LB: Live! From Paradise #216 “The Old Billionaire’s Prognosis”

(Image from the intro to this column's previous web incarnation)

by Larry Brody

A few weeks ago I filled this space with the joyous news that the Old Billionaire was back among what he himself would call “those passing for sane.”

He was taking meds that eased his anger and made it possible for him to communicate with the rest of us without going ballistic about something that seemed like nothing to anyone else.

Since then the two of us have spent time together almost every day, immersing ourselves in friendship “before,” as the O.B. put it, “I lose myself again.”

We’ve talked more than a little about his condition, which may not in fact be dementia but, in his words, “just plain, old-fashioned bi-polar disorder, according to some of the big shots I’ve been flying around to be prodded and poked by.

“Then there’s still other fancy MDs who say that what I am is schizophrenic. One shrink said that in front of another who was part of the Bi-Polar Posse, and Dr. Bi-Polar got so red in the face that he looked like the crazy one. Except then Dr. Schizzy started ranting and it was pretty clear that he wasn’t exactly your normal human being either.

“If I was still running my company,” the Old Billionaire continued, “you can bet that neither one of those geniuses would’ve gotten on, or stayed on, the payroll. And one of ’em wanted me to build him his own hospital wing!”

“You’ve always got a theory about things, O.B.,” I said. “What’s your theory about yourself now?”

He regarded me mischievously. “Well, I like the point of view that this kid from Hollywood gave me. The idea that as lost as I am about what’s real and what’s not, this is how lost I’ve always been.”

“I said that?”

“Sure you did,” said the O.B. “Because you’re as nuts as I am. When you look at me, you see your own future, and because you’re just about the most optimistic, hopeful person that ever waltzed obliviously across this infuriating and mortally dangerous planet, you’ll probably get to where I am and go, ‘Wow! I’m so out of it I can’t even remember what to use toilet paper for! Isn’t that grand?!'”

I started to protest. The Old Billionaire held up his hand.

“No point in arguing about it,” he said. “Now that the meds take away my deepest downs, I kind of get into that place too once in awhile. And it’s not a bad place at all.

“But sure, I’ve got a theory about all this. My theory is that anybody who says, ‘Life is an illusion’ is somebody who’s never lived. Life is real as can be. But it’s subject to interpretation.

“When we’re babies we’re closer to what’s ‘really real.’ As we get older everybody around us teaches us the common, accepted version of ‘real.’ But when we get still older our brains start hitting on different cylinders and we’re back to the beginning again. We have to reinterpret and find new ways to understand what’s going on.”

“So when you said you remembered two different pasts, one where you had an affair with your assistant and one where you didn’t, you meant that literally?”

“Ah! I knew you’d find a way to get to that!” He laughed. “Some reality this is, where my marital fidelity—or not—has become the most interesting part of my life!

“Have to admit, though, that it’s the most important thing to Nettie and me too. I’ve been trying to explain to her that all of us go traipsing around through thousands of realities everyday. Making every decision possible. So the likelihood is that I actually have gone both ways. I’ve been loyal and…not.”

“What’s she say to that?”

“My wife’s a wonderful woman, Larry B. She started out fighting me, but lately she’s been wrapping her head around this whole situation, and it’s a mightily capable head, yessiree. Came up with her own theory, that the cheating O.B.’s in another dimension, and me, I’m the one who stayed true. And now we’re getting along almost as good as ever.”

“You’re a lucky man, O.B.,” I said.

“Absolutely,” he said.

Then his smile faded.

“Now all I’ve got to do is keep her away from the shrinks who say my problems come from being angry at myself. Because Nettie’ll know better than anybody that the only thing could make me that furious would be if I really did betray us both.”

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