Sunday

HOW ETHAN GOT CURED

Ethan’s girlfriend’s human sexuality professor has a box at the Philharmonic, and since Dr. Purdy was going to be out of town at a convention at the Greenbrier all week, he gave Sarah his tickets, Mehta guest-conducting a performance of Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto Number One. And so here they are in the 8th row center, Sarah, her fine chin raised, looking around at the crowd with a great sense of satisfaction and Ethan fidgeting with the program, his mood soaring each time the piece begins winding down, then plummeting as the first cellist, a tiny Asian woman with thick black-rimmed glasses, 2nd row, third seat from the left, almost completely obscured by a burly violist, suddenly comes soaring out of the dying violins to hoist the melody anew, signaling at least another 11 minutes of music, during which time Ethan is able to cope with his innate restlessness only by calling up images of a particularly exciting Dr. Pepper campaign he is working on at the agency.
Nevertheless, shortly after 9:30, intermission does in fact arrive, and Ethan and Sarah shuffle slowly behind a herd of other music lovers into the special reception lounge to which Dr. Purdy’s patron tickets entitle them. Ethan worms his way to the bar, snags two flutes of champagne, and begins working his way back against the oncoming crowd toward Sarah, stationed, as agreed, against half a plaster pillar growing out of the wall like an afterthought.
Ethan stops some 15 yards away, obscured by the legions of concertgoers, to study this woman he is contemplating asking to marry him. He is spying on her, as is his wont, to see if she is locking eyes with any of the slim, tall, tuxedoed men lounging against the walls. He is hoping both to catch her in the act…and to not. This is something he is working on three times a week with Dr. Martenz – this paranoia-fuelled sexual excitement cum masochism. Is this a woman he can trust enough to marry? Or will his worst fears be realized as soon as he legitimizes the relationship.
Martenz has theorized that Ethan somehow witnessed his parents having intercourse during his first few months of life. Ethan has countered, Look, Sarah is a beautiful girl, 27, full of hormones, thin, curvy, blessed with a healthy sexual appetite, a girl who has admittedly described herself as boy crazy back in undergraduate school, maybe it makes sense for me to be jealous. I mean, look at Desmond Morris’ apes. An older male chases a young suitor over a small knoll, and by the time he returns, a mere 45 seconds later, his female has fucked a dozen other apes. Animals do like to fuck, Doc.
Martenz has rejoindered that his citing of the great animal behaviorist’s work is classic intellectualizing, a way of not facing his real feelings. Mr. Lerner, he asked, could it be that you saw your hairy ape of a father pounding away at your mother and you wanted to kill the bastard?
Ethan, lying on the couch, craned his neck in such a way that he was able to catch a glimpse of Martenz out of the corner of his eye. The psychoanalyst was sitting with an almost Zen calmness in his high-backed dark green easy chair, all ten fingertips touching. A large-boned man of average height, barrel-chested, big-shouldered, Ethan has imagined him as a middle-linebacker at a Division III school, someplace like Bates or Amherst, dolling out flying, rib-cracking tackles. Clearly, a man not worried about his wife pulling down her panties for some other guy, even if she’s off in London for a week at a conference on the impact of overpopulation on the male id, surrounded by elegant Italian and Spanish delegates who know a thing or two about ordering a good bottle of burgundy and whose ids seem not to have been impacted at all.
Ethan believes he sees Sarah holding the gaze of a man with a wonderful head of long blond ringlets. He freezes, not really sure if he is inventing just the kind of scenario that fills him with that special mixture of dread and lust that will have him quizzing her mercilessly on the cab ride home and once there insisting upon the kind of intercourse that Sarah has dubbed “necro,” she just lying there and Ethan pumping toward orgasm, its intensity magnified by a vision of Sarah easing herself down upon the blond man’s long, bowed erection. Thus, Hobson’s dilemma: sickening, panicked stabs of jealousy versus the most exquisite sexual excitement.
Something is suddenly obscuring Ethan’s line of vision, and he blinks his eyes, his rods and cones adjusting like a good Zeiss lens to what appears to be the profile of the broad, large-browed head of Arthur Martenz. For all its neuroses, Ethan’s mind is not the kind which plays tricks on itself. Of this, he is sure.
Martenz looks massive in a tuxedo, the black, sloppily knotted bowtie like a tiny apercu underneath his big round chin. Ethan retreats a few steps, hiding behind two middle-aged couples, the better to study his analyst of the last nine years. Martenz is with a heavy-set woman bordering on obesity, her figure sheathed in a most unflattering maroon satin dress. She has her hand on Martenz’ shoulder, solicitously, glancing at him every few seconds, smiling hopefully, but Martenz is surveying the crowd, his chest out, his bearing that of a man who yearns somehow to be included in one of the lively conversations buzzing nearby.

“What’re you thinking about, Mr. Lerner?” the analyst asks after half an hour of uncharacteristic silence.
“I’m just very sleepy,” replies Ethan. His eyes have been scanning Martenz’ desk, the bookshelves, the coffee table for family pictures. There is none of a wife, just a few of a boy, a girl, the two together.
“How did you enjoy the concert?” asks Martenz.
“What concert?”
Martenz doesn’t answer. Ten minutes go by. Ethan summons his courage. “Was that your wife?”
“Do you want that to be my wife?”
Yes. He wants, he wants for the life of him, but doesn’t have the courage to add, You fucking pathetic gutless chicken shit marrying the first girl who would have you out of med school nerd. Of course you don’t worry about your wife fooling around. No one else would have her.
Another twenty minutes go by. “Mr. Lerner, you’re supposed to say everything that’s on your mind.”
Ethan can’t.
“Time’s up,” says Martenz. Ethan sits up, swinging his feet onto the floor.
“See you Thursday,” adds Martenz uncharacteristically.
“Yeah,” mumbles Ethan, but that afternoon he calls up and leaves a message with the analyst’s service that he is going to be out of town on business for the next ten days and since he isn’t sure exactly when he’s going to be back will call later on to reschedule. He does not.
Martenz calls several times over the next month, but Ethan, hearing the analyst’s voice on the answering machine, does not pick up the phone. A few weeks later Martenz once again leaves a message: Congratulations, I saw the announcement in the Times.

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