Stevieslaw: Dr. Bill

Dear Dr. Bill,

Enclosed please find my ernest (your spelling) money in the form of a $250 certified check in answer to your ad in the National Enquirer. Your offer of a by phone, self-esteem clinic, similar to one just featured in a New York Times article, sounds like a godsend to me. Although I can certainly afford “face to face” counseling, I do not like to leave home for long periods as my family is apt to change the locks. Once, they moved to Milwaukee.

I am married with two or perhaps three children. Spite is 3 and his/her near twin, Malice 3.5. My wife, Molybdenum, claims that she is an alien. As proof, she cried continuously for two and a half years after watching the movie ET. I met her at a symposium on the harmful effects of cosmic rays, at Cern, in Switzerland some years ago. Their particle accelerator burped (a technical term) and there she was in the seat next to mine. This was unfortunate for Professor Ng, who was in the seat at the time. He screamed Molybdenum and vanished. As you may have guessed, I am a theoretical physicist. My thesis, “The Double Knot in Superstring Theory,” caused quite a stir when first published. Unfortunately, it seemed to annoy Stephen Hawking quite a bit. Later, my paper “A Briefer, Better History of Time,” seemed to irk him a little as well. No telling. Just yesterday, he tried to run me down with his chair. Not for the first time I might add.

I have low self esteem. I believe my childhood is to blame. I was born and raised in the East Flatbush section of Brooklyn. It was a tree lined street—a Sycamore as I recall. My father was a professional boxer, who’d retired before I was born. He made little conversation, preferring instead to twitch, grab what was left of his right ear with his left hand and scream, “OK”. My father felt that growing up in a nice neighborhood was a disadvantage, and every Friday night, between drinks, he would load the car with the kids and drop us in some neighborhood in Brooklyn, Manhattan or the Bronx. Queens, as we all know, is for sissies. And Staten Island. Why bring that up at all? In this way, we could be systematically pummeled by Italian, Polish, Black, Puerto Rican, Jewish, Chinese and Irish gangs. Once, I was nearly tickled to death by four Buddhist kids in Prospect Park. The beatings had little effect on my two older brothers, Armed and Dangerous, and no effect at all on my two younger sisters, Ready and Willing. It is surely a weird twist of fate that my brothers are now in the hairdressing and grooming industry, while my sisters make license plates for the State.

I was a special child. My distinguishing feature was bronchitis. I coughed. My bronchitis was recognized throughout Central Brooklyn, as I kept most of the neighborhood awake, from roughly 10 PM to 5:30 AM from late October through early April. For years, everyone in the neighborhood was haggard and I’m proud to say that the expression, sleep deprivation, was born of that era. Often, my family would load me in the car in the hope that the motion would drive me to sleep. I was smart enough to fight against that, however, as the few times that I did fall asleep, I would wake to find myself abandoned in Coney Island, outside the Steeplechase. The police would take me in and force feed me large quantities of ice cream until my family could be located. The concept of lactose intolerance —hives, breathing difficulties, and coma—dates from my evenings at that station.

The good thing about my bronchitis was that I had a refillable prescription for all the cold and cough medicine I might ever require. The bad thing was that my mother used the medicine in her cooking, which for some archaic reason was illegal in New York City (although it is currently the only light industry left in the upper Mid-West). Before she was jailed, there were some great evenings when the family—the twitch, the witch, Armed and Dangerous, Ready and Willing, and I—would sit around the Sterno can and drink. Sometimes our dog, Lassie, would drag in a neighborhood kid, Timmy, and sit with us while she gnawed on Timmy’s leg. Sadly, I have no family portrait.

I was raised by my grandmother, a bookmaker. She couldn’t cook and never cleaned, but taught me how to play any game involving a deck of cards. She also taught me how to mark cards—the second most useful skill I ever mastered. I shared my space with various uncles and cousins, each named Vito. They were also in bookmaking—collections to be precise— and were always going in and out of the slammer on charges related to lead pipes or fashionably short shotguns. While other families would get in their vehicle on Sundays to visit relatives and share a fine dinner involving a roast and potatoes, we would visit the Post Office lobby to admire our family photos displayed prominently on the wall.

My grandmother lived in a small apartment between the Allen family and the Brooks family. Woody and Mel were my best friends. They called me Al, which was great as my parents had never gotten around to naming me and I had thought, for many years, that my name was OK. They were great kids. Woody, even at age four, was a chick magnet, while Mel could talk his way out of anything, anywhere. They were always creative and invented games and diversions by the dozens. I was often included in these events—a star even—although the props were likely to be tar and feathers, or the Sycamore tree and a rope. Thanks to them, I got much better at running and hiding—my first most useful skill.

It’s improbable but true that Woody, Mel and I had the same birthday. For all I know, we still do. Imagine the fun the three of us had! Their parents would throw these incredible parties they termed “birthday duets.” I was never invited, but was free to cough behind the thin walls. Well, I was invited one year, when they persuaded me to dress as a piñata. Heady days.

I have to close now Doc. The tykes have found the nail gun and have started on my door. I believe I smell gasoline as well and I’m fairly certain I can hear the hum of a motorized wheelchair. As my story is fairly common, I’m sure you can help me and that my money has been well spent. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Al

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