What if Uncle Sam Were Our Therapist?
by Jan Baughman

(Uncle Sam): How are you feeling today?

- I feel fat.

Fat is not a feeling. Perhaps there is another word for what you really feel? Isolated? Empty? Unfulfilled? Burdened?

- No, I simply feel fat. I have stuffed an abundance of food matter into this casing-organ known as skin. More than I need to sustain my sedentary lifestyle.

Forget what your mother told you about cleaning your plate. The children of Africa will starve either way. Realize that you feed yourself for comfort, entertainment, out of habit. You must accept yourself, love yourself for what is on the inside.

- No! I cannot swallow this! Thirty-five percent of Americans are overweight and I am 35% overweight. I must start by changing myself. I shall consume only what I need – no more; maybe less.

Well, if you think it’s important I can refer you to a specialist for dietary counseling. In the meantime, we are here to discuss your feelings. Do you think you can come up with one?

- I feel poor.

“Poorly”, you mean.

- No, poor. Destitute, barely able to make ends meet.

Perhaps what you are trying to express is a feeling of neediness; a longing for spiritual richness. This can only be satisfied from within. You can be rich if you have the desire. This is, after all, the Land of Opportunity.

- I don’t buy it. No one chooses to be poor. We turn our backs while the income disparity continues to widen. I see my neighbors struggle more and more to sustain their meager lifestyle.

You seem to be worried about everyone but yourself today. It’s best not to get involved with your neighbor’s problems. Let’s try to keep focused on you. Now, see if you can come up with a feeling.

- I feel violated.

Ah, now we’re getting somewhere. What you are expressing is a sense of being persecuted; paranoia, if you will. That is normal for someone in your condition. This can easily be treated with medication (Uncle Sam begins to write a prescription…)

- No, that is not it, at all! I see it all around me – the discrimination against minorities, the rising ethnocentrism. It is as if we are losing everything we have fought for in this country. We cannot revert to the past, with its racism, sexism, even child labor…

But, we *need* to go back, return to a time of morals and family values. I will take you there now. Close your eyes and relax. Concentrate on your breathing. We’re going back:
It’s 1990...1980.....1970.........1960.............1950.................1940. Just relax.

Now, tell me how you feel...

Suddenly, I awake at an airport taxi stand. A station wagon approaches, its bloodhound hood ornament guiding it toward the curb. I hesitate for a moment then open the door, throw my luggage on the back seat and climb in. I hear the words “Hyatt Regency, please” in what seems to be my voice. The driver, with his jet-black dyed hair and rolled-up sleeves ala James Dean asks in his most nasal voice: “Did you bring us this weather?” Us??? I panic, and mutter, “yes, thank you”, as I gaze at the hula dancer on the dashboard swaying to the curves in the road and lunging her hips in response to every pot hole. This must be a bad dream...

I arrive at the hotel confused, exhausted, famished. I head immediately for the Room Service menu.

1. Pork chops with mixed vegetables, mashed potatoes and gravy.
2. New York steak with sautéed mushrooms, mashed potatoes and gravy.
3. Chicken-fried Steak with mashed potatoes, gravy and corn bread.
4. Stew with beef, pork and mixed vegetables. Comes with corn bread.

I order a salad (gravy on the side, please) and fall asleep.

The dreams come quickly and it is a restless night filled with old men sporting top hats and white goatees pointing heavy-handedly at shackled children sewing stars on American flags for ten cents an hour. African children arrive in buses to dig post holes for the factory owner’s new fence while women lead the guard dogs in calisthenics. “How are you feeling?” asks the distant voice but I cannot reply, no matter how much I struggle. Eventually the dreams subside and I awake, rested and disoriented.

I find an address for a meeting and make my way through the streets laden with pot-bellied men in ill-fitting suits and faux leather shoes and women whose business attire is punctuated by white athletic shoes and matching white socks. What work do they perform that requires such uniform for jogging in a suit? Where am I?

I pass through run down neighborhoods with boarded-up windows, old men in the doorways watching time pass by, adolescent girls carrying babies past the gang members who fathered them; past the House of God, to the Free Clinic. I stumble upon a news stand. I pick up the local paper and my eyes struggle to focus on the date. June 26, 1946 -- or is it 1996? I cannot make it out. But now I know where I am: Cincinnati, Ohio.

I hear the distant voice again. “I must bring you back now. Wake up and tell me how you feel.” I feel frightened. Call me crazy, call me paranoid, but I know on thing for sure: I have seen the present packaged in the past, and it is not the answer. This will not be the future.

My 50-minute hour comes to an end and I awaken, feeling enlightened and confident. I turn to Uncle Sam and ask him: “How are *you* feeling today?

Published July 4, 1998
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