Friday, December 23, 2011

Taking Care of Family Business

Well first, there’s the MediCal application process which is like a Kafka story but without the light humorous touches or big bugs.  Although I understand DHS regulations that say proving residency is best accomplished by showing a paycheck stub, the fact is that this particular 93 year old dementia patient doesn’t work as a greeter at Wal*Mart and hence doesn’t get paychecks. So, sending copies of old driver’s licenses, photo IDs, and even handicapped placards from another official state agency (DMV) which, no irony intended here, has a lot in common with the state Department of Human Services, in that both are apparently staffed by chimpanzees, is so non-compliant that it doesn’t even bear mentioning by the DHS when they tell me to verify residency again and again.

Then, there’s the screwup with my own pension check that has been wired to my soulless mega bank run by Greed Inc. In September, I opened a new account with a credit union. In October, I informed my retirement system to wire the pension to the new credit union account. In November, I closed the old account. In December, my paycheck vanished. While waiting for my credit card bills be become overdue, I learned that Bank of Greed, aka Chase (as in “we have your money now see if you can chase us and catch up with it before we spend it on fees”) had not only received the pension and deposited it into the “closed” account, they had failed to advise me of this, and even made a programmed automatic payment that I’d already paid from savings. Meanwhile, my credit cards became more overdue, I had to take money out of my TSA to cover bills and pay my share of household expense late, resulting in a lovely cascading effect that the Regan boys used to call trickle down, only with poverty not with wealth.

But this is a story about DOBs vast wealth: her measly life insurance. She’s been paying on a $5k face value whole life policy for over 20 years. You can do the math yourself to see what the ROI is on a $30/month payment. When I finally researched it a few years ago, the value was about $12k and I advised her to stop sending them money, and just let it sit there and wait because it was fully paid up. She continued to send them money, of course, because she’s dumber than a sack of doorknobs, and what do I know with my law degree and all.

So, when I had to revisit this life insurance “liquid asset” in the course of applying for MediCal, I discovered she still listed her estate as beneficiary, which is something only an old sack of doorknobs would think made sense. So, following more free legal advice, she decided to change that, and name her three adult children as beneficiaries. And by decided to change I mean decided to expect me to change that without so much as telling me, to let alone thanking me either for the free legal advice or the services.  Here’s how that went down:

Senior Deadbeat Daughter:   (Calling me on her cell while TCG is taking one of his six or so couch naps so I have to answer the fucking phone even though I’d rather turn into a cockroach than converse with SDD) I was just talking to Mother about her life insurance policy and she said she can’t find the paper saying the beneficiaries are now her three kids instead of her estate.

WISIMH:  What is this paper of which you speak? Perhaps when DOB gave me such clear written instructions (hilarious) the insurance fairy appeared and said: this is not the insurance paper you are looking for.

UCC:   Ahhh, paper. Let me explain. Mother couldn’t find a paper with both hands and a flashlight. She can’t find her own ass to change her own diapers. Cutting to the chase, could you be telling me that I should change the beneficiaries?

WISIMH:  Because nothing is done directly around here, like communicate, when indirection and passive aggression are so much easier and more fun. Fortunately for all of us, the unpaid legal consultant slash laundress had registered online and I can change the beneficiaries online. What a nice convenience for me! Thank me very much. I’m welcome.

SDD:   Ok, I guess that’s what Mother meant.

WISIMH:  Which – guessing what Mother means – is one of my all-time favorite pastimes especially when I’m high and it becomes a game of who can repeat the same four or five words over the most and see if they make more sense by repetition than they did when you just repeated them once or twice. Sometimes it’s more fun to just fill in the blanks myself with words that make even less sense. But I digress.

UCC:  So, I guess that’s what you want me to do?

WISIMH:  Is there any other free service I can provide for you while I’m at it? Want an itemized and indexed list of the other shit I do for your lazy ass family?

SDD:  Yeah, that.

But this story doesn’t end here. It gets better. If by better, you mean more Kafkaesque and redolent of the Stygian Stables after a three-day weekend and beans, beans, beans.  It turns out that in order to change beneficiaries online, you need their names, addresses and social security numbers. What an unexpected surprise - for anybody with less than a 4th grade education and/or an attention span longer than it takes for bread to toast.

TCG texts Junior Deadbeat Daughter (because she’s even more fun to converse with than SDD) to get her social security number and mailing address, so I can make the online change of beneficiary which will result in her getting money for nothing. The following conversation took place via text messages, punctuated by my own profanity-laced spoken comments as TCG read it aloud.

TCG: Need your SSN and address to add you as beneficiary in DOB’s life insurance policy.

JDD:  I won’t give that information out without first receiving a written accounting of current cash value and other policy information. I'll need an annual accounting of the cash value too.

TCG:  Really? You don’t want in on the potential free money?

JDD:  Wait! Is Mommy dead? How much money do I get?

WISIMH:  You irresponsible, deadbeat, neglectful, oblivious, bottle blond, trailer trash, vulgar, greedy, lazy piece of crap, second-guessing my care for your unwashed demented mother and demanding that I perform more free services for your convenience, you idiot piece of worthless shit. I’ll send you a brick in a blanket with my best wishes that you swing it at your own empty greedy head, you cretin, you douchebag, you narcissistic waste of air. (I could go on, but let’s acknowledge that I can’t be almost endlessly creative with profanity when directed at these selfish, clueless, worthless idiot offspring of DOB who have an arguably greater obligation to care for their dear mother than I do and yet somehow feel as much obligation to do so as they have to change the oil in my car.)

UCC:  Tell her I’ll send her an annual accounting all right. It will itemize the free services I provide to her fucking mother and thank her for all her fucking helpful advice about how I could be doing a better fucking job caring for her fucking mother, and just how much my share of the fucking insurance would be if I charged fifty cents an hour for my time for these past fucking 25 years, the fucking overweight, unwashed, fucking tramp.

TCG:  No, Mommy is still kicking and being a general pain, and the payout could be in the millions for all I know.

JDD:  Well, get me the information and I’ll get back to you.

I think it’s a good idea for me to stop here because by the time the texting was over there was blood coming out of my eyes and my ears were filled with the thunder of high blood pressure and rage and there was smoke billowing out of my mouth and possibly flames.

The next day, TCG relayed an edited account of his discussion with JDD, and DOB said then just put the two of you older children on as beneficiaries. So I did, thank me very much. 

But let me just say, it’s typical of this family that nobody bothered to tell JDD about this decision, so unless she discovers this when she sends me a notice that my annual account report is overdo, it should be fun, if I’m still alive and sane when DOB dies, and JDD finds out she doesn’t come into millions of free dollars after all. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Trojan War Redux

When you think of epic battles, you think of stories like the Trojan War. So, now that I’m fighting my own Trojan War, that’s how I frame what is happening in my own war-torn life. When fighting for my life, I amuse myself by thinking of heroes like Achilles and doomed Hector, and how their intertwined fates were governed by the gods who carelessly sported with their very lives. Applying for MediCal – the California version of Medicaid for poor and disabled and elderly people – is like that, only funnier.

Well, maybe not funnier, but with the same sense of helplessness to control your own fate while you are tossed about at the whims of remote gods no more concerned with your fate than they are concerned about the yellow leaves caught in the vortex of the leaf blower outside my door as I type. So not funnier then.

The first application, aka SAWS 1, was painfully researched, downloaded, completed and signed. This took months. The attachments to document residency, poverty and stupidity were carefully scanned in, printed and attached. The precious package filled with my hopes and fondest dreams was then mailed and promptly vanished into some divine haze never to be heard from again. It took two weeks for me to determine that it was MIA.

So, I applied online: carefully, painstakingly, playing a kind of death defying game of wits with the application form when it came to attachments. You need about a dozen and it takes half a day to figure out what. The system of the God, Cisco, will only accept a certain limit of megabits, which eleven attachments exceeds. But Cisco coyly declines to tell you when you reach the limit or anything helpful like that because the gods are above the petty concerns of even the most entertaining mortals. So send the application in several separate messages and hope they join up on the desk of the god assigned to determine your fate.

Merely following the clues about attaching documents to a screen where you can “choose” a file and clicking the “attach” button to attach the file is a challenge worthy of any heroic soldier. In fairness, the button should be labeled “possibly attach”, or even “possibly attach, but most likely not”. That took an entire afternoon, the patience of a god, and the fortitude only wine can provide. There were tears. There was profanity. There was heroic striving-and-failing. There was the uncertainty that constitutes the fog of war. Perfectly Homeric in a perverse way.

Meanwhile, back in the Greek camp, like Achilles sulking in his tent while the Trojans kick the Greeks’ asses, the “Client” on this application sat amid a miasma of piss and paranoia in her room trying to figure out how to answer her cell phone. Ever trying, ever failing, like a Beckett character once mused. If she had a heroic persona her heroic flaw, her Achilles heel, would be her ability to form coherent thoughts and then put them into remotely meaningful words. Every document she is asked to sign is a further nail in the coffin of her proof that I’m trying to kill her, only more slowly than I could do with a sword forged by the gods.

So the online application goes. Weeks pass. At lease online you can verify it was received.  Which does as much good as Achilles’ Mom Thetis petitioning Zeus to protect their son against the chilling machinations of Mrs. Zeus who favors the Trojans. The system calmly assures me it will take up to 90 days to process an application, so I keep calm and drink wine in my tent.

Next we come to the part of my story that is like where Patroclus dons Achilles’ magic armor and only gets himself killed by Hector. I am not allowed to directly inquire about the status of the application because, although I’m the only person on the planet who has the foggiest idea what is going on, I might be, I dunno, blogging about the sorry ass state of the Client and/or the Kafkaesque state of the State. The gods genuinely intend to protect the privacy of dementia patients who can’t remember the last time they changed their adult diapers. Otherwise we might all descend into chaos, or cross the Styx into the underworld, or sink into drunken stupors in front of our TVs.

We have to submit a declaration form, aka MC306, wherein the Client appoints an “Authorized Representative” and by we I mean me. This of course, requires more signatures and attachments and painful struggles against the Trojan Wall of the online presence of The State DHHS. In the interests of trying to empower the client to not think I’m trying to kill her, we (meaning I) have to complete the form wherein the client’s son is authorized to communicate with anonymous bureaucrats instead of me. This adds another hilarious element to the process since the client’s son is as comfortable using his words as Patroclus is using Achilles armor: meaning not at all. It’s like the gods don’t give a shit.

One afternoon, we return home from a visit to Agamemnon’s camp to hear a voicemail from - - - - to call him about the application: more unspecified information is required. Of course, you cannot understand the person’s name. It’s like he – we think it’s a he – is covered with mist and is invisible. Like Priam when he ventures through the frontlines of the Greek army to Achilles' tent to claim Hector’s dead body: nobody saw him because the gods enshroud him in mist.  After returning the call three days in a row and getting Zeus’ voicemail, the authorized representative is carefully coached by the true hero of this epic to leave voicemail asking - - - - to send us e-mail telling us what the fuck he wants if he’s not going to return our fucking calls.

So here’s where we get to the wooden horse part of the story.  We get e-mail from DHHS (possibly from - - - - but not signed) saying we need more verification documents, let’s call them A and B. The very same day, we get a letter from a different bureaucrat saying we need more documents, let’s call them B and C. So, now we’re dealing with two different agents, via two different channels, for two different sets of demands.  Is it any wonder the Trojans lost the war?

If this isn’t enough, the list of things that constitute verifying documentation of A, B and/or C takes a four page attachment to the written letter. Which would be helpful if only the list corresponded with the category of documentation required, which it almost does, but the with an element of whimsical  uncertainty where you have to guess or pray that you match the item required in the letter with the proof to satisfy it in the attachments to the letter. The Client can’t simply apply to get welfare, she has to have adequate paperwork to support her worthiness due to her poverty, stupidity, and incontinency.

For example, we are asked in writing to provide “Liquid Asset verification” (again). Like a true Homeric hero, I am not distracted and do not kill fatted calves to the gods bearing messages that we havesubmitted verification  - twice. It’s best when the gods speak to listen even if they’re mumbling. The closest category on the 3-page “ACCEPTABLE VERIFICATION SOURCES LIST” is something called “Property/Resources” followed by a quarter page block of text which, among other things, specifies in no particular order: bank/Financial Inst Stmt, Bank Statement, Cancelled check, Cancelled check, Life Insurance Policy, Insurance Policy/Statement. Do these people even read their own crap? Like some immortal gods playing with mortal soldiers they toy with us.

So, now let me digress in this summary to provide some detail about the attempt to comply with this divine order. Authorized Representative has to ask Client if she has a birth certificate. This takes several days because Authorized Representative has the attention span of a toaster with a broken sensor that keeps popping up before the bread even gets warm. Then, Client needs several more days and reminders and free food and laundry service to get to her file drawer and begin looking.  So, after a week, here’s what happens.

Achilles:  Did you find your birth certificate?

Client: To a certain extent.

What Achilles Said In His Head:  Who knew or even suspected that there are documents that officially certify birth to a certain extent? Certainly not this doomed hero.

Achilles:  What?

Client:  (waving at a pile of documents on her side table with a pile of documents in her hand and nearly knocking a pile of documents out of the portable safe where she keeps documents that are important to a certain extent) What?

Achilles:  (After waiting a suitable time to see if any of the documents in any of the piles offer an explanation. They do no.) Did you find your birth certificate?

Client:  I found Authorized Representative’s Father’s Birth Certificate, and there’s some stuff about Mom and Pop. I still can’t find the Prudential Insurance policy.

Achilles:    Ahhh. So that’s what you meant when you said you found your birth certificate to a certain extent.

Client:   What?

WASIHH:  Tell me then Muse, hast mine fate ever been dictated by the gods before my birth? I am destined to die young, but at least heroically? Strangely, I find this little consolation.

Authorized Representative:  The Prudential Insurance policy is in the folder in your top dresser drawer. I think this diversion is relevant to our conversation because I always find it helpful to distract you from your own plight.

Achilles:  (Interrupting Authorized Representative whose conversational gambit is the equivalent of waving a conversational raw steak in front of a figurative starving polar bear to distract her from attacking) Did you find-- oh never mind. Give me the papers that document your birth to a certain extent.

Imagine my surprise when the papers included Client’s original yellowing and crumbling birth certificate from 1918. It has come down through the years in about the same shape as the Client only smelling much less like pee.

So yesterday, I anointed myself with oils, fortified myself with wine, and donned my armor consisting of wrist braces to minimize the carpal tunnel pain, and submitted myself to the psychic pain of facing the proprietary web-based secure e-mail channel to importune the gods of the bureaucracy.  I spent the morning scanning in more documents, converting them to .doc format which is marginally more successful at attaching to email than .docx attachments. I faced my destiny as bravely as any hero except maybe Paris.

In a mere 5 hours, I was able to engage the on-line application and attach the carefully labeled and titled verification documents to establish A, B and C.  In this time, I also copied, labeled slightly differently and attached verification documents for A, B and C to be mailed.  I know I risk the wrath of the impersonal gods by giving each slightly more than they asked for. But the birth certificate validating immigration status was just too good to waste on only one god. This gambit is as likely to forestall further inquiries regarding Client’s immigration status as the aspirin I just took to forestall the tension headache.

In what I hope was not a dramatically foreshadowed picture of my own doom, we mailed the forms when we were en route to the Wal-Mart adjacent Red Lobster in the nearest mall to celebrate the Client’s 93 birthday with cheesy biscuits and watered down cocktails. The staff at this place is perfectly attuned to people that come in for dinner at 15:00 and early bird specials on cocktails. Two-thirds of our party entered on walkers. Good Times. Our waiter Mitch was delighted to know it was Client’s birthday bless her little heart, as was his own personal busboy, at least two manager types and the waiter who actually brought our dishes. What seemed like this relentless parade of restaurant employees clearly determined to accomplish their mission to have happy customers insisted on telling us how glad they were that we shared this special fucking day with them. At least I hope they were restaurant employees.

Like The Iliad, this story began in the tenth year of a war. Unlike the Iliad, the current war has yet to conclude. I cling to the dubious comfort of knowing that once we wrap up the Trojan War, Ulysses can start his odyssey home. Another ten years and one Cyclops to go.