Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Stories: Therapy

            Get some therapy!

            As a kid I always wanted to go to a therapist.  It sounded fun.  On TV the kids ones who saw kids always had cool toys and if you were lucky they would give you this silly doll with fur in strange places.  I also wanted to go to confession.  Not because I really felt a need but because the two always interested me.  Therapy because I have always been fascinated with how the mind works and confession because as a Jew it always interested me.   Go into a booth tell a man all of your problems, say a couple hail marries and call it a day.  I love that idea!  Jews, our guilt is a different kind.  We carry a sack of problems or guilt until it gets so heavy that we explode on someone cause it’s the Jewish way.  My grandmother once yelled at our server for making the food too spicy at the buffet even though the item he was referring to was “Cajun shrimp.”  While the server took the time to explain that Cajun meant spicy my grandfather joined in on the shouting and instantly turned the Sizzler into World War II.  He made the server, her manager and bussers all cry for doing him wrong and then sold them copies of his book about his life as a Holocaust survivor.

            It was around the time that I was still friends with Elijah but not with him that I started therapy.  I found out that there was a therapist I could see for free for up to 6 sessions on campus.  I was sold at FREE.  There was a period of time for about five months where I Elijah confided in me about his HIV status mostly because I was once of his only friends in San Francisco.  This was also because I was there when he got really sick with flu-like symptoms while no one else was.  He made me keep his situation a secret.  At first it seemed easy.  He also mentioned that since we have fooled around a few times over the year, that I should also get tested.  While I had already found out I was HIV negative within 2 days of his diagnoses (I took a blood test fast than you could say “make it a double”), he swore me to secrecy about his status.  Friends would ask me why Elijah was out of school.  I would say it was because he found a sugar daddy that forbade him to complete college.  Truthfully Elijah was learning how to become a walking medical lab with as many prescriptions drugs he could get his big hands on.  After my test, the nurse said that even though I was negative that it could take months to show in my system if I in fact had contracted HIV.  While I knew deep down in the place where my soul should be that I was negative it was still a hard thing to carry silently.  I would have to leave the coffee shop early to take Elijah to the hospital for his appointments.  I would sometimes choose to leave class early to drive him to the doctor’s.  It was the secrecy of the whole thing that really got to me.   I remember my mom calling me around this time, asking how things were and I told her that Elijah was great and that I was okay.  Being the Jewish mother she is, her spidey senses went up and she told me to tell her what was wrong.  I lied and kept lying about the situation for months because that’s what Elijah asked me to do.  It got to the point where I didn’t know what to do with my angst a keeping all my emotions on the HIV front quiet so I figured therapy may be a good thing to try.  Once I started my therapy session it soon came apparent why they were free.

            I get to her cubicle and she asks me to call her Dr. Malian.  She is wearing a Phish t-shirt, had long black hair and smelled of patchouli.  She also had a touch of black armpit, hair that I could see leaking out of her short sleeves that put me on edge.  That should have been the first red flag.  She seemed nice enough.  Very much the San Francisco person we have all seen on TV.  I thought it weird that she went by her first name.  Anyone that goes by doctor and then their first name is too hippy dippy for my taste but may be therapy will change that.  My first issue is that she seems very happy and chipper.  I don’t trust anyone who is happy all the time because as my LA has-been actress teacher once said, I could “smell the acting.”  First thing she asks me is if I was named after Dr. Zhevago.  I quickly get defensive and explain that Yuri is a very common Russian name and was not invented by that movie.  If I could get a penny for every time get asked that question, I’d be rich enough not to need free therapy.  Then she asks me about coming out.  She kept asking about how my parent’s divorce sculpted my coming out process when I couldn’t understand the relevance.  For the next 4 sessions she focuses on the topic of coming out even though I didn’t feel the need.  I get annoyed because for me coming out wasn’t that big of a deal.  I told my mom I was gay at twenty years old.  She cried onto my shoulder, dried her tears and then asked me if I was seeing anyone Jewish.  She then asked me to fix her hair a bit and we went to dinner.  That’s it.  I live in San Francisco.  My family did not disown me or anything like that.  It would take my parents years to understand my gayness but they tried to be supportive with the tools they had.  I told Lailani this and she stuck to the topic way longer than needed.  It was like watching the movie Titanic, at least two-hours too long (our sessions were 45 minutes).  Since it was November, at this point, she asked me if I was sad not going home for the holidays for “CHHHHannukaaaah.”  She spent like 30 seconds doing the ch noise.  I told her that it wasn’t a major Jewish holiday and I didn’t really care.  She looked at me as though I had single-handedly killed baby Jesus or something.  I then explained to her that while Channukah is a Jewish holiday it is a minor one that does not have the importance  Christmas does to Christians.  She then asked me about the 8 days of gifts.  I then told her that I didn’t get that, it was an exaggerated thing to compete with Christmas.  She then asked me why I couldn’t have the holiday spirit and always have to be a bummer.  I then asked her realize that natural deodorant has never worked, to purchase anti-perspiring, to stop talking and left.

            Now it’s my second stab at therapy.  I’m meeting with Dr. John cause in San Francisco they all seem to use their first name after the word doctor.  This time I am paying for the visits because now that I work at the bar I can afford it.  I also have a day job right now working for an online startup as a publicist.  Between that job, the bar and my drinking schedule I’m working 80 hours a week.  I didn’t have time really to date or socialize outside of the occasional cocktail after, at work.  On the plus side I am making great money.  I paid for 4 months of rent a few days before just because I could.  Mind you that living in San Francisco at this time is at an all time high in terms of price.  I’ve had several friends leave because they couldn’t take the heat.  For a guy that grew up on food stamps and hope this was a huge change.  Dr. John asks me to explain why I’ve decided to see him?  Why now?  A few days before this appointment I lost it.  I went full on loony.  Walking home with a pile of groceries.  I have one bag in each hand.  I’ve slept hours.  I get a text message asking me to go to the bar because someone called in sick.  This all happens one block before I get home.  I all of a sudden loose control and drop both of my bags.  Eggs are all over the sidewalk, I have tears running down my face because it’s just too much.  I need a break.  In the middle of this a homeless person walks up and ask me for a dollar.  I politely tell him to go fuck himself.  As I am telling him this story he just jots notes on his pad and says “hmmm.”

            He asks, “Have you thought of cutting the stress in your life?”
            “Yeah but then I couldn’t do what I do.  I strive on stress and anxiety.  It makes me get things done.”
            “What is that?”
            “I take care.”
            “I grew up on food stamps and self-loathing.  I can’t go back there.”
            “hmmm.  Why is that?”
            “I grew up knowing how much everything in our apartment cost.  My dad once bought me a stuffed dog I called my $12 doggie.  I grew up mostly with my mom in San Diego.  As a result of a shitty situation, divorce and stuff I learned not to answer the phone when bill collectors rang.  I have it different.  At 21 I made more money than my mother did in the past 2 years and in cash!  I like being able to do nice things when I visit my mom because frankly she deserves it and no one else will.  Like when we’re in public places I’ll give her a roll of a few hundred-dollar bills when her husband isn’t looking.  Then she grumbles at me in Russian to take it back.  Then I ask her if she wants to make a scene and embarrass her husband?  Her eyes tear up and we move on.”
            “So she’s married?”
            “I’m 22 now.  She got married when I was 20.  Very quickly after I moved out to a nice guy she met on JDate.com after at least 10 years of being single.”
            “Why do you take on so much?  You seem to be addicted to stress.”
            “I guess I am but I just don’t want to be stuck.  I want to be a success and have meaning in this life.  I want to do something bigger with my life but don’t know how or what.”
            “In an ideal world what do you see yourself doing?”
            “Traveling the world on someone else’s dime with an endless supply of reefer and a handsome man in every town.”
            “Hmmm… Let me rephrase that.  What career choice would you pick?”
            “I don’t know.  I like writing.  I always got great reviews for my writing in school.  I used to want to be a famous writer but I could never have that career cause the odds are not in my favor.”
            “Have you ever thought of a blog?”
            “No, my life is as interesting as watching paint dry.  Why would I subject others to my boring life.  Besides, I always got horrible marks for my grammar because I’m dyslexic.  No one will read that shit.”
            “Hmmmm.  You never know.”
            Right after the appointment I called my mom and told her about Dr. John.  She is shocked I am seeing a therapist.  “Did he ask you about me?”
            “No but I promise when he does I will describe you as 50 pounds lighter.”
            She then tells me that the blog idea is great.  I could be a famous Jewish writer like Shell Silverstein, Dr. Seuss or one of the 10 other people she rattles off.  My mom likes to give what I call her weekly Jew Report conversations.  This is where she lists famous Jews in given topics.  “Did you know Robin Williams isn’t Jewish?”
            “Yes. I got to go.”
            The following day I am laid off from that day job.  It’s nine-months since the day I started that job.  I should be upset.  I start crying as I am leaving the office with my Mr. T Chia Pet and box of pen I have stolen from my desk.  It’s the type of crying that looks painful but feels relieving.  Like a huge expulsion of gas after a burrito, just soothing.  I get home with this sense of urgency, it’s my night off from the Lab.  I look up how blogs work and words just flow out of me.  I type of a story about how my dad thinks he’s black.  Then an entry a night for the next week until I see Dr. John.
            I get to my next appointment with Dr. John to tell him that I had blogged all week and while writing feels great but no one reads my blog.  I’m a nobody.  He tells me to keep up the work for the next month and just let out my energy in a healthy way by writing.  I tell him that I should focus on getting another job that leads somewhere.  He tells me that my time is up.  That’s therapy.  Every time you get to a point where you’re making progress, your session is over.  It’s like watching a soap opera.  Every time you think something is going to happen, little does.  As I leave Dr. John’s office I get coffee from the shop on his block.  The barista then offers me a free drink.  I have never met him before.  He then says, “I loved the part when you talk about how your father was the only 5’7’’ Jew that was in the middle of the LA-riots for no reason! It cracked my shit up!”  I almost spilled my coffee.

A few months into Therapy

            My sessions with Dr. John soon became my favorite time of the week.  He seems to have a genuine interest in my well-being.  He doesn’t need much from me besides my $65 dollars I hand him for each session and conversation.
            “So what about dating?  Why don’t you talk about it much?”
            “In my late teens I was pretty much a-sexual.  In the past 2 years since I came out, I have dated some. But not much.”
            “I have this guy I’m kind of seeing.  If by seeing you mean sleeping with occasionally because he is an amazing hair stylist.”
            “Hmmm. So you admire his job choice?”
            “No.  I like getting free haircuts.”
            “What are you looking for in a man?”
            “I can barely focus on what I want for lunch let alone that.  I want a man with a job who isn’t jealous.  Every guy I meet at the bar can’t handle it.  I was seeing this latin guy for a few months on and off and he kept on asking which of my co-workers I was hooking up with which drove me crazy.  I didn’t hook up with any of my co-workers ever.  Okay I did once, during the first month at the Lab but that’s no one’s business and it was months before Latin dude.”
            “Why are you still single?”
            “I fucking hate that question.  When someone asks you that on a date.  Because I have standards are either way too high or too low?  I don’t know.  I just lost a good 30 pounds.  No one gave me the time of day before.  The guys who interested me looked right past me.  Like this once guy, Giovanni.  Italian name, but he’s Guatemalan.  A guy who was hot, pre-med and very fit.  Everything that would make my Jew-senses go ape shit.  He never gave me the time of day when I met him in my clubbier state.  I thought he was a dick but he was sooooo hot I didn’t care.”
            “Tell me about it.”
            “Well I met him a few times when I was the wallflower, chubby boy of the past and frankly he was rude to me.  Then about 6 months ago I saw him again.  He couldn’t stop staring at me.  It’s like I lost the weight and gained a vindictive side.  I noticed his eyes burning a hole on me.  It’s kind of hot.  I asked him to get some drinks after my shift.  I told my mom about it right before and was like, mom he’s PRE-MED and Guatemalan.  She said that was nice but to call her when he’s Jewish and hung up on me.  I ignored her, went out with Giovanni.  As it turned out he was also a goo dancer at a bar in the gayborhood and used that to pay for school.  He was 6 foot, abs of steel, biceps and a chiseled jaw that could make anyone want to try men.  I figured that since he was also working at the bars that he would get it and there wouldn’t be jealousy.  Drinks were fun.  He was out of a long relationship, so he said.  I ignored that and just worked on enticing him because I could.  The following hang out was at my studio apartment.  I made him dinner and we watch 300.  Which may well have been porn.  A bottle of wine, and 20 minutes of the movie later we were boning like rabbits.  After he left I figured I would drop him because of the way he ignored me in my previous state.  I tried to do that.  I then got really into him.  I decided he was really into me.  A few weeks went by and he asked me to come out to a club with him.  I assumed it was as his date.  We held hands, kissed a little and I really knew he was into me.  I felt bad for judging him and creating his pervious view of me in my head.  A few drinks in, I have to pee like a racehorse.  When I get back from the urine-trough gay bars call the bathroom, Giovanni had his tongue down some strangers throat.  I walked right up to him and his new concubine and was not noticed.  I left dramatically hoping that he would run after me in the rain.  The way it happens in the movies.  Instead it just started to rain.  I walked home drunk, alone and confused.  It would be hours before Giovanni would text asking where I went.”
            “How did you feel after that?”
            “I didn’t.  I moved on because what other choices could I have?”

From my lips to Dr. John’s ears.

            It’s interesting how Dr. John’s idea of starting a blog really is giving me a voice I didn’t know I had.  I have been blogging the past few months about different things.  In the past few weeks I’ve started to write about my experiences at the Lab.  I answer questions people ask me about bartending, the lifestyle and all that comes with it.  I’ve had a few co-workers get wind my stories posted on my blog.   Mind you, all of these stories I’m writing just as a release not really thinking anybody is reading.  That is until Gina texts me with a cryptic message, “love the blog, liked working with you.”  I don’t understand what she means and ask her what she’s getting at.  She says, “Charlie won’t like it.”  I’m thinking, Charlie isn’t spending his day browsing my blog, he has more important things to do like spy on his employees while they work and work on his alcoholism.
            I’ve put up a total of like three stories about the bar in the past 3 weeks on the blog.  I don’t think much of it until I get a random comment on one post saying, “You’ve always been my favorite bartender, what are the real names of the people in these stories? “  I can’t tell if it’s a real reader or someone from the bar just trying to get into my head.
            I tell Dr. John about how people at the Lab are starting to get wind of my blog and that I am worried it may hurt me.  He frankly doesn’t seemed concerned about this concept as long as he’s getting paid.  He just says, “hmmm and getting your voice isn’t priceless?”
            I don’t really understand what Dr. John is getting at but I do have this unusual sense of urgency with the blog.  These are stories I feel I must write because I don’t know who will.  The questions I ask myself every moment of my life at the Lab is, what am I doing here?  I just got a job at the Lab to pay rent literally with no plans of becoming a lifetime bartender but can understand why one wouldn’t leave.  Right now I am making $2,000 a week in cash and another grand or 2 a week from various contract day jobs, why should I leave the bar?  The next question is what will these experiences add up to?  Will I just end up another lifetime bartender as my youth fades into the sunset? 
            My mom is upset with me because she too apparently reads the blog.  She says she read that I smoked pot and doesn’t like me joking about that in a public forum because then people will think I smoke, which I do.  She says, “stop with the jokes!  I’m going to create a Jdate profile for you, how tall are you?  Are you more the man in the relationship?”

            “Mom, we’re both men, that’s why we’re gay.  I don’t like dating Jewish guys generally, it’s not my jam!”

            “That’s what you think.  That will change.”

            Dr. John is concerned because he says my mother and I are too much of friends and don’t have a healthy mother-son relationship.  When I was a kid we told each other everything.  It was hard to hide stuff from her or rebel because I liked her.  At one point we shared a room.  In high school there was a point where I helped pay our mortgage because I could even though she had never asked.  Dr. John seemed to make that sound like burden.  He says I need to create boundaries.  This is how I know he’s a gentile because he thinks that’s possible.

            Dr. John then asks me about my dad whom I rarely mention.  I tell him how most of my friends have never met my father.  He is a bit of a loner.  As a child there were a lot of times where he wasn’t there.  It’s a story that I’m sure a lot of other kids raised by single-mothers have.  Often he would say he was coming to visit me in San Diego from LA and at the last minute not come.  Even as an adult, I take time off of work to meet him at a halfway point in San Clemente and he would have an “emergency.”  In the 5 years I have lived in San Francisco he has not once come to visit.  Don’t get it twisted, I talk to him every day.  I know my father loves the older and me I get, the more I understand he is a grown teenager who did what he could.  I still hold a grudge for certain things that can’t be changed.  From a young age I learned of my father’s drinking problem mostly by his voice when he calls me.  He starts to apologize for stuff which tells me that he doesn’t get me he gets the situation.   You can learn a lot about a man by the way they handle their booze.  I have never had a problem saying no to drinks, drugs or anything else.  My dad goes for months and years sober and then will fall off the wagon just for a weekend and call me nearly in tears.  There is nothing worse than hearing your father cry.  There is one thing worse seeing yourself in the mirror when you’ve been crying.  My main issue is I don’t know how to handle my dad.  I simply don’t engage sometimes because I don’t want to deal with him.
            Dr. John listens to this and jots notes rapidly.  He asks me what my father has taught me.  It takes me a long time to answer.  I can’t figure out what he has showed me.  I learned to shave from my the only grandfather I’ve ever known who showed me love but then started to yell mid-way through the shave because I took too long putting the foam on my face.  He is a Holocaust survivor, after 6 concentration camps you’d be ape-shit crazy too.  My dad taught me that if anyone tries to hit me, I should hit him or her back fifty times harder.  He always would ask if I was in any fights.  I would always say no.  I had never seen him happier then the one time I told him I was in a fight.  I was eleven.  A counselor at camp asked me to tell another kid, D.J. that it was time to take his riddalen.  He got angry stabbed me in the leg with a pen.  I responded by pushing him onto the cement and running away and crying behind a bush because of the pain.  In the version I told my dad, I punched him in the face and walked away unscathed.
            Dr. John asks why I care what my father thinks of me? The truth is I don’t think I do.  I do though have compassion for him but knew from a young age I wanted to do more, be responsible and come through on my responsibilities.  This is probably why most people call me intense.  I just have always thought I could do better. 

            Dr. John asks if I could imagine having kids now.  I tell him that babies don’t come out of there.  I then realized that I am the age my mom was when she had me and that if I had kids now I don’t know I could handle that.

            I have these weird dreams sometimes that my dad will call me really drunk the way he has in the past and I’ll just be out of compassion for him and he’ll do something drastic.  I’ll never forgive myself.  In the dream I am serving a regular who is so drunk I have to cut them off and eventually kick them out.  Because I am the only bartender working, I have to kick the guy out.  As I am moving the guy out of the bar he takes a swing at me.  He misses.  Then I take a swing at him and he falls to the ground.  He stays down for a few seconds and as he gets up, brushes himself off he smiles.  As the light hits his face he looks an awful lot like my dad and says “that’s my boy.  Hitting like a fucking man.”  Then the guy walks outside to fall on is ass.  Those dreams always happen on the few nights (once ever few months) that I get drunken phone calls.  I always wake up to his drunken call after these dreams.  What could that mean though?

            Dr. John asks me why I would hit someone like my dad?  I tell him about how my dad would make me spar with him.  Most kids dads played catch.  Mine would have a cigarette in one hand and the other hand out and yell “spar.”  He would always tell me to work on that left-hook.  We then would complete that quality time with ice cream or a burger.  I don’t know the answer to Dr. John’s question. 


            Dr. John asks me about work.  I tell him about this week’s shit.  I get to work and there are a whole bunch of short muscle dudes there.  Nothing unusual.  Then one of the guys, a tall blonde guy that from far away looks hot and up close looks like he’s had some work done comes up to me.  I think he wants a drink so I start to fill a glass up with ice and ask him what his poison is.  He then asks if he knows me.  I say no but then get cocky thinking he may be reading the blog and saw me on there.  I ask if he read the blog.  He says the doesn’t read.  The guy walks away drinkless.  After about twenty minutes he comes back to me.  This time he is shirtless and has this waxed chest shining in my face.  He then leans in and ask if we had sex together.  I said no.  I don’t want to mention that I have slept with a small number of people at this point.  This guy doesn’t give up though.  He asks if we’ve filmed any scenes together.  I then say, I got out of TV stuff at 19 so I don’t think so.  When he walks away I find out that he is a big porn-star.  That term is such a joke but that’s beside the point.  Only after he leaves I realize that he thinks I did a porn with him.  How many people do you have to sleep with not to even remember if you have or have not done them?
            Dr. John says hmmm but I bet is suppressing a huge laugh.  I bet the second I leave after this story he will laugh so loud that people will hear it in space.
            “I can’t believe he confused me for a porno person.  It happens a lot.  I don’t care about that.  I do though hate that people often assume that I as a bartender at the type of bar that I work am in that category.  It’s almost like they are saying, you must be too dumb for anything else.  I hate when my intelligence is underestimated.”

            Dr. John says hmmm and then tells me that my time is up.  As I’m leaving the office my mom calls me asking if I am doing anything for Shabbat, which is interesting.  She is the same mother who sent me to Hebrew school but also took me to Indian Casinos on Yom Kippur.  Needless to say we weren’t very religious and I liked that.  She also asks if I’m going to hang with my Jewish neighbor from across the hall that is “nice and Jewish.”

            My neighbor Nico he is a nice enough guy but I feel like it’s often a battle of who is a better jew.  He wont use electricity on Shabbat which is a bullshit thing I can’t stand right off the bat.  This one Shabbat, Friday evening he invited me over to light candles and I was off so figured why not?  After the candles are lit he then asks me to light the bong he has on the floor for him because he can’t since it’s Shabbat.  I get annoyed, smoke the rest of his weed and leave.

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