The wheels on his navy blue Toyota Prius could be heard squeeling as Science wound down the parking structure in Bethesda. Yes, it's true, Science's parking spot involved two stories and some undwinding to get out on the open road. Today Mr. Science was headed to the White House for tea with Ms. Democracy.
As it happens, on this particular day, our Mr. Science is a religious man. One doesn't know how it happened. It just happened.
“Lord, I need some help on this one. Everyone said Doomsday was coming, but I still held out hope. We’ve had such momentum since sequencing the genome. How do we cut back now?”
Science was getting nostalgic and sentimental. If he was English, he’d go for a whiskey. But he was American, so instead he was having a “Come to Jesus” chat . . . with Jesus.
“What can I say to her? That we are ever so close on Alzheimer’s? That we’re on the brink of the first ever treatment? And cancer! We’re on the brink of the brink!”
Pulling into the parking lot from which he’d be shuttled to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, Science carefully and efficiently put his sun glasses in the compartment at the roof of the car. Security. He took off his belt and put it with his iPhone into the grey container.
Democracy was already present when Science walked into the Yellow Oval Room.
She brought the tea service to the table herself. He noticed her pride in the tea set.
“That’s a beautiful teapot,” he complimented. I sound like an idiot, he said to himself.
“It’s very special to me,” replied Democracy.
Now what to do about yesterday’s announcement about billions of dollars in budget cuts? Science sat down waiting for his confidence to join him. He felt naked without his slides and clicker.
“I’m very glad to meet you. Can I pour you some tea?”
Democracy leaned forward in a black dress that came an inch above the knees. Her hair hung free like a country girl on a swing.
“Thank you,” he said gathering his thoughts and fortitude. He was used to the anger that comes from having to leave the lab and fight for his work with polite conversation over tea.
“First of all, I want to say what a great job you’ve done for America. The President is a big admirer. And he said to tell you he takes lots of vitamins every morning.”
The next thing she says will say everything, he thought.
“He says 'lots and lots,' and I guess he’s telling the truth. He eats his breakfast at strange hours.” She sipped from a rose and teal painted cup. Her smile automatic.
“Madame Democracy, I hope . . .”
“I talked with the President last night. And he wanted me to tell you that he’s a really big supporter.”
Science was familiar with her accent from television. The scent she wore danced around him like Salome, making a play thing of his nose and turning his stomach. Being distracted by the stirrings of arousal made him again angry. "I hate her, and I hate that I hate her," he exclaimed to himself. Still, he was curious why it is that his own biology would sabatage the future of biology.
“The President feels that his supporters in the red states aren't really benefiting that much from what you do. They’re more afraid of terrorism than they are of dying. I mean like from disease or global warming or stuff like that. And also,” she went on, “when drugs come out they are the much too expensive. And besdies that, they are addictive."
Democracy pulled her skirt forward though it didn’t move at all. She glanced hard at a blemish on one of her nails.
"Oh Jesus, is this really happening?" Science asked himself. "Has it come to this? The future of the human race, the future of millions of patients with Alzheimer's, with rare diseases that can be solved! Of all days, and this is the one where I nick myself shaving! And my mustache needs a trim."
The hard earned wave of confidence he had trained to come at times like this, along with the thought “I’m Science--I don’t have to look good,” didn’t come.
“Excuse me, Madame Democracy, I must interject.” She took her first sip of tea. “Does cystic fibrosis choose between red and blue states? Perhaps you don’t know, I discovered the gene for cystic fibrosis. Shortly after that we had a treatment. The first ever for the disease. We are so close on Alzheimer's . . .“
"Alzheimer's is a terrible disease. My uncle has it. I see him now, and I can't believe I ever had crush on him."
"The future of . . ." She cut him off.
"Maybe you should be more in the present, Science, and less in the future."
His mind was all over the place. A recent grant to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine for a new center for diabetes research. A new instrument for single cell sequencing. Kathleen Sibelius standing to make another great announcement. He was tired. He should have let go in the Obama years. Now he’d have to cut, the first major setback in years. Which disease would he ignore? Which world renowned scientists would he turn down? He heard the next guest being prepped in the hallway. Democracy was clearing her throat.
“It will be tough, but you’ll find a way. There was one year where we--not 2005 as I’m sure you’ve seen--there was one year--there were years--where we had to cut back. The President--he wasn't the President then of course-- said we had lost tons and tons of money. I didn’t know how to do it at first. I had to change the brand of coffee we drank in the morning. It was terrible. Science, can I share a recommendation to you?"
"Of course, you're Democracy."
"What if you were to just focus on one thing? Cancer, for instance. Just focus on cancer. Put all the money there. Make everything about cancer. The media will really help you out. It’s the best advice I ever received. From my agent. He said, Sweetheart, when you go for the man who has money, don’t mess with other men. Sink it into one. If he's a winner, you come up big. If not, what do you have to lose?”
Science threw back the rest of his tea.
“Also, and the President would never say this, but here’s what I think." She stood up. He stood up. "You mention many breakthrough therapies. But you’ve never come up with some real hair replacement treatment. That's what people want. If only you come up with something for hair.”
She turned and leaning over with grace and ease, she set her cup down.
“And then there is the small of the President's hands. Many times scientists say they come up with something for that department. But it never happen."
“What about Viagra?” Science asked.
“Yes, true. You have a point.” She looked at the door. “And I will talk to the President. I'm afraid he's so focused on this Wall. You see, it's his strategy too--sink all he has into one thing. He doesn't care about me, if I live or die. His whole Presidency hangs on the Wall. Now, I'm sorry, we have to be ending our chat. It's been a pleasure to meet you.” They walk toward the door. “I hear you’re a religious person. At first I chuckle. I'm very religious. And that you play the guitar? That's amazing. You have to come back to White House soon.”
“Thank you Madame Democracy.”
Science wondered, would they clear his teacup before the next guest was seated? As a staff secretary walked him to the door, he noticed that a member of the security team had a limp. The secretary said, "polio when he was young."
"That's one we got," Science mumbled to himself.