Artie and Barbara: A Short Story


Once upon a time, in a small Midwestern town, a young couple, new to the area, were expecting their first child. So they decided to visit the town hospital to make arrangements for the baby’s delivery. “Viking Hospital” seemed a strange name to them for a hospital, but it was the only one in town.

Their conversation with the hospital administrator, Mr. Zygzag, went fine until the expectant mother happened to mention the baby’s names they had in mind. “It will be Barbara if it’s a girl and Artie if it’s a boy,” she offhandedly remarked.

Mr. Zygzag flinched. “Oh,” he said. “We thought you knew. If the baby is delivered in our hospital, you don’t pick the name.”

“I beg your pardon?” said the future father.

“Yes, it’s hospital policy.”

“Come on; you’re joking, right?” the young woman asked.

“No,“ said Zygzag. “That’s how it’s done in our chain of hospitals. We have the naming rights for babies we deliver. That‘s how it‘s done across the whole country.”

“But isn’t it our baby?” asked the incredulous young man.

“Of course,” said Zygzag. “It’s absolutely yours. No question about that. But we have found that corporations are willing to pay us for these naming rights, and that helps us keep our costs to you down.”

The couple responded almost simultaneously, “So why not let the corporations pay us for the naming rights?”

“Well,” said Zygzag, “it’s only because Viking Hospital is here that we can sell the rights. The sponsors want to be associated with the hospital. So, they buy naming rights to be associated with us, not with you or your baby or your town.“

“Pardon me,” said the expectant mother, “but without our baby, there’s nothing to name.”

“Well, after all, we could take our hospital and move it to another town, or another part of the country,” Zygzag said. “Then what would you do?“

Seeing that he was only antagonizing this naïve young couple, Zygzag played his final card. “I am really sorry, but when we decided to build here, that was the ’term sheet’ we negotiated with the town. I‘m afraid if you insist on naming your baby, it will be a deal-breaker. As you may have seen from the slogan above the maternity ward: ’We deliver if you deliver.’”

And that was how the town’s population became four less than it might otherwise have been. Yes, the couple had twins — Artie and Barbara — both of whom went on to glorious careers in public service.