SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
June 29, 2014

They Say Iím Disturbed

 

Along with crime, disasters (both natural and manmade), assorted bloodthirsty animals, and the apocalypse, I had what might be considered an unhealthy obsession with abnormal psychology at far too young an age. I was fascinated by crazy people and why they did those funny things they did. So I began reading textbooks and articles, eventually progressing on to the likes of Freud and R.D. Laing and other noted psychologists, focusing on the case histories. I do love a good case history.

††††††††††† Iíd gathered enough of an understanding by fourth grade that when that fucking Mrs. Jergens (ooohh, how I hated her) out of the blue and for no particular reason asked us all to draw a picture of our families, I saw through her childish ruse immediately. It was a simpleminded variation on the old ďdraw a self-portraitĒ game. It had nothing to do with our artistic abilities, of courseóit was nothing but a cheap way of gaining some feeble insight into what her studentsí home lives were like without having to ask any embarrassing questions. Is the father monstrously out of proportion with the others? Is the mother covered with bruises? Does the drawing show a younger sister locked in a closet?

††††††††††† The problem was, see, at the time I was more clever than I was smart, and so quietly pleased with my cleverness that I didnít think ahead past the joke. So while the rest of the kids in class set about drawing pictures of all their family members standing in a row (usually tallest to shortest) in front of a house with a curl of smoke coming from the chimney and a big circle of a sun in the sky, Iíd read enough to know what these penny-ante shrinks were looking for, so I gave it to them.

††††††††††† I didnít go overboard or anything. I didnít draw my mom with a bottle of vodka and my dad beating my sister and me with enormous fists. That wouldíve been too much. Instead I drew four small, separate pictures isolated from each other on the page. Two featured my parents at their individual jobs, and one was of my sister (who was the athletic one) either running at some track event or playing baseball. For the self portrait I drew myself sitting in a corner with my knees pulled up to my chest. Take that you amateur Bruno Bettelheim!

††††††††††† Well, letís just say no one else got the joke. It was less than twenty-four hours before fucking Mrs. Jergens called my mom at work to tell her that her family was a shambles and her son was emotionally disturbed and plagued by feelings of isolation. The next day I was sent to the school guidance counselor, the closest thing we had to a school shrink. I donít remember much about the meeting except for the guidance counselorís ears. He had enormous ears, which stuck out at right angles from his head. They were fascinating, those ears, like something out of a cartoon. But thatís beside the point. Unlike my mom, who knew me well enough to understand such things, I wasnít about to tell him the drawing was a very conscious joke, that I was simply making fun of the whole sham. Somehow I had the impression he wouldnít get it. Not with ears like that he wouldnít. Even without a confession, he sent me away with a clean bill of mental hygiene, more or less, encouraging me to participate more in school activities. I didnít.

††††††††††† That was the moment, way back in fourth grade, when I was first convinced the whole psychology racket was a fraud. Or if not a fraud, exactly, at least something that would never do me the slightest bit of good. The reason was simple. I knew perfectly well what was going on in my head, and I had no intention of sharing it with these slick overpaid hustlers. Iíd read enough to know their tricks as well as they did, and I wasnít about to fall for them. That sort of thinking defeats the whole purpose, I realize this, and maybe it was simple, juvenile arrogance, but I didnít think these people deserved to know what was going on in my head. What business was it of theirs?

††††††††††† Still, over the years Iíve been sent (against my will and for assorted jackass reasons) to roughly ten different shrinks, each more useless than the last. Hereís a quick sampling of a few, in no particular order.

††††††††††† One cold and blustery winterís night while en route to see one for the first time in Philly, my hat blew away. One second it was on my head, the next it was down the street and gone forever. Nice hat, too, which Iíd just picked up a few days earlier. Logically enough, then, my first question upon entering the shrinkís office and taking a seat was ďdo you know where I can find a good hat store in the area?Ē Later in that same meeting, I adamantly refused to tell him I hated my parents. Why should I tell him a thing like that when it wasnít true? He pushed and pushed on that one, and the more he pushed, the angrier I got. I kept it under control, but I wasnít about to tell this fucker I hated my parents when I didnít. Because of those two thingsóthe hat store and my obviously deep denialó he was convinced by the end of a single meeting I was in dire need of long-term psychological care, medication, and possibly hospitalization. I never went back a second time. Son of a bitch couldnít even tell me where to find a hat store.

††††††††††† Another one in Midtown barely spoke at all. In return, neither did I. I didnít know this man and so had nothing to say to him. As a result he got paid so I could make the fucking trip to Midtown and sit there for fifty minutes of uncomfortable silence. Figuring I could do that at home for much cheaper, I stopped going. Another, perhaps recognizing I wasnít going to give him anything worthwhile to work with (at least in psychological terms), talked about Charlie Chaplin and told me his troubles instead (his kids, like most shrinkís kids, hated him). Then he used me as a guinea pig so he could play around with some new biofeedback computers heíd bought. That was fun for a little bit, and he told me I had unusually slow alpha waves, but over all it was completely pointless.

††††††††††† The one female shrink I ever had seemed to hate me off the bat for some reason, and was openly hostile. At the time I got enough of that at home, so that didnít last long either. When I mentioned to another that Iíd written a few books, he offered a patronizing smile and nod and said, ďOh yes, thatís very nice, yes,Ē making it clear he honestly didnít believe me. What the fuck was that about? Not about to waste free books on this moon pie just to make a point and prove him wrong, I stopped going instead.

††††††††††† A Swiss fellow I saw wasnít such a bad guy. He was intelligent, well-dressed and erudite and reminded me of a James Bond villain. But I still wasnít about to tell him anything useful. Instead we talked about different schools of psychological thought. Then I would pay him and go home.

††††††††††† The only one who ever did me the slightest bit of good was an overweight, unshaven, chain-smoking cognitive therapist in Madison who told me to go out and destroy the world. I was nineteen at the time and to this day I remain eternally grateful. That people (especially shrinks) are horrified by that story and use terms like ďdeeply irresponsibleĒ to describe the doctor in question (assuming he really was a doctor) only makes me more grateful.

††††††††††† He was the only one with anything useful to say. From my experience most of them are simply awful, awful people, and useless on top of it. As a profession, shrinks have an unusually high suicide rate. Not mine in particular, but still, you get a whole lotta jumpers in the psychological circuit. And thinking about it, sure, who can blame them? Sitting there all day listening to people whine would be enough to make anyone throw open that seventeenth-floor window. Still, and uncooperative though I may have been, I gotta say it couldnít happen to a nicer bunch of people.

 

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