In which Citizen Jim arrives during a counseling session and teaches Chicken Sheets’s therapist a thing or two about…a thing or two.
I cleared my throat. Sniffed. Scratched a spot under my right eye. Sniffed again. Adjusted my glasses. Tapped my foot. Pulled on my bottom lip with the thumb and index finger on my left hand. Looked at the floor. Looked up. Lifted my glasses, squinted. Tried to read the spines of the books on a shelf across the room. Bit the skin around my pinky nails. Rubbed my nose. Pursed my lips. Touched the cleft in my chin. Sighed. Locked my fingers together.
None of this made the time pass any faster. For the third time in less than sixty seconds, I glanced at a wall clock right above the closed door. The room was so quiet that the ticking of that clock was an unbearable cacophony that I thought might drive me mad before my 50 minutes were up.
Tick. Tick. Tick.
I tried to see Dr. Carbollo, who sat directly across from me, without looking up at her. I envied her seeming lack of anxiety, the absence of any detectable nervous tics. Her serenity was unnerving: I couldn’t tell which one of us was waiting.
“Um,” I said.
Dr. Carbollo moved for the first time since we’d taken our seats. All she did was tilt her head, but it was still a little startling.
“Yes,” she said. I couldn’t hear a question mark after this word. It confused me.
“I don’t think I—” I started, then fell silent for three ticks of the clock. “I’m not really sure why I’m here.”
She glanced down at the clipboard resting on her thighs. “I’m not, either. Where it says, ‘Why are you seeking the services of Carbollo Therapy?’ you left it blank.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, I did.'”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
There was a gentle knock on the door of the office. We both looked at the door, then back at each other.
“I don’t have to answer it,” she said. “This is your time.”
Tick. Tick. Tick.
A few more rapid knocks, then a voice from the corridor outside the office. “Hey! Let me in! It’s an emergency!”
Dr. Carbollo walked over to the door and opened it just a crack.
“I know you’re in there, Chicken Shit! Step aside,” a man said and forced his way into the room.
“Sir!” Dr. Carbollo said.
The man bugged out his eyes and said, “Ma’am!”
“You can’t just show up,” Dr. Carbollo said. “You have to make an appointment to see me.”
“Then it’s a good thing I’m here to see Chicken Sheets, isn’t it?” he said. To me he said, “I’ve been standing outside that door for ten minutes and I can tell this is going nowhere fast.”
I smiled and stood up—because it was Citizen Jim, my best friend in the world! I opened my arms to hug him, but he stomped past me and sat down in Dr. Carbollo’s chair.
“Now what’s the problem here?” Citizen Jim asked me.
“Excuse me,” said Dr. Carbollo. “But who are you and why are you here?”
Citizen Jim ignored her. “Stimpy! Sit back down there on that couch—and you,” he said, looking at Dr. Carbollo and pointing, “you sit down, too.”
“It’s okay,” I said to Dr. Carbollo. “This is my friend Citizen Jim.”
“This is highly inappropriate,” Dr. Carbollo said.
Citizen Jim scowled at her. “Yeah, well, I heard you say, ‘This is your time,’ when you were too lazy to get up and answer the door to let me in. Now I’m in, and it’s still her time. So zip your lips and let me help both of you,” he said.
I scooched over and patted the spot beside me. Dr. Carbollo sat on the edge of the couch cushion.
“So. Why are you here seeing this head shrinker?” Citizen Jim said to me. “And be honest, because I’ll know the second it comes out of your mouth if you tell a lie.”
“I don’t know,” I said.
“That’s a damned lie right there!” Citizen Jim shouted. He stood up and looked at my therapist. “I need the puppets!”
“Do you mean to tell me a fancy lady like you with all these fancy diplomas in this fancy office doesn’t have any puppets for clients to do role-playing?” he asked.
Dr. Carbollo looked at me and said, “I think I should call the police.”
“Don’t bother! They probably don’t have any puppets, either, not in this jackass town,” said Citizen Jim. “Besides, I’m pretty sure cops only have puppets on those murder shows that just have letters for names—like ‘SVU’ and ‘CSI’ and ‘NCIS.’ Anyway, it doesn’t matter. I always have a plan.”
His plan was revealed when he tore off his shoes and yanked the socks off his feet. It didn’t smell as bad as you think it would, but oh! Those 12 toes of his—hairy and gnarled and bumpy—were terrifying.
He shoved his left arm into a blue sock and his right arm into a pink one.
“Precious Lamb, why don’t your socks match?” I asked, but he ignored my question.
He waved his hands around and said to Dr. Carbollo, “I figure she’s here because she’s sad or something, so the blue sock is gonna be Chicken Sheets. I’ll be the pink sock.”
Normally I would have told him to leave. But I was being charged for the session, and this was a much better way of passing the time than sitting still with nothing except the sound of a ticking clock to keep me alert.
“Go ahead,” I said. I tapped Dr. Carbollo on her knee, motioning toward Citizen Jim with my chin. “You’d better watch him or he’ll get pissed and take it out on me later.”
“This is ridiculous,” said Dr. Carbollo. She made a big production of shoving her clipboard between the cushions on the couch. I guess it was a barrier of some kind.
“Just roll with it,” I said.
On the outside I was calm and smiling. On the inside I was nervous and screaming.
“What she means is, ‘Watch and learn,’ fancy lady,” said Citizen Jim.
The puppets started having a conversation, the Jim Sock speaking first.
“What the hell’s wrong with you?”
The Me Sock said, “I’m not sure.”
“I know what’s wrong with you.”
“You always know everything, Citizen Jim, especially when it comes to what’s wrong with me! Please tell me what’s wrong with me!”
“Are you positive you want to know?”
“Yes! If you tell me what’s wrong with me, I’ll do anything you want, even if I have to clean out my bank account or go to jail for it,” the Me Sock said.
“You’re headed over the hill, now, and you’re realizing that life didn’t give you much but you took it all and never said thank you and didn’t give much of a damned thing back and now there’s not enough time to make it right with the universe.”
The Me Sock started moving wildly and said, “Oh Citizen Jim you’re right!”
“Don’t interrupt me!” the Jim Sock shouted and smacked the Me Sock.
“I’m sorry, I forgot,” said the Me Sock, then wilted a little.
“You’re also very sad that you’ve been calling yourself a writer for 40 years but nobody else seems to want to read anything you write. You found out you can’t even give it away. And you’re double-sad because all that time you’ve been writing, you could have been doing something useful.”
“That’s exactly what’s wrong with me! I don’t know how to repay you!” said the Me Sock.
He put the Jim Sock right up against the Me Sock. “You need to cancel all your streaming services and pass on that savings directly to me every month!”
“No! Anything but that! I need my art house movies and wacky British TV shows and unlimited downloads of crappy music on Spotify to make me happy!” whined the Me Sock.
The Jim Sock opened its “mouth” to roar. “Aaauuugh! You wouldn’t know what to do with happy! You’ve never been happy since I’ve known you, not even when you had that girlfriend—”
The Me Sock cut him off. “Which girlfriend?”
“The one who cheated on you something like fifty times!” the Jim Sock said.
“I still don’t know which one you’re talking about! They all cheated on me! That’s why I hate love! Boo hoo hoo!” Citizen Jim made the Me Sock beat itself against his knee, still crying. “Woe is me! Wah waaah waaaaaah!”
“All right, all right,” I finally said from my spot on the couch. “That’s enough.”
Citizen Jim ignored me. He got down on the floor and started flopping around, his sock-covered hands locked together and wrestling one another while he screamed and begged for mercy (Me Sock) and cursed and grunted (Jim Sock).
Dr. Carbollo appeared riveted. She couldn’t seem to take her eyes off the spectacle rolling around on the carpet. She also couldn’t seem to pull her hand away from her mouth.
Citizen Jim got up and took the socks off his arms. He held them out toward Dr. Carbollo. “Here. Now you try it,” he said.
She slid back on her cushion and stared.
“Go ahead,” Citizen Jim said, the socks still on offer to Dr. Carbollo. “I was just showing you what you need to get through to this lump of neurotic cat turds.”
“I’m good,” she said.
Citizen Jim wadded up the socks and stuffed them into the front pockets of his cargo shorts. “Fine! But I bet you didn’t learn anything like that at your fancy universities, did you?” he said as he struggled to stick his bare feet into his shoes.
“No. No, I certainly did not,” said Dr. Carbollo.
“How much are you charging her for this?” he asked Dr. Carbollo.
She stood up. “That’s confidential.”
“I have a $40 copay,” I told Citizen Jim. “Can we just go, now?”
He looked at me. “Not until you pay me! I’d say I went above and beyond today, so you’d better make it an even hundred! Dollars, not cents! Cash! Right now!” he said, extending his hand palm-up and wiggling and wriggling his fingers impatiently.
I smiled at Dr. Carbollo. “I’m sorry, I think maybe now’s not the right time to pursue counseling,” I said.
She nodded. “I definitely think there might be a better fit for you elsewhere, with another therapist,” she said. She was talking to me but staring at Citizen Jim.
“In other words, Stimpy, nobody—but nobody!—can possibly help you with all your mental problems,” Citizen Jim said, steering me toward the still-open office door. “Now let’s go get a steak! Then I’ll take you to that place with the padded walls I was telling you about last week. But first you need to thank this fancy lady for her time.”
Before I could do as he said, the door slammed in our faces.