Watercress and fennel soup, duck with apricot glaze and serendipitous side dishes paired well with the Chardonnay. The anniversary party celebrating ten years gave Toby and Luke a chance to entertain friends. To the question of how they had marked the occasion, they spoke of an exchange of gifts.
“I provided Luke with three days at a consciousness-raising seminar. He paid for my weekend at the Adonis Spa. He says I’m not the slim-hipped youth I used to be. He wants me to lose my love handles.”
“Why not repeat what happened,” Toby said. “I’d like to hear if your story checks with the one you told me.”
“Well,” Luke began, bracing to remember, “we were asked to explore our issues about being a boy and becoming a man. Some felt emotionally distant from their fathers; others said maternal dealings were chokingly close. You know: mother rhymes with smother. In each case, parents had created ambivalence about sexuality. As we sat in a circle, I heard one lurid tale after another. When my turn came to speak on the last day, I was gagging.”
“Go ahead, Luke,” Dr. Cincotta said, “we’re ready to meet you in your sexual story. Cherish this space. We’re here to learn how shame was processed in your family, not to pry.”
Luke’s smile combined mischief with insect-maiming delight.
“I concocted the most neurotic story possible. I turned to the group with a straight face — if you’ll pardon the expression — and said: ‘I have a foot fetish. I fixate on baby toes. If a stroller appears on a sidewalk, I have to keep from grabbing the toddler’s foot and engorging it like a popsicle. What drives this impulse is anybody’s guess.’”
“Can you clarify how this happened?” the doctor asked. “Does past therapy shed any light?”
“My dreams suggest that, as an infant, I was denied sausage with traumatic results. I took to sucking my toes until a pacifier blocked my pleasure. The compulsion receded to my unconscious. It flared up doing volunteer work at the Foundling to the alarm of the nuns and nannies. It’s the first time I’ve shared this glitch in a room full of strangers. Maybe there are other foot addicts who know my shame and overcame it.”
“Is this what you want from the weekend?” the doctor asked.
“Yes, to keep my mouth off my toes.”
Luke fell silent while his face displayed a coprophagous grin. It was Toby’s turn to amuse their friends.
“I admire how Luke checked his anger till the last day. My weekend was a series of early explosions.” He leaned back eager to go for the jugular.
“The Adonis Spa lists three factors ensuring rejuvenation: food doled out in concentration camp portions, oceanic feelings caused by mental evacuation, and crippling exercise. Mud therapy and bean cuisine are further highlights. The mood is innocence, the personnel without blemish. All had tan faces, burnished teeth, California smiles and physiques from which you could bounce a coin. I don’t ever want to see another washboard ab. I failed to hide my paunch and androgynous breasts among these gods who quit Olympus for the hoi polloi.
“We were handed a kimono, a bottle of Evian, and a pad to count calories. I clasped my mineral water like a Teddy Bear and shuffled in flip-flops around the corridors. Posters on the walls announced ‘Gain Without Pain Is in Vain’ and ‘Cherish Your Inner Child.’ After a meal of grapefruit and zinger tea, I went to the gym where I climbed a moving staircase like the damned in Dante’s Inferno. I soaked in a tub of seaweed and was afterward pummeled by a masseur who I’m sure was heterosexual. Then came mud immersion, a lunch of bran patties and prune puree followed by meditation. Breathing through alternate nostrils was taxing. Blockage was cleared by saline solution poured through my nose. I know now what it means to be water boarded.”
“Feel free to open your erogenous zones,” said the homoeopath.
“I tried during aromatherapy. I inhaled smoke while speaking to my Inner Guru. The conversation was brief. I was gagging on ginseng fumes. Small wonder my thumb wired for biofeedback made the meter jump.”
“You’re tense,” the technician said. “It seems you wish to be elsewhere.”
“Quick to take his cue, I got myself elsewhere and was solaced by doughnuts. Dear Luke, I hid this till now. You’ll have to love me as I am: an armful running to fat.”
“They say when physique goes, sinewy wisdom takes its place.”
“I’d like to think I have benevolence, brains and body to still hold your interest.”
“You do, Toby, you do.”