Therapy in Little Westside Tokyo Town – Calvin Atwood
November 5, 2022
At the age of twenty-nine I didn’t think therapy would help with my drinking, but I figured that if I visited a therapist at least once a week I might be able to reverse the disastrous course of my life. I needed a thriving Beverly Hills practice with a giant tropical plant-filled all-beige marble lobby with an unconventionally beautiful, recently widowed receptionist. After all the preliminary paperwork was straightened out, I’d greet her twice a week with a quick closed-eye nod before taking my seat. I’d resist her rotten fruit and she’d resent me for it, but she’d always make it clear, clear as Christmas, that her deranged body was mine for the taking.
But it wouldn’t be so hard for me to resist her. Because I’d have bigger game in the cross hairs. This was a thriving practice, and the lobby would always be filled with successful yet lazy patients, and as time went by we’d find ourselves mixing it up as we waited. We’d talk seriously about how selfish our therapists were and what a waste of time therapy was, but we’d always come to the same hilarious conclusion that we’d never quit therapy because we really had nothing else to do.
Eventually, my fellow patients would inquire as to my place in this world, and I’d play it cool with very general statements about “the mind” and “systems of consciousness,” but they’d slowly piece my story together because I’d know exactly when to let certain hard truths slip. Curiosity would get the better of them. They wouldn’t be able to resist driving by my little studio on Courtney Street, just north of Hollywood Boulevard, and upon viewing it, taken aback by its modesty, they would say “Well, at least he’s above Franklin.”
Moving forward, my fellow therapy patients would attempt to care for me, warts and all. They’d invite me everywhere, and after countless invites, I’d finally concede to a string of long and boozy Chateau Marmont lunches. We’re talking about the bi-coastal smart crowd here, the six-hour lunch crowd.
Simply put, I needed a recommendation on a shrink because I was drinking myself to death, so I called my former rehab. An elderly woman answered the phone.
“Yes, I’m an alumnus of this facility calling from California. Put the mental health director on the line immediately.”
“Your top headman, please.”
“Is there something I can help you with, son?”
I’d almost been honest with her but decided against it as I feared the consequences. So, I hung up and called back.
This time I got a different one. She sounded younger but I could tell she’d done some real living. I suspected that she’d got hold of some of the pure stuff and I needed her to know that she’d certainly taken it further with the stuff than I ever would. But this is a difficult thing to convey over the phone. Especially since she’d clearly forgotten where she came from and now thought herself ‘on track’ because she worked at a legitimate rehab answering phones. Most of these drug rehab receptionists fancy themselves as God-appointed shepherds to the lost. But I needed that shrink referral, so I put all that nonsense aside.
“Good afternoon,” I said.
“How can I help you?” she countered.
“You sound extremely familiar with powder cocaine, but that’s not why I’m calling. I’m calling to speak with a licensed psychologist.”
“Well, we’re a twelve-step program, first and foremost.” she replied.
I only brought up the cocaine because she had that high-wired horsiness in the voice. She’d always be a former freebaser with everything to lose in each moment. From her perspective letting that pipe go cold hadn’t changed a damn thing. Like all former and current pure-powder coke-smokers, she’d always, spiritually speaking, be looking for that big reset in real time. But I was done playing games.
“Oh, I’m well aware of the power of the steps. I’m actually a former patient, in good standing so I’d like to speak with a psychologist.”
And it was true. I’d completed my treatment, all twenty-eight days, and I must admit, unlike The Last Battle (my first rehab), Loslow kept some decent doctors on their staff, and, although I didn’t follow, Loslow’s prescribed post-treatment plan (nine months of additional Loslow treatment), I’d enthusiastically recommended their services to women I met in bars on Sunset Blvd..
“Why are you really calling?” she asked.
She wanted me to get honest about how bad things really were so that she could use it against me later, and I wasn’t falling for it. I persisted with my request to speak with a doctor. She suggested I consider returning for treatment or at least begin attending twelve-step meetings. I explained that if I had that kind of money I’d be living aboard a steel-hulled trawler and I’d keep her stocked with high-end Greek jarred olives, Polo Lounge Bar Nuts, bagged English teas, eggs, pre-ground medium roast, single origin coffees, some clear liquors and twenty cases of domestic bottled lager. The young lady finally relented and provided the number and address of a Doctor Gerald Rozonsky.
Rozonsky kept an office on Sawtelle Boulevard just south of Santa Monica in a neighborhood referred to by some as Little West Side Tokyo Town. I called immediately. An elderly gent picked up after half a ring.
“Yes, I’m calling to make an appointment with Dr. Gerald Rozonsky.”
“Friday at two or Wednesday at six.”
I thought perhaps there had been some confusion. Maybe I had the wrong Rozonsky. Maybe I had a Rozonsky’s Deli or Law Firm or some such business. I don’t trust a doctor who answers his own phone. I needed a recently widowed female receptionist to briefly adore me as she handed me a clipboard. And, for once, I’d hold up my end with a woman who was hurting: I’d fill out that questionnaire, front and back, and hand it back as soon as I was done. Plus, this Rozonsky didn’t sound particularly sophisticated.
“Two on Friday is fine,” I conceded.
“Bring three hundred.”
“Three hundred for one session?”
“Three hundred cash, no plastic.”
“I got your number from the Loslow Institute.”
“Three hundred cash.”
“I’ll see you on Friday at two,” I replied.
He didn’t even say goodbye or wish me well. He just shouted his outrageous fee and hung up.
Friday arrived quickly. I walked briskly down Vine Street toward Santa Monica Boulevard, where I’d catch my bus to Little Westside Tokyo Town. It’s always about twenty degrees hotter around the intersection of Santa Monica and Vine. On the northeast corner there’s an Army Navy store with a large handwritten double-sided yellow street sign promoting End Of Times Supplies. On the southeast corner, just across Santa Monica from the Army Navy Store, there’s a disgusting single-story strip mall. The sort that seems to replicate every hundred yards throughout Hollywood and the Valley. These strip malls are all the same: each consists of a tobacco/head shop, massage parlor, medical marijuana dispensary, and a Korean donut shop. This intersection emitted an unnatural heat; a blinding light radiated from both the sky above and the pavement below.
As I waited for the bus, cars drifted past. Some were nice. Others were not, but it didn’t really matter because all these suddenly grateful drivers saw me and knew I’d made the sort of mistakes they’d never make.
“I have the money to buy a car, but I keep making other decisions,” I wanted to scream. I stared straight down Santa Monica Boulevard for forty-seven straight minutes and when I spotted that bus approaching, I almost wept.
The burden lifted, I switched gears and began feeling close to euphoric and garrulous as hell. I attempted some small talk with the massive Mayan at the wheel. He struck me as an anti-Semite, and although I am not, I assumed he would enjoy sharing a friendly jab with me:
“I’m on my way to therapy. Of course, the shrink’s a Jew so he’s overcharging me by at least one hundred fifty dollars. He doesn’t even have a receptionist but maybe that’s for the better given my complicated history with women.”
“You’re holding up the line,” the fat Mayan responded.
I sat in the back beside the window and stared into the private world of the vehicle owner. Finally, I had the upper hand on these proud drivers. I visually rummaged through their upholstery. I was searching cars for terminal isolation, abandoned dreams and fearful avoidance: hard evidence of chemical addiction and its consequences. But just as I was getting lost in this delightful pursuit the bus filled with passengers that might mistake me as somehow similar to them and I needed to divest them of this insulting misperception. I needed to appear brilliantly disoriented (aka just-taking-it-all-in-while-doing-a-little-research), so I pulled a scholarly paperback from my Trader Joe’s tote bag and tried my best to appear immersed in the plotless prose.
The book didn’t hold my interest, and at first my inability to suffer through some challenging but perhaps ultimately rewarding prose only provided a new reason to hate myself. But I comforted myself in the knowledge that I was more of a writer than a reader, and just as I had this realization, I observed, in the passenger seat of a Mazda Coupe, a pair of slender synthetically-bronzed legs jetting out, uncrossed, from a marine blue miniskirt.
I was enjoying this sublime spectacle until I remembered that I was on a bus and that I hadn’t had sex with anyone attractive since high school. Again I was filled with regret and self-loathing over innumerable opportunities lost on account of my baseless arrogance. I was morbidly dwelling on my failure to purchase a vehicle when a hairy hand emerged and rested on that burnt-orange thigh, just below the blue miniskirt. The hand slowly settled in, but just as it was getting cozy, it was dismissed with a feminine elegance. A simple chop-chop upon that hairy hand was all it took for it to retreat. I shuddered for a moment; a quick terror shot through me, as if that hairy hand was mine. Then I warmly grinned, relieved that it was not.
I could have ridden that bus all day, but I had to honor my appointment with Rozonsky. I was disappointed to find that his building was not an imposing solid glass tower but a two-story 70’s brick job on Sawtelle, next to an unfriendly Japanese Grocer. His office was on the second floor next to the offices of a moving company called Starving Students’ Moving Company. Two dozen cheap fabric chairs in four rows of six filled Rozonsky’s nearly empty waiting room. An ancient Hasidic man in a neck brace snored loudly in the corner. There was no room for side tables or magazines, or even a sofa. The only thing on the wall was a black button below a plastic sign that read “ring for service.” When I pushed the button it triggered a faint siren in some inner office. The siren was quickly silenced, and the door beside the button began loudly buzzing and aggressively locking and unlocking every few seconds. I tried the knob a few times, but my timing was off and it took three or four attempts to get it.
Upon entering, I followed the cigar smoke to a half-ajar door at the end of a surprisingly long hallway. Rozonsky was seated behind a wicker desk in a giant wicker and white suede executive chair. He addressed me as I climbed on to a tall wicker stool that faced his desk. Tropical ferns and cacti surrounded the stool, so I really had to be careful, especially as I was wearing white swim shorts, a faded mango polo and thong sandals.
“You know what I bought this cigar for?” Rozonsky asked as he stared at the lit cigar between his fingers.
“A dollar,” I guessed.
“A dollar? You must be hungover.”
Rozonsky was no less than eighty years old. He was dressed in all black. He had thick silver hair which he’d combed straight back and wore absurdly oversized black oval eyeglasses. He looked like someone who might have made some money producing game shows.
“I’m not hungover,” I said, not without pride but also aware of what a pathetic achievement that was to be proud of. Although it was true that I’d lately been making an effort to abstain from alcohol.
“Good boy, now I need that three hundred.”
I stood and handed him three one-hundred dollar bills. He didn’t look too impressed by this, but I could tell that he took it as a good sign.
“Thank You,” he said in a manner that suggested to me that it wasn’t always this easy to get paid by his patients.
Upon receipt of the cash, he leaned way back in his tropical-style executive chair, with a freshly lit cigar in his mouth, and stared at the ceiling.
“You think you can just walk in here like some fucking goy prince? Do you know how fucked you are?”
I had some questions for the doctor. It was my turn to make him feel dumb.
“Are you an addiction specialist?” I asked
“My cousin had a liquor store off the turnpike, worked there summer before med school, ‘57 or ‘58.”
“Who’s the man sleeping in the lobby?”
“What does he look like?” he snapped back, suddenly nervous and no longer reclining.
“He had on a neck brace,” I said.
Relieved, he again reclined his chair fully back and returned to his prior posture, staring at the ceiling, cigar in mouth.
“That’s just Abe, longtime client, hopeless drunk, hit by a bus last week. Can you believe it?”
“That’s too bad.”
“Very unfortunate. He’s looking at a mid-seven figure deal. Finally, gonna buy that boat.”
I wanted a boat so badly, but I knew this was crazy considering that I lived in Los Angeles and didn’t even have a car. But instead of buying a car, I started taking the bus twice a week to see Rozonsky.
I never drank again.