PAID ATTENTION

“I don’t dance, I don’t sing. / I don’t bring home anything.”

“But I used to,” the client in the illustration admits, adding a line of prose to his epigraphic verse. He’s a middle-aged poetaster, a decade divorced but only recently laid off. The shrink in the picture is a decade younger and as new to the game as her client is.  

He continues his well rehearsed why-am-I-here speech: “I’ve failed all my life: long-dead marriages, former jobs, adulthood in general. I always chose the easier—the free if possible— option and always got what I paid for.”

“Anything free costs twice as much in the long run or turns out worthless.”
― Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

“Being useful felt good, but being used didn’t. There was a subtle difference between ‘em, I never noticed until it was too late. But,” qualifying his despair, he states, “Being useless, as I am now, is the best if being used is the only alternative. 

“I am Prufrock!” He almost yells, “‘Deferential, glad to be of use, / Politic, cautious, and meticulous;  / Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse; / At times, indeed, almost ridiculous— / Almost, at times, the Fool.’

“And thusly, I aged out of the camaraderie of youth, but not into the domestic tranquility of middle age,” the client, calmer now, intones, “The gains of the latter were supposed to compensate for the loss of the former. For me, the losses were never replaced by gains.”

“On top of that,” cranking up it some, but not to a rant, “My other doings, my career-like gestures, are now as useless as my pair-bonding ones, No one needs nor wants anything I can do anymore. They only want what I have, and that is basically cash. It’s all that still works for me regarding getting some attention.”

“And that’s what I’m doing here and now, paying for 50 minutes of your professional attention,” He cheerlessly quips, “I don’t believe that you are going to like or respect me or even remember me from one session to the next without referring to your notes.” 

Waiting for a reassuring denial, he mulls to himself, “If I were the cartoonist of the above cartoonish illustration, I could draw a thought balloon—the one that looks like a cloud with ever littler clouds below it—and in it draw a clock and a bag of money next to the word balloon with the happy dancers No, that that would complicate the single panel too…” 

“Go on” she faux smiles, interrupting his silent meditation, “You’ve got [paid for] my attention [for another 20 minutes or so]” The bracketed comments are his, to himself and us.

The client realizing he now “Has the floor,” though not for long, he suspects, so he quickly dives headfirst in a feeble intellectualization, “I’ve begun to realize I’m living with a depressing truth: that it was never about who I was (Sartre’s being-for-oneself), it was always about what I could do (Sartre’s being-for-others) and that when what I could do was no longer worth anything to anybody, I was pretty much on my own. I am, as Sartre would say, ‘Condemned to be free.’”

The shrink makes no comment. The session is minutes from ending and she, head down, is furiously scribbling. The client knows now he’s only bought her time, not a favorable review. he’s knows he’s just a billable hour to her, nothing more.

He still wonders, to himself, alone in the silence, “Does she think me a boring pretentious ass deserving of my isolation, or interestingly odd, therefore ‘A Suitable Case for Treatment?’ like Morgan Delt in the old movie, she’s probably never heard of”

She suddenly looks up and announces, “Our time’s up for today, but I’ve written you a prescription for some Artistiam. (Not a real drug) It won’t change the world or your relationship to it, but you’ll feel better about all that.

“See you next week.” she says smiling, a bit more sincerely, now, he thinks.

Some interesting background info here: