UnpluggedBy: Lois Greiman
To Caitlin Alexander, the only editor
who thinks I’m as funny as I think I am.
Thanks for everything you do.
You’re the greatest.
Matrimony and firefighting. They ain’t for cowards.
shortly after his first divorce
“Y OU MARRIED?”
I hadn’t known Larry Hunt thirty-five minutes before he popped the question. But the fact that he was scowling at me as if I were the devil’s handmaiden suggested our relationship would never work. The fact that he was sitting beside his wife also posed a problem for our connubial bliss. Weighing all the signs, I guessed they’d been married for about twenty-four years.
But I’m not a psychic. I’m a psychologist. I used to be a cocktail waitress, which paid about the same and boasted a saner clientele, but it kept me on my feet too much.
Two weeks prior, Mrs. Hunt had called my clinic to schedule a therapy session. My practice, L.A. Counseling, is located on the south side of Eagle Rock, only a few miles from Pasadena, but hell and gone from the glamour of New Year’s morning’s Rose Bowl Parade.
As a result of that call, Mr. Hunt now seemed to be wondering how the hell he had landed in some shrink’s second-rate office, and had decided to fill his fifty minutes by probing into my personal life. But I suspected what he really wanted to know was not whether I was married, but what made me think I was qualified to counsel him and his heretofore silent wife.
“No, Mr. Hunt, I’m not married,” I said.
If he hadn’t been a client, I might have told him it was none of his damned business whether I was married, ever had been married, or ever intended to be married. Ergo, it was probably best that he was a client, since that particular answer might have seemed somewhat immature and just a tad defensive. Not that I secretly long for matrimony or anything, but if someone wants to lug salt downstairs to the water softener for me now and again, I won’t spit in his eye. Even my thirty-seventh ex-boyfriend, Victor Dickenson, sometimes called “Vic the Dick” by those who knew him intimately, had been able to manage that much.
“Larry,” Mrs. Hunt chided. She was a smallish woman with sandpaper-blond hair and a lilac pantsuit. Her stacked platform sandals were of a different generation than her clothing and made me wonder if she had a disapproving daughter who had taken it upon herself to update her mother’s footwear. Her eyes were sort of bubblelike, reminding me of the guppies I’d had as a kid, and when she turned her gaze in my direction it was pretty obvious she’d been wondering about me herself.
It’s not uncommon for clients to think a therapist has to be half a couple in order to know something about marriage. I soundly disagree. I’ve never been a lobster, but I know they taste best with a pound of melted butter and a spritz of lemon.
I didn’t have a lot of information about the Hunts, but I knew from their client profiles that Kathy was forty-three, four years younger than her husband, who worked for a company called “Mann’s Rent ’n’ Go.” They both sat on my comfy, cream-colored couch, but to say that they sat together would have been a wild flight of romantic fancy. Between Mrs. Hunt’s polyester pantsuit and Mr. Hunt’s stiff-backed personage, there was ample space to drive a MAC truck, flatbed trailer and all.
I gave them both my professional smile, the one that suggests I’m above being insulted by forays into my personal life and that I would not murder them in their sleep for doing so.
“You’re an okay-looking woman,” Mr. Hunt continued. “Got a good job. How come you’re still single?”
I considered telling him that, despite past relationships with men like himself, I had managed to retain a few functioning brain cells. But that might have been considered unprofessional. It might also have been untrue.
“How long have you two been married?” I asked, turning his question aside with the stunning ingenuity only a licensed psychoanalyst could have managed. It was five o’clock on a Friday evening, and I hadn’t had a cigarette for five days and nineteen hours. I’d counted on my way to work that morning.
“Twenty-two years,” said Mrs. Hunt. She didn’t sound thrilled with the number. Maybe she’d been doing a little math on her way to work, too. “This May.”
“Twenty-two years,” I repeated, and whistled with admiration while chiding myself for overguessing. It was her pastel ensemble that threw me. “You must be doing something right, then. And you’ve never had any sort of therapy before today?”
“No.” They answered in unison. By their expressions, I had to guess it was one of the few things they still did in tandem.