A Double Life, by Sidney Gendin

The phone rings and I hurry to pick it up. It may be someone important and I dare not keep him waiting.

“Hello”, I try not to whisper but croak it out barely audibly.

“Is this Sidney?”

“Yes, I’m Sidney.”

“This is Dianne calling to remind you of your appointment at 10 A.M. tomorrow morning with Dr. Lordship.”

Oh, how wonderful. I think the world of Dr. Lordship. So down to earth. No airs about him. So willing to address me in the most friendly manner. All his staff does the same. Dr. Lordship is such a fine, brilliant young man. He is about 40 years old and has been a “doctor” for 10 years. He got his M.D. degree about 10 years ago, around the time I retired from being a college teacher after a 35-year career. He is magnificent and I count on him for everything. Everything.

I recall that when I first met him, I was waiting in his outer office and tinkering with the zipper on my coat and having the darndest time with it. He happened by and said, “May I help you?” I accepted his help but first asked him why he thought he would be able to free up the troublesome thing. He was a bit taken back by the question but then said, “Why, I’m a doctor.” Ah! Of course. Humbly, I permitted him to save me.

I know my place. I’m not a “real doctor”. I have a Ph.D. and I do not often call attention to that. Dr. Lordship knows I have a Ph.D. and he is, quite rightly, monumentally unimpressed. So is the rest of the world.

I make a reservation at a nice restaurant and the hostess asks, “Name, please?” and I reply, “Gendin. Sidney Gendin. A table for 2 please.” When I arrive, there is a couple ahead of me and the hostess says, “Dr. Allwise, your table is ready.” Oh, how nice! Almost thrilling. When Dr. Allwise, who I later learn retired from medicine 4 years earlier, called he introduced himself as “Dr. Allwise.” Quite right, too.

The next day, by remarkable chance, I saw a letter to the newspaper written by Dr. Allwise. It began thusly: “To the Editor: Having been a medical person for 30 years with a specialty in thoracic surgery, I am unable to fathom the foreign policy of our president who is sending men to their deaths in Iraq for no good reason.” Etc. Etc. I confess I was just a bit puzzled by this introduction to an otherwise very thoughtful letter and wondered if anybody ever started a letter like this: “To the Editor: Having been in the auto trade for 30 years with a specialty in fluid transmissions, I am unable to fathom the foreign policy….” I wiped this vulgar, audacious comparison out of my mind.

Many of my brethren, my most esteemed colleagues in philosophy, like the title “Mr.” Anything more august than that would be presumptuous, vain, superfluous, misleading, and downright laughable. Except when.

There are two exception some of them permit themselves. If they are giving talks at conferences, they seem delighted to be addressed by their peers as “Dr. Somebody Significant” and they return the favor when they respond. Second, most of the philosophers I know feel very much at ease among the 18-22 year old set and hand out syllabi that identify them as either Professor or Doctor Somebody Significant.

Several persons purport to disdain that title altogether. “What for?” they demand to know. “Who needs it? I know my worth without the trappings of pretentiousness.” I am always pleased to learn this although I know they think some people deserve the titles that mark their eminence. Mr. Disdainful always calls his physician “Doctor” and answers to the humbling “Alfred” even though his actual name is “Alfonso”. What difference does it make? He knows who he is and what his true worth is. How I envy him. He lives comfortably in his dual skin.

Not long ago I was offered to have my name put on a long list of persons who were taking out an ad in the newspaper. It said, STOP THE NUCLEAR HOLOCAUST AND IMPEACH PRESIDENT GEORGETTE SHRUB. Well, of course, I wanted to be part of this distinguished group and the cost was a mere $35. A few weeks later, the ad came out and I eagerly looked for my name. There it was: “SIDNEY GENDIN”! Nicely sandwiched between “STANLEY GADFLY, M.D.” and ‘SYLVESTER GERDEN, M.D.”. What joy to find myself the instrument of demarcation between these two most hallowed personages. I stifled the ignoble thought that being a physician was not altogether relevant to signing the petition and recalled that Dr. Allwise had prefaced his complaint about foreign policy with credential-proving experience in thoracic surgery.
100 years ago, on the occasion of my getting a degree that certified I was a Doctor of Philosophy, I received a beautiful certificate suitable for lamination and framing. I duly had both done but did not know what to do with it. Dr. Allwise had six or seven such things hanging in his inner office and three more in his outer office. Foolishly, I played with the idea of hanging mine in my office at school but I was a bit shamed at harboring such a notion. I thought to hang it above my desk at home but then I remembered visitors sometimes came by and I knew I would have to hide it, leaving a nail hole in the wall. They would know! To my everlasting mortification.

At last I have made peace with the world and more importantly with myself. This I have managed to do by forcing myself to believe in reincarnation. You can guess what I plan to be in my next life.

Dear I sign this letter this way? And do you want my [sic] credentials?

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Tammy Armstrong