Rage Against The Machine

by jkatejohnston

7 January 2015

Dear Max,

Yesterday I had a go-round with the dentist and insurance company (still unresolved) that made me so pissed it was almost thrilling. It was like, can this get any more outrageous? Ha, it just did!

I’m always tempted to work into these phone battles: “I’m an attorney!” even if I’m talking to one of those voice recognition recordings that transfers you from one useless option to the next. And even if you did get to say it to a human, the right answer to that would be: “Good for you, lady.” Click. Dial Tone.

Anyway, I didn’t say, “I’m an attorney!” I said: “English…1-3-7-7-3-9-8-9…1-3-7-7-3-9-8-9…Kate Johnston July 29 1968…Johanna Johnston July 29 1968…None of the above…Neither…Neither…No…Eligibility…Eligibility…A Dependent…Go Back…Main Menu…May I speak to a person please?…Human…Main Menu…Go Back…Customer Service.”

“Please hold for a customer service representative.”

I held.

Then a man came on the line and asked if he could help. First I told him that I’d already been on the website and the automated phone system, so yes I really hoped he could help. Then I explained that my son has a dentist appointment tomorrow morning and his dentist called to let us know he has no insurance.

“Let me check that for you. What is your member number?”


“Hold please.”

I held.

“Are you Johanna?”


“Please verify your date of birth.”

“July 29 1968.”

“You are insured, but there are no dependents listed on your plan.”

“Well I’m holding a piece of paper that says dental enrollment authorization. It’s dated October 10th, and it says that I and my family members are all switching to this insurance plan. It has all our names. It has all our birthdates. Would you like me to email it to you? I’ve already scanned it.”

“It’s possible that your benefits department didn’t send the form to us.”

“It’s all one form. The only way you could have switched over my insurance—which you did—is if you received this piece of paper.”

“You need to contact your benefits department.”

“They sent the form. You have this form.”

“Hold please.”

I held.

“All right. You may fax the form to our enrollment department. Someone will call you back within twenty-four hours.”

“His appointment is tomorrow morning.”

“The fax number is—” and he gave me the number.

“Can’t I just email this?”

“You have to fax it.”

“Who even faxes anymore?”

“They’ll get back to you within twenty-four hours.”

“I don’t have twenty-four hours. And I know none of this is your fault. But I am very, very, very disappointed. Goodbye.” My voice was shaking with rage.

I faxed it. First two tries, it didn’t go through, and I knew that even if it did go through I was faxing some black hole. Finally one of the secretaries showed me how you have to dial a 9 and then a 1 and then the 800 number. The fax went through.

Afterward, I rode my bike out to one of our Child Care Program Regional Offices in Natomas to do legal consults. It was a beautiful clear cold day. My rage drifted away. Then I got there: an office park—what a misnomer unless you’re thinking of parked cars. There’s one bike rack, and it’s no where near the building where I have my meetings. And I remembered how once I didn’t have time to walk across great expanses of parking lot, so I locked my bike to a metal bench in front of the building and their little in-house security guard gave me a ticket. Just a warning ticket. And a fake ticket—he’s not a real cop. And remembering that, all my dental rage came flooding back.

It made me think about how a lot of people are at this level of anger all the time (and with much better reasons for it) and all it takes is one little thing to bring it all roaring to the surface. Probably most of the people I read about in police reports are like that. I listened to an on-stage interview with the memoirist and poet Mary Karr. She said, “I have to eat my vegetables and meditate forty minutes a day just to keep from mowing you all down with a submachine gun.” And as Quentin Crisp said, “It would be impossible to live a life such as mine has been without building up a vast stockpile of unused rage.” (Both quoted from memory but pretty close I think.) Quentin Crisp was writing about the sniper in the bell tower at the University of Texas and his wonder that people thought, how could this happen? When he thought, why doesn’t this happen more often?

After my meetings, I changed back into cold sweaty bike clothes in the handicapped stall, and the toilet kept flushing by itself. It must be on some sort of movement sensor. Hoisting myself into my giant, cold, damp sports bra with bent hooks and eyes because of the seismic forces these fasteners are subjected to: Flush!

T-shirt and bike pants and two sweaters and windbreaker and balaclava and helmet: Flush!

Shoving all the lawyer clothes in my pannier and then realizing my gloves are at the bottom, all lawyer clothes back out on floor, gloves on, lawyer clothes back in pannier, gloves off again, put on shoes, gloves back on: Flush!

“Oh shut up!”

(next day at lunchtime)

Still thinking about anger. I’m in favor of it.

But riding my bike to work this morning, I was writing in my head that as problems go mine are fairly good ones to have and then rebelling against that and against the notion of “first world problems” or even worse “white girl problems” as if you have to be starving and oppressed to have any real troubles. How wrong. Sensation is sensation. And having the sensation of wanting to reach right through your cell phone and shove the Enrollment Authorization down the non-existent throat of a recorded voice—well, it’s a real. So there.

No one from the enrollment department ever called me, but they added Enzo to my insurance in time for his appointment, which is happening as I write this.