1993 Pulitzer nominee Fables

If Death Comes in Threes, then Taxes Grow on Trees

Mirthology column, 1st run Thursday 30 April 1992 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

By Ben S. Pollock
Copyright 1992 Ben S. Pollock

I didn’t need a head shrinker; of course, I was fine. A little stressed. Maybe. No, home life was fine, knock on wood. It was work. My co-workers’ superstitions about death were getting to me.

Wait, what am I telling you for? I have an appointment with a trained, experienced psychiatrist. Let him figure me — that is, my problem — out.

* * *

Dr. Sigmund Flloyd Loofah came in as I was studying his genuine leather couch.

“Call me Sigmund Flloyd,” he said. “‘Doctor’ is too stiff. I’m a Southerner. We all go by our first two names, like John Lloyd or Rita Mae.”

“Too many syllables,” I said. “How about Siggy? Sometimes a Sigmund is only a Siggy.”

“You’re the boss,” he said, then caught himself. “I mean the patient. You’re not the boss, because that means you’ll be paying me. That won’t be necessary. I don’t care to charge my patients. Billing creates paperwork, and I can’t be bothered.

“Besides, if I have no income, I don’t need to pay taxes. All that time making records thus can be devoted to considering important matters of the mind.”

Great, I thought, but what’s the catch? All I came for was to find out why death seems to come in threes. Loofah spied my confused look.

“There is one famous patient who over the years has insisted on paying me. That covers all of my expenses. You may have heard of her, I’m sure.

“You’re telling me that one single patient really does a rich doctor make?” I said.

“She comes in for one hour but has me bill her for 40. This isn’t a medical write-off like psychiatric care would be, but a business expense, as in psychiatric consulting. For her, old Sigmund Flloyd is one fat deduction. She even bills herself then computes my tax.”

Then why did Loofah make an appointment for me and my question?

“Your phone call intrigued me. I like deep thoughts,” Loofah said, reading my mind. Maybe I was reading his. This is my column, after all. “You wanted to ask about death.”

Finally, we were considering me. Loofah certainly liked to talk, a problem with all professional listeners like therapists, lawyers and journalists. Off-duty, you can’t shut them up. Loofah, by his fortunate arrangement, or arranged fortune, was always off, except for one hour a week. This wasn’t that hour.

“In offices and diners, Siggy, everyone waits for death No. 3. Maybe they worry it is going to be them.”

“Nonsense, my boy. Ours is the high point of civilization, at least until tomorrow. Yet people like order. Religion, like a big dust mop, can miss the corners. In the modern world, a few ancient superstitions act as a portable vacuum cleaner. Bust that dust!”

That wasn’t good enough for me. “The only way I can justify death in threes is to find other patterns,” I said. “First, there has to be a time limit. Two days can work, and that can be stretched to a week or more to catch that quota.

“Second, you need similarities: Three famous people, any field; three locals, at least within the region; or three relatives, even distant cousins. Movie stars work great. You can always throw in a ‘B’ actor with two screen legends. It wasn’t their fault they got crummy roles.”

Hold on. “Am I rationalizing in every direction?” This thinking out loud seemed to have given me the answer.

“Death can come in twos or sixes. All you have to do is define the parameters. It really just comes in ones. That’s enough. Thanks, Siggy.”

Loofah smiled.

“A good psychiatrist allows a patient to find his own solutions. Besides, it gives me time to think.

“What else did you want to say about taxes?”


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