According to our insurance agent, it would cost a lot to rebuild our house if it was destroyed by a tornado or other insurable natural disaster. Not a flood -- that's different kind of insurance, as homeowners in South Carolina are finding out this week. Our house was built of brick in 1960. As we all know, they don't build them like that anymore. Bricks are expensive, as are brick masons. You can build a wood frame house with a brick facade for something like $125 a square foot. A brick house would cost us $160-something a square foot. So we pray that no tornadoes touch down on us.
When I was in my twenties, I never thought twice about insurance. Or once. For most of that era, I had no health insurance. Nor did I have life insurance. Only when I was in my thirties and children were arriving, did I have insurance -- and worked a corporate job to get it.
Now I'm insured to the gills. And a good thing too, since gills are expensive. Hearts, too. And knees. Diabetes. Mental health crises. Car accidents. Hail storms. Basement floods. Root canals. All of these have entered my family's life during the past five years. I was insured at various levels for them all. What if I had no insurance, as is the case with thousands of my fellow Wyomingites? Well, Obamacare exists, so that's good. Medicaid expansion does not, which is bad. Before Obamacare, your average uninsured worker in Wyoming was SOL. Now at least they have a fighting chance.
So I am blessed, lucky and I guess you'd say satisfied with my state of being insured. It comes at a cost. If you are an artist or writer, you need a day job. Or a night job -- I hear that Wal-Mart is now open 24/7. When you're young, service jobs don't take the same toll that they do when you're middle-aged or old. You work with other young people and you are all making your way in the world, jumping from job to job, hanging out together after work, making fun of your aging bosses, those overweight jerks with three kids and a mortgage. But that gets old as you keep laboring in the vineyards without actually getting to drink any of the wine. And then you're the one having kids and getting fat and it ain't so funny anymore.
I have been a part of the service industry workforce. I've been broke and the family has been on food stamps (now called SNAP) and the infant nutrition program. My wife and I have declared bankruptcy twice. We lost a house to foreclosure. It's painful. When you get back on your feet, it's tempting to go the Republican route of blaming those people who apparently are too lazy to lift themselves up by the bootstraps and join in the prosperity that is America's middle name. But then you remember how difficult it is to get an education and find the right kind of job and make a meaningful living that also supports a family. If you throw in things such as mental health issues and other health problems and learning disabilities and substance abuse. Well, you know that it ain't so damn easy to be Donald Trump or Gordon Gecko. You can do everything right and still fail.
So color me grateful as I sneak up on 65 and I am a person of some means but not mean-spirited. I'm not taking an around-the-world trip anytime soon. But I am taking my wife to Italy in the next few years. God willing and the creek don't rise or a tornado knocks my manse off its foundation. Insurance will help with those things. As for the others, well, that's hard work and persistence and just dumb luck.
I should end my ruminations there. Writers should know when to quit. But another thing occurs to me. I'm a liberal but also a fiction writer. I know that "stuff happens" (tip of the cap to JEB!) in this world. You can be in a classroom at an Oregon community college, dreaming about Friday, when a fellow student walks in with a gun and blows your dreams to shit. You can be a loving parent, just going to work and thinking good thoughts for your kids, when you get the call that it's your kid who's massacred nine people and killed himself. You can go for a run in the park before work one sunny morning and the next thing you know, you're being hauled off to the ER with a massive heart attack.
Aren't I a Debbie Downer this morning?
Monty Python got me thinking this way. Chris and I saw the local production of "Spamalot" last night. "Always look on the bright side of life" is the show's theme song. King Arthur's time is filled with war and pestilence. People die by the cartload -- "bring out your dead!" -- but Not Dead Fred is having none of it ("I'm not dead yet."). We loved Monty Python for its irreverent, nonsensical humor. In the 1970s, we were living in irreverent, nonsensical times. The art we liked reflected that. The Python, Firesign Theater, "Catch-22," George Carlin, Frank Zappa, National Lampoon, the Furry Freak Brothers, etc. When reality is the exact opposite of what your leaders tell you, the time is ripe for satire. If you revel in satire ("let the revels begin!") then you have to believe that nothing is sacred (sing it -- "every sperm is sacred") or out of bounds. While it is hugely entertaining to lampoon the fundies and Tea Partiers, I can't forget that there are liberal true believers that deserve an equal dose of barbed humor.
"Always look on the bright side of life." It doesn't mean the exact opposite -- that's too easy. It means what "We'll meet again some sunny day" means at the end of "Dr. Strangelove." Or the same as Professor Pangloss's catch-phrase in "Candide," that this is "the best of all possible worlds." It's that sliver of hope that exists in the face of humankind's rampant stupidity.
There's no insurance for that. Insurance itself is absurd in the face of this life that is uninsurable.
For that, we have humor.