paranoia is a dish best served cold

(open with a standard psychiatrist's office: an adult patient, BETH, reclines on a couch. the DOCTOR is mildly contemptuous of BETH but veils it for professionality's sake. BETH is speaking as the lights come up)

BETH: my parents set up the blanket over on the grass and since it wasn't all that large of a blanket they wouldn't let us sit on it, they sat on it by themselves, and they told us to run along...and it was very hot, like I said, so we needed to cool off, so we went down to the wasn't all that far away but it was downhill a little bit so my parents couldn't see. It was kind of a small lake. It probably wasn't too deep. And that's why the sign was so weird. I knew it was weird, even as a little kid.
DOCTOR: Why was it strange?
BETH: Not just because it was a sign. There are some good signs. Like, you know, if there weren't signs, you'd get really confused. You might walk into an Italian restaurant when what you really wanted was Mexican, and you wouldn't know until they slapped the food down in front of you, and you'd be all "Hey, where the hell are my quesadillas", and they'd be all "This is an Italian restaurant, we don't serve those here, would you like some spaghetti or something", and you'd be all mad because you were geared up for a quesadilla but now you just have to eat the spaghetti because no one put up signs to tell you, you know, what to expect.
DOCTOR: Wouldn't you know what kind of food you were getting because you ordered it first?
BETH: That's a good point. But what about if you walked in, sat down, and said "Hey, give me the usual" or even "Hey, give me the special of the day"? You'd be screwed.
DOCTOR: Point taken.
BETH: So it wasn't all signs, just this one sign. It was telling you not to swim there. But the thing was, you probably couldn't swim in the first place. It was hardly deep at all!
DOCTOR: Describe the sign.
BETH: Well, that was the thing. It had a picture of somebody drowning, with them waving their arms in the air and yelling for help with their head above water, but it didn't look like a person on the sign.
DOCTOR: What did it look like?
BETH: It looked like an alien.
DOCTOR: An alien?
BETH: Yeah, an alien. Its head was all oval-shaped, and the only things you saw on its face were eyes and a mouth, and they were like almonds. And it was all pale, compared to the sign. The sign was red.
DOCTOR: And how did the picture make you feel?
BETH: Terrible! I thought there was this alien drowning somewhere!
DOCTOR: You didn't stop to think that perhaps it was just a very simple drawing of a person?
BETH: What do you mean?
DOCTOR: Haven't you ever seen a the ones on bathroom doors...where it's just the outline of the person? They just want to convey very simply that it's a person, Beth. That's all. They don't mean just one person. They mean any person.
BETH: Oh, those bathroom door pictures mean something?
DOCTOR: Forget it. How did you react to seeing the picture that you thought was an alien?
BETH: I was pretty worried! Some poor alien was drowning somewhere!
DOCTOR: Uh-huh.
BETH: I mean, what kind of sicko just throws an alien into the lake? Especially an alien who couldn't swim?
DOCTOR: So you thought someone flung an alien into a lake and then posted a sign about it.
BETH: And no one else seemed to be reacting, so I had to take action!
DOCTOR: What did you do?
BETH: I told Billy to go save the alien.
DOCTOR: And did he?
BETH: Well, I had to throw him in to get him to do it.
DOCTOR: Uh-huh.
BETH: And nobody understood why. They thought I was trying to drown Billy. They thought I was dumb!
DOCTOR: And this is why you feel that water hates you and you're uncomfortable being near it.
BETH: Well, that and a few other things.
DOCTOR: (checking watch quickly) Okay, well, we'll deal with those things in our next session...
BETH: Our next session? Doc, we have an hour left!
DOCTOR: (sighs) An entire hour?
BETH: Uh-huh. So not only were my cruel parents mean to me about the alien thing, let me tell you about the first time they took me on an airplane!

(the DOCTOR stands up, faces the audience. she is going into an internal monologue. BETH should continue speaking in a low voice while she speaks, improvising an inane story something along the lines of the following and finishing it a couple seconds after the DOCTOR is done)

BETH: ("We sat down in the plane...the stewardess said that they would be serving dinner in an hour...they said we could have a chicken I went looking for the chickens...but they hid them and I looked really hard...I know they had to be hidden on the plane because isn't there a law about transporting chickens over state lines or something...and an airplane flies over a lot of state lines, let me tell I didn't find any chickens, but I did find the airplane septic tank...")
DOCTOR: Great. I go to school for, I don't know, decades, so I can be here? Listening to this wacko? God, I thought I was going to be helping people. I wanted to do some good. You know, resolve a mother-daughter conflict. Cure some bad dreams. Prescribe something for depression. What do I get? A flood of hopeless uncurable wackos like her. Oh, sure, I can charge her a hundred dollars, but they keep paying it! No matter how high I raise the fee...I just get richer morons, that's all. Cure them of one delusion and they'll come up with another. Last week this moron tried to convince me that she was irrevocably destined to be eaten by a tiger and regurgitated as a princess. What good can I do? She thinks everyone thinks she's dumb. Well, she's right! What the heck am I supposed to do about it? (she sits down, resumes listening)
BETH: And they wanted it to come out of my allowance, but I said no, it should have come out of the dog's allowance!
DOCTOR: If she had real issues, I could cure them. But instead they just sit there and talk and talk and...(has an idea) hmm.
BETH: Because it was the dog's fault! Don't you think so?
DOCTOR: Shut up.
BETH: What?
DOCTOR: I said, are you comfortable?
BETH: Did you just tell me to shut up?
DOCTOR: No, of course not. Why would I tell you to shut up?
BETH: Huh. Okay. So anyway, it wasn't long after that that my mother started sending a fake version of herself to my dance recitals, which...

(the DOCTOR throws a crumpled-up piece of paper at her)

BETH: Hey!
BETH: Why did you throw that at me?
DOCTOR: Throw what? Whatever are you talking about?
BETH: That paper! That...(she looks around for it, but the DOCTOR has picked it up and hidden it) I don't know where it is, but I felt it on the back of my head!
DOCTOR: Beth, I'm afraid that I don't know what you're talking about.
BETH: (confused), uh...okay. So...
DOCTOR: Let's get back to the serious business of therapy, Beth.
BETH: (still slightly confused) Alright. Well, then my parents began acting like they didn't know what I was talking about, so I got one of their credit cards and I hired a detective...

(the DOCTOR yanks the pillow out from underneath BETH's head)

BETH: Ouch!
DOCTOR: Finish your sentence, Beth.
BETH: Why did you do that?
DOCTOR: This is growing tiresome, Beth. What is it that you think I did now?
BETH: You stole my pillow?
DOCTOR: There wasn't any pillow there, Beth. I should know. It's my office.
BETH: You're holding it in your hand!
DOCTOR: There's nothing in my hand, Beth.
BETH: Yes there is! Look!
DOCTOR: (looks) I don't see anything.
BETH: It's there!
DOCTOR: Beth, we're not going to be able to make any progress until you let go of all these silly delusions. No one's persecuting you.
BETH: But...I can see's...
DOCTOR: What is, Beth? What is right here?
BETH: (uncertain) Nothing, I guess. So, ah...
DOCTOR: You were saying?
BETH: Did I ever tell you about how I'm deeply afraid of fire?
DOCTOR: No, do tell. (she reaches down into her bag)
BETH: Well, I was really mad at my parents because they wouldn't get me a horse so I declared my bedroom a separate country and passed a law saying...

(the DOCTOR mashes a hostess fruit pie into BETH's face)

DOCTOR: (bored) What, Beth?
BETH: Why did you do that?!?
DOCTOR: Beth, please sit down.
BETH: You shoved a pie in my face!
DOCTOR: Oh, I did? Well then where's the pie?
BETH: It's right here on my face!
DOCTOR: No it's not.
BETH: It is too! I can feel it! And taste it!
DOCTOR: Beth, it's often very convenient to believe that there's a pie on your face. But you can't always be taking the easy way out of situations.
BETH: I'm not...taking the easy way out! There really is...pie...
DOCTOR: Beth, you have to want to get better. I don't think your parents appreciate spending a hundred dollars an hour for you to talk about pies and pillows all day.
BETH: But...but...
DOCTOR: I'm a doctor. Would I lie to you?
BETH: No, but...
DOCTOR: Will you please sit down, then?
BETH: No. I think I'll go home now.
DOCTOR: Good. And wipe your face on the way out.
BETH: (meekly) Okay.

paranoia is a dish best served cold by marc heiden september 1998