Down and Out with Millionaires
The following true story is from Laughter and the Sense of Humor, a book by the Freudian analyst Edmund Bergler who also wrote about people enjoying “great masochistic fiestas,” a phrase that still amuses me. I believe he also defined masochism as “victory through defeat.” In any case, here’s the story as told by Bergler:
I once had the opportunity to observe the spontaneous emergence of a satiric “talent” in a non-writer. This patient, who was employed in a bank, suffered from deep depression. He was a very shy, inhibited, frightened young man, but one day he handed me “something he had written,” adding that it was his first attempt. It turned out to be the most witty satire on analysis that I had ever read. In a short dramatized sketch the patient described his situation forty years hence. He is still in treatment, still poor, whereas I live in luxury, have achieved fame, and work only “for fun” with a few selected millionaires.
Then followed an elaborate description of an appointment on Christmas Eve. Because of the exorbitant fees I charge, the poor patient, now an old and decrepit wreck, can afford only one appointment a year, and that of only five minutes duration. He rings my doorbell, but the butler refuses to admit him, thinking he is a beggar. He finally convinces the butler that he, the patient, is a relic of my past, and is allowed to wait. After a long time, a lady comes out of the consultation room, recognizes him, and asks with surprise, “Is it really a year, already, since I saw you last?” The lady, too, has been in treatment for a very long while, and measures time only according to how often she sees the relic.
Finally, I come out and take a look at the patient. I size him up leisurely, although I know I have only five minutes to put at his disposal, and that he starves himself throughout the year to scrape up the fee for these five minutes. As I am finishing my ocular inspection, the patient collapses and dies of starvation. I state coldly and with some surprise: “I didn’t know you had that symptom, too!”