Friday, September 12, 2014

Rusty's Insurance

So, we were all at Grandma's funeral, and Rusty deliberately left cards for his new life insurance agency everywhere. Buffet table, memento book near the front door...even on the little stand next to the coffin, leaning against that old black and white picture of Grandma and Grandpa at their wedding. Everyone was mad at Rusty, of course; maybe even rightly so. But look at it from Rusty's perspective: he spent so much money for two years getting his license, and the whole time he did it, he was hearing these horror stories. Stories about the single dad, buried in debt after his wife the trauma nurse passed away just after getting her certification, swamped by stress, finally shoots himself in the head and the kid goes into foster care, never to know either parent. Stories about the aging widow--a woman not that different from Grandma, really--who couldn't survive on her own when her husband's pension ran out. And she had it really tough. She couldn't pay her bills; she died lonely and alone and fearful, not able to keep the heat at a decent level in the cold of winter. No one decent would want that to happen to someone they love.

And Rusty's earnest. He's the real deal. He actually thinks--being young and just starting out, and being not very good at it--that he's offering a helpful, necessary service. In his heart of hearts, in the deepest recesses of his subconscious mind, he believes he's being an altruist by helping people avoid the tragedy of leaving their loved ones bereft of life insurance. And Rusty knows, dammit, he knows that he can push and nudge all his contacts in order to get his family and close friends a good deal; a deal better than, even, the deal he can get for his ordinary customers. He knows cost, he knows margins, and he is willing to go the extra mile to help people out. So why is everyone so offended when they see him trying to give business cards to those who are weeping quietly by Grandma's coffin?

Miss Manners, being the blood-money-bloated husk of an old elite line, holds the stock narrative of politeness: Rusty was an unmannerly bastard because he mixed business with the somber occasion of mourning. Manners, of course, from which the deacon is exempted, as he spends the entire service reminding everyone that they should buy his own product, because Grandma loved it so much; manners that don't stop the deacon from reminding everyone that Grandma is in a better place--a place they won't be, unless they come back on Sundays, instead of flying home to Minneapolis and saying, "Thank God that's over."

What about the caterer, too? Or the guy hovering near the back, waiting only for the reading of Grandma's Will? The coffin manufacturer has brochures near the coffin, but they're designed to look like part of the mourning process, and it's not a mistake that they match the light lavender coloration and pattern that the deacon's manager chose for the wallpaper in the viewing room. Rusty didn't even get an honorarium for showing up. He had to drive, in fact, all the way from Tallahassee.

Bastards all, surely. No less Miss Manners, who, if she hadn't been left $4 million by Father, and been married off to an Ambassadorial husband worth far more, would be furiously scheming to attach herself to an unattached someone of similar success, funeral or no funeral. Just as Mr. Manners, were he risen from the trailer parks, be slipping his own life insurance agency cards into unwatched purses, hoping that the occasion of death would drive in some business, come Monday morn.

And yet, Rusty really is a believer. Even if you explained this all to him, he wouldn't get it. He actually thinks he's being helpful. That's the beauty of education: it turns people into salesmen who don't know that they're salesmen. Sure, some of them figure it out, just like some people figure out that there is a deep government, but most people don't; most people actually think that they're serving some kind of useful function.

Doctors are probably the worst, little memorization drones who can't figure out why all this "business" gets in the way of what really matters--patient care. And patient care is about uncritically ordering up as many scans as you can possibly order, because scans create conditions and identify conditions, and create business. It's hilarious, really; like little Rustys, they actually think that they're helping people out by giving them an "evaluation." Once you're in the shop, and the guy is kneeling over your brake pads, showing you his ass crack and talking about wear, 95% of the job is done. Have you ever broken wind, had a strange dream, or noticed an unexplained twitch in your knee? Then by all means, climb into the computerized tomography machine--if you didn't have cancer before, you'll be sure to have some in a decade or two after a ride through there. It's the responsible thing to do.

And like Rusty, they fail to see that selling the $19.95 promotional book, or even sending it for free, is just about getting you on the mailing list, after which you have such a large statistical chance of eventually giving in to attending the $800 seminar in a place that looks like, but isn't quite, Aspen, Colorado, where the orange juice and the continental muffins are free in the lobby and everyone has a haunted look like they just found out something was growing inside their pancreas. Selling 1,000 guns to the freedom fighters guarantees a future need to send 10,000 guns to the reformed democratic government, ensuring the later need to develop an F-35 to bomb the despotic government so that the stateless terrorists can be intervened upon in order to establish a reformed democratic government.

But then, if Rusty actually believes, maybe so does Slick Willy. After all that time at Oxford and Yale, maybe he's really just another useful Humana dunce in the ER, using blasts of radiation to discover the true evils behind a lumpy knee or a lumpy Milošević, and feeling so proud when he goes home every evening. There's too much work, there's always too much work, oh, oh, how is there always so much business, every day I personally have to diagnose two new cancer patients--that's not a mean or a median; it's the fricking lower end of the range! Golly gee shucks, how is it they just keep popping up like that? Who looks twice at a guaranteed stream of future clients? Certainly not anyone successful around here. Some of you may've heard this story, but I know a guy who knows a guy who invented the 100 mpg engine in 1930, and men from the oil company came out to his father's farm and took him away and left some money with his father. Ridiculous urban legends; hard to stamp those stupid things out. It's not like there are actually people around here working together to make a profit at the expense of others.

It may be true that Karl Brandt knew, but it may be true that he didn't. After all, the iatrogenic nature of individual post-life insurance policies, graphed to the macro, is no different than the empowerment of the same middlemen who administer the peddling of individual intra-life insurance policies, which is to say that the middleman ceases being the middleman and becomes the end-man, the only man whom the whole process really benefits. As for you, little peon, you buy life insurance not to protect people, but to ensure that others' others are screwed worse than your others. To do otherwise is to be the one wildebeest stupid enough to linger at the rear of the pack, trying to help a lame calf cross the river--and with the gators on the way, who really wants to get dunked and spun along with the limp? So most likely, Karl Brandt was merely a decent man screwed by the system, a hapless helping hand who started out cupping Adolf's testicles through a testing cough, and ended up at the end of a rope.

Did anyone ever know? Someone had to design all these un-think-um curricula, right? Because we all know Rusty, and just like he was stupid enough to actually put his business cards by Grandma's coffin, there is no way he was bright enough to indoctrinate himself like that. Maybe he wanted to be indoctrinated; wanted something to believe in. But no, that's a fool's way out, as we all want something to believe in, and how could the gravity of his life insurance agent certification quizzes, no matter how austere and formal the printed packet, exonerate him from propping the cards up in a spot appurtenant to such obvious emotional frailty?


  1. How old are you? Also, are you hot?

    1. But Grandma would've WANTED you to find sexual satisfaction with me!

  2. That was really well written, thanks. Insurance offends me in a completely irrational way, a distaste for gambling with the morbid perhaps, an inability to see the joy in having a windfall because of a tragedy. Irrational because I've got a nearly religious fervor about it and the mandatory insurance I'm forced to comply with feels like a violation. Poor Rusty with all that earnestness and altruism. If no one will look out for me, I prefer to just die alone and penniless, nurturing bitterness.

    1. In the absence of a decent society where people are not allowed to slip through the cracks and starve to death, all sorts of great business opportunities pop up--like insurance.

  3. High Arka -
    Don't publish this comment; in your tenth paragraph, please change "gators" to "crocs" (there are no alligators in Africa). Also, in that same paragraph, I think you might have meant "gimp" rather than "limp."

    Great essay, by the way.

    1. In the spirit of glasnost, I'll leave the shame of my gators where all can see. ;)