The Fourth Time Manny Furious saw Lemon Crush….

Rio Frio Medical Center is a designated 401c3 nonprofit, “Community Medical Center” offering “comprehensive”, “holistic”, “coordinated”, medical and mental health, and preventative care, primarily to residents of Rio Frio and its surrounding counties poor and impoverished enough to qualify for what, in the year of our lord 2016, was called “medicaid” benefits.

What all that means is that the institution received (and continues to receive)millions of government dollars in the form of “medicaid capitation” and another million or so dollars in the form of various government and private grants.

While ostensibly a noble task, in practice its a little less so. What such a set-up does is funnel all the poor and impoverished people into one place to get their healthcare needs met. And since the amount of money the institution receives in medicaid funding–its primary funding source by several million–is directly related to the percentage of people receiving medicaid benefits in the Rio Frio region who enroll for services at Rio Frio Medical Center, the real goal of the institution is to get as many poor people into the door as possible. it is a medical care factory. industrialized, efficieny, streamlined, corporatized, consumerized. Getting an industrial amount of people into and out of healre is done under the guise of “providing proper care” to “consumers.” But, its purpose is neoliberal in nature–it’s really about capitalizing on a market demand to make vast sums of money for “the system.” So, in the defense of the Empty Suit and its flunkies, they, themselves, are not raking in the millions for themselves. All that sweet, gushing government money goes back into The System, so that The Systm may perpetuate as long as medicaid dollars exist. And when that change… then–and only then–so too will The System.

The Empty Suit and its cronies are not totally blameless or innocent, however. They all make six figures for the sole purpose of keeping The System satiated and health and capable of its asexual form of reproduction, which, in the terms of the business is called “expansion” or “growth.” They are nurses, caregivers for the system. They foster it, nurture it, and keep it alive and thriving. They do this by not actually being in the office very much. Instead, they are out and about attending conferences and state senate meetings where they eat steak and rub shoulders with politicians and other legislative/philanthropic geeks, whom the Empty Suit and its groupies will attempt to seduce into loosening up their economic sphincters and shitting out even more money to feed The System.

The–the Empty Suit and his minions–even get company cars and private jets so that they can rush back from such meetings to put more pressure on the healthcare provers to somehow see more patience, document more thoroughly, bill more substantially, and pledge fealty to The System more dogmatically–all in the same amount of worktime and same pay they’ve had since the turn of the millenium when workloads were far less draconian.

All of which leads to high provider burnout and turnover. Most of the best therapists, for example, will do a two year sentence at Rio Frio Med to get the proper professional licensing credential, as well as any relevant professional training paid for, before leaving to go start a private practice (cash only) or try to work at a college somewhere. Meanwhile their positions at Rio Frio Med (RFMC) are filled by over-their-head novices and/or apathetic burnouts who lack the creativity to do something different with their lives.

Then, on top of all that, providers are limited in what kind of services they can provide to clients/patients/”consumers”, because medicaid (the government) of course doesn’t want to pay for any of this, it’s its own system, with its own survival instinct, so you can’t ever provide a service that might be helpful, if it’s not “evidence based” for a particular malady for the simple fact that medicaid won’t pay for anything medicaid doesn’t want to pay for, and RFMC doesn’t want that, obviously.

Hence: compromised and not-as-effective-as-it-should-or-could-be medical/mental health care.

So…the poor people do what the system wants them to do best–be exploited. Make money for others. Provide gristle for the mill, as it were. The system needs calories, and it will gladly take it from the marrow of the poor. And the cheaper, the better.

I bring all of this up as a rather longwinded, roundabout preamble for emphasizing just how utterly and inexcusably superfluous and gratuitous RFMC’s yearly Hard Cider Fest fundraiser is. Held every July, it is a popular social and networking event in the greater northwestern New Mexico region, bringing visitors from the nearest four counties, at least, and from as far away as Farmington and Taos.

Even so, after calculating for the literal monetary costs of putting on the event–including the costs of paying for the manpower, venue and prizes–it, on average, going on its 10th year, now, clears about $75,000 each time. That’s about 1/80 to 1/100 of the yearly operating budge of RFMC, and, roughly, would pay for the salary of one nurse, if that’s what they used the money on.

Therefore, it seems self-explanatory about what the event is really about–smug self-congratulation. And, also, I suppose, for the affected, awkward attempts of the administrative staff–the Empty Suit and its cronies, and their cronies of the cronies (pure, distilled American Mediocrity down to their khakis, pink skin, phony smiles and forced nonchalant allusions to Malcolm Gladwell dropped mid-conversation)–to act human.

Furious was a recovering alcoholic, of course. But he attended the event his first year working at the medical center out of a modest curiosity, and slightly less modest boredom.

Over 40 types of hard cider were served the year he went, from more than a dozen cider mills–pear, apple, peach, currant, plum, even pomegranate. There were ciders that supposedly paired well with brunch prime rib and lunch quiche and dinner fish–but none, Furious noted, that paired all that well with is grim hate and self-loathing.

In his drinking days, Furious didn’t drink much cider. He always enjoyed the flavor, but he was an American Male back then, even if he denied it, and thus insecure. Having a penis and testicles and the general feelings of just being male wasn’t enough. Like all American Males, he had to prove to himself he was a man. And so, something as innocuous and irrelevant as drinking alcohol that didn’t taste like something that was trying to kill you sent shivers through his delicate sense of masculinity, and he avoided mixed drinks, wine and any other alcohol–including cider–that tasted ok.

Now, back at the Cider Fest, he found himself enjoying the food–hors d’oeuvres of bacon-wrapped jalapeno poppers, bacon-wrapped scallops, bacon-wrapped smoked vienna sausages, bacon-wrapped turkey bacon, etc. Robust offerings. As manly and masculine as finger foods could be.

He was standing at a table serving dessert ciders, because that particularly table was also serving bacon-wrapped yogurt pretzels.

He felt himself leaning. There was a source static electricity of sorts in the air, somewhere, and it was pulling at his arm, leg and head hairs like a charged balloon. It was subtle, but it was present.

And soon it was getting stronger. He felt as if he was going to be shocked. As if someone had just slid down a plastic slide and was hovering somewhere behind him.

Was this an anxiety attack, he wondered. A stroke? What was this feeling? This vague nervousness?

Just then, he knew it when he saw her. Lemon Crush was present and had made her way over to the dessert ciders.

“Ooooh,” she cooed. “this one’ smy favorite.” She held up a bottle of Floraison, a cherry cider that was brewed three hours north in the San Juan mountains of Colorado.

She was gorgeous, Furious thought, in that exact word–gorgeous. She was wearing a short red dress that accentuating the turns of her curves, and her hazel eyes were extra green that evening. But, again, it wasn’t just her appearance. There was a holistic gorgeousness to her, and, as far as he was concerned, it a brazen act of the Universe.

He froze looking at her. Her beauty was gorgonizing, but not from any magical serpents writhing form her skull. Her beauty wasn’t blinding, per se, but, sure, it was arresting, like a summer sunset, when the summer’s air starts to cool, and the sky seems to be infinite shades of orange and purple and pink.

It wasn’t just some physical, primal, evolutionary reaction of a sort. At least, it didn’t feel that way. There was a spooky energy between the two. Furious swore the very air around her changed hues ever so slightly when she approached, and on his end, he felt a subtle buzz throughout his body, as though he had gone swimming in a pool that had been slightly electrified by a short in one of its filtering systems.

“Hubba-da,” Furious mumbled.

He glanced a the bottle of cider Lemon held up. He was familiar with the brand and the flavor of it. if that was really her favorite, he thought her taste was too basic, too inelegant, too unrefined. It was a far too sweet of a cider. One may as well drink straight cherry juice, or a cherry soda, even, for at least the sweetness of those drinks would be sullied by the slight wince of alcohol.

But he couldn’t say that out loud, of course. Even he knew that. Don’t besmirch a beautiful woman’s choice of drink.

Or should he?

Wasn’t this what “negging” was about? Establish the high ground with her, by slightly and playfully insulting her. he had read that somewhere, some time, neither of which he could remember. And he had been repulsed by the idea, but–

“What are you drinking?” Lemon interrupted.

“I’m not drinking.”

“Yes you are,” she insisted slightly incredulously and nodding toward the drink in Furious’s hand.

“It’s just seltzer water.”

He wanted to say something smooth, clever, funny. but all he heard in his mind was a bewildering darkness. His mind was so devoid of thoughts that when he attempted to search for any, all he found was a colorless, soundless, tasteless void. In retrospect he would wonder if Lemon had accidentally put him in the mythic Buddhist state of Samadhi.

In the meantime, Lemon smushed her face together and the skin on her nose crumbled into rolls. “Why are you drinking seltzer water?”

“It’s a long story,” said Furious.

But it wasn’t a long story at all. He had a drinking problem. He was an alcoholic. He was in “recovery.” Any which way he chose to tell the story would be quite brief.

“Well, what are you eating?” She asked. The server was filling her glass with the deep, royal, maroon dessert cider.

“Bacon-wrapped something or another.”

“Sounds yummy.”

Furious shrugged.

“Here, taste this,” Lemon offered Furious her own glass.

He looked at the glass.

He looked at Lemon.

He looked at the glass.

He looked at Lemon.

“Take it, silly,” she said. “My arm’s getting tired.”

“Also,” the server at the table added. “There’s a line of people, and you’re holding it up…sir.” He motioned to the line of about 15 people pretending to be patient, as they waited on some moron not drinking cider at the Cider Fest to take a drink of cider being offered by a beautiful woman at the Cider Fest.

Furious took the glass and took a drink.

“Tastes like cherry juice,” he said, trying to somehow make a declarative sentence into a joke.

Lemon took the glass back and said, so excitedly she almost growled, “I know! That’s why I like it.

“Tootles,” she cooed as she turned and walked away.

Furious watched her as she ambled all the way back to the table she was sitting at. She shared the table with several of the RFMC administrators, women i nevening dresses and men in slacks and ties with job titles like, “Assistant Associate Director of Supervisors of Quality Compliance,” and “Team Lead of Managers of Business Information and Analytics.”

The MBAs had long since gotten their bloody little claws on nonprofits, and here we were.

But he didn’t see Captain Colt Crush anywhere. He stared for several moments and assumed he–Captain Colt Crush–must’ve been working a shift that evening.

“Sir,” the server stated. He was wearing a maroon vest and bowtie with a white button-up and black slacks. He looked familiar, but Furious couldn’t place him.

“Yeah, I know,” Furious replied, distractedly, still attuned to the movements of Lemon. “I’m holding up the line.”

“Well, sure, but…you’re gonna fall, I think.”

Furious’s mind returned to itself, and he realized he was once again leaning toward her vicinity in that physics-defying, anti-physiologically possible manner that only Lemon could summon.

He leaned himself back into physiologically-coherent position, cleared his throat and went home.

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