Friday, June 3, 2011

End of Life Care in Gerty


I’m going to start a new series of short stories with the following premise: Nonsense doesn’t become sense when you multiply it by a million. Imagine a small rural town of 300 people I’ll call Gerty (a millionth the population of the US). In Gerty, there is government (personified by Mayor Wright), religion (Reverend Edwards, the leader of the town’s church), law (Judge Marshall), medicine (a part played by the humble mechanic Joe), business (Mr. Alexander, the shrewd keeper of the town’s general store), and law enforcement (Sheriff Holliday). My intent is to examine societal questions in Gerty with the hope that, removed from complication, nonsense will appear as nonsense, and sense as sense.


Joe, Samantha and the Wrecked Car

Last year in Gerty, there was a couple that got married that was too poor to afford a car to drive them from the wedding chapel. So the town pooled some money to pay for taxis for those who needed them and it decided it would promise that no one would ever be without transportation again; they decided that everyone in the town had a right to transportation.

One day, one of the residents of Gerty, a farmer named Steve, had a car accident that destroyed his car but left him uninjured. Samantha, Steve’s wife, asked Joe to help out. At that time, Joe was Gerty’s mechanic; he was a successful businessman, and owned his own tow truck.

Samantha said she wouldn’t pay him (now or ever), but that he’d have to fix Steve’s car. After one look at it, Joe declared the car was totally destroyed, and would forevermore be un-drivable.

Samantha said, “Alright. If you can’t fix his car, Steve still has a right to transportation. And since you’re the mechanic, you need to be his taxi and drive him around.”

Joe objected, “Look, Samantha. I know Steve’s in a bad spot, but I’m a mechanic. While it’s true, on occasion, I’ll pick people up at the site of an accident, or help tow a car, I’m not a taxi driver. And besides, this is my business; I can’t work for free. I have a family to provide for like everyone else.”

Samantha was furious. She stormed out of Joe’s office and went to Mayor Wright’s house. She told the mayor, “Do we or do we, citizens of Gerty, have a right to transportation?”

The mayor, a portly old man, replied, “Of course we do. We all agreed that none of us would want to be without transportation.”

Samantha responds with poison dripping from her tongue, “Well Joe is denying that right to my husband! Steve’s car is wrecked, and Joe refuses to fix it. And when I told him he needed to drive Steve around, he said he’s not a taxi driver. And worst of all, he demanded I pay for it! Can you believe it?!”

The Mayor Wright looked very grim. “I don’t know what’s gotten into Joe. I thought he was a good man. I’ll get the town together.”

The Mayor Wright called a town meeting. All the important townsfolk were there. Reverend Edwards, Judge Marshall, Mr. Alexander the storekeeper, and Sheriff Holliday were all in attendance, along with the other important townsfolk. Joe was also invited, but his opinion wasn’t much consulted. Reverent Edwards reminded those in attendance of the Golden Rule, and how that meant that Steve had a right to transportation. The town decided that Joe was wrong to refuse to work if he was not getting paid. Further, with input from Reverend Edwards and Sheriff Holliday (both of whom had suffered fender benders), they decided that transportation was so important that Joe would have to comply with whatever the person with the broken car (or their spouse) wanted. In Samantha’s case, she wanted everything done; Joe should never be allowed to give up on Steve’s car, no matter what. The town agreed that, if the car crashee wanted, Joe would also have to taxi them around in his tow truck so long as their car was being worked on (with or without compensation).

The debate centered on the question of what constitutes a hopeless car. Most of the town thought it was the crashee (or his wife) who should be able to make the decision of when Joe could stop working on a car. Others thought it was Judge Marshall. A minority of the town felt that Joe could say that some cars were beyond his help and stop working on them. The majority opinion carried the day, and so it was decided that Samantha indeed had the power to tell Joe what to do.

Once everyone was in agreement, Sheriff Holliday agreed to fined or threatened Joe to make sure he complied with the town’s decision. Mayor Wright then levied a tax on all the residents of Gerty to pay for some of the work that they demanded of Joe.

Joe protested, “But none of you would want to be driven around in my tow truck! It’s sometimes necessary, but it’s degrading. Our spouses oftentimes want things that we don’t. Raise your hand if you’d ever want me to be your taxi.” Sherriff Holliday and one other of the ten people present raised their hands. “See? Why should I be forced to do something to people that very few people want done?”

 Reverend Edwards replied, “Joe, my dear boy. Why are you being so selfish? Why are you so intent on denying the good people of Gerty their right to transportation? If a man’s wife wants him to be ‘degraded’ by riding in your taxi (and if you don’t hear from him otherwise), then that’s the wife’s decision. Don’t complain about it.”

“But I’m not a taxi driver. Don’t you want me to spend my time fixing cars? If taxiing people with broken cars is something this town wants, why doesn’t somebody start driving a taxi? Or why don’t any of you drive Steve around this week? Besides, if I had to do this, I’d have to raise my price for fixing your cars.”

Mr. Alexander answered him, “Joe, it seems you don’t understand business very well. Nobody would be able to stay in business driving taxis in this town. I keep a store. You fix cars. Since your job is with cars, it makes sense that you also drive people around. And besides, you have plenty of spare money, so don’t complain about it. Why do you keep bringing money into this? Raising your prices wouldn’t be a very neighborly thing to do to the poor citizens of Gerty.”

Joe tried one last time, “But shouldn’t I be allowed to do what work I want? Mr. Alexander is allowed to stock his shelves with whatever goods he wants. And all of you are free to grow whatever crops you want. Why should I not be allowed to choose what cars I work on? Why should I be the only one in this town that has to work for no pay?”

Mayor Wright answered, “You don’t seem to understand very much about rights. We in this town have guaranteed people certain rights. You might choose to not work on certain types of cars, or only do certain kinds of jobs. And then people would have to take their cars to Calvin down the highway, and that would be inconvenient. Sometimes people don’t have money, or don’t want to pay you money. That doesn’t mean that they don’t still have rights to transportation that you need to provide them with. You’re confused and making this more complicated than it needs to be. All you need to remember is this: if you’re going to fix any cars, you also need to drive a taxi. And you’ll need to do that for anyone who has a broken down car (or their wife), even if they don’t pay you for it. And if you don’t like that, then you can take it up with Sheriff Holliday. This meeting is adjourned.”

And from that day on, Joe spent 10% of his time (about an hour a day), taxiing people around in his tow truck. He had to raise his prices, and the citizens of Gerty complained about it and talked about how they could bring Joe’s prices down. And Steve was driven around by Joe (though he never wanted to be).

And they lived nonsensically ever after.

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