I got my first job when I was legally allowed to do so. I think I was 12. I had a paper route. And then I had two paper routes. And then I worked in a direct mail facility, sorting mail by zip code and bundling papers with this cool machine that I still remember with great fondness. Then I worked in a hotel/restaurant when I was in college. I was not paid for the second job I had in college: union organizing at the hotel/restaurant. Then I worked in the following positions (listed in no particular order except that which my memory allows): a counter-service person at a sandwich shop, a futon-maker, a store clerk, a waitress, a bartender, an oyster shucker, an “instructor of record,” a graduate assistant, a retail sales associate (hardware, books, liquor, all at different times in my life), a jack-of-all-trades for a young entrepreneurial designer, a gas station attendant, a visiting faculty member, an adjunct faculty member, a part-time faculty member, a DJ, a wine steward, a freelance editor, a copyeditor at a peer-reviewed academic journal, a director of federal relations, a liaison for public affairs, a director of community and government relations, an executive assistant. Unpaid gigs have included political campaign manager, federal lobbyist, and radio show host.

I went to Catholic elementary school. I can still recite the list of prepositions I memorized in Catholic school although I cannot recall what grade I was in at the time I did the memorizing. Sheer luck landed me in private high schools and I left early to matriculate at Rutgers University. I took my bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees at public universities. Desiring a career change, I completed 21 credits of prerequisite science coursework and applied to nursing school. I made Dean’s List my first semester in nursing school. I got an A- and B+ in my first two clinical courses. But there was this standardized test requirement unique to Rhode Island College and I could not meet that standard. I dropped out of nursing school, but managed to acquire about 20 college credits in Fine Arts and another $50,000 in debt.

In Decemeber 2005, I bought a quarter-of-a-million-dollar house, using my retirement account as a down payment. My mortgage was backed by the FHA; it was not a subprime mortgage; I was not the victim of predatory lending. I got rid of the house two years later in a short-sale. My retirement account was gone, but at least I was not on the hook for the $90,000 my house had lost in value.

My parents, who once owned a half-a-million-dollar home, are now living on social security. Don’t tell anyone though because they are too ashamed about their fall from the upper middle class. I don’t blame them, really.

I have one dead brother, one stinking rich brother, and one brother who has no savings whatsoever because he has spent it all taking care of my parents. (Don’t tell anyone about this either).

I have been teaching three classes per (full) term and (hopefully, usually) two during summer school. That is a total of 14 college-level classes per year. If you don’t know how academic labor is assessed, you are going to have to trust me when I say that this is what we would call a very high “course load,” although it is not considered “full-time.” So I do not get benefits of any kind. I take home $2412/month for this job. The trouble is, my bills are as follows:

Rent 675
IRS 53
Chase 50
Nat Grid Gas 100
Nat grid Electric 50
Firestone 100
First National 50
Verizon 75
Credit One 50
Best Buy 50
Cox 60
Health insurance 243
Car insurance 65
Student loans 543
Therapy co-pays 80
Medication co-pays 70
Gasoline 80

As you can see, my bills total $2394/month and my income is only $2412/month. Teaching three classes per term is not enough. I would teach four, but they will not let me because then I would be full-time and then they would have to give me benefits. So I got another job. I work 4 days/week at Home Depot for $9.50/hour. This past weekend, I nearly crushed my knee on the job. I am toughing it out because I cannot afford to take time off to get it fixed. If I don’t work—at either job—I don’t get paid.

So today, I went to see my shrink. My shrink and I scheduled our next appointment for July 6. I will probably have to reschedule because I have no idea where or how much I will be working that week. During my visit and since medical records are all linked if you get your care at Lifespan—I don’t know . . . . is it a hospital system? a healthcare organization?—the shrink was able to see that I cancelled the follow-up appointment with my primary care physician (PCP) last week because I was working at the Home Depot. The shrink exhorted me to go next door (it’s called the Women’s Medicine Collaborative, so my doctors are all conveniently located in the same building. This used to be even more convenient when I had a gastroenterologist. Thankfully, I no longer need a gastroenterologist because I was able to self-diagnose my GI problems when I quit smoking and started vaping and found out I had a sensitivity to propylene glycol (PG) . . . who knew? My gastroenterologist, one of the best in the state, did not know or else I surely would have been properly instructed on how to avoid the on again/off again explosive diarrhea that I have been having for 10 years. But, hey, the PG sensitivity doesn’t show up on a colonoscopy, endoscopy, barium swallow, or that nifty thing I did when I swallowed a capsule-sized camera and shit it out for a definitive diagnosis of . . . keep taking the omeprazole. Oh, and since I quit smoking, I don’t need to see the pulmonologist either. So, I am down to just two doctors at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative).

So I left my shrink’s office and walked 10 feet to my PCP’s office to reschedule. I love this practice. I have been going there for about a decade now.

But hold on. I cannot reschedule that follow-up with my PCP because while the specialists at the Women’s Medicine Collaborative take Neighborhood Health Plan insurance, the PCP’s do not. Let me make something very clear at this point: this is Rhode Island . . . there are only three health insurance companies in the entire state.

The PCP’s office tells me I need to call the health insurance company because it is their fault that my PCP’s do not take said insurance.

And I think, but do not say:

“I pay $243 a month to one of three health insurance companies in the entire state and now you are suggesting that I spend my one afternoon off (not really ‘off’ exactly because I have papers to grade and grades to change because five of my students could not get their work done in time last term) on the phone with with the company to whom I pay this money while all ya’ll are getting paid and they’re getting paid and ya’ll are surrounded by telephones and support staff and I have this one afternoon ‘off’?”





I began to shake with anger. I began to curl up in shame: Where did I do wrong? How did I so monumentally fuck up my life? And then I paused, as a good trained Buddhist does, and began to reflect. I began to count my blessings.

Thankfully, I am in a country where I have the freedom to type this out and post it right here, to my very own blog. Plus, the government of these United States is paying nearly twice the amount I am to Neighborhood Health Plan for my coverage, thank goodness, or else I would not have health insurance at all.

I am less angry now.

Also . . . now, since I will no longer be going to the Women’s Medicine Collaborative, I could even change my gender. If I felt like a man, I could say I was a man and ergo, be a man.

If I wasn’t so happy being an American citizen, I might wonder why I can’t do the same regarding my citizenship. I mean, despite all this freedom I enjoy, I sometimes feel like I was born in the wrong country.


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