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Dr. Maury Gomin (Part Two)
by L Becco, of the Busanists

You haven't gone and done anything foolish since our last session, have you?

Session Two

My name is Dr. Maury Gomin, and I am a trained psychotherapist, practicing now (without a license) in South Korea. The following is the transcript from my second session in that country.

(Patient entered my office/apartment at 13:53, seven minutes ahead of our scheduled appointment. Patient was returning for his second weekly session.)

PATIENT: (Looks around the office/apartment.) Hey, doc. I see you got yourself a new couch and armchair. And a nice coffee table, too.

ANALYST: I did, yes. Would you like to lie down on the couch?

P: I think I'd rather sit on it, if it's all the same.

A: Of course. Please have a seat.

P: Thanks. (Sits.) So, how's trade?

A: Trade is fine, thank you. And how are you? You haven't gone and done anything foolish since our last session, have you?

P: No, no, nothing foolish.

A: Good. Now before we parted ways last week you mentioned something about your wife's ex-husband, and I do want to return to that in a little while, but first if you don't mind I really think we should cover some of the other things you said.

P: (Looks at a small tape recorder on the coffee table.) I see your tape recorder here. The red light is on.

A: Yes, we're on tape.

P: Why? Why would you bother taping this? If you don't mind my asking.

A: I always tape my sessions. I make it a point to listen to the session again and to write down the transcript. I also make notes wherever I think it appropriate. This way I can better prepare for our next session together.

P: All right. Do you destroy the tapes or do you keep them?

A: I used to keep them for six months before destroying them, but I've considered not doing that anymore. I've considered taping over each session from week to week.

P: You've considered?

A: Actually, I've decided. I'm no longer bound by any specific rules from any professional associations, and I've decided it doesn't make sense for me to keep the recordings after I wrote out the transcripts.

P: So what you're saying is, you're taping over last week's session even as we speak.

A: That's right.

P: But what you're also saying is, you're not bound by any code of ethics from any professional shrink's associations. Like doctor-patient confidentiality, for instance.

A: I'm bound by my own professional ethic, which includes doctor-patient confidentiality. But you're right if you mean to say that I'm not protected from any legal request to disclose, in part or in whole, confidences made to me by my clients.

P: Like to the cops, if they came knocking?

A: Like that, yes.

P: That's tricky, though, isn't it? You're operating without a license. I guess you wouldn't even tell them you're a shrink if it came to that.

A: I haven't been put in a position where I've had to make that decision, and I would certainly appreciate it if things stayed that way.

P: So what you'd probably tell the cops, if they came knocking, was that you were my friend and confidant, but not that you listen to me for actual bucks.

A: Like I said, I'm hoping it doesn't come to that.

P: Meaning you think I should behave myself.

A: I think that's in both our interests.

P: Don't be so sure about that. But anyway, what was it that you wanted to go over from last week?

A: Ah, yes. What I wanted to say for starters was, I found a lot of what you said last week tasteless, opinionated and narrow-minded.

P: I see.

A: Yes, I was quite offended by some of your remarks about Korea. For one thing I looked high and low and I could find almost nothing to back up your assertions regarding the, well, the strange sexual practices between Korean mothers and their sons.

P: But actually what I told you, very specifically, if you remember correctly, was that those practices are not considered 'sexual' in Korea.

A: Call it what you will–intimacy, closeness–I'm quite sure you get my point. The types of behavior you described last week, as it happens, are unknown to any of the numerous Koreans that I've talked to since. And yet you spoke of them as if they were rampant. I think you need to be very careful about making such blanket statements on a culture that you don't really know all that well.

P: (Raising his voice.) I am being very careful. I'm telling it to my shrink, for Christ's sake. Who can I vent to when I'm feeling bewildered if not my own shrink?

A: Granted, granted. But in your own personal interest in such matters, I think it would be helpful if you took a step back and didn't attempt to filter everything through the prism of your own very distinct cultural framework.

P: Whatever. You know, I have a sneaking suspicion you wouldn't be giving me this lecture if we weren't on tape. And you said you found 'almost' nothing to back up my assertions. So, what did you find?

A: I got some confirmations regarding the little boys' go-choos. The 'Show me' and the pinching.

P: Well, that's something.

A: Yes, but as soon as I got that confirmed I made it a point to put it into some kind of perspective, and I think you should be trying to do that too.

P: Oh, but I do put it in perspective. Little boy is born in Korea and the lucky parents tie a string of hot peppers to their front door to let the whole world know they just had a boy. That's not so far removed, wouldn't you know, from a man's buddies back home offering him a cigar if his wife has just given birth to a male child. You see, the go-choo, the cigar, they're both pretty clear phallic symbols, I think. I think what we have there are different cultural manifestations of the same phallus-worship.

A: That's interesting. And do you have a problem with phallus-worship?

P: Philosophically, you mean?

A: Okay, philosophically.

P: Not particularly. I think I would agree that symbolism is important to cultural and even personal self-expression. The phallus as a symbol of the fountain of life is not something that offends me per se. I think it's still prevalent in most every culture where it hasn't been deliberately eradicated by contrarian feminist ideologies, which is not to say that I disagree with the thrust of a lot of those ideologies either.

A: You're doing a John Kerry on me now. Are you condoning phallus-worship or are you condemning it?

P: Neither. Well. Under certain circumstances I suppose I might do either, but I might be more inclined to condone it by stating that in my opinion symbolic worldviews are healthier than non-symbolic worldviews. What I mean by that is that symbolism has the better shot at representing the limitlessness of human experience. Beyond that I don't really care whether a particular symbolic framework dwells or not on the phallus, although I think you'd have to agree, politics aside, that the phallus is pretty darn good as symbols go. And by the way, I plan to vote for John Kerry.

A: Yes, well, considering the alternative… But now let's get back to your wife, because I think we may be on to something. Do you think she worships the phallus?

P: (Whistles.) There's a loaded question.

A: So unload it for me.

P: All right, let me try. I'd say that my wife has what is probably a half-instinctive and half-cultural regard for the phallus as a symbol of safety and good luck.

A: This phallus being yours, specifically?

P: Jeez, let me try to unload that now. I'd say, mine specifically as the one physical embodiment of the general idea. What I mean to say is, you know, mine being the one physical embodiment of it to which she has access–exclusive access, of course.

A: If I understand you correctly then, what you're saying is that the symbolic nature of this physical thing that you have is important to your wife not only in its function as, pardon my French, a sex tool, but also in its relation to safety and good luck.

P: Bingo. That's exactly what I'm saying.

A: And this you know how? Have you discussed it with her?

P: She's said some things along those lines, yes.

A: I see. When did she say those things? In what circumstances?

P: Well, we'll be in bed, about to fall asleep, and she'll play with it and tell me how doing that makes her feel really comfortable and safe. Then of course she'll provoke the chain reaction that you can imagine, but ultimately I really don't think she usually has that in mind at all. Ultimately I think it's just like she says, it makes her feel safe.

A: This one physical embodiment to which she has exclusive access, you mean?

P: Of course. What else did you think I meant?

A: And this embodiment, in its symbolic role, it's not 'sexual', is it?

P: No, it's not. It's about something else entirely. It's about safety and good luck.

A: And how long was she single, before you two got married?

P: How long between marriages, you mean?

A: I mean, how long was she living alone with her son?

P: (Laughs.) Yeah, yeah, I get it. You know, you're pretty good for a guy without a license. I'm not changing my mind about 'my house, my rules' though.

A: I'm not saying you should. Just so long as you can gain a broader perspective.

P: Sure. But, perspective or not, there are some things I can live with, some things I can't. All I was saying last week was, a fifteen-year-old boy under my roof needs to sleep in his own bedroom and he needs to get alone behind a closed door before he gets naked. My wife knew she was marrying an American, so I'd say she had to have been prepared to make these kinds of adjustments. And I can't imagine she was giving up such a hell of a lot by going along with me on this.

A: Maybe she wasn't. But what about the boy? How do you think he felt about being replaced like that?

P: 'Replaced' is an unfortunate choice of words, I would say. But to answer what I think you meant, the boy and I get along great. In fact, I'm almost shocked by how well we're getting along. He's sweet, considerate, respectful, and he shows a lot of genuine affection for me.

A: Wonderful. I guess he's a lot like his mother, in that respect.

P: He is. I'm getting the whole package, doc–dutiful son and a perfect loving wife.

A: Amazing. So if your wife is perfect, why were you dissing her culture last week?

P: I was not dissing her culture. I was voicing my bewilderment in the face of some of its aspects to a paid mental health professional. There's a difference.

A: Of course, and I do make note of that difference. But I'm still not at ease about the things you said for which I could find no verification anywhere with any of the Koreans I talked to.

P: (Laughs.) Doc, let me save you the trouble: Koreans lie. That's another cultural peccadillo they might not quite own up to if you were to confront them directly with it, but trust me on this one: they lie. They lie and they lie and they lie. Welcome to Asia, where everybody's number one concern is saving face. You see, you were never going to get anywhere questioning Koreans about weird mother-son behavior. Rather than own up to what might look like deviant behavior to you, or like anything at all that they can sense you might disapprove of, especially if they don't have a leg to stand on to justify it, they'll lie. And it's even worse in Japan, if you ever make it out there, maybe on a visa run or something. In Japan if you ask somebody for directions they'd just as soon send you on a wild goose chase than admit that they don't know the way.

A: Thank you. I'll make a note of that.

P: I'm serious.

A: I know you are.

P: Take this college I work at. You know what they just asked us to do? They asked us to submit to administration some of the final exams our students wrote.

A: And that's supposed to shock me? You should come and see what I have to do at my kindergarten.

P: Wait, there's more. They asked us to submit those 'representative' written final exams after having made it clear to all the profs at the start of the semester that we didn't have to give a written exam. Oral is fine, they said. Now they're asking us to submit actual written exams from students, and they're asking us to do this two full weeks after testing, meaning that even if we had given written exams, which most of us did not, chances are we'd have thrown them out by now anyway. Grading is finished, so why bother hanging on to all that paper?

A: I'd say some of you are in trouble then.

P: It would appear that way at first glance, but no! This is Korea, land of the subterfuge. What we're being advised to do by the department at this point is to forge some written exams–complete with students' names and student numbers. For their files, you see. For their records.

A: You can't be serious.

P: I am. I really am.

A: What happens if one of those students ever gets his hands on his forged exam and says, 'I never wrote this'?

P: Best guess, there's a scandal and the prof that forged it gets fired.

A: What happens if you don't comply and you refuse to forge exams?

P: Best guess, we get fired.

A: An interesting dilemma.

P: Fascinating. So, are you beginning to see my point?

A: It's coming into focus nicely, thank you. Have you thought about the fact that the school's administration might a be trying to entrap you and then keep the incriminating papers in your files for your eventual dismissal, if the need for that ever arose?

P: That's an interesting theory, but it doesn't really add up.

A: Why not?

P: They don't have to give us a reason for not renewing our contract, and even if they do give a reason most of the time it's bogus.

A: So then why do you think you're being asked to forge these exams?

P: Incompetence, basically. I think the college president asked our department head for these exam copies months ago, probably even before the semester started, but that our department head managed to forget all about it since then. Now the president asked him again and suddenly the department head is scrambling, and he's putting all our heads on the block just so he can save face. I do think he meant to tell us, but in Korea, as I'm sure you've noticed by now, they think it's no fun telling us foreign teachers what to do unless they drop it on us at the very last second. I think in this case the very last second just came and went, and now we're in this pickle because of it. Let me give you another example. You know that guy Kim Sun-Il, the Korean dude who just had his head chopped off in Iraq?

A: I heard a lot about that, yes. Terrible thing.

P: No kidding. Well, now there's a whole to-do over the fact that the Korean embassy in Iraq actually found out about the guy getting kidnapped three weeks before they bothered to notify anyone. That's the Korean way: sweep it under the rug and hope the problem goes away, and if it doesn't, well, lying about it afterwards should take care of the rest. You could say my college is a bit like that.

A: Wow, you make it sound awful. Don't you like your job, then?

P: Oh, I do. I love my job. And I love this country, too. That's why I bitch about it sometimes. You know, you and I are from a country that was founded on people exercising their freedom of speech and voicing their strong opinions. That tendency doesn't go away so easily. Back home political apathy is regarded as a citizen's worst vice. Here it's different, and you go along with that for a while, but eventually your Americanness starts to get the better of you. You see guys from back home getting off the plane in Korea and at first they rant and rave about how much fun this place is, and how cute and sweet and amusingly bizarre, but trust me, after they get settled and they pay taxes for a few years and they buy a house and they start a family of their own, they get to feel like they ought to be entitled to vent their spleen about Korean stuff too. Which is why I'm voting for John Kerry, basically.

A: I'm sorry? You just made a jump there and I think I missed something.

P: Kerry, I'm voting for Kerry. Those neocons in Washington have completely taken away any kind of moral high ground that I as an American could ever possibly have for bitching about Korean foibles. Now I have to see a damn shrink, no offense, if I want to be able to do it in relative peace.

A: That's a peculiar way of looking at things.

P: I'm totally serious, doc. I'm deeply ashamed for what this administration is doing around the world, and as a result I don't feel at ease saying anything anymore.

A: Please understand, I'm not saying it doesn't make any sense. 'Citizen feels private shame over his government's misrule.' I never really thought about that before.

P: Which is why I'm voting for Kerry. We've seen a lot of anti-American resentment worldwide because of Bush, but I don't think we've even scratched the surface. I think most of it is still bottled up because the whole world knows he didn't win fair and square the first time–that he slipped in the back door with the help of those reactionaries on the Supreme Court. But if Bush wins for real this time around you and I are not going to get the benefit of the doubt anymore. If Bush wins this time people around the world are going to think we must really want this nut, and then all of us American expats are going to be pariahs big time.

A: Wow. Not that I was going to vote Republican anyway, but I'd say that's yet another persuasive argument against doing it. I think your calculation there is probably pretty sound.

P: Thank you. I'm sure it is.

A: We're almost out of time. Did you have something else you cared to discuss? Something I should turn the tape recorder off for, maybe?

P: Nah, leave it on. You'll put that stuff in perspective, I think. And you do promise to erase it by next week, don't you?

A: I promise.

P: My wife's ex-husband is giving her grief, and sometimes I feel like I want to clock the bastard. Only I'm afraid if I start swinging I won't be able to stop.

A: What is he doing?

P: He calls up at all times of night or day and says abusive things. Mostly he asks for money, but then when he really wants to piss her off he goes over to her parents' house or her sisters' houses and he makes death threats.

A: Death threats against your wife?

P: Actually, no. Against her family. He knows he'll get her goat better by doing it that way. That fucking coward, I just want to smack him.

A: Has anyone called the police?

P: Sure, but that doesn't stop him. The police come and they tell him to go away, but until he actually kills someone there's nothing they can do. He makes death threats right in front of the cops and they just shrug it off. Crazy fucker.

A: Why do you think he does that?

P: It's a Korean thing. 'Jung', they call it. It's like a deep indelible bond that's supposed to survive everything, no matter what. In the case of a married couple if a man is dying then the wife, if she stuck to the letter of the jung principle, should die along with him.

A: So what you're saying is, he doesn't think she should have remarried, right?

P: Precisely. That cocksucker, he ruined both their lives by gambling away everything they had, and now he thinks her life should stay ruined just the same as his. Fucker. He lied about gambling, he covered up the mess as long as he could, but then of course banks started calling my wife and pretty soon they were calling her parents too, and the gig was up, and naturally she got out. She had no choice, basically. The divorce meant she got free of the debts, but then when she dropped the divorce papers on him he went nuts and shanked her with a kitchen knife. Totally messed up her womb and now she can't have kids anymore, so if we ever wanted to make a baby together, we can't. You should see her scar. Terrible. And she's so sweet.

A: My God. And now she gets a second shot at happiness and he wants to deny her.

P: Totally. Doc, I'm really worried about it. The last thing I want on my conscience is one of my in-laws dying because I didn't step in and neutralize the creep when I had the chance.

A: But don't you think you'd have that on your conscience too, if you did?

P: Sometimes I think that's a chance I'd be willing to take. And I do take this guy seriously. He's got nothing to lose, and he really believes this jung bullcrap. I think he'd actually feel vindicated if he did something really crazy, like kill someone.

A: Still, you can't go around killing people preemptively, can you?

P: Why not? My government does it. They do it when there's no real threat to the nation, even. At least I'm not exaggerating the threat or lying about it. But you're right. I'm not going to hunt him down. But if I run into him…

A: Well, we're out of time. Go in peace, and I'll see you next week.


June 29, 2004