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BY Jingo!” said the Idiot, as he wearily took his place at the breakfast-table the other morning, “but I’m just regularly tuckered out.”
“Late hours again?” asked the Lawyer.
“Not a late hour,” returned the Idiot. “Matter of fact, I went to bed last night at half-after seven and never waked until nine this morning. In spite of all that sleep and rest I feel now as if I’d been put through a threshing-machine. Every bone in my body from the funny to the medulla aches like all possessed, and my joints creak like a new pair of shoes on a school-boy in church, they are so stiff.”
“Oh well,” said the Doctor, “what of it? The pace that kills is bound to have some symptoms preliminary to dissolution. If you, like other young men of the age, burn the candle at both ends and in the middle, what can you expect? You push nature into a corner and then growl like all possessed because she rebels.”
“Not I,” retorted the Idiot. “Mr. Pedagog and the Poet and Mr. Bib may lead the strenuous life, but as for mine the simple life is the thing. I’m not striving after the unattainable. I’m not wasting my physical substance in riotous living. The cold and clammy touch of dissipation is not writing letters of burning condemnation proceedings on my brow. Excesses in any form are utterly unknown to me, and from one end of the Subway to the other you won’t find another man of my age who in general takes better care of himself. I am as watchful of my own needs as though I were a baby and my own nurse at one and the same time. No mother could watch over her offspring more tenderly than I watch over me, and—”
“Well, then, what in thunder is the matter with you?” cried the Lawyer, irritated. “If this is all true, why on earth are you proclaiming yourself as a physical wreck? There must be some cause for your condition.”
“There is,” said the Idiot, meekly. “I went Christmas shopping yesterday without having previously trained for it, and this is the result. I sometimes wonder, Doctor, that you gentlemen, who have the public health more or less in your hands, don’t take the initiative and stave off nervous prostration and other ills attendant upon a run-down physical condition instead of waiting for a fully developed case and trying to cure it after the fact. The ounce-of-prevention idea ought to be incorporated, it seems to me, into the materia medica.”
“What would you have us do, move mountains?” demanded the Doctor. “I’m not afraid to tackle almost any kind of fever known to medical science, but the shopping-fever—well, it is incurable. Once it gets hold of a man or a woman, and more especially a woman, there isn’t anything that I know of can get it out of the system. I grant you that it is as much of a disease as scarlet, typhoid, or any other, but the mind has not yet been discovered that can find a remedy for it short of abject poverty, and even that has been known to fail.”
“That’s true enough,” said the Idiot, “but what you can do is to make it harmless. There are lots of diseases that our forefathers used to regard as necessarily fatal that nowadays we look upon as mere trifles, because people can be put physically into such a condition that they are practically immune to their ravages.”
“Maybe so—but if people will shop they are going to be knocked out by it. I don’t see that we doctors can do anything to mitigate the evil effects of the consequences ab initio. After the event we can pump you full of quinine and cod-liver oil and build you up again, but the ounce of prevention for shopping troubles is as easily attainable as a ton of radium to a man with eight cents and a cancelled postage-stamp in his pocket,” said the Doctor.
“Nonsense, Doctor. You’re only fooling,” said the Idiot. “A college president might as well say that boys will play football, and that there’s nothing they can do to stave off the inevitable consequences of playing the game to one who isn’t prepared for it. You know as well as anybody else that from November 15th to December 24th every year an epidemic of shopping is going to break out in our midst. You know that it will rage violently in the last stage beginning December 15th, thanks to our habit of leaving everything to the last minute. You know that the men and women in your care, unless they have properly trained for the exigencies of the epidemic period, will be prostrated physically and nervously, racked in bone and body, aching from tip to toe, their energy exhausted and their spines as limp as a rag, and yet you claim you can do nothing. What would we think of a football trainer who would try thus to account for the condition of his eleven at the end of a season? We’d bounce him, that’s what.”
“Perhaps that gigantic intellect of yours has something to suggest,” sneered the Doctor.
“Certainly,” quoth the Idiot. “I dreamed it all out in my sleep last night. I dreamed that you and I together had started a series of establishments all over the country—”
“To eradicate the shopping evil?” laughed the Doctor. “A sort of Keeley Cure for shopping inebriates?”
“Nay, nay,” retorted the Idiot. “The shopping inebriate is too much of a factor in our commercial prosperity to make such a thing as that popular. My scheme was a sort of shopnasium.”
“A what?” roared the Doctor.
“A shopnasium,” explained the Idiot. “We have gymnasiums in which we teach gymnastics. Why not have a shopnasium in which to teach what we might call shopnastics? Just think of what a boon it would be for a lot of delicate women, for instance, who know that along about Christmas-time they must hie them forth to the department stores, there to be crushed and mauled and pulled and hauled until there is scarcely anything left to them, to feel that they could come to our shopnasium and there be trained for the ordeal which they cannot escape.”
“Very nice,” said the Doctor. “But how on earth can you train them? That’s what I’d like to know.”
“How? Why, how on earth do you train a football team except by practice?” demanded the Idiot. “It wouldn’t take a very ingenious mind to figure out a game called shopping that would be governed by rules similar to those of football. Take a couple of bargain-counters for the goals. Place one at one end of the shopnasium and one at the other. Then let sixty women start from number one and try to get to number two across the field through another body of sixty women bent on getting to the other one, and vice versa. You could teach ’em all the arts of the rush-line, defence, running around the ends, breaking through the middle, and all that. At first the scrimmage would be pretty hard on the beginners, but with a month’s practice they’d get hardened to it, and by Christmas-time there isn’t a bargain-counter in the country they couldn’t reach without more than ordinary fatigue. An interesting feature of the game would be to have automatic cars and automobiles and cabs running to and fro across the field all the time so that they would become absolute masters of the art of dodging similar vehicles when they encounter them in real life, as they surely must when the holiday season is in full blast and they are compelled by the demands of the hour to go out into the world.”
“The women couldn’t stand it,” said the Doctor. “They might as well be knocked out at the real thing as in the imitation.”
“Not at all,” said the Idiot. “They wouldn’t be knocked out if you gave them preliminary individual exercise with punching-bags, dummies for tackle practice, and other things the football player uses to make himself tough and irresistible.”
“But you can’t reason with shopping as you do with football,” suggested the Lawyer. “Think of the glory of winning a goal which sustains the football player through the toughest of fights. The knowledge that the nation will ring with its plaudits of his gallant achievement is half the backing of your quarter-back.”
“That’s all right,” said the Idiot, “but the make-up of the average woman is such that what pursuit of fame does for the gladiator, the chase after a bargain does for a woman. I have known women so worn and weary that they couldn’t get up for breakfast who had a lion’s strength an hour later at a Monday marked-down sale of laundry soap and Yeats’s poems. What the goal is to the man the bargain is to the woman, so on the question of incentive to action, Mr. Brief, the sexes are about even. I really think, Doctor, there’s a chance here for you and me to make a fortune. Dr. Capsule’s Shopnasium, opened every September for the training and development of expert shoppers in all branches of shopnastics, under the medical direction of yourself and my business management would be a winner. Moreover, it would furnish a business opening for all those football players our colleges are turning out, for, as our institution grew and we established branches of it all over the country, we should, of course, have to have managers in every city, and who better to teach all these things than the expert footballist of the hour?”
“Oh, well,” said the Doctor, “perhaps it isn’t such a bad thing, after all; but I don’t think I care to go into it. I don’t want to be rich.”
“Very well,” said the Idiot. “That being the case, I will modify my suggestion somewhat and send the idea to President Taylor of Vassar and other heads of women’s colleges. As things are now they all ought to have a course of shopping for the benefit of the young women who will soon graduate into the larger institution of matrimony. That is the only way I can see for us to build up a woman of the future who will be able to cope with the strenuous life that is involved to-day in the purchase of a cake of soap to send to one’s grandmother at Christmas. I know, for I have been through it; and rather than do it again I would let the All-American eleven for 1908 land on me after a running broad jump of sixteen feet in length and four in the air.”
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