When he’s thanked on TV, the L.A. shrink tries to become Hollywood’s new must-see. 2,354 words. Part One. Part Two. Part Four. Illustration by Thomas Warming.
It’s one of those nights, rare in L.A., when you can hear the quiet. There’s a faint but audible electric buzz. The Adirondack chair is as hard and cold as slate. Across the black void a woman in a lighted window washes a single plate. The sprinklers whoosh on. I flick my cigar into the wet grass.
Stop The Presses! is great. I love my recurring role on it. I’m their Keyser Söze. Three days in, the Dr. D mystery — a non-story, if ever there was one — is kept alive by my client Sadie’s trendingness and a slow entertainment news week. Not that you’d guess it from Carlito’s caffeinated hysteria. But it doesn’t take an “entertainment reporter” to know that with no new news, this story will soon die. Then I can forget about a bonanza of new clients. About turning things around.
I freeze-frame on the show’s closing crawl: Got a tip? Submit tips anonymously: firstname.lastname@example.org.
I read a line once in a self-help book that stuck: the best way to escape from your problem is to solve it. This thought is accompanied by dramatic music: the startup chord of an iMac. Followed by these words on the screen: the ease & simplicity of Gmail, available across devices.
Create an account.
Morning. Caroline’s entered the kitchen in her Juvenile Court outfit: black blazer, black skirt, high boots. She glances at her watch. I’m reading Google News on my phone. In the house we’re like opposing tides: one flows into a room, the other recedes. But not this morning. This morning we are out of sync.
She opens the pantry, removes a Food Merchant bag and starts filling it with Alan’s stuff. Water bowl, food bowl, coat brush, Frontline Plus for flea & ticks, leather leash, chicken jerky, hot spot spray, poop bags. Caroline is the Anti-Hoarder and a champion thrower-outer: a neglected sweater, unopened Christmas jam, tchotchke not pulling its weight, joins the disappeared. Alan took to hiding his chew toys.
“Will you grab his bed? I need to keep my clothes clean.”
“Whose do you think?”
“He had a name.”
“Look, I’m running late…”
I scoop up Alan’s faux-suede cushion, fold it in half. Hair flies off and floats through a sun shaft. His final shedding. I open the door to a pizza oven blast. Autumn in LA.
We load up her Subaru. “Where are you taking this?”
She movie-ghosts me again. Opens the car door and slides in behind the wheel. Bye, Caroline. Have a nice day, Caroline.
I head back inside and hope she hasn’t forgotten anything. I hate when she leaves and a minute later, runs back in. Like when Ripley feels all safe in the shuttlecraft – then, bam, the alien pops out. Caroline will say, “I forgot — the dryer repairman is coming between ten and one. I didn’t think you had anything.” Master of the assignment-dig.
In the living room, I watch as she backs out, pauses, and zips up the street. I love the morning calm before the Attack Of The Gardeners. Before garbage trucks huff and hiss, upturning cans with their robotic trunks.
“Are you Doctor Dennis Corbin… of Palms?”
“West L.A., yes.”
“Doctor, I’m Kerry Ann Olds, a segment producer for STP?”
“The motor oil?”
“Stop The Presses! It’s an entertainment news show.”
“Isn’t all TV news entertainment?”
“Sir, STP plans to report that you are the ‘Dr. D’ mentioned by actress Sadie Cowen in her Emmy speech last Sunday.”
“Quite a scoop. I see why you’re called Stop The Presses!”
“Is that your comment?”
“My comment is no comment.”
“You prefer to say nothing?”
“If I were treating this actress, would you expect me to violate patient confidentiality?” Patient. “And would it do me any good to deny it?”
“Well, it comes to us on, uh, good authority.”
“Better make sure your source is right, Woodstein.”
“No, my name is Olds. Kerry Ann.”
“I warn you, Kelly Ann, my attorney is a former Supreme Court clerk. And he is relentless in the pursuit of justice.”
I step out into the blazing day, my pupils whirring to adjust. Sadie pulls up, punctual. Always. They say it’s unusual for an actress. She climbs out of her alpine white 328i, bee-boops, and tosses the fob in her bag.
She’s in a candy-colored halter top, skinny jeans, red stilettos. Looks great.
Reading my thoughts, she says: “Date later. Fixin’ to get schtupped.”
“You’ve had quite a week,” I say, picking up on her lilac scent.
“I’m tellin’ ya. Already a size too big for my britches.”
Two houses down, I spot a guy lurking near a construction dumpster. He’s in one of those narrow-brimmed hats favored by hipsters. Straw. There’s a camera round his neck and the long lens of another aimed our way. She follows my gaze.
“That’s my stalkarazzi Trilby. How does he know?”
I’m hit with a wave of guilt, which I nimbly redirect.
“Hey!” I yell as I start toward him. “Get the hell outa here!”
“Dennis, don’t. He won’t come any closer. Barry cut his nuts off.”
But no, here I am charging in his direction. What’s the plan, Dennis? Fuck if I know. There’s a white pickup in the neighbor’s driveway — “Lew’s Pool & Spa.” I grab a long-poled net hanging over the back end and resume my charge. Knight Of The Realm, West Coast Division.
But he’s gone. Vanished. I scan the area. Make a big show of searching around the dumpster. Nothing. Silently relieved, I return, tossing the net back into the truck bed.
“My hero,” says Sadie, tickled by the absurd spectacle.
“Let’s go inside,” I say with feigned self-assurance. I guide her up the cracked cement drive. For a millisecond, my hand touches her cool naked back. I let it fall.
I’m rattled as I drop into my recliner. She tosses her bag on the couch, looks around.
“No, it’s been here.”
I swivel my chair to watch her cross the room, inspecting. She stoops before the bookcase, opens it and takes out a Freud. Tweaks it with her finger, watches the head bob. “Nice. I’ll trade you for my Lee Strasberg bobble-head.”
“What’s in here?” She steps over to the mini-fridge, opens it.
“Usually beer. Needs to be restocked.”
“I’d say.” Closes it. “So this is like your little man cave, huh?”
“If you have to call it that.”
“Hide out from the wife and play video games?”
“Not exactly. But I like my own space.”
“What’s her name?”
“Caroline. But enough about me.”
“Gettin’ too personal, huh?” She finds her way back to the couch and falls into it with a self-satisfied smirk. “Okay, let ‘er rip.”
“Okay. “ I refocus. “So: how badly are you taking success?”
“Oh, you know, once a fraud…”
“Well, if national acclaim won’t change that, we’ve got work to do.”
“Did you watch?”
“Oh, that’s right. How’d my dissipation look in high-def?”
“You’re not exactly Courtney Love.”
“I feel like one of daddy’s used cars. Polished up, dings removed — but under the hood is a cracked engine block.”
“You’re way too self-effacing. What else is going on?”
“Broke up with Mr. Right.”
“The director?” She nods. “Wouldn’t leave his wife?”
“Worse: he would. Was all packed. I said, whoa, Nellie, and pulled the emergency brake.”
“I guess ‘unavailable’ is more intriguing…”
“You’ve got my number.”
“Maybe you give it out too often.”
“Think I need a better vetting process?”
“You need a vetting process.”
“I could hire an outside auditing firm, like the Academy. Ooh, that reminds me…”
She grabs her bag, pulls out the gold statuette. A woman with wings — an angel? — holding up a jumbo atom.
“Think it’s a bit much for a sitcom?” she says.
“Impressive. Should make you feel pretty good.”
She shrugs. “Everybody gets one. They give ‘em out for participation.”
“You know, I loved the shout-out on national TV. But the win was all yours. You come here twice a week, I say ‘How does that make you feel?’ a lot, and you go home.”
“Now who’s self-effacin’?”
“You’ve done the work, Cowen. Plus, the role of tabloid princess never fit you. You’re too quick to discount your talent and disown your success.”
There is a loud rap as the French doors fly open.
“Excuse me!” I say, as a fiftyish blonde sweeps in. Her face has few of the traditional age markers.
“Your wife said it would be OK.”
“Did she? I’m in a session.”
“We’ll be quick.” She flicks a business card on the desk. “You’ll love this, Lindsey. It could be a guest room. Or a home office for you or Sean.” A plain but well turned out woman follows her in. Late twenties. Four-figure leather boots, three-figure pixie cut, eight-month baby bump. The older one looks in the bathroom. “This is a little tired, but it wouldn’t take much to redo.” Pixie Cut peeks in, nods.
“All right, ladies —“
Blondie turns to me. “Do you have a permit for this or was it bootlegged?”
“No idea. I must ask you both to leave. This is not the time.”
“So sorry…” says Pixie Cut, visibly uncomfortable. That is, until she spots the actress on the couch, still clutching her gleaming award. A fan wet dream.
“Oh, my God – Sadie Cowen! We love you!”
“Is that the one from the other night? I can’t believe it. I have to phone Sean.”
She pulls a mammoth cell from her bag.
“Phone him outside. Please.” Begging now.
“Mind if I get a selfie?” Pixie plops down on the couch next to Sadie. “We never miss Good To Go. So fun!”
The actress, congenial, holds the Emmy between them and flashes her Number Four smile. Click.
“Okay, everyone out.” With extended arms, I herd them through the door.
“Well, we’ve got to show the place if you want to sell,” says Blondie.
And they’re out. I shut the doors. Breathe.
Sadie: “So I hear you’re sellin’.”
“This is an STP Special Report, I’m Carlito Reyes.” Solemn. Urgent. Must be a terrorist attack. Or an attempt on the president.
“And I’m Agave Nikolaidis. Following an intensive week-long investigation, Stop The Presses! has learned exclusively the identity of actress Sadie Cowen’s Dr. D…”
“In her iconic Emmy acceptance speech,” says Carlito — the bar for iconic hitting a new low — “the Good To Go actress credits the mystery doctor with saving her career. Let’s have a look…”
“An exhaustive inquiry by our STP team of investigators…”
Yeah, regular Columbos.
“…reveals that Sadie Cowen’s doctor is, in fact, Dr. Dennis Corbin. Corbin is a little-known psychologist…”
“…practicing in the Los Angeles area.”
“In the community of Palms,” says Agave. Her voice is neutral, her face says, “Ewww.”
“Wonder how Sadie came up with him.” says Carlito. “STP correspondent Lily Heng spoke with Sadie’s Svengali today…”
And here’s Lily ambushing me earlier as I step out of the house…
“Doctor? Dr. Corbin? I’m Lily Heng of Stop The Presses!…”
“Please, no…” I try to weave around her to the driveway.
“Doctor, is it true that you are Sadie Cowen’s therapist?” She body-blocks me. I’m pinned against Coldwell Banker’s FOR SALE sign on the lawn.
“Where did you hear that?” Trying to sound “aggrieved.” At least she caught me on the way to BevMo, not returning with an armload.
“Are you her therapist?”
“I can’t comment.” I backpedal and break for the car. She trots after me.
“What’s it like to treat the Emmy-winning actress?”
“Sorry, I must go.” I lunge for the door handle. And, by the way, nothing says “successful psychologist” like climbing into a six-year-old Camry.
“Is she still under your care?” asks Heng. She yanks back her hand as I pull the door shut. My window glides down. She shoves her mike in my face.
I say, “Your van is blocking the driveway.”
As STP reveals my name, it hits simultaneously on STP.com — “America’s favorite online entertainment news site” — and other webzines owned by the German media group Telamuse. There’s the tongue-in-cheek Chatter.com, the edgy Dirt.com, the behind-the-movie-scenes Tattle.com, the paparazzi-centric Keyhole.com (specializing in photos of “nip slips”) and Chismoso.com for all your Latin gossip needs. Not sure why I qualify for that one, but there I am on pagina uno. Each site is ad-supported and with its own reader demographic. Gossip is business. Big business. And as the name of Sadie Cowen’s therapist courses through the Internet bloodstream, it is like oxygen to the extremities: Star, In Touch Weekly, OK!, The National Enquirer. It finds its way, too, into the hard drive of gossip’s bottom-feeders…
The Carter DeMaven Report
Good morning Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the sluts at sea… Carter here, probing the Hollywood cesspit for a pony so you pervs don’t have to. Above the fold: Sadie Cowen, AKA Sacko. Got yer attenshun? Thoughtso. Miz Cowen, who first launched on a soap opera, managed to turn her life into a series of ‘em: First, The Young & the Restless; then, Daze of Our Lives, and finally, General Hospital: Trauma Unit. Shit happens when your crowd goes through Narcan like Chiclets. (My Dream Team is gonna have a massive conniption!) Anywaze, the thesp ended up doing a Law & Order turn, ifyouknowwhatimean. Now, after a smidgen of court-ordered community service, she is, she sez, six months sober. Atta girl, Sadeleh. Le Sack was Emmy’d Sunday night. Congrats, babe! She thankyood her genius head-shrinker— the mysterioso “Dr. D” — for her rise from the ashes. Hoozat? Ponder no more, fuckwads… Dr. D is none other than Dr. Dennis Corbin. (I know: a letdown.) Sadie sez his practice makes her perfect, and if you’re looking for a mental realignment, you could do worse. If you’re just looking for a lube, I have other names. Later, babes. – CD
Part One. Part Two. Part Four.