Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell the difference.
Howard Bashford seemed elated when I encountered him downtown recently.
“Why so happy, Howard?” I inquired.
“Well you might ask,” he replied with a broad smile. “Obamacare has made me a free agent! I can work as much as I want, or develop my oil painting instead.”
“But, Howard,” I said. “You’re not a painter.”
“I’ve always wanted to paint, but I didn’t have the time, because I was ‘job locked,’” he said. “Now I don’t have to work to pay my health insurance premium, so I’m free to do what I want. Besides, the Obamacare premium was so high, I couldn’t afford it anyway, so I figured I might as well quit, get myself a garret, a live model of loose morals, and get to painting.”
“How are you going to pay your rent, put food on the table?” I asked, and Howard looked at me pityingly.
“I’m getting a Section 8 low-income housing voucher,” he said, “and food stamps. Plus, there’s a free surplus-cheese distribution every month. I’ll also have more time with my kids. It’s a family values thing.”
And off he went, whistling cheerfully.
I didn’t see Howard for a couple of months after that, and when I next ran into him, he looked pallid and pasty, tired and soft around the belly. He was wearing a pair of camouflage pants and a wool serge, Army surplus jacket.
“What’s up, Howard?” I said.
He answered mournfully, “I’m so tired of cheese! I feel like a box of Velveeta. And I can’t drown my sorrows, because you can’t buy beer with food stamps. My welfare check barely covers my rent, even with the Section 8 subsidy, and the heating bill for my atelier is eating me alive.”
“Well, at least you’re free to pursue life as an artist,” I said, trying to be comforting.
But Howard replied angrily, “Do you have any idea how expensive oil paints are? Or canvas or canvas stretchers, or brushes or easels or even turpentine? I can scarcely afford pencil and paper. Still worse, I found out models won’t work in a freezing garret, and they won’t accept food stamps as payment.”
“That’s all a small price to pay for free agentry,” I said, “and you’re getting free health care.”
“Ever hear of co-payments,” Howard sneered. “Every try to find a doctor or hospital that will accept Obamacare?”
“How about time with your family?” I asked.
Howard’s anger melted away and he simply looked glum. “My wife took the kids and moved in with her mom and dad,” he said. “I hear she’s dating a realtor.”
And off he shuffled, downcast.
Again there was a hiatus of some weeks before I once more encountered Howard. This time he was wearing a business suit and tie, his cheeks had good color and he bore a confident smile.
“Howard!” said I, “you look great. What happened?”
“I begged my boss to give me my old job back,” he said. “I’m working 50 hours a week, bringing in a good salary. My wife and kids are back, and we’re off the poverty diet!”
I congratulated my old friend, but asked, “How are you able to pay your Obamacare premium? I thought that was a budget buster.”
“I’m not paying it,” he said seriously. “We’re young and healthy, and paying medical bills out of pocket.”
“But, the law …” I began, but Howard raised his hand and stopped me.
“Let them fine me,” he said. “I’ll be voting in November.”
As yours truly does not consume tobacco in any form, you might think the announcement by CVS pharmacies that it no longer will purvey smokes or chaws would have no material effect on me. You would be misled, for I – and you – no longer are subject to the following scenario of the check-out line:
Customer just in front of you: (as the clerk announces his total tab) Oh, and a pack of Marlboros.
Clerk: Just a minute. (He rummages in a drawer for a key to the locked, glass cabinet containing the cigarettes. He unlocks the case, extracts a pack of smokes, relocks the case and turns back toward the customer.)
Customer: Say, better make that two packs. (The clerk reopens the case, grabs another pack and returns to the cash register.)
Customer: Oh, these are soft packs. I prefer the box. (The clerk returns to the case, unlocks it, replaces the soft packs, grabs two boxes, relocks the case and returns to the register.)
Customer: Do you have any matches? (The clerk rummages in the drawer and finds the books of paper matches. The customer now extracts his wallet, finds a credit card and swipes it through the reader.)
Clerk: It won’t take your card.
Customer: I’ll try this one. (He swipes the card.)
Clerk: It doesn’t work, either.
Customer: Well, I have to go to the bank anyway. I’ll come back later. (He departs without his purchases. The clerk again extracts the key, unlocks the cabinet and redeposits the cigarettes. He locks up and returns to the register. He rings up your tube of on-sale toothpaste.)
Clerk: Have a nice day!
You: (to yourself) Grrrrr!
Media wishing to interview Michael Ackley, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.