A new boy, call
him Ronnie, shows up on Sunday in Dr. Max Novich's recreation room. He is a
dark-haired, pale, frail 7-year-old. There are tremors around his mouth and a
rigidity to his wide-eyed stare that suggest Ronnie is teetering on the brink
of hysteria. He has a death grip on the hand of his father, who also looks
worried, not to the point of hysteria but worried like a man who has burned a
bridge and is wondering why on earth he was so quick with the match.
recreation room is in the basement of his expensive American Home Classic Style
house (Tudor-type paneling with Holiday Inn-type fixtures) in the expensive
American Home Classic Style neighborhood of Maplewood, South Orange, N.J.
Maplewood is the turf for a lot of doctors, shrinks, lawyers, admen and
cloak-and-suiters who have made or are making it big in the jungle across the
Hudson. When Ronnie and his father come down the stairs, Max Novich is
converting the recreation room into a gym, padding the fireplace hearth with a
tumbling mat, hanging up four light punching bags and breaking out a lot of
pillowy, kid-sized boxing headgear and gloves. He is yelling at two of the
dozen or so boys already in the room. These two are rolling around under some
folding chairs punching each other. "O.K., O.K., Eddie, Ray—not now—cut it
out." Dr. Novich is also waving a copy of the Sunday New York Times,
showing it to no one in particular, saying to the same party, "Hey, how
about this, I just saw the newspaper story about me being named chief physician
for the U.S. team in the Maccabiah Games. I'm on the page with the shipping
news. How about that?"
mean you didn't know about it until you read it in the Times?" fondly
needles a father of one of the little boys.
I knew about it for I don't know how long," Max grins, "but it hadn't
been in the Times before. Everybody knows now."
Then Dr. Novich
acknowledges Ronnie and his father. The father he knows because Ronnie's old
man is a professional colleague, a physician. If you happen to be in South
Orange on Sunday afternoon and break your leg, rupture your appendix or catch a
touch of schizophrenia, have them take you to Max's basement. Medically
speaking, that is where the action is.
hey," yells Dr. Novich, grabbing Jim by the arm and pulling him over to a
stranger. "Jim, tell this fella why you brought your kid here. Go ahead,
says Jim, who is a hesitant, soft-spoken man, or perhaps just appears that way
as almost anybody up against Max Novich will, "Ronnie is, I guess you'd
say, a little unaggressive. He has trouble holding his own with his peers—the
other boys in the neighborhood. Max has helped some other boys like this and we
kind of thought that...."
O.K.," interrupts Dr. Novich, dropping Jim's arm and snatching big-eyed
Ronnie away from his father and dragging him into the middle of the room. The
other boys and their fathers stare at this new kid. Max shouts at him but only
incidentally to him. "O.K. Here is this new kid. The very first time for
him. I have never laid eyes on him before. I don't know anything about him, but
he is obviously timid and uncoordinated."
Ronnie and his
father take a few more turns on the old tension machine but neither seems
particularly surprised. They look as if maybe it is all sort of a d�j� vu
scene, like they have had a few nightmares in which they found themselves in
just this kind of a pickle.
"But we are
going to start right now," Dr. Novich says, thumping Ronnie on the
shoulder. "He is going to be aggressive. The system never fails. Gimme some