September 25, 2012

I suppose because it’s election season right now, I’ve seen a lot of talk about how everyone taking anything from the government is lazy. I’ve heard this even from supposedly liberal friends. I thought, given that, it might be a good time to share some personal stories…

First Story

My dad was poor. Dirt poor. His father served in the Navy in WWII and Korea. When he came back, he worked hard. Still, there wasn’t always food on the table. The kids went hungry a lot. The parents went hungry even more.

Second Story

When I was little we were poor. Both my parents worked, but sometimes my dad was laid off. They both had a hard time finding work. We always had food, but sometimes we could only heat one or two rooms of the house. My parents both worked very hard and yet, sometimes they missed payments on the mortgage. Times were hard.

Third Story

I went to a good college. A really good college. The year before I graduated, practically everyone who came out either had a good job lined up or they were going to graduate school.

Then September 11th happened. When I graduated, the economy was in the toilet. I knew one person with a job. He had been hired by the accounting firm Arthur Andersen. If you don’t remember what happened to them, just Google “Enron.”

I took the first job I could get. Door to door canvassing. I worked strictly on commission. During an especially slow period, I worked two 40 hour weeks and got paid $140. It sucked, but no one else would hire me. Either I was over-qualified and they were sure I’d leave or I was qualified, but hey, here’s this other person who has four years experience and just lost another job.

Eventually, I quit the canvassing job to try and make ends meet as a substitute teacher. That didn’t go very well, either. I did find a job, eventually. It took me six months, but I got a job doing editing work. It’s the kind of job I would have been qualified for when I graduated from high school, but it was a job. It paid the bills. I was, at this point, what would probably be called under-employed. I never stopped looking for another job, but I never found one.

Eventually, I went back to school (and took on a bunch of debt I didn’t need) so I could be a teacher. This represented a substantial raise over what I had been making and it was work that didn’t make me miserable.

This entire process took six years. Times have only gotten harder.

During the first year after college, I had a lot of help from my family. My parents supported me. They paid my rent. They bought my food. I lived with them for ten months.

I shudder to think what would have happened to me if I hadn’t had them.

Because I needed some kind of help. I was doing everything you’re supposed to do. Everything even Mitt Romney says I’m supposed to do, but if it hadn’t been for my family, I would have had nowhere to stay. It is entirely possible I could have ended up homeless. With a college degree. From a good school. And a willingness to do just about anything to pay the bills.

Fourth Story

If you’ve read this blog for long, you know I had surgery to remove a tumor when I was 18. My parents carried me on their insurance as long as they could and then they bought private insurance for me because they didn’t want me to have a “preexisting condition” dogging me for the rest of my life.

And then the insurance company dropped me.

Fortunately, I’d gotten a job with benefits and switched things over (though the coverage was pretty miserable). Otherwise, I would have been screwed.

What It Means

Look, I get that there are people who find a way to take advantage of the system. I get it and I don’t care. I think people who think of welfare recipients as getting an awesome free ride should look into it and see what they really think. I don’t know anyone who even has a concept of what middle class is who would rather depend on the government. I want those same people who don’t think healthcare should be a right to tell me why I deserved to very nearly have my life ruined by something totally out of my control.

There’s all this talk about how people should pick themselves up because we aren’t socialists and why are those other people so lazy?

My parents weren’t lazy. May grandparents weren’t lazy. Why did they have to go without heat or food?

I wasn’t lazy, but if I hadn’t had a family to help, there’s a chance I would have ended up homeless.

I had a conversation with a friend once and the very American notion that anyone can rise to the top came up. And, in one of my better moments, I said, “Anyone can, but everyone can’t.”

If everyone works as hard as they can, someone will still be at the bottom. In good times, that means working at McDonald’s. In bad times, it means losing everything. These are bad times.

I know that not everyone works as hard as they can. Few do, perhaps. But I also know there are many people at the top who did not work for what they have. I need look no further than the people who ran the company where I had my first real post-college job. They were incompetent. All of them. They were also the sons of the owners. That company went out of business not long ago. How do you think the incompetents at the top are doing now and how do you think the hardworking people at the bottom (and I know they were hardworking. I worked with them) are doing now? Who is better off? Who should be better off?

I look overseas, and every nation I can find doing better than us provides healthcare for its citizens. It often provides food and shelter for those who have nothing or some equivalent material benefit. It doesn’t ask for anything. It simply says, “you are cold and hungry. Eat this food. Sleep here.” I see that they have higher standards of living, longer lifespans, better education, and lower poverty rates and I think maybe there is something important about valuing every person, no matter how little they do. I think that maybe says something about your society and I think it maybe encourages your citizens in a way our “tough-luck” philosophy does not.

If you think that’s wrong, we disagree. I don’t want to live in a society where, “not my problem” is the response to other people’s struggles (go read A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer).

If you think you couldn’t easily be one of these people, you suffer from a lack of imagination.


August 15, 2012

As you may have noted, I did not post last week. There’s a reason for that, a pretty good one.

I have posted, more or less yearly about the tumor I’ve been dealing with for fourteen years (Jesus, that’s a long time). It’s not life-threatening. It is a pain in my ass. tI has been stable for, I don’t know, something like eight years. Long enough for me to forget exactly how long it’s been.

And I had adapted pretty well. My right shoulder is bum from complications a million years ago, but that’s it. I have to catch and throw lefty. I can’t use a shovel very well. I have to write left-handed on the board when I teach. Those things took a bit to get used to, but I got there.

For a few years now, I’ve been right on the brink of no longer seeing my oncologist. This isn’t because he stinks. In fact, he’s fantastic, and I’m lucky he’s my doctor. The thinking was simply, this has been stable for a long time. Let’s check it via MRI in a year and then in another year and if it’s still stable, “You call me if you notice something.”

Last year was supposed to be the last one. But there was something the radiologist called an “enhancement.” No growth, per se, it was just brighter and thus, maybe a little denser. We checked again a few months later. And it was fine. Exactly the same as it had been for years. So, we thought the machine must have been working a little funny or the person reading the report wasn’t quite on the money or something. Okay, one more year and then we’re done. That was supposed to be last week. We were supposed to be done.

Then it grew. In two spots.

Just a little (one centimeter), but still, it grew. Fuck. That is what I have to say to that. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. I hope you’ll forgive the profanity there.

So now, I’m back on Celebrex, which is the medication that halted things last time. It doesn’t bother me except that it messes with my stomach a bit. There’s thought about another possible treatment when we re-check in four months. For reasons too complicated to really explain, surgery isn’t really a good option.

It’s not going to kill me. It’s chronic. My risk, as my oncologist put it, “is zero. You have no risk.”

It still sucks, though.

In any case, there’s plenty good going on. Some I can tell you about right now and some I can’t. I’ll have posts about some of that stuff in the next few days. I feel like blogging right now, so I’m going to go with it.

Living in a Plutocracy

November 16, 2011

As is probably obvious to people who know me and regular readers, I have been thinking a lot about the OWS movement, where it comes from, and what it says about America. I haven’t said anything because I didn’t feel like I had a lot to add. Then Zuccotti Park was cleared out, and I feel like I have to comment, even if I have nothing new to say.

I could go with lots of charts. I like charts, but I’m not going to do that. If you want charts, go here. They will tell you plenty.

Instead, I’m going to go for context in words. Let’s see how it works.

Right now, the distribution of wealth in America is more skewed than it was during the Gilded Age or the Great Depression. Think about that because those are not shining chapters in America’s history. I recently read The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton. It’s set in the Gilded Age, and has an interesting perspective. The characters in it, generally speaking, take their wealth so for granted that it’s almost impossible for the reader not to be offended. It’s a society that concerns itself almost entirely with wealth.

It feels a lot like right now.

Right now. 1% of Americans control 35% of the country’s wealth. 10% control 72% of the wealth. These are the people who control virtually everything in America. They are captains of industry. They are elected officials.

Tell me again about how the tax system is unfair.

I am a teacher. A teacher. Cate does not have a paying job. Yet, somehow, our household income places us in the 56th percentile in America right now. We are something approximating upper-middle-class. I always thought that if I eventually made it to upper middle class I’d be able to buy a book or go out to eat without worrying about how much those things cost. Of course, in those fanciful musings, health insurance didn’t take up 20% of my take-home pay while still leaving my family with significant medical bills.

Tell me again how socialized medicine is a bad thing.

Plutocracy is rule by a wealthy class. The goal of the wealthy class is to maintain their power.

Even adjusting for inflation, the cost of attending college has gone up 300% in the last 30 years. College is supposed to be the great equalizer. Everyone my age was indoctrinated to believe that if you Worked Hard and Went to College. You would Be Successful and Wealthy.

Of course everyone can’t be wealthy. And now, everyone can’t go to college. This is where all the complaints about student loan debt come from. College has become so expensive that a great many people can’t do it. Of course, they’ve all been told that college is the only way.

America is supposed to try to at least approximate equality of opportunity. Rich kids are already going to have a lot of breaks. Their parents have connections and can open doors for them, after all. But we have also become a nation that saddles its bright, but disadvantaged youth with tens of thousands of dollars of debt that wealthy youth do not have to face simply to keep up. It’s a sad thing. If we really cared about equality of opportunity, it would be hard, but not this hard.

I know what I have written here is fractured. I know it doesn’t describe all the problems with money in this country right now, but I hope it makes clear that there are problems. I know a lot of people are upset by the OWS movement, but its purpose is a good one. These people are trying to create a more equal country. One where who parents are doesn’t play as much of a role in your success as your talents and your willingness to work. There have been times when America got close to these ideals. Sadly, we are not living in one of those times.

Dear Doctor Douchebag

March 14, 2009

The following is a letter I am sending to a doctor I saw once almost two years ago:

Dear Dr. M-,

Almost two years ago I came into your office seeking advice for treatment of my shoulder. Your office did not have a negotiated agreement with the insurance company I had at the time, but the doctors I had already consulted with insisted that you were the best in the area, so I bit the bullet and paid $150 up front with the understanding that the rest would be paid by my insurance.

Frankly, I found your consultation to be entirely useless. You seemed completely unwilling to listen to what I, a patient who had dealt with various shoulder issues for eight years (now ten) and knew a great deal about my condition and my experience with it, had to say. You spent about five minutes with me. During that brief visit, you told me only things that I already knew not to be true. I left your office dissatisfied, but figured that sometimes that just happens. Every doctor isn’t going to be helpful, and that’s okay.

Later, I had a great deal of success with occupational therapy (you told me this would be ineffective. That is, you were wrong). I considered the matter closed. A short time after my visit, I moved and I didn’t feel the need to inform your office as I had paid you and had no interest in seeking your medical advice again. About a year and half later, I received a bill for about $37. Though I assume this bill had not taken that full year and a half to be forwarded to me, the due date on the bill had already passed by the time I received it. Also, I had already paid you $150 dollars and was sure this was a mistake. I called your office and spoke to a lovely woman who, after doing some investigating, told me that my insurance had not come through with all of the payment, but since I had already paid $150 and since your office had taken a year and a half to bill me, these last charges would be dropped. This seemed entirely reasonable to me, as I think it would to anyone.

Today (six months after the incident I just described), I received the bill from you, yet again, but this time it informed me that you were reporting me to a debt collection service. How wonderfully professional of your office. I cannot recall ever having a more unpleasant experience with a doctor’s office (and I have had many, many experiences). I have no interest in ruining my credit rating over $37. Enclosed, please find the check. I now consider the matter closed. Please do not contact me again unless you want to explain how five minutes of not listening to a patient is worth $187.