Hunter S. Thompson is said to have once told a room full of journalism students that he couldn't recommend a life of alcohol, violence, drugs, and insanity to anyone ... but in his case, he pointed out, it worked.
The particularly malevolent forms that bureaucratic neglect took back when I was a constant victim of violence and bullying as a small child left me famously with a set of symptoms little short of a post-traumatic-stress disorder. When I have to deal with any of the bureaucracies that have left me powerless and helpless in the past, whether government agencies that have been particularly awful to me like the DMV, or any insurance company, or even most doctors, I relive my abuse all over again. The result is a level of aversion that (depending on the level of pressure) ranges from procrastination to massive permanent sleepiness to (in one notable case) partial catatonia, all accompanied by crippling depression. And I know what's going on here: my nervous system is attempting to do its flat level best to simply hide me from the bullies and their faithful bureaucratic and administrative helpers until somebody else attracts their attention and it's safe for me to go back out. When neither fight nor flight are options within reach, my body and mind react to perceived or actual threat with a powerful urge to "turtle up."
And you know what? I'd do this less often, maybe, if it didn't periodically work. You know how one of the characters in Peanuts once said that she believed that there was no problem too big to run away from? I've had one of those weeks that proves that adage dangerously true. (I say "dangerously" because, like my well learned lack of fear of being threatened by guns, one of these days it's not going to be true and I'll be in even bigger trouble.)
Winter's coming, and I had set this fall as my fairly-firm deadline for getting the driver's license taken care of, especially after concluding this summer that there is, after all, enough slack in my budget to cover a cheap used car plus auto insurance and repairs as long as I kept the actual driving to a minimum. Step one in this process is, obviously, to deal with the Department of Motor Vehicles, where my old lawyer has assured me they did, eventually, admit that I paid my back taxes and all I have to do is retake the test. Oops, no vehicle to retake the test in, and it's been a lot of years since I drove. So step two is to deal with the DMV, step one is to call a driving school and take some refresher lessons. Great, now I have two bureaucracies to deal with, one of total strangers and the other one that's screwed me over with malevolent neglect (at best) multiple times before. So okay, calling the DMV is step three, calling the driving school is step two; step one is to call my doctor and get back on the anti-depressants, side effects or no, for as long as it takes to deal with the stress.
Then, while I was already in procrastination mode over that, I got a new problem. When I first shaved my head a decade and a half ago, I found under the hairline a small, flat mole. Suddenly and without warning, about two months ago, that mole started visibly growing, and fast. Lovely, thought I, Brad's first cancer. Did I ever mention that melanoma is what killed my mother? And that we Hickses have such an awful history with doctors that we all learn to fear them and loathe them the way most Americans feel about the IRS? So now I needed a dermatologist willing to accept a new patient, willing to bill Medicare, to biopsy a potentially cancerous mole, right at a time when the news is full of horror stories about long waiting times in the US to see a dermatologist for anything other than cosmetic surgery. Great. OK, now it's a panic attack.
Except something truly weird happened to me about a week ago: some time in my sleep, the whole mole just fell completely off. Seriously. There's a faint discoloration where it used to be, but not even the tiniest bump that I can find either by eye or with my fingers. I panicked, hid in bed, and the problem went away on its own.
And reading the news this week, I think my other problem went away on its own, too ... mostly because of bad news for the rest of you. The local office of ACORN has totaled up all of the subprime mortgages here in St. Louis that are about to go to foreclosure because they can't be refinanced, and estimated that once you factor in what those foreclosures will cost the lenders, what the vacant properties will cost the city in lost property taxes, what declining property values due to increased boarded-up houses will cost the neighbors and cost the city, what reduced consumer spending, and other costs that the total loss over the next couple of years to the St. Louis metro area will be around a quarter of a billion dollars. (Mike Garrity, "Foreclosures Spiking In St. Louis, Costing Entire Community," KSDK-TV 10/23/07.) And that's in a housing market that national economists are saying will actually do better than the national average, because we missed most of the upsurge in housing prices that lead to the worst loans in the country being issued.
But wait, it gets worse. That estimate was made before the dollar started tanking, falling so sharply that "the green peso" has reached equity with the Loonie, so sharply that OPEC and other exporters are threatening to stop accepting dollars directly and price everything in Euros. This, by the way, would be a good place for me to remind you that the last time the US got bogged down in a land war in Asia, in some tiny little country's civil war we couldn't manage the national commitment to win, but couldn't manage the political courage to withdraw from, and that our national political leadership was deranged enough to think they could finance entirely through borrowing, this is exactly what happened then, too: energy prices went through the roof because oil exporters repriced their products against the dollar, leading to the crippling combination of runaway inflation and galloping unemployment. And it's happening all over again, with incomprehensible levels of lemming-like stupidity in the recent history of the financial services industry standing in for the similar levels of stupidity in our manufacturing industries circa 1970. These next couple of decades are going to be rough.
And, at the same time I'm absorbing all of this national and regional news, I got preliminary notice, through the news, of just how this is going to affect me personally: preliminary estimates of the Social Security cost of living increase for next year (well below inflation, even though that's technically illegal) and of my Medicare premium (about double the rate of increase for Social Security, with the year after that forecast to be even worse).
And you know what? Suddenly the fact that there's enough money in my budget to cover a car and insurance and a little bit of gasoline doesn't look like sufficient evidence that I ought to spend it on that. Because for all that I grumble all winter long about doing my grocery shopping on foot when it's below freezing outside and the sidewalks are iced up, for all that it limits my shopping ability to be dependent on the bus, for all that I'm stuck cadging rides for anything that runs later than 11pm or involves any of my friends who are suffering from the delusion that their homes in Fenton, Festus, Wentzville, or for crying out loud Washington are actually, you know, "in the St. Louis area" (yes, I know that the Census bureau shares your insanity on this. Y'all are still wrong) ... frankly, I've done pretty well without. In the last two years, my cab fare plus taxicab plus gas money expenses have only twice reached what even the monthly cost would have been for insurance alone. And with the dollar tanking right at the time that world-wide demand for oil is rising, gasoline is only going up.
And then there's my unshakable long-term pessimism about the public's permanent willingness to tolerate even the existence of Social Security Disability Insurance for mental illness. No, I think the writing is clearly on the wall about the program that pays my bills every month, never mind that no court is ever going to order employers to accommodate my disability either. No, one of the hot-button issues that whoever wins the Presidency in 2012 will have run on, or at the absolute latest of the congressional leaders who run for office in 2014, will be "SSDI reform," which will mean the same thing that "welfare reform" meant to Republicans and right-wing Democrats like the Clintons: punish the poor for being victims of discrimination. So suddenly the idea of taking the couple of hundred a month that I'm socking away into savings and spending it on transportation costs that I don't absolutely strictly need doesn't seem like such a good investment. If the dollar tanks hard enough and unemployment and inflation go through the roof, I may need that money to eat with and to pay the heating and electrical bills, not to mention to feed the occasional hungry friend. And even in the unlikely event that it doesn't come to that, the odds are uncomfortably high that I'm going to need all the money I can save up by the next time I lose my financial support and get threatened with starvation and homelessness. That'll be the 3rd (4th? I lose track) time that's happened to me in my life, that my disability has threatened me with the loss of everything I have (and probably not the last, which is what I really dread); suddenly, I think I've convinced myself that money in the bank is more valuable to me than a car by several long rows of tall trees.
So maybe the non-stop several-times-a-night sleep-destroying shuddering nightmares I've been having about automobiles will stop on their own, too.
Hey, what do you know? Yet another couple of health-threatening, sanity-destroying crises that I simply hid from and out-waited and they went away! Dammit, that really needs to stop working, or I'm never going to break myself of this bad habit.