It was time for weekly recalibration. Schedulers never let on until showtime whether it will be a one-on-one or group session. Irregularity suggests they don’t themselves know. One day they’ll get it all sorted out. Staff and residents simply take things as they come. Everyone knows who the players are, and what roles we are expected to play.
“Conference room” (wink, wink) ceremony was never an issue. After a light tap on the door, I opened it and walked in. You would not believe the assemblage of people seated in oversized leather chairs, almost recliners. All chairs but one arranged in a semicircle, facing that one chair, the one reserved, obviously, for me.
There were five of them. Not “residents.” Judging that is, from their suits and their postures, to the last one suggesting assumed superiority. These were professionals. This indeed was not an expected unexpected. At least, not for me. It’s common for one “facilitator” and several “clients,” but never the other way around. None of these men were immediately recognizable.
I sat in the unoccupied chair. None of my esteemed guests spoke. I began. “Gentlemen. I do not know where to start. It is not normally left to me. Do you have questions for me?”
A youngish man, in a suit more fashionable to the turn of the century, not this one, the other one, spoke. “Um. Yes. Not to waste anyone’s time, could you look at the picture I show to you and describe for me what it is that you see? Take your time, please, no hurry. I realize it is not a ‘picture’ but humor me and tell me what you ‘see’ in this.”
It certainly was not a “picture.” It was an ink blot. I’ve been around enough to recognize not the particular image, but the concept. That it was not black-and-white startled me. I leaned toward the picture to examine it closely.
Before I could start, “Hermann,” interrupted a clean-shaven older man more suitably, but not quite, dressed as if a resident of the current century, “you are not going to start with those ridiculous ink things, are you?”
“Herr Skinner,” replied Hermann, “these will allow me to come more quickly to an understanding…”
“Ah, Rorschach, you are not going to have us watch while you play with your ten ink stains are you? I mean we have a limited amount of…”
“Herr Pavlov, there are only ten now,” interrupted ‘Herr Rorschach.’
It seemed the way these men went about things worked better when they interrupted one another.
This once, though, Hermann was allowed to hold the floor. “I had twenty but impatience on the part of my peers allows me ten only to discern…”
A fourth gentleman, dressed appropriately to the middle of the last century took it to be his turn to interrupt. “Quite, Pavlov. If we can observe not so much how this mind works without respect to Hermann’s pictures, we can begin to see some of what primal forces he harbors, and thereafter to make some determination…”
Mr. Skinner stole the floor. “Yes, yes, yes, Carl, you and Sigmund will have your say, as you manage to do always after solid preliminary work is done by the rest of us, to blather on about animal urges, unconscious thought, and tempered social awareness, completely ignoring the irrefutably simple fact that a river’s incessant flow ultimately defines the contours of its banks. We all have…”
At this point, never allowing me to utter a single word further, the five erupted into a cacophony of interrupted interruptions. No sane man could have sorted-out any single argument any more than one can follow a single confused drop of water flowing north from Lake Eire to Lake Ontario.
Oblivious to occasional potshots from the others, Freud and Skinner were in the most spirited discussion. They tossed insults at one another. Insults that missed the mark and pranged into the room’s cinder block wall broke off chinks of block, exposing dull grey beneath the “soothing seaside blue” paint.
As a lay person, a student of psychology only out of necessity you understand, I didn’t see where their ideas were irreconcilable. Freud and Skinner did. Attentions of the five guests were so riveted on each other, my leaving the session was unnoticed. As I left the conference room, it seemed Freud and Skinner would abandon their intellectual stuffiness to address their differences in a more tactile way. While Freud and Skinner claimed and counter-claimed, and while not otherwise interrupting someone else, Rorschach, Jung, and Pavlov furiously scribbled observations into notepads. Freud and Skinner’s stilted arguments and postulations were audible as I closed the conference room door.
Obviously Ward screwed up my morning dose, giving me the stronger evening pill instead of the lighter ‘good morning’ pill. I’d entered the conference room enjoying some mild hallucination. Walking away from the room, thinking about those pompous gentlemen, it occurred to me these esteemed guests were perhaps the very men who could answer questions that have been on my mind for some time. Returning to the conference room door, I tapped lightly twice before opening it to stick my head inside.
The room, as you’ve guessed, was empty.