Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Worker's Decompensation Countdown

Decompensation is the functional deterioration of a previously working structure or system.--Wikipedia

The countdown had been ticking for nine out of ten days while I was double bagging two week old garbage in the garage. For the last six months we'd been paring down to the minimum—paying only the bills for things we really needed. The garbage collection was the latest to go to a collection agency. Luckily, the collectors for the bills we stopped paying first, like cell phones and credit cards, didn't call as often anymore, so the slew of new calls was alleviated by the lack of old ones. No matter; soon there wouldn't be a phone to ring.

The countdown ended this morning when I got an email from my lawyer telling me they have a preliminary hearing in my worker's compensation (or lack thereof) case in a month. The 10 day countdown, which began on the day that the agreed medical examiner was deposed and stuck to his report that I, indeed, was seriously messed up from being a stagehand for 20 years, was over. There would be no money in time.

Now a different kind of countdown starts... This one is the inevitable intertwining of dwindling input (and its incipient shrinking of output) with the self-devouring depression/pain cycle—eventually, the snake digests enough of itself that the cycle is broken. The swallowing ends.

My little business, which occasionally makes enough to extend the fast approaching horizon a few miles, has been feeding on its future for a while now, with me promising future work for bigger payments now: I've actually milked the future dry.

What kept the whole seizing engine sputtering along was the hope of a massive overhaul right down the road. The hope that the insurance company would rather part now with the money everyone agrees will be mine eventually, or later, at a 10% penalty I would gladly give up now for that much in advance.

Insurance companies are giant computer programs, with lawyers and claims adjusters all robotically rolling down the longest, most arduous path, at an agonizingly slow pace, like a tractor on a busy highway, following the dotted yellow line of the actuarial odds, blindly aware of the one thing they have that the worker doesn't: time. The slower they can go, the longer they hold on to the money, and the more desperate the decompensating worker becomes.

I expect another insult offer any day now. I tore myself up for 20 years, cannot work in my profession again, and suffer agonizing pain daily, all for an original offer that would make my nut for three months? Now they'll offer five times that, and it will still be an insult, considering that they owe me twice that, plus the weekly starting now until the case is over. And then, if we make it that far, there will be a settlement.

It's a lot of money to me. To an insurance company, it's what the CEO spends on one private jet trip.

Now the cycle has dwindled, like the alien signal hidden in the satellite system in Independence Day, to nearly nothing. I'm like Jeff Goldbloom's character: I figured out what it means, but I'm powerless to stop it. Time is almost up.

The outputs are shrinking faster with each incrementally smaller input. Soon, I'll be down to a c-note borrowed from someone who needs it to pay their rent, and that will be the last money borrowed. We'll miss some deadlines and the phone, then the internet will be shut off, and that will be the end of the little nuggets from working. Then the rent will be missed, and, because we've been late before, the threatened eviction process will begin. And it will be cold. We'll be burning wood because the propane will be gone. And we'll be cleaning our stuff out of the car as the repo man watches, telling us how much he hates his job. And then our stuff will be hauled away by agents of the eviction authorities, since we can't afford to do it ourselves. And then we'll be homeless.

When we got here and originally applied for the food stamps we're getting, we applied for a Section 8 from the Department of Housing and Urban Development. That was a year ago, when we were told the waiting list was 6 months. Then it was nine. Then it was a year. Now, the program's been frozen. Too much demand. No new section 8's, even for those who applied a year ago, at the “beginning” of this recession.

We've managed to get by with just the food stamps and Medicaid, staying off the assistance by borrowing, but at some point I'll have to go apply for that, and explain why I can't work, and watch my wife drive off to some minimum wage job to make enough to cover the gas to get there, thereby qualifying for cash benefits: what a subsidy to the minimum wage industries that hire the welfare workers! And at that point I'll know that what I've suspected all along is true. The deep sickening massive flock of butterflies in my stomach will have created a massive hurricane on the other side of my globe, and I will know that I am the epic fail I had hoped I wasn't.

Every tick gets exponentially louder. Every dollar coming in is dwarfed by the so many that are due to go out. Every stabbing pain where there used to be cartilage will be chased by the gaping mouth of depression that the pain eats to grow, until something breaks, a giant crack in the levee, and I am the Ninth Ward, what's left of my ego shouting from a rooftop as the shit water rises all around me, while the news choppers fly over, burdened by the knowledge that they cannot help, they can only broadcast to an indifferent system that plays guitar, like some corporate Nero, while another soul sinks.

The epilogue, if there is one, is that I will be tracked down in some shelter somewhere, someday, and someone will ask if I'm me, to see ID, and I'll sign for some official looking envelope that had worked its way through the stopped-up colon of bureaucracy, and it will contain a very large check. Let it be known now that if I have functionally deteriorated so far that I try to wipe my ass with their thousands of dollars, that I want my wife to have it.

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