Friday, May 30, 2014

Mike's Story Part 35 - Bonding

By Jenna Orkin    

   "When I was about ten and had just moved to a new school, we had rope-climbing in gym. I'd never climbed a rope and I sucked. I became a champion rope-climber after that. 

   'Another time, also when I was ten, the kids were changing in the locker room at the pool, I was uncircumcised so I made my dad wait with me in the parking lot until the kids were done. He was furious. He spanked me.  When I was twelve I got circumcised."  

   Then he told another story from his twelfth year - and not, as I'd incorrectly remembered, his teens, - of his father's making him a screwdriver and Mike's airing dirty family laundry ("Then Dad beat the shit out of me,") while under the influence.
   Exchanging stories of childhood scars had been for him, as it is for many people, a way of bonding with others,  He remembered a former FTW intern, the son of a well-known actress, (FTW headquarters were in LA, after all) whose parents used to tie him to his crib until he was nine while they went out drinking.

   I told him about a friend who left a career as a charismatic philosophy professor at a prestigious college on the eve of being offered tenure.  The more popular and successful she became, the more anxious she felt.

   "The impostor syndrome," Mike said,

   Several years after leaving the college, she switched fields and earned her second Ph.D., this time in psychology, which she practiced, often pro bono, to the betterment of any who were lucky and perceptive enough to consult her.

   Her understanding of the workings of both fields also led her down the path of self-analysis towards becoming a "mensch," a good human being, which didn't come easily because of her troubled upbringing which I described to Mike in greater detail than is possible here.

   "I appreciate the story you told me about your friend," Mike says later.

December 30 2006
   Amy Goodman has signed a deal with King Features Syndicate and Hearst, publisher of Popular Mechanics, the infamous magazine that purported to destroy 9/11 "conspiracy theories."
   Mike is devastated. "They couldn't have done this if I was still in the game," he says. "Maybe going to Venezuela wasn't such a bad idea. This shows the forces that were lined up against me.
   'I'm Mozart; she's Salieri... I just had no idea it would be this hard."
   "At least she's been outted."
   He nods unhappily.
   "And everyone watching that movie would rather be Mozart than Salieri," I add.
   "But would Mozart rather have been Mozart?"
   "He made that choice."
   "I have the feeling they haven't finished with me yet."
   I don't ask what he thinks "they" might still have up their sleeve. What's left but death? 
   He opens the door and looks both ways down the hall. "I thought I heard someone come in from the stairwell."
   The door to the stairwell flaps open occasionally; when I first moved into the apartment, I also checked on the odd noises emanating from that quarter; Mike's behavior is edgy but not yet paranoid.  Still, I'm reminded of the observation that one motive to become paranoid can be to feel important:  Thinking "they" are after you is preferable to admitting that "they" don't give a shit anymore.  This is not to suggest Mike invented the persecution he alleged.  But a natural side effect of government harassment is that the victim becomes wary, always looking over his shoulder and suspicious even in innocent circumstances, in the belief that it's when you let down your guard that they get you.  When Mike finally did "get out of the game," it's understandable that his habit of hyper-vigilance lingered.  And thinking "they" are about to get you is an honorable respite from your own drive to do yourself in.
   "I have the feeling you're so mad because you'd like to respond but you can't; that's why you feel helpless again," I said.
   "I castrated myself. The only way I could comment is if popular opinion wanted me to; otherwise it would just be perceived as sour grapes. Cynthia would understand this."
   He still harbors a suppressed hope that like Tinkerbell, he will return to his former way of life if the faceless public clap vigorously enough.

   Later, as he takes a stab at planning his novel, I peruse the Sunday Times Book Review.
   “Are you aware of the encroachment of nonfiction on the fiction market in the last thirty years?” I ask.
   "People feel less of a need for fiction.  I think Oprah has something to do with it. A hundred years ago, people went to fiction to find out the truth; society was so repressed.  But now everyone shares their libido on TV.”
   He nods, seeing the plausibility of the notion.
   “Great,” he says drily.
   In the end, he recognizes that his heart wasn't in the novel; his next book should be nonfiction.

   After a breakfast of triple berry granola, he retires for his "favorite part of the day," a cup of coffee and a cigarette on the stairwell.  We had planned to see the Ed Wilson/Ted Shackley movie but he's not up for it, opting, instead, to take a nap.  Although he uses this as yet another reason for self-flagellation, he recognizes that he always feels better afterwards and gets things done.
   "I don't want to just sit here like a bump on a log, dragging you down."
   "You don't have the power to drag me down any more than I have the power to drag you up."
   The prospect of Bellevue has crept one day closer. 
   "Maybe you're so afraid of being locked up because a part of you wants to be.
   'You've been bouncing from a manic state - on the phone, smoking, taking a plane, lecturing for four hours - to this." I gesture towards him, dejection incarnate in his hooded sweatshirt, (he is always cold in Brooklyn, one more reason to hate it) hunched over with his elbows on his knees, chin in hands.  "Each state is an escape from the other. Your last manic phase, you kept going 'til you hit a brick wall.
   'Maybe you're looking to get locked up because all your life you took care of your mother; she didn't take care of you."
   This is how Mike presented his early years, whether accurately or not.  So it was a way of talking to him that he would accept.   
   "And God knows, your father also left you to take care of her.  Getting locked up would be a way of saying, 'It's my turn to be taken care of, Goddammit."
   He nods.    "Yeah!" he says. "I don't want to face this mountain of crap."
   It's a time-honored escape. My friend the clinical psychologist has said that people sometimes drive themselves truly nuts in order to do things they can't get away with when sane (an observation Mike has also made, but about people on drugs.  Thus, although he believed it possible that some of his employees smashed his computers while high on chrystal meth, he still didn't find the act excusable; in his view, the drug would only have freed impulses that were already in there.)
   But why not take the vacation while saving yourself the trouble of going insane?
   Because it's not allowed.
   "I have a young kid to take care of," he asserts.  "Maybe therapy would unleash something that would otherwise remain unconscious.”
  "That's the hope.  But share with your shrink the dilemma that your fear of getting locked up will inhibit your honesty.  [This would set the stage for his telling her of his suicidal impulses.]  
   'You could also ask her about biofeedback.  It’s sort of like what Dr. X was doing with you, visualizing peaceful scenes.  It can be very effective.”
  As he takes off his shoes he says, "We may have to face the fact that I need to get locked up. It's not a matter of who or what or why anymore. I just feel like I want to die."

1 comment:

Robert Paulsen said...

I'm curious, do you remember the title of the Ed Wilson/Ted Shackley movie you mentioned? I'd love to check it out if you can remember it.