Welcome to the Moment of Truth, the thirst that is the drink.
When we last left our fictional protagonist, Dr. Dave Pitkis, the Dr. Drew Pinsky doppelganger of this four-part roman à clef, a radio producer in LA had just had an idea to pair medical advice with adolescent stoner commentary.
Mel Kinolla was in heavy rotation on off nights and as an opener at the Laugh Factory comedy club on Sunset, just a block or two east of the strip proper. Let’s face it, everything east of the Chateau Marmont is not really the strip. You can’t say Zankou Chicken is on the strip.
Kinolla was a real workhorse. He had a palette of embarrassing real-life situations he put to good use, or harnessed into service, as one of those self-deprecating comics. Paired with Dr. Dave on the radio show, which was now broadcast out of LA with the name "Dopeline," and for which both were paid, Mel spoke with the voice of the regular guy who understood the stupid urges of teenagers and probably would have been in the same mess as many of them if he'd had the opportunity or the balls when he was their age. Dr. Dave would warn Mel of the dangers of this or that behavior, however fun it might seem on TV or in Grand Theft Auto or in the sexy mass- cultural mythology, and give the teenager under scrutiny advice on how to get out of the mess he or she was in. And Mel would say something like, "Still, I wouldn't mind hittin' some of that. Sounds like James here has it pretty good, diddling two broads." And Dr. Dave would say, "No no no. You really don't want to do that. Not without a condom, and not with a minor."
By teenager, incidentally, I mean to include the numerous twenty-somethings who called in with the emotional problems of teenagers. The mean age of the callers rose and fell, but their median emotional age hovered at around sixteen.
Dr. Dave was the name he went by, as he does to this day. He was called Dr. Dave even when he testified before a Congressional Committee on the advantages of treatment-based approaches to fighting illegal drug use as opposed to the punitive kind favored by the "smaller government" mentality that had come into vogue in Washington. "Punishment doesn't cure addiction and so ultimately does nothing to shrink demand for illicit drugs," Dr. Dave testified. "Under what other circumstances do we punish someone for being sick? You can't punish the measles out of someone, that person is still going to spread the measles."
A word about Dr. Dave's charitable attitude toward addicts at his stage in his degradation: an ex- girlfriend of mine's best friend was friends with a cousin of Dr. Dave, and she was at a dinner at Toscana at which the cousin and Dr. Dave were both present, and this cousin had brought her fiancé, who was working in the emergency room at County Hospital. And this fiancé got to talking about how many junkies he saw, ODing or in withdrawal or infected with HIV, about whom the fiancé said, "God, they are so stupid. These people are just stupid."
And my ex-girlfriend's friend said Dr. Dave got kind of upset when his cousin's fiancé said this, and that Dr. Dave said to the fiancé, "You're a little young to be speaking that callously about it. Those people are your patients, and you have no idea what led them to that condition. And you – you have not earned the right to call those people stupid, and I don't know if anyone ever earns that right no matter how long they live. That is a screwed-up attitude and I want to dissuade you from it right now."
Or words to that effect.
There was a certain pragmatism to Dr. Dave's approach on the radio. If he could bring a caller around to a small discovery that might help, he would go for that over blanket condemnation of the caller's entire life as he or she was currently living it. And in the first few years of the commercially syndicated show he never resorted to ad hominem attacks, even after the call was ended. It was all the more admirable since at this time "Doctor" Terri Toynbee, my fictional equivalent of Dr. Laura, was making a huge splash with her tough talk, calling people idiots, losers, weaklings, and really laying into them. She claimed to take her morality straight from the Bible, so she called homosexuality a disease. It had a nice marketable ring to it when Rush Limbaugh was rising to his full power.
And yet in an early profile on some fluffy pseudo-news program, Dr. Dave described "Dopeline" as a conservative show sneaking into popular youth culture "below the radar." His advice was typically anti-experimentation vis-à-vis sex and drugs, especially for those below the age of eighteen. But the Good Doctor's decision to characterize safe-sex and anti-drug-abuse advice as "conservative" was puzzling. Radical gay activists, radicalized by the Reagan Administration’s negligent and victim-blaming attitude during the AIDS epidemic, had spearheaded the national safe-sex discussion, people Dr. Dave knew, and knew to have been very supportive of his early column and radio program. Yet during the rise of a rightwing movement destined to all but destroy just about everything he'd stood for up to the point of his radio success, Dr. Dave seemed to be attempting, however subtly, to throw his lot in with exactly that rightwing movement, or at least not to be seen as pushing back against it.
He may have done so in the belief that the rightwing madness which had seen to it that every 18th word uttered on network television was "America" would only let his show survive if it was understood as fitting into the mad project. Or he may have done so because he was preparing to one day get on board that crazy gravy train.
Throughout the early years of "Dopeline," Dr. Dave dispensed sensible advice, while Mel made it palatable to the hip youth of the day with his colloquial diction and fart jokes. But at the time just after the Gingrich conservatives took over Congress, in the mid-to-late nineties, something began to shift.
That something was not in Dr. Dave, but in Mel. Mel started to behave as if, by sitting next to a doctor in a studio every night, he had accumulated some diagnostic and therapeutic expertise. He began to speak less like the id who jokingly wants to engage in bad behavior, and more like the id who wants to tell people with problems that they're morons. Dr. Dave then had the straight man's burden, still comical, of not only dispensing real, useful information against the contrast of Mel's crude, humorous ignorance, but also of representing compassion against Mel's jaded mockery of the feeble-minded wretches who called in.
What was it that would eventually draw Dr. Dave into the very same jaded mindset? It’s true, Mel was not a stupid guy, nor was he entirely unappealing. He was a funny guy, although his humor emerged nearly unadulterated from his all-too-real emotional life. He had taken to the role of foul-mouthed adolescent-minded loser like a germ to mucus. He enjoyed himself. That enjoyment was infectious. Dr. Dave didn't really grok Mel for the first few years of their partnership, but since the partnership was working, earning them both money and celebrity – and Mel was a friend, he'd become a real friend – the Good Doctor was along for the ride, and with no complaint.
It was not long after the "below the radar" remark that Dr. Dave and Mel had a breakthrough in their relationship. Up to then Dave had played the logical Spock to Mel's Homer Simpson. But then this happened, and I saw it: I was running the board in the studio during a show, and, during a break, Dr. Dave was jotting down some notes, when Mel said:
"I'm gonna take a shit. Can you take control of the phones? That's fair, I take a shit, you take control. So we're both taking something. Isn't that fair? Splitting the take?"
Dr. Dave laughed. No one looks quite as insane as Mr. Spock does when he laughs and jumps for joy, especially at the end of the Amok Time episode when it turns out Spock hasn’t, in a state of pon farr, killed Captain Kirk in the battle demanded by Spock’s bonded mate, T’pring, who set up the fight by making the ka-lee-fi challenge. Dr. Dave laughed and for the first time allowed himself to hear past the profanity and get the joke. That was some clever wordplay, he must have thought. I like this guy, this Mel Kinolla. He's got something on the ball. Not sure what yet, but something.
In the next chapter, we’ll find out what that something was, and just how far over into the dark side it would take Mel and Dave, when I continue to Part 3 of The Good Doctor.
This has been the Moment of Truth. Good day!