More Clarity

A few months back, Stephanie Wheeler’s chemistry teacher at the Woodlands Christian Academy in the Woodlands, Tex., assigned her 11th-grade class a peculiar science experiment.

The teacher, Ms. Fisler, who also happens to be a “real healthy eater,” according to Stephanie, had heard about a contest sponsored by Vitaminwater, the purportedly mineral-infused soft drink that comes in a Crayola box of assorted candy colors. The contest offered the finalists a trip to New York City and a $100,000 college scholarship to the student who submitted the best recipe for a school-cafeteria lunch “packed with nutrients, complete with dessert and their favorite Vitaminwater to complement the meal.” Contestants would be judged on nutritional value (50 percent), originality of recipe (25 percent) and a 150-word essay (25 percent). Taste was apparently not the chief concern, which might explain the egg salad with pineapple concocted by one of Stephanie’s classmates.

Stephanie herself came up with a chicken fajita burger with seared peppers and salsa/watermelon granita. And on a recent damp Thursday morning, she found herself wearing a Glacéau-branded apron and tall chef’s hat over an orange long-sleeve shirt and jeans, sitting with two other finalists gathered in the northwest corner of Union Square Park. Vitaminwater employees were reaching into ice-filled pails and handing out free samples, such as the pink-colored, kiwi-strawberry-flavored Focus (more clarity), the peach-colored, peach-mango-flavored Endurance (more sustained energy) and the orange-colored, orange-flavored Essential (more morning nutrition).

Under a white tent stood the judges: J. Darius Bikoff, the founder of Vitaminwater’s parent company, the Queens-based but rather Swiss-sounding Glacéau; and—the big draw—Kelly Clarkson, the American Idol pop star, who was wearing black heels, blue jeans and a white Glacéau apron. Mr. Bikoff and Ms. Clarkson tasted the three finalists’ concoctions: Ms. Wheeler’s fajita burgers, Nina Dutton’s “wild salmon ‘fenugula’ salad and the healthy, nice banana ‘splice’” and Joe Brown’s “joburritos and tortilla ice cream.” They chose the fajita burger.

“I’ve never won anything before,” said an elated Stephanie as she sat behind a velvet rope. Her winning recipe included a third of a pound of ground chicken, a quarter-tablespoon of grill seasonings (preferably Montreal steak seasonings by McCormick), one cup of watermelon pieces (remove the seeds) and one-third of a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract—all washed down with Glacéau Focus (more clarity).

A healthy-looking 17-year-old with straight brown hair, Stephanie said she had first started thinking about eating nutritiously long before the contest came up. Her fencing coach (“Andrey Geva, from Russia, he’s very health-conscientious”) insisted that the team watch their caloric intake “to maximize our fencing results.” He recommended pastas and meats, “but without condiments,” and boiled chicken, the abject blandness of which prompted Stephanie to begin experimenting with the fajita burger.

“You take a normal burger and run it through several tests,” she said, as teenagers pointed their cameras and flashed their braces at Ms. Clarkson, who was posing with children and Vitaminwater. “There was one week of tasting. We had it for dinner several times.”

“They reheat really well,” added Suzette Wheeler, Stephanie’s mother and a physics teacher at the Woodlands Christian Academy. “We got here yesterday!” she added. “The landing was delayed because there was a dog running around on the runway at LaGuardia!”

While a tray of Ms. Wheeler’s winning dish was passed around, Glacéau executives huddled over copies of new advertisements featuring Ms. Clarkson for Focus Vitaminwater (the pink one).

“We’re working with her on a limited-edition Focus,” said Jessica Wolff, a strictly business spokesperson for Glacéau. “She’ll bring Focus on tour. Or I should say, Focus will be on tour with Kelly.”

Ms. Clarkson paused from signing black Vitaminwater baseball caps and red T-shirts to explain what pushed Stephanie’s fajita burger over the top.

“It was a Southwest type of thing—we dug that,” she said. She was wearing a lot of makeup and a diamond stud in her nose. She spoke with a girl-next-door twang, if you live in Fort Worth. “As great as the joburrito was—and I do like wraps now, because I’m 24—I think that for kids sitting in school, they’re looking for size too. I remember wanting a big ol’ messy hamburger. I’m a healthy eater, but I believe in portions—keeping healthy portions.”

She began signing a Vitaminwater T-shirt for a little girl and asked how to spell her name.

“Samara,” the girl’s mother said. “S-A-M-A-R-A.”

“I don’t want it!” cried the girl.

“Yes, you do,” said the mother. “You just don’t appreciate it; you will later.”

“She has such pretty eyes,” said Ms. Clarkson.

“I don’t want it!” screamed the girl again, starting to cry. “I … don’t … want … it.”

As the flummoxed mother took the little girl and the signed T-shirt out of the tent, Ms. Clarkson clarified why she was so proud to represent Vitaminwater.

“You know, obesity is such a problem for children today,” she said. “People give them sugar just to be quiet.”

Suddenly, something in the line of children caught her eye.

“Hey,” she said with a big smile. “Y’all got Jolly Ranchers?”

—Jason Horowitz

George and Hilly

When last we visited with our merry uptown couple, Hilly had deep-cleaned George’s apartment (which is now also her apartment, see) and George had made the nothing-short-of-stunning concession to do the dishes at least once before the next session. We join them in Dr. Selman’s tastefully appointed office. Unbeknownst to the doctor, George is suffering from a massive hangover ….

GEORGE (looking plaintively toward HILLY): Hilly’s gonna talk a lot this time. She promised.

HILLY (clears throat): Well. Seriously? O.K., but you’re going to be bored with all the stuff I have to talk about. It’s been an excruciatingly difficult week for me. All these horrible things kept happening. I found out on Monday that my brother had had an accident the evening before. I guess he was driving and lost consciousness in the car—actually, miraculously, he didn’t even crash. The car just stalled or … I don’t know … but he was outside a golf course, so some people saw him and they called an ambulance. He had suffered some kind of a seizure. Anyway, he’s O.K. now. It happened on Sunday night, and my mom didn’t tell me until the end of the day Monday, which was kind of weird.

DR. SELMAN: He’s got some medical issues, doesn’t he?

HILLY: Yes, he has this disease, it’s called lymphomatoid papulosis. It’s this really rare kind of lymphoma-linked cancer, and he’s had it since he was about 4 years old, but no one could ever diagnose it. It was only named in, like, 1969 or something. Even now there are only like two real medical experts who specialize in it. So for his whole childhood, they thought he had allergies. Finally, six years ago, he was diagnosed with it, and he’s been taking methotrexate ever since. And I think what happened—well, I’ll tell you what happened. Some doctor made him take Effexor. And I’m convinced that there’s something weird about it, that—

GEORGE: That maybe it’s not for everyone?

HILLY: Well, he has a bunch of different doctors for different reasons. And I think that the doctors aren’t communicating properly with one another, so I think he may be taking things together that he shouldn’t.

DR. SELMAN: Was he injured in the accident?

HILLY: Well, he’s in severe pain as a result of the seizure. He bit through his tongue—it’s really, really swollen. And he’s experiencing a lot of back pain. He’s back at home now, and I talked to him yesterday.

GEORGE: Can I add one thing? She talked to him and she said the right thing about a hundred times.

HILLY: The whole week, I was feeling so guilty and so out of touch with my family, and I felt kind of responsible—like if I were a better person and in contact with them more …. I mean, my brother and I, since college, we don’t really know each other as well. Weeks will go by that we don’t speak to each other, and we’re each other’s only sibling, and he’s married and has these two stepdaughters. And it’s like, sure, they don’t make that much of an effort with me, but I don’t make much of an effort with them. Lord knows what he’s told them about me. I just think: My God, my only brother in the whole world loses consciousness and bites through his tongue. It’s just so horrible. I just can’t believe that I’ve been so lackadaisical. Now there’s this, and maybe it’s like some message from the Lord—

GEORGE: The same things happen to me. I have six or seven half-brothers, stepsisters, stepbrothers, half-sisters—and I guess that’s what happens when you live here and you get over-involved in your career. I know how you feel. A few of them I haven’t seen in four or five years.

HILLY: I don’t have any family here; they all live outside of New York. My parents, I mean—I’ve always thought that they were immortal, but unfortunately I don’t think it’s true. And when the time comes … I mean, I’m still in denial about it. And I just can’t believe that I’m not there in Ohio to help my brother.

DR. SELMAN: What can you do?

GEORGE: Want to go there for weekend?

HILLY: Go there more frequently, speak with them more frequently, tell them about stuff that’s going on in my life, ask him about what’s going on in his life, and just be there.

DR. SELMAN: Why do you think it is that you haven’t had more contact with him?

HILLY: Because we had so much sibling rivalry. I was always convinced forever—even now, still—my mom even told me herself: “A son is a son till he marries his wife, but a daughter’s a daughter for life.” Meaning that she feels like she’s lost her son because he’s married now. She’ll never like his wife or any girlfriend that he has—she’ll always be jealous, and she’s always liked him better than me.

DR. SELMAN: What does sibling rivalry mean?

HILLY: It means that we compete like maniacs against each other for the affection of our parents. And then I find out my grandfather was found in his house this morning lying on the floor—he’d suffered another stroke, and they determined that he’d been there anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. He doesn’t even remember how he got to the hospital or who found him. He has no idea. And I’m like, “Jesus Christ, when will this stuff end?” And I thought: When was the last time I talked to my grandfather? Two months ago, maybe? You know, it’s like: What’s wrong with me? Why do I let all this stuff go by? If he went for 24 hours lying there, he clearly doesn’t have people around him that are checking up on them. I’m his granddaughter, and we used to talk a lot on the phone all the time—at least if I had been calling him or calling one of his friends or e-mailing or whatever, someone would have known and told me, “Oh, we haven’t heard from him in the past day.” It just sucks.

GEORGE: This is so bizarre. I know you’ve been going through all of this, been in sort of a crisis mode, but it’s like: Gosh, where does all this come from? Because on our walk over, you seemed so at peace and excited about the weather—then whoosh, this avalanche, this flood ….

HILLY: I have to block it out of my mind. I think I learned how to do that 10 or 11 years ago. Otherwise I drive myself crazy.

DR. SELMAN: You think that your brother was the favorite sibling?

HILLY: Well, with my mother, absolutely. She’d probably tell you the same. I mean, she loves us both the same, but I think it was one of those, like, Oedipus Rex kind of things. The mother favors the son, the father favors the daughter—whatever.

DR. SELMAN: Well, how did you feel about that?

HILLY: It sucked and I hated it. I probably first became aware of it in my pre-teens, and then it started getting worse and worse. I had a lot of resentment even up until a couple of years ago. Because I would come home and it would seem like Jonathan was always one-upping me. Like if I said, “The weather’s nice,” he would say, “Oh, it was so much better yesterday.” It’s like, “Fuck you,” you know? You know, “Can’t you just enjoy—”

GEORGE (suddenly, inexplicably aggrieved): Can you just calm down? I know you’re upset, but it’s—can you just calm down?

DR. SELMAN: What’s the problem?

GEORGE: Because I hear this kind of thing—

HILLY: He hears it a lot from me.

GEORGE: It’s this kind of thing that comes out of nowhere. I can take it up to a point, but then it’s just draining—it’s the energy and the decibel level.

DR. SELMAN: You’re still on the Prozac? How much?

HILLY: Forty milligrams a day. But at the same time, I generally believe things happen for a reason. So maybe this is like a wake-up call.

DR. SELMAN: Well, based on what you’ve said, the fact that you’re not living there with them probably has something to do with the sibling rivalry, as you put it, when you were growing up. And that if things were so great back home and you were so close and warm and cuddly with your family, you would have had more contact with them. But the fact of the matter is, that’s not the case. It’s not your responsibility to take care of your grandfather or your brother or anybody.

GEORGE: It’s really wonderful how you worry about your family. But remember the Serenity Prayer? Everyone’s sort of the master of his or her own destiny—you know, you have to … I don’t know.

DR. SELMAN: The normal course of events is for you to become independent of your parents and go about and have your own life. It’s not unusual for people not to talk to their siblings for months—that’s why they have these holidays like Thanksgiving. Are you sleeping?

HILLY: Yeah.

DR. SELMAN: Anxiety?

HILLY (eyes starting to well up with tears): Yes, lots of anxiety.

GEORGE: Want to talk about something else? We’ve been on the benefit circuit lately, right?

HILLY: Talk about the kitty.

DR. SELMAN: Well, maybe there’s something we could do here. Just to sort of, you know, you brought up the topic of your family, and you’re upset over it. And maybe you could—

GEORGE: You want me to tell the kitty story?

[DR. SELMAN, perhaps not overly enchanted with the idea of hearing GEORGE tell a “kitty story,” coughs.]

GEORGE: I just know she’s gonna get more upset. Right?

HILLY: I wanna go with the cat.

GEORGE: I’ll tell the cat story real quick? You have to help me, because I can’t remember all the details.

HILLY: We were watching The Passenger, and you thought there was a kitty meowing in the movie, and I thought it was from outside. So I got up and went over to the window and I started calling the cat.

DR. SELMAN (gamely): This was not your cat?

HILLY: No! And then finally, after for about 10 minutes calling for the cat, I said, “George, that cat’s not outside, it’s in the apartment.” And he didn’t believe me. And I thought it was in the fireplace. And then finally, I opened the door and there was a great big fat black cat with long white whiskers just standing there, looking up at me.

GEORGE: We thought maybe it smelled the cat food or my cat.

[Editor’s note: Did the cat really exist? Your guess is as good as ours!]

HILLY: Anyway, it was so sweet. George went from door to door in the apartment building and even went next-door to the buildings on either side to find the cat’s owner, and finally he found it. And the weird thing is that it belonged to this girl who said that it was her father’s cat and her father died, and the day her father died she was walking upstairs in the building and she was on her cell phone—someone had called to tell her that her father had died, and she was right outside George’s door and she just started sobbing. And I remember going out there and she was in such shock, and I kind of helped her up to her apartment. I didn’t know her name or anything. She was in such a state of shock and so horrified.

DR. SELMAN: When did that happen?

HILLY: It sounded like she was being attacked or something.

GEORGE: What happened was, she was outside the building, looking for her keys, and I was behind her. I heard her sobbing on her cell phone and I just stopped, because I didn’t want to deal with it and I wanted to give her some privacy. I knew something really bad had happened to her. But then she saw me behind her, so I used my keys to open the door, and as I walked by her I said, “I’m so sorry.” Then I told Hilly to go find her and comfort her.

DR. SELMAN: So what happened with the cat?

HILLY: Well, the next day, when I found out about my brother, I swear to God it happened at the same time. So I was thinking that the cat—when my brother was unconscious, the cat took out my brother’s soul. And he showed up at our door because he wanted to, like, hang out with me.

GEORGE: So didn’t I do something semi-heroic?

HILLY: Yeah! It was very heroic. Very un-George-like.

DR. SELMAN: Well, George has always said that he wanted to do something heroic.

GEORGE: I also did something kind of cowardly recently. The people who live on the ground floor have a backyard garden, and there was a dog out there one night—and I’ve always been against noise coming from my neighbors; I don’t hesitate to call 311. Do you have a big dog?

DR. SELMAN: No, I do not have a big dog.

GEORGE: I love dogs, but I don’t approve of big dogs in New York City. So this dog was barking for two hours and I was calling 311, complaining, and then I crept downstairs and left these people a note, and I even fantasized about—I wouldn’t do it, but I said—

HILLY: Dropping battery acid on it.

GEORGE: No—a friend of mine offered to come over with some antifreeze, pour it in a bucket and lower it down to the dog.

HILLY: That dog was so cute—a great big dopey golden retriever.

[Editor’s note: Did the dog really exist? See: cat, above …. ]

GEORGE: Then I fantasized about putting some crushed glass in some hamburger meat and tossing it down there—something I picked up from the Mr. and Mrs. Bridge novels. I guess I allowed myself to verbalize that bad thought.

HILLY: It was so weird—when I got home when this is happening, it was like Rear Window. You should’ve seen him. He was standing, without a shirt on, in his boxer shorts—standing, peering, looking out the window and so angry.

GEORGE: So Hilly suggested that I write a note to the neighbors, and it was really sarcastic, about how people need to be considerate and so on, and I signed it “WOOF!” Then I also called the landlord, and they called me up two days later apologizing, and I was told that it was a visitor’s dog, not the owner’s, so then I felt really guilty. But do you think it was justified?

HILLY: Well, I don’t know what the policy is—

GEORGE: The dog was barking loudly for like three hours straight.

HILLY: Well, it wasn’t very nice of them.

DR. SELMAN: Well, that certainly can be a nuisance. There’s no question about it.

HILLY: Well, I don’t think it was very nice of them to do that to the dog—to leave the poor dog in this strange place.

DR. SELMAN: So you had fantasies about killing the dog.

[GEORGE seems to be staring at a spot on the wall. Silence.]

HILLY: But not real fantasies.

GEORGE: I said it, but I was just venting.

HILLY (emphatically): But you don’t really mean it.

GEORGE: I would never do anything like that.

DR. SELMAN: But the bottom line is, you didn’t pick up any new pets.

GEORGE: We’ve been talking about getting her a Persian cat, a “Jinxy” cat.

DR. SELMAN: But you had to give away your other cat, right?

HILLY: We thought that maybe Bobbie, George’s cat, would adapt better to a kitten. Because maybe she would think it was her own and she would, like, rear it. Instead of being a male cat like my Svennie, who’s overly friendly and strong and has claws and stuff. You know, because Bobbie’s still angry about the rape and so has a problem with male cats.

GEORGE: Well, remember how I said I was turning over a new leaf? It was going so great: I was exercising. I had this really upbeat attitude. And not smoking. And I was doing what this friend of mine calls my “church thing.” What happened exactly? When did Mr. Do-Good go away? On Friday we went to that Operation Smile benefit that turned into a very late night, right? A disaster. And then, two nights ago, we went to those other parties.

HILLY: This was another un-George-like thing. First there was helping the stray cat. Then being really sweet to me when I found out about Jonathan. Then he bought me flowers. And he went to my friend’s birthday party—it’s so weird because he never goes to stuff like that with me. But he went and he was miserable, but he stayed and he forced himself to have a pretty good time.

GEORGE: I wasn’t miserable. I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind. From there, we went to this benefit at Cipriani and everything was fine, just a couple drinks, maybe a cigarette, having normal conversations—talked to some guy about doing volunteer work for this charity and belonging to the Players Club—and I thought, “Wow, I really can go out with Hilly and keep it under control.” But now I’m just worried that I can’t do moderate—ever.

DR. SELMAN: What happened? You got, uh, a little loaded?

GEORGE: See, there was another party that night for this book and I wanted to go, but I also kind of wanted to go home so I wouldn’t go berserk. I left it up to Hilly. So we went downtown, and it was this great party at the Gansevoort Hotel and music and people I knew, and that’s when I started really having fun. And I started feeling really good. That’s when things really kicked in—having fun, talking to people, making connections and good conversations. At the end of that stage, midnight or so, that’s when I need to go home. But that’s when I say, “Let’s go to the Hog Pit!” And then we go to the wine bar, and then I get home at 6 a.m.—or later. So since then—that was two nights ago? Yesterday was devastating. I mean, I got through it. Last night we had an impromptu therapy session, during The Four Seasons. I just love that movie. I started getting sentimental.

DR. SELMAN: I know the group, but—

GEORGE: This is written and directed by Alan Alda. It just has integrity and heart and—

DR. SELMAN: Did you ever try the [anti-drinking drug] Campral?

GEORGE: Ummm, no. No. I thought long and hard about it. What happened is, I talked to a friend of mine who’s been to rehab and hasn’t had a drink in three or four years, and he seemed to think that Campral, that it’s something you take as a last resort before you go to rehab—

HILLY: To be honest, as far as prescribing him drugs—especially knowing that he does stuff recreationally, and self-control isn’t necessarily his forte, nor is it mine—but I can’t be an advocate for him taking some drug right now, even if it’s prescribed. I’m not going to be on your side about that.

DR. SELMAN: You don’t want him to?

HILLY: I don’t want him to! I think Effexor caused my brother to have a seizure—

DR. SELMAN: What makes you think that?

HILLY: Because one doctor’s prescribing him Xanax, one is prescribing him Effexor, one is prescribing him methotrexate.

GEORGE (looking confused): Who are you talking about?

HILLY: I talked to a specialist at Harvard Medical School who is the expert on this disease, and he said that seizures or strokes have never happened as a result of lymphomatoid papulosis.

DR. SELMAN: So who told you that Effexor causes seizures?

HILLY: Because I looked on the Effexor Web site, and I saw that if you take it within 14 days of some other kind of drug—maybe Xanax—it can cause a seizure or a stroke in a person.

DR. SELMAN: No way.

HILLY: That’s what it says on the Effexor Web site!

DR. SELMAN: I think you’re mixing up—

HILLY: —drugs? It’s totally possible.

DR. SELMAN [to GEORGE]: Well, you know, you said that you met this friend who was in rehab, an alcoholic, and he had an opinion about Campral that was different from mine. So the question I have is: Why did he have more credibility than me?

GEORGE: No, it’s not that. No no no no no no no no. Not at all. What it is, is that was sort of the deal breaker, the clincher—as soon as I heard something negative about the drug, I didn’t want to take it. The other thing is, I was doing so great since our last session—maybe one drink at night or nothing.

HILLY: He was in such a great mood all the time.

GEORGE: I was radiating these good vibes.

DR. SELMAN: So how is this heavy drinking a problem for you, then?

GEORGE: I don’t know—but can I say one more thing? Before the spinout last Friday night, people were just reacting to me better. I think I just looked healthy, and I started noticing—like I went to Blockbuster and before, the clerks there were just assholes to me, and now they were striking up conversations, debating the merits of Match Point versus Crimes and Misdemeanors, or I’d pretend to have enjoyed the Sarah Jessica Parker movie, and it just made me feel so great to have a normal, social, non-alcoholic conversations like that. But then I started wondering if this was some new sinister corporate policy—that these clerks were told to do that, to pretend to be nice and chat people up, in order to compete with Netflix.

HILLY: No, you’re absolutely right. We’ve talked about how you get upset if we’re in a restaurant or something and you think that the waitress looks at me even though you’re paying the bill. Or if we’re out on the street and some little girl looks at you and starts singing “Dirty Old Troll.”

GEORGE: What’s going on is, after a while of a hermit-like existence, I start going stir-crazy from not interacting with people, and that’s one reason I thought this church thing might be good.

DR. SELMAN: You know, we’re kind of rambling here. We start with Hilly’s brother, then her grandfather, the cat, then the dog, and then the drinking, and now this—and what, what’s the direction?

GEORGE: I’m just trying—I’m trying! I feel like I’ve made some progress, then two nights ago—

DR. SELMAN: What is the problem with you drinking heavily?

GEORGE: I can’t go home at 12:30. I get so excited and I get caught up, swept up into the night.

DR. SELMAN: But you said that’s how you’re best. That’s when—

GEORGE: It would be so great if there was something you could take around 12:30, 1:30, that would force you—Hilly can do it. I always end up at some after-party. This is something I really hate on these nights: I say things I wouldn’t otherwise say and become impulsive, lacking in self-discipline, and kind of amoral.

DR. SELMAN: Hilly, what do you think about all this?

HILLY: I tried to tell him this yesterday too— I mean, we’ve been through this before.

GEORGE: I get real impulsive!

HILLY: It’s more a question of—I mean, I don’t believe that he can’t convince himself to go home at a certain time. I can understand if it’s an hour or two later, but there’s such a big difference between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.

GEORGE: I wanted to go home, and you made us go downtown to Bridget Harrison’s party. Remember?

HILLY: Yeah.

DR. SELMAN: So you found the perfect girlfriend?

[HILLY laughs.]

GEORGE: Yeah. So tomorrow, I’m going to be fine. I will have detoxed.

DR. SELMAN: You’re not fine now?

GEORGE: No, I’m getting over this one, but tomorrow I’ll be fully recovered, I will have exercised. But then Sunday, I’m going to a pig-roast party in Brooklyn. That’s going to be out of control.


GEORGE: I want to be like those characters in The Four Seasons. I wanna be 42, living on the Upper West Side—I don’t know, maybe I need to have kids now. I’d have to impose some discipline if I had kids, right?

DR. SELMAN: Well, either that or, if they had some protective-service agency here in New York, they could do that for you.

GEORGE: Isn’t it good to hash out all this stuff? Don’t you think this could be a trend, to go to couples therapy and get all this stuff out—really plumb the depths and excavate our souls—before, say, getting married, than in divorce court?

DR. SELMAN: Who said anything about getting married?


DR. SELMAN: “Getting married”! That came out of left field.

GEORGE: I have friends who are married and have two kids, and all the stuff I was just talking about—going to parties all night, even going to a bar after work—is just out of the question.

DR. SELMAN: Chances are, if you had kids and you wanted to raise them in a family-type way, where you were the dad and you were the mom, it will put a severe crimp on your social life.

GEORGE: Right!

DR. SELMAN: And if it didn’t, there are social-service agencies that would probably help you out.

GEORGE: Social services? What is that?

[DR. SELMAN’s phone rings.]

DR. SELMAN: Hold on. Hello? Yeah. Just go straight to the back. Okay, bye. Sorry. Ahhhh. [DR. SELMAN laughs.]

GEORGE: One thing I don’t understand is that I had a pretty good education and very good self-education, and I think I’m fairly well-read. I don’t understand how along the way—I just had unrealistic goals. It hit me one night when I was a freshman in college, I had this revelation that I could do anything and that I would win any situation. I think there’s such a thing as healthy delusions of grandeur, but—

DR. SELMAN: Do you think that you’re having delusions of grandeur that you could function in the role of a father?

GEORGE: That’s a good question.

HILLY: He’s so sweet with Bobbie.

GEORGE: Yeah, I think I’d be sweet, but I think I might also fuck my kids up. Don’t see any way around that. What?

HILLY: See, I think that it would be kind of the opposite: Your craziest qualities would only benefit the kid, and they would learn so much from you. I mean, everyone has bad habits. I don’t think he would allow anything really bad to happen.

GEORGE: Yeah, O.K., all right.

HILLY: It’s like if Bobbie tilts her head the wrong way, he takes her to the vet.

DR. SELMAN: Now Bobbie is—

GEORGE: My cat. Call her Baba.

HILLY: Sorry.

DR. SELMAN (with an air of concern): You know a child is not the same thing as a cat?

GEORGE: I think we’re like children. I don’t know if I could handle the pain, and I don’t want to have kids in New York, because they all turn into monsters.

DR. SELMAN: Well, we have 10 minutes left. Do you want to get back to the issue of your brother?

HILLY: Yeah, sure. I just like to be as optimistic as possible. Yeah, it sucks, it’s horrible that this happened—but, you know, maybe this is an opportunity for me to reconnect.

DR. SELMAN: Well, are you going to give it a try?

HILLY: Yeah! I’m going to speak to him more frequently, and I’m going to make effort—

DR. SELMAN: How are you going to speak to him more frequently?

HILLY: Just by calling him more often, e-mailing him. I just talked to him yesterday. But as far as the guilt thing—

DR. SELMAN: He’s at home now?

HILLY: Yeah.

GEORGE: I said something bad to you the other day, that I want you to talk the “right” amount. Remember? I said you either say nothing or it’s like diarrhea of the mouth.

HILLY: Yeah, he put on his coat the other day, and his shoes. He was about to walk out—he said he couldn’t take me anymore because I wasn’t speaking.

GEORGE: And I said I just want you to talk the “right” amount. I’m sorry. That was terrible, right? Controlling.

HILLY: Well, it’s weird because a lot of the time, if I do feel like talking about something, you’ll tell me to shut up—

GEORGE: Then there was that time with the ice cream. First you brought me too much, and the next time you brought me too little. And you were like, “I can’t do anything right!” I’m sorry. What are we gonna do tonight? What do you want to do?

HILLY: Well, that’s another thing that I thought would be really fun to do—which is something you’ll hate—but I think it will be really great. It’s a project I wanna do: a kind of memory book for my brother. It will start out with pictures of us as kids, and little funny jokes and stuff as captions. And then move on and include things from the years where we lost touch, clueing him into what’s been going on in my life. Maybe that would be fun, and it would be fun to look at it—and I also thought it would also be fun to make him a Scoopie collage, like the one you have. His mother gave me a framed collage of photographs of George as a baby and little boy. I’ll make a nice framed picture of our family for him.

GEORGE: All right, I’ll help you with that. What do you want me to do?

HILLY: We have to buy a frame and a book and some glue stick and then go up to the storage cubby and get some pictures.

GEORGE: O.K. [To DR. SELMAN.] Look at this shirt she got me. [GEORGE shows his “Mr. Grumpy” T-shirt.]

HILLY: I thought it would help, because he has the book Mr. Grumpy, because I bought it for him a long time ago. And it’s true, even when he’s in a horrible mood—every once in a while it doesn’t work if I pull the book out or if I call him “Mr. Grumpy.” But I thought if he had this shirt, it would be the perfect antidote for those days when he is just in a rotten mood and—

GEORGE: Do you think going to church has helped me? Has it been positive?

DR. SELMAN: You’ve been going to church?

GEORGE: Three Sundays in a row!

HILLY: I think it’s great.

GEORGE: Even though I still may have my doubts about everlasting life, I feel good afterwards.

HILLY: It’s great because what happens is, we walk back across the park and we start talking and reflecting about things we were thinking about there, in a very positive way.

DR. SELMAN: You know, a lot of the A.A. meetings take place in churches.

GEORGE: Yeah, I know there’s a religious aspect to it. [To HILLY.] What were the reasons you said you like going to church?

HILLY: I like that it’s something you’re dedicated to. He’s the one who always wants to go—like last Sunday, I threatened to stay home. I like that it’s something that you seem to be dedicated to.

GEORGE: There are some practical lessons to be learned. Some of the stuff is pretty far out there, but if you take that and put it next to some of the things going on in this culture, it’s just as legitimate as anything on TV or whatever. So you think going to church is a good thing for me to do?

DR. SELMAN: It could be.

HILLY: I mean, it’s fascinating to me that you like going, especially because you’re sitting in a room with other people who are happy. [HILLY laughs.] And you can’t get up and do whatever you want—

DR. SELMAN: Let’s be technical here: You don’t really know that they’re happy. Ask them individually—

HILLY: Yeah, of course.

GEORGE: I even enjoyed it last time when they did the thing where you turn around and greet the people around you and shake hands and smile.

HILLY: That’s because the guy in front of you was named George.

GEORGE: No, it’s like the Blockbuster experience. It’s having these normal, sober, warm interactions with people rather than crazy, raucous, carousing type of interactions. I like that.

DR. SELMAN: And you’ve limited yourself to the two-drink max that you agreed to last time?

HILLY: For a while. There were a couple … well, if we went out, it was different.

GEORGE: Didn’t you make me buy you a bottle of champagne the other night? And then there was another night—

HILLY: I always feel if he goes out and stays out until 6 o’clock in the morning—

GEORGE: Then she gets to drink.

HILLY: Then all the rules are broken. The next night, there’s no two-drink minimum—I can have four glasses of wine if I want that night.

GEORGE: Well, tonight, can we just take it easy?

HILLY: Sure.

[To be continued.]

—George Gurley

Prior Articles:

George and Hilly published 05/29/06
George and Hilly published 05/15/06
George and Hilly published 05/08/06
George and Hilly published 05/01/06
George and Hilly published 04/17/06
George and Hilly published 04/03/06
George and Hilly published 03/20/06
George and Hilly published 02/6/06
George and Hilly published 01/23/06
George and Hilly published 01/16/06
George and Hilly published 12/26/05
George and Hilly published 11/14/05
George and Hilly published 11/07/05
George and Hilly published 10/24/05
George and Hilly published 10/17/05
George and Hilly published 10/10/05
George and Hilly published 10/03/05
George ’n’ Hilly, Back in Couples, Turn on the Doc published 09/26/05
But Should We Get Married? Part III published 08/29/05
But Should We Get Married? published 08/15/05
Should I Get Married? My Hilly Joining Me In Couples Session published 08/08/05

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