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Truth or Consequence
have you been here before?"
"Doctor Wallenstein is busy with another patient at
the moment. Will you fill out this questionnaire
while you wait?"
Darin O'Hanlon looked about the empty waiting room,
chose a chair in the corner, took a deep breath and
sat down. He glanced at the questionnaire and
reached absentmindedly into his inner pocket for a
"Yes, Mr. O'Hanlon."
"I don't seem to have a pencil."
"Oh, no problem, Mr. O'Hanlon, I have one." She
held out a white coffee mug with a smiley face on
it. It was loaded with needle sharp pencils, each
of identical length, each tipped with a pink
Darin O'Hanlon sighed, walked to the receptionist's
desk and chose one with great care.
Some of the questions were personal, disturbing,
and apparently intended to expose his dark
side. Others involved his parents and pets he had
as a boy. His hobbies were of great concern to Dr.
Wallenstein and so were his choices in clothing and
reading material. He answered all these questions
frankly, honestly and in great detail, so much
detail, in fact, that he found it difficult to
squeeze them in the space allotted. While doing
this he could not help overhear the mechanical
doll's voice of Miss Upshot, the receptionist,
speaking to patients on the telephone.
"Oh, Mrs. Kaminsky, I'm so sorry. All night you say
.... and you took how many this morning?! But
that's two more than you were supposed .... well
yes, I know but .... he'll call you back shortly
.... don't take any more Mrs. Kaminsky, okay? Yes,
who? Oh, Mr. Paterson, what can I do for .... you
are? Well, don't jump, Mr. Paterson! Oh, you're
only joking! You're a cut-up, Mr. Paterson."
Darin O'Hanlon hadn't realized until that moment
that Dr. Wallenstein's patients were close to the
ragged edge. His own problem seemed minor by
comparison. After all, his only difficulty was he
couldn't help telling the truth. He didn't need a
psychiatrist for that. He wasn't suicidal -- he
wouldn't dream of overdosing on prescription drugs
or leaping from a windowsill. He was the picture of
health. In tip-top shape. If he hadn't been sent by
Dr. Ottermann for outpatient care, he wouldn't be
here in the first place.
A jittery man emerged from Dr. Wallenstein's
office. He walked quickly in a semi crouch style,
darting this way and that. He paused at the
receptionist's desk, and in a hoarse tenor, far too
loud for the small room, he announced, "Doc says I
need another appointment." As the receptionist
thumbed through her appointment book, the man
noticed Darin in the corner, and said suspiciously,
"What are you in here for? You don't look crazy."
"Don't let him give you desipramine."
"It'll rot your brain." Then he smiled like a
conspirator. "Medicare gave Doc the green light,
I'll be comin' in once a week now."
The receptionist handed the man a card with his new
appointment. He stuck it in the band of his hat and
slouched towards the front door, eying Darin
suspiciously. Darin watched him through the half
drawn Venetian blind as he made his way to his car.
The car backed abruptly into the one behind it,
then laid down two long streaks of rubber as it
roared out into the street and through the stop
light at the corner.
"A troubled man," the receptionist remarked as
Darin handed her his completed questionnaire.
"Shouldn't be driving," Darin remarked. He turned
his head sideways and looked sharply at the
receptionist. "Do you sit all day?" he asked.
"You're at least twenty pounds overweight."
Miss Upshot blushed a beet red, but before she
could respond, a buzzer sounded on her desk. "Dr
Wallenstein will see you now." She rose from her
desk stiffly. "Please follow me," she said coldly.
"Guess I shouldn't have said that, Miss, but that's
why I'm here, you see. I can't help telling the
truth." Darin followed her down the carpeted hall,
and while his eyes noticed the girth of Miss
Upshot, he kept his mouth shut. She opened the door
and stood aside as Darin walked in. She followed
him and handed the finished questionnaire to Dr.
"I'm Felix Wallenstein, Mr. O'Hanlon, please sit
down and make yourself comfortable. "O'Hanlon" ....
what a fine Irish name. I knew an O'Hanlon at
school, I believe he was a Dublin O'Hanlon."
"Odd first name, "Dublin."
"Oh, I'm sorry .... no, I mean his family was from
Dublin. I really can't remember what his first name
was." Flustered, Wallenstein turned to Darin's
"Well now, you've been out of Queen's Central three
weeks I see. Emil Ottermann has passed you on to
me. How are you getting on, Mr. O'Hanlon?"
"Not well, Doctor. Not well at all. I still tell
"You can't expect miracles, Mr. O'Hanlon. May I
call you Darin?" Without waiting for an answer, he
went on, "Lying takes practice you know. Does the
"Not much, Doctor. About an hour after I take it I
find I can stretch the truth a little. Just a
little, not nearly enough to get my old job back."
Darin had been a promising junior partner at
Liebowitz, Ferrara and O'Hanlon, but his addiction
to the truth thwarted his chances of moving up the
corporate ladder. They almost ruined the corporate
ladder of Liebowitz, Ferrara and O'Hanlon as well.
Accident cases, malpractice suits, even armed
robbery indictments were thrown out of court
because Darin insisted on telling the truth.
Attorney Liebowitz finally took him aside, and as
they stood by the heavily draped window overlooking
City Hall he said, "Look, O'Hanlon -- you tell the
truth, you pay the consequence, see. There's no
room for truth in a court of law. You think this is
the movies? Ferrara and me, we both got big
families. We only get paid if we win."
Darin collapsed in court one day while defending a
surgeon who had left two clips in the belly of a
Puerto Rican teenager while bungling a "C" Section
delivery, resulting in the death of both mother and
The breakdown sent Darin to Queen's Central. He was
in a terrible state, nearly catatonic. He spent two
long years in the fourth floor ward where the
patients had lost track of the world about them and
faced the devils of their own existence.
The road back was slow and painful, but under the
patient supervision of Dr. Emil Ottermann, Darin
gradually worked his way back to reality. For the
past six months he was in the minimum security ward
of Queen's General.
Now, here he was in the plush office of Dr.
Wallenstein. He let his eyes wander about the room
and admired its expensive furnishings. On Doctor
Wallenstein's desk was the picture of a long legged
platinum blond in a bikini, far too young to be his
wife -- his first wife anyway. It might have been
his daughter, but a proper father would never
display such a frankly erotic photograph of his
child. A diploma was elaborately framed on the wall
behind his desk.
Felix P. Wallenstein
Professor of Psychiatry
Hmmm, thought Darin, an agricultural school. He was
disappointed. He expected Yale or Pennsylvania.
Near the diploma was a group picture of twenty or
more gentlemen in formal attire taken at a
dinner, any one of whom might have been Dr.
Wallenstein. Each of them sported identical
goatees. It was difficult to tell one from the
other. A celebration of some sort? A retirement?
Perhaps the unexpected recovery of a wealthy
Dr. Wallenstein glanced over Darin's questionnaire.
"Life is a treacherous path between reality and
fantasy, Mr. --" he looked momentarily at the
questionnaire, "O'Hanlon. Psychiatrists ask
questions so they may point the way to the truth."
"I know all about the truth, Doctor .... the truth
is what got me into trouble in the first place."
"Do you resent having to visit a psychiatrist?" He
"And why is that, Mr. O'Hanlon?"
"It's a long story Doctor Wallenstein, and if you
were as omniscient as you think you are, you should
know the answer without asking me. Do you realize
what I've suffered for the truth? Have you ever
been forced to move your bowels in the presence of
a two hundred pound male nurse who picks his teeth?
How about eating dinner with a plastic knife and
fork next to a man who can't control his bladder?
Have you ever spent the night on your back,
strapped in a bed with bars? No, I didn't think so!
Ask yourself that question then -- remember it? 'Do
you resent having to visit a psychiatrist?' You're
damn right I do!" Darin stared at Wallenstein and
watched him lower his eyes. "I used to be an
attorney, Doctor. Do you know what I do now?"
"Why yes, it's right here in your ---"
"I'm a winder in a broom factory, Doctor. I work
shoulder-to-shoulder with parolees from Riker's
Island, men just out of rehab, 'employables' they
call them. Pretty steep penalty for telling the
truth don't you think? By the way Doctor, is that a
weave or an implant?"
Doctor Wallenstein was flustered, he had never
dealt with this particular symptom. It unnerved
him. Sometimes, he reminded himself, these
schizophrenics can turn the tables on you. Before
you know it, you find yourself on the couch and
they're sitting behind your desk asking the
"Now slow down a moment, Mr. O'Hanlon .... or may I
call you Darin? You indicate a considerable degree
of resistance. I can understand that, it's not
unusual in cases like yours ..."
"Hold on yourself, Doctor. You haven't answered my
"I don't remember ..."
Darin broke in quickly. "You don't! Forgetfulness
is inexcusable in a psychiatrist! Let me remind you
then. I asked you if that was a weave or an
Damn him! This was going to be a hard nut to crack.
He considered the possibility of referring him to
his friend Carl Bunsenburner, with his acupuncture
needles, but Carl would probably just send him
right back again .... and besides, O'Hanlon was
good for fifty or sixty visits at $150 a pop.
The conversation continued until the hour expired.
Doctor Wallenstein's probing questions had barely
scratched Darin's armor, and he had to admit his
own armor was pierced in many places. Had this
encounter not occurred in his own office he would
have been completely demoralized. His note pad
contained little vital information on Darin
O'Hanlon. He fanned himself with it and turned on
the video tape recorder. It was obvious O'Hanlon
was in complete control of himself. It was as
though he was a representative of the licensing
board checking on Wallenstein's credentials.
Wallenstein sat at his desk in a classic Freudian
pose -- elbows resting on the blotter, chin resting
in his clasped hands with his index fingers
extended .... "Hmmm," he thought. "O'Hanlon's only
problem is the truth. What a strange disease!
Suppose the world was suddenly afflicted with a
disease which compelled it to tell the truth? Every
man, every woman, every country unable to hide the
truth from each other! It would collapse! It simply
could not exist."
He went to the small washroom between his office
and the receptionist and looked in the mirror. "Is
my weave really so noticeable? Unnerving isn't it?
What am I hiding? Hiding the truth, that's what I'm
doing. Then there's the standard psychiatrist's
goatee .... what is that for? A masquerade! To make
me look like a psychiatrist. Just as a uniform
makes a frightened teenager feel as brave as a
He walked into the empty waiting room. "Miss
Upshot, are we through for the day?"
"Nothin' more in your book, Doctor."
"What did you think of Mr. O'Hanlon?" Would he get
an honest answer. Would she tell the truth?
"He's okay, I guess -- told me I was fat."
"You're not fat, Miss Upshot." Now wait a minute,
that was a lie too, she most definitely was fat.
"What do you mean -- okay?"
"Well, I mean you get some real cases in here,
Doctor. Mr. O'Hanlon didn't seem so bad as them,
but you could see somethin' was eatin' on him."
"Be frank with me, Miss Upshot. Can you tell if I
have a weave or not?"
Miss Upshot seemed anxious to call it a day. "I
really can't say Doctor .... I don't think I ever
seen you without one, you know?"
"Good night, Miss Upshot."
"Toodle-oo, Doctor." She turned off the designer
light over her desk and shut down the computer. She
got her coat from the rack and shrugged herself
into it, turned off the lights in the waiting room
and was out the door all the while keeping a wary
eye on Dr. Wallenstein.
Yes, by all means "toodle-oo." Tell me true, Miss
Upshot, do you or don't you? Would she lie about
that too? Of course she would. No woman would dare
say, "Of course I do," unless they were sedated.
Terrible to realize that truth, real truth, can
only emerge under the influence of drugs. Sodium
Pentothal -- perhaps O'Hanlon's system produces it.
Think about it Wallenstein, four years
undergraduate, two years internship, two years for
the thesis and the Ph.D. What has all this
experience taught you about the truth, or the human
mind for that matter?
He got his coat and hat. The broad snap brim, same
kind of a hat Carl Jung used to wear. The coat was
identical to the kind Adler wore, and now, here he
was with the weave, the same hairline and goatee
that Professor Freud wore. He reached for the knob
to let himself out and suddenly stopped. He looked
at his watch and took off his hat and coat. He
turned on the high-tech light over Miss Upshot's
desk and thumbed through her Rolo-dex for a number.
"Hello Emil. Wallenstein here. I hoped I'd find you
in. How is Mrs. Ottermann? Good, glad to hear it.
Do you have a minute? .... Do you remember a former
patient of yours at Queen's Central, man by the
name of Darin O'Hanlon? You referred him to me.
.... Yes, that's the one -- the truth nut. He was
in today and I have to say, Emil, I must recommend
he be returned for further treatment. He's really
in no condition to walk the streets. .... The
upstairs ward? Yes that sounds good. I'll sign him
back to you tonight and you'll take care of it,
He hung up, put on his hat and coat again and
turned out the light. He felt much better now.
O'Hanlon would be in good hands, perhaps electric
shock might help -- couldn't get that sort of care
outside of Queen's Central. Quite frankly he wasn't
sure what to do with him. "Better all around, it's
not worth the money," he said under his breath as
he locked the waiting room door. He walked down the
carpeted corridor to the back door and stepped out
into the night. There was a man leaning against the
driver's side door of his Mercedes. It was Darin
"Hope you don't mind, Doctor. Something I wanted to
say in there .... didn't get around to it. You know
how it is when you want to say something but don't
know how to put it in words? Thought this might be
your car -- only one in the lot with MD plate.
Figured that was you, right? Nice piece of
machinery, Doctor. Had a Mercedes myself once --
they took my license away."
"What was it you wanted to say, Mr. O'Hanlon?"
Darin took a deep breath and stood a little
straighter. "Come hell or high water, Doctor, I'm
not going back there, understand?"
"Queen's General. You've got to understand that.
I'll kill myself first -- that's the truth."
"Oh, come now, Darin, let's not get melodramatic.
We'll do what's best for you. That's the main thing
Darin reached in his side pocket and took out a
folding razor. He opened it fully, the blade
glinted in the dim light of the street lamp. He
pulled back his shirt cuff and drew the back of the
blade across his wrist.
"It's as simple as that, Doctor. The choice is
yours, not mine." He folded the razor and slipped
it into his side pocket again, turned on his heel
and walked away.
A chill chased its way down Wallenstein's spine as
he opened the door of the Mercedes. He sat in the
front seat with the ignition key in his hand
thinking of the call he just made to Ottermann.
Should he call him back? No. The man can't be
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