David A. Schwinghammer
· Soldier's Gap
· Seminary Boy, a memoir
· Fisher of Men, Chapter Nine
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Nine
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8
· Honest Thief, Tender Murderer, Chapter Eight
· Mengele's Double, Chapter Eight
· Bereavement Blues
· Fisher of Men, Chapter 7
· Speed Dating With 'Janeane Garofalo'
· The Three Stooges, book review
· The God Particle
· Empire of Sin, book review
· Science at the Edge, book review
· Obama, a Modern Caesar?
· Americans Need to Pull Together
· Voices of the French Revolution, book review
· Great American Scandals
· Odd Man Out, book review
· Portrait of a Killer, book review
· Widow's Peak
· Alumni Game
· Girls Who Wear Glasses
· The Do Drop Inn
· Ode to Neve Campbell
· Jacks or Better 101
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John Gustafson goes to see a shrink about his fear of the number "thirteen".
Dr. Lewis had always seemed to me to be a very unhappy man. He had the traditional Freudian beard with a receding hairline and wire-rimmed glasses. The man never seemed to smile. This was my third visit, and I’d been considering mentioning this to him: that he wasn’t taking my condition seriously. I do realize it seems to be the opposite, but I got the impression he thought my plight a silly, frivolous type experience. I’d come to him about my fear of the number thirteen, triskaidekaphobia. It was getting worse. I literally could not get out of bed on Friday the Thirteenth, or on the 13th of the month for that matter; I couldn‘t climb stairs with thirteen steps, rather problematic since our local Carnegie Library had that many steps and I am a voracious reader. I have to buy the newest James Patterson at the drug store. and they don‘t come cheap let me tell you. Then there were my other phobias. More about them later
“We don‘t call them phobias anymore, Mr. Gustafson,” Dr. Lewis said, looking out the widow at a passing car, which seemed to fascinate him.
“What do you call them then?”
“Anxiety disorders, Mr. Gustafson . . . May I call you John?”
He turned a sickly shade of gray, and I thought he might be getting ready to throw up, but then he said, “They all have the same underlying cause, child abuse of some sort. Were your parents abusive?”
“Not that I know of, but I’ve never been hypnotized, so I guess I don’t really know. You know, regressed to an earlier time in life. I may have blocked it.”
“A lot of those cases have been disproved. The psychologists were leading the witnesses, so to speak. You don’t subscribe to PSYCHOLOGY TODAY, do you?”
“How did you know?”
“Let’s just say I’m psychic.”
“Hmmm, I psychic psychiatrist.”
“Did your parents belittle you at all?”
“Not then. Only lately. I have trouble holding a job, since I can’t come to work on the thirteenth of each month and they think I'm a slacker or a boomeranger, which might be worse.”
"So then you live with your parents?"
"I'm afraid so."
"Nothing to be ashamed of. Lots of young people are doing it these days in these hard economic times." Then he almost smirked.
He stroked his beard. “Do you have any other so-called phobias?”
“Well, I read about urophobia and pedophobia, and they sound a whole lot like me.”
“Fear of urine. How can you possibly be afraid of urine? Everyone needs to use the bathroom several times a day.”
“I just don’t like to get it on me. And I don’t like to see it go into the bowl. I look away.”
“I must say, you are one sick puppy.”
“I don’t think you’re taking my condition seriously, doctor. I’m paying you two hundred and fifty dollars an hour to be verbally abused.”
“You should be”
He looked at me as if I was gum stuck on the bottom of his shoe.
“How about children? Why are you afraid of children. They’re so innocent.”
“You haven’t met the ones I have. They’re mean. My nephew calls me poop head.”
“Do they do anything else?”
“I’m a big W.C. Fields fan.”
“If I didn’t know better, Mr. Gustafson, I’d say you were having some fun with me.”
“Just a little, but I really don’t like kids.”
“Very well. I think I can help you. Your fear of the number thirteen isn’t literal. What you’re doing is setting yourself up to avoid failure or being made fun of. You don’t see your nephew much, do you?
"Only when I can’t avoid it, like on Christmas.”
“How old is the little rugrat?”
“Three the last I heard.”
“My heavens. He’s just a little kid.”
I sighed, and he looked over at me for the first time during the session, but the light hit his glasses in such a way as to make them appear opaque and cartoon like.
“What should I do, doctor? I’m working at Sears as an appliance salesman. And I don’t want to lose this job, too.”
“We’ll go out on a fieldtrip and gradually work you through the thing. You’re seen ’Monk” I take it? He’s an obsessive/compulsive, but he works as a consultant to the police department. It’s my favorite show.”
“Yes, I’ve seen it a time or two. I can’t say much for the story lines, but I like the character. So, you’ll take me to the library and help me make it up the steps.”
“It’ll be a bit more, but I promise it’ll be worth it. What you’re doing is avoiding talking to the librarian. Is she very beautiful?”
“The most incredible looking woman I’ve ever seen. And her glasses are so sexy.”
“I thought so.”
“Right, you’re psychic.”
“We’re making progress already. We know now it’s not the number thirteen, and that you’re afraid of exposing yourself in a public toilet.”
“You are. I’m not exactly fond of it myself.”
“How much more is this going to cost me?”
“I don’t know. Talk to my business manager.”
“It’s a lot, isn’t it?”
“We have a payment plan for those without insurance. So then, I’ll be getting you up on the thirteenth. And you better get out of bed, or I’ll be over with my stun gun.”
“What do I do when I run out of money?”
“Do I detect a note of sarcasm, John? Now, I’ll talk to your brother or your sister, whichever, and we’ll get you a more appropriate nickname. What would you like to be called?”
“Ah, Uncle John.”
“That may be a tough one.”
“What about Betty Fischer?”
“Who’s Betty Fischer?”
“That ought to be fun. I’ll introduce you.”
“Are you trying to give me a heart attack or what. I’m telling you, this babe is out of my league.”
“No one is out of your league, John. You’re a very attractive man.
I was beginning to think that the doctor was interested in something other than a fee.
“Anything else you haven’t told me? Are there any other ways you feel insecure, other than your personal habits?”
“Can’t hammer a nail. Other people seem to have no problem with these sorts of things. I walked by a house the other day where a man was tearing the siding off of a house with a hammer and babysitting a little boy at the same time. That would defeat me.”
“What did you do for a living before you got the job at Sears? You said you‘d had trouble holding a job?”
“I was a teacher.”
“Did you feel inept as a teacher?”
“Yes, but that’s not the only thing. There’s women, too.”
“Yes, I get that from the Betty Fischer problem.”
“How do you feel about women, Phil?”
“Never mind me. I’m not the patient here, John."
"Go ahead about what?”
“We went out to dinner to an expensive French restaurant, and I’d been worried that somehow she’d order such an expensive meal that I wouldn’t be able to pay for it. That didn’t happen, but when I reached for my wallet it was gone. It was pretty obvious she didn’t believe me. She had to pay for the meal, and she was really grouchy all the way to her place. Of course, she wouldn’t let me take her up to her apartment. It didn’t help that I missed a turn on the way.”
“You forgot your wallet?”
“It was in the front seat of my car. I offered to pay her back but she wouldn’t take it.”
“Was she as hot as Betty Fischer?”
“You’re trying to get me to say something sexual aren’t you, Phil?”
“That’s not very likely, is it, John?”
I tried to give him the evil eye, but it’s a talent I’ve never had much luck with.
“She wasn’t bad. But she wouldn’t go out with me after that.”
“I’d say you were probably better off.”
I wasn't used to the doctor being nice to me.“You really think so? You really do?”
"Don't get all Sally Field on me now, okay? Go ahead."
“If she’d spilled her wine in your lap, would you have treated her as badly as she treated you?”
“I doubt it.”
“See? Now, let’s talk about why you left your wallet in the car. It ties in with your fear of failure and your fear of being made fun of. Lots of teachers come to me about that problem by the way. Losing your wallet was just a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
“Yes, it was. You said you were afraid you wouldn’t have enough money to pay for the meal, and you lost your wallet instead.”
“I did it on purpose?”
“Subconsciously maybe. We need to experience some success at something, John, with somebody besides your present employee and Betty Fischer. I‘ll be helping you there and that‘s not teaching you how to fish, so to speak. What I want you to do is to go out and find somebody to talk to. At the supermarket or at church maybe.”
“How do I do that?”
“Just say, ‘Nice weather, isn’t it?’ Usually the rest of it will take care of itself.”
“Should this person be female?”
“That would be best, but she doesn’t have to be. And if the first conversation doesn’t work, do it again until it does. What you need to do is to be persistent. There are plenty of inept people who have had romantic success with women.”
“So then you’re saying the fear of the number thirteen was really about my lack of confidence with women.”
“Women, your job, hammering a nail. It’s all the same.”
Dave Schwinghammer's published novel, SOLDIER'S GAP, is available at Amazon.com at a discount in new and used form.
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David A. Schwinghammer