New Orleans Every year for the last number of decades I have saved my vacation so I can take off the last two weeks of the year. This began when we had children of course, as our lives began to revolve around the competition between their school schedules and our work requirements. This year I had big ambitions to finish the book I’ve worked on for 10-years, and am “oh, so close” to completing, but what’s that often repeated line about God finding humor in watching people make plans?
In fact, I can hardly wait to get back to work because I’ve spent the weeks pushing rocks up a hill mimicking Sisyphus in classic fashion and trying to keep an avalanche from coming down on me and others, as I’ve tried to sort out my mother and brother’s affairs. No small amount of that process has been opening and sorting through paperwork, unopened letters, bills, and strident written demands in capital letters living in silence and never read. Corporations and governments talk about being “people facing,” but I’m pretty convinced by my last two weeks that is nothing but framing and marketing, and has nothing to do with how either of them work in a world of telephone prompts, computer directed web solutions, and resistant choice architecture.I have never been more convinced that not only do we need Citizen Wealth Centers, as we have been trying to build, but we also need an army of peoples’ advocates and ombudsmen to cut through the red tape and complete balderdash to help regular folks!
Take a simple thing for my 92-year old mother of moving her monthly teacher’s retirement check directly to her bank account so that she doesn’t worry about it constantly. It says on the check stub that it’s
easy to do and lists the website. Well in this matter and so many others, it’s reasonable to assume that I’m at least as smart as the average bear, so let’s just check that off the list quickly. As soon as you are
on the site, you realize what they are saying is, “whoa, cowboy, not so fast.” A social security number is not enough to make this work, because you need a special pin she was issued to her email address on file. Yes,
she had a PhD in English from Tulane University, but, no, she hasn’t been near a computer for at least six years, maybe ten, so let’s hope they are better on the phone when I call for help.
Two checks disappeared from the house before I was back in country. We dutifully packed my mother off to the bank which had allowed one to be cashed and caught the second, when the thief left both the check and an ID when questioned and ran. This should be easy, right? Open and shut. We opened a new account and were given six pages of paperwork which had to be filled out and notarized. Interestingly, after I filled it out, I noticed that the bank was trying to claim that if the paperwork was not filled out by the account holder herself it was invalid, but that was so asinine and absurd that I ignored it, and proceeded to also find a lawyer to notarize the signature as required. Oh, wait, a police report is also required the bank called me to say, so I call the police, but the first two days I tried to schedule they claimed I had to be physically at my mother’s house when they got around to sending a squad car at some unknown time, because that was the procedure. After my second 3 ½ hours of waiting for them, I called the police and said I couldn’t
wait anymore and the female police dispatcher — a real person — finally told me that they could come to me wherever I was when I call the next time. People matter it turns out.
We found great news when we discovered a card from Medicare enrolling my brother, but then found another letter disqualifying him because he didn’t show up for an appointment that was required, though he had not been out of the house for several years except when admitted to a hospital. Other mail excoriated him for not confirming his home address, even though he had stayed with my mother for years to look after her,
leaving his apartment virtually abandoned.
You get the picture, right? I’m not whining. This is modern life when companies and governments make promises and hope that you don’t follow through or realize you have any rights or the meanness and persistence to make them do right. They have all cut staff in an era of scarcity and turned their world over to telephone machines with computerized responses. I’ll deal with all of them and try not to go all reptilian,
but what happens to the great mass of our people trying to navigate this modern world, and doing so without the internet, computers, or any help?
Basic rights. Fundamental services. People first, not last. Has the tradeoff of modern life with technology now thrown out the baby with the bathwater and created nothing but tin-men without hearts?