American Politicians Say The Darndest Things…

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I can’t imagine what would happen if you took a Republican politician, knocked him in the head with a tin of Quality Street, shoved him into the back of a white transit van and let him wake up in Brixton Academy with his thoughts rigged to magically voice themselves over the tannoy. Or maybe SoHo. Or Brighton. Or Tooting. Or anywhere else in the UK, really.

Searching YouTube, I began to type “stupid things republicans say”, but the auto-search, ever so intuitive, finished it off with “stupid things republicans say about black people”.

After this, what else can be said to make my point? Surely, it speaks for itself. But wait – there’s more. Republicans have a known track record of saying idiotic, purely moronic, chillingly uninformed things, statements that cannot be believed to come out of the mouth of a leader elected by millions of people.

Today at work, I was speaking with a colleague and asked him just how politicians can get away with saying the things they do, such as actually favouring a ban on abortion, opposing gay marriage and still showing signs as clear as day that they are still an horrifically racist nation who took over 200 years to elect a president who can actually pronounce other countries’ names correctly. Although, naturally, this talent brings out some of America’s finest imbeciles. (also see: here and here).

No British MP in their right mind would pass legislation forcing women to undergo ultrasounds before abortions, or go on Sky News and ask gay people if they can stop being gay. You’d never, ever, ever hear David Cameron telling BBC News 24 that Gordon Brown marched with the EDL (like this twat), or William Hague telling the House of Commons that he believed that global warming is a hoax.

The outrage is both believable and to be commended. As a permanent outsider, I cannot fathom what happens in these people’s brains to compel them to fart out such utter nonsense. Avoiding clear facts on fetal development stages, greenhouse gases, CFCs (which are NOT “natural”), free radicals in the ozone layer and common fucking sense, one can only sit and watch Fox News in amusement as these politicians dishonor the memory of Abe Lincoln by running around spouting hate speech like racist chickens with their heads cut off.

Are they caricatures? Are they doing it on a dare? Are these honestly real-life, non-actor human beings who are actually allowed to walk around not only saying these things on the streets and on television, but using these dangerously feeble-minded views to gain votes so that they can have a go at running the country? Free speech be damned; Orwell needs to sort the lot of them out.

No wonder Abe shirked it all and became a vampire hunter.

Living in The Shining

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I knew this flat was old, but my GOD, it’s old. And not old in the adorably Victorian/Greek Revival/converted old-timey jail cells-type of way. This is the type of old that was once revived as a cool, hip throwback, but then fell by the wayside once the words “hip” and “throwback” became about as cool to say as “I’m with Nick Clegg”. 

Based on my late-teen bingeing of That 70s Show, I recognized the decor and kitchen/bathroom fittings as being on the more unfashionably-designed spectrum of that era. The kitchen cabinets were boring and many, and boasted the most appealing shade of cack. The fridge, once white, seemed to have had said cack shade seep into it at one point, and like the bitter, lonely faces of regret I see when I pass my fellow tenants in the building, it has given up in a pit of despair and will probably never change back to the glorious brilliance it once was.

The windows have a bit of a schoolhouse charm, although more Lowood than Eton. I enjoy being able to look out onto most of downtown Salem from my window, and watch the sunrise. It’s especially easy because there are no blinds or window screens, and almost certainly no curtains (net or otherwise).

There are about 10 plug outlets in the living room, so that you can plug in lamps for light instead of using that newfangled ceiling light malarkey. Almost certainly built before the novelty of track lighting or ceilings, this is ideal when I want to exercise my eyelids by squinting in the dark when I’m typing on a glaring computer screen. Which is all the time.

Carpet exists throughout, except the bathroom, which has the commode about two inches from the edge of the bathtub. Water comes out of the shower in four pounding jet streams, and takes the length of your time in there to reach an equitable temperature. It doesn’t matter how long of a shower you take, it will always take that long to get warm, just because it can.

The thermostat looks like the sort of decommissioned 1970s porn robot that you’d find in dated office buildings (i.e. everywhere in the civil service) and you can never tell when the hell it’s working (i.e. every single person working in the civil service). The fuse box is a series of steampunk-style mini levers in a combination safe-type interface that make me feel like I’m playing Lego Bank Teller. In the ’70s.

The hallway from the kitchen/living room combo to the bathroom is lined with a series of closets with doors so dated even my mum wants to take a sledgehammer to hers.

I’ve actually had to go and plug in the fridge today, after realising that the Italian-style meat substitute I’d kept in the fridge for the past few days was warm and squidgy.

Fearing that my cheese, dairy smoothies, chocolate pudding and yoghurt would go the same way as the warm and squidgy meat (shut up), I actually called the emergency line where a bitchy cow told me, as if I were to expect this somehow, that the fridge had to actually be plugged into an electrical socket. I really can’t remember having to do this with any of the places I’ve stayed in out here, and I don’t know anyone else who’d had to either. Unless you bought a brand new fucking fridge!

The property manager said outright that I could do whatever I wanted with the place – repaint, put up wallpaper, buy a new fridge, tear up the carpets – whatever I wanted. I have a year lease, so I’m pretty much stuck in this Life on Mars cafeteria flat, and any improvements I make will probably bump up the rent income for this guy.

I bought a stainless steel microwave online today. I’m praying that, despite its modernity, it won’t be rejected by the putrefying retrograde that is everything in sight.

Tipping in America

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A couple of years ago, here in Salem, I called a local taxi company to go from a friend’s house (where I was temporarily staying) to take a few bags of items to a storage space I was renting. The husband and I had moved out of our old place, and the move-in to the new place was delayed by about a month, due to the bathroom ceiling caving in (which would happen every 2 months of our stay there).

I got a surly, abusive cabbie who looked like the bastard child of a pickled-leather-faced Tommy Chong and that slimy clump of hair that you just can’t get out of the bottom of the shower trap. He took one look at my meager collection of bags and declared in a Homer Simpson bitch-voice, “weeiy’re neuuot a moooving cummpany”, despite the fact that my things both weighed and constituted far less than a typical grocery shopping trip. I told him he didn’t have to help but he did anyway, wrestling things out of my hands and explaining that he’d be here “all day” otherwise and he simply didn’t have all day, because his time was as precious as his pretty face.

The whole journey this berk would just NOT shut the fuck up. He continued to complain about the number of bags I had (about 5 and a small Christmas tree in its box), and how, technically, he could charge 50 cents per bag, even if it were groceries, but he was doing me a favour by not raping my wallet. There wasn’t a second of silence without this miserable cunt complaining; I have truly never heard this much bitching and moaning and whinging in my life. And I write a BLOG that is solely based on all the complaints I have about everything.

After he carefully unloaded my things by flinging them on the floor, I ignored what sounded like a smashing noise in one of the bags and fished out the exact cost of the fare. The driver, clearly feeling cheated, snorted out his best indignated, old-fart snort (most likely coupled with a shart) and said, “Nice tip”.

Even now, years later, I am speechless.

He seriously  thought that after all that, after all the abusive unpleasantness that he put me through, he expected to be rewarded  in the form of a fucking tip?!

I was not rude to him; I held my tongue and kept apologising, though I’ve no idea for what. This arsehole, who probably complains that us “young people” feel that we’re so entitled to everything, is actually worse than the standard service industry mentality of “I’ll do my job to the bare minimum, and expect massive, humungous tips for doing so”. He was rude, unfriendly, manhandled my packages (shut up), did not shut the fuck up, and was thoroughly unpleasant in any way. It left me hoping that the cab would suddenly burst into flames so I wouldn’t have to hear this piece of shit talk anymore. And yet he still expected a tip on top of that.

And therein lies the problem with tipping. It’s now become expected of apparently big rich fat cats like myself (on a temp’s crappy wages) to just fork out AT LEAST a quarter of the total fare/food bill/haircut/bar bill/colonic irrigation to these poor, underprivileged plebians who make more money than I do. Never mind the polarized view that many nobodies like myself are also trying to get by. I have no idea what cab drivers make, whether or not they’re self-employed, what fees/bills they have to take care of to do their job. I don’t give a shit!

I have to pay to get to work (train plus sometimes the subway),  I pay for my work clothes and every other work-related expense with zero reimbursement or expectation for my business partners to cough up some spare change – even if I do a great job on a project that’s seen by tens of thousands of employees. I accept the fact that I’m a poor schlub on very low pay, but I derive some job satisfaction from doing my best work and seeing it pay off. Just not with money.

Everywhere I go, I feel as though I am being ordered to tip; otherwise you are a greedy, selfish bastard. Many times I’ve felt like going to my local to grab a beer, but I don’t want to be made to feel like I’m one of the fucking 1% if I can’t afford the cost of a pint and a half to include the apparently minimum-accepted 25%.

From the server’s side, the argument is that they often make less than $2 per hour and getting tips is their way of compensating for such a meagre wage. So instead of pitting the servers and the customers against each other, why not recognise the quite clear point that it is the employers themselves to whom everyone should direct their ire? Instead of feeling forced to pay up the discrepancy between the actual wage and a fair, decent wage, how about making an organised go at tackling what appears to be fair trade violations in the developed world?

Countries like Japan and most Western countries aren’t accustomed to tipping. You might think they’re cheap bastards, but people in the service industry in these countries, and definitely the UK, make at least minimum wage per hour anyway. Without tips. I’ve read arguments online saying that servers need tip money to feed their families and pay their bills. What I don’t understand is why this burden should lie with the customer, and if the customer can’t meet it, or chooses not to, then the server “remembers” the bad tipper and will probably rub their arse hairs in their food.

I tip mostly out of being polite, because it’s a small city, and everyone knows me, so they can’t really be a jerk to me. But with boorish thugs like the cab driver, I don’t feel obliged to tip – I feel bullied into doing so. I have no issue with tipping, but I can’t understand why people have accepted it to be the norm over here as opposed to a gratuity to be left in cases of exceptional service. Not every single time. If the original concept of tipping were being adhered to, that would indicate a high level of customer satisfaction, because everyone would be really, really happy with their doughnut or their cocktail or their bucket of chicken. But the US isn’t even in the top 20 in the Satisfaction with Life Index (yes, this exists).

I have been in the service industry. Not as a waitress or a bartender, but as a lowly retail worker. I never got a tip; I never even got a bonus. I then worked in a call centre (same deal), then moved onto working in the civil service (tips? hahahahaha) and then finally a temp office job with most likely no future and definitely no bonuses/tips etc. I know what it’s like to be on the other side of a conversation in which it doesn’t matter how wrong or right the customer is, and even if you agree with them and let them get their way, they will forget about it ten minutes later and you will spend the rest of your day resentful and disgruntled.

So to consider the idea of tipping as a social obligation is disappointing, because the only incentive to do your job to the bare minimum standards is to get an “reward” for it on top of a paycheque that is criminally low, but just socially-accepted as a form of punishment for the worker, the consumer, but not the proprietor/owner/politician. Way to go, Capitalism.

 

When did this entitlement-due-to-embarrassingly-low-server-pay become such the norm? When did it become mandatory to tip not for a job well done, but for parts of a job done near-adequately that didn’t result in car crashes or food poisoning? Why isn’t anyone doing anything about the fact that the wage is so low to begin with, instead of just expecting that gap between their pay and minimum wage to be filled by the customers? Why not challenge/examine the very foundations of this massive con (where all are concerned)?

Look at the unions for TFL in the UK – if they can get 43 days’ holiday, triple pay on Bank Holidays and almost £45,000 a year for just sitting and pushing and pulling a lever, why can’t the unions marshal that quintessential American violent anger and put it to good use where the rights of service industry workers are concerned?

As a foreigner from a country where tipping really IS tipping, it remains both baffling and infuriating to me. Luckily, there are some helpful hints in the odd coffeeshop here and there. The first time I found myself in a tipping situation was when I was in a hotel in Hollywood and a nice man brought up some room service. Despite the fact that this was before I met my husband, this isn’t what you think it is.

This was where I was staying at the time. I ordered some food for room service, and decided to pay in cash. Because I’m very, very awkward in situations with people, I thought that the sooner I tipped this strangely quiet man, the quicker he would leave and I could just sit with my food and watch TV in a place where I didn’t quite understand the language. The bill came to $17, and I gave what I thought was a $5, but as I was handing it over I slowly realised that it was a $20. Yes, I had paid $37 for a $17 meal.

The quiet hotel man couldn’t stop his eyes from bulging (seriously, it’s not that kind of story) out of his head and stammered, “do you want me to get you something else? some vodka, maybe?” I’m not sure why he offered me vodka. Had I mentioned it previously in some sort of jokey conversation-starter? Would he bring it from the hotel bar or from some private stash he’d nicked from all the mini-bars? Somehow I found myself saying “no” to an strong drink of unspecified origin with a strange man and retreated to the cold, limp (…..) congealed wheat-nest that was my vegetarian pasta, which probably could have used a pint of vod to give it some taste anyway.

At that point in time I could afford to accidentally tip like an overprivileged moron. But now that I’m out of uni and no longer mooching off a brilliant GBP to USD exchange rate, I now have to get in line with my useless dollar-paycheque and start living life in a sensible, non-student fashion. And part of learning how to spend is basically taking the price of anything – absolutely anything – and tacking on 25% so you don’t feel like a cheap bitch. Much different from the UK, where tipping is actually…tipping.

 

An Experiment, Day 3: In Which It is Determined That Ignorance is Bliss

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According to my new positive affirmation (or at least for the week), love is everywhere, and I am loved and lovable. Well, sometimes that really isn’t the case. In fact, this being New England, it’s hardly ever the case. A lot of people on the North Shore are are a little bit rough around the edges, like old-timey fisherman who no longer beat their kids but are still a bit sexist, enjoy simpler foods made with local ingredients and try to act against the liberal type in fairly nice suits.

Today was actually full of stress. From the technical issues I faced in the morning to the commuter’s version of hitting every red light (you just miss the train; you just miss the last shuttle bus so you have to take the subway; you miss the subway while putting money on your subway card), today was a complete disaster. Husband being an insufferable, twattish, inconsiderate, lazy moron (he is a hippie, after all); people completely fucking up beyond ridiculousness at work with huge deadlines looming (and me almost getting blamed for it), and an incompetent bus driver driving a bus with brakes twice as old as he was, forcing me to spill hot coffee all over my not-very-protective-and-brand-new- white gloves. You can kid yourself all you want, but with a day like that, stress is everywhere, and unless you want to chant yourself into delusion, there is no avoiding it.

You can do all you like to convince yourself that there is love everywhere, but there are some days when you have to be realistic and react to the madness around you by, at the very least, acknowledging that it exists. I recited (in my head) the affirmation a few times throughout the day when things started to get a bit mental at work, but if you are surrounded by incompetent, sloppy, changeable, irritable and contradicting people in both your professional and personal lives, there is no way in hell you are going to convince yourself that you can salvage it. Scarf some ice cream, sip some tea, start a blog, relax, unwind, whatever. You might not be able to “heal” your life today, but at least you can feel it.

I would rather focus on the tangible things that make me happy. Other than my friends and family, there are holidays and events to look forward to (Christmas; the Olympics), places I’d like to visit, foods I enjoy eating, TV shows and movies I like to watch, and a cat or two I very much miss. Rather than try to blame my sinus problems that suddenly manifested themselves a few hours  before some drizzly weather (for the fifth time in a row), I’d rather think about the lovely cumin-scrambled-eggs I just made, or the warm Slanket I’m all snuggled up in, or the very funny TV show I’m currently watching.

A Week-long Experiment, Day 1: In Which Reservations Are Expressed

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Albert Feline-stein

Before I can accept that someone is perfectly OK suggesting something out of the ordinary to me, I take a rational step back and figure out whether this is:
a) worth my time
b) detrimental to myself or to anyone
c) going to make me look like an idiot
d) defy any kind of sound, double-blind-tested logic.

With that said, my new roommate, who is wonderful, introduced me to a book she says was a good read. And by introduce me to, I mean she read me a few paragraphs while I was unpacking to take over her study. It was determined/suggested by this book that my sinus problems were not caused by weather pressure changes, possible new allergens or idiots on the train who can’t cover their damn mouths while sneezing, but rather, an aversion to someone close to me. Sinus problems that…followed me across the Atlantic and have plagued me since childhood, but…whatever.

Other medical insights included the real causes for back pain, tooth abscesses and stomach problems, which included a variety of negative thoughts, money worries and some sort of low-self-esteem issue. As a trained medical scientist, I found the absence of the mention of things like “bacteria”; “viruses”; “pro-biotics”; “hand soap”; “BMI” and “allergens” somewhat alarming.

Usually I dismiss this kind of crackpot, New-Age fluff, but I was willing to give it a go, mainly out of nerdy, scientist-esque curiosity, but mostly out of respect for my friend as it seemed to be working for her. But to soften the blow of doing something for which I’d later make of myself, I questioned the author’s credentials, thinking that she was probably some trust-fund baby who grew up on a massive farm in Connecticut and roomed with Martha Stewart in college. My roommate said that, no, she’d suffered abuse, had cancer, and had pulled through it. OK, then – that was good enough for me to take the book seriously, I guess.

The first thing I was advised to do was to repeat a mind-numbing chant positive affirmation about how love is everywhere and how I am 100% able to love and be loved. The face I accidentally made (cynic reflex) after she first recited it to me made her both burst out laughing and recoil in horror.

Her: Repeat after me: Love is everywhere and I am fully-loved and fully-loveable.
Me: No it’s not.
Her: But if you say that, then there will be no love.
Me: You mean not in this house? OK – I’ll be like a vampire, sucking out all the love. Bwahaha. I took your love away! (pause) Wait. That means I have it now. Damn it!
Her: HAHAHA!!!
Me: (faux-angrily) No!! You tricked me into feeling love!!

She’s a sneaky one, that roommate of mine.

So the idea was that I would recite this affirmation, in my head, on the way to/from the train station every day, for a week, and to see if it works. This was mainly to help me through a post-argument-with-the-moron-husband stress-out as opposed to anything particularly earth-shattering.

She suggested that I try it on my way to the cinema. It didn’t matter that I was on my way to see the 11pm showing of The Nightmare Before Christmas; the affirmation would not run and hide in a corner somewhere. You can still be floating on a cloud of bliss while watching a stop-motion-animated child show his parents that he got a severed head from Santa, but remember that serial killers probably float on that same cloud, too.

On my way out, I started to think it in my head but then realized I had started it after I left the house. Was I supposed to start it while I was still on the property, so that I can carry over some leftover love that my roommate was cultivating? So I went back and started saying it from the moment I stepped out onto the street. But was that early enough? Did I have to say it before I took a step or before I shut the gate? What happens if I say it wrong a few times – do I have to make it up? What about tempo and speed? Did they have to match my gait? I didn’t know the rules!!

Concentrating so hard on this ensured that, through the power of positive thinking, many car drivers, scooter riders and small dogs failed to plow mercilessly into me as I was blissfully unaware of the fact that I may have been in their oncoming path.

That was Day -1, and yesterday (Day 0), I completely forgot to do it, on account of being hungry, stranded and being obliged to miss a tree-decorating party I had been looking forward to (while being hungry and stranded). The practice days being over, I made up for the fact that I forgot yet again this morning by saying it a few times in my head earlier.

My roommate had read the author’s background as given in the book/blurb, so I decided to actually look her up and…I am somewhat appalled.

She claims to have beat cancer through positive affirmations, nutritional therapy and reflexology, but states that there is no doctor left alive who can confirm that a) she beat cancer this way and b) that she had cancer in the first place. How…convenient. I.e., she’s completely full of shit.

Worse still, is that she claims that her reaction to her rape and abuse as a child is what caused her to develop cervical cancer in the first place. Yes, that’s exactly how cancer cells work.

It boggles my mind to see that there is such dangerous information being spread by people like this about serious medical conditions. Cancer cannot simply be cured by thinking nice things. It helps to have a positive outlook, but this kind of sugar-coating, book-shilling tripe is extremely insulting to anyone who has ever been affected by a disease as serious as this. I dread to think of what this author’s views are on things like vaccinations or gay people.

There is something to be said for stress/depression and their physical effects on the body/effects on recovery, but this has been covered by actual medical practitioners in the past, so none of this is groundbreaking information. It’s also just common sense.

Thinking “I’m not going to get this job” before a job interview is obviously a bad idea, but you might not also get that job because you’re a) underqualified b) overqualified c) have a lack of relevant education d) made fart noises during the interview e) showed up to the wrong interview f) someone else just happened to get the job instead, because that’s how life goes.

Thinking happy thoughts is like the side dish to actual, practical solutions and problem-solving; it’s not supposed to be a complete replacement. This author is like an adorable grandma with a head injury telling Albert Einstein it would be nice to write his theory of relativity on bacon-scented calligraphy paper. Having a pretty book to tell you nice things to say to yourself is a nice idea, much like a perma-magazine or a notepad with the pages already filled in with cute doodles, but the fact that this woman has made so much money from basically saying…nothing is astounding.

As for the positive affirmations and all-natural, anti-medical science (I guess you have to be one or the other) sentiments – where were these when this loony bint got her botched face-lift? Or this is the look of shock on her own face when she sees how many trees she’s managed to needlessly murder for every copy of that glorified doorstop?

Against every instinct in my rational mind and body, I will still carry out this experiment over the next week, and completely ignore any minor snags in logic I might find. If I just focus on the simpler parts of the exercises, and keep a genuinely open mind, I can figure out either how this can go wrong/is flawed, or extract some modicum of usefulness for the practical, realistic, tangible solutions that everyday life requires.

A certain amount of scepticism/cynicism is healthy, but blindly believing that simply thinking about money will give me money is not going to work unless I am reciting the affirmation in my head in the dole queue.

Welcome To America; Just Don’t Get Sick Here.

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A few weeks ago, my husband had a tooth infection and had to go to the emergency room.

The pain was so bad that I couldn’t comprehend why he had just put off going. He wasn’t a child (although his appetite and intelligence suggest otherwise), so it’s not like any teeth that would fall out were going to grow back.

We took a cab ride to the hospital, then checked in at reception, who told us to wait in a grim-looking seating area with weird-smelling seats and a giant tank full of angry, bitter, fighting fish. Even they didn’t want to be here.

We then went into a tiny Triage-type room that was actually for “registration”, where they asked if we had health insurance. No…we don’t. A non-doctor, non-nurse looking prepubescent with a clipboard asked a few standardised questions (what is it with you people and the standardised tests?), then told us to wait in an adjacent room. Someone resembling slightly more of a medical professional started asking a few more questions, took my husband’s blood pressure and again asked us if we had health insurance.

We were then merrily advised that we were eligible to be put into the “Fast Track” lane. Wow. What did we have to do for that? Turn up when no-one else was there? Why is it Fast Track? Did we win a prize? What about the fish?

no, none of the fish looked like this. but the fights would have been cooler.

About half an hour later we finally got to go through another set of doors and play another round of Soporific Musical Chairs. Another tweener in last season’s Juicy pink velour knock-off tracksuit asked us if we had health insurance and I was beginning to wonder what the hell they kept writing on all those fucking clipboards.

After waiting for another 15-20 minutes, someone who might have been a doctor (but never formally identified himself) came out to brutally inject some anaesthetic into my husband’s gums for an incision after lying to him that it wasn’t really going to hurt much. He then left him with a hollowed-out PEZ dispenser to suck out the underlying pus, blood, saliva and blood from his tooth.

Pink velour tracksuit chav girl came back out with another new person who also asked us whether or not we had health insurance. Resisting the urge to smack her in the nuts, I advised her that we didn’t, but her job of clearly avoiding the related paperwork was meant to be much easier by advising me that we could get on a few state health plans.

It was then that we both told her that, as I am an immigrant, I am not entitled to go on any of those state-funded plans, because I cannot be a public charge. This also applies to my husband, which prompted her to brain-fart out “Wow, yeah, you’re the second or third person who’s said that this week”.

Although I wasn’t surprised that she was clearly unable to distinguish between the numbers two and three over the course of 7 days, it was still shocking that she couldn’t seem to perform this clearly minute, granular, one-note job she had, which was knowing her shit about health insurance plans. Because if she didn’t know this, then how were we supposed to know?

There is nowhere you can go to get any decent information on something like this. I wonder how many immigrants (legal, illegal, out of status etc) know that they are not eligible to go on these kind of programs. I haven’t tested what happens, so I don’t know if I would get “caught out” for even applying to them, but it seems that the only information that I can get has been from my immigration lawyer. Why is that? Are USCIS just waiting for people like me to make one wrong move and then they’re out?

The fact is, I was spoiled by growing up in a country with generous benefits systems, but I was lucky enough to never have the need to use them.  But there I was surprised that, even though I knew I wasn’t getting free healthcare, but that there was nowhere for me to go (like NHS Direct or CAB) to just get…information.

My thoughts on having to pay for healthcare could be an under-edited novel in itself. So for now, I’d rather focus on the quality of what I’m supposed to be paying for. I’m used to getting value for money, in fact, very much value for very little money. So when I pay the following:

  • $300 for antibiotics
  • $149 for a doctor’s consultation

I expect the following:

  • correct antibiotics that work
  • more than 2 minutes of doctor-patient time compared to the 4 hours spent in the hospital

I don’t want to pull out (heh) the “I studied Biomedical Science and was raised by a fastidious doctor-type parent” card, but most of this should be common sense. On one of my first visits here, I was battling a a bad cold that had clearly developed into a secondary chest infection (green glowing yellowy phlegm), and I told reception/registration/triage as such.

It didn’t matter. They ignored any mention of my travel insurance or my offer to fetch up my medical history, and forced me to do the following:

  • blood test
  • urine test
  • blood pressure
  • doctor’s consultation

If I had gone through with chest x-rays or any of the other tests they’d suggested, my bill would have been much larger than it was. It doesn’t matter if you know you don’t need a urine test or a blood test – they are not going to “treat” you if you don’t do as they say.

And what happened? After spending hundreds of dollars out-of-pocket, it turned out they had in fact prescribed me the wrong type of antibiotic. Spending nearly $300 on Doxycycline for a chest infection.

10 excruciating days later, I went back home, saw my GP and got the correct prescription for twice the amount of Amoxycillin tablets for £6.99. Cleared up in 4 days, good as new.

I’ve been lucky, because certain other things would have bankrupted me. I’ve never been in a serious accident, I don’t have any chronic illnesses (I never even take paracetamol, really) and I have no allergies. But imagine I was in a car accident and had to take an ambulance. Do you know that would cost me?

Around $700.

Granted, losing your life costs more, but to be living in a developed country that puts such a hefty price tag on something like this is appalling. Ambulances are typically only used in life-threatening emergencies, or something as urgent as going into labour. How can someone be made to think, “My 11 year-old in septic shock isn’t that young to die from her condition instantly, but she might not be old enough to survive the 40-minute drive in rush-hour traffic”.

So what’s the alternative? Just don’t bother thinking about it? It seems that you really and truly are on your own when it comes to healthcare over here, unless you latch onto a partner who already has it, or get it as a “benefit” through your employer. So I guess this is why I’m constantly running into people on the bus/train who have half their teeth missing, are talking to themselves for lack of mental health care, or just generally look like the wrong side of death.

It does make me wonder why something so fundamentally important isn’t as free as, say….banking. And I know it’s because health providers, healthcare institutions and pharmaceutical companies can’t profit in the same way as banks do. They have to make their money somewhere, and picking out possibly-rich-looking-posh-sounding people like me is an excellent way to do it.

When my husband got his antibiotic prescription, they forced him to take two whole pills of Vicodin. Yep, that stuff that tons of celebrities are addicted to. He said outright that he didn’t want it, but she said he “couldn’t leave” without taking it. When we got home, he was anxious, irritable, nervous and had to go for a walk. At 1am. He took half a dose the next morning and refused to take the rest.

After a few weeks of work, I’m now eligible to receive health insurance as a “benefit” (i.e. not an intrinsic human right) to stop myself from dying. I still have to pay for it though, and the state in which I live (Massachusetts) imposes yearly fines on people who do NOT have health insurance. That’s right – if you don’t pay for health insurance, you will pay even more in fines!

My best practice is to try not to be sick in the first place, or stop myself from getting sicker. I’ve already nipped one persistent cold in the bud, but now I have to face another, thanks to commuters who don’t cover their mouths when coughing, and co-workers who don’t wash their fucking hands after going to the toilet.

I tend to eat what I crave to stave things off (and no that does not include ice cream, unless you want to add to that ball of phlegm in the back of your throat). Things like real fruit ice lollies, orange juice, chocolate-covered pretzels, tomato pasta, spicy Quorn curry and…egg drop soup:

Egg Drop Soup (1-2 servings)

2 eggs

pepper

soy sauce

water

vegetable stock

cornstarch (add gradually to get the consistency you want)

Bring water to a boil, stick the rest in, and KEEP STIRRING the egg for as long as humanly possible until long strings start to develop. It may look like a cyclone farted in the cosmos, but it really is delicious. Keep an eye on it and don’t overcook. The cornstarch should thicken it, and the end result resembles something a bit like chicken and sweetcorn soup.  You can add a bunch of spices, but this is the one my mother made me when I was sick. Great, now I’m homesick (again) as well as actually sick. A-choo.

You Have The Job, But First: Pee In A Cup

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Here’s how my interview for this job went:

Interviewer: Hello.

Me: Hello.

Interviewer: What can you tell me about this job?

Me: Well, I understand it’s a very visible role – lots of conference planning, meeting and greeting international visitors, high-profile executives, liaising with the catering and planning departments, booking rooms etc, which all sounds pretty exciting [even though I secretly hate this type of job]

Interviewer: Well, I’m glad you said that, because that’s not what this job is about at all.

Me: ________

At that moment, my brain advised me it was OK for it to shut down and for me to just be myself, just so I could get through the interview and chalk it down to some fantastically-wasted time.

I referenced Harry Potter (and as a joke), made about as much eye contact as an escaped mental patient, and silently chastised my poor choice of interview attire (ruffly polka dot shirt with a red ribbon).

Then he asked me if I had any questions.

Brain: I’ve got one!

Gut: Don’t say it.

Brain: But it’s brilliant!

Gut: Too risky…

Brain: Naaaaaah. It’s fine! Going to formulate it in the mouth now.

Gut: No! Don’t do it!!

Brain: Try and stop me!

Gut: I can make a big fart!

(This happened in the space of a few micro-seconds. Guts and brains have a whole other timeframe for conversing).

Thankfully, my gut did not make a big fart. Instead I said,

“Actually, I do have a bit of a cheeky question (yes, I said cheeky) – what do you think prevents me from being the top candidate for the job? Is there anything I could improve?”

Well, this stumped the interviewer somewhat. He kept saying I could do the job, and the second interviewer (who was the on-site manager) actually went through my entire CV and listed my skills/parts of my duties from past jobs that would apply to the job. Wasn’t that something I was supposed to do?

I saw a more presentable, more expensively-dressed, suitably less-nervous (and taller) candidate in the other interview room. He was obviously going to get the job.

A few hours later, I got the call telling me I got the job.

Woohoo!

I asked about a start date, but was told I would have to pass a background check and drug test.

Me: What does that entail?

Agency: You have to pee in a cup.

Me: I don’t know…

Brain: You berk! She’s going to think you’re a drug addict, not a germophobe who continuously fails to predict the physics of the female urinary stream into a small container!

Me (quickly adding): …how to do that. It’s because I’m from a foreign country, haha. Ha.

Agency (laughing; understanding the perfectly normal and non-criminal implications of previous statement): Well, everyone has their own technique. You might have to hold it a different way – whatever feels comfortable.

Me (thinking that this is going to turn into an episode of Sin Cities): OK. Bye!

2 weeks later:

I finally get an email advising me I’d passed the initial background check (after having nightmares of failing it due to my “poor choice in television programs“.

I immediately make an appointment at the nearest Wee-in-a-Cup Center and hotfooted it to the bus station within an hour of waking up and getting ready.

The problem was I hadn’t eaten or drank anything, and all my morning ablutions had been done an hour ago.

My morning ablutions (it helps if you play this  in the background):

  • Wake up
  • ——PEE——
  • Shower
  • Get dressed
  • Brush teeth
  • Put on eyeliner
  • Leave without tripping over things
  • Go back to turn off lights
  • Trip over things and leave.

Guess what happens when you wee 1 hour before taking a drug test on a very, very, VERY hot day?

After almost getting run over thanks to the idiotic placement of this center (right next to a highway like everything else), I quickly asked directions to a building which I was already in front of, and strutted on in.

Having been warned by my landlady not to eat any poppy seed bagels, I went the extra mile to make a good impression and dressed like a smart, old Southern lady (think soft, silk-collared, pearl-embellished blouse and a long, just-over-the-knee sack skirt), so that no-one would get the impression I was some sort of ketamine-addled miscreant  trying to piss like a racehorse all over the toilet seat.

The room was tiny. It was like a doctor’s waiting room but with no doctor. Just two toilets, which, to my horror, were NOT gender-assigned.

Despite the fact that I had an afternoon appointment, no-one else was there. I could wee in privacy! The nice lady took my info and told me the following:

  • Take this cup (more like miniature bucket – seriously, it was like half the size of a shopping basket)
  • Wee in the cup
  • Don’t flush or run the water (i.e. —DO NOT WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER WEEING—)
  • Come back and fill out stuff
  • Go wash your hands after handling all your possessions and even a strip of paper that she gives back to you that is now CONTAMINATED WITH NEAR-URINE.

I looked very hesitant at the “no washing your hands” bit. But she probably thought I was hesitant at the “having to go for a drug test because I’m a filthy drug mule” bit.

As a child, I once stood with my hands hovering over the bathroom sink at my local cinema as my mother went to advise a staff member that they were completely out of soap (in all 6 dispensers), and that I refused to leave or touch anything until my hands were sufficiently clean.

But, regardless, I went in there. Couldn’t go. What a surprise!

I trudged out of there in defeat. There were now a few more people in the waiting room, watching me exit, knowing the procedure, and making their assumptions. The lady directed me to the water cooler, and assured me this happened a lot.

Cursing my inferior Loop of Henle, I sat to the left of the reception window so I could be out of the way (and in a corner), but this literally put even more light on me as there was a huge glaring ceiling light that was so intensely bright it was difficult not to squint. It was also freezing thanks to the air-conditioning (which seemed to affect no-one else). I also successfully dodged a tiny spider (dangling on its single string of cobweb from the ceiling light) by leaning in a few different directions, and then eventually moving seats.

"That spider is really moreish"

To onlookers, I was a shivering, pale, squinting, twitching, musical chairs fan who was unable to pee and thought that there was some sort of magical fucking spider in the air that only I was special enough to see. Aces!

Luckily they didn’t grade my test on behaviour alone. After 8 cups of freezing cold water  I was finally able to dispense, wash my hands, make a joke about the needless humiliation of such an invasive practice  and then leave.

Unfortunately, it was now 1 hour before the Weeing Center closed, so everyone who forgot to turn up 2 hours ago were now waiting their turn.

Suddenly, everything in the room looked different – the walls, once puce-coloured, took on a bluer hue. I couldn’t tell whether my chills were from the aggressive air conditioning or the very, very urgent need to go, and the huge painting of a 16th-Century sailboat in a stormy, foamy, sea with flooded decks and gushing waters and gale-force winds was somehow the focal point of the whole room.

After I was finally able to give mercy to my bladder, it turned out that the shopping mall was right opposite.

Well, if I got the job, I would need new clothes.

Afterword: Guess what happens when you drink 8 cups of very cold water and only pee once, thinking it’s all gone?