An Intense, candid, and unflinching excursion Into the emotions and behaviors of the heart.
In his years of practice as a psychotherapist, Dr. Elias Meyers had guided hundreds through analysis and had treated an equal number of conditions. He helped his patients contend with a wide variety of demons, both external and internal, and he made a difference in countless lives. What he discovered was that people from all walks of life – whether they were billionaires, crooks, or prostitutes – have one thing in common: they are emotionally damaged and yet strive to make meaningful change in their lives.
Now Dr. Meyers is facing a confrontation with the truth that could change everything forever. It will take everything he has learned in his decades of experience to navigate.
More than just an ear to the door, this novel takes us into the heart of sexual obsession and dysfunction. A revealing and absorbing work of fiction written with the insight that only an accomplished, long-term therapist can provide. Lust, Love & Whatever is an intense, candid and unflinching excursion into the heart of sexuality, loneliness, and high anxiety – a true exploration into the nuances of the soul.
Special to this edition:
• A glossary to help readers understand psychoanalytic terms and concepts used in the novel.
• A full clinical breakdown of each featured character.
Dr. Manny Rich is a native of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY. He has been practicing psychotherapy in New York City for more than 50 years and has 17 years of post-college mental health education. This is his first novel.
From Lust, Love & Whatever:
I sat in my small office just below Canal Street, stunned, reflective and a bit numb, still gripping the receiver. The phone call had ended abruptly when the caller hung up following a series of expletives and a threat on my life. My mind raced and all I could hear were the fingers of my other hand tapping staccato on my new, high-gloss mahogany coffee table.
The first day I opened my own practice in 1968, I purchased a comfortable club chair and an office chair on wheels. This I used to scoot from spot to spot in my small space to best view the expressions of my patients, to read their thoughts. I bought a Persian throw rug on sale at Macy’s and a green footstool from Sears for ten dollars.
On one otherwise bare wall hung a sepia photo of Coney Island, featuring a distant beach. I had taken the picture in 1957 with the first extravagant purchase I had ever made for myself: a thirty-five millimeter camera. Neatly hung over my desk was my diploma and credentials, issued by the officials of NY, stating my right to practice as a therapist. Seven small clocks sat on the desk. In the center was a tiny handmade clock my mother had brought from the old country in her handbag. I had bought the others over the years to keep it company.
Dominating the room was the couch—plush, dark-green fabric with matching pillows, designed to be comfortable for two, with the possibility of a third person, providing they were of modest proportions.
It had been five years since I had hung up my own shingle. Even now there were times I couldn’t imagine how this had become my life’s calling. An only child of immigrants who had found their way out of Germany before the horrors of Hitler’s final solution, I seemed always to be running at breakneck speed, not knowing where I was heading. I finished high school in just under three years and then NYU in an equally short time. Graduate school immediately followed at Evander-Child College, where I finished as a precocious twenty-two-year-old with a piece of parchment representing my degree in social work and no idea what to make my life’s mission.
On my “bucket list” was a burning desire to lose my virginity, and so my days were filled with “what ifs” about the hundreds of women, both young and older, who crossed my path. But just as I was always running too fast to commit to a single goal, I couldn’t settle on one single girl. I was too afraid to stop running.
Restless and lonely, I took the first job offered to me at an underfunded clinic uptown in Harlem. I approached the work as I did everything, with unbridled enthusiasm and professionalism. Yet my downtrodden constituents were largely disinterested in the wisdom I was offering, despite the fact that my guidance might lead them to form healthier nuclear families and break their endless cycle of broken homes. They saw me as “the Jew,” someone who could not really be trusted.
So in less than a year, frustrated by my own dormant sex life and a chaotic work environment of unsolvable challenges, I resigned. Somewhat impulsively, I decided to enlist in the Marines. I figured it would give me time to breathe, examine my passions, get a tattoo and meet a bevy of beauties who would remove my uniform and roll around naked with me. At least that box on my bucket list would be checked!
At the recruitment station in the dank, humid Armory, after a lengthy physical and half a dozen tests, I waited with a couple hundred other lost young men to see if Uncle Sam wanted to take me in as family.
A tall, extremely fit captain bellowed my name and I entered his cramped office. Officer Martin was a no-nonsense, rigid man in his late thirties. He wore a buzz cut and had more metal pinned on his chest than you might find at a chop shop.
“Meyers, Elias. Is that short for Elijah?” asked Captain Martin with a tone that threatened a bullet to the temple if the answer displeased him.
“No, sir, Elias, just Elias,” I answered, trying to lighten the mood. And then followed with another “Just Elias,” as if making sure I had answered correctly.
The humorless officer stared at a chart with my test results. He appeared not to move, not even to blink. The silence between us filled my body with tension. Only the music floating in from an unseen radio kept the situation from becoming surreal.
“Somewhere over the rainbow way up high . . .”
I felt an aching need to fill the silence and so I commented, “You know, sir, that some believe this lyric, ‘somewhere over the rainbow,’ was a special inspiration for the poor souls in the camps during the war who hoped that . . . I mean, it gave them, well, hope.”
The captain shot me a scathing look. “You want to be a marine, son, then don’t talk to me about song lyrics unless you want to join the homo brigade!”
Despite my trepidation, I forged on, “Well, sir, I only thought it interesting that a song about leaving home is really about getting back home. You saw the movie, right?”
“Everyone saw that movie.” He was nearly shouting. “It’s the one with the scarecrow who has no brain. You might as well have played him. If the pieces fit . . . right Elias, just Elias?”
Again, dead silence. He kept looking at my test results and I wondered why for so long? What could he possibly be searching for? The entire clipboard held five or six pages. It wasn’t War and Peace for Christ’s sake.
Finally, “What are you doing here, just Elias?” asked Captain Martin, without taking his eyes off my chart.
“Well, sir, I thought I might see the world, give back to the country. Find my bliss. You know, sir, find my—”
The captain looked at me as if I had a third eye. “Find your bliss!?” he nearly shouted. “What the fuck does that mean? Again, this is the Marines, son. Not some la-la village for homos.”
“Perhaps you’re misunderstanding what I mean by bliss, sir—”
“Shut up, Meyers. Zip it, Elias just Elias.”
What a prick! However, I did what the prick ordered and waited some more. Finally, he shoved back from his desk.
“You’re going home, Elias, just Elias. You’re too smart to be crawling around carrying a backpack bigger than you. And you’re a wimp. You’d last as long as a fart in a January wind. Go back to school, use your mind and figure out a way to help this country get back on its feet. Lots of damaged men out there since the war. Maybe you get them back on track. Huh, son? HUH?”
I wasn’t wild about the fart reference but in my wildly beating heart I suddenly realized that I really didn’t want a tattoo and sooner or later everyone finds a way to get laid.
“Yes, sir.” I rose shakily. “Thank you.”
“Just in case you can’t ‘find your bliss’ out there in Homoville come back and apply to officer school. Spend the weekend in Oz wishing for a future rather than making one. Till then I’m busy.”
“Yes, sir,” I repeated and moved toward the door.
“Oh, and Elias Meyers.” I braced for another insult. “Try doing some pushups and eat something.”
And with that I found myself back on the street. I wasn’t going to be a marine. As I stood on the sidewalk and watched the hundreds of purposeful New Yorkers walk by on their way to wherever, I realized the captain wasn’t really a prick but a sort of soothsayer. He sensed that I was meant for something better than crawling on the ground in camouflage and toeing the line. He saw that I had talent and wisdom and heart and released me to explore those gifts. The captain was a life-changer, a man I would remember for the rest of my life.
I took a few days off. I wrote out the words to “Over the Rainbow” and found that it was about a lot more than Judy Garland clicking her heels. I also investigated other songs that were important during the war. My curiosity had been awakened. “I’ll Be Seeing You,” “Sentimental Journey,” “Every Time We Say Goodbye” and dozens more all had hidden meanings. This got me thinking about the human heart, about loss and longing and how the mind must lead the way to salvation. Was I actually inspired?
I did some pushups and ate red meat. I even drank beer at the local bar near the university. And bingo! I finally met a girl! Grace, aside from a mouth full of teeth in need of braces, was hot, eager and experienced. I have no idea how I lucked out. We just fit. Grace needed a reliable man who would provide for her, but was so absorbed in his work that her life was her own. A small red flag, but I was too enamored to care. I was too busy fueling the intensity of what was quickly becoming a relationship, creating magic from the minutiae of daily routine.
After days of not getting out of bed, playing with Grace’s busty, satin-skinned body to the soundtrack of popular tunes playing in my head, it came to me. I knew what I wanted to do. Knowing the bliss of a heart, mind and body unified for the first time in my life, I would help others seek wholeness.
I decided to return to school one last time and raced through as if chased by demons, receiving a doctorate in integrative human behavior. I followed that with seven more years earning certification in psychoanalysis, the supervision of the psychoanalytic process, and psychoanalytic community work. Then I did my seven years of residency at the state sponsored hospital near NYU. I joined the staff of their outreach clinic, saw hundreds of patients and heard thousands of stories. Within a year, I was the head of the whole operation.
Much of the work was short term; many patients were too ill, too far gone, with little hope for rehabilitation. Many more regressed in their behavior, to achieve some sense of what they conceived as normalcy. They made poor decisions in order to control their inner landscapes. I heard tales of behavior that made eating human flesh seem a more acceptable option.
It didn’t help that most were impoverished. I believed in the teaching of Dr. R. Bak, who said that if “one’s reality were harsh, one’s fantasies would take the same energy.” And I disagreed with Freud, who felt that “personal issues came from distortions in the brain and not from economic conditions.” W. Stekel, an acolyte of Freud, believed and taught both positions (which would make a sane man crazy).
I read way beyond the required syllabus and made my own daring, outside-the-box decisions. I was not a follower but one to explore for my own answers to what I observed. Though still a neophyte doctor, I knew that everything was open to interpretation. For almost five years, I listened carefully, learned when to ask the key questions, and knew that only in deep reflection might I find answers.
Clients that made me want to shower following a session might arrive from any part of town, on foot or by limo. I came to believe—in fact, it became my mantra—that there was no such thing as deviant or abhorrent behavior. Whatever helped people find contentment in their sexual relationships was acceptable, with the absolute caveat that no one else was harmed, including unseen harm.
And now someone wanted to harm me. I fought to regain control of my nerves. The caller who had just threatened my life both frightened and enraged me. I had heard threats before in my practice, but I had chalked them up to emotional nonsense. So many clients felt rage; my duty was to be the best doctor I could. As I sat in my office, inert, I realized my fingers weren’t tapping on the table—my whole hand was shaking beyond control. I carried a licensed gun, but it was pointless owning a gun that I couldn’t even grip. For the first time in my career, I feared for my life.
“I am going to kill you, Dr. Meyers,” he had said calmly, as if stating a simple fact. “I blame you for my wife’s threats to leave me. Thanks to your Doctor Mumbo Jumbo bullshit she is promising to walk out on me.” His voice was not raised. There was no rancor. “And when she does I’m coming to your office and I’ll beat you with a tire iron, and then I’ll sit on your shrink couch and watch you writhe in pain for a while.”
I interjected in vain. “Mr. Todd, it’s my responsibility as your wife’s doctor to help her. Professional ethics prohibit me from discussing what we talk about together, but I assure you her decisions and actions are hers alone.”
He wasn’t hearing me.
“Shut up!” he shouted, losing control. “What do you know? She’s crazy! Isn’t that why she has to see a scumbag like you? You pathetic little kike, playing G-d with other people’s lives. You shit!”
Abruptly, the calm, measured voice returned.
“So after you’ve suffered a whole bunch of hurt I’m going to blow your brains out and kill you. Bye bye.”
Then the phone went dead.
I willed myself to call the police. All the previous threats against me hadn’t seemed real. This was different. I knew it in my professional brain; I knew it in my gut. Frank Todd was going to kill me. It was just a matter of when.
I called the local precinct, explained the situation to Sergeant McCarthy and implored him to send an officer over to discuss my safety. The cops in the neighborhood knew me and liked me, but the sergeant thought I was overreacting. I insisted.
“OK, OK! I’ll send someone over. For the moment, relax.”
I hung up, not at all relaxed.
The office door buzzed and I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was four o’clock. Rebecca Dyson! She was a three-times-a-week patient who had missed two weeks, so today would be especially taxing. A normal session with her was tantamount to a week in the Gulag. I buzzed her in and tried to clear my mind.
Rebecca breezed in and took her usual spot on the couch. She seemed more than giddy today, a mischievous smile playing on her pouty lips. She wore a short black skirt, high heels and a lilac silk blouse from which her lacey brassiere peeked. Rebecca kicked off her high heels and then, quite unexpectedly, removed her top and her bra and tossed them aside.
She sat across from me, her naked breasts larger than I had ever imagined, her thirty-something body toned to perfection. For the second time in one day, I fought to regain my professional demeanor.
Rebecca expected a response. I had no intention of providing one. “So?” she finally asked.
“So?” I replied.
She stood up, holding her breasts close to my face. “So what do you think? I had a boob job—went to a Double D. I think my clients deserve it. What’s your honest opinion, Dr. Meyers? With these new boobies I’m planning to raise my rates. Fair, wouldn’t you say?”
Rebecca wanted me to touch her breasts to see if I thought they felt “real.” I did so (I never learned that in any school) and assured her they did. However, her greater concern was whether the breasts would make her more valuable to men. Again I assured her they were fine but were only a small part of her value. Apparently satisfied, she stepped back and picked up her bra just as someone buzzed the door.
“Police, Dr. Meyers. Let me in!”