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  • Barry

Sometimes a Cigar Is Just a Cigar

Updated: Dec 20, 2022

In my last entry, I described my dog Chelsea as being something like a Freudian psychoanalyst.

What did I mean? Not that sweet Chelsea has completed a rigorous course in dream interpretation, or knows how to sort out what’s peeping through from my unconscious during free association. I mean her presence, her attentiveness frees me to ventilate. And when I do, assuming I stop to think about it, the odds are good I’ll learn something.

With a few additional bells and whistles, that's what happens in psychoanalysis. The therapist is present as a guide, but tries to avoid “leading the witness.” Ideally, as the patient meanders or stumbles through each fifty-minute session, he becomes more conscious of what’s on or in his mind. If he succeeds, the patient becomes more free, and less “managed” by aspects of himself that he knew little or nothing about before.

So, I’m sitting on my couch in the living room, talking in unflattering terms about people we’d had dinner with that weekend. Chelsea is lying on the floor a few feet away. Her brown, beautiful eyes are trained on me.

“I didn’t like her nose. The surgeon muffed that one. Or the fluttery hands we were supposed to think are expressive. Or all the breathless travel anecdotes. Why do people do it? I haven’t been there, I’m not going there. Besides, neither of them was much good at describing their experiences. It was mostly copy out of a travel brochure or a Sandals TV commercial.

"Plus, I'm sorry, Chelsea, but the husband’s a nebbish. Present but unaccounted for. AWOL. And I got tired of the color commentary about their getaway place up north in God’s country. And I'm not supposed to say it, but most of all, Chelsea, with the huge inventory of adoptable babies in our own country, why spend a fortune to adopt politically correct babies from somewhere in the Third World?”

At some point, I noticed my dog’s eyes were closed. Boredom? Old-dog afternoon fatigue? No matter, I saw it as criticism: Chelsea had closed her eyes to signal rebuke.

A trained psychoanalyst doesn’t do that to his patients; he just listens. and sometimes takes notes. In the case of my own actual, human analyst forty-some years ago (back when I didn't have a dog), he simply went on smoking his stogy, reminding me of how Freud had assured everyone that “sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.”

But Chelsea was no longer watching me, so I considered what I’d been saying. Nothing I’d said about the other couple was false. The wife was breathlessly delighted with herself and her life. Her husband was nice enough, but, yes, something of a nonentity.

The nose and fluttering hands? I’m not usually so observant or so mean-spirited about such things. What else? Self-delighting thumbnail impressions of lengthy trips, color commentary about some cabin—she did go on. And what about the babies, carefully researched, flown to for visits, and eventually adopted at considerable expense, then whisked away to an American suburb?

The more I thought, the more it seemed my resentment of these people boiled down to price tags. That was it. I disliked the woman and her husband mostly because of envy, the middle-class sin.

It didn’t matter that my wife and I no longer have much interest in travel, nor that neither of us are the cottage-up-north type. It didn’t matter because, if we were the type, we couldn’t do much about it. In other words, I resented people who had the wherewithal to pursue interests about which we didn’t much care.

I think it was here Chelsea again opened her eyes. Maybe just to confirm I was still there. Or simply to let me know our session was over.

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