The Sigmund Freud of Barnes Avenue

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11/11/2023

Neighborhood: Bronx, Washington Heights

I first met Ari Horwitz in front of a pizzeria near the George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal in 1978. I wasn’t in the habit of talking to people I didn’t know, but Ari was about my age, mid-20s, and we seemed to have an immediate psychic connection.

Ari, it turned out, lived with a roommate on Barnes Avenue near Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, about 45 minutes from my own Washington Heights apartment. I spoke to him quite a few times in the next month or so. It turned out that he’d been a year behind me at the Bronx High School of Science, but the main thing we had in common was that we both came from very dysfunctional families.

In my case, I had a father who was almost incapable of expressing himself beyond a few words, except for occasional violent rages, and a mother who had been in a psychiatric hospital more than once. In his case, his parents were Holocaust survivors who, in his words, “had screaming arguments about the price of milk.” His father owned a small candy store that did such marginal business that the family needed Supplemental Social Security payments to survive.

When I told Ari I missed out on sleep-away camp because of my childhood asthma, he said, in his pseudo-professorial accent, “Let’s face it, we both missed out on EVERTHING!”

As we were both young, single guys in our twenties, we often talked about women. He always made the same joke about his two former girlfriends, calling one his “Jewish girlfriend from Pelham Parkway” and the other his “non-Jewish girlfriend from Norwood.” 

At the time, I was a member of Mensa, the high-IQ society. One Friday evening, I gave him the choice of going to a Mensa meeting or to a singles’ “rap session” at the Universalist Church on Central Park West. The church’s singles programs were a big scene in those days, attracting more than 1,000 people every Friday night.

“I don’t know,” he confessed. “On one hand, we could go to the Mensa meeting, and discuss poetry, theater, science fiction, all sorts of intellectual topics, and hope to meet women. Or we could go to the Universalist Church and make a straight-out bid for sex!” Of course, he wildly exaggerated what went on at those Universalist Church meetings – that was one of his attempts at humor. We ended up going to the Mensa meeting.

If Ari had an overriding obsession, it was psychotherapy, especially Freudian therapy. He insisted that Freudian therapy was the only real therapy, and that all the others were frauds. “But let’s take cancer,” I protested. “The doctor may give you several options for treatment, several different therapies.” “The difference,” he said, with utter certainty, “is that cancer is just something you HAVE, whereas a neurosis is something you ARE.”

Eventually, psychotherapy talk found its way into almost every comment that Ari made. When I invited him to my apartment and he saw that I had painted an old wooden record cabinet, he said, “Ah, painting! That’s a good sign of mental health, showing concern with your surroundings.” Another time, when I told him that I believed in God, he merely said, “Well, if you went to a good psychoanalyst, he would tell you why you feel that way!”

Clearly, Freudian analysis was his God.  Later on, I discovered that soon after entering SUNY New Paltz, Ari had a breakdown and was institutionalized for several weeks. This might have led to his psychological preoccupations.

A second fixation of his was classical music. Just like with his attitude toward Freudian psychotherapy, he considered classical to be the ONLY music, with the rest being “popular trash.” He tried to convert me to Bach, Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart, to no avail. Once, after I brought a Bob Dylan album over to his apartment and tried to explain it to him, he grudgingly said, “OK, we’ll listen to your so-called music.” The irony was that Ari played his magnificent recorded symphonies, concertos and arias on a cheap plastic stereo that was so low-tech that it looked like a child’s toy.

After I’d known Ari for about a year, he became more and more impatient with his life and his low-level job as a city employee. He talked about going to graduate school. Speaking about his roommate back in the Bronx, he said sharply, “I’m getting a little tired of Barry and his stupid friends that he knows from Columbus High School.” One day, when we were having a political argument, he snapped, “I don’t feel like talking to you right now. I can’t believe a college graduate would hold such opinions!” I was stunned, but didn’t say anything.

A month later, I called his number. Barry answered. It seemed that Ari had packed his bags in the middle of the night and left without a word. No one he knew, including his own parents, had heard from him since. A few days after Ari left, Barry had seen him on Pelham Parkway, but Ari just pulled his hat over his head, looked down at the ground and kept walking.

Many years later, I looked Ari up on the Internet. He was – no surprise – a clinical psychologist in Portland, Maine. He’d finally fulfilled his destiny.

***

Raanan Geberer grew up in the Bronx, went to the Bronx High School of Science, and currently lives in Chelsea with his wife Rhea and his cat Bonnie. He’s a semi-retired journalist whose most recent job was as managing editor for the revived Brooklyn Daily Eagle and who still writes a local history column for the Straus chain of weekly newspapers in Manhattan. He graduated SUNY Binghamton (B.A.) and Boston University’s School of Communications (M.S.J.). Aside from writing, music is his main hobby, and he plays several instruments.
 

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