Susan Jensen column: Nerd Olympian or rock star?
My first job as a physician, at age 28, was at a clinic in a small town just outside of Los Angeles. The peaceful drive out of the hectic city each morning allowed me to unwind. The patients were low key farmers.The staff were equally modest, sweet people. It was a wonderful job.
After a few months there, the office manager came into my office with great excitement, closed and locked the door and announced “we just hired a new psychiatrist from South Africa. He is a few years older than you are and he is SINGLE.” She waggled her eyebrows with the delight of a natural born matchmaker. “One thing, though, he does have red hair.”
I thought red hair was very attractive. Most of the guys I had dated until then were immigrants or the sons of immigrants, sharing my family values and work ethic, so his coming from another country was a plus. This sounded promising.
Ian and I met the following week. He was delightful. We began to eat lunch together. Unlike many psychiatrists I had met, he did not seem to have his own deep psychic wounds. He had been a promising neurosurgical resident in South Africa, and had left the violence and strife to start a better life in the U.S. Psychiatry was one of the few residencies available for foreign trained students. His cheery, upbeat personality and compassion made him a hit with the patients and staff.
Many of the single male doctors I had met in LA had been Hollywood wannabes. They went to parties at the Playboy mansion, dated aspiring actresses with breast enhancements, leased cars they could not afford.
Ian put on no airs. Over lunch the next few weeks he talked about his recent hernia surgery and weak abdominals, which one could see softly folding over his belt, though he was not fat. He was just not buff, which was almost against the law in LA. I found his lack of pretense refreshing.
He invited me to his brother’s home one Saturday afternoon, and what a lovely family he had. It seemed they really liked me and made comments as if they thought we were a couple en route to engagement. Yet we had never had a date.
Our office manager weighed in on this. “Ian is just nerdy, he needs a lot of encouragement. You, on the other hand, do not know how to flirt at all. He is waiting for the right signals from you and you are not giving them. You will have to make the first move.”
I had embraced enough of the LA lifestyle to have become a fit water aerobics instructor, but still wore minimal makeup, simple clothing and certainly did not have breast enhancements. I did not see myself as intimidating. As for the office manager’s assessment of Ian – I thought he was adorable.
Our office manager helped move things along. She arranged for us both to fly to San Francisco for 3 days to assist at a sister clinic there, whose docs were on vacation. She booked us into the same hotel. The stage was set.
We chatted amiably on the plane, got settled in the hotel and then went out to dinner at the hotel restaurant, selecting a round booth where we could sit side by side.
A glass of wine had relaxed us both. Ian sat a little closer than usual – a good sign. Suddenly, things went terribly wrong.
“It was awful having to leave South Africa so suddenly, I barely escaped with my life” Ian began. He then launched into his back story.
His father ran the most liberal newspaper in South Africa and had been a vocal critic of apartheid. Ian had voiced similar liberal views. Unfortunately, since he was a well known rock star, his liberal views were on public display – a dangerous thing in South Africa at that time. Ian fled in the middle of the night, the police one step behind. He ran away to India where he spent time working with Mother Teresa at the hospital for the Destitute and Dying.
Hold it! Well known rock star??? Ian?? An acolyte of Mother Teresa? “Oh yes, I was in a band, playing lead guitar and saxophone in a group called Love n’ Leather. We dressed in black leather. My best friend was a famous South African dwarf. He married a beautiful regular sized dancer. Their kids had a 50-50 chance of being a dwarf and alas, his son came out a dwarf, too.
“We had a ton of groupies and even held contests about how many women we could sleep with in a week. I had a lot of meaningless sex and led a crazy life. My time with Mother Teresa really helped me get back to my core values.
“bluegrass, country, punk, pop melodies, folk, rock and roll, honky tonk, and ragtimWhen I came to LA I lived with my brother and met a porn star at a party. We dated for months and I helped her feel really loved and valued by a man for once. But she was not someone I could be serious about. I have not dated in almost a year. I’m ready to stop living like a monk and get into a really serious relationship.”
This latter was said encouragingly, yet did not garner the response Ian hoped for. I was in shock. The man I thought I might marry was a psychotic liar. Into the silence stepped Ian with some reassuring details: “I was immature in South Africa, grooved on all the girls throwing their panties at me on stage. I’ve had a lot of tests – thank goodness I am free of V.D. I’m ready for monogamy and marriage.”
If there were a Nerd Olympics, Ian would make the South African team. He looked the opposite of whatever men look like who get panties thrown at them. It was understandable to be apprehensive around a girl you really liked when you were socially inexperienced, and perhaps exaggerate one’s dating history a bit. But to make up such unbelievable stories??
I shifted in the booth, away from Ian, as he warbled on cheerfully – the brain surgeries he had performed without assistance as a first year resident, the experiences with Mother Teresa, out of body experiences with famous yogis in India, the outrageous lies went on and on.
We went back upstairs, my heart heavy with disappointment. My cool behavior the rest of the trip was clearly puzzling to Ian.
We stayed friends, and Ian joined a dating service. He met a nice gal and they became engaged. I was invited to the engagement party at Ian’s new home.
As soon as I walked into the entryway of Ian’s home, a dwarf greeted me, with his statuesque mother at his side. “Hallo! we managed to make it to the States so we could attend Ian’s big do. Gee whiz, we never thought that party animal would settle down.” Walking through the hall, there were photos of Ian with Mother Teresa, in back breaking yogi poses in India, in rural areas of South Africa with impoverished patients. A very attractive woman joined the group – you guessed it – she was the ex porn actress. It had all been true.
Since then I have had many interesting adventures. I try to avoid mentioning too many in the same conversation.
Dr. Susan Jensen lives in Salisbury with her family.