A New Client
Melissa sublet space in one of Cincinnati's older downtown office buildings from the Macomber County Coal Company. It puzzled most of the tenants why a concern with so little business in Cincinnati maintained such a large office suite. Apart from Melissa, the only person who showed up regularly was Gladys, the secretary. The latter always brought a book to read between her infrequent stenographic sessions and the half dozen telephone calls that came in on an average day.
Gladys herself believed that the whole company was a front for the CIA. Melissa, contrary to her professional ethics, encouraged her in this fantasy. Never once did she ask why the CIA might need a front in Cincinnati, nor did she point out that CIA men wouldn't burp as often or make as many mistakes in grammar as the men from Macomber County.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Gladys did Melissa the great favor of giving clients the impression that she was Melissa's secretary. A small placard was attached to the frosted glass door of the main office, just southeast of the coal company's austere black lettering. It read:
M. A. in Psychology
Whenever Melissa's clients appeared, Gladys seated them and rang her.
While this arrangement might not represent the pinnacle of professional success, it meant a great deal to Melissa. Since receiving her master's degree from the University of Michigan, she had tried to work in organizations, usually in the personnel department. Things always went well at the beginning, but, within months, there would be problems.
One syndrome centered on the fact that she came from a wealthy background and didn't really have to work at all. No matter how much she tried to play it down, some co-worker, almost always female, would notice a label in a coat or jacket. Another time, she had mentioned being expelled from a boarding school, and then had to say which school it was. But, however the information came out, it would eventually become clear that Melissa didn't have to put up with certain things from the boss or the organization because she could afford to quit on the spot. That created a surprising amount of hostility from her co-workers.
The other syndrome concerned orders from the boss. It had happened more than once that he wanted her to do things one way, and Melissa wanted to do them a better way. She had actually had surprising success in winning the subsequent arguments, and even in winning them in such a way as not to humiliate the boss. It was an odd fact that, even when her position was confirmed by subsequent events, she could still be fired. She wasn't, of course, fired for being right. But the reasons given had ranged from the ridiculous to the absurd.
Alternatively, it was difficult for a young psychologist to set up on her own. Melissa had nevertheless managed it, even making some money in the process. She delighted in having no boss, and her little office at the back of the Macomber suite was her most treasured possession.
Most of the furnishings were inherited from the coal company, and they included a heavy oak desk, a padded swivel chair, and two staid and solid visitor's chairs, buttoned out with black leather upholstery. The two windows faced the dirty brick wall of the next building, some thirty feet away, but Melissa kept the venetian blinds open only enough to cast a dim, highly respectable, light over the conservative interior of the office.
She was aware that the atmosphere was much more suggestive of coal-mining than psychology. But there were ways of partially closing the gap. On the one hand, the Macomber County Coal Company was, in both geographical and social terms, a long way from the actual mines. On the other, Melissa tried to be more medical than psychological. That is, she liked to give the impression of being a psychiatrist without actually wearing a white coat. Both she and Jethro thought that there was an affinity between medicine, with its undertones of death sentences leading to burial, and the buried black gold of the coal industry.
They had thus altered the decor only slightly. The main change consisted in replacing a steel engraving of the Macomber Valley with a portrait of Freud, executed by Jethro himself. Dark and sinister, there was a subtle perversity in the eyes which made the father of psychiatry look rather like a deviant Victorian coal company executive. One could imagine his making up for his many unspeakable sins with young people by morally uplifting those same young persons in his weekly Sunday school class.
On this day, the first client was a new one, a Mr. Broward C. Huggett. A slightly overweight middle-aged man with unusually even white teeth who spoke in quick bursts, he announced,
"I'm a retired lieutenant-colonel in the army, but most people call me Bubba."
Melissa smiled, and, addressing him as a colonel, she asked who had referred him.
"Well, it's old Joe Slonim. We belong to the same golf club. He thought you might be able to give me what I need."
Melissa sat extra straight as she replied,
"Yes. Mr. Slonim and I have worked together for some time. A very nice gentleman."
Then, before Colonel Huggett could respond further, she asked him whether he was troubled by his dreams or fantasies. He gave a short snort and started, rather heatedly, to deny any such thing. But, then, he caught himself short in the middle and paused. Melissa, pleased, responded,
"It's quite common to be bothered by them without fully realizing it. Suppose, for example, that a man dreams of being rich. If he's aware, the whole time, that he never will be rich, this fantasy may cause him to be dissatisfied with a life that might be the envy of many people."
"Well, I guess I've never dreamed that. No one gets rich in the army."
The colonel then giggled in a manic fashion and added,
"Course in the old days, an infantry officer who took a town could plunder it. Do all sorts of things. Nothing would ever come of it. Expected behavior. Even as late as the Civil War ....."
He was gathering momentum, and it was so obvious where his fantasies lay that Melissa intervened,
"It's important not to let fantasies get out of control."
Colonel Huggett, now speaking in a more measured way, said,
"Now this here fella who dreams of being rich. How would you control that?"
"We could arrange for him to be rich for a day. We'd have him stay at the best hotel in the city, eat whatever he wanted, and arrange a series of encounters for him."
"Would you have thugs beat him up because he's rich?"
"No. It doesn't take anything as extreme as that, and, of course, it would depend on the individual personality. He might have to fire a maid who'd cry and a chauffeur who'd make accusations. Whatever we did, he'd come to realize that being rich has its problems, and that it isn't one long stretch of euphoria. This sort of therapy would reduce his fantasies in that regard."
"So he wouldn't dream of being rich anymore?"
"It would take a continuing effort. At the same time, we'd try to get him to act on his everyday impulses."
"Like grabbing women on the street?"
Some men might have said it ironically, but Colonel Huggett seemed too simple for that. Ignoring this question, Melissa explained,
"He might always have wanted to go for walks in the woods but suppressed those desires because they didn't have anything to do with making money. Once he's free of that fantasy, he can enjoy walking in the woods."
Melissa smiled at the man she took to be a potential rapist. At the prices she charged for her time, she could deal with that and worse. As if reading her mind, the colonel asked what she charged. She gave him her hourly rate, which seemed to rattle him a little. She then added,
"It's the same for sessions here in the office and for field sessions, where we'll try to directly reduce your fantasies. In the latter case, I charge for preparation and travel time."
"Are there more office sessions or field sessions?"
"We have to begin here in order to discover what your fantasies are. But, then, we can move increasingly to the field to effect reduction, and also to empower your impulses as they arise."
It was obvious that Colonel Huggett, probably on the basis of what he had heard from Mr. Joe Slonim, preferred the field sessions. He nevertheless agreed to the proposed course of therapy. Melissa suggested that they begin the next day.