My shrink has an office in a walk-up above a pizza parlor. He’s new in the business, and since he has very few patients as yet, and sometimes hours between appointments, he works part-time as a pizza chef. I didn’t know that till one day I was early for my appointment and, famished, stopped in for a slice. There he was, distributing pepperoni, sausage, and mushrooms on a large pie, delicately dropping each morsel onto the cheese as if he were adding paints to the portrait of someone dear. Indeed, he kept looking at his customer with searching eyes, periodically making corrections in the sausage configuration.
He didn’t give any indication that he recognized me, but when I ordered a slice with extra cheese, he gave me a calzone instead, saying, “Isn’t this what I hear you asking for?” I took it and began eating. He pointed gently to the “Please Pay When Served” sign.
My shrink wasn’t always a shrink. He was an interior decorator for twelve years. “Actually, I still am, only I now deal with smaller rooms,” he kidded one afternoon as I jumped the cables in his car after he’d called to tell me he was stuck on the road: “I need your help to get to the office to give you help,” he’d said.
He decided to become a shrink partly because he liked listening to people, but also because in his own therapy he had realized that he’d missed a lot of fun when he was a student. So he wanted a reason to go back to school. “And now, I’m out again, which shows that you can go back, but unless you keep getting research grants you can’t stay very long.” He was a legendary interior decorator, according to the friend who referred me to him. The people would often change as much as their apartments. “You’re not comfortable looking chic,” he might say. “Try some early American.” And before he could finish with their rooms, they would be out buying a farm.
The phone rang in the middle of one of our sessions. He answered, then silence. Whoever was talking to him was affecting him deeply. “I understand,” he said. “I’ll be there as soon as possible.”
He asked me if we could reschedule my session. “An emergency came up.” I was never one to deny someone emergency help, so I said sure. He thanked me and changed into a white T shirt and apron.