” America Walks” —A Mort Laitner Short Story

America Walks


Mort Laitner

I walked into the health department conference room to be greeted with the usual array of salutations and handshakes. I carried my newspaper. The headline read, “Senate votes an additional two billion dollars in the ‘Cash-for-Clunkers’ program.”

As I looked at the conference table, I noticed a few old clunkers sitting around the table. I knew I was a member of their tribe.

Then to my surprise I saw Geico ‘Kash’ Dollars staring at me. He’s Geico’s “money you could be saving” guy. Kash rested on top of the table. Then he fluttered his stack of bills, stretched his paper bands and blinked his large black googly eyes in my direction. “Hi, Buddy, surprised to see me at your meeting?” Dollars asked.

“Are you talking to me?”  I replied.

“Yup, you the guy holding the Herald in your hands? Have you had a chance to read the story about Cash-for-Clunkers?”

As Kash looked at the headline, he continued “If it works so well in the car industry, why not in the fight against obesity? Do you know that spending on obesity-related medical issues jumped 82 percent from 2001 to 2006, with the current price tag $147 billion a year. Obesity is going to break America’s health care system.”

“Tell me something I don’t know.” I exclaimed.

“Well, you’re a mover and a shaker. You’ve got the ear of the White House. We have got to get moving on my health care plan.” Kash replied.

In rapid fire I asked, “What plan? By the way, aren’t you supposed to be selling car insurance? Aren’t the gecko and those cavemen semi-employed because of you?”

Ignoring two of my three questions, Kash responded, “The name of my plan is the Cash-for-Clunker-Body Program. (CFCBP)

I queried, “How does it work?”

“All obese US citizens–we’ll euphemistically call them clunkers–would be allowed to enter the coupon redemption program. About one third of the US population could qualify. For each pound lost, they qualify for government issued credits for: gyms, health clubs, fitness centers, nutritionists, doctors specializing in weight control and healthy choice foods.”

“Wow, a lot of groups would lobby for your program.”

The clunker registers, gets a physical checkup and gets weighed in at their local health department. They receive a plastic magnetized voucher card.

“Wow, companies like McDonalds could purchase advertising on the card,” I clamored.

“No way, that would be counter-productive,” Dollars muttered.

“This card has the clunker’s picture on it and a recommended weight goal based on their BMI. Every time they lose a specified weight, which is recorded at their monthly weigh-ins, their voucher card gets credited with funds to pay for their foods or services.

“Here’s the closer,” Kash said. “When the client keeps a certain designated amount of weight off for twelve months, they qualify for a new wardrobe at government expense.”

“Kash, a behavior modification plan with financial incentives, very Pavlovian,” I barked. “Wow, Kash, I love it. Has it been tried in any other countries?” I asked.

“Nope, we would be the first. But $4,500 got a whole lot of Americans to go car shopping. You know what they say in the States about how to get your plan off the ground?” Kash asked.

“Nope, what do they say? I asked.

“Money talks and America walks” he replied with a big belly laugh of fluttering cash.


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