What’s going on with Mom? We first noticed her odd behavior the day the soup disappeared. My father came inside for lunch expecting soup, and found nothing. "What happened to the meal?" he asked.
"I burned it," she answered, and indeed there was nothing left. She had turned the stove on, forgotten all about it, and now all they had was a charred pan. And, to make matters worse, she had burned herself by trying to pick up the hot pan without pot-holders.
Now, everyone forgets things, but this was getting dangerous. If she could leave the stove on and burn the soup, she could also burn the pan, the stove, the kitchen and the house. Something had to be done.
My mother had always been a bit absent-minded, but now the family had to admit we had a problem. When we were kids, she’d forget to pick us up from school, for example. But I could understand this; she had a lot of errands to run to keep our large suburban household going. When it was her turn to carpool, we’d often see her car outside school, but no Mom. We had to look in the supermarket across the street to find her.
Most people feel anxious the first time they visit a psychiatrist, but Linus Cowper felt exhilarated. Cindi had insisted he visit a shrink as a condition of her staying with him. At last he'd be vindicated. He knew he was normal. Once the psychiatrist pronounced him mentally healthy, his new girlfriend would stop nagging him.
Linus circled Harvard Square until he found a parking meter with some time left on it. He located the psychiatrist's building, a pre-War apartment that blended in with its academic surroundings, and found the first-floor office of the doctor that a neighbor's prominent shrink had recommended. Linus entered an empty room furnished with just two new striped easychairs and a realistic water color of a mountain. He waited.
After a few moments, a portly man entered from another door. "Mr. Cowper? I'm Dr. Pat Roy." As he followed Roy through the door the doctor had come through, Linus was surprised that the psychiatrist was so young.
The inner office was furnished with chairs that matched the waiting room's and pictures, apparently by the same artist, of lakes and plains. The psychiatrist did not initiate smalltalk to put the patient at ease.
"Let's get right down to business, shall we?" said Roy, sitting in an armchair. "What brings you here?"
Finding no couch, Linus sat in the other chair. "I’m just here because my girlfriend insisted I need therapy."
After 12 years of marriage, my brother needed a friend. If you’re married, you know how it is: you stop hanging out with your same-sex friends when you wed, and before you know it, your friends are other couples, and your only friend (singular) is your spouse.
Not that Linus’s marriage was bad. In fact, it was the best thing that ever happened to him. But there was nothing special for him to live for, nothing to look particularly forward to.
The marriage was predictable.
They say that if you live with someone long enough, you start to look like each other. This hadn’t happened to him and Carol yet, but the two of them did think alike. "Two self-destructives confronting the life-force," he sometimes joked, quoting Renee Taylor and Joe Bologna in "Lovers and Other Strangers." Actually, "I was just thinking the same thing," was the phrase they most often used.
For example, one day, miles from home, she suddenly said out of the blue, "I think we should just get liquid dishwasher detergent from now on."
"I know. I was just thinking the same thing," he said, nodding.
Another day, they woke up 85 miles from home. She yawned and said, "You know what I’m thinking?" .
"Yes. I’m thinking the same thing," he said, stretching. And he was: of a place to eat halfway home.
With ESP like that, you’d think that they could harness it at the bridge table. I might as well mention now that Linus and Carol were bridge players. In fact, famous bridge players. Not famous like Charles Goren or Omar Sharif, so the general public would know them, but famous within the bridge community, so most players will know who I’m talking about. They made me promise not to sell this book to any bridge players before they told me their story.
(written with Viurginia Gorham and Sandra Drum)
Muriel writhed in her hospital bed, moaning as Dr. Locke patted her leg. "It's almost over, Muriel," he told her, as a plump nurse wheeled the gurney into the delivery room.
I hate Jarrod, she thought. I didn't want to have his baby. This was his idea, but he won't put me through this again. Exhausted, she thought she smelled ether and begged the doctor to knock her out.
He seemed not to hear her. "It's time now, Mrs. Fenton. Please help us," the nurse said, gently patting the perspiration from Muriel's forehead.
"I can't! Please do something!" Still screaming, Muriel's body began to push, anxious to be rid of its burden. The pain eased as a baby emerged.
Tears traveled to the brink of Muriel’s eyes. Nothing had prepared her for this. All she wanted to do was turn over and sleep until the throbbing stopped.
Ernie Locke held the newborn up and handed her to the nurse. felt The formerly-attentive nurse abandoned Muriel’s bedside to test the baby’s feet.
Then, the excruciating pain began anew. The doctor examined Muriel when she writhed in pain and screamed, "What's wrong? What's happening now?"
"Here comes another baby!" He said. "Nurse, hold her still."
A few moments later he shouted, "Two girls. Muriel, you have twin daughters."
The delivery room’s hubbub, calm after the first delivery, reorganized itself into synchronized action. "Why didn't you tell me I was carrying twins? I didn't want one baby, let alone two."
I hate foreshadowing in books. Most novels I read these days tell you up-front what’s going to happen. I don’t like it because I want suspense in my fiction. The first time I saw it was in Louise Erdrich’s "Beet Queen": she tells you right at the beginning that the young protagonist is going to live in that house the rest of her life. Now everyone I like does it: John Irving, Philip Roth, Ann Tyler, Joyce Carol Oates. Novels these days are mostly flashbacks.
So forgive me if I tell you at the beginning: Musicals saved my life. I’m just so enthusiastic about the medium that I can’t keep it to myself. That’s what my story is about.
But my story is not like a musical, nor could it be made into one. Despite believing in the worlds of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and George Gershwin, I believe I turn the usual musical truths on their head: I do what comes artificially, not "naturally," I "can say no," and I "lack confidence." My life is almost an anti-musical. It has a happy beginning, and no problems in act 1. Boy loses girl before boy even meets girl. You’ll see.
SPORTS THERAPY FOR THE MEDIOCRE
(This book is published by OakTree Press)
The toughest case I ever had was Linus K___. I’m a sports therapist. People come to me to enhance their athletic performance. Athletes have mental blocks that get in the way of winning, and I help them remove the barriers. Most of them are top physical specimens, on the verge of success, and just need a little boost to get them over. For instance: Baseball players hitting .280 who want to hit .300. Tennis players who make it to the final round and lose. Golfers who shoot just over par.
That’s why I was surprised when Linus showed up at my office one day. He bumped against my coffee table as he sank into the client’s chair. He didn’t look or move like an athlete. In the first place, he appeared in his fifties, an age when you’ve either made it or retired. And he had a slight paunch and double-chin; a marathoner he was not. At first I thought he looked quizzical with his head cocked; then I realized that his glasses were askew.
I asked him my standard intake questions, and got a surprising answer: "What sport do you want to enhance your performance in?"
"I don’t know what my sport is. That’s why I’m here: to discover it. You see, I’ve tried various sports all my life, and haven’t been very good at any of them. But I feel I have a champion in me, and I’m here to find out in what sport that is."
I wondered if he’d read my article, "The Champion within You," and was quoting from that. I let him go on.
"So I’d like to go through all the sports I’ve tried, and see if you can figure out where I’ve gone wrong, and what I can succeed in."
I answered, "Well, some sports require coordination, some strength, and some merely hard work. If you’re saying you don’t have natural athletic ability, you can always try something like running, where what you get out of it is pretty much what you put into it."
"Look at me, doc. I’ll be sixty soon, and I don’t have time for a lot of training. I don’t want to start from scratch, but find an area I have an aptitude for. Can you help me?"
"That’s a very unusual request, but it intrigues me. You have very clear goals, so I think I can help you."
"Yeah, I’m not going out for the Senior Olympics. I just want to be competitive in some sport, not get my ass kicked all the time."
"Let’s try this. Each session you tell me about a sport you’ve tried, and I’ll help you figure out where you’ve gone wrong. I also need access to your archives, such as any pictures, articles or letters concerning your previous athletic endeavors."
He nodded. "It’s a deal. We may be in for a long course of therapy, because I’ve tried everything except curling and race-car driving, and I don’t want to take up anything new now."
"What are you willing to pay?"
"I heard you charge $100 an hour, and that’s OK with me."
"We already established that, but what are you willing to pay in terms of time and effort? Are you willing to miss your daughter’s recitals?"
"All my kids are grown."
"Are you willing to miss your anniversary?"
"We’ve had a lot of anniversaries, and we don’t always celebrate on the actual day."
"You have to be thinking about your sport hours a day. People will think you’ve changed. Would you pay that price?"
"Now try to relax. Close your eyes. What do you want?"
"To win something."
"What do you think will happen when you win? What do you see?"
"I see my opponent shaking my hand."
"Good. What else do you see?"
"I don’t know if I can have this one."
"Go ahead. It’s your movie."
"I hear my opponent congratulating me on the best game I’ve ever played."
"You can do that. I’ll show you how to shred your garbage."
He left with a smile on his face. I turned on my cell phone to return all the calls from frustrated athletes.
I want to tell you about a novel I wrote, and the reaction to it. Here’s the novel:
Old Chapter 1: Singles and Doubles
What I do isn’t important; maybe I’ll get to that later. It’s who I am that matters, and that’s a tennis player. It consumes all of my free time. When I’m not playing tennis, I’m watching the Tennis Channel, and when I’m not doing that, I’m reading about it. If I have any time left, I play online.
Not that I’m particularly good; I just enjoy the game. No false modesty: on the National Tennis Rating System, I’m around 3.5 on the 7-point scale, meaning I’m “starting to serve with control and some power; can return serve consistently with directional control on moderate shots.” (Few players advance beyond a “5,” by the way, because “6’s” have had “intensive training for national tournaments,” and “7” is a “world-class player.”)
My wife and I are officially compatible on the court. In tennis terms, “compatible” means “the outcome is unpredictable--scores such as 6-3, 6-4 or closer.” That’s the official definition, but the course is rather predictable: I usually win three of the first four games, she rallies, and we end up tied 6-6, and have to go to a tie-breaker. Sometimes I say, “Let’s not waste time, just start with the tie-breaker.”
It wasn’t always this way. When we were first married, I used to beat her regularly. I had had years of lessons, while she picked the game up naturally. Then she started watching tennis on TV, and learned enough strategy to reach my level.
Certain plays really annoy her. One of them is a drop-shot, where instead of striking the ball normally, I just nudge it over the net. She thinks they’re unworthy of a man, and unfitting for a husband: she calls them “baby shots.” Once she got so frustrated she began yelling at me about them. The first one I hit provoked her into calling me an asshole. After the second, she said I was too chubby to hit a normal shot. I warned her I would tell all our friends at the club everything she said. The final count was three “assholes” two “chubs” and one “chubby asshole."
Chapter 1: School
Social networking websites are the best tools for stalking since night-vision goggles. You have only to learn the story of Linus and Summer to see that.
Linus Cowper was a small-time real estate developer. He bought distressed properties, had his family fix them up, and sold them for a profit. Nice work, as long as the housing market didn’t collapse.
Linus was able to make money at this, but it didn’t take much of his time. He had no skills in carpentry, building or home repair, and wasn’t interested in learning any. His interest lay in drama, but he had no skills in acting either.
Linus’ uncle Gerry was a famous drama critic, known for hosting a TV show on theatre. His father, Alfred, was a magazine publisher who occasionally wrote plays. One of them had a run on Broadway, “The Legend of Lars Preznetski.” It concerned a megalomaniac who recounted how he had conquered the worlds of sex, business, and politics.
One day when the father was driving to the train station, a tall man in a business suit waved at him a block from his house. Thinking it was a neighbor he hadn’t met yet, Alfred offered the man a ride. “Do you know who I am?” the stranger asked.
“I don’t think we’ve been introduced yet.”
“I’m the real Lars Preznetski.”
“That’s certainly a coincidence.”
“I mean your play puts my life on stage.”
“That’s interesting.” He was glad the ride was almost over. “Well, nice to meet you, ‘Lars.’ We’re here, and...oh, shit, I forgot my papers.” He dropped the stranger off, and headed for the local police station.
My wife had been complaining that I seem to be petering out lately. We were in the supermarket, and she spied a “Cosmopolitan” magazine with a cover story on “30 Ways to Kiss a Naked Man.” She started reciting them:
1. Kiss his inner thighs. There are lots of nerve endings there.
2. Gargle with herbal tea before you kiss his package. That gives your breath a sexy tang.
I interrupted her reading. “I don’t think that would work for you; you don’t like tea.”
She shoved the magazine back in the rack. “I just think you’re lacking your old get-up-and-go.”
I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me besides middle age. From years of TV ads, I wondered if I had “tired blood,” an ailment cured by Geritol. But before I could take the patent medicine, an ad arrived in my mailbox:
“Men! Do you lack energy, drive, libido? You may have low testosterone! Take our free test, and see your doctor for a free trial prescription.”
THE LINUS CHRONICLES
Some people claim “a book changed my life,” but in Linus’s case, it is literally true. The work that altered his course forever was “Catcher in the Rye.”
My first publication was at age 12, when I guest-wrote two columns for Art Buchwald. My entire family was in the writing business, including uncle Al Capp (“Li'l Abner”) and a father and sister who wrote syndicated cartoons. I have been a business writer and teacher for most of my career. I have co-authored a number of business books, including “Keeping Customers for Life” and “Connecting with People” I am the former Boston correspondent for “Money” magazine. I began writing fiction in 1994, and now am one of the Nation's oldest new published novelists.