The Pleasure of My Company
Tuesdays and Fridays are big days for me. At least at 2 p.m.
At 2 p.m. Clarissa comes. She talks to me for exactly forty-five minutes, but she's not a full shrink; she's a student shrink. So officially she's a visitor and her eyes are green. She brings a little gift bag each time, sometimes with packaged muffins, or phone cards, all of which I assume are donated. She asks me how I am, and she always remembers something from last time that she can follow up on this time. If I told her that I planned to call my mother with the new phone card, she remembers to ask how the call went. Problematic for me, because when I say I'm going to call my mother I am lying, as my mother has been dead--is it six years now? Problematic for her, because Clarissa knows my mother is dead and feels she has to humor me. I know I'm lying and not fooling her, and she thinks I'm crazy and fooling myself. I like this little fib because it connects us at a much deeper level than hello.
Clarissa makes several other stops on Tuesdays and Fridays to other psychiatric charity cases, which I'm sure have earned her several school credits. I was, it seems, one of the low men on the totem pole of insanity and therefore the recipient of treatment from a beginner. This I have scoped out one data bit at a time. When someone doesn't want to give you information about themselves, the only way to acquire it is by reverse inquiry. Ask the questions you don't want answered and start paring away to the truth. My conclusion about her was hard to reach because she's at least thirty-three. And still a student? Where were the missing years?
She's probably reporting on me to a professor or writing about me in a journal. I like to think of her scrawling my name in pencil at the end of our sessions--I mean visits--but really, I'm probably a keyboard macro by now. She types D and hits control/spacebar and Daniel Pecan Cambridge appears. When she looks me in the face on Tuesdays and Fridays she probably thinks of me not as Daniel Pecan Cambridge but as D-control/spacebar. I, however, think of her only as Clarissa because her movements, gestures, and expressions translate only into the single word of her name.
Last Tuesday: Clarissa arrived in her frisky lip-gloss pink Dodge Neon. She parked on the street, and lucky for both of us, there's a two-hour parking zone extending for several blocks in front of my apartment. So of course she's never gotten a ticket. From my window I saw her waiting by her car talking on the cell phone; I watched her halt mid-street for a car to pass, and I saw its hotshot driver craning his neck to see her in his rearview mirror. She was wearing a knee-length skirt that moved like a bell when she walked. Clarissa has a student quality that I suspect she'll have her whole life. She's definitely the cutest girl in class, and any romantically inclined guy looking for an experiment in cleanliness would zero in on her. Her hair is auburn--do we still use that word?--it looks dark blonde in the Santa Monica sun, but it flickers between red and brown once she's in the apartment. And as Clarissa's hair color is on a sliding scale depending on light and time of day, so is her beauty, which slides on a gradient between normal and ethereal.
She was already focused on me and she set her things down without even looking where she was dumping them. "Sorry I'm late," she said. I said, "You're not." "Well, almost," she added.
I didn't say anything about her apologizing for being almost late. I couldn't quite wrap my head around the concept even. If you're almost late, it means you're not late, so what are we talking about?
The thing I like about Clarissa is that she starts talking immediately, which gives me the opportunity to watch her without saying anything.
"You won't believe what happened to me. Yesterday I had a return flight from San Francisco. I really wanted to leave at eight but could only get the reduced fare on the five o'clock. I get to the airport and the five o'clock is canceled, and they've put us on the eight o'clock flight and charged us the full fare! But now my car's parked at Burbank and the eight o'clock goes to LAX, so now I have to pay for a taxi to get me to my car. AND I lost three extra hours in San Francisco."
Excerpted from The Pleasure of My Company by Steve Martin. Copyright (c) 2003 by 40 Share Productions, Inc. Published by Hyperion.
Blood at the Root
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