Joe Dunn walked from his small, square house across the street to the People’s Park and sat on a bench. Joe was a tireless and rude talker and so began telling the stranger on the other end of the bench all about his job, his bank account, his insurance, his little house, and other little things. The stranger, wearing clean, but worn clothing, had been listening to an old violin concerto at low volume on a small transistor radio. After a few minutes he raised dark piercing eyes to Joe and asked, “Why tell me?”
Joe: Oh, I have to tell someone. I believe in sharing. My name’s Joe. What’s yours?
Joe: I have to have a heart operation real soon and I want the best doctor available. Who would you say is the best?
Tom: I’ve heard that Dr. David Smith is very good, but he’s not available.
Joe: What do you mean he’s not available? He’s still alive, isn’t he?
Tom: Yes, but he charges one hundred thousand dollars for even the simplest heart operations, and you and your insurance would cover only half of that. So, he’s not available—to you.
Damn this country, that’s not fair! Everything’s based on money!
Tom: Well, if it was based on barter, and Dr. Smith wanted two cows for a heart operation, and you had only one, you’d be in the same position.
Joe: Damn this country, everything’s based on trade! Trade and profit!
Tom: Well, if Dr. Smith hadn’t expected to profit from being an excellent doctor, he would have never studied to be one, nor would anyone else, and you would just die. Now, at least, you can search for another, cheaper doctor.
Joe: But I need the best doctor available! My life’s the line!
Tom: Well sure, but available to you, to what you can afford. Not everything is equally available to everyone. Look at the nice house you live in. Do you think that the guy who runs the newspaper stand downtown could afford it? No. That’s why he rents a room in that old hotel. That room was available to him, and he got it. He doesn’t go around saying that since mansions are available he should be given one. The only things that are available to everyone are air, sun, stars and sky, and a place in which to sit or stand or move. Everything else requires individual effort, individual ability.
Joe: Damn ability! Damn effort! I want social justice! I’m just as an important part of this society as anyone else!
A news flash interrupted the concerto. Tom turned up the volume.
Radio: We have just been informed that the great heart surgeon, Dr. David Smith, has retired. His whereabouts are unknown. The President has ordered the army to track him down and bring him back, saying, “Those who serve the needs of society have no right to retire or to disappear. The rights of the needy are above al others.”
Joe: Damn that evil bastard!
Tom: Who? The President, or you?
Joe: You stupid, uneducated bum! You don’t understand simple logic! A doctor is supposed to serve! When he runs away he upsets everyone’s expectations. HIs purpose in life i8s bigger than himself. Greatness is giving to others. Dr. Smith has betrayed the whole human race! He’s a traitor and should be shot on sight!
Tom: You’re getting so excited, so red in the face, you’ll probably give yourself a heart attack.
Joe: But you’ll call 911 and save me.
Tom: Why should I? Besides, my real name is Dr. David Smith.
Joe jumps up, reaches for his hidden gun, then clutches his chest and falls quivering on the ground.
Dr. Smith rises and walks away, accompanied by the serene, soaring notes of a violin.