by Wendy Dimpleman
After returning from a five-day solo road/hiking trip in the lovely, wireless-less canyonlands of Utah last week, my relatives conspired to stage a psychological intervention. I desperately needed help, they said, even though I felt chipper and refreshed after five days cut off from the constant drumbeat of news, advertising, and other media mindbenders.
My father and sister, both ardent MAGA troopers, called while I was en route on the freeway back home. “Thank God you answered, we were getting worried,” they said. “Have you heard? Sidney Powell has uncorked the Kraken! It ain’t over ’til it’s over! The Republic is hanging by a thread, but there’s still a chance to save it!”
I told them I really didn’t care. An awkward silence followed before they said, incredulously, “Don’t care? Are you nuts?”
Back home, my radical Democratic Socialist brother and his wife called to relay this: “Have you heard? Biden definitely won in a close landslide, but Trump’s traitorous goons are trying to overturn it and start a civil war! Democracy hangs in the balance, but we might be able to save it!” I told them I was still thinking about the bighorn sheep I spotted in the Needles District, and that I really didn’t care all that much about the election. A long pause ensued before my brother said, “Wendy, I think you’ve got a problem.”
So my father and sister called my brother and his wife and they finally agreed on something: I urgently needed counseling. Only they didn’t tell me this. They arranged lunch at a Mexican restaurant with the cover story “We’re trying to mend some of our differences and make the peace. Can you come along?” Thus I was kidnapped and driven to the office of a clinical psychologist, my father and brother strong-arming me into and up the elevator as the two women cooed soothingly that this was all about love and concern for my well being, and look how I had brought the warring factions together in a common purpose, and you really don’t want to spoil this wonderful moment, do you? So I bit my seething resentful lip and went along. For a while.
In a private room, Dr. Ben Frankelfarb, 30ish, with stylish spectacles, chin-and-cheek stubble, and a rather unctuous manner, explained that my relatives were very concerned about my mental health, and so was he, and he knew I really didn’t want to be here, but hey, “that’s a common reaction with many of my patients.” So I was officially a “patient” now. He said they said I was exhibiting a worrisome apathy and “flat affect” about events that enthralled and obsessed the entire rest of the country. He said they said I might be “losing touch with reality,” which could result in dire life consequences.
“Let’s cut to the chase, doc,” I said. “I don’t think the world is going to end whoever POTUS is. There’s some good and some bad on both sides. I support a woman’s right to choose, but third-trimester abortions disgust me. I abhor racism but I think we need to manage our borders like Canada does. I’m all for transgenders doing their thing, but don’t ram all the silly new pronouns down my throat. Police need to use guns less, but defunding them is codswallop. Free trade has to be fair trade, including for Joe Sixpack. Fascism and Communism are flip sides of the same evil coin. Nancy Pelosi repels me as much as Mitch McConnell. Texas is probably under-regulated and California is probably over-regulated. I want a strong defense but I’m tired of waste, fraud, and endless foreign wars. Climate change is real but it’s far too late to do anything truly effective about it now except mitigate and adapt, and whatever happens, it’s not going to be the end of civilization or life on Earth. Every four years, the needle shifts a few ticks to the right, then a few ticks to the left, then back again, and so on, befitting a people nearly evenly divided. I just can’t get overly hysterical about the circus surrounding it all… You want to hear more?”
He stared at me quizzically at me a moment before answering: “No, I think I’ve heard enough for now. Could you answer this questionnaire for me? I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
The questionnaire was a list of prescription pharmaceuticals; at least 75 of them, each on a line followed by three checkboxes to choose from: Taking now? Heard of? Or Interested in trying? They read like a foreign-language vocabulary builder: Lisinopril, Atorvastatin, Levothyroxine, Metformin, Amplodine, Metoprolol, Trazadone, Fluoxetine, Tramadol, Citalopram, Carvedilol, Clonazepam, Clopidogrel, Duloxetine, Methylphenidate, Zolpidem, Venlafaxine… and many others that no human I know can pronounce. Who comes up with these names — a computer after a lightning spike?
Dr. Frankelfarb returned and I handed him the questionnaire with big Xs marked across each page, indicating No, no, no for all entries. “None of them? Really?” he asked.
“None. I only take Claritin for seasonal allergies and old-fashioned aspirin for aches and pains.”
He chuckled derisively at aspirin, then: “Are you sure?…Wow… Wow. Are you a recent immigrant, or…?”
“Nope. Born and raised in flyover country.”
“Well, you’re a strange case, if you don’t mind me saying so.”
“An occasional trip in nature is really all the medication I need,” I said.
“Yes, wilderness can be therapeutic, but it’s not the day-to-day reality we live in, is it?” said the Doctor. “We are not wildlife after all. We are human beings in civilization, and we have to adapt to that civilization. Every one is different, and every one defines sanity and insanity by how individuals conform to the norms and morés of their milieu — do you know that word, milieu?”
I was ready to swift kick this condescending geek in the nut sack, but I played him instead: “Meelew? Is that another Vietnamese village massacred by American soldiers? No, wait — is it cockney English for ‘my toilet’ — me loo?” I’m a writer, for god’s sake. Didn’t he bother to read my friggin’ sign-in sheet?
“It’s just a fancy French word for tribe or social group,” he explained, oblivious to my sarcasm. (You’re damned lucky I’m not a concealed carry holder, pal!) “In our digitalized society, modern America, we live in a very binary world now. Our brains are constantly bombarded with wireless binary bits and bytes. With the 5G rollout, our neurons will become even more saturated with this polarizing energy. Ones and zeroes. On or off. Black or white. Dogs or cats. Mustard or mayonnaise. CNN or FOX. So we must all adapt to this evolving bifurcation. There are no grey tones any more. The ‘middle ground’ is a double-yellow stripe at 75 miles per hour, and you’ll get smashed or arrested if you try to straddle it. We have to choose. We can’t sit on the fence in perpetual limbo — that leads to paralysis of the will and the inability to make crucial life decisions. Untreated, such a condition could progress to full-blown schizophrenia. Do you understand?”
“Like the fight or flight thing?”
“Precisely. Choose one or you’ll come to harm.”
“But I encountered a grizzly in Yellowstone last year and I did neither. I didn’t flee and I certainly didn’t fight. It growled and false charged, and I did dampen my panties a bit, but I stood my ground, perfectly still, and the bear ambled away. So maybe there’s a third way?”
Another sigh of annoyance before he said, “Wendy, we could go on like this all day, with outliers, distractions, rationalizations… but I spoke to a colleague on the phone just now and we both agreed — you’re suffering from Bipolitical Disorder with a pharmaceutical deficiency.”
I didn’t say a word or reveal a facial expression.
“I’m giving you four prescriptions. Hipoxymethylene, for generalized anxiety disorder. Cerebolimub is like a probiotic for the brain — it helps you digest the glut of information we all have to process these days. Xanithoprolutox catalyzes the action of these first two. And then you have to choose between Conservatol or Liberalene. Conservatol activates hormones promoting nostalgia and sentimentality, with a near instinctive aversion to novelty of any kind. Liberalene stimulates hormones that excite you — almost giddy if you overdo it — about anything new, strange or foreign, especially European. This will help cure your Bipolitical Disorder. But you have to choose between the last two.”
Waving the sheets of prescription orders — that I had zero intention of fulfilling — with a fake smile, I met my anxious relatives in the waiting room. As we rode down the elevator, they hugged me and l pretended to thank them for their concern and love. The women wept openly and even my father had to brush back a tear.
They were insistent on knowing the diagnosis, so I lied to them in the parking lot: “These prescriptions will help overcome my apathy and indecisiveness, but the doctor said I could continue splitting my support between both sides for the present. He said I was quite capable of embracing contradictions in the Hegelian manner — thesis, antithesis, synthesis. He said maybe I was the only sane one in the whole deranged crowd. He wants to see me again in ten years.”
Silence and shock. “So you can be, like, loyal, to both parties? Or indifferent? Or both? I’m confused,” my father finally said, his arched eyebrows nearly touching his widow’s peak.
“Not loyal or indifferent. Empathetic. For both parties. Just like men should be empathetic to women and vice versa, even though we’re opposites in many ways.” I waited until we were in the car and under way before delivering the kicker:
“He recommended Green and Libertarian.”
They all screamed NOOOOOOOO! Really, really loud.