Two of my friends are psychologists. That’s not too unusual, because almost everyone in Southern California is either a psychologist, a psychic, an actor or a hooker. Or, combining them all, a screen writer.
What is unusual, however, is that both of them have expanded their practices out of the hushed environment of their offices into wider arenas of commercial activity. One of them is marketing a stress-relief kit and the other is selling toys.
The one with the stress kit is J (no period) Bartell of Sherman Oaks, a former street kid who discovered along the way that there is more money in fighting stress than in causing it.
His kit consists of a cassette which, through soothing voice and angel music, is supposed to still the mad dog growling around inside you. You roll your head, take deep breaths and concentrate on the center of your body.
That may be a simplification, but simplification is the business I’m in.
If anyone ought to know about stress, it’s old No Period J. Now 42, he spent his 20s ripping off burglars and dope peddlers, a career that ceased only when a judge gave him the choice of either going to jail or joining the Army.
No Period chose the Air Force, which straightened out his life. There’s nothing like military service to kill initiative. Instead of a colorful career as Robin Hood, Jay became a psychologist.
He operates out of his home under a sign that begins, “How To Tell When It’s Going To Be A Rotten Day.” Two tip-offs: “You call dial-a-prayer and are told to go to hell” and “You call suicide prevention and they put you on hold.”
Even psychologists, I suppose, have a sense of humor, however grim it might be.
My other friend is Mike Aharoni, a happy man of 35 who used to be my hypnotist.
We met during a period when I was filled with hostility, unlike the gentle, flower-loving pacifist I have become. My family insisted I see someone to calm me down.
First I visited a priest. The session began with an argument over abortion and almost ended in a fistfight. He was Irish, and the Irish are not to be trusted to uplift.
Visits to a psychiatrist resulted in similar disaster. He was a well-scrubbed man who smelled of bath soap and whispered when he spoke. He was either a homosexual or a poet, since those are the only two kinds of grown men known to whisper.
One day he cried. I forget why. But I am not about to pay $85 a half-hour to listen to a psychiatrist cry. So long, shrink.
Mike Aharoni was next. I have never met anyone as well-adjusted as Mike. He has a loving wife named Bonnie. He has two loving sons. No doubt there is a loving puppy at home. God has been good to Mike Aharoni.
I went to him because it seemed so, well, L.A.ish to have my own hypnotist. He bade me think of blue lakes and green mountains. I demanded to know why.
“To relax you,” he explained, smiling. Mike smiles at all times.
“Lakes and mountains don’t relax me.”
“Then maybe a field of golden daffodils.”
“Daffodils don’t relax me.”
His smile flickered. “Then think of whatever the hell you want to think about,” he said. I liked him right away.
His toy store, The Power of Play, is in Sherman Oaks. Two thousand toys, from puppets to chemistry sets, designed to teach as they entertain. A train goes ‘round and ‘round on tracks along a wall. Mike whistles while he works. Toy Heaven.
“This isn’t like stores where kids can’t handle the merchandise,” he explained. “Here you can touch whatever you want. Go ahead, touch something.”
“I don’t want to touch anything.”
“I’m telling you it’s all right,” Mike insisted. “Touch!”
There seemed a menacing quality to his voice. I have read about decent people who go mad when they turn to selling. I touched a stuffed dinosaur. Tyrannosaurus rex, I think it was.
“There,” Mike said. “Isn’t that better?”
When I was a kid, I played with sticks and boxes, but they too, in their way, were educational. I found a roller skate and built a coaster. I traded the coaster for a football, the football for a wheelless bike, the bike for a BB gun and the BB gun for Ronnie Enos’ sister.
Ron’s older brother was furious when he heard. He kicked me in the behind, grabbed the BB gun and kept the sister. I learned you can’t buy a sister with a BB gun. The lesson has never left me.
On the way home from Mike Aharoni’s toy store, I listened to No Period J’s stress tape. I rolled my head. I took deep breaths. I tried to concentrate on the center of my body. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t know where the center of my body was.
I telephoned J but he wasn’t there. So I concentrated instead on a blue mountain lake. An alligator was in the lake. So was Ronnie Enos’ brother. I could visualize the alligator moving toward him and suddenly he had the brother in his jaws. I smiled.
There on the shoreline, alone at last, was Sherry Enos. I picked up the BB gun Ronnie’s brother had left behind and ran toward her. Now I had it all.
Goodby stress, hello happiness.