The L.A. psychologist is more focused on his bumpy marriage than his showbiz clients. 2,512 words. Part One. Part Three. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
Food Merchant is a family-owned Southern California supermarket housed in a former warehouse on Lincoln Boulevard. Step inside and you enter a world of specialty foods lovingly displayed in a Disney theme park version of the Kasbah. A colossal indoor souk divided into sections with names like Marrakesh, Algiers, and Casablanca posted on banners overhead. It’s 10:40 a.m. and I’m here, as on most days, killing time. My next (and last) appointment of the day is at 4:00. It’s why Caroline’s lost all respect for me.
Her Big Grievance #1: Not holding up my end. I could surprise her with FM’s Natural Turkey Bacon, smoked over hardwoods without preservatives. See, Caroline, I’m bringing home the bacon. A joke, Caroline. Ah, forget it.
Big Grievance #2: Dr. Dennis Corbin, Day Trader. I studied the financial markets. Study may be too strong a word. I skimmed business news on the Internet. Watched that morning guy on One For The Money. He rated E-Tec a strong buy. “Lithium-ion batteries — it’s the future, Caroline. Cell phones, electric cars, personal computing. Green technology. Trust me, I’ve done my homework.”
Big Grievance #3: Buying more on the way down (technically, #2A).
Big Grievance #4: We were going to start a family when we had the savings.
I won’t get into the Little Grievances.
My new ringtone: Kubrick’s 2001 theme. “Hello?”
“Sadie Cowen gave me your number.”
“Sadie’s Mystery Muse! Who is Dr. D?” That’s Carlito Reyes, co-anchor of Stop The Presses!, an entertainment news show. The story’s been teased at least five times. “Exclusive!” repeated till your ears hurt. “Ex-cloo-sive! Ex-cloo-sive!”
Carlito is jumpy with excitement: “Sadie, Sadie, Emmy Lady, who is the mysterious doctor behind your awesome comeback?” They cut to Sadie’s Emmy thank-you, then quickly cut out of it to a rapid-fire montage. It’s the work of a coked-up video editor with attention deficit disorder. It flares and pops like a hot wire on a wet street: a cop guides Sadie, handcuffed, into the back of a squad car. Sadie’s watery-eyed mug shot. Sadie’s modeling session for GQ. Sadie’s megawatt smile at the premiere of Conundrum. Sadie, harried, as Missy the caterer on Good To Go. Sadie steps from a limo, with mom, waving to fans at the Microsoft Theater. Sadie’s Red Carpet interview — as the camera moves, so does mom, staying in the shot. Sadie accepting (again): “Thank you, Dr. D — my mentor, my muse, my guidin’ light…”
The segment ends with Carlito and Agave speculating on the ID of Sadie’s life-altering shrink. At long last, is D. Corbin trending?
Fat chance. They settle on Beverly Hills psychiatrist Vilmos Duschinsky, said to have treated Christian Bale and Shia LaBeouf. Carlito: “We reached out to Dr. Duschinsky. A spokesman says the doctor cannot discuss patients and will neither confirm nor deny he is treating the actress.” Very clever, Vilmos.
Agave: “STP sat down with Sadie in Beverly Hills last spring at the Women In Comedy Luncheon– ”
Credit card statements cover the kitchen table. Caroline is tap-tapping on her MacBook. The aroma of poached salmon still hangs in the air. I open the refrigerator. Is Blanca dipping into the cerveza? I take the last bottle.
“Dennis, can we talk?”
“I don’t know, can we? We got through dinner without a word.”
We are off and running. I flick the cap and fill a tall glass with Speedway Stout, 11% ABV. Methinks I’m going to need all 11%.
The question mark is a formality.
“Ale, actually.” I mouth the foaming head.
“And do you have to fill the vegetable compartment with them?”
“Best served at fifty to fifty-five degrees. I’m enjoying our talk.”
In the freezer, a cube clunks from the icemaker.
“I got a call from CitiBank,” she says.
“How is CitiBank?”
“We haven’t paid the minimum in two months.”
“Look, I’m happy to take over the paperwork.”
“It’s not who does the paperwork. We can’t afford our life.” Oh, that.
“Craft beer on a Budweiser income.”
“Income-shaming again. I may have a new client.”
“Uh-huh.” She lifts a handful of statements and drops them back onto the table for effect. “BevMo, Food Merchant… Hugo Boss?”
“It’s the new me.”
“Hugo Fucking Boss?”
“I needed a suit.”
“I may shoot myself and have to be buried in it.”
“We can only afford cremation. Ever hear of Men’s Wearhouse?”
“Ever hear of get-fucked? He said, lovingly.”
“This is why we never had a child. We already have one.”
Alan our dog lopes in, senses it’s a bad time, backs out.
“What do you want exactly?”
“Have you seen Alan’s vet bills?”
“I’ll hand him a pistol. We can lay him out in my suit.”
Two-fifteen. Waiting for my two. Sipping cold morning coffee at the living room window. A vintage Chevy pickup, blue as the water off Cabo, rolls by and out of frame. A beat. It squeals back and swings into the driveway. Straddles the sidewalk. A chrome bumper twinkles in the sun. The engine shudders still. The driver’s door swings open and an Air-Cooled Guy, wool cap pulled low, steps down. Paint-spattered overalls. A stereo view of the house plays on his mirrored Ray-Bans.
“You said Jim Stark.” We’re seated now. He’s removed his cap and shades.
“My nom de rehab.” It’s actor Jesse Aaron Royce. Right here in Casa de Corbin.
“Stark was James Dean’s character in Rebel.”
Too bad Caroline’s at work, she loved his public defender assigned to a mobster in Funny How. Wore horn-rims to look wonky.
“But that drug shit’s behind me.” He slides out of lime green flip-flops. Places his pedicured feet on my coffee table, as if on a pedestal. I nod at the overalls.
“Working on your house?”
He looks down.
“Hand-spattered. No two pair alike. Six hundred eighty bucks at Maxfield.”
“Very Jackson Pollock. And almost as pricey. So, Jesse, what brings you here?”
“Came out to do a rom-com called My Then Wife — a screwball period thing for the Lundquist brothers.”
“I mean… what brings you to therapy?”
“Oh. Well, Doc, the unexamined life is not worth living. You know who said that?”
“Socrates. All my life I’ve heard how old people — in their sixties, seventies — have wisdom?”
“I want wisdom now, when I can use it. Just got back from a Mindfulness Retreat. Have you read Seneca?”
“A little, in college.”
“Monster smart. Two thousand years ago, like it was written today. The one book I’d take to a desert island? The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People.”
“Never read it.”
“Well, therapy might lead to wisdom — or, at least, self-knowledge.” Could be a heavy lift for him, though.
“It did with Sadie. And I see the difference. That’s why I wheedled your number out of her. I knew her back in the day.”
“Really?” I can act, too.
“Download her e-biography on Kindle. Over three hundred words on me.”
I reckon he is a putz.
“Actresses, man. I’ve got a thing going now with Beatriz Madero. Spanish chick, though she’s playing Italian. Know her?”
“No.” Well, I know of her. Leafed through her Maxim spread in that bodega on Culver.
“We’re doing Shoot The Cuffs, the Funny How sequel. I call her my little spitfire. She calls me her sex addict.”
“There are markers for addiction. It’s something we can explore.”
“Nah, it’s cool.”
“Well, it may help for us to establish goals — that way you’ll know when you get there. Shall we say three times a week?” Please.
“Make it one. You’ll get a check every month from my business manager whether I show or not.” He looks at his phone. “Shit, I gotta get back to the set. Didn’t tell them I left.”
Reel Life Magazine: Women We Can’t Get Enough Of:
SADIE COWEN, ACTRESS
My childhood? Well, you’re lookin’ at a former Miss Chili Pepper, age 9. By sixth grade, I was the tallest girl, make that tallest person, in class – includin’ my teacher. And I was fully developed! 12 years old, I’m datin’ boys with cars. A regular tramp. A virgin tramp. My daddy was a local celebrity. Sold cars and did a string of those hokey TV ads. Fifty miles from Dallas, no one heard of him. But to me, he was like John Travolta or Michael Douglas or someone. I basked in his reflected glow. So I was kind of a star in school, and loved it, but secretly felt I didn’t deserve it, which I didn’t. Still feel I don’t. He put me in one of his commercials when I was five. I come into the lot, carrying my piggy bank. I kick the tires on a ’93 Camaro then proceed to talk him down on price. He agrees to take my seventeen dollars as payment. We shake. I look into the camera and say, “This guy’s a pushover.” From then on, it’s all I ever wanted to do. Be in front of a camera. Daddy wore a late-Elvis slicked-back hairdo, six-hundred-dollar custom boots, drank Maker’s Mark from a huge tumbler, smoked Cuban cigars. I could always make him laugh. At some point his big laugh dissolved into a hacking cough he couldn’t stop. It’s what finally killed him. Guess I’m still lookin’ for a replacement. My mother, Donna Ann, got lost in his shadow. Plus she was competin’ with me for his attention, so we didn’t hit it off from the start. She was a great beauty, with a body to die for. Now she drank, took pills, had an affair or two. She’s gonna love readin’ this! Momma’s side of the family, the Cleggs, was dark, real Southern Gothic. I come from a long line of suicides on her side. The Cohens could always make somethin’ out of nothin’. The Cleggs could always make nothin’ out of somethin’. I got both sides in me.
Morning sun floods the living room. Alan is on his bed. More like half on, half off. Lying on his side since last night. Too heavy to move. Caroline says he’s stopped eating.
“He’s soiling himself,” she said. Soiling.
We sit on either side and stroke his fur. Ribs like speed bumps.
“Fourteen is a pretty good run,” she says. Now she’s posted the closing notice.
We’ve agreed to both be present.
His sideways tail thumps the hardwood floor. Big black eyes look up. Trusting.
“How ya doin’, big guy?” I say. I lean down, put my lips to his ear. “Remember when we called you Peeby? Not too dignified for a big guy like you.”
The doorbell. We know for whom it tolls.
Women speaking in hushed tones. Footsteps.
“Dennis, this is Margaret.” No cloak and scythe, just a small medical bag.
I snuggle his head.
“I love you, Peeb. Mom’s going to take over.”
I feel Caroline’s angry eyes follow me as I head into the kitchen.
F. Logan Samuels, PhD, tells us to call him Logan. He is our third “couples therapist.” Caroline found him. A light-skinned black man, mid-forties, with tortoise shell glasses and close-cropped hair on head and face. He wears creaseless chinos and suede Indian moccasins and a paper-thin crewneck sweater in forest green and no shirt. The soft knit clings to his firm torso. He is cool and mellow. His office is earthy and eclectic; buttery, oaked, with top notes of Danish modern.
I try to establish a rapport with F. — as men, colleagues, husbands — he’s wearing a wedding band — but he remains unshakably neutral. Neutral puts me at a disadvantage. Caroline is armed with facts.
Caroline is talking. I try to look like a guy listening. Nodding like Bobble-head Freud. This is her closing argument. Bullet points: loveless, sexless, grown apart. Okay, okay, I get it. If I may summarize your case, counselor, and correct me if I’m wrong: it’s not me, Dennis, it’s you. I get it, Caroline. Now can you please just stop?
“Chai for the lady?” The Indian joint on Venice is empty at 5:20 PM. Orange walls, amber lighting, framed tapestries, embroidered pillows. Warm and cozy, like an Indian ski lodge. We’re at our regular table in the corner.
To me: “Kalyani?”
“Not tonight, Hari. Bring me a Kingfisher, ‘The King Of Good Times.’”
He head-bows and scurries off. “Poor guy. He has no idea.” Playing the sentiment card.
Caroline’s not feeling it.
“I always hated sitar music,” she says.
I look around. I know we’ll never be in this restaurant again, together or separately.
Our eyes meet. I lean in, dead serious: “What I want — what’s most important — is a guarantee. No more attempts on my father’s life.”
“Jesus, Dennis, what’s wrong with you?”
“Pacino, remember? The restaurant scene? C’mon, that’s funny.” There was a time…
A lecture in Franz Hall. Cognitive Psychology. Professor is droning. I crack wise about fighting to stay cognitive, and a pretty girl, two seats away, laughs. On the way out, I catch up. We chat. I’m charmed by her J.Crew look and business-casual disposition. Charmed, too, by her command of the course material. Soon, I move into her apartment on Gayley. Caroline’s a doctoral student by day, a restaurant hostess by night. I’m supportive. She does the supporting.
She says, “I’ve got a lawyer.”
“Does he have his own sound-effect on your phone?” On a roll. I mutter something about giving it another try. But I’m like a movie ghost that only one character can see and hear — and it’s not her.
She: “We’ll put the house on the market.”
Me: “What will I do for an office?”
She (rolling along): “We split everything down the middle, even though I’ve kicked in more.”
Me: “A guy wouldn’t say that, it’s assumed. But about my office —”
She: “We each keep our car.”
Me: “You know, we’re peaking before drinks. And did I mention that if we sell the house, I have no office?” My future ex continues down her list: furniture, books, DVDs…
We find a house we love, apply for a mortgage. Denied due to her “bad credit.” You’re kidding. She pays every bill as it arrives. Identity theft. So we take her name off the paperwork. Thus I am able, later, to get a Home Equity Line of Credit without her. To trade my way out of a hole. Amazing how fast a quarter of a million goes. What can I say? I have a gift for buying high and selling low.
A waiter sets down the beer. I check the label: 8% ABV. No Speedway.
Dishes. Silverware. Stocks. She lets out a snort on that one.
Caroline slides some papers over. Century 21 Realty. At first, I read it as Reality. She hands me a ballpoint.
“Priced to sell,” she says.
I hesitate. A massive chunk of my life is poised to slip into the sea.
“Just rip off the Band-Aid, Dennis.”