“Yes,” he said. “Ancient medical wisdom. I’ve been asked to do research and make recommendations.”
There sat Reggie the Young Conservative in all his yuppie glory amidst a pile of notes and objects. He was typing on my laptop.
“What the hell, C.W.? What’s up?”
“Helping out,” he said.
“With what? For whom?”
“Tweaking the Anti-Care Act. For the Party.”
“Do you mean the so-called Affordable Care Act?”
“Oops,” he said. “That’s an inside joke. We’re not supposed to call it that in public. Anyway, some senators say it’s not harsh enough and want some cheaper approaches. I’m tasked to look at ancient ones. I’m on Egypt now.” He reached into the pile and retrieved a note. “Here’s one. Comparison Centers. They will save a bundle.”
“What on earth?”
“Herodotus tells us that an Egyptian with a particular illness would sit by the town gate with a sign listing the symptoms. Along would come someone who had suffered those same symptoms and survived. He’d share the cure and move on, cheap medical care if there ever was such a thing.”
“Yep. We’ll place them in places with heavy foot traffic. We’ll even include chairs. We’re not heartless, you know.”
“Uh … . any other cost saving ideas?”
“You betcha. Here’s an idea I call ‘shame shacks’ that will save even more.”
“Yes. We believe, like the ancient Egyptians, that most illness are cause by a lack of religion. So we’ll furnish quiet places for the afflicted to go and repent while they pray.”
“You have to be kidding.”
He stiffened. “If you know anything about us, you know we don’t kid. A sense of humor is a sign of weakness. Quick,” he said, snapping his fingers. “Who is Secretary of Education?”
“Then don’t ever accuse us of kidding about America’s future.”
“Any other ideas?” I tacked the conversation toward calmer waters.
“And? Ancient Egypt again?”
“They were certain that beer would ‘gladden the heart’ in general, but when one was ill, medicines mixed with beer—and combined with spells—were thought particularly effective. Beer and wine were also prescribed for children and nursing mothers. A prescription from the Ebers Papyrus for childhood incontinence calls for the mother to drink a cup of beer mixed with grass seeds and cyperus grass for four days while breastfeeding the child.”
“So, Happy Halls would furnish free beer to the ill?”
He frowned. “Did you just use the word ‘free’ or was I dreaming? I never said beer would be free. Free is only for humans that happen to be corporations. Still, beer is cheaper and more plentiful than some medications, and many of the poor are already using it for other purposes.”
“Excuse me,” he said. “He rose and walked to a bookshelf and picked a volume of history. I took the opportunity to examine his papers.
One caught my eye. “An onion?”
“Put that down,” he said. “We’re pretty sure we’re going to abandon that one or modify it substantially.’
I started to return it, but noticed something that made me gasp. “The onion is placed where? In a woman’s what … ?”
“Shut up,” he said. “Do you want Mrs. Big Dope to hear us?”
“And it determines what?”
“Hush.” He said.
“You don’t have any females on your committee, do you?”
“Too demanding. Not harsh enough. Too many moving parts. Now if you’ll excuse me,” he said, opening the volume of history. “I’ve got to get to the Chinese. If my chapter on birth control isn’t finished this week, they might throw me overboard like unwanted garbage.” He stopped, jerked his head toward the ceiling as if the overhead light had just flashed, and turned back to the book. He began to thumb the pages, muttering to himself and completely ignoring me.