Talk Therapy For Sale, Part 1

“Would you like to save the world from the degradation and destruction it seems destined for? Then step away from shallow mass movements and quietly go to work on your own self-awareness. If you want to awaken all of humanity, then awaken all of yourself. If you want to eliminate the suffering in the world, then eliminate all that is dark and negative in yourself. Truly, the greatest gift you have to give is that of your own self-transformation.”

— Lao Tzu

I have always believed that it is through helping others that I can transform myself. I suppose this is why I decided to set up a therapy practice in my driveway. If the world is going to be saved this is one way to do it. I set out two comfortable chairs facing each other. I bought them at a thrift store for under ten bucks a piece. One is yellow, the other brown and they have a strange, therapeutic musty smell coming from them. I imagine that in the seventies they must of been nice. In front of the chairs I put a small table with an empty coffee can and a sign that reads, “Talk Therapy by Donation.” I would be lying if I did not admit to a bit of greed- it was my hope that the coffee can would be filled with one, five and ten dollar bills by the end of the week.

I have been studying to be a psychotherapist for the past year. Currently I am in my second year of graduate school. I also work twenty hours a week at a trauma center. The work is unpaid but I am told that this is the nature of the training process- I am learning how to be a therapist in return for my time. I can not say that I am happy about this situation since learning does not pay the rent and man can not live off of training alone, but it seems that I have no choice. I have to bite the bullet and serve my time. I feel honored to work with people who are living through intense trauma but the irony is that it is traumatic for me to work and not get paid. So I have no choice but to find other ways to make a living and with the economic recession being how it is- this is not easy. I figure I have a skill, I am good at doing talk therapy. I have read the books, gone through years of therapy myself and despite what the state says about licensing regulations- I feel that I am ready to go. Since lots of people walk past my driveway everyday, I feel like it is the perfect place to open my therapy practice.

I know that it helps the psychotherapist to be perceived as intelligent and wise if they have self-help or psychology books lying around. So I brought out a dozen or so of my psychology textbooks and a few books written by Jung and Freud and stacked them on the table beside my chair. I figured that this would give me an air of legitamcy. When a passer by saw the name Freud or Jung (depending on their sexual and metaphysical affiliation) they may feel more comfortable to sit with me. Also the books on family therapy, multicultural psychotherapy and Gestalt therapy could not hurt. I put a small clock on my table as well and watched the minutes tick towards afternoon as I sat in my chair, cross legged and waited for someone to come and sit down. I refused to beg- I would just be patient and wait.

At around 1:15 one person did come and sit down. He looked like a man ravaged by life, chain smoking and smelling like he drank too much booze the previous night. At that point I did not care- I was happy to get someone. I told him that the sessions were twenty five minutes long and my fee was by donation. He shook his head and seemed to understand the deal. “You mind if I smoke?” he asked. I did not mind. “So what can I do for you today?” I inquired. He just sat there and smoked his cigarette. “It’s nice out here man,” he said looking around. His voice sounded as if he spent one too many years with a cigarette in his mouth. I watched the clock and noticed that he had already used up seven of his minutes. “Is there anything I can help you with today?” I asked again. The man looked at me from behind eyebrows that were begging for a trim. “Just needed to take a seat friend.” I decided that I would just let him sit there since I remembered learning in graduate school that silence can be just as beneficial to a client as talking. When his twenty five minutes were up I let him know that it was the end of our time. “Well thanks for letting me sit here with you. It was helpful,” the man said. I could hear a few of his bones cracking as he defied gravity by standing up. He put a dollar bill in my coffee can and walked a way.

As I was writing down my client notes (I like to keep notes on all my clients just so I can have a record of what went on) my neighbor came over and sat down. She looked a bit stressed out. “What are you doing?” she asked in a concerned tone. In the town where I live it is hard to spin a cat by its tail without hitting a psychotherapist in the head so it was no surprise to me to learn that my neighbor was a psychotherapist. “Do you realize that you can not just do therapy on your driveway? Do you realize that this is against the law?” I was stunned and disturbed at the same time. All I could think to say was, “I do not really concern myself with the law, I am more concerned with saving the world.” I know it sounds a bit idealistic but this is how I felt. “You think you are going to save the world by doing illegal therapy on your driveway? Are you kidding?” she said getting a little aggressive with me. “Look,” I said, “I appreciate your concern but the world is in trouble and the only way that it will be saved is if we look within ourselves and do what each of us needs to do to make a change. For me it’s doing talk therapy on my driveway.” My neighbor took a long, deep breath and said, “Oh my god. I think that you are the one in need of talk therapy! I am going to write to the American Psychological Association about you!!” She stomped her foot hard on the ground and I could already tell that this women had serious childhood issues that had to do with not getting what she wanted and not feeling heard. As much as I wanted to tell her to go to hell, I was in the therapist role so I said, “Thank you for sharing with me how you feel. Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?” She walked away.

I decided to keep my therapy practice open until six. I know what you are thinking, “What kind of therapy practice consists of two old chairs on a driveway?” Maybe you think I am even a little nuts. That is ok, seldom are visionaries appreciated in their own time. As I see it we are living in a changing world. There is an opportunity for each one of us to redefine who we are and how we want to live our lives. If we want we can choose to transform ourselves and no longer be confined and oppressed by the laws and authorities that have controlled our lives. We all see now that this government and corporate control/oppression has been in the name of profit for the select few and not in the majorities best interest. So my way of transforming the world and myself is to redefine how psychotherapy is practiced. If my neighbor does not like it tough. I should not have to get a license to do talk therapy when I am already good at it. I should not have to be in a florescent lit office all day when I enjoy working outside. I should not have to work for free. So having my therapy practice on my driveway sounds like a brilliant idea to me. Now I just needed to wait for someone to show up.

Mr. Pickle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I cannot help but feel like the great majority of human beings really are stupid monkeys dressed in clothes. I watch them interact with another, I see their mannerisms and I am often frustrated that I have to live in a society made up of such fools. But I am getting ahead of myself here. This is not how I wanted to start out. Instead I wanted to talk about my father. My father is a man who is filled with impossible expectations not only for himself but also for everyone else. I have had to grow up always facing the trap door of a father’s unmet expectations and as a 40-year-old man I am still expected to be a particular kind of son. A son who fills his fathers emotional holes, a son who smiles through his continual and subtle emotional abuse, a son who does not question the bullshit, a son who takes the money and does what he is told, a son who sacrifices himself for his father’s love and a an unseen son who is a narcissistic extension of his father. Maybe this is why I decided to take the job as Mr. Pickle.

 

When I went into Mr. Pickle’s sandwich shop I noticed a help wanted sign just above the cash register. Mr. Pickle’s sandwich shop was looking for someone to dress up in the Mr. Pickle costume and stand outside on the busy street corner and wave at passers by and try to direct them into the sandwich shop. The pay was $10 dollars an hour and on the sign it said: “All you have to do is dance around in a pickle costume for three hours a day! We will even give you a free sandwich!” Maybe it was because I only had a little over a hundred dollars in my bank account or maybe it was because I was fed up with my father’s expectations that I looked at the old lady behind the register and asked pointing to the sign, “how can I interview for this position you have available.”

 

Before I knew it I was standing on a busy street corner dressed in a Mr. Pickle costume. The Pickle costume covered my entire body so I was only wearing my underwear and shoes and socks. There were two little holes through which I could see and a small hole for breathing. It was one o’clock in the afternoon. Armies of cars passed through the intersection as I heard the old lady, my now boss, come outside of the sandwich shop and yell, “dance pickle, dance!!!!”

 

On my second day on the job it was almost a hundred degrees out at twelve o’clock in the afternoon. Dressed again in only my underwear and shoes and socks, I had brought with me my iPod, which helped get me into the mood for dancing. I listened to the Smashing Pumpkins, Fugazi, The Jesus Lizard and TV On The Radio as I became that dancing idiot in a costume that every person passes by at some point in their life, on some street corner….somewhere. As the armies of cars passed by I tried to catch their attention by waving my arms, moving my tight hips and bobbing my head back and forth. The faces in the cars all looked long and depressed. It was mid afternoon and the majority of people looked as if they were already buried deep in the superficial worries of the world. I knew that if I looked like I was having fun possibly I could grab their attention and get them to join the party by pulling into the Mr. Pickle Sandwich Shop’s parking lot. But very few did so. Instead I felt like more of annoyance. People honked at me with bitter looks of disdain. Some people flipped me off but the majority just pretended as if I did not exist. By three o’clock I was covered in sweat and green lint that came from the pickle costume. As I sat down eating my free vegetarian sandwich I thought of my father and suddenly a smile appeared on my face.

 

The day that I told my father I wanted to be a writer it was as if someone had died. I was a fresh college graduate with a drinking problem and a future filled with potential. He had hoped that I would be a doctor or a stockbroker- someone who would reflect well upon him when he talked about me to his friends.  With great authority my father worked hard to direct me down the straight, safe and legitimate path. But I kept falling off the path and it was always emotionally pain filled to get back on it. When I finally drew the line in the sand and said that the life he had envisioned for me was not a life I wanted to live I was met by toxic projections of unspoken disappointment. To this day I am still working hard to detoxify myself from the continuing exposure to this toxin. Years of despair, self-blame and feeling disempowered in the face of an adversary who was unable to love me for who I was, unable to let me do what I needed to do for myself without punishing me, had weakened my ambition and my body. Rebellion had taken up so much of my life and unmet expectations had left me feeling like a failure. As I ate my Mr. Pickle’s vegetarian sandwich I could not help but feel the absurdity of it all. I had grown up in an affluent country club and as a result of a long a tiring battle fought between father and son, I was now a sad, angry, despondent 40 old man dancing on a street corner dressed in a Mr. Pickle costume.

 

The following afternoon I could not stop yelling, “fuck you!” at all the cars as they passed by. I was a crazed pickle dancing to the music of the Dead Kennedys, jumping up and down and screaming at all the cars as they passed by. I felt a rage that I had not felt since my father hit me or since he told me that he loved my mother more than I. In my sock was the 40 some dollars that I had made the day before and when I felt it scraping against my leg I remembered my father bragging to me about things such as the modern mansion in which he was living, his world travels and decadent dinners. The intersection was filled with cars moving every which way. Everyone was in a hurry to get somewhere, rushing their life away without any idea that they were doing so. “Stupid fucking monkey’s” I kept yelling as the cars obediently marched in line. The people in the cars and the pedestrians walking down the street must of thought that Mr. Pickle was losing his mind. My screaming became louder as I thought about the stupidity of all the obedient people in the world. I also thought about my father and the lifetime of injustices that I felt were perpetrated upon me by him. In the midst of all my rage I noticed that I was having some slight difficulty breathing through the small hole that was now filled up with green lint. Saliva ran down my mouth as I continued to shout, “stupid fucking monkeys, stupid fucking monkeys!!!!!!!” while listening to the punk rock sounds the provided a musical background to what had become an uncontrollable inner rage.

 

“Mr. Pickle? Mr. Pickle?” I felt someone moving my head and when I opened my eyes I was looking up at two unfamiliar faces and a big blue sky. It was a young boy and his father I assumed. “You okay?” the father asked me. He took his hand in mine and helped me up. The young boy looked at me with wide eyes and surprise.  The father said, “we saw you dancing around and then you suddenly fell onto the ground. Are you ok?” I shook myself off in the same way that a deer does after a fright and said, “yes I am fine thank you.” “You sure?” the father asked. “Yes I am sure thank you for your help,” I replied. The father then patted me on the shoulder and said to his son who looked on in surprise, “Mr. Pickle is ok. Say bye to Mr. Pickle.” The son waved at me and said “Bye Mr. Pickle.” I waved at the young boy and watched the father and son walk away hand in hand. I felt a bittersweet smile form on my face as I thought about the irony of it all. I then turned around and saw the old lady standing by the open door of the sandwich shop. She was looking at me with an intimidating look of disdain. Still dressed in the Pickle costume I stared at her. I could feel the stinging pain of a few open wounds on my leg. As I dropped my shoulders in defeat and closed my eyes I heard the old lady yell, “you are fired! Take of my Mr. Pickle costume and get the hell out of here.”

A Jew?

  I once believed that I was a victim of the diaspora. The Jewish diaspora to be exact. When my people (or at least I was told in temple that they were my people even though they feel like strangers to me) decided to leave their homeland (wherever that was) and spread out and seek economic and political refuge in America- certain irreplaceable things were left behind. In their pursuit to become Americanized the family that I was yet to be born into was slowly shedding their ethnic and cultural ways. Who would of thought that in less than seventy-five years there would be me, growing tall (from being overfed) in a very white centric suburban country club where my worst fear was getting hit in the head with a golf ball while walking to the bus stop.

Growing up I remember traces of the culture showing up that my great grandparents had left behind. My fathers parents spoke Yiddish to one another and my mother’s parents- well they had already been thoroughly Americanized by the time I was ten. I attended Hebrew school once a week and went to temple a couple of times a year on the high holidays. I was told I was a Jew and this is why I had to do uncomfortable things like get a bar mitzvah. Even though I felt no real connection to being Jewish, every Friday night my parents drank red wine, said a few blessings over candles and broke bread for the Sabbath. Sometimes my father’s parents would eat the table with us; sometimes it would be just me, my sister and my parents who seemed to be pledging allegiance to the nation of Israel at those dinners more so than being apart of any authentic Jewish culture. At least that is how it felt. There was always the Israeli flag flying just over my parents shoulder.

My father often spoke about how he grew up in a large family in the Jewish section of Philadelphia where there were always aunts, uncles and grandparents around. Women cooked and cleaned as the men kibitzed and fought. They would eat dinner together and seemed to emulate certain Jewish tribes that I learned about in Hebrew school.  I will never forget the stories that my father’s mother told me about my grandfather’s mother who kept kosher and used to make booze and gefilte fish in her bathtub. Her husband, who I guess was also a kosher Jew, was killed by a train one Saturday night as he strolled home from the local bar with one of his mistresses hanging on his arm. After I heard this story I decided that I would never be kosher because I was afraid of breaking the pledge and then getting run over by what my grandmother called “the killer kosher train.” My mother’s family who still lived in Philadelphia while I was growing up in a sterile suburban country club in northern California- seemed to be neither here nor there. They visited every once in a while, gave me loving kisses, sang me songs and talked to me about school. However, still to this day I know nothing about their past and am still unsure of where they came from. I am not even sure I know exactly where my father’s parents came from. Such is the price one must often pay for Americanization.

Like Alexander in Phillip Roth’s novel Portnoy’s Complaint, I was growing up in a family that was shaped by some of the more conservative, discriminatory, separatist and fear filled aspects of the old Jewish world. I always made sense of my families behavior by referring to it as post-holocaust syndrome. The fear of being annihilated by the non-Jew seemed to keep my parents and grandparents on high alert. It also kept me home a lot and off the football team. Non-Jewish invaders were always scrutinized and judged before they were even allowed in through the door. There seemed to be two common words that were always used to describe white, black, brown, yellow and pink people- shiksa for the women and shkutz for the men. Still to this day when my grandmother (who is 94 and the last standing member of the old world Jewish family clan) asked me if my girlfriend was Jewish and I told her “no” her response was, “you are dating a shiksa!” Of course now when she says it there is a slight smile on her face rather than the age-old frown. However, this smile is not the result of becoming more liberal in her acceptance of other ethnicities. Instead it is one of the more enlightening side effects of dementia.

Growing up I often wondered where I came from. Everyone who seemed to be accepted in my community was white (there was sometimes the token African American or Asian kids who to me were more like creatures from another, non Jewish planet).  Even though my skin was darker than everyone else’s, people just assumed I was tan. My skin color was closer to the Hispanic women who cleaned my house and the Hispanic men who mowed the lawns and kept the gardens looking tame. Maybe this is why I always felt at ease around the Mexicans who worked in my home. Even though they could not speak my language the similarity of our skin color told me I had more in common with them then I did with the white kids in my school.  People often asked me where I was from and for the longest time I remembered responding “Jewish.” Still to this day I am not sure what to say so I just give in and call myself a “Russian Jew.” My father was very white and my mother was very dark, the gypsy and the European. I was somewhere in between. When I asked my parents and my grandparents where I came from the answer was always the same. Ambiguous and general. Someplace in Russia, maybe Odessa. Someplace in Poland but who knows where. The Nazis obliterated everything.  Someplace in England. “England?” I often asked surprised. I still don’t get it.

As a possible victim of the diaspora I have grown up a man disconnected from his roots. I have Jewish practices to keep me tied to a past that seems to be getting further and further away but these Jewish practices do not feel like they resonate in my soul. I am a non-practicing Jew who occasionally engages in Jewish rituals like Yom Kippur or Hanukkah but mostly because I like the presents and the free meals. I often say that the growing up in the suburbs took the culture out of me and replaced it with little league sports, tennis, swimming, golf, shopping malls, boy scouts and lots of drunken nights completely detached from any notion of who I am or where I came from. The emphasis was more on money, status, career, achievement and celebrating the American dream that I felt had put everyone to sleep.

The past decade of my life has been dedicated to climbing out of the ruble created by growing up in an American wasteland. Even though I am still covered by the rubbles dust I feel like I have lifted off the heavy bricks that kept me stuck for so long. I have accepted that I will never really understand where I come from but I have been successful in forming a notion that I can live with. Rather than referring to any particular culture or ethnicity I have decided that I am a member of an uncertain gypsy race. Sometime I like to think of this band of thieves as an eastern European caravan of musicians, artisans, drunkards and lovers. Other times I see this caravan filled with impoverished Jews in search of a better life by hopping on a boat, falling asleep and waking up in the American dream. However, despite my romantic meanderings I mostly see this gypsy race as the human race. The black person, the brown person, the white person and the occasional yellow person are all traveling on this train. I see no difference in any of us.  We are members of a human race, a human culture that is much broader than what our egos want to identify us as being. I do not want to go so far as to give into that spiritual idiom that we are all one, but if growing up in a cultureless suburb taught me anything it taught me that race is a human/political construct that has nothing to do with the truth of who we are and that we are much, much more than the cultural and ethnic sum of our parts.

When I found myself standing in front of a classroom filled with 42 teenage African Americans, Caucasians, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans I remember having the thought “man this is beautiful.” There I was in the epicenter of a multicultural inner city environment and I was probably the only one in that classroom that was still uncertain about where exactly I came from.  I remember the daily struggle to make the information that I taught relevant to all the students in the classroom and daily I struggled against that one dreaded question, “why the hell do I have to know about this white man’s culture stuff? What does it have to do with my culture?” I could not of agreed with them more but as you can imagine my ideas about being apart of a human race did not go over well. I just found myself wearing the “hippie!” hat.

I remember half way through reading The Great Gatsby, the impatience and disconnect was palpable in the classroom. So I had us all throw our books out the window in protest of white centric education and we made it on to the evening news. We spent a lot of time talking about culture, race and ethnicity. Students brought to class “their” food. We read books from authors that came from a plethora of different cultures. We studied the machinations of white privilege. However, at the end of the day none of this was what connected me with my students. If anything it made us feel different from one another. What connected us was our mutual human experience. It was relating to one another as human beings and transcending the narrow confines of race, ethnicity and culture. The result of connecting in this way filled in the holes with hope and taught us all how to feel equal to one another. Maybe I am exaggerating all of this, projecting. I do this from time to time but if I know anything for certain working day after day in this multicultural environment taught me a great deal about who I am. Even though I am still uncertain about the who part I now know that I am something much larger than a suburban victim of the Jewish diaspora. But then again, maybe I really am that one thing I have tried to deny most of my adult life- a Jew?

Ants In My Pants (A respost in memory of Renee Khan)

1.

Outside my home, life is passing by. There are students on bikes with heavy backpacks filled with books. There are buses filled with pedestrians and cars filed with five-day-work-week commuters. Trucks, vans, government vehicles are all making their way through the intersection of life, that sits just outside my door. Inside my home, there are ants. Billions of ants that cannot be defeated no matter how hard I try. There are ants in the cupboard board, ants in the stove, ants in the bathtub, ants in the couch, ants in the bed and ants in my pants.


I have always been adamantly averse to killing any living thing. I preached to others the virtues of sparing a life- even if it was only a moth, mosquito, fly or spider. I have often heard myself compared to the Jains, who are members of an ancient Indian religion that prescribes a path of non-violence for all forms of living beings in this world. Whether you want to call it your karma or your luck I believed that if you took another living creatures life it would eventually reflect back upon your life in a negative way. Besides, I felt better when I let a fly, spider, mosquito or moth go free. I had the power to take its life but instead I made a more noble choice to let it be. Somehow this made me feel like I would be rewarded by the Gods who would appreciate me for all the lives that I had saved. Instead, what I have received for my virtuous acts is a home infested with little black ants.


I have been killing ants with the fervor of a Nazi. I have become convinced that all ants must die because they are polluting the sanctity of my home.  Not only is it unhygienic to live in a home with billions of black ants but it is also one of the most frustrating annoyances to constantly find then running across your arms and legs, through your hair and sometimes into your eyes and mouth. I find ants in my food and between my toes. They have made their way into my books, into my pillows and onto my toothbrushes- they are polluting my entire life, so I had no choice but to induce a full-blown fight.


I spend hours a day waging war against these annoying creatures. The ones that I can see with my naked eye are only a half of the entire gang that is infesting my home. They lodge in the ceiling and underneath the house- but it is my hope that by killing all the ants that I can see I will send a loud message to the other ants that are below ground and in the roof of my house that I am not fucking around.  I have spent over a hundred dollars on non-toxic ant spray, which I use excessively. I spray it like a hose, all through out the day, wherever I see ants congregating together. I whack them with brooms, flood them out with water, wipe them up with wet rags and have even thrown burning paper on a few. I like to watch them suffer, and when I am done with what can only be compared to waging genocide- I like to walk around and look at the piles and piles of dead ants. I know that this is a war that cannot be won- but at least I can do my part to get some sweet revenge.


2.

This morning I had a job interview. I put on one of my favorite suits and made sure that I looked just right. I shaved, put gel in my hair (something I never do) and I must say that when I looked in the mirror I did not look like a man that was living with billions of ants. I looked affluent, in an educated kind of way. I looked like I had a bank account filled with money and expensive food in my tummy. Instead I was going to a low level interview as a copy editor for a company that I had never heard of. I probably did not need to get as dressed up as I was, but since my bank account is empty- I was desperate to make a good impression. I met with a group of corporate looking people who call themselves “the board.” They put me in a single chair in front of their elongated table, behind which they all sat staring at me. They asked me a series of ridiculous questions like “why do I feel like I am the best candidate for the job?” and “what about my editing abilities makes me an effective copy editor?” I certainly did not reveal to them that I am dyslexic and have a terrible time spelling correctly but I did talk at length about my love for reading and my years of experience working as a writer and a high school English teacher.


Everything was going well until what felt like small, brief pinching sensations in my crouch began making me feel very uncomfortable. I had been noticing all morning that I was itching myself more than normal but I just assumed that was because of the starched suit I was wearing. I crossed and uncrossed my legs trying to nullify the slight pain that was starting to make its way down my legs. While I tried to maintain my composure and talk about why I thought I was the best candidate for the job- the pinching sensation intensified. It felt like I was being bitten in the strangest way. The sensation proceeded to very slowly move all the way down to the bottom of my legs and when I looked down at my shoes I could not believe what I saw, ants! My heart raced, I twitched, scratched and began to sweat. I cannot imagine what “the board” must of thought of me- but I tried to appear as confident as I could. I am hoping that they assumed that it was nervousness that caused me to twist and turn in such strange ways.


When the interview had ended, I shook all their hands and walked as quickly as I could to the bathroom, where I proceeded to take off my pants, shirt, socks, tie and shoes. I stripped down into my underwear in a bathroom stall and with tissues I wiped off the dozens of ants that were on my pants, legs, and socks and inside my shoes. I cursed the little creatures to hell before I squashed them and I even shed a few tears out of frustration rather than sorrow. “Why me?” I muttered to myself, but abstained from saying it out loud. When the bathroom was vacant I went out to use the sink and ran soapy water all over my legs, feet and chest. After what felt like hours of sanitation– I got dressed and returned home. In my car I still felt itchy all over my legs, which I prayed not to be more ants. I looked down on the floor of my car and found dozens of ants there to.


It was at this point that I decided I had lost. I threw my hands up in the air and declared “surrender” out loud. The war could not be won. The more ants that I killed the more that they multiplied. Karma had fucked me and there was nothing that could be done. I had to drive home resigned to the fact that there were ants crawling all over my legs and there was nothing I could do about it. The sensation drove me mad but all I could do was drive and breathe. For months I have been trying to avoid calling an extermination company into my home but I have decided that it is the only thing that can be done to bring my wife and I some relief. When I arrived home I took off my suit and stripped down into the nude. I noticed dozens of ants crawling around on my legs and between my toes, on the bedroom floor and when I got into the shower there were more. Under the hot water I washed away whatever sins and ants were left upon my burning body. I rinsed myself down with patchouli soap and watched the ants helplessly get funneled down the drain. The phone rang and I did not care. I heard the message on my answering machine, which was turned up much to loud. “Hello, this is Wendy from the board whom you just interviewed with. Someone found socks and a tie in our bathroom and I am almost certain that they belong to you. If these are indeed yours could you please contact me as soon as possible, I will hold them for you just in case. Thank you.”

 

The Meat Sweats

I have been abstaining from eating meat for sometime. Often I am asked why I am doing such a thing and the best answer I can come up with is “because I feel like it.” I wish there was a political, spiritual or dietary motivation for my decision to abstain from ingesting flesh but I am unable to resonate with any of these motivators. I did have a conversation with a very thin vegan a few months back who told me that ever since he stopped eating meat his hair began to thicken and he continually was experiencing a unbearable lightness of being. Maybe this is what motivated me most- the idea that the weight of the world that I carry around could be lessened by not eating meat. My hair has also been thinning and the idea that I could have a second chance at a full head of thick hair I assume also tempted me into abstaining from eating meat.

I have never been any good at pushing away the temporary delights that most temptations offer. Like my dog I have a tendency to indulge without taking into consideration the consequences. I tell myself that life is for the living and in these moments when I give way to temptation I am well aware that it is often the experience of gastronomical pleasure that I live for. So I have no better excuse for the massive amounts of meat that I ate last night other than I was in the wrong place at the right time. A friend of mine, who is a daily red meat-eater and a rancher, was having a labor day weekend barbecue and even though I do not often engage in social events I felt like some mindless fun could be a good antidote for my blues. If I am being honest with myself I have to realize that social gatherings in the form of barbecues are for me an opportunity to eat free food and medicate my social anxieties with large amounts of booze. It’s a kind of group ritual since usually I am not getting drunk alone but am instead imbibing with a group of strangers who seem to become better friends the more we drink. So I longed for this intoxicated sense of community and I went to the barbecue with a personal vow to not eat any meat.

But there was only meat to eat. The carcass of a slaughtered cow was being ingested by an army of flies while its inner flesh sat slowly grilling on top of a large barbecue pit. besides the cow’s but, thigh and chest meat were the small fowl that once roamed the fields with it. There was chicken, duck and buffalo meat all grilling away to the sounds of crackling charcoal. As disinterested as I was by the idea of eating the meat that filled my friends large backyard with a smell that made me salivate I felt a longing for protein that made me shake. In my mind I convinced myself that the cause of my fatigue, low sex drive and weakness over the past few months was the result of not getting enough protein. I told myself that the meat that was filling my nostrils with the smell of its juices could serve as not only my food but also my medicine. I can talk myself into or out of anything and I do this on a daily basis. When my friend yelled out “meat is ready come and get it” I am embarrassed to admit that I was the first person in line.

I am also embarrassed to admit that I behaved just like my dog with a flesh filled bone in its mouth. I took the one pound new york cut of steak that sat on my paper plate and went into a solitary corner so that I could eat alone. I did not want to be bothered with meat in my mouth. I regressed to a primal like state in which the meat was the most precious object in my life and I did not want to have to worry about others stealing it while I was eating it. I know that this is an irrational fear but meat does strange things to man and as much as I often try to deny it I am as much apart of the human animal race as everyone else.

I ate my steak in a state of bliss. I ate quickly but contentedly. I chewed well so as not to choke to death on the meat. I sipped my red wine and used my hands. I tore the flesh with my teeth and felt a certain manhood slowly return to my body that I had not felt since I stopped eating meat. I returned to the grill for some chicken and I wanted to try the duck. My friend giggled as he placed a few pounds of meat on my paper dish and said “you eat like a man.” I know he was drunk but there was a deep feel of approval that I felt coming from this rugged cowboy as he nodded his head at me and said “well done.” I felt again like a part of a club, a mans club in which the only thing I had to do to prove myself was eat a lot of meat. I took my paper plate filled with a small hill of meat back into my private corner but as soon as I arrived I was joined by other men who also had their plates filled with meat. Together we ate with our hands, chewed ferociously and I no longer felt threatened that another predator was going to steal my meat. I was relaxed. I laughed as I ate. I talked freely to the other men. This was unusual behavior for me but it felt good. The meat was making my testosterone move and I could literally feel the muscles forming in my chest.

“You ok man?” one of the men asked me. I looked at him and with a mouthful of chewed meat. I said “yeah I am fine, why?” All the men in the group were standing around looking strangely at me. “Your drenched in sweat,” one of the men said surprised that I was unaware of the sweat that had caused me to look as if I had just gotten out of a pool. All of a sudden I returned to my body. I felt the rumblings in my stomach and the stench of burnt meat in the back of my throat. I looked down at my shirt and then I ran my hand through my hair. I was drenched in sweat. Suddenly I started to feel weak and began to fear for my life. Had I been poisoned from eating the meat I wondered. My anxiety became visible as I put down my paper plate and gulped down my glass that was filled with red wine. My mind was racing with anxiety and I felt the primal need to flee. But thankfully I had enough sense to realize that I was standing around with a group of men. If I suddenly panicked I would forever be seen as a fool. My heterosexuality would be questioned. So I stood strong in my dread and with a palpable feeling of desperation in my tone I said, “I do not understand what is wrong with me.” One of the men with a cowboy hat on looked at me and started to laugh. He looked at the other men who all also started to laugh. He then took off his cowboy hat to show me his head and hair which was dripping with sweat. I looked at the other men and noticed that they too were covered in sweat. The cowboy looked me in the eyes and said with a giggle in his voice, “dude you ate too much meat and got yourself a case of the meat sweats!”