The Group Shrink (chapter 6)

Dr. Ester was going to hold a group session in the activity room at 2pm. The recreational therapist had suggested during a chance meeting that Beck attend. And that there were a few therapists at the Castle but Dr. Ester was the best.

The room on the first floor was filled with the deaf, the obnoxious, the insane, and a bunch of shy elderly people. Possibly 75 residents in all.

They weren’t exactly there of their own volition. The rec people went door to door and woke people (Beck included) to get them to attend. Even the ex-boxer with a memory span of less than ten minutes was there.

As he came in with his Rollator, one of the meanest and screwiest woman (we’ll call her A.) who kept going out and falling and was in and out of the hospital motioned to Beck that he was in her way.

He was trying to stay close to the door so as to make an exit if need be.

But he went further into the crowd, so that A. could see the shrink talk.

As soon as Dr. Ester appeared, A. headed for the door.

I think her opening line was, I thought today we would talk about advice, and what advice you would give to a young person…

That was enough to expel A. from the room as if an airlock in outer space had been opened and she had been sucked out.

Ester had come prepared with famous quotes about advice and aging, and a bunch of things Mark Twain had written. And she said, “The most important thing is to know thyself. And to your own self be true. Does anyone know who said these things?”

The crowd was quiet. So with no answers in readiness, Beck who knew things about philosophy and literature, raised his hand. and was asked his name. It was the first time he had been in the rec room since arriving in the castle.

Beck: I think it was Socrates who said that it was important to know thyself. It might have been Plato, who was a student of Socrates, but I’m pretty sure.. Also “to thine own self be true, that’s Polonious in Hamlet. Actually he was considered something of a windbag…”

Ester repeated what Beck had said so that everyone might hear it.

The guy in front of Beck, Henry, who was a windbag if ever there was one, turned around and gave Beck a thumb’s up.

Dr. Ester: Can anyone tell us what the benefit is of knowing yourself?

Ah Henry was off and running. He wasn’t exactly wrong, but if allowed, and especially in this room of timid frightened people he could fill the hour if allowed to and as he had somehow moved on to the importance of being grateful, and comparing your circumstances with the holocaust, and with the doctor and others beginning to talk about the glass half full…and being thankful for what they had… it was beginning to sound like the best of all possible worlds.

And Beck couldn’t wait to jump in and say that there was another side to the coin. That it was also important to identify problems both in yourself and in the world and try to fix them.

This took them back to the most prevalent issue in the Castle: the food. For the next half hour all sorts of schemes were hatched (none would be remembered) for improving the quality of the food and the servers.

Henry was talking continuously as if he had ownership of the session, and although Dr. Ester asked him several times to give others a chance, she eventually resorted to talking over him.

Beck kicked the back of Henry’s chair and said, Give someone else a chance.

Henry replied, I’m just trying to lighten things up. Give ’em a smile.

She wants you to shut the fuck up, for five minutes.

That seemed to get through to Henry who would come by later with a big grin and ask Beck, “Where’ve you been bubala?” Henry talked like he was performing in the Catskills.


The next morning, the oatmeal (usually the best thing at breakfast) was watery and not really cooked. Beck, along with several people sent it back.

One of the cooks had been fired.

And saddest of all, one of the top blue shirts was leaving.

The “honeymoon” couple were often not seen together lately. The woman had been complaining about pains in her stomach for weeks, and lately she wasn’t sitting in the dining room with the man who proposed marriage to her at every meal.

Yes, it was grim, the way people popped out and you never really knew where they went. But Beck had made many friends at the castle, some who barely spoke a word of English, and others who had been History professors.

When he had nothing better to do, he used an electric stim(ulator) machine on the muscles of his left (weak) leg, and for the first time he was seeing improvement.


When Beck returned to his room after the group meeting, he wondered what advice he’d give to someone who asked for it. One thing he came up with was to check out the person giving the advice.

It was one thing if it was coming from an admired well-known person. It was another thing if it was from a know-it-all.

And as long as he thought of it, Beck couldn’t come up with any advice he’d give. Most of the advice he’d been given hadn’t worked out that well. On the other hand, he had made his own path, and gone his own way, and that was something. Maybe.