finish:
"Let's go on with the showwwwww!"
The door clicks shut behind us on what would have been the orchestra's final downbeat.
And that, believe it or not, is how Marvin Schneiderman cured our marriage.