False starts

Here are three quick (but not quick enough) stories that were going one way but surprised me in the end. It's M Night Shyamalan's universe; we only rent here.

One fine morning I was early to my bus stop, and took a slight detour to walk through the new housing development's private park at the corner. I'd never looked closely enough to notice it, but walking into the park from the main street, you can't get to the grass except by descending some steps.

In a wheelchair, you could get to the tiny playground, where you're probably not going to climb the monkey-bars or go down the slide, but if you'd like a picnic on the grass, you simply can't get there. There are steps in the way, and there's no ramp.

My wife was in a wheelchair so I notice this stuff, and if you're in a wheelchair you notice it lots more than I do. Surely this can't be legal, even for a privately-owned park.

It's frickin' infuriating, and what's worse, it isn't even geographically necessary. The park and bus stop are all on a slight hill, but the public sidewalk climbs the hill. It wouldn't be difficult, even in a wheelchair.

The steps into the park are merely ornamental, to make it look a little snazzier than just monkey-bars, a slide, and some grass. Anyone who can't walk can fuck off, I guess.

This stupid little fake park was designed by some professional landscape architect, who decided that there'd be no way in for Stephen Hawking or Frida Kahlo or anyone who isn't able to climb stairs that don't even offer a handrail.

Grr. Argh. I am not a guy who'd call some city bureaucrat and file a complaint, but I am a guy who's going to buy a can of spray paint and ask right on the sidewalk, "Why do you hate people in wheelchairs?"

All the above was typed while I was at work (on the clock!), after being outraged at the park in the morning. When I came home, though, and took another look, my outrage was for naught, or not for much. You have to figure it out like a maze, but there is a flat, rollable way to reach the grass.

From the sidewalk on the busy street, it's 108 footsteps down the hill, and then if you enter from the other sidewalk on the not-so-busy street, and then roll into the small playground area, past the monkey bars and swing and past any kids playing on them, you'll find a small opening in the concrete that leads onto the grass.

None of this is visible from either street, and there's no sign marking a wheelchair entrance, but there is a way in, so I will gently lower my flipped finger and not be buying that can of spray paint.

Still hate whoever built that new neighborhood, though.

♦ ♦ ♦  

One fine afternoon on my bus from the island, a white guy with a French accent was asking the driver where to catch a #14 bus.

The driver was trying to answer, but had a difficult African accent, and the French guy couldn't understand what the African guy was saying. I couldn't much understand either of them, only that the French guy wanted a #14.

I've never ridden a #14 bus, but it stops at the same stop as the #99 I ride home. Since I was standing near their conversation, I butted in like a good neighbor, and told the Frenchman he could walk with me to the stop for the #14.

Man, everything was so multicultural and I was being so helpful, it could've been an episode of Sesame Street. Me and the French guy rode to the next stop, and got off, and I didn't really want to walk with him, so I pointed which way to go, and he said, "And zat's where I catch zee #14 to Fremont?"

It was the first sentence he'd said where I understood all the words, but the answer was no. I'd been leading him to a stop for a southbound #14, and Fremont is on the north side of Seattle — and my bus stop is on a one-way street, so I wasn't even sure where the northbound #14 stops.

In my best English with a French accent, I told him I'd been mistaken, and that I think the #14 northbound runs on 3rd Avenue. I pointed him away from me and wished him luck.

He said thanks as if I'd been helpful and walked up 3rd Avenue, when actually, he would've been better off if I'd said nothing at all.

Another twist, though: Writing this a week later, I Googled the Metro map, and my advice had been solid. Two or three blocks north on Third, the #14 stops in the middle of FentanylLand, between the bums outside the fenced-off park and the bums outside the fenced-off fountain.

Yet another twist: I don't know where the Frenchman got the idea that the #14 bus goes to Fremont. It only goes as far north as Belltown, leaving him a few miles short of where he wanted to be. Sacré bleu!

♦ ♦ ♦  

For 3½ months, I've worked for Haugen & Dahl on Millionaires' Island. The company made a good first impression, because for my first few weeks I worked only with Ramona, a bubbly, optimistic lady.

Soon the office seating was rejiggered, though, and with my whole 'team' seated together, all of them taking phone calls from 'members', it became more and more clear what the company really is.

It's something ghastly, actually. They're not a health insurance company, denying claims and denying coverage. They're a third-party administrator, a buffer between your health care plan and the insurance companies that provide those plans. Health insurance is an evil middleman between you and your doctor, and Haugen & Dahl is another middleman, between you and the middleman.

It's crazy and impossible to make sense of it — an "only in America" kind of insanity — but the entire company of Haugen & Dahl, near as I can figure, provides no necessary services.

My department answers questions from people who have health insurance, explaining their coverage, but they're questions the insurance company could probably answer better. Other departments deal with the insurance companies, but all of Haugen & Dahl adds nothing to the mix except taking its cut of the profits.

It gets worse: Most of the people we sorta-serve are gig workers, in the construction, plumbing, or electrical fields, where work is spotty, not always steady. Once a building has been built, construction workers often have unwanted days or weeks off before their next gig, and that's the catch.

The workers only have health coverage if they've worked 150 hours in a given month. That's almost 19 eight-hour days, a threshold high enough that for most of the workers we deal with, it's always dicey whether they'll have health coverage. When they do have coverage, it's only for this month, and they might not have coverage next month.

All day long, my co-workers answer calls and questions from workers and their wives, who are hoping they're insured. It's good news when the answer is yes, but often the answer is no, with lines like, "I'm sorry, it says here you only worked 148 hours last month, so you don't have health coverage this month."

Sitting in the call center, I overhear such explanations a hundred times daily — and my boss wants me to hurry up my training so's I can start answering phone calls, too.

Ho ho, and no no. I'd wanted to work outside of an office, so I tried driving a bus, tried working for the Post Office, but those jobs didn't work out. Eventually I had to have an income, so here I am working in an office again, like all my life — and this is an office doing work that makes the world a worse place.

The job has its advantages, though. The pay is good. The boss never checks on what I'm doing, so I can browse the internet when I'm supposed to be working.

Best of all, part of my duties involve checking birth certificates and marriage licenses to be sure that every member's spouse and kids are really the member's spouse and kids. I love doing that, because I simply don't check the documents at all. Everybody deserves the right to see a doctor if they need a doctor, so if you tell me this woman is your wife and those kids are your kids, she is your wife, they are your kids, and they do have coverage.

I've also grown fond of the company's cast of characters, especially the hilariously brusque Brianna from Brooklyn, as she uncaringly tells callers that they could've had health coverage this month, if only they'd worked 45 minutes more two months ago. 

It's an evil place and working there makes me an evil man, so for months I've known this wasn't the job for me, but… like I said, it pays well, and I'm able to slightly monkey-wrench the works, so there's been no hurry. 

Until Thursday, when the boss told me again that she wants me to learn all the intricate rules and start answering phones, answering callers' questions, telling them whether they have health insurance this month.

And that's where my shredded morality draws the line. Providing clerical support and data entry for this monstrous company? Sure, it's a job. But I am not going to be the voice on the phone telling people they can't see a doctor this month, but maybe they can see a doctor next month if they work lots of hours. 

After thinking about all this for far too long, on Friday I finally sent the boss an email, saying ① I've gotten the data entry backlog down to zero and for that I deserve a raise, ② the long commute is wearing me out so I'd like to work three days a week instead of five, and also, ③ I'm never going to answer the company's phones.

Clicking 'send' made it one fine afternoon. It might as well have been a letter of resignation, but this way was more fun.

If the boss says yes, yes, and yes a third time, I'll stay at Haugen & Dahl, but that's not going to happen. Either she'll fire me or she'll say no and I'll say goodbye, but by quitting time on Friday she hadn't answered my email. We'll find out what happens on Monday.



  1. Fine writing. Dat's what I'm talkin' about. That's some American literature. Thanks.


    1. American literature? Thanks, but I hope not. I took a high school class by that name and it bored me silly (same as all the other classes).

    2. I think the full title of that class was American Literature for People with a Stick Up Their Ass. I'm talking about American literature for people who love to read:. Dashiell Hammett, Mark Twain, Kurt Vonnegut, Joe Heller, Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler, Hunter Thompson, Richard Brautigan, Kinky Friedman, Isaac Asimov, and many more.

      As far as I'm concerned, just off the top of my head, that's American literature. I'm sure I left out 50 other authors just as interesting and fun.


    3. Hey, I've read most of those authors. Guess that makes me American Literate.

  2. Good luck, brother. Agreed with the above JTB, you turn a fine phrase every so often, and this entry has some good ones.

    Sometimes I wonder at my luck. I'm poor as balls, but like I was texting you earlier, I spent half my day in the open air, selling pottery to weirdos, 1/3 of whom were in costumes, at the Farmer's Market Faerie Festival in Gettysburg. We made ~1200 beans, which is pretty fricking good for a short day. Especially because Farmers Market people are cheap as fuck, and don't want a 40-dollar mug.

    1. That sounds exponentially more fun than most ways that most people make a living.

      Being cheap as fuck myself, I would hesitate at a $40 mug, but I have one and enjoy it every day, well worth the price I didn't pay.

  3. Claude Cut The Cheese ReignsJune 17, 2023 at 8:37 PM

    Experiencing a momentary dyslexic fugue, I thought the title of this entry was STALE FARTS

    1. That'll be the title for part 2.

    2. I read it as False Tarts. They promise to go around the world, but only go halfway -- with your wallet.


    3. Oh man, I dated her...


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