“The best I ever saw? Well, that’s an easy one.”
“Okay, what is it?”
“Well, I was at Woodstock.”
“All right. End of discussion. You win. There’s no way I can beat that.”
“You can try.”
“The best I got is I did see the Beatles at Shea Stadium. I thought that would have been the topper but you got me beat fair and square.”
“You dudes left me in the dirt,” another guy said. “I was gonna say I saw Janis at the Fillmore. I thought that was pretty cool.”
“It is. I saw her with the Who and Jimi Hendrix at the Monterey Pop Festival.”
“No way. I saw Hendrix with the Allman Brothers.”
Standing in the will call line, listening to these guys one-up each other with their gig credentials, I was quickly put in my place. I hadn’t attended any of those concerts. And though my rock-and-roll chops were decent, I knew I was out of my league. That wasn’t surprising given where I was, but it still made me feel like someone’s younger brother.
“I saw the Allman Brothers in ’70 or ’71 at the Whisky a Go Go.”
“Whoa. That’s heavy. The Whisky. I saw the Doors there years ago.”
“Wow. The Doors. Very trippy. I saw them in Asbury Park. My good friend broke up with his girlfriend and I got to go with him. They blew my mind.”
“I saw them at the Avalon Ballroom. I’d never seen anyone like Morrison before. I almost lost my girlfriend that night.”
I could understand that. Jim Morrison had been a captivating performer.
I wanted to join the conversation but the closest dot I could connect was having seen Bruce Springsteen at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. Before I could get up the nerve to speak, they’d moved on to other acts and venues.
I’ll take music acts and venues for $20, Alex, I thought about saying, but wasn’t sure that was the best entry either. Truth was, I was a bit of an outsider here. While I was looking forward to the weekend of music, I wasn’t really here to listen to it. I had another purpose. A client wanted me to help him out if he got into difficulties—a purpose that was both familiar and unfamiliar to me. I’m a shrink after all, and my job is to help people navigate the difficulties they encounter. I see clients in my office, their home, or anywhere they want. When my client asked me if I’d come to the festival and help him out, it took me a couple of nanoseconds to say, Sure. If I could go to the festival and get paid, why not?
We never fully know what we’re getting into until we get into it. But we usually have a good sense of what to expect. I assumed my client might find himself in conflict with some of the people close by him and might want me to facilitate. He might need me to keep an eye on his substance intake. Or he might want to speak with me about life as he was living it.
Some of that happened.
“What You See (Is What You Get)”
Six Months Earlier
I’m a therapist. I’m also a teacher. A Los Angeleno. A thirty-five-year-old single guy who likes sports, music, time with friends and family, as well as an occasional joint and shot of Cuervo. A regular guy. Or so I mostly think. I’ve been told I’m annoying and my “cutesy pushiness” makes some people want to puke. My mother thinks I’ll be a late bloomer. My dad is just glad I have a job. My friends think I have redeeming values. You’ll have to make your own assessment.
I share a therapy office with Sarah. I met her in grad school and she’s way more organized than I am. She found the office, decorated it, and sublets it to me two days a week. It’s a good deal for me. I like Sarah. Every now and then I consider sleeping with her, but since it’s hard for me to be in a room alone with her for over thirty minutes, that idea usually doesn’t go anywhere. It’s not so much she’s intense. It’s more she’ll take whatever I say and lay it out for me in the most unflattering psychobabble ways that make me feel bad about myself. Plus, she’s not interested in me.
When I was in grad school, I took a class where we learned how to give IQ and personality assessments. We had to take a battery of tests and analyze them. Turns out we all were crazy. Which you’d kind of expect with therapists. But we’re not alone—you’re damaged goods too. We all are one way or another. Aside from realizing all of us have issues, the thing I found most fascinating is if you gave everyone in the world these tests, no one would come back normal. There’s no such thing. We’re all a little off. I don’t know if you’ll find that comforting or not. But that’s what I learned in class. Abnormal is the new normal.
I didn’t meet Sarah in that class. I met her at a children’s clinic where she and I were interning with a small group of grad students. She was a year ahead of me and we hit it off, mostly because we didn’t get to spend too much time together. When she graduated she got the office, and a year later when I got out of school she asked me if I wanted to share the space.
It’s one thing to ply your trade. It’s another to find anyone who’ll pay you for it. Over the years I’ve been able to build my practice because I started doing something that got me a bit of a local reputation.
Now, I’ll apologize in advance for talking about my dissertation, but you’ll find it has relevance, not just to how I built my practice but also to your life and what happened over the weekend.
My dissertation was about time. Most therapists see clients for fifty minutes. I’d wondered why. My medical doctor sees me for as long as she needs to see me. Why didn’t therapy work the same? I wanted to know what was so special about fifty minutes. Turns out nothing is special about it. Therapists go for fifty minutes because it’s convenient for them. It has nothing to do with you.
Once I realized therapy could be fifty minutes long, or an hour and fifty, or ten hours and fifty, it freed me up to see people for varying amounts of time. Most people came to me expecting fifty minutes, but when I explained I was flexible, it wasn’t long before I ended up spending afternoons or days with them. In and out of the office. My clients really liked it when I could join them in certain activities—a challenging discussion with their partner, a flight they were too scared to take alone. It really helped me to get an inside view of their life and help them where they needed it most—in their daily life. Therapists usually want you to take what happens in the office and apply it to your life, but I’ve been able to help clients apply the lessons of therapy on the job, with their partner, with their friends, anywhere they wanted.
I was a newly minted therapist so my rates were reasonable and I was less troubled about boundaries. Nowadays, I’m more expensive and I have to worry about things that weren’t so problematic when I began.
A few months earlier I got a new client named Drew. I suppose this is as good a time as any to put in this disclaimer—Drew isn’t his real name. I need to protect anonymity so I’ve had to change names and some facts in this book to protect people’s privacy. But for the most part, this is a true story and one you might know a thing or two about.
Drew came to me ostensibly because his girlfriend told him if he didn’t see a therapist, she would leave him. Not the best motivation for therapy, but I’ve seen worse. He really liked his girlfriend and didn’t want to lose her. He didn’t really want to have her either. Well, he wanted to have her, but he also wanted to have some of the other women he was involved with in other cities.
Drew was a musician in a band I’m going to call Magoo. They looked and sounded a bit like the Eagles, except they had a woman in the band and not so many hits. That said, if I mentioned their big hit, you’d hear it playing in the jukebox in your head. They’d been a headliner for some years, and though not in the same league as the bands I heard those guys in the will call line talking about, they were certainly living the dream and knock knock knocking on stardom’s door.
I’m not going to get into the nitty-gritty of Drew’s therapy, but since he’s the reason I was at the music festival I need to fill you in a little. Drew had asked me to come to the four-day festival with him because the band had decided to spend the entire weekend at the event and there’d be a lot of time for him to get into a lot of trouble. By that he meant the basics—sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and the consequences thereof.
Drew didn’t really need a babysitter. He’d logged in a lot of hours at music festivals and on the road, and mostly knew how to monitor himself. This festival would be different because his girlfriend, CeeCee, would be there. While that was a positive thing, he also knew some of his previous one-night stands from the area might be making their presence felt and he thought a steadying hand could be in order. He told me to mostly hang around the stage, food pavilion, and tech tent, and if he needed me he’d find me.
That’s how I ended up outside sunny San Bernardino, California, on Labor Day weekend, 1982.