I graduated with honors from a good college in 2012, but I didn’t have a job lined up. The U.S. economic recovery was moving at a snail’s pace, but I still had a vague, almost charmingly naive belief that “something would come around.”
I had loved my undergraduate life because of the academic opportunities given to me, but also because of its inherent limitations. I never had to wonder what I was doing on a given Saturday evening. My social life consisted of attending parties at fraternities with Keystone Light-slicked floors, of skinny-dipping in the river that hugged campus, of going to the local bar and flirting with graduate students who studied things like Creative Writing, or Globalization, or Digital Music. I was enamored of my life’s provincialism and loathe to give it up.
But then I graduated. The night before I had attended a party forebodingly called “Last Chances Dance” and had slept four drunken hours. I packed up my dorm room in half a day and moved to New York with no real plan.
I am a master of denial in general and avoidance in particular. Careful evasion of the inevitable—or “anxious passivity” as my therapist kindly calls it—is my forte. With the benefit of hindsight, it is more than a little embarrassing to admit that I believed that New York had been waiting breathlessly for my arrival and would fete me with a bounty of job offers in my chosen field. It will come as a great surprise to absolutely no one that this did not pan out. I slowly came to realize that I was one of a cadre of Young Women Armed With A Liberal Arts Degree Determined To Make It In The Big City; our genus was especially saturated.
After pillaging my college’s alumni job board to no avail, I graduated to that prurient holy grail of odd jobs, soiled underwear, and missed connections: Craigslist.
It was there that I found a misspelled and syntactically bizarre ad. It was written by a very prominent Freudian (!) psychoanalyst looking for an assistant. I was shocked to learn that Freudian analysts still existed outside of Woody Allen movies and eagerly wrote him.
We met in his disheveled office in the east 70s, all red oriental rugs and Tibetan tankas, books stacked precariously on couches and an ottoman. The proverbial Freudian couch stood front and center, flanked by a swathe of purple velvet.
The doctor was in his late sixties and had a heavily jowled face and a ghostly pallor. He had a circuitous, idiosyncratic interviewing style: After learning that I had written my undergraduate thesis on Soren Kierkegaard, he, true to form, inquired about Kierkegaard’s relationship with his mother. I stammered, admitting that I knew very little about it, only that Mrs. Kierkegaard was a scullery maid before she had become pregnant by Kierkegaard senior. He sat, arms crossed, and mulled this over, nodding slightly. I had the job.
My days would proceed in much of the same manner. I’d amble over to his office around 9:30 a.m. and push his buzzer to be let in. He usually would not answer the buzzer for a protracted amount of time and I’d sit on the front stoop. I’d eventually be let in to my “office,” or his waiting room. Armed only with my laptop, I’d while away four to six hours. Occasionally I’d be asked to fetch coffee or type handwritten notes, but it soon became apparent that most of my job consisted of sitting in his waiting room and studiously avoiding eye contact with his patients.
Early on, I began to hear strange sounds emanating from his office whenever he was between patients. They sounded like ghostly female moans and were punctuated with the occasional groan. Quite evidently, this was acoustic accompaniment to a porno, but the whole notion of my boss furiously masturbating while I sat in the adjacent room was too much for me to handle. So, in a bid to maintain some sort of equanimity, I quickly tried to think of alternate theories. Perhaps he was experimenting with some sort of newfangled auditory therapy that to my perverted and thoroughly sullied mind sounded like a pornographic film. Or maybe he was indeed watching porn, but as an anthropological exercise that would assist his analysis of his patients’ libidinous impulses.
I continued to engage in this magical thinking for another two weeks, but it became increasingly difficult. He’d often emerge from his office tucking his shirt into his pants, his belt unbuckled, a behavior I could not, no matter how hard I tried, rationalize.
All of this came to a head one Friday. He had invited me into to his office to discuss the errands I was to run over the weekend. As he sorted through the vast array of papers that littered his office, he absentmindedly opened his laptop. It was then that I saw it: a grainy, dimly lit video of a couple getting busy. Unmuffled by the walls of his office, I could clearly hear the ecstatic screams of the female protagonist. It was, unmistakably, amateur porn.
Time seemed to stand still. I directed my gaze towards a tanka, a seated figure (was it Buddha?) surrounded by innumerable smaller seated figures, a hypnotizing mess of reds, blacks, and golds. The doctor quickly slammed his computer shut. But the disembodied screeching continued as if the laptop were possessed; I could even hear the distinct rustling of the sheets and the sound of slapping flesh as it emanated spectrally from the machine.
I wish I could say that I immediately quit then and there, that I indignantly marched out of his office with my dignity intact. Instead, I dazedly assented to running the errands he assigned all the while trying to willfully scrub the previous scene from the reel of my permanent memory. I dutifully took his broken iPad to the Apple Store that Saturday and presented the fixed version on Monday. I continued to work for the doctor for a few more weeks, paralyzed by both the need for cash as well as a pathological need to avoid discussing the “incident.”
By the grace of god, I found an apartment in the justifiably far Crown Heights. I blamed the onerous commute and tendered my resignation via email. I sometimes still get occasional messages from the doctor, asking whether I’d like to do some clerical work for him. I find myself drawn to his gratuitous politeness. But instead of relegating his messages to the trash, I unfailingly, gently, demur.
See also: “Porn at the Office”
Isabel Murray lives in New York City. You can follow her on Twitter at @Isblmrr.
Photo: Johan Bichel Lindegaard