There was a white lady at a big desk.
Let me try that again.
There was an extremely white lady at a very big desk.
No, doesn’t quite capture it. How about this:
There was a woman the female equivalent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow man seated behind a massive desk slathered with drums of oily varnish that, while dark to begin with, seemed black as pitch in contrast to the blanched and bloodless complexion of the woman looking at me from across its surface so shiny it reflected clear as a mirror her ghostly image directly up at the ceiling, at the fluorescent light fixture there and the scattering of crispy mosquitos and flies that lay at the bottom of its blurry plastic covering.
There, that’s better.
The Stay Puft lady looked at me with that I-am-made-of-marshmallows-and-will-never-die-but-you-will-because-you-are-mortal-and-not-made-of-marshmallows kind of sneering marshmallow grin.
“Tell me about your father,” she said, the movement required to do so causing her to shift a bit in her expensive, taxpayer-provided ergonomic chair, which in turn released small puffs of powder from her bulbous cheeks.
“He . . .” I began
“I see,” she said. “Have you considered shock therapy?”
“. . . was a salesman. Huh?”
“He was a . . . huh? Shock therapy? I . . . you asked be about my father, and I . . .”
“Yes, yes, I see. He was a . . . what was it?”
“Yes, I see. So have you considered shock therapy?”
“Because he was salesman?”
She was confused.
“My father. The salesman. You asked me . . .”
“Carl Jung,” the marshmallow lady said.
“Carl . . .”
“Jung,” she finished impatiently. “Carl Jung knew your father.”
“He sold cars?”
“This Carl guy. He sold cars?”
“Carl Jung sell cars,” she kind of spat, then leaned way back in her chair and put her big puffy white legs up on the desk. “I don’t think so.”
“Well, if you want, I can call my father and see if I can get him in over at Manny’s Chevrolet. He still has some friends there, and . . .”
“Carl Jung is dead.”
“Might be harder then.”
And there followed a silence as pure as she was white, which was kind of like tinnitus.
“Carl Jung was a pioneering psychologist.”*
“So the Chevy place is out then?”
She took a deep breath, causing her marshmallow body to expand and fill the office, and pushing me against the opposite wall the color of which moments before meeting this powdered psychotherapist I would probably have described as “white,” but having had my understanding of whiteness so powerfully redefined since then, I would now more likely call it something like “prairie white” or “egg shell” or even “gray.” Hey, the woman was really white, okay.
Or maybe it was because everyone else was black.
The people sitting on a bench outside her office, the receptionist, all the people living in the housing project, everyone I saw the final ten minutes of my walk to the city’s Cabrini-Greene mental health center, all black. So my eyes were not ready for the brilliance of this city psychiatrist. The splendor, the magnificence, the resplendence. The marshmallowness.
Maybe that was it–she was only white in contrast to where she was.
No, I don’t think so.
I mean, everyone else really was black, and that might have made her whiter, but she was really white to begin with, which if not an irony was something like one. A white speck on the larger black speck of Cabrini-Greene, which lay on the white canvas of Chicago’s north side. Like a raisin in the sun, with something white on it. Something white and bloated.
“If you refuse shock therapy,” she puffed, “then medication really is the only alternative.”
“Do you have a job?” I asked, trying not to sound too desperate.
“Yes,” she said, smiling powdered ear to powdered ear.
I waited a beat to see if color would come to her cheeks. It didn’t.
“No. I mean, do you have a job, you know, for me.”
“You think you need a job,” she kind of bellowed, but again with no color coming to her snowy cheeks. “You think a job will help you?”
I waited because I thought there would be more to the sentence. There wasn’t.
“Yes, I think it would.”
“Carl Jung . . .” she began.
“Look,” I interrupted, “this Carl guy will have to find his own job.”
She took a deep breath, again pinning me temporarily against the wall opposite her desk with her doughy bosom.
“You are clearly looking for a father figure,” she continued in a slow, scary, controlled voice serial killers probably use to talk to young men they’ve handcuffed to the pipes running overhead in their unfinished basements. “That you are looking for a job is evidence you are searching for a strong authority figure.”
“I already have a father. He used to be a salesman at Manny’s Chevrolet.”
“And if he was any good,” she said, “you wouldn’t be here.”
“He could sell more cars than Carl Jung,” I said, though I didn’t know this for a fact.
“Carl Jung does not sell cars,” she bellowed.
She tried to get out of her chair, the struggle to do so creating an eerie, high-pitched squeaking of marshmallow against Naugahyde. In the end, unable to free herself from the artificial leather grip, she “paced” back and forth behind her desk by pulling herself forward on the chair’s little wheels one way, then spinning around and pulling herself back the other way. All of this without a bit of pink coming to her cheeks.
And she talked about Carl Jung, who I never met but who, according to this puffy, white lady, knew me better than I knew myself. Knew everybody, it seemed, even here in Cabrini-Greene. I wondered if I had made a mistake.
Not about coming back to Chicago. I knew I had to do that if I was ever to kick my addiction to Japanese vitamin drinks (see two previous posts). But perhaps it was a mistake to trust the Chicago city services to provide high quality mental health care. And perhaps it was a mistake to come back without first making arrangements for a job or place to live. Not that I was complaining about the stairwell I had been living in for the past three weeks, it being out of the wind and recently carpeted with fresh cardboard by my two “roommates,” one the argumentative, invisible friend of the other.
“. . . and that’s why I would like you to come back tomorrow for shock therapy,” she finished, tearing me away from my idle, selfish thoughts.
“So, no job?”
See, the nation was going through one of its economic downturns, which seemed less and less like a “downturn” and more like a “slideover” since the “upturn” it turned down from was all but invisible to the naked eye and would require a magnifying glass to detect. Either that, or a partisan statistician employing a combination of blatant lies, semi-truths, and fancy software.
“No. No job,” she said.
“Electroshock, then?” I asked.
“Or drugs,” she offered.
They always do.
(Since assembling this latest installment of Mr. Trombone’s mangled manuscript, Mrs. Doyle has been hounding me to send her on an official business trip to Manny’s Chevrolet so she might gather information on Eddie Trombone and his father. I reminded her that this father of Mr. Trombone’s would not be his biological father, that person having died in a tragic smelting accident when Mr. Trombone was just an infant (see Chapter 13). Mrs. Doyle countered that the former Chevy salesman described in this post would probably be his adopted father, and would therefore be even more valuable in the search for Eddie Trombone, to which I parried that the world would likely be better off without this simpering, unpatriotic Trombone fellow, the search for whom already having occupied far too much of the U.S. Consulate’s time and, as a result, put the lives of real, God-fearing Americans at risk. “Bingo!” Mrs. Doyle cried, and spun the computer monitor around to show me a screen of airline ticket prices on something called Travelocity. –Gerard K. Dirkins, U.S. Consular Officer)
*Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1963) was a Swiss pioneering psychologist and psychiatrist who founded analytical psychology. Because he was Swiss, he was very white, which, along with the father-figure fixation, is obviously something he shares with the counselor described here. Unlike this marshmallow-colored civil servant, however, there is no evidence Jung was a proponent of shock therapy or psychoactive drugs. That seems to be something the city of Chicago adopted from other American cities to deal with high unemployment, racial tension, and the threat of civil disobedience. –Amy Gustav Lebowski, recording secretary, Young Jungians United