Life Insurance

“Nah, nothing wrong with you except a chest cold. Here’s a prescription for some antibiotics.” Dr. Glimp tore off the worthless script from his prescription pad and handed it to Max, hoping it would appease him.

“Are you sure?” Max intently studied the doctor’s eyes. “I mean, doc, I’ve never had a chest cold this bad before.” He coughed. “Can you look that X-ray over again?”

Dr. Glimp sighed and turned his head so that he faced the X-ray display at a 45-degree angle. He glanced at it asquint for about five seconds. “There’s nothing there!” he declared, turning back.

“Look, I understand your concern. Ever since the Surgeon General announced two years ago that cigarette smoking causes cancer, I’ve been flooded with patients who get worried every time they develop a cough. But if you had something wrong it would be in the X-rays. Your X-rays are clear!” He thumped Max on the back. “Congratulations! You should be happy!” The thump sent Max into an uncontrollable coughing spell for about 30 seconds.

Max paused for a moment after stepping out of the doctor’s office, to catch his breath. He rubbed an achy spot about an inch below his neck. He suppressed a cough, then struggled for a deep breath of fresh air. Was that a wheezing he heard?

He lit up. Smoking always helped him think better. Was the doctor right? Was he just being a little paranoid after that Surgeon General’s report made headlines all over the country? He fiddled with the pack of cigarettes in his hand, and read the new message he’d been seeing recently, printed on the sides of this product: “Caution: Cigarette Smoking May Be Hazardous To Your Health.”

He mused that he would have never taken up the habit if he had only known. Back in his youth it seemed that every man smoked. In fact many doctors hailed cigarettes as good for your health. That had always seemed counterintuitive to him, but who was he to question doctors? And now he was hooked. A chain smoker.

A tussive urge struck from below and an involuntary cough erupted. When Max regained control he tucked the pack back into his shirt pocket. Too late to give it up now, he theorized.

The coughing kept recurring over the next several days, as Max struggled with his fear of cancer. He knew something was wrong. He felt it in his gut. And it occurred to him that he was going to die soon. He was going to leave behind his wife and his children. His very successful business would not last without his guidance. It would fail, and his family would go broke.

He contemplated what to do. How to prepare for the worst. How to ensure that his wife and kids would be okay. And he came up with a plan.

He justified that if these bastard doctors were wrong in the first place, by recommending cigarette smoking, and then wrong again in the second place, by missing a diagnosis of lung cancer, he’d show the sons of bitches a thing or two. He’d show these damned so-called experts.

Max put the word out that his machine shop was up for sale.

Then he made an appointment with a life insurance company.

The fine folks at Graystone Life Insurance welcomed him into their office. The agent talked Max into a $100,000 policy. And all he had to do was pass the physical. Which involved a chest X-ray.

It came out negative.

It was all Max could do to suppress the coughing while Graystone’s physician examined him. The physician mentioned that his breathing sounded a little raspy. Max told him that his own doctor had diagnosed it as a chest cold. After a quick phone call to his doctor, the physician seemed satisfied and quickly signed off.

And then it was off to visit Huffburg’s Life Insurance, and then Sandsound Life Inc. Then Whistler’s Life. Then Hacker Life, Limited. Then Sputummer’s Life. Hedgeworth’s Life. Kakouphany Life. Emyprean Life. And so on and so forth.

By the time Max finished with his life insurance binge, he was paying premiums on more than a million dollars’ worth of policies. And his wife and children were the named beneficiaries.

He sold the machine shop to my father-in-law. This is how I became aware of this story, many years later.

Max’s wife worried about his mental health. And she felt positively stressed about him selling the business. She knew they couldn’t go on forever, living off the proceeds of the sale. Especially with all those life insurance premiums they were now paying. She nagged at Max to visit a psychiatrist.

But Max ignored her, in his monomania to find ways to provide for her after his upcoming demise that he just knew was going to occur.

Several months passed. His cough had deepened, and his wheezing was sounding more like a whistling now. Max was feeling increasingly worried for his family, and carking more about their long-term future. He walked into the office of Protective Life and breathlessly asked to speak with an agent. He said he wanted to take out the biggest policy they offered.

The agent asked the same routine questions Max was accustomed to, and Max had all the right answers at the ready. He filled out the forms and signed them. Now all that was left was the requisite physical.

The physician furrowed his brow and pointed at the X-ray display. “Sir, I see something like a shadow around your clavicle. And a few other shadows, here . . . and here.” he pointed. “I can’t approve this policy until you have your lungs checked out by your doctor.”

Max returned to his doctor and got yet another chest X-ray. This time Dr. Glimp’s insouciant demeanor disappeared. With a gray face, he told Max that a biopsy would be necessary.

A few days after the biopsy, Dr. Glimp delivered the message Max was expecting.

“Max, I’m sorry to say, but it’s advanced stage lung cancer. I’m really, really sorry I didn’t catch this earlier. It was hidden behind your clavicle. You know, your collar bone. We can try to operate, but this appears to have spread to your bones. Radiation might work, but I don’t know.” He shook his head grimly.

“How much longer, doc, if you continue doing nothing?”

Dr. Glimp winced. He appeared stung by that question. He stammered. “W-w-well, uh, I doubt you have more than, uh, s-s-six months. D-do you have life insurance?”

Max’s face brightened, even as he coughed.

“Yep, oh yes!” Max cheerily proclaimed with a hoarse voice. “Yes, I have life insurance. Yes indeed I do!”

Max died two months later.

His wife retired, and his kids all got good college educations.

Doctors, with all their fine degrees, are not omniscient. There’s much they don’t know and can’t know, and there are many things they’re unwilling to figure out. So we have to trust what our bodies are telling us until clear medical evidence proves otherwise. I believe that’s the lesson we can learn from people like Max.

The Once-Forbidden Fruit

I recently visited the state of Colorado, which is one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. During my peradventure at the high altitudes, I noticed a profusion of advertisements for this leafy product.

This service station in Colorado offers an unusual mix of products.

The ads left me curious. I wanted to try the substance myself. I’ve never smoked marijuana, but there was that one time many years ago when I got a buzz from second-hand fumes. In other words, I’m the opposite of Bill Clinton. I’ve never smoked it, but I have inhaled.

The stuffy relatives I visited were all against grass, and did not like their new, libertine laws, so I decided not to wear out my welcome by experimenting. But in less than six months, recreational marijuana will be available for purchase right here in my great home state of California.

California, you usually lead the way in liberal social trends. What the hell has happened to you? Why have you been lagging so far behind?

But better late than never. In six months I’ll be able to sashay down to a local pot shop and pick up a dose of cannabis, and all in the name of recreation rather than some fake medical excuse.

I suppose if they ever legalize prostitution in Colorado, their service stations can offer gas, grass, and ass.

So now I’m debating internally as to whether or not I should actually try it. Shall I pluck the once-forbidden fruit and consume it? Will it open my eyes? Or will it destroy my personal Eden?

I decided to do some research, and see what the experts have to say about the dangers and benefits from marijuana use. Here’s what I have discovered:

A 3% increase in collision claims has occurred in states that have legalized recreational marijuana. ~ Highway Loss Data Institute.

No significant increase in vehicle accident fatalities. ~ American Journal of Public Health.

Highway fatalities in Colorado are at near historic lows. ~ The Washington Post

Traffic searches by highway patrols in Colorado and Washington dropped by nearly half after the two states legalized marijuana in 2012. ~ NBC News

It’s nice to know you don’t have to buy marijuana in order to get gassed in Colorado.

Casual marijuana use is linked to brain abnormalities. ~ Northwestern University

Marijuana disorients the mind, affects memory, reduces physical coordination, causes rapid heart beat, causes bronchitis and cancer, sterilizes men and disrupts the menstrual cycle of women, deforms sperm cells, and causes birth defects. ~ Foundation for a Drug-Free World

Marijuana improves memory in older mice. ~ University of Bonn, Germany

It’s a myth that marijuana causes sterility, and marijuana has little evidence implicating it in fetal harm, unlike alcohol, cocaine or tobacco. ~

Marijuana is unlikely to cause head, neck, or lung cancer. ~ Daniel E. Ford, MD, John Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore

Continued use of cannabis causes violent behavior. ~ Journal of Psychological Medicine

Legalizing marijuana will eliminate much of the violence and corruption that currently characterizes marijuana markets. ~ Cato Institute

Marijuana use has adverse effects on your aura and soul. ~

Marijuana balances your system, alleviates worry, expands the mind, heightens consciousness, facilitates meditation, improves self-knowledge, and puts us in touch with universal spiritual values. ~

With all the contradictory information and opinions I’ve read from all the above experts, I can only conclude one thing:

They’re all smoking it!

Love and Layaway

The long wait was over. A surrender had been signed on the deck of the USS Missouri, and troops were returning home. Bill was one of them. He had survived unscathed from all the hell he discovered in war.

And his purpose in life, his reason for surviving all the blood and guts of combat, and all the separation in time and miles from family and home, was for one person. Hazel.

For Hazel, Bill was like a layaway gift. Back in the days before credit cards, that’s how you purchased things you couldn’t afford right away. The shop put it up in their storeroom while you made layaway payments. After the final payment you could pick it up and take it home.

Each letter Bill and Hazel exchanged while he was away fighting the Japanese was like a layaway payment. The handwritten missives helped preserve their feelings for each other. And when the day finally came where he could step down off that ship onto dry ground forever, she was waiting for him. She picked up her layaway gift and took it home.

They had already been engaged for over four years. Now it was time to plan the wedding. And one of the first orders of business was to shop for wedding rings.

Bill’s strength was his exuberance and unbridled pursuit of all the wonders of life. Hazel loved that wildness about him. But her strength was her self-discipline and circumspect approach to life. Bill recognized and appreciated the fact that he needed someone like her, to keep him from a Gadarene plunge off of some sort of cliff of disaster.

“Pick a nice one!” Bill cajoled. Hazel peered through the glass at all the clinquant shiny circles resting upon their satin beds. She saw many nice ones. But she also saw the price tags. And she knew that Bill didn’t have much money. Military pay was just a little higher than a beggar’s salary in those days, and Bill wasn’t much of a saver, anyway.

“That one, right there,” she pointed. It was a thin little gold band, priced at $11.99.

“Awe, come on Hazel!” he shoved her shoulder kind of hard. “That’s the cheapest one in the shop! Pick a nice one!” He shoved her again. “Pick a diamond, an emerald, a ruby. I want you to wear a gorgeous wedding ring. Come on!” He slapped her on the back goodheartedly.

That ired her. How could she show this damn fool what a stupid spendthrift he was? How could she persuade him to back off with his pushfulness and allow prudence to prevail?

Her temper flared, and she paused and remained silent for a long moment. That was Hazel’s discipline. She refused to act until she calmed down, and could think clearly. Finally a rational idea struck her cooling mind. Hazel stepped over to a spot at the counter that displayed the biggest, brightest, finest, and most expensive ring in the jewelry shop.

“That one, Bill! Buy me that one!”

Bill’s face went instantly grim. “That one? Are you sure?” he murmured.

“Oh yes, Bill, that one! I just love it! Isn’t it gorgeous! I’d just LOVE to have a ring like that!”

Bill shoved his hand in his pocket and fiddled around with a small wad of cash. He gazed hard at the thick, shiny ring with the giant stone. And at the $599.99 price tag. Now was HIS time for a moment of silence. He gulped hard.

“H-Hazel, I-I just don’t know. You know that I love you, and I want you to have anything in the world. But . . . but I just don’t think I can afford this ring.”

The argument was won that day by the self-disciplinarian. Bill swallowed his pride and made the provident choice. He purchased the thin gold band for $11.99.

During the early years of their marriage they had a few more disputes about money. But Hazel’s patience allowed her to gradually rein in her profligate husband, and get the spending under control. And they actually began to grow a little nest egg.

Their love for each other grew also. Who would have thought this odd couple could stay together for so long? But they allowed their disparate qualities to complement each other, rather than clash.

Their tenth anniversary rolled around, and Christmas soon followed. On Christmas morning, Hazel and Bill were pulled out of bed by their excited young son. While the child was tearing open a present, Hazel noticed something in the tree. It was a most unusual looking ornament, small and glittery. She examined it more closely.

What she saw lifted her eyebrows in shock.

It was the ring.

It was the selfsame expensive wedding ring she had picked out at the jewelry store ten years before, to convince Bill to buy the cheap wedding ring.

“Bill! Oh my God! How did you get this?!”

Bill smiled in delight at her. “Honey, you know that I love you, and I want you to have anything in the world that you desire. You wanted that ring, but I couldn’t afford it. So after I bought the cheap ring, I put this ring on layaway. I’ve been making payments on it for the past ten years.”

Fifty years later, Hazel became a customer at my wife’s beauty salon. My wife met Bill and was impressed with the love and warmth of this elderly couple.

Then Bill passed away, leaving Hazel to live alone. After Bill died, Hazel told my wife that her son would call her every evening to tuck her into bed. But one day she lamented that her son was going on vacation, and could not make the ritualistic evening phone call.

My wife offered to stop by her house and do the tucking in. That evening was when my wife spotted the ring. It was pinned to a blouse beneath Hazel’s dress, close to her heart. As Hazel climbed into bed, she explained that her old, withered fingers had shrank too small to retain the ring, but she didn’t want to stop wearing it.

And then Hazel told the story about how she got the ring.

This is how my wife learned about the bigness of a man’s heart. And a story about the power of patience. But most of all, a story about the love of this couple.

Love, with a little help from layaway.