*with apologies to Harry S. Truman

The call came in somewhere around midnight. My old college roommate, Chip Offderoldenblock, sounded frantic. Seems Chip had continued to make good faith payments toward his latest “pharmacy dispensing fees” — had even gone so far as to cash in his life insurance, kids’ college fund, and family Buick just to take care of it. Unfortunately, Chip had now run into a spate of bad luck, fallen behind on his payments, and his pharmacist was threatening to foreclose on Chip’s house if Chip didn’t come up with the additional moneys. I’m no soft touch, will rarely work on the back-end, but considering Chip and I went back a few years, I agreed to accept Chip’s offer to compensate me with small contingency fee if I could help him to achieve some form of negotiated settlement in my role as his temporary life coach and personal consultant.

I arrived at Chip’s pharmacy promptly the next morning, where I found Chip and his pharmacist already locked in combat. It took several bystanders and a security guard just to hold Chip back.

“You leech,” Chip screamed, as he reached across the counter in earnest for the pharmacist’s jacket. “Do you know how many Robert Allen ‘Multiple Steams of Income’ courses I’ve poured through just to accumulate what I’ve got at this point??!!! I’ve already cut back on my monthly payments to my son’s Catholic School, Feed the Children, and Kevin Trudeau’s ‘Grant Moneys They Definitely Don’t Want You to Know About!’ Glory to Easter…what more do you possibly think I have left?”

The pharmacist, Clint “Unforgiven” Pfister, stood his ground, arms obstinately folded against his chest.

“Insurance companies are responsible for these changes, not us,” pharmacist Pfister replied evenly, clearly intent on absolving himself. “Dispensing fees are merely an attempt on pharmacists’ part to play a long overdue game of economic catch-up.”

But I could see Chip was already too far gone to be reckoned with. As Chip prepared to spring for the pharmacist, Pfister reached for the .38 behind his counter, squinted off a steely-eyed cobalt-blue gaze, and silently mouthed the words: “Go ahead. Make my day.”

“Gentlemen, gentlemen,” I slipped between each, and smiled. “This is no way for adults to behave.”

After calming both down, I managed to convince pharmacist Pfister to spare Chip’s life, and to further hand over Chip’s desperately needed medicines, on condition that I would figure out a way to sort through the confusion and locate a solution both could live with.

I quickly leaped into my car, and sped across town to the gleaming, glass and steel headquarters of White Cross Insurance. When I explained the urgency behind my visit, the receptionist informed me that Mr. White was out to lunch, but that Mr. Cross could possibly spare a few valuable minutes.

“Doctors and drug companies are responsible for this fiasco, not us,” John “Long Suffering” Cross filled me in, as he dropped some Alka-Seltzer into a glass, popped open several stress tabs, and propped his aching feet on his polished red cedar desk. “We’ve had to cut back on our reimbursements to pharmacists because doctors keep raising their fees, and drug companies keep charging more for their products. But I would say the biggest offenders are consumers themselves.”

I asked old “Long Suffering” if he cared to elaborate.

“Consumers have been demanding increasing arrays of services for years, and we’ve had to respond to remain competitive,” “Long Suffering” went on as he removed a fifth of Jack Daniels from a side drawer to down his stress tabs, unsuccessfully attempted to work out the crick in his neck, and followed by lighting yet another cigarette. “Acupuncture, anti-depression therapy, the Shick Center for the Control of Smoking, Palm Springs mandatory golf retreats. Can you imagine how much all of this stuff costs?

In light of Chip’s need to re-claim his own medicines, I didn’t have much time to figure it out. I again leaped into my car, and raced across town to the Big Time Pharmaceutical Company, hoping folks there might shed more light. When I explained the urgency behind my visit, the receptionist informed me that Harold B. Big was on vacation, but that Cosmo C. Time would see me if I promised to limit my visit to under five minutes.

“It’s Congress’ fault we got into this mess, not ours,” Cosmo C. Time told me bluntly, his eyes at all times fixated on the clock. “For years we were regulated to death, and it cost us a bundle — what with extended research protocols, safety screenings, FDA approvals, and the like. It’s only because of the new Congress that we finally managed to eliminate all that, and any profits we’ve made as a result, we’ve had to reinvest — into hard and soft money “contributions” to certain Congressmen and their PACs just to keep those very same Congressmen off of our backs.”

I asked Cosmo C. Time if there were any Congressmen he was thinking of specifically, but, for some reason, he told me my five minutes were up.

With time ticking away, I hopped a plane bound for Washington and headed for Capitol Hill, determined to get to the bottom of it. When I arrived at my Congressman’s office and explained the urgency behind my visit, he refused to see me…but I still managed to catch up with him in any event.

“It’s the public’s fault, not ours,” Congressman E. B. Stuckinhisways declared tersely, as the clap of his heel steps ricocheted off the Rotunda’s rich marble corridor, while on his way to an important roll call vote. “Years ago, people voted for a health care system that turned out to be wasteful, over-bloated, and woefully inefficient. If you want answers as to where this entire mess began, you need to start with the system itself.”

I asked Congressman Stuckinhisways if he knew who was responsible for designing our national health care system, and he looked at me pointedly, drew in a deep breath. After a moment of hesitation, he scratched out a name on a single sheet of paper, and quickly slipped it into my hand with a departing “hrrrumph.”

I realized the clock was increasing ticking down for Chip as I pulled my rental car to a halt on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Upon climbing out to brush a patch of sand from myself, I stared off into the distance ahead, rechecked the address I’d been given, then rechecked it again.


Inside a decrepit, long-abandoned aircraft hangar, I found at long last what appeared to be my quarry.

He was bent over a spartan concrete floor, staple gun in hand, and attempted without much success to affix a large roll of bizarrely-patterned plush shag pile carpet to stubborn and unyielding ground.

“Hello…is your name…Flambreco?” I queried, squinting into the brilliant afternoon desert light leaking through the converted barn’s decaying wooden slats.

The man merely glanced up at me, and continued with his task. He wore pale jeans, a dark sweatshirt, bandana, dripped with gold jewelry, and paused only briefly to smooth out the tips of his thick handlebar mustache.

“Who want to know?” he inquired with a slight accent that seemed just too difficult to place.

“I was sent by Congressman Stuckinhisways,” I replied in earnest, as he continued with his belabored and unsuccessful effort to smooth down the carpet. “He said to go and see a man named Flambreco…and through him…I would find out who was responsible for designing our national health care system.”

The man temporarily gave up trying to tack down any more shag, then climbed to his feet.

“I am Flambreco,” the man stated, as he tossed his carpet gun to the floor, took a grand step forward, and thrust out a big, beefy hand. “And I am responsible for designing nation’s health care system, yes!”

As Flambreco beamed back at me through his big hairy, mustache, I felt a bit like Dorothy, Cowardly Lion, and Scarecrow all rolled into one — as they had finally arrived to confront the Wizard of Oz.

“I don’t understand,” I returned in a low voice, suddenly feeling a bit light-headed. “How… Why….?”

As I took a moment to reclaim my equilibrium, Flambreco simply smiled. “Flambreco start off designing carpet patterns for Caesar’s Palace when it open years ago,” Flambreco shrugged. “Frankly, Flambreco think casinos must like his work very much, because next thing Flambreco know, he is asked to design carpet patterns for Tropicana, Sands, Dunes, Sahara, Flamingo, Golden Nugget, everyone. Casino owners all tell Flambreco how much they love Flambreco Carpets — particularly how Flambreco Carpets completely disorient customers, make everyone completely lose track of Time. Space. And Money, too. Frankly, this never start out to be Flambreco’s idea, but Flambreco figure he start to make pretty good living, so what the hell, you know? Anyhow, over time, word get out. Flambreco the Man. Flambreco have Talent. And so, over time, Flambreco get Bored. And that’s when Flambreco decide to go on to design Bigger-Better Things…”

“W-What kinds of things?” I was almost too afraid to ask.

“Flambreco go on to design Much Bigger-Better Things,” Flambreco spiritedly repeated. “Harley Davidson perfume — infomercial for Spray On Hair — putting gas tank in back of Ford Pinto — these were all Flambreco Ideas. Flambreco also come up with idea to put red lights at front of freeway on-ramps as great new way to make traffic go faster, and charge bank customer every time he use teller machine to make sure customer come back a lot more often,” Flambreco smiled proudly. “But perhaps Flambreco’s Biggest-Bestest Ideas show up in politics,” he went on. “Flambreco advise John Kennedy on Bay of Pigs. Lyndon Johnson on Gulf of Tonkin. And best of all, ” Flambreco finished, puffing out his chest, “Flambreco advise George Bush to say, ‘Read My Lips: NO NEW TAXES,’ and his son to spend all the money America had left to go into Iraq and get Osama bin Laden no matter what it take.”

My eyes quickly scanned the empty aircraft hangar, as I was beginning to feel increasingly light-headed.

“Flambreco. Tell me. This hangar we’re in. It’s out in the desert. In the middle of nowhere. It’s completely abandoned. Why…are you attempting to lay down a lush pile of thick shag carpet…on the floor of this place?”

Flambreco merely looked at me, smiled with sagely amusement. He then went back to his carpet gun, and shook his head. To Flambreco, The Answer was Obvious.


“So…you found Flambreco,” Congressman Stuckinhisways said. He appeared particularly concerned, as he ordered his limo driver to round the corner, and find a back street that wasn’t particularly well lit.

“Flambreco, told me everything,” I returned angrily. “Plans to ransack Medicare Disability. Gut our education system. Send billions of dollars in foreign aid to Switzerland. Completely re-carpet the White House. Congress has secretly had Flambreco on its payroll for years. What I can’t figure out…is why.”

A bead of sweat began to form on the Congressman’s upper lip. As he wiped it clean, he ordered his driver to take another sharp right at the corner ahead.

“Frankly, I never figured you’d find him,” Congressman Stuckinhisways said. “Much less, that he’d talk. But now that you know…what do you intend to do about it?” His gaze was penetrating, altogether intense.

“That all depends on what you intend to do, in return,” I sort-of challenged back.

Stuckinhisways peered intensely at me for a very long moment. Finally, he threw his head back like a large, barking dog, and let out a rather bellicose laugh.

“I guess you don’t get it, do you?” he taunted, leaning in menacingly, as I continued to stare back. “THINK ABOUT IT,” he snarled. “We NEED Flambreco. ALL of us do. Without Flambreco, there would be NOTHING left for Americans to complain about. Employment would go back up. Taxes would go down. We’d all have to go back to becoming PERSONALLY responsible for decisions we’ve spent years passing on to Flambreco to make. America would return to the same decent, respectable place we had here before he got hold of it. Stable. Predictable. And exceedingly DULL. YOU wouldn’t have anything left to critique in your blogs. And I would be out of one precious JOB.”

The limo pulled to a sharp halt in a rain-slicked alley, and Stuckinhisways let me off at the curb. He stared at me for a long, dangerous moment. “You want TO KNOW THE REAL SOLUTION TO ALL OF AMERICA’S SEEMINGLY INSOLVABLE PROBLEMS?” he finally asked, the limo’s tail pipe unnervingly chug-chug-chugging away. “You REALLY want to know? Then HERE….”

Stuckinhisways quickly scratched out two letters on another scrap of paper, and pressed it into my hand.

“Print THAT. I challenge you to print THAT in your next blog. But I DON’T think you will. Not with SO MANY problems still left out there for everyone to carp about. Not with each side in the debate so FIRMLY CONVINCED it holds the premium on wisdom with regard to how things SHOULD BE FIXED…”

“How do you KNOW I won’t?” I asked.

Stuckinhisways shut the rear door to the limo, began to roll up his electric window. “BECAUSE…I KNOW…” he repeated, and the limo began to pull away.

“But HOW DO YOU KNOW THAT YOU KNOW?I called after him, as the sedan disappeared into Washington’s dreary rain-slicked night. I kicked the half-crushed soda can lying near my feet, turned back to the main road, and began to wrestle with all of the terrible events that had just taken place. I thought about Chip’s life, now hanging in the balance, my professional responsibilities as a consultant and blogger, my ethical duties to at all times tell the truth. And finally, as the Metro bus pulled to a stop in front of me, I realized I had indeed attained a measure of peace with myself. As I exhaustedly settled into my seat, I resolved that I WOULD in fact print that tiny, emotionally-charged TWO LETTER ANSWER for Americans of all stripes to discuss and consider, that could help America to get back on track. I WOULD share that magic, tiny TWO LETTER PRESCRIPTION that could help America to finally resolve so many problems — that Congressman Stuckinhisways, and a great many Congressmen like him — have probably clearly recognized for some time, but have quietly been keeping to themselves for too long.

“Us.” “U. S.” “United States.” There, I said it. Now…does anyone know of a good 24 hour security protective service available near me?