I sit down at the desk, and the psychiatrist starts looking through my papers. “Hello, Dick!” he says in a cheerful voice. “Where do you work?”
I’m thinking, “Who does he think he is, calling me by my first name?” and I say coldly, “Schenectady.”
“Who do you work for, Dick?” says the psychiatrist, smiling again.
“Do you like your work, Dick?” he says, with that same big smile on his face.
“So‑so.” I just wasn’t going to have anything to do with him.
Three nice questions, and then the fourth one is completely different. “Do you think people talk about you?” he asks, in a low, serious tone.
I light up and say, “Sure! When I go home, my mother often tells me how she was telling her friends about me.” He isn’t listening to the explanation; instead, he’s writing something down on my paper.
Then again, in a low, serious tone, he says, “Do you think people stare at you?”
I’m all ready to say no, when he says, “For instance, do you think any of the boys waiting on the benches are staring at you now?”
While I had been waiting to talk to the psychiatrist, I had noticed there were about twelve guys on the benches waiting for the three psychiatrists, and they’ve got nothing else to look at, so I divide twelve by three–that makes four each–but I’m conservative, so I say, “Yeah, maybe two of them are looking at us.”
He says, “Well just turn around and look”–and he’s not even bothering to look himself!
So I turn around, and sure enough, two guys are looking. So I point to them and I say, “Yeah–there’s that guy, and that guy over there looking at us.” Of course, when I’m turned around and pointing like that, other guys start to look at us, so I say, “Now him, and those two over there‑and now the whole bunch.” He still doesn’t look up to check. He’s busy writing more things on my paper.
Then he says, “Do you ever hear voices in your head?”
“Very rarely,” and I’m about to describe the two occasions on which it happened when he says, “Do you talk to yourself?”
“Yeah, sometimes when I’m shaving, or thinking; once in a while.” He’s writing down more stuff.
“I see you have a deceased wife–do you talk to her ?”
This question really annoyed me, but I contained myself and said, “Sometimes, when I go up on a mountain and I’m thinking about her.”
More writing. Then he asks, “Is anyone in your family in a mental institution?”
“Yeah, I have an aunt in an insane asylum.”
“Why do you call it an insane asylum?” he says, resentfully. “Why don’t you call it a mental institution?”
“I thought it was the same thing.”
“Just what do you think insanity is?” he says, angrily.
“It’s a strange and peculiar disease in human beings,” I say honestly.
“There’s nothing any more strange or peculiar about it than appendicitis!” he retorts.
“I don’t think so. In appendicitis we understand the causes better, and something about the mechanism of it, whereas with insanity it’s much more complicated and mysterious.” I won’t go through the whole debate; the point is that I meant insanity is physiologically peculiar, and he thought I meant it was socially peculiar.
Up until this time, although I had been unfriendly to the psychiatrist, I had nevertheless been honest in everything I said. But when he asked me to put out my hands, I couldn’t resist pulling a trick a guy in the “bloodsucking line” had told me about. I figured nobody was ever going to get a chance to do this, and as long as I was halfway under water, I would do it. So I put out my hands with one palm up and the other one down.
The psychiatrist doesn’t notice. He says, “Turn them over.”
I turn them over. The one that was up goes down, and the one that was down goes up, and he still doesn’t notice, because he’s always looking very closely at one hand to see if it is shaking. So the trick had no effect.
Finally, at the end of all these questions, he becomes friendly again. He lights up and says, “I see you have a Ph.D., Dick. Where did you study?”
“MIT and Princeton. And where did you study!”
“Yale and London. And what did you study, Dick?”
“Physics. And what did you study?”
“And this is medicine ?”
“Well, yes. What do you think it is? You go and sit down over there and wait a few minutes!”
So I sit on the bench again, and one of the other guys waiting sidles up to me and says, “Gee! You were in there twenty‑five minutes! The other guys were in there only five minutes!”
“Hey,” he says. “You wanna know how to fool the psychiatrist? All you have to do is pick your nails, like this.”
“Then why don’t you pick your nails like that?”
“Oh,” he says, “I wanna get in the army!”
“You wanna fool the psychiatrist?” I say. “You just tell him that!”
After a while I was called over to a different desk to see another psychiatrist. While the first psychiatrist had been rather young and innocent‑looking, this one was gray‑haired and distinguished‑looking–obviously the superior psychiatrist. I figure all of this is now going to get straightened out, but no matter what happens, I’m not going to become friendly.
The new psychiatrist looks at my papers, puts a big smile on his face, and says, “Hello, Dick. I see you worked at Los Alamos during the war.”
“There used to be a boys’ school there, didn’t there?”
“Were there a lot of buildings in the school?”
“Only a few.”
Three questions–same technique‑and the next question is completely different. “You said you hear voices in your head. Describe that, please.”
“It happens very rarely, when I’ve been paying attention to a person with a foreign accent. As I’m falling asleep I can hear his voice very clearly. The first time it happened was while I was a student at MIT. I could hear old Professor Vallarta say, ‘Dee‑a dee‑a electric field‑a.’ And the other time was in Chicago during the war, when Professor Teller was explaining to me how the bomb worked. Since I’m interested in all kinds of phenomena, I wondered how I could hear these voices with accents so precisely, when I couldn’t imitate them that well … Doesn’t everybody have something like that happen once in a while?”
The psychiatrist put his hand over his face, and I could see through his fingers a little smile (he wouldn’t answer the question).
Then the psychiatrist checked into something else. “You said that you talk to your deceased wife. What do you say to her?”
I got angry. I figure it’s none of his damn business, and I say, “I tell her I love her, if it’s all right with you!”
After some more bitter exchanges he says, “Do you believe in the supernormal?”
I say, “I don’t know what the ‘supernormal’ is.”
“What? You, a Ph.D. in physics, don’t know what the supernormal is?”
“It’s what Sir Oliver Lodge and his school believe in.”
That’s not much of a clue, but I knew it. “You mean the supernatural .”
“You can call it that if you want.”
“All right, I will.”
“Do you believe in mental telepathy?”
“No. Do you?”
“Well, I’m keeping an open mind.”
“What? You, a psychiatrist, keeping an open mind ? Ha!” It went on like this for quite a while.
Then at some point near the end he says, “How much do you value life?”
“Why did you say ‘sixty‑four’?”
“How are you supposed to measure the value of life?”
“No! I mean, why did you say ‘sixty‑four,’ and not ‘seventy‑three,’ for instance?”
“If I had said ‘seventy‑three,’ you would have asked me the same question!”
The psychiatrist finished with three friendly questions, just as the other psychiatrist had done, handed me my papers, and I went off to the next booth.
While I’m waiting in the line, I look at the paper which has the summary of all the tests I’ve taken so far. And just for the hell of it I show my paper to the guy next to me, and I ask him in a rather stupid‑sounding voice, “Hey! What did you get in ‘Psychiatric’? Oh! You got an ‘N.’ I got an ‘N’ in everything else, but I got a ‘D’ in ‘Psychiatric.’ What does that mean?” I knew what it meant: “N” is normal, “D” is deficient.
The guy pats me on the shoulder and says, “Buddy, it’s perfectly all right. It doesn’t mean anything. Don’t worry about it!” Then he walks way over to the other corner of the room, frightened: It’s a lunatic!
I started looking at the papers the psychiatrists had written, and it looked pretty serious! The first guy wrote:
Thinks people talk about him.
Thinks people stare at him.
Auditory hypnogogic hallucinations.
Talks to self.
Talks to deceased wife.
Maternal aunt in mental institution.
Very peculiar stare. (I knew what that was–that was when I said, “And this is medicine ?”)