An L.A. psychologist with a boring practice has one cool patient: an Emmy-winning tabloid princess. 2,571 words. Part Two. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
“Graceful, isn’t she? I’m a full-on spastic.” The presenter in the tangerine gown fighting with the envelope is British actress Myrtle Davies. Myrtle won last year in this category — Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series. She’s in the third season of that cable show set in Brooklyn where she speaks in a New Yawk accent. It’s surprising to hear her proper English, as if this were the acting.
“Bless your patience,” she says, tugging at the enclosure. Myrtle yanks the card free. Applause. “How humiliating.”
Caroline and I are sitting at opposite ends of the living room couch. Alan, our black shepherd mix, takes up the demilitarized zone. He sleeps a lot these days. We’re watching the Emmy Awards on the widescreen. Caroline hates award shows, but the marriage counselor wants us to do more activities together, so she sits there working on her laptop. She can’t stand this Hollywood bullshit. I love it. All of it: the golden lives, the yawping narcissism, the better class of women.
“And the Emmy Award goes to…” Myrtle scans it, breaks into a broad smile. “Oh, this is extraordinary… Sadie Cowen! Yes!” The orchestra plays the Good To Go theme. It’s the first comedy series based on a food delivery app.
Myrtle and Sadie are friends. I know this because Sadie told me so in therapy. I, Dr. Dennis Corbin, also know that she and Myrtle had a threesome this summer with Ezra Garrett. Google says he’s a “fuckboy” and a “wannabieber” who starred in something, I forget what. At the time, Ezra was a hair shy of eighteen, a fact discovered late. It threw Sadie into a panic. “Ah’m a rapist,” she moaned in her Texas drawl. It took most of a session to talk her down. But, hey, that’s what I’m here for.
I’d like to share this bit of gossip with Caroline. It might make her laugh, something I was once able to do. But professional ethics prevent it. So I say nothing as she goes over Monday’s cases and Hollywood continues to celebrate.
Sadie, athletic, bounds up the stairs two at a time in her Stella-Vera-Donna. Her black tresses, piled high, add another six inches to her tall frame. She and Myrtle pretend-kiss, mock-tussle over the trophy, laugh. Sadie cradles it, steps to the mike, pauses for timing and coos, “Well, shoot. Purty little thing, idn’t it?”
If you’ve been living under a rock, it’s Cowen, pronounced Cowen, though before swapping the “h” for a “w” it was Cohen, pronounced Cohen. Sadie’s the spawn of a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader and Big D used car pitchman Buddy Cohen, “the Hillbilly Hebrew.” In therapy, she likes to sprinkle her down-home stream of consciousness with bits of Yiddish. One time, she’s giving me “the whole megillah” about an ex-boyfriend and says, “I reckon he’s a putz.” So cute, so Sadie. And in this town, it doesn’t hurt to have a little Jewish cred.
She dates bad boys and pretty boys and married men, but none who get below the surface. Her easy charm is a wall. Once, as she recaps her robust (some might say indiscriminate) sex life, I ask about orgasms. She fans her face with her hand and in a fine Blanche Dubois says, “My word, doctor, I do believe you’ve made me blush.”
Now, she’s got the room. “Some people thank Jesus or their dead mother or their high school acting teacher for believin’ in them. Well, let me tell you, none of those ever thought I’d amount to sh-BLEEP!” Laughter. The crowd loves her. She’s back. “But one person did, at long last, believe. Oh, yes. So — thank you, Dr. D — my mentor, my muse, my guidin’ light, my shrink…”
Caroline looks up. “Is she talking about you, Dennis?”
“Uh, very nice of her, but completely unnecessary.” I say this in my serious doctor voice, as if unfazed. But a twitch shoots down my right leg and the bowl of onion dip capsizes in my lap.
Caroline knows about my famous client. One morning, she stayed late to dictate her plans for the new living room. Midway through a tutorial on Stickley and the Arts & Crafts Movement, I spotted Sadie out front, texting.
“Sorry,” I said, “my ten a.m.’s here.” That night at dinner, Caroline says, “This morning — wasn’t that the actress?”
Sadie prattles on, “Thanks, Doc, for your clarity and your insight and for puttin’ me on the ole straight and narrow. Finally, right?” This gets a knowing laugh. “We made this baby together,” she says, holding the statuette aloft, “and it’ll be comin’ to our next session.” Laughter, applause. She pumps it twice, rocking that Equinox bicep. A shot of Sadie’s mother in her seat, beaming. Sadie and Myrtle turn to Camera Two and stride into the wings.
“More excitement coming up on the 70th Annual Emmy Awards…!”
We’re into an ad for auto insurance. Caroline is quiet. And I am quiet back. Alan snoozes, his dull coat heaving. Sadie’s thank-you hangs there. One word lingers like the sound of a dropped coin, spinning, spinning. Let’s just say “baby” is touchy.
“Clarity and insight?” Caroline tries to align that phrase with the man to her left —the one using a Kettle chip to scrape sour cream off his sweatpants and pop it into his mouth.
“Thank God she didn’t use my full name,” I say, crushed that she didn’t. “That’s all I need — stalkers and mental cases. I mean, non-paying mental cases.”
I head to the kitchen for another IPA.
Caroline and I have been together fifteen years, married thirteen. Fifteen years ago, I was Sadie’s age, twenty-six. Caroline was twenty-seven. A year later, we adopted Alan. Friends kidded that he was our practice baby. For a time, it was a nickname. “Ready for a walk, Practice Baby?” Or, “Let’s give you a bath, PB.”
Caroline is a psychologist with the Los Angeles County Department Of Children And Family Services. She keeps a clean desk. Her drawers are lined. Each appointment is entered in her phone’s calendar. All day long, chirps and pings and chimes and rings sound from her purse. Ding, for an incoming text; dong, and it’s time for her massage therapist. Massage therapist is a must when your need to control the world and everything in it results in back spasm.
Doctors Corbin and Shillinburg-Corbin live in a neighborhood called West L.A. by its residents and Palms by everyone else. It’s said that Thalberg’s driver used our street as a shortcut to Metro. We own a gray craftsman-style bungalow with a converted one-car garage at the rear of the lot. That’s where I see clients. I prefer “client” to “patient” as it removes the pressure of having to actually find a cure.
Three years ago, Sadie Cowen, Texas Jewgirl, arrived in L.A. as the fully formed It Girl of the moment. Her presence was somehow sensed. She was in demand by directors and casting agents from the minute she stepped off of, well, whatever she stepped off of. It wasn’t a turnip truck.
Right out of the gate, she won supporting roles in big-budget films. When they fizzled, she dropped from sight. Resurfaced in headlines of nightclub altercations, fender-benders, and an infamous inflight meltdown. You know, the full Lohan. Page Six gave her a handle: Sacko. Sacko Goes Psycho! … Sacko Sacked!
Counseling was a condition of Sadie’s two-year probation on a DUI — negotiated by her attorney, Barry Ackerman, in lieu of jail time. I know Barry from Jersey. We went to Rutgers together. I transferred junior year. He graduated summa cum laude, was elected President of the Law Review at NYU. Clerked for Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Decided that what the world needed most was an attorney to look after celebrities.
There were two reasons why Barry referred Sadie to me, neither of which is bragging fodder. One, I’m inexpensive — you charge what the market will bear — and she hadn’t worked in some time. And two:
“No one knows you, Dennis.”
“There’s an ego boost.”
“Let me rephrase: she needs someone low-profile.”
“Nice save. Glad my failure to make any mark in this town has finally paid off.”
He took another whack at it.
“Look, you’re a talented therapist, or I wouldn’t send her your way. But a big plus is that you’re off the grid. Far from the Hills of Beverly.”
I get it. On Roxbury Drive, paparazzi swarm medical buildings like pilot fish. You’ve seen the supermarket tabloids: a decrepit screen legend holds onto his Filipino aide with the headline So-And-So’s Sad Last Days. Barry wanted her out of the glare. He even got a restraining order against one Nikonista — a hulk in a straw trilby hat named Orlando Pererra. Sadie calls him Trilby. He is everywhere. During a pap “gang-bang” outside Sugarfish, Trilby rushed in with his D700 and knocked her to the pavement. Now he must stay twenty feet away.
A consummate professional, Barry offered this caveat about my soon-to-be client: “She’s sexy as hell, Dennis, and smells great. You’re gonna wanna fuck her.”
The New York Times: After the Emmys
A sociogram is a chart of relationships within a group. It is a series of circles representing people, with arrows going this way and that. Sociograms are used in transactional analysis to study social connections. They are a visual representation of power and influence. To see a sociogram in real life, check out the Emmy Awards Governors Ball. Hang from one of the massive crystal chandeliers at the Convention Center and look down. Beneath you are 400 circles. Each draped in linen. Ignore the floral arrangements, the 4,000 servings of Filet Of Beef Tenderloin, the 12,000 pieces of china. Note the placement of gold statuettes. Take a time-lapse photo. What do you see? The random flow of people reduced to a series of blurred lines. The darker the line, the more heavily trafficked the route. On this night many dark lines lead to Table 101. Sitting there, affable and exhausted, is actress Sadie Cowen. Earlier, Ms. Cowen won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series. She has traveled a long, winding, and somewhat bumpy road to arrive at this place. Many stop by to pay tribute. And when they can, when it doesn’t seem too obvious, they bring up The Speech. How did you turn your life around? Who is he? Because everyone in This Business wants an edge, some secret magic: Tom’s Scientology, Lena’s TM, Gwyneth’s Ayurveda. Sadie barely eats. She is fielding congratulatory phone calls and texts. “One sec,” she says. “My therapist…”
thx d same messd up me. jst mor grandiose
And thanks for the thank you
wow ppl r askN bout dr d
Tell em don’t believe the hype
ur the real deal. cu thurs. xo
Monday morning. I’m buzzing. Although. Would it have killed her to use my full name? Thank you, Dr. Dennis Corbin — my mentor, my muse… Sure, it might have brought unwanted attention. It might also have brought wanted attention. It might have helped plug the holes in my day planner. Plug the holes in my ego. Let’s hope she gives my number to the ppl askN.
First appointment of the week is Joel. I see Joel Wednesdays, but when his mother passed we added this second session. His chronic low-grade depression is now middle to high. Maybe he’ll be too depressed to show. If he cancels, I’ll understand. Forget the fee, Joel, special circumstance. No, really, don’t worry about it. Not sure I can handle his whining today. Too distracted. I look out the window. Joel waits on the sidewalk like a dog tied in front of the market.
A meaningful handshake.
“How are you, Joel? Can I get you a coffee?”
“Can’t drink the stuff — IBS.” Joel from the get-go.
I lead him to the office, as if to his doom. He is a doughy man with a small island of thin hair in the center of a big bald lake. Alan waggles over from the yard. His coat hangs loose on jutting vertebrae; a shag rug on a rail. He shoves his gray muzzle into Joel’s crotch. Joel pushes him off. The effort exhausts him and he lies down right there in the driveway. Alan, I mean. Though it could easily be Joel.
In the office, Joel stares at my Freud bookcase. Caroline said I needed a collection and chose Freuds: Freud action figure, Freud bobble-head, Solar Freud stroking his beard, Freud and Jung salt-and-pepper shakers, the rest. I’m no Freudian, but what the hell. I bought one myself last week, just to show I’m, air quotes, on board. Talking Freud. Press ON and in a thick Austrian accent he says, “Ze goal of all life is death.”
“How’s it going?”
He sighs, tearful. “Had a bad weekend.” Surprise, surprise.
“Sorry. Want to talk about it?”
“It’s just so hard, that’s all. I….”
“It’s a process, Joel.” First cliché, right down the middle. “You suffered a big loss. It’s only been a couple of weeks.”
“Nearly a month.”
“You need time. Give yourself permission to grieve.”
Ugh. I can’t even listen to me.
‘— Oprah: A while back I introduced you to Dr. Phil and Dr. Oz… Now I want you to meet another healer, a special man who’s helped me and so many of my friends… I know you’re going to love him… the awesome… Dr. D!!
“…There’s so much I didn’t get to say, things we never resolved…”
“Those feelings are not uncommon,” I say, an auto-response that fits anything. But I think: are you kidding me, Joel? You’re a 58-year old man who still lived with his mother. If you couldn’t settle shit in all that time, what can I do for you?
What I say is: “Write her a letter.”
Yeah, write a letter to a fucking dead woman, for all the good it’ll do you.
I say: “Some find it helpful to go to the gravesite and read it aloud.”
“Her ashes are interred in a wall niche, it’s kind of high up.”
Bring a ladder, schmuck.
“It’s more for you than for her,” I say.
— Jimmy: My guests tonight are Amy Poehler… James Franco… and Dr. D is here to talk about his new book, Becoming YOU. That was my problem. I bought Becoming HER. (Laughter)
“It’s so painful going through her stuff: matchbooks from every restaurant. She never throws anything out. Threw.”
She should’ve thrown you out, you might have stood a chance.
— Operator: Dr. Corbin? Please hold for the President.
— (I step out of Nobu to take the call.)
— POTUS: Dennis? I want your input on these mass shooter wackos… They’re nutjobs, right?
“So what do you think?” He looks at me.
“My sister’s idea of a yard sale…”
“Oh, yeah. Well…”
“Fifteen hundred miles away, she could never be bothered. Now she’s full of advice.”
I shrug. “Might be worth considering. Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”
Someday this will all be done by personal digital assistant.
— Siri, I’m suicidal.
— There are 16 tall buildings near you.
What I love about Sadie is that she makes my game better.
“Joel, did you do anything to relax this weekend? Watch any TV last night?”