The Ten Commandments—–A Mort Laitner Short Story

The Ten Commandments

In the middle of his bed, Gregor tossed, twisted and debated whether to get up. He needed a drink and to make a pit stop. A contour-shaped memory foam pillow rested between his knees alleviating the arthritic pain caused by friction and surgery. Another cushion propped up his head where frightening thoughts of his ill health and his impending death swam like tadpoles in a black pond. He flipped on to his back while grabbing his knee pillow. It landed squarely on his chest covering it as if it were a crusader shield. His ten fingers landed on and grasped the edges of the pillow. Gregor felt as if he were holding two tablets on his chest. Was this the chest pain he dreaded?

Returning to sleep, Gregor dreamt he stood atop a mountain holding two stone tablets. Ten chiseled messages glistened as rays of sunlight reflected off of the stone. He looked down upon a crowd of thousands, ready to deliver a message and then his kidneys, interrupting his dream, sent a more urgent message to his brain.

Gregor ran to the bathroom. As he relieved himself, he realized he would not be able to return to sleep. Washing his hands, his thoughts returned to the dream, “What did it mean? What words were written on the tablets? Would he ever return to the mountain to deliver that message?”

Gregor ambled into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator and grabbed a cold bottle of Zephyr Hills. He drank the water in the family room while clicking on the TV remote.

Hearing a parody of an old familiar tune, The Ten Commandments of Love by Harvey and the Moonglows[1], he remembered the 1958 doo-op song. That year he ran track, cross country and wrestled for Fallsburgh Central High. His metabolism burnt calories like a steam engine devoured wood. He was a healthy skinny kid searching for happiness and love. He desired a cute little partner to join him in obeying the commandments of love. He smiled as he recalled the refrain, “An’, oh, how happy we will be, if we keep the ten commandments of love.”

Gregor studied the screen where the Sesame Street Muppets, Dr. Thad and the Medications, sang the parody entitled The Ten Commandments of Health.[2]

“Wow, what a coincidence,” he thought.

Gregor smiled as these medically dressed puppets focused on a Muppet patient lying on the operating table. As the patient received anesthesia, the medical staff sang out the commandments:


One—Wash your hands before you eat

Two—Brush your teeth after every meal

Three—See your doctor and dentist

Four—Cover your nose whenever you sneeze

Five—Cover you mouth whenever you cough

Six—Dress warmly in cold weather

Seven—Exercise to keep in shape

Eight—Bathe or shower when each day is through

Nine—Eat lots of fruit and vegetables

Ten—Give your body all the sleep it is due.[3]


The Muppets made requests and promises to the patient:


One—Oh how lovely life will be if we keep the Ten Commandments of Health.

Two—Take care of the life you got, it is such a precious commodity.

Three—Oh how grand your gonna feel ‘cause we’ll keep the Ten Commandments of Health.[4]


Gregor wondered how many times he disobeyed these simple rules. His health had been affected by his failures. He neglected his most precious commodity. He wished he had not, but now his time was up. Gregor hoped the children watching Sesame Street took these commandments seriously.

Gregor’s body now demanded sleep. He returned to the middle of his bed, hugging and squeezing his foam pillow as if it were a Muppet. His fears of death disappeared in dreams of childhood and love.


[1] Harvey and the Moonglows, The Ten Commandments of Love, (1958).

[2] Sesame Street, Dr. Thad and the Medications, The Ten Commandments of Health, (1978), Music by Christopher Cerf, Lyrics by Thad Mumford.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.


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