I speak lightly of Charlie's condition, but it is a disgusting disease, and a contagious disease -- it rubs off on you when you are exposed to it. You can feel the seductive, addictive quality.
If you don't know Charlie Krafft, look him up on Google. You can find his website. Contact him and be nice. He's getting old, past 69. Ask him about Fishtown. Offer to buy him dinner at a Chinese restaurant in the International District. Charlie would like that.
I can’t even brag about how bad it was. I never went to prison, or fought in a war, or battled a disease, or overcame an addiction. I just screwed up on a small scale and I felt lousy. I remember talking to Dr. Berkowitz about this in 1993 at his clinic in Somerville right outside of Boston.
Dr. Berkowitz was a small younger man with a tight black beard like the Smith Brothers on the cough drop package. He made a good living as a general practitioner, but he could have made three times as much if he had taken up a specialty in cardiology. As it was he owned a nice home in the leafy suburb of Newton.
But he worked in Somerville and served the food stamp clientele that needed walk-in service with family aches and pains, and he liked talking with people.
So it was the winter of 1993-1994 and the winter was dragging on with frozen piles of dirty snow in parking lots and sidewalks. By March half of Boston was suicidal and I was one of them not, not suicidal, but in a very blue funk. Plus I was lonely since I broke up with Louise – which is another story, a long pathetic, embarrassing story – but I broke up with her and money was short and winter lasted too long. I thought maybe to get a medical solution to this.
I said to Dr. Berkowitz, I’m depressed. He took a deep breath, looked me right in the eye and almost laughed. “You’re not depressed. You know I have patients who are actually depressed. They sleep 16 hours a day. They don’t leave their apartment for weeks at a time. They are afraid to even say hello to the mailman. They don’t bathe. But they drink and find pills to take, and they don’t get those pills from me, but they get them. These are people who are clinically depressed, if I might use a clinical expression, and I treat them as best I can, although some of them need extensive psychiatric oversight and perhaps sheltered housing and sheltered workplaces.
But these people are depressed. You, on the other hand, are not depressed. You got the blahs, you got the blues, you need a good fuck and if you can’t get that you need a good kick in the pants. Get out of here and come back when you have a real problem.”
I was taken aback by Dr. Berkowitz’s unusual vehemence, but I had to admit it was a healing experience, because what he said in so many words was that I did not have a problem, not in his experience. I was okay. Maybe all I needed was a week on the beach in Florida, failing that I might go see the afternoon showing of the Marx Brothers film at the revival house in Harvard Square….. This was in 1993 when they had revival theaters in places like Harvard Square -- and film buffs who memorized every line of Ingmar Bergman’s dialog of death and doom and destruction and despair and disappointment.
Bergman was Swedish and those people understand depression. The masters. But Dr. Berkowitz was Jewish and those people understand laughter. “You’re suffering? You’re dying? And I’m laughing my ass off.”
I walked out of the good doctor’s clinic. It cost me $45 to find out I wasn’t really depressed. And he’s laughing all the way to the bank for ten minutes of work. Except he didn’t have to work in Somerville with his food stamp patients. He could have been a specialist with a tony office in Back Bay. He really did like us better than the uptown folks.
But I am not supposed to dwell on the past, but to just go to the past, find something there and bring it back. Today I found Dr. Berkowitz, and this being the present tense in August of 2017, while Confederate statues are being smashed with ball peen hammers like they were peanuts or pumpkins -- I looked him up on Google.
Guess what! – he is still there, now 80 years old and I said he appeared younger than me but he was only smaller and shorter than me – but today, this year, after 54 years practicing medicine he is still doing that, still dividing the truly depressed from those who just need a fast you-know-what and a kick in the pants.
I should write him a letter. He might remember me. I will say one thing about myself – that part about being idiosyncratic – which is distinctive. People want to put me on a shelf and file me away in some forgotten drawer, but I don’t fit in any drawer, I stick out somehow, and for that reason they tend to remember me. So I will write Dr. Berkowitz and show him this story. He might like it.
thank you for reading this, have a calm and productive weekend,