New York City

The suffering of not suffering

All this talk about a hurricane hitting near New York is getting a little old, don’t you think?

Destructive winds, scores of deaths, a flooded-out subway system. Alright, we get the picture. It’s a disaster. Have a biscuit. Next subject.
But no, not “next subject”. Hurricane Sandy is all anyone could talk about this week.
And that perfectly illustrates the level of depravity I’m dealing with here.
People keep asking: “Did everyone back home make it through the storm ok?”
I kept thinking: What the fuck do you care?
I kept wondering if, perhaps, they would like to send my family a parcel of Wattie’s baked beans. It would come with personal messages of hope and wishes of dryness and an urging for them to “be safe”.  Addresses would be exchanged, greeting cards posted on appropriate occasions. Perhaps a strong personal bond will form between two pen pals. One will write about indoor plumbing, and the other will write something related to New Zealand, in return.

“No they’re not ok,” I tell them. “But what’s that got to do with the storm?”

People back home are fine. School was called off and my sister’s kids spent the first day painting uni-brows and beards on one another’s faces. They wanted to look more like their grandmother. (I won’t say which one). I’m not sure what this face painting phase says about my locality in the human genome. But I do know one thing: I’m damned if I’m going to sit here and have anyone explain it to me. Some things are better left a mystery.
But back to my point. Where the people I cared most about are concerned, it wasn’t bad.
I don’t want to seem callous. The deaths that struck me hardest were the ones where people were killed by trees crashing into their houses or cars. I don’t really know if anyone can truly say one way to die is worse than another. They all seem to be rather dismal options. But this is nature-on-human violence, gruesome, not just too close to home, but in the middle of the living room. Like a large-screen television with a Werner Herzog movie playing.
There will be a huge economic impact, as well. Infrastructure repairs, preparations for what is most likely to be a developing climatic pattern. And there’s the property owners. I can’t wait to see how insurance companies will get out of it this time. The violence is over, at least with the vast majority of New York and New Jersey emerging more or less intact. That’s swell.

But it isn’t news. The suffering of New Yorkers has been duly recorded. Everybody BEEN knowing about it, as we used to say in the Bronx.

So when co-workers asked, in their thoughtless way, how my people in New York were doing, it hurt me. It really, really hurt me. What about how Simon is doing? Did you even once stop to consider what I was going through reading about what other people were going through? Do you know how hard it was for me to look at all of the MTA’s Flickr photographs of the storm’s damage to subway and commuter rail infrastructure? Do you have any idea what that’s like for me? I hate using Flickr.
I had a rough week, too, you know. I had to cancel my Internet Service Provider, Orcon, because Orcon is a piece of shit company whose name reminds me of a piece of shit cartoon from my childhood.
We didn’t have internet service for six weeks, forcing us to use a 3G stick modem purchased from Orcon’s competitor, Telecom. We arranged for a technician to look at our modem. They scheduled repair on a weekday, because as every fucking utility in the world knows, everyone is home on a weekday.
Finally, they did one good thing. They called me a week later because my issue hadn’t cleared their system and arranged for a technician to come on a Saturday. (Boring part continues below the photo)
(Continue boring part)
That’s how, after about five weeks, we got our internet and phone line back. For two days. It went dead again. I put in another service ticket. But Orcon’s policy is to give themselves a comfortable three days to respond to a service call, just in time for one of their employees to get off their bony asses. Of course, all this time without service, we’re still paying for it. Two days went by, and that was it. For $150, I canceled the service, and it will be worth every penny.
Two things may happen.
First, Orcon may surprise us with a charge in addition to what we owe according to the agent who cancelled our service. Supposedly, this is $114 for our last bill, and $150 for breaking our contract. Considering the purpose-built incompetence and opacity that make service providers such a delight, I fully expect to face an additional charge.
Second. Despite paying all bills by direct debit, our final charges will somehow enter Orcon’s system as “delinquent” and without attempting to contact us first to settle the dispute, our account will be turned over to a collection agency.  This has happened to several of my friends dealing with a variety of companies.
On top of that, I had to deal with Jacquie’s new idea for Vince, our kitten. He’s getting bigger, and a little restless inside our small flat. Jacquie wants to try putting him on a leash.
I tried to argue with her. I said, if I saw someone walking toward me with a cat on a leash, I’d think, “What a twat.” (Especially in Parnell). But Jacquie is determined to go through with it, and drag me down with her so we’ll both look like twats. And if that weren’t enough, I left my mobile phone charger at work. So anyone thinking that my people back home deserve more human kindness than me, I ask you, aren’t we the same, in the end? When someone’s a prick, do I not kvetch?
The pathetic truth is, I’m suffering from catastrophe envy. I didn’t give the hurricane much thought until my Tuesday morning.
I was too busy enjoying the best Spring we’ve had since I moved here three years ago. It’s been beeeeeeeautiful. But then I saw all the posts on Facebook, and read the articles and saw the pictures.
What was going on in New York City was difficult to get my head around. There had never been a hurricane like Sandy that I could recall in my 38 or so years in New York. When I was growing up, news casters would breathlessly sensationalize a tropical storm. Hurricane Gloria scared the schools shut, but dissipated and continued up the coast , leaving behind warm, sunny day. My friend from down the street told me we were in the eye, probably about the time Gloria had reached Massachusetts.
That’s the kind of hurricane I knew. We survived tropical storms blown out of proportion by hyperbolic media hungry for ad revenue. And goddamn it, we liked them.
This was when I realized something. New York and I had been through a lot together. There were the two blackouts, two muggings, three minor earthquakes, and a really bad acid trip during which my legs fused together and my only solace was a late-night rerun of Mr. Belvedere. There was that family of rats dying in my basement apartment. There was September 11 and a GWAR/X-Cops show. There were a dozen home-bound commutes when, after waiting on a subway platform for 20 minutes, coming off a night shift at the New York Post, a maintenance worker would say, “You know there ain’t no train coming,” as they went on with their shift.
But I could never add Hurricane Sandy to my CV.  And as self-indulgent, and tone-deaf as this will undoubtedly seem, that’s a real downer. Because as soon as the subways are running again, everyone in there will have graduated in the same class, with a shared, dramatic experience, and I will be one disaster less a New Yorker.

The therapeutic relationship

Update: A run-on sentence was corrected so that it actually makes sense.

Talk therapy may be taxonomized the same way interactions in the biosphere are put into categories by naturalists.

You become familiar with certain paradigmatic, therapeutic relationships when you live in New York City.

The reason why everyone mows you down on the sidewalk is because everyone is running late for their weekly session.

You think it’s because they’re busy? Nobody’s busy in New York. They’re just in therapy. Everyone sees a shrink there.  It’s like a law or something.

Consequently, when you live there long enough, you get to hear some pretty alarming stories about therapists. There’s transference and counter-transference. There’s the corporate medical plan deciding that they’re no longer covering your mental health, unless you’re absolutely positive that you’re going to take a gun in to work and take out half the staff. Even then you need a reference from your GP. Then there is the creme de la creme. It’s the moment when you discover that your therapist’s partner is a huge blabbermouth, because your therapist’s partner is your ex-girlfriend’s therapist, and one day your ex-girlfriend says that her therapist said that your therapist said that you “had the most miserable childhood” she’d ever heard about in her 20 year career. Horrors.

Given that, it might make it easier to understand the generalization that all therapeutic relationships are, to some degree, a kind of mutual predation.

In Auckland, though, I’ve found therapy to be far more beneficial, symbiotic. My therapist gets as much of our regular sessions as I do. For one hour each Friday, I get to go on and on and on about my bizarre youth and upbringing, my various ersatz careers, and my inability to accept Auckland as legitimate city. Meanwhile, my therapist gets to catch up on some much-needed sleep. You see, therapy doesn’t have to be a zero sum game. It’s a total win-win.

To be honest, my relationship with my therapist doesn’t stand out as exceptional among all my relationships The only difference between therapy and the rest of my waking moments is that when I’m in a session, strangers aren’t gaping at me like I’m a six-toed geek whilst I mutter incoherently. That doesn’t happen in therapy. My psychologist is a professional, trained in the delicate art of concealing her disgust. Which is neither here nor there, as between the time she sets her alarm clock and 50 minutes later, she is asleep.

I don’t want to give the impression that I dislike my therapist or my therapy. Quite the opposite. I haven’t made it a secret on this blog that I’ve been suffering from depression, for which I take a Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, or “Happy Slappy” as I call it. And for which I gave up reading in order to watch every episode of every series in the Star Trek franchise. (From The Next Generation to the largely horrid and unwatchable Enterprise).

And for which I have seen a psychologist. It has been more than a year, now. And I would have to give therapy credit for lifting me out of the abyss I descended when I first found out in early 2010 that Jacquie meant us to move to New Zealand, not just visit. My outlook has gotten a lot better since those evil days, and not just because of Happy Slappy, neither.

Of course, I do slip once in a while. A few weeks ago, I experienced my worst episode in two years. It was a usual Friday after work, but I’d arrived at my therapist’s office 15 minutes early. There was a radio playing, which I’d assumed was meant to prevent me from overhearing the session going on behind closed doors while I waited. It took a few minutes after I’d sat down to realize that I was in a really shitty mood, and the reason was the radio was tuned to The Breeze FM, Auckland’s answer to a fatal morphine drip.

Actually, morphine drip is the wrong metaphor. In fact, it’s difficult to understand how the shrill, nasally, canned, screaming, soft pop The Breeze plays is supposed to relax anyone. Personally, it makes me feel violent. They play the exact kind of creepily unimaginative music that used to drive me out of delis at lunch time back in New York.

Here I was seeking to improve my life when all of a sudden I wanna dance with somebody by the late Whitney Houston comes on. Was this her shrieking, horrible cry for help? Would things have turned out differently had she been able to finally dance with somebody? And was it her off-putting, siren like, ear shattering voice that actually prevented her from dancing with somebody? The more I heard, the deeper my gloom. I had never wanted to commit suicide more in my life than that moment.

But as I say, I have a good therapeutic relationship, who interceded just as I was about to fashion a noose out of an extension cord.

My therapist sat me down, gave me a drink of water, and assured me that suicidal ideation was not an uncommon reaction to Whitney Houston music.

After I’d calmed down a bit, my therapist said, “And you could have always just turned off the radio.”

This subject will be picked up again in a future post. In the meantime, feel free to adore my kitten.

His name is Vince. He’s a six month old purebred Maine Coon (with papers). His breeder name is Mainflame Red Hustler. And I will tell you more about him in an upcoming episode of Basement Life.