Truth or Consequence
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by Harry Buschman
"Mr. O'Hanlon, have you been here before?"
"Doctor Wallenstein is busy with another patient at the moment. Will you fill out this questionnaire while you wait?"
Darin O'Hanlon looked about the empty waiting room, chose a chair in the corner, took a deep breath and sat down. He glanced at the questionnaire and reached absentmindedly into his inner pocket for a pencil.
"Yes, Mr. O'Hanlon."
"I don't seem to have a pencil."
"Oh, no problem, Mr. O'Hanlon, I have one." She held out a white coffee mug with a smiley face on it. It was loaded with needle sharp pencils of, each of identical length, each tipped with a pink eraser.
Darin O'Hanlon sighed, walked to the receptionist's desk and, although they were all the same, chose one with great care.
Some of the questions were personal, disturbing, and apparently intended to expose his dark side. Others involved his parents and pets he had as a boy. His hobbies were of great concern to Dr. Wallenstein and so were his choices in clothing and reading material. He answered all these questions frankly, honestly and in great detail, so much detail, in fact, that he found it difficult to squeeze them in the space allotted. While doing this he could not help overhear the mechanical doll's voice of Miss Upshot, the receptionist, speaking to patients on the telephone.
"Oh, Mrs. Kaminsky, I'm so sorry. All night you say... and you took how many this morning?! But that's two more than you were supposed... well yes, I know but... he'll call you back shortly... don't take any more Mrs. Kaminsky, okay? Yes, who? Oh, Mr. Paterson, what can I do for... you are? Well, don't jump, Mr. Paterson! Oh, you're only joking! You're a cut-up, Mr. Paterson."
Darin O'Hanlon hadn't realized until that moment that Dr. Wallenstein's patients were so close to the ragged edge. His own problem seemed minor by comparison. After all, his only difficulty was he couldn't help telling the truth. He didn't need a psychiatrist for that. He wasn't suicidal -- he wouldn't dream of overdosing on prescription drugs or leaping from a windowsill. He was the picture of health. In tip-top shape. If he hadn't been sent by Dr. Ottermann for outpatient care, he wouldn't be here in the first place.
A jittery man emerged from Dr. Wallenstein's office. He walked quickly in a semi crouch style, darting this way and that. He paused at the receptionist's desk, and in a hoarse tenor, far too loud for the small room, he announced, "Doc says I need another appointment." As the receptionist thumbed through her appointment book, the man noticed Darin in the corner, and said suspiciously, "What are you in here for? You don't look crazy."
"Don't let him give you desipramine."
"It'll rot your brain." Then he smiled and lowered his voice like a conspirator. "Medicare gave Doc the green light, I'll be comin' in once a week now."
The receptionist handed the man a card with his new appointment. He stuck it in the band of his hat and slouched towards the front door, eying Darin suspiciously. Darin watched him through the half drawn Venetian blind as he made his way to his car. The car backed abruptly into the one behind it, then laid down two long streaks of rubber as it roared out into the street and through the stop light at the corner.
"A troubled man," The receptionist remarked as Darin handed her his completed questionnaire.
"Shouldn't be driving," Darin remarked. He turned his head sideways and looked sharply at the receptionist. "Do you sit all day?" he asked. "You're at least twenty pounds overweight."
Miss Upshot blushed a beet red, but before she could respond, a buzzer sounded on her desk. "Dr. Wallenstein will see you now." She rose from her desk stiffly. "Please follow me," she said coldly.
"Guess I shouldn't have said that, Miss, but that's why I'm here, you see. I can't help telling the truth." Darin followed her down the carpeted hall, and while his eyes noticed the girth of Miss Upshot, he kept his mouth shut. She opened the door and stood aside as Darin walked in. She followed him and handed the finished questionnaire to Dr. Wallenstein.
"I'm Felix Wallenstein, Mr. O'Hanlon, please sit down and make yourself comfortable. "O'Hanlon"... what a fine Irish name. I knew an O'Hanlon at school, I believe he was a Dublin O'Hanlon."
"Odd first name, "Dublin."
"Oh, I'm sorry... no, I mean his family was from Dublin. I really can't remember what his first name was." Flustered, Wallenstein turned to Darin's questionnaire.
"Well now, you've been out of Queen's Central three weeks I see. Emil Ottermann has passed you on to me – fine man, Otterman. How are you getting on, Mr. O'Hanlon?"
"Not well, Doctor. Not well at all. I still tell the truth."
"You can't expect miracles, Mr. O'Hanlon. May I call you Darin?" Without waiting for approval he went on, "Lying takes practice you know. Does the medication help?"
"Not much, Doctor. About an hour after I take it I find I can stretch the truth a little. Just a little, not nearly enough to get my old job back."
Darin had been a promising junior partner at Liebowitz, Ferrara and O'Hanlon, but his addiction to the truth thwarted his chances of moving up the corporate ladder. They almost ruined the corporate ladder of Liebowitz, Ferrara and O'Hanlon as well. Accident cases, malpractice suits, even armed robbery indictments were thrown out of court because Darin insisted on telling the truth.
Attorney Liebowitz finally took him aside, and as they stood by the heavily draped window overlooking City Hall he said, "Look, O'Hanlon -- you tell the truth, you pay the consequence, see. There's no room for truth in a court of law. You think this is the movies? Ferrara and me, we both got big families. We only get paid if we win."
Darin collapsed in court one day while defending a surgeon who had left two clips in the belly of a Puerto Rican teenager while bungling a "C" Section delivery, resulting in the death of both mother and child. The breakdown sent Darin to Queen's Central. He was in a terrible state, nearly catatonic. He spent two long years in the fourth floor ward where the patients had lost track of the world about them and lived with the devils of their own existence.
The road back was slow and painful, but under the patient supervision of Dr. Emil Ottermann, Darin gradually worked his way back to reality. For the past six months he was in the minimum security ward of Queen's General.
Now, here he was in the plush office of Dr. Wallenstein. He let his eyes wander about the room and admired its expensive furnishings. On Doctor Wallenstein's desk was the picture of a long legged platinum blond in a bikini, far too young to be his wife -- his first wife anyway. It might have been his daughter, but a proper father would never display such a frankly erotic photograph of his child. A diploma was elaborately framed on the wall behind his desk.
Felix P. Wallenstein
Professor of Psychiatry
Hmmm, thought Darin, an agricultural school. He was disappointed. He expected Yale or Pennsylvania. Near the diploma was a group picture of twenty or more men in formal attire taken at a dinner, any one of whom might have been Dr. Wallenstein. Each of them sported identical goatees. It was difficult to tell one from the other. A celebration of some sort? A retirement? Perhaps the unexpected recovery of a wealthy patient.
Dr. Wallenstein glanced over Darin's questionnaire. "Life is a treacherous path between reality and fantasy, Mr. --" he looked momentarily at the questionnaire, "O'Hanlon. Psychiatrists ask questions so they may find a way to the truth."
"I know all about the truth, Doctor... the truth is what got me into trouble."
"Do you resent having to visit a psychiatrist?" He asked.
"And why is that, Mr. O'Hanlon?"
"It's a long story Doctor Wallenstein, and if you were as omniscient as you think you are, you should know the answer without asking me. Do you realize what I've suffered for the truth? Have you ever been forced to move your bowels in the presence of a two hundred pound male nurse who picks his teeth? How about eating dinner with a plastic knife and fork next to a man who can't control his bladder? Have you ever spent the night on your back, strapped in a bed with bars? No, I didn't think so! Ask yourself that question then – remember it? 'Do you resent having to visit a psychiatrist?' You're damn right I do!" Darin stared at Wallenstein and watched him lower his eyes. "I used to be an attorney, Doctor. Do you know what I do now?"
"Why yes, it's right here in your ---"
"I'm a winder in a broom factory, Doctor. I work shoulder-to-shoulder with parolees from Riker's Island, men just out of rehab, 'employables' they call them. Pretty steep penalty for telling the truth don't you think? By the way Doctor, is that a weave or an implant?"
Doctor Wallenstein was flustered, he had never dealt with this particular symptom. It unnerved him. Sometimes, he reminded himself, these schizophrenics can turn the tables on you. Before you know it, you find yourself on the couch and they're sitting behind your desk asking the questions.
"Now slow down a moment, Mr. O'Hanlon... or may I call you Darin? You indicate a considerable degree of resistance. I can understand that, it's not unusual in cases like yours..."
"Hold on yourself, Doctor. You haven't answered my question."
"I don't remember..."
Darin broke in quickly. "You don't! Forgetfulness is inexcusable in a psychiatrist! Let me remind you then. I asked you if that was a weave or an implant!"
Damn him! This was going to be a hard nut to crack. He considered the possibility of referring him to his friend Carl Bunsenburner, with his acupuncture needles, but Carl would probably just send him right back again... and besides, O'Hanlon was good for fifty or sixty visits at $150 a pop.
The contentious meeting continued until the hour expired. Doctor Wallenstein's probing questions had barely scratched Darin's armor, and he had to admit his own armor was pierced in many places. Had this encounter not occurred in his own office he would have been completely demoralized. His note pad contained little vital information on Darin O'Hanlon. He fanned himself with it and turned on the video tape recorder. It was obvious O'Hanlon was in complete control of himself. It was as though he was a representative of the licensing board checking on Wallenstein's credentials.
Wallenstein sat at his desk in a classic Freudian pose – elbows resting on the blotter, chin resting in his clasped hands with his index fingers extended... "Hmmm," he thought. "O'Hanlon's only problem is the truth. What a strange disease! Suppose the world was suddenly afflicted with a disease which compelled it to tell the truth? Every man, every woman, every country unable to hide the truth from each other! It would collapse! It simply could not exist."
He went to the small wash room between his office and the receptionist and looked in the mirror. "Is my weave really so noticeable? Unnerving isn't it? What am I hiding? Hiding the truth, that's what I'm doing. Then there's the standard psychiatrist's goatee... what is that for? A masquerade! To make me look like a psychiatrist. Just as a uniform makes a frightened teenager feel as brave as a soldier."
He walked into the empty waiting room. "Miss Upshot, are we through for the day?"
"Nothing more in your book, Doctor."
"What did you think of Mr. O'Hanlon?" Would he get an honest answer. Would she tell the truth?
"He's okay, I guess. Told me I was fat."
"You're not fat, Miss Upshot." Now wait a minute, that was a lie too, she most definitely was fat. "What do you mean – okay?"
"Well, I mean you get some real cases in here, Doctor. Mr. O'Hanlon didn't seem so bad as them, but you could see something was eating on him."
"Be frank with me, Miss Upshot. Can you tell if I have a weave or not?"
Miss Upshot seemed anxious to call it a day. "I really can't say Doctor... I don't think I ever seen you without one, you know?"
"Good night, Miss Upshot."
"Toodle-oo, Doctor." She turned off the designer light over her desk and shut down the computer. She got her coat from the rack and shrugged herself into it, turned off the lights in the waiting room and was out the door all the while keeping a wary eye on Dr. Wallenstein.
Yes, by all means "toodle-oo." Tell me true, Miss Upshot, do you or don't you? Would she lie about that too? Of course she would. No woman would dare say, "Of course I do," unless they were sedated. Terrible to realize that truth, real truth, can only emerge under the influence of drugs. Sodium Pentothal – perhaps O'Hanlon's system produces it. Think about it Wallenstein, four years undergraduate, two years internship, two years for the thesis and the Ph.D. What has all this experience taught you about the truth, or the human mind for that matter?
He got his coat and hat. The broad snap brim, same kind of a hat Carl Jung used to wear. The coat was identical to the kind Adler wore, and now, here he was with the weave, the same hairline and goatee that Professor Freud wore. He reached for the knob to let himself out and suddenly stopped. He looked at his watch and took off his hat and coat. He turned on the high-tech light over Miss Upshot's desk and thumbed through her Rolo-dex for a number.
"Hello Emil. Wallenstein here. I hoped I'd find you in. How is Mrs. Ottermann? Good, glad to hear it. Do you have a minute?... Do you remember a former patient of yours at Queen's Central, man by the name of Darin O'Hanlon? You referred him to me. ...Yes, that's the one – the truth nut. He was in today and I have to say, Emil, I must recommend he be returned for further treatment. He's really in no condition to walk the streets. ...The upstairs ward? Yes that sounds good. I'll sign him back to you tonight and you'll take care of it, right?"
He hung up, put on his hat and coat again and turned out the light. He felt much better now. O'Hanlon would be in good hands, perhaps electric shock might help – couldn't get that sort of care outside of Queen's Central. Quite frankly he wasn't sure what to do with him. "Better all around, it's not worth the money," he said under his breath as he locked the waiting room door. He walked down the carpeted corridor to the back door and stepped out into the night. There was a man leaning against the driver's side door of his Mercedes. It was Darin O'Hanlon.
"Hope you don't mind, Doctor. Something I wanted to say in there... didn't get around to it. You know how it is when you want to say something but don't know how to put it in words? Thought this might be your car – only one in the lot with an MD plate. Figured that was you, right? Nice piece of machinery, Doctor. Had a Mercedes myself once – they took my license away.
"What was it you wanted to say, Mr. O'Hanlon?"
Darin took a deep breath and stood a little straighter. "Come hell or high water, Doctor, I'm not going back there, understand?"
"Queen's General. You've got to understand that. I'll kill myself first – that's the truth."
"Oh, come now, Darin, let's not get melodramatic. We'll do what's best for you. That's the main thing isn't it?"
Darin reached in his side pocket and took out a folding razor. He opened it fully, the blade glinted in the dim light of the street lamp. He pulled back his shirt cuff and drew the back of the blade across his wrist.
"It's as simple as that, Doctor. The choice is yours, not mine." He folded the razor and slipped it into his side pocket again, turned on his heel and walked away.
A chill chased its way down Wallenstein's spine as he opened the door of the Mercedes. He sat in the front seat with the ignition key in his hand thinking of the call he just made to Ottermann. Should he call him back?
No. The man can't be serious. He’s devious too – they’re all like that.
©Harry Buschman 1998
The art of art, the glory of expression and the sunshine of the light of letters, is simplicity.