The other day I asked my very young psychologist how old he is.
“Wait,” I stop him from answering, “I'm afraid you're going to say something like, 'Fourteen...' and i'm going to be faced with the disquieting fact that the person most responsible for my mental health is Doogie Howser.”
He looks at me blankly.
“You do not know who Doogie Howser is,” I say.
“Who is Doogie Howser?” he smiles, a bit too casually.
“Okay...he's not a culturally-significant icon – even in the broadest sense of that term. You don't have to know who Doogie Howser is in order for us to move deeper into our therapeutic relationship. Still...I sense we need a touchstone, some common point of reference to ground our work together when things get...'woo-woo'. Do you know who Marlene Dietrich was?”
He does not know that this is a general go-to question of mine used to determine cultural intelligence in those gay men quite a bit younger than myself (He is gay). For the record (if anyone is keeping a record), I cannot claim that the standards which I employ to determine cultural intelligence could be considered in any way to be high standards. In response to my question, he shakes his head slowly and sideways in a stultified “no” and I realize with no small (nor concealed) mix of disdain and judgmental pity that he no only does not know who Marlene Dietrich was but that he would not know Marlene Dietrich from a toaster oven if he had them both side by side in front of him.
“Okay,” I say, throwing him a much-needed, and merciful, bone, “Let's try a different approach. How do you feel about Britney Spears?”
“Oh, I loved her in middle school...” he smiles broadly and with hope that is misplaced at best.
“I see...” I say, rising sadly from the IKEA chair he has no doubt chosen himself, “We have to stop. Perhaps we can pick up here next week (perhaps not, I think to myself). Gliding elegantly to the door, I thank him beatifically, sadly dismissing him as yet another young gay man who had to endure the type of unfortunate upbringing as to make him all too intimately acquainted with an entertainer the caliber of Britney Spears and not at all (and to my way of understanding the world, necessarily) familiar with the vintage doyennes of Hollywood royalty.
“'Till we meet again...!” I say, wistfully taking his hand, in my best attempt at evoking “The Scarlet Empress” or “Shanghai Express” or even “Destry Rides Again”. He offers a polite but clearly confused smile and retrieves his hand, both gestures confirming that he thinks I am coming on to him.
Date of writing: October 2013
Image of Marlene Dietrich cropped by TonyPolar