"Mack on dames" by John Steinbeck

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From John Steinbeck's Sweet Thursday
Copyright John Steinbeck, 1954
Copyright renewed, 1982, Elaine A. Steinbeck, Thom Steinbeck, and John Steinbeck, IV

Sweet Thursday is the sequel to Steinbeck's Cannery Row.

Mack comes over to visit Doc at the marine lab.

Mack starts it.

"Whatever happened to that swell-looking babe in the fur coat used to come over?"

"She's not been very well."

"That's too bad," said Mack. "What's she got?"

"Oh something obscure. Can't seem to track it down."

"I guess with that kind of dough--"

"What do you mean?"

"I seen it happen so many times," said Mack. "You take a dame and she's married to a guy that's making twenty-five bucks a week. You can't kill her with a meat ax. She's got kids and does the washing--may get a little tired but that's the worse that can happen to her. But let the guy get raised to seventy-five bucks a week and she begins to get colds and take vitamins."

"That's a new theory of medicine," said Doc.

"It ain't new. Hell, just use your eyes. Guy gets up to a hundred a week and this same dame reads Time magazine and she's got the newest disease before she even finished the page. I've knew dames that can give doctors cards spades, and big casino about medicine. They got stuff called allergy now. Used to call it hay fever--made you sneeze. Guy that figured out allergy should of got a patent. A allergy is, you get sick when there's something you don't want to do. I've knew dames that was allergic to dishwater. Married guy starts making dough--he's got a patient on his hands."

"You sound cynical," said Doc.

"No I ain't. You just look around and show me one well dame with her old man in the chips."

Doc chuckled. "You think that's what happened to my friend?"

"Oh hell no," said Mack. "That's big stuff. When you get dough like that its different. She got to have something that don't nobody know what it is. She can't have nothing common that you can take salts for. She goes around puzzling doctors. They stand around her and they shake their heads and they scratch and they never seen nothing like her case before."

"I haven't heard you go on like this for a long time," said Doc.

"You ain't been in the mood to listen. You think them doctors is honest?"

"I haven't any reason to doubt it. Why?"

"I bet I could fix rich dames up," said Mack. "At least for awhile."

"How would you go about it?"

"Well sir, first I'd hire me a deaf-and-dumb assistant. His job is just to set and listen and look worried. Then I'd get me a bottle of Epsom salts and I'd put in a pretty little screw-cap thing and I'd call it Moondust. I'd charge about thirty dollars a teaspoonful, and you got to come to my office to get it. Then I'd invent me a machine you strap the dame in. It's all chrome and it lights colored lights every minute or so. It costs the dame twelve dollars a half-hours and it puts her through the motions she'd do over a scrub board. I'd cure them! And I'd make a fortune too. Of course they'd get sick right away again, so I'd have something else, liked mixed sleeping pills and wake-up pills that keeps you right where you started."

Doc said, "Thank God you haven't a license to practice!"


"As a matter of fact, I don't know why," said Doc. "How about preventive medicine?"

"You mean how to keep them from getting sick?"


"That's easy," said Mack. "Stay broke!"


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