I play this game, every time I rinse out a soup bowl, or a cereal bowl. Leave the spoon in
the bowl, swirl it, slosh it, tip it. I can’t quit until the scalloped end of the spoon teeters on the
edge of the ceramic lip and the skinny handle flops over the side and rests in the strainer. I love
the high pitched scrapping sound the spoon makes tracing the edge of the bowl and the sharp
metallic clang when the handle lands in the strainer at that impossible angle.
I play this game over and over. Again and again. It started as a need to drown out a
lingering, early morning problem. It carries on. Too long. Midday. Late afternoon.
Some problems never go away.
Acting Out / Quinn / 1
Dr. Thiebold can explain it. I can’t.
I just know it’s wrong. That I can tell you.
I can tell you about, how, when I was little, I went to school. Franklin Ave School, in
Franklin Lakes. Who in their right mind is going to repeat something like that? Franklin Ave
School, in Franklin Lakes. I can’t even say it out loud.
Repetition is one of those problems that never goes away.
The bowl game started when father left us. Me and Mother.
“How did this happen?”, Mother said, in tears, sitting hunched over the kitchen table,
pressing a towel against her forehead.
“How did this happen?”, she said again.
I watched her leaning over the sink, running some water into the towel.
“Oh God. How did this happen?”
At first it didn’t bother me. The woman, was, after all, asking a question. Asking no one
in particular, mostly just herself.
But then I couldn’t listen to it anymore so I went to the cupboard, made myself some
Acting Out / Quinn / 2
“Martin,” Dr. Thiebold says, in his raspy smoker’s voice.
I ignore him.
He gets annoyed when I don’t respond. Make him repeat himself. I love that.
“Martin,” he says again.
We both sit in silence for a time. Thiebold, in his club chair, staring down at me on the
floor. I’m in the corner sitting Indian style, leaning against the wall, cradling my backpack in the
triangle formed by my knees and my crotch.
Thiebold tries to hide his annoyance. I’m not looking at him. I hear him though, exhaling
through his nose, through all that hair that trails down into his mustache. I know he’s going to
repeat himself. Say my name again, a third time.
I’ll just wait.
The kitchen spout is mounted on the end of a metallic hose. The hose is wrapped in a
ribbed metal sheath that glides into the body of the faucet. It’s counterweighted. Sometimes I
pull the thing out as far as it will go then release it. The ribs scrape along the faucet like a Slinky
making its way down the stairs. I listen for the weight to thump deep inside the cabinet beneath
Mostly I just play the bowl game.
Acting Out / Quinn / 3
Mother pretended to take father’s sudden departure in stride.
“Oh Jim?”, she would say, as if his disappearance had only just occurred to her.
“Oh Jim?”, she would say, at lawn parties, and on pancake Sunday in the church’s new
linoleum tiled meeting room, “he’s away on business.”
“Business? I thought he was a house painter?”
“He was,” she’d say, “only now he’s not.”
Mother always cut a problem off at the onset.
Dr. Thiebold sits in his chair, leg crossed, toes forward, bouncing his right foot up and
down, up and down. It’s a repetitive action.
I stare at the wall. Ignore him. Raise the backpack, every so slightly. Feel the heft of it.
Squeeze it with my legs. Let it fall to the floor.
Thiebold gives two quick ankle kicks, a third…and then, nothing. Silence. It’s like being
in fucking prison communicating via heat pipes, shutting up when the screws pass by.
I could put an end to this. I could grab that yellow pad of his, the one with all the notes on
it. I could crush the pages in my fist, wave it in his face, then jump up and down, whooping and
hollering. That would teach him. That would make him say my name.
Instead I sit. I wait.
Acting Out / Quinn / 4
Father always wore his overalls at the dinner table. White, paint spattered, bib overalls.
He’d unfasten the button loops and let the bib part flop down, expose his fat belly.
“I wish you’d close that thing up,” Mother would say, “we’re eating dinner.”
Father would grunt, eat his meal, elbow on the table, fork held high pointing down. It
looked like one of those long necked water birds, a fowl or somethin’, on the edge of a pond
shooting its beak into the water. He’d twirl the pasta, tip his head back, and lower the noodles
into his mouth.
“What’s it to ya?”, he said, chewing.
“It would be nice to eat like civilized human beings for once,” Mother said, anger rising
in her voice. ‘That’s all. Only animals eat bent over double with nothing to say.”
“Martin.” Thiebold, finally says it. “Tell me about your father.”
I refuse to speak.
“Tell me about him. What sort of man was he? Did you enjoy his company? What kind of
things did you do together?”
I’m far away…picturing him. He’s driving that beat up van of his, or piling stacks of
canvas drop cloths in back. Pulling loose dollars and bits of change out of his pockets, trying to
buy some gasoline. Cursing and swearing that time the van coughed and died on the side of the
Acting Out / Quinn / 5
We never talked much. Never once played pool, or went fishing. Mostly he worked, came
home, drank beer, watched TV.
He was a fat ugly man, I wanna tell him.
Thiebold waits, silent. Bounces that foot.
“I’ve seen him in the shower,” I say, testing him. “He’s only got one ball.”
Thiebold never shows any reaction. He writes a lot, on that yellow pad of his. He’s got
spindly script, very cramped. No doubt he’s writing seen him in the shower at this very moment.
He’s writing that down. One ball.
Father’s paints are still piled up in the garage. The bay is full of’em. Stacked up. No
reason. No pattern. Just piled up. Quarts on top of half gallons. Half gallons on their sides.
I like the garage. It’s all so random.
The cans have hardened paint tracks running down their sides. Little rivulets frozen in
time. They’re like road signs. They tell you what color’s inside, if it’s flat, or maybe eggshell.
When Father was still around I’d go into the garage and find the freshest cans of paint,
trace the tracks down their sides, pop the little bulbs of thick half-dry paint at the end of the
rivulets with the tip of my finger. I loved the feel of the sticky white splotches that formed on the
underside of my finger.
That was all before. Before I learned to balance the spoon on the lip of the bowl and plant
the handle in the drain. Before I learned to love the clattering sound in the strainer and the
Acting Out / Quinn / 6
counterweight thumping in the cabinet.
“Animal?”, Father said. “So now I’m an animal?”
Mother glared at him. “You eat like an animal,” she said, “and you treat me even worse.”
Father stopped chewing, threw his fork down on his plate. “I’m an animal now, and I
don’t treat you right? Is that it?”
“Go upstairs Martin,” Mother said, not even looking at me.
Father stood up, straddled his chair.
“Upstairs!”, she screamed, “now!”
I didn’t. I stayed right where I was, in my chair.
Father grabbed his dinner plate and hurled it at Mother’s head. She tried to cover up,
raised her arms just as the plate struck her forehead and opened a nasty gash above her left eye.
The plate crashed to the floor, broke into a hundred pieces. Sauce everywhere.
I’d never seen so much blood.
Thiebold drinks Diet Coke. Gallons of it. It’s a diuretic. The man must have a bladder the
size of Montana. He drinks from a big tinkling glass full of ice.
“Marrrr…tin,” he says, drawing my name out.
I could tell him all about the night Father left us. I picture it. Run it through my head over
Acting Out / Quinn / 7
and over. The blood was fascinating. It dribbled down the side of Mother’s face, slowly at first, a
trickle. A few droplets hit the floor. Then the flow increased and the blood began to run. It ran
down her cheek, seeped into her hair, channeled in the grout between the tiles.
Father, that pig, stood over her. Pulled the bib up over his fat belly, slipped the hoops
back over the metallic studs. He squatted down, studied the gash, the blood, Mother’s pale face,
and started humming. Humming. A deep, surging, painful sound. He was focused on that sound,
trying to ignore the hurt he’d caused. Maybe it was the only thing that kept him from hurting her
I watched it all from my seat. Silent. A bystander. One step removed.
He straightened up, kicked a chair out of the way. The legs scraped across the floor. The
chair fell over backward with a crash. He looked at me, turned, and walked out. Left. Vanished.
Through the back door.
I just sat, watched him leave.
Mother took a job in the shoe store. Mr. Antonito owned it. A little run down place,
narrow, next to the Five and Dime. We’d been shopping there my whole life.
“Mrs. Henderson!”, Mr. Antonito said when we walked in.
Mother nodded, very solemn. “I’ve come,” she said, looking him straight in the eye,
“looking for work.”
By then, no doubt, my father’s disappearance was all over town.
Acting Out / Quinn / 8
I think Mr. Antonito felt sorry for us. He knew we needed help.
“Of course,” he said, adjusting his tie. “And what timing too! I was just saying to myself,
‘after all these years alone, maybe it’s time to hire a salesperson’. You Mrs. Henderson would be
the perfect fit!”
Attonito is a squirrelly little man, short, bald headed, a loner, never needed anybody’s
help until the day my mother came in looking for work.
News travels fast.
I got a job in SuperRite. Stuffin’ bags. We’d get a break every morning, ten minutes.
Lunch, half an hour. I spent my weekends at the end of a checkout line listening to wizened old
hags tell me how to do my job.
“Don’t put the eggs on the bottom,” they’d say, dogging my every move. “Wrap that meat
up in a plastic bag of its own.”
I didn’t pay them any attention, just filled up my bags.
Milk, juice, eggs. Grab another bag, wave it, fast, in the air, pop it open. Milk, juice,
eggs. Grab another bag. Made me wanna barf.
Jason worked the checkout next to mine, we always worked side by side. One time a new
kid, Arthur, came in, figured he was gonna man my line.
Jason and I snapped a few bags of our own in his face, worked him over pretty good. The
kid screamed, made some ungodly sounds, backed away in terror. Mr. Patterson, the store
manager told us the kid had a problem with sounds. The kid was afraid of sounds. We Googled
Acting Out / Quinn / 9
it. It’s called misophonia or some crap.
Patterson put him to work on a different register. Veronica’s register.
Veronica and me always had this thing. Unspoken. She’d flash her dark eyes my way,
pump me that saucy smile. I was always cool about it. All James Dean. Strong, silent. She’d give
me that come-on look at the oddest times, like right before school let out, right when the place
was busiest. All the moms squeezing in a SuperRite run just before they it was time to pick up
their snot nosed kids after school.
“There she goes again,” I told Jason, cocking my head in her direction. “Look at her,
she’s leading me on again.”
Jason wasn’t paying me any attention. A woman had shown up in his line dragging two
cartloads of shit. Pushing one, dragging the other. She looked like she was gettin’ drawn and
quartered. Jason had that look in his eye like he was about to go off, get himself into trouble.
“Double wrap everything,” the woman said, breathless, starting to unload, “paper first
then plastic, that way nothing will fall out.”
Jason took his time. Normally he flies, moves his line along like his life depends on it. I
watched him pop a bag. Load red peppers and iceberg lettuce on the bottom, then pile cans of
peas, string beans, mushrooms, and cat food on top. No plastic safety wrap. He couldn’t be
The woman stoped unloading, looked at him, “Young man,” she said, “I told you to
double wrap the paper bags in plastic.”
Now I’m gettin’ steamed. Shit like that gets to me. It’s clear. Jason’s just not going to
double wrap her crap in plastic. There’s no need for her to repeat it. We heard it the first time. It’s
like sayin’ Franklin Lakes School in Franklin Lakes, only even more disconcerting.
Acting Out / Quinn / 10
Jason stopped bagging. He’d had enough. Looked at her, smashed a half-gallon carton of
SunnyD orange juice against the front end of her cart. The seam split and the juice flew in all
directions. Soaked the front of her dress and the paper bag full of groceries he’d packed.
This didn’t have to happen. If he’d just wrapped the paper in plastic the way she asked
the whole thing would have blown over. Things would never have gotten so crazy. He never
would’ve smashed the carton. Never would have soaked her with that crappy SunnyD juice.
Maybelle, working Jason’s register, grabbed the phone and blasted out an overhead
announcement. “Mr. Patterson, Mr. Patterson, register six please, register six. Stat!”
Stat was code, it meant something really bad was happening.
Patterson showed up all anxious, keys jangling on his hip.
Jason was still holding the dribbling carton of SunnyD, looking vague, unfocused.
Patterson took it all in; his customer in shock, Jason in some far off place, bouncing the
empty carton against the cart.
“Jason,” Mr. Patterson said quietly, “Jason, please, let’s put that juice down. Then you
and me take a walk to my office.”
Mr. Antonito and Mother hit it off real good.
Mother was a crackerjack saleswoman. She entertained the kids, pressed their mothers to
buy shoes. More shoes than they ever needed.
“Ahh, yes,” she’d say, “I remember when my son Martin was your boy’s age. Martin
loved to play in the culvert down the street. He and his friends used to go frog hunting. He’d
Acting Out / Quinn / 11
come home with his sneakers soaked, covered in mud. Smelly? Whew! That water was nasty!
The only way I could keep him looking presentable was get two pair of sneakers, one to play in,
the other for school.
“And Sundays? My oh my! He loved to play tag in the parking lot after mass. His church
shoes were always scuffed up. One time Father Frank pulled me aside, told me he’d overhead
some of the other mothers bad mouthing him, saying ‘their sons would never be caught dead
wearing shoes as old and beaten up as that Henderson boy’s.’”
In time she had to change the stories.
I played way too much kickball in middle school, Red Rover too. Had a penchant for
kicking cans. Dropped kicked a squirrel one time. Followed policemen, on horseback, so I could
score horse apple field goals.
In the kitchen, eating Mac’n Cheese, I told Mother all about the SunnyD incident. All
about the woman, her shopping carts full of shit, and Jason spraying juice all over her.
“Dr. Thiebold calls that ‘acting out’,” she told me.
“Yes, that’s when a child,” she said, slowly, convincingly, then suddenly corrected
herself, “when a person has trouble understanding, or accepting something, and can’t express
what he or she wants or needs. It usually happens when they’re very young, when they haven’t
learned to speak yet, can’t express themselves. They ‘act out’ to get their parent’s attention, to get
their way. But it can also happen with adults.”
Acting Out / Quinn / 12
“But Jason’s parents are dead,” I reminded her.
“Yes,” she said.
“Since last spring. You know that. Since the accident.”
“Yes dear,” she said, quietly, in that same tone she uses when somebody calls her out
about Father’s disappearance. “It’s not literal. His parents don’t really have to be there, like that.
Jason is having trouble understanding, accepting, that his parents are gone. He’s expressing that
I thought it over.
She turned her head slightly, looked at me.
“Do you understand baby?”
We talked about it on our break.
“That bitch never knew what hit her!”, I said, sitting up against the brick wall behind
SuperRite, tossing tiny bits of loose macadam at the high grasses that sprouted up in the empty
“Put the paper in plastic,” I said, high pitched, whining, following up with forced
“That fat bitch!”, Jason said.
We both go quiet, throw some more black pebbles.
“My Mother says you’re ‘acting out’,” I told him.
Acting Out / Quinn / 13
“Yeah. She says you’re trying to ‘understand things’, only you can’t. So you ‘act up’.”
“What kinda’ crap is that?”, Jason said.
“She says you need to learn to express yourself better.”
Jason stoped throwing macadam.
“So whaddya think?”, I say.
“That’s bullshit,” he told me.
“No,” I told him, “about Veronica.”
He didn’t get it. “Veronica…and me,” I said, getting angry.
“Veronica? Shit. She don’t even know you’re alive.”
“Yeah, right,” I said, challenging him. “You seen the way she looks at me. Turns her head
over her shoulder like that, she’s givin’me the eye.”
“She ain’t givin’ you the eye. She ain’t givin’ nobody the eye.”
“Bullshit,” I told him. “It’s like she’s sayin’ ‘come on over here and talk to me’.”
“She’s not sayin’ nothin’. She’s just got her eye on the clock.”
“The clock. On the wall. Behind us. At the deli counter. She’s makin’ sure she doesn’t
miss her next break.”
Acting Out / Quinn / 14
Mother got more hours at the shoe store.
“Mr. Antonito appreciates me greatly,” she told me.
I thought he was creepy. Always wore a sweater and a tie. Tried to hide his baldness.
Combed these long stringy hairs across his head.
He started visiting us at the house. He’d show up for dinner with a bottle of wine in a
paper sack. I didn’t mind it so much at first. Mother always baked a chicken when Mr. Antonito
came over to visit.
“Your mother tells me you’re upset,” Thiebold says.
What an ass.
Upset? I should get up and slap him. Or maybe smash one of his precious pictures, the
one of his simpering wife and his little rat dog. That’d get a rise outta him. He’d get all angry,
turn beet red, light up another Pall Mall.
Smoking is bad for you doc, I’d tell him, straight up, right before I kicked over his floor
lamp. It wouldn’t swish or spin like a spoon in a bowl but it’d make a hell of a racket. The big
glass shade would smash against his mahogany desk. He’d be so mad he’d get up outta his chair
and scream at me. end the session right then and there.
“But our times not up,” I’d say to him, real slow, restrained.
He wouldn’t say another word. No more questions about my father, or the way I’m
feeling. He’d have to pick up all the broken glass, one sharp, glittering piece at a time, drop them
in his lunch bag, the one sits on the corner of his desk. The first shard would make a popping
Acting Out / Quinn / 15
noise in the bottom of the empty bag. The paper’d flex, like a drum, a tiny drum. Arnold
Thiebold, Doctor of Psychiatric Medicine…carries his lunch to work in a brown paper bag. Go
I found his sweater draped over the sofa. A wine glass on the floor.
Mother’s bedroom door was shut. Very out of the ordinary.
We have six bowls. All plain white. Mother says they’re “nested” in the cabinet. The
silverware is stored in a pullout drawer. The drawer sticks, needs a good strong tug to get it open.
Everything bounces around. Spoons. Knives. Forks. Very noisy.
Antonito was in the bathroom.
I opened a box of Cheerios, poured them into my bowl. The little oat rings plinked
against the white ceramic. It’s noisy at first, but quiets down as the bowl fills up. I ate my cereal,
cold, crunchy, listened to the unmistakable sound of urine released from man height.
Mother appeared, stepped out of the bedroom in her nightgown. Not the sweatpants she
usually wears. Not the T-shirt with the sad-eyed puppy on the front. A nightgown, all frills and
The toilet flushed. Antonito appeared. He was embarrassed, uncomfortable.
Mother stepped over to the sink, not speaking, reached for the kettle, ran water into the
black spout, smiled at Antonito.
“Cereal?”, she said.
I was done, carried my bowl to the sink, opened up the tap. The water flowed into the
Acting Out / Quinn / 16
bowl, down one side, across the bottom, up and over the opposite side. I liked to watch it wash
the last clingy rings over the side. They pile up in the strainer. I swish, and swirl, watch the
spoon spin. adjust the flow until it’s just a slow moving trickle. A trickle like the blood running
down mother’s face. The rings washing into the strainer look like those first drops that hit the
Father stood up, left Mother lying on the floor that day. Stopped his humming. in truth, I
didn’t stay in my chair that morning. I didn’t sit far removed. I stood up, lunged at him. Tried to
stop him from leaving. He smacked me. I grabbed him, threw my arms around his waist, pressed
my face against his dirty overalls.
He pushed me off, smacked me again, harder, threw me aside, down to the floor. Mother
lay there beside me, face to face, only inches apart, the gash on her head open, bleeding.
The water mixes with the last of the milk in the bowl. Makes little patterns of color.
The blood ran between the tiles that day. It was bright red at first, turned brown as it
dried. I watched it. It moved very slowly. A skin formed as it dried.
The spoon spins wildly in the bowl, squeaking and scraping. I can control that sound.
More water, less noise. Less water, more noise.
I know I should have reached out, comforted her. Instead I listened to the door slam
behind me, Father leaving us forever. Instead I traced the blood flow with my finger. Sluiced it
along in the gap between the tiles. I liked the way it left a sticky red spot on the tip of my finger.
Mr. Antonito was very polite. Made small talk, the weather. Seemed to enjoy his meal.
When he was done he carried his bowl to the sink, ready to rinse.
I couldn’t get it right. The spoon kept falling out of the bowl. It was hitting the strainer
OK, but kept falling out of the bowl. I couldn’t catch the edge, stick the angle.
Acting Out / Quinn / 17
“Martin,” mother said, Antonito watching me.
Me trying, again, and again. I adjusted the flow, tried to get it right.
“Martin, let Mr. Antonito use the sink,” she told me.
One more time. One more spin. More scraping. The spoon clattered into the sink.
It’s not easy to balance the spoon on the edge of the bowl. Takes a lot of practice to land
“How much time did you spend in the sink today?”, Dr. Thiebold asks.
Acting Out / Quinn / 18
Martin Henderson… narrator
Dr. Arnold Thiebold
Jason…works at SuperRite w/Martin
Mr. Patterson… manager at SuperRite
Veronica … the woman Martin is sweet on
Father Frank… at the church (tells about shoes)
Mr. Attonito… owns shoe shop
She was then referred to a psychiatrist whom later, after a thorough psychiatric evaluation,
diagnosed the girl with phonophobia based on the DSM-IV criteria for specific phobia (2). She
had two weekly therapy sessions which included psycho-education for both parents and
patient, relaxation exercises and graded exposure behavioural therapy. Psycho-education
allows the patient to ventilate her problems, and the parents to cope with anger and frustration
and subsequently participate in the child’s behaviour intervention. Relaxation techniques
involved breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxations. Graded exposure
desensitisation started with the least provoking stimulus at first, for example drawing a
smiling balloon and then drawing a bursting balloon. After the child was comfortable with
this, the stimulus was then increased to bursting inflated balloons in the clinic and at home
with parents acting as a co-therapist. Each successful session was rewarded accordingly. The
child showed tremendous improvement in her symptoms after 3 months of therapy. Gradually,
the child was brought to public places (e.g., a restaurant) and finally was brought again to
watch a fireworks show, with no resulting complications after 6 months of therapy.
Hyperacusis and phonophobia are two subjective phenomena that sometimes are
indistinguishable, as their descriptions very much rely on information from the patient. The
definition of both can also be confusing, and in many medical publications, the terms
hyperacusis and phonophobia have been used in the same context. The definition of
hyperacusis put forth by Jastreboff and Hazell has been widely accepted (1). They stated that
Acting Out / Quinn / 19
hyperacusis is an abnormal sound sensitivity arising from within the auditory system, either
peripheral or central. This may explain why there should be some abnormality in the
audiological examinations or investigations noted with true hyperacusis (3). However, they
went on to suggest that decreased sound tolerance consists not only of hyperacusis; it also
consists of a fear of sound known as phonophobia or a strong dislike of sound called
misophonia. Jastreboff and Hazell describe a patient with misophonia or phonophobia as
having abnormally strong reactions of the limbic and autonomic nervous systems but do not
involve a significant activation of the auditory system, as hyperacusis does. Phonophobia, to
them, is an extreme form of misophonia. Based on this description, misophonia and
phonophobia can therefore arise from hyperacusis and may not be totally different entities
parent children relationships
To be sure, there are parent-child interaction patterns that we know lead to a higher
instance of behavior problems – usually the techniques we would call “harsh
discipline.” Parents who end up making threat after threat, who engage in physical
discipline, or who frequently criticize their children often see more behavior problems.
But the issue we see most often is parents who believe their child’s behavior
problems must be the result of their actions or some mistake in discipline, like being
too harsh or too permissive. The reality is it can happen to anybody, and we want to
re-establish a balance between nurture and structure in effectively managing
behavior. We see parents who have what seems to be flawless parenting strategies
with one child in a family, and through no fault of their own, the other child has just
stumbled upon ways of coping with stress or with their emotions that become
impairing and disruptive over time. Parenting is just a part of what goes into a child’s
behavior patterns; but parent behavior is adjustable, so it’s one of the most powerful
tools we have.
Brian Quinn is a TV News Journalist living in Manhattan who Spent 30 years covering news in this city, also traveling overseas. Many of his pieces are driven by my news experiences.