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The Column of Lasting Insignificance: September 19, 2009

[my columns that follow appeared in the Village Voice long ago]


The Theatre of Psychodrama

by John Wilcock

Walter Allen’s main problem with women has usually been that he wants to assume the submissive role. We went to the Theatre of Psychodrama together recently, and when Professor Richard Korn called for volunteers from the audience, Walter (who was actually Woody Allen) agreed to play out some of the unhappy incidents in his recent relationships.

Prompted by Dr. Korn and assisted by a girl he chose from the audience, Walter tried to get “Rebecca” a taxi on a wet night. To ascertain exactly how the incident had developed originally, Walter and Rebecca were frequently asked to reverse roles. “Okay, Walter,” Korn would say, “Now you’re Rebecca. Order Walter around in exactly the way you remember it happened.” Or: “Walter, be Rebecca for a moment and put into words what she must have been thinking.”

This very successful psychodrama technique enables the participants to reenact the original roles as accurately as possible. And very quickly, Walter found out that he wasn’t merely “acting” as he’d intended but was as involved as he had been when the incident had first taken place.

And so the story unfolds. An incident at Rebecca’s apartment ends with her telling Walter to move out. He accepts it placidly but with the resigned air that all women eventually fail to keep their bargain. “But it was pleasing to be held at arm’s length and never really attain her,” he comments revealingly.

Change of locale onstage as Dr. Korn has an objective consultation with “Dr. Who” (the analyst in Walter) played by Walter as objectively as he can.

Dr. Who: “Walter thinks of himself as a tragic hero — sensitive, creative, and would-be perfect except, like Hamlet, for one tragic flaw.”

     Dr. Korn: “Can you act out one of Walter’s day-dreams? For the purposes of this Rebecca will be a robot. She will be absolutely positive and will do exactly as you say.”

Walter acts out an imaginary incident in which he meets Rebecca, buys her a drink, takes her to his apartment to read his poetry, and seduces her. Korn: “Did it ever happen like that?” Walter: “No.”

And now the descent into a lower level of subconscious symbolically assisted at the Theatre of Psychodrama by lowering the lights. Back to the days of just after birth. Another girl from the audience plays mother, Walter with head in her lap.

Walter: “I like it. I don’t want to grow up. I adore it: Just keep father away. I want this to go on endlessly.”

Lights back on, another consultation with Dr. Korn. “The world says you’re not a baby, though; you’re 27. What do you do now?”

Walter: I’d like to go back.”

Korn, to the women in the audience: “Is there one of you who wants to look after a 27-year-old baby who will do everything you want and fulfill all your needs as long as you feed and look after him?”

First girl: “Unfortunately, too much of me wants to do that.”

Second girl: “For a little while I’d want that, but I’d get bored with it.”

Third girl: “I don’t want a big baby: I want a little baby.”

Fourth girl: “I want what Walter wants the other way around. I want somebody to look after me.”

The first woman acts out a relationship with Walter for a while — does his bidding, takes charge, and runs things (including him) in return for his witty, charming self and constant presence. She gets so emotionally involved in the part when this feminine role finally gets to her that she ends up actually striking Walter onstage and telling him not to be “a vegetable.”

Walter, with a resigned air after the slapping: “I could have predicted that would happen. Women are always the same; they always renege on their bargain.”

Korn: “The dominant female and the submissive male have this in common — they are both very lonely. Where do you go from here?”

Walter: “I read and pass away the time until I find another girl I can beguile for a longer period.”

        –Village Voice, June 13, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 34


Come to the Aid of the Party

My friend Lyla is getting to be so ubiquitous wherever parties are given, or even contemplated, that there’s a definite possibility that hosts will soon start inviting their guests in code.  I imagine there must have been some parties this year that Lyla hasn’t known about, but they were probably those funny little get-togethers that people used to call parties — small groups of friends who all knew each other and where there was enough beer to go around.

The parties that Lyla goes to are a different thing altogether.  They’re invariably at addresses you didn’t even know existed, such as cold-water flats in the Washington Square monument or a penthouse in the basement of the Flatiron Building, and the hosts usually can’t be located for the simple reason that they’re away attending a party somewhere else.

Nobody knows how Lyla discovers all these jags, but when the weekend comes around, there she is with this; a pile of names and addresses (which looks for all the world like Jack Kerouac’s Christmas card list), and away we go.

Strong men quail and beautiful girls weep when they see Lyla approaching.  But she sweeps past all, in regal splendor, her entourage following mute and self-conscious.  Rarely is her stay for longer than four minutes (she never takes a drink), but there is time to note down the time and place of next week’s parties. Last weekend, I believe, she even opened up her booking charts for 1962.

About Mensa

In an adventurous mood last month, I applied to join Mensa, a society that is so exclusive that potential members pass an intelligence test before being accepted.  A few days later I received a copy of the Cattell Intelligence Test, and fared as well as I could filling gaps in sentences, matching shapes, eliminating odd words from groups (e.g., page, word, brick, table, musical note), and solving puzzles in reasoning.

( A man bought a horse for $20 and paid for it with a $30 check.  The dealer got it changed by a storekeeper and gave the buyer $10 change.  The check later bounced, so the dealer refunded the storekeeper’s money.  The horse had originally cost the dealer $10.  What was his total loss? )

Last week’s mail brought from Mensa an evaluation of my test.  “On this evidence,” wrote secretary Victor Serebriakoff, “your intelligence quotient appears to be 143.  Put more simply, your score is higher than that of 96 percent of the population.  While these figures are above average, they are unfortunately not up to the very high level we are looking for in our panel.”

With the letter came a printed sheet of information about intelligence tests in general and instructions on converting one’s Cattell I.Q. into the more familiar revised Binet I.Q. (my Binet would be 128.7).

There was also a final note from Mensa explaining that the society’s lowest acceptance figure is I.Q. 155 on the Cattell scale (about 136 on the Binet or Wechsler).

This very high rating, by the way, represents only about 1 percent of the population.  But if you think you’re in that select group and you want to apply for membership, Mensa’s address is M.S.A., Sandringham, Briscot Road, Rainham, Essex, England.

(Note: It’s doubtful that this address is still valid, 50 years later)

[John Wilcock  is currently in England]