Chapter One - First Analysis
Luxuriating in their relatively large hotel room, Emily Hartley and her husband Bob were now very glad they had lied to all their friends and co-workers about where they were staying.
"No Mr. Carlin, chewing on my ear."
Emily smiled, and decided to rhyme.
"No Principal, with an assignment I must fear."
Bob was in no mood, but finished up.
"Sometimes, I wish, we could just disappear."
She looked over at him.
"You mean that?"
He never looked away from the ceiling.
"Emily-am-am I a wimp, when it comes to our friends?"
He glared at her, while never getting up.
"A little fast on the draw, there, huh, Tex?"
She took it in stride.
"You asked me a question, Bob. Would you like some follow-up?"
"I'm-I'm not sure my spleen has recovered from the last hit-and-run. O-Okay."
"You are a wimp when it comes to our friends."
"Em-Emily? That wasn't follow-through. That-that was finish-off."
"May I continue?"
"But--so am I. So are we both when it comes to our families. Hell, I'll even count old acquaintances. Someone we haven't seen in fifteen years divorces--and whose doorstep do they, their ex, their current, and probably their ex's current show up on?"
Bob was a bit confused.
"Why didn't you say this some time ago? I mean--I always thought that you mostly agreed with our friends that something or other is my fault. For the most part, anyway. I'm not trying to feel persecuted, here--but---"
Emily stopped him.
"Bob--seven of your colleagues came out to Oregon, begged you to come back, got rip-roaring drunk when we wouldn't--and then oh-so conveniently managed to get us both fired. Strapped, we had to come back--guess where?"
"So what are you saying?"
He sat up, and then so did she.
"Honey--I have to ask again, why did you wait so long to tell me this?"
"Darling--do you know any easier way for a wife to disrupt a marriage than to say she doesn't approve of her husband's friends? I mean, I love all of them. But they and your patients cross every line we put down. It takes an Act Of Congress just so we can get some time alone."
"Emily--we lied to get this time alone."
"Like I said--an act of Congress."
"You think what Sidney told me about the dream is true?"
Emily hated talking about Bob's very odd dream, but its meanings were hard to avoid.
"Well--yes. Bob, you had achieved your dream. A rural life, a small business. You were even a writer. An innkeeper with seemingly no worries. Like in a lot of dreams, you even transposed your wife's hair color."
Bob corrected her.
"Emily--Joanna Louden wasn't you. You know how I've told you your laugh is sexy? Well hers was just plain annoying."
Emily felt a bit of pride at this, knowing she beat out her husband's dream-wife.
"Well, the point is, you suddenly found yourself in a world where the selfish friends and people who would probably otherwise be your patients, instead of just intruding on your world--ran it. Sidney Freedman knows his stuff, honey. He even pointed out how your support structure was ripped out. I became a woman who had trouble not turning on you. Carol became a maid who didn't care and did no work. Even Howard--the one person who has always thanked us and been grateful for our help--became an infinitely more childish would-be network executive--who had direct power over your life."
Bob had heard it all before, but each time it became more compelling.
"Yeah--Howard even showed up, right at the end. I think maybe he came to rescue me. Major reversal of fortune, there."
Both were silent for a moment, then Bob spoke again.
"What-what percentage is that you and I are-are friend-wimps, and what percentage is it that we have selfish friends?"
Emily shook her head.
"I don't like saying this, Bob. But while we are 1/3 wimp--our larger circle of friends and acquaintances are 2/3 selfish. I used to think otherwise--but the stunts kept getting wilder and harder to forgive. "
She then gained a puzzled look and added in one thing more.
"Especially in November, February and May. Even Howard."
Bob nodded in agreement.
"Say--where is Howard?"
Emily thought, then remembered.
"He's visiting that look-alike cousin of his in Florida--you know, the astronaut?"
Bob shuddered a bit.
"Howard and his kin at NASA. Why does that not sit well with me?"
"Oh, Bob--here, let's watch a little TV."
Wishing to get his mind off his circle of trying friends, Bob acquiesced. The announcer spoke.
"And in NASA news today, it is believed that Skylab will fall from the heavens sometime next year. NASA officials had no comment as to why."
Bob and Emily looked at each other, thought of Howard, and said nothing more.
A knock came on the door. Bob tensed.
"If that's Jerry--I'm gonna make him his own best patient!"
Emily waved her hand.
"No--we deliberately hid where this reunion of Sidney's unit was taking place. We told so many different people so many different lies, we almost got lost coming here ourselves. It is not Jerry."
Indeed, it was not anyone they knew. Rather, it was a thinnish, nervous-looking, middle-aged man.
"Are you Doctor Hartley?"
"That--depends--are you alone?"
The man grew tense.
"Why wouldn't I be alone?"
Bob gathered himself.
"Sorry. Rough week. I am Doctor Hartley. Who are you?"
The man looked lost.
"I'm not sure anymore."
"You-you could check your wallet."
To Bob's surprise, the man did just that.
"Oh, yeah. I'm Doctor Frank Burns, from the 4077th. I was wondering if we could talk before the party started. Its funny. I used to hate psychiatrists. Now I can't get enough analysis. Hee-Hee!"
Before Bob could digest either Hee, a familiar face showed up.
"Alright, Hartley--you made it rough, but I found you. Did you really think you could hide?"
"Mister Carlin? How-how did you find me?"
Elliot Carlin pshawed him.
"Are you kidding? I have the hotel staffs in this town bribed silly, for just such an emergency. Now, I need at least 45 minutes--or I will stuff Petersen into a sausage grinder."
Frank took umbrage at this. It perhaps wasn't his to take, but he was feeling peckish.
"Hey, pal! I was here first. I need to talk to this man about my troubled life."
Carlin tried to stare Burns down.
"Back off, you ferret-faced geek! I have so many problems, I could keep a whole team of psychiatrists gainfully employed for centuries."
Frank did not back off.
"I happen to be a walking example of every entry in the psychological Encyclopaedia Britannica!"
Carlin threw down his cufflinks.
"Let's go, pal. My miserable life against yours. I'll have you in tears."
Frank threw down his cufflinks, which happily, had his initials.
"I'll have you tearing your eyes out. My life stinks so bad, I've been banned from Newark, New Jersey."
As Bob watched in helpless horror, it began in earnest.