Drugs were like sex, which I wasn’t getting, like ice cream, which I was getting a lot, serving myself from the ice cream counter when she and her husband weren’t looking, or were gone. Drugs and ice cream, direct lines to pleasure. No, Mrs. G., I’m not taking drugs.
Max, you give me denials like a drink machine gives cans of soda.
I was taken aback by her use of metaphor. Truth is automatic, Mrs. G., it just comes out.
She gave me a skeptical look, stepped closer. I’m only five four. She was a broad wall in front of me. I had the thought that I could step forward, kiss her chest, smelling of corned beef, lean against her and pray, as if I were at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I felt intimidated. I knew she wasn’t going to manhandle me, yet physical domination is always a factor in the human world, which is animal.
I was well on my way to being a college dropout. My unrecognized clinical depression made me unable to concentrate on my studies. I sat in the library and read the same paragraph over and over, getting nothing from it. I wasn’t entirely socially isolated, but felt utterly alone. When in a desperate attempt to stop my downward spiral, I went to the university clinic to see a shrink, the only topic I felt capable of discussing was overeating, a relatively minor problem. The shrink snapped at me: Why don’t you just stop?
What did he mean? Why don’t I stop eating? Stop talking? Stop bothering him? This wasn’t the way a shrink was supposed to act. He was supposed to be kindly and supportive. I got up abruptly and left. Later, when I became a shrink and, despite my ethics and best intentions, fell in love with one of my patients and began an intense affair with her, I remembered the man at the university and realized how much pain he’d been in, and wondered what had been the cause.
The little girl fidgeted in front of the counter, freckles and pigtails a throwback to another, more innocent time. Her were wide with eagerness to get her lips and tongue deep into the cold mound of black walnut. She watched me work the sterling silver scoop into the tub of creamy pleasure. As much as I wanted to avoid conflict with my boss, Mr. Goldstein, I couldn’t stop from overfilling cones. It was the chief joy of my life.
Mr. Goldstein was rotund, Mrs. Goldstein rotund. I was rotund. The freckled girl was thin and looked as if she was being held together by her freckles, the way houses in the tropics are sometimes held together by termite holding hands. I gave a surreptitious glance to where Goldstein stood, his stained white apron stretched tight over his belly. He caught me and made eye contact. He glared, as if my excesses were the sole barrier between him and immense wealth.
The plate glass window I’d washed and polished magnified the rays of the afternoon sun. I felt its heat on me. I dripped one loving droplet of sweat onto the freckled girl’s cone, but despite the intensity of her gaze, she didn’t seem to notice. It reminded me of a psychological study in which radiologists were so intent on detecting cancerous polyps, they failed to see an image of an angry gorilla on the film.
Maybe she didn’t care, which increased the intimacy between us. I felt like reaching over the counter and brushing some stray hairs off her forehead, but I only had two hands. I piled some more ice cream on the cone. This one was excessive even by my standards. The freckled girl looked to be in ecstasy.