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Caffeine 911 I

August 26, 2011

Piser-Weinstein Menorah Chapels
Skokie, Illinois
Very gloomy

My shrink was dead and the coffee sucked. In the land called Swill, this cup would have been king. Juan Valdez was laughing his ass off in a cartoon bubble over my head. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the mourners were shooting disapproving looks at me for bringing the cup into the chapel. Well, at least there were no “tsk tsks.” And no one looked like my grandmother.

I know what you’re thinking. Should I have been more upset about the state of my coffee than the passing of my shrink, the eminent Harold Koppelman? I could find a good macchiato later, back in civilization, but could I find another Koppelman – distinguished psychiatrist, professor, man of letters? Could I find anyone capable of whizzing literary references past me like he did (“You ARE Notes from Underground, Sachs!”). Could I find a more virtuosic fibber (“I wasn’t sleeping, dammit. I was just resting my eyes”)?

The chapel, bigger than a high school gym, was jammed. Koppelman should have been lying in state. I sat on a folding chair in the back, crammed between a stout old woman fanning herself with a memorial program and an old woman bundled up in a North Face parka. It was weird not knowing a single person in the room. I felt like an interloper – until I spotted the tall brunette whose Wednesday morning appointment with Koppelman was right before mine.

I recognized her streaking dark green mascara, which she never made any attempt to hide when she exited through the waiting room. Seeing her in this other world gave me the same kind of odd thrill I got seeing my seventh grade teacher at the supermarket. I couldn’t stop looking her way. Would it break some unspoken rule of shrinkery to go over there and say something to her? To pat her on the shoulder? To offer her a Kleenex?

The crowd clung to every word of testimony from Koppelman’s son, the eminent cardiologist, and his daughter, the high-priced psychiatrist. Everything was about how inspiring he was as a teacher, how brilliant he was as a writer of psychohistories, how devoted he was as a husband and father. Not a word about his work as a shrink. “What are we, chopped liver?” I muttered, drawing a small chorus of “Shhh!” Shhh, indeed: Who was I to be here anyway, a mere paying customer? (I would have to explore this at the next meeting of Analysands Anonymous: “My name is Sachs and I live underground.”)

And then –  you saw this coming – I knocked over the coffee. There wasn’t that much left, just enough to remind me how terrible it was. (Actually, it might have tasted better off the floor than out of the cup.) By the time I finished wiping it up, the speechifying had ended. The mourners were on their feet in prayer. The service was entering the fourth quarter. And Ms. Wednesday was gone.

After all these months of full frontal exits, she had given me the slip. Just like that. Had she seen me? Had she weighed the risks of coming over to offer a word of comfort herself? Where would she spend her Wednesday mornings now? Where would she be without me? Cat got your tongue, Koppelman?

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