in Friends

I need someone to love me the whole day through

Justin Weiss, born April 6, 1922, the son of an immigrant, graduated from Rutgers in 1942, half a semester early. He test-flighted two-engine fighters during World War II; he was the engineering service officer for about two hundred fifty men. He recounted this ostensible war story during this 1994 interview:

“Oh, I was a great pilot. One day while we were waiting to leave Europe in the staging area near France as I said, a friend of mine, a non-flying officer, said, a colleague of mine, “Hey! Let’s take up one of these planes and go visit this friend of mine down in Orleans.” And so I said, “Sure,” because I’d been flying these anyway. So we took off and I was such a sharp pilot that I didn’t have an aircraft map. I had a road map. [laughter] But I knew where it was, you know. So we got down there and discovered there wasn’t an airfield there. [laughter] So I saw this softball field, and I said, “Well, we can set down here.” So we set down and ran out of field before I ran out of speed. [laughter] Crossed the road, wound up in a ditch, and we were standing on our nose. The propeller broke and some other damage. I got the plane down, and so we had no choice, but to spend the night … in the place where these ordnance troops lived while the ordnance mechanics, I went to Paris in a jeep and got parts, and they fixed the airplane under my direction. And then, as we were preparing to leave the next morning in this little plane, we had to spin the prop. We didn’t have an electric starter, and he was spinning and it wouldn’t go, and I said, ‘You sit in the cockpit and I’ll spin.’ And I gave it a good spin and the next thing I know I see my watch on the ground. The prop had kicked back and just hit me right there.” [Could it have taken off your arm?] “Yeah, it could have. I was sure I had a broken wrist so it was back to Paris again, by jeep this time, for medical attention. And so I come back, and I take off, no airfield. I take off down the highway, one arm in a sling. It wasn’t broken, but it was badly swollen and hurt. … What seemed like hundreds of guys cheering me off as I jumped off the ground over some wires and took off. [laughter] That was the closest I came to a combat mission. But no, as you see, I had an easy time in the service.”

After night classes at Columbia, he did a brief stint at Yale Medical School in the clinical psychology department, taught clinical psychology in Harvard’s doctoral program, and went on to run that program for Harvard. Dr. Justin Weiss was the chief psychologist for Harvard’s doctoral psychology program until he resigned in 1982.

Dr. Justin Weiss, devilish, lovable, egoless, atheist, cigar smoker. He enjoys his weekly poker sessions at the Harvard Club: “probability seminars,” as he puts them. When I moved in with Mandy several years ago, he called me and said: “I want to tell you how shocked! Shocked! I am that you are living in sin with my granddaughter!” And he immediately changed tone. “And are you having fun?”

A year ago I told him: “When I grow up, I want to be you.” ┬áHe laughed and said, “Me too.”

Dr. Justin Weiss is the father of my mother-in-law. A week ago in Florida, he collapsed as he was going out to get the mail. His son, also a Harvard doc, flew Dr. Weiss by air ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital. Lung cancer, liver cancer, affecting his brain, spreading fast. All the family members, gathered around his bedside here tonight, as the presiding white-haired doc says: “It’s an honor to work on his case. We can definitely make his remaining time as pain-free as possible.”

At the top of what is probably the best hospital on the East Coast. All the other floors in this hospital are your typical tile and anonymous white walls, but the top floor is special. There is wood paneling everywhere. This floor in this tower of this hospital is called Phillips House. Sharp-eyed, well-spoken RNs check into this room punctually on the hour. The waiting room contains a beautiful wood cabinet filled with antique china. The couch pulls out into a sofa bed. And the cool midnight lights of the Boston cityscape twinkle and beckon, tracing delicate brushstrokes across the river Charles.

The twenty-second floor is where the best-connected in Boston get well or die.

I drew watch tonight. It’s one a.m. now. He does not speak. I am not sure if he sees me or knows who I am. As I write this, Dr. Justin Weiss’s hands fidget endlessly over a small brown Beanie Baby tiger. I have found that, if I keep the Beanie Baby in his hands, he fidgets with the doll, and is less likely to pull the oxygen tubes from his face. I have figured out how to replace his oxygen tubes in any case. He seems to fidget less, also, when I hold his hands, and stroke them.

I cannot bring myself to talk to him.

Hail Mary, full of grace. See you when the sun rises —

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