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the day I lost a van full of sex addicts in an art museum

April 9, 2011

In the early 90’s I was freshly divorced and dodging earthquakes in the L.A. area.

I had an advantage over other Angelenos in housing stability.  My abode, a Ford

Econoline van, had decent shock absorbers.  I was sleeping in the parking lot of

the psych hospital where I was working nights.


At the risk of ruining my sleeping arrangements, I eventually took a 32/40 position.

That was a great situation.  By working a double shift on Saturday, taking one shift

off and returning for another double Sunday, I got 40 hours pay.


My assignment was on the sex addicts unit.  I had no idea what to expect my first

day, but got a hint as soon as I walked on the floor.  One of the patients was playing

Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love” in his room.  Shortly after that, I was talking

to 5 of them in a group room.  One of them said “Show of hands.  Who else here has

(dated) a dog?”


Three of the other patients put their hands up.  One of them said to me “You didn’t

raise your hand.”  I answered “I don’t get out much.”  They all laughed and my job

got a lot easier.


Sex addicts are model patients.  I had become accustomed to working with surly

street people, demanding borderlines and alcoholics in total denial.  Sex addicts

are smart, funny and highly motivated.  And, of course, they have some fantastic

stories.  One chap had spent 14 hours straight on a phone sex line.  One woman

changed lovers more often than she changed shoes.  One 20-year-old man was

there because he masturbated 3 times a week.  I’m not sure why he stopped by.


When a patient checked in, it was policy to have them strip down to their under-

wear in front of a same-sex staff member to note any bruises, cuts and such for

liability purposes.  When I asked a gay man to do just that, he dropped his drawers

before I could tell him that wasn’t necessary.


Suddenly he had his butt cheeks spread with his … um … ah … “third eye” right in

front of me.  “I suppose you’ll want to see this,” he incorrectly assumed, “I’ve had

more than 3000 anonymous encounters with it.”


Instinct told me not to look directly at it, but beyond that I didn’t know what to do.

Being a mental health professional, I fought off the urge to make any cheap cracks.

And I certainly didn’t want to say anything that could be construed as complimen-

tary, like “It looks fine to me”.  I settled on “Okay, done” and he covered his butt

again, much as I’d just covered mine.


Another way sex addicts differ from most other patients is that many of them are

quite successful.  I was working with doctors, lawyers, executives, artists, airline

pilots and members of the clergy.  As a group, they weren’t inclined to listen to a

$12-an-hour psych assistant.


This was never more apparent than the day our Sunday outing was to the J. Paul

Getty Villa in Malibu.  Getty, an oil tycoon, became one of the first humans to make

a billion dollars.  In the 50’s he guessed that there might be petroleum along the

Saudi Arabia-Kuwait border.  He started snapping up land in the Mideast.  As he

wryly observed, “The meek shall inherit the earth, but not the mineral rights.”


He built the Villa near his home to house his collection of 44,000 Greek, Roman and

Etruscan antiquities.  He never set foot on the grounds.


I drove a van with 8 to 10 patients to the museum, stressing to them that we didn’t

have much time and would have to stay together.  We hit the front door as a group.

Remember when I told you the crab story?  Same thing happened.  Once inside,

they scattered like those pesky crustaceans.


The entire time we had alloted for the visit I spent tracking them down one by one,

gathering them in one spot, regathering them, then re-regathering them.  Dashing

around the museum, I got a glimpse of  Victorious Youth, one of the few life-sized

Greek bronze statues extant.  I ran past the Roman sculpture Lansdowne Heracles

and the imposing Marbury Hall Zeus, a statue recovered from the ruins of Tivoli

in Rome.


I zipped past jewelry, coin and book collections.  I paused to catch my breath at the

kouros, an over-life-sized statue of a young man described as “Greek, about 530 B.C.,

or modern forgery”.  Honestly, I just didn’t have the time to decide which it was.  I

suppose I could have also stopped briefly at the Etruscan pottery, but it was broken

into shards.  Why couldn’t the Etruscans make more durable ceramics?


I finally got the guys rounded up and they all had a good time on the drive back to

the hospital, laughing at my leadership skills.  I didn’t care.  They had behaved

otherwises, unless they were the ones who broke the pottery.

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