Mums the Word

Andy the Android, My Therapist and the Torque Therapy

Sunday, November 13, 2011

There was a car fire under the elevated train. My stop hangs over Hoyt Avenue, and the walkway was choking on metallic smoke. Down on the street some poor bastard kissed the guard rail - longways - and his Audi was dying on the shoulder, gurgling a death rattle, screaming flames at the sky. A gaggle of rubbernecked civilians perched on the edge, chirping at each other, pecking at their iPhones, dialing 911 and snapping home video. One brave fool made a hero’s effort, ditching his van to see if anyone was pinned inside. From where I stood, the driver’s seat looked empty minus a spent airbag. Our hero saw the same nothing and split. If anyone was still in the car, they were butterflied and cooked through anyway.

That’s kind of how it goes around here. Point A to B is a trip-mined obstacle course, littered with bumper to bumper stress heads. It’s no good; you burn too much oil driving that hot. I did. I broke down entirely, even made a move to talk to a therapist about it. Then I had to fire him for being a pussy. It all went down this spring.

Acute rage, chronic anxiety; he had his work cut out for him. “Hi Doc, hope you like a project.” He hated when I called him “Doc,” something about having completed no such level of education. Mind wide open, I walked into his office, a room desperate to be comfortable. There was a shag sofa, smuggled from the ‘70s. An earthy-toned rug warmed the floor around paint-by-numbers psychology bookshelves. Our therapy largely consisted of personifying my anxieties into an avatar that I could isolate and mollify.

“James, I want you to imagine this person who is assigned to protect you. I want you to imagine who he is and what he looks like, and I want you to thank him for all he has done for you.” I imagined him as a high-school gym teacher. He had a moustache, powder blue polo, a whistle and completed the look with a clipboard to-do list. You could tell right away he was a dick.

“I tried to thank him, Doc, but he won’t talk to me.” Doc was pissed, but I wasn’t kidding. “Listen, Doc.”

“Please don’t call me ‘Doc.’”

“I made an accurate avatar, the anxiety cop who governs my decision making and protects me from myself. He had shit to do; what do you want?” Doc was upset, kind of a whiner, and I didn’t really explore other options. I cut him a kiss-off check and bolted.

I wasn't supposed to do that. My folks had lobbied hard for me to see the pony-tailed bastard, and now I had to cobble together an explanation that wouldn't sound like impulsive quitting. I had an hour on the train to think about it. When I resurfaced in Queens, Andy had an answer for me, a tantrum of vibration and color. Andy, he's my cell phone, an HTC Android Badass with 512 MB of RAM, flip-out keyboard and a Costco hard drive. He rides shotgun and serves a wide variety of critical functions: managing my finances, tracking appointments and screening phone calls from business contacts and jilted women. This time he red-flagged a text from Bruner: “Come to the stoop." Bruner is my neighbor, and the concrete steps ascending to his front door are a second living room to both of us.

He was buried in his cell phone when I rolled up, a Budweiser tallboy sweating in his free hand and a cigarette burning idly at the end of his lips. He's a 35-year-old punk rock survivor with two faces, one respectable. By day he is a fire inspector with the FDNY, tapping on pipes and shining a flashlight into dark spaces, making sure the architectural bones of this city are ready when the sparks start to fly. At night he is a fledgling stand-up comedian, telling bad jokes about the plight of man so that we might laugh over the ripe corpse of a dead world. He also draws robots.

I told him about the therapy breakup. "You need to buy a bike," he said between sips, a clear and willful violation of New York City's open container laws. “Get out of your head and start rolling. The city will feel smaller and you will feel better.” As a general rule, I don't let anyone talk me into doing anything, ever. I don’t order appetizers, I refuse upgrades to first class, and my prostate can go check itself for all I care. But this was too promising to pass up, and having eliminated therapy with a line item veto, the expense was negligible. I capitulated only once Bruner agreed to accept the purchase as my idea. His spawn would have to scribble some lesser achievement on his tombstone.

Once I've made a decision, nothing short of a seismic calamity can stay the execution. I needed a bike, and according to Bruner, I needed to name it. Again, my idea. So I set Andy to work, Googling a local non-corporate bicycle shop, something free of mob ties and union affiliation. I settled on a Trek 10-speed hybrid road bike with a Kryptonite Evolution series U-lock and flex cable. I named her "My Therapist," after the sad pony-tailed bastard who tried to shrink me with his social-work degree. This summer I would be processing my anxiety through the whirling maelstrom of my bicycle's drive train. Torque Therapy.


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