life, People, politics, Unemployment

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds earns another gold star for cruelty

“Bad? Son, the fan didn’t just get hit this time, it got smothered!” — G.I. Joe No. 1, 1982

Gov. Kim Reynolds is an inspiration.
This week she inspired me to have a panic attack.

Reynolds announced Iowa would no longer participate in the federal pandemic assistance program. That program paid unemployed people $300 a week in addition to their state benefits. The money came from the feds rather than the state budget. The program was set to end in September.

Why Reynolds wanted to get out of a program that helped some of her vulnerable citizens that came at no cost to her is beyond me.

Maybe she wanted another gold star for cruelest move by a chief executive.

But that’s the way it is with Reynolds. She’s the governor.

If you don’t like it, it’s your problem, not hers.

She’s right. Losing $300 a week of income was, in fact, my problem.

I was using that money to help get through graduate school at Drake University. I plan to become a journalism and language arts teacher.

If all goes well, and I have no reason to expect that it will, I’ll be signing a contract with a metro district by this time next year and beginning the second half of my working life as a teacher.

Reynolds said she quit the pandemic assistance program because the state had more job openings than unemployed people. People were using the money to stay home instead of going back to work.

That’s a fun fantasy based on a dangerous fallacy.

Reynolds seems to believe all jobs are the same.

They’re not.

There are a lot of fast food restaurants around town offering $14, $15 and even $16 per hour for help. Maybe I could get one of those jobs.

Except I can’t. I have arthritis in my knees and back. I can’t stand for an 8-hour shift. I’d be fired by the end of the second day if I lasted that long.

Arthritis, obesity, depression and anxiety are all health issues. I need physical therapy and medication.

I bought the cheapest insurance available off the exchange. It’s not really health insurance as much as it is catastrophe insurance. If I have a heart attack or get hit by a car, I’ll be able to go to the hospital.

But in terms of wellness, it’s garbage.

But, as our inspiring governor would say, citizens’ health barriers to employment are their problem.

I don’t understand politics. I never have. I had a great political science professor as an undergrad at Drake, Dennis Goldford.

He said politics was “the only process we have, peacefully, for enabling us to live together with people with whom we have significant differences.”

We’re not seeing a lot of this art of compromise anymore.

We’re seeing “you’re with us or against us” mentality stoked by a mass media that targets its messages at partisan purists and leaves the rest of the country behind.

This leads to politics without compromise, which means no matter who gets elected, a lot of people are screwed.

I think that’s how someone like Reynolds gets elected governor. She doesn’t compromise. If it’s not a problem for her, her party or her donors, then it’s not a problem.

The rest of us are on our own. We, as Iowans and Americans, have become hardened in our hearts to others. We want what’s ours. Everyone else can fend for themselves. Anyone who struggles is a loser. It’s not my problem, pal, it’s yours.

That’s Reynolds’ thinking. That’s a big swath of Iowa and American thinking. Never compromise.

Fine.

The income hit hurts.

I’ll survive.

Why?

I’ve got a lot of help. I’ve got family. I’ve got friends.

I’ve got the federal government happy to loan me money to go to graduate school.

I will probably die in student loan debt.

I don’t care.

Because I am going to be a teacher. I think I’ll be a good teacher, maybe even a great one. Maybe I’ll be a better teacher than I was a journalist.

I don’t know.

But I have been fighting for survival since I became a ward of the state on my first moment out of the womb.

I got adopted.

I lost my folks before I was 14.

I lived with another family and thrived.

I struggled with mental health. I spent myself into bankruptcy and considered suicide many times.

I got therapy and medicine.

I worked in newspapers.

Newspapers kicked me out.

And in the dead middle of my life, I’m learning a whole new trade and getting by each week by the skin of my teeth.

Hit me, life.

Beat me to my knees, bad luck.

Ignore me with your vast indifference, Gov. Reynolds.

I stand. I keep moving forward with the tenacity of a cockroach.

I am resilient.

I will overcome my problems.

And one day, when I see someone struggling that I can help, I’m going to remember the legacy of Reynolds and do the opposite:

I’ll help.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
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des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, life, People

An ode to Mom 2.0 on #MothersDay

Angry. I was so damn angry. Or at least that’s what I projected so I could hide just how scared I was.

I was 15 years old in late March 1991.

Things were going poorly.

Dad died in 1988 after a long, terrible battle with heart disease. I watched my father shift from an icon of manliness to a gray, withered and cold body with barely enough life left in him to keep his eyes open.

Worse than watching him die was knowing when he was gone, I would be left with Mom, who had lost herself to undiagnosed mental illness and opioid prescription drug addiction.

She died in 1990. She fell down stairs on the night before finals of my freshman year at Winterset High School. She lasted about two weeks in the hospital. That was it.

There was an effort to live with a family in Winterset after my folks died. It failed for reasons too complicated to get into here.

I needed a home.

I didn’t want one.

I wanted a room with a mini fridge and a TV. I would get through school. Slip a few bucks under the door once a month. I’ll make my way.

This was a little bit more than the law would allow.

Two choices presented themselves.

Choice one: Enter the foster care system from whence I came as an infant back in June 1975. I met a nice guy with a beautiful house on Hull Avenue. You could see all of downtown Des Moines from his back deck. We chatted. There was a hang-up. He traveled for business. I would stay at a group home during his trips.

Choice two: My late mother’s hairdresser and her husband, a printer, never had kids. They offered to take me in.

I didn’t care.

I was beat down flat inside. Nobody was ever going to have an emotional connection with me again. I was not going to hurt like that again. Ever. Not going to do it. Forget it. Don’t bring it up.

The hairdresser and the printer made their pitch, showed me the room I would have and talked about camping trips.

They sure seemed nice.

I didn’t trust it.

Everyone goes away in the end.

It all ends in hurt.

The hairdresser played her ace. She offered cake. I declined.

“Are you sure you don’t want a piece of cake?” she asked with a tone that said, Everybody wants a piece of cake, kid.

I acquiesced.

It was German chocolate cake. It was amazing. It tasted like home.

To this day, the hairdresser, known in these columns as Mom 2.0, does not believe she made German chocolate cake. She only made one in her life.

Well, that was the one.

I moved in. It wasn’t happily ever after. It took work from all of us to make a family.

You don’t see it happening at the time.

But now, 30 years later, I see myself relaxing a little bit with each passing day.

That first summer, when I really only knew one kid in the whole neighborhood, I was cold.

Mom 2.0 would come home from work and shout, “Hello.”

I would pretend to be asleep because I didn’t want to interact.

It was an asshole move.

But to this day there’s always a little bit of me who believes Mom 2.0 will react to me like Mom 1.0 did. I won’t go into detail here, but that’s a truly terrifying thing. The good news is it never happened.

Mom 2.0 and I had more quarrels than Dad 2.0 and I did. I went to my first therapist with my new family. The doctor told Mom 2.0 that she had the toughest job of all: She had to make me like a woman. That’s how twisted my thinking was after Mom 1.0.

The truth is Mom 2.0 and I are a lot alike. We communicate emotively. Dad 2.0 is the quiet, thoughtful one. Mom 2.0 and I tend to vent our frustrations at top volume.

The space between frustrations has increased over the years.

I became a man, with all the strengths and flaws that implies.

They became family, the line of people who will always be there to tell me that no matter what, I’m good enough and I’m OK.

I needed that lift a few weeks back. I visited for dinner. I fell off the back stoop. There they were, the two of them in their 70s, with their arms around each of mine, gripped like vises and helping me stand up again.

That’s family like I rarely saw it in the first 15 years and am so deeply thankful to have had the last 30 years.

So, it’s Mother’s Day.

This is a sad one. Mom 2.0 lost her mom, who was 92, last fall. Dad 2.0 lost his mom a few years back. They always made a Mother’s Day plant gift for each mom. This was the first year they didn’t have to do that. There were no moms left to deliver them to.

Well, Mom 2.0 is here for me. I wouldn’t dream of trying to pick out a plant that would fit into her perfectly manicured lawn and garden.

The only thing I think appropriate is to remind her that the seed she planted in me is still growing strong after all these years.

That seed, of course, is love.

That angry kid 30 years ago didn’t know much about love.

Thanks to Parents 2.0, I do.

I love you, Mom.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
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des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Iowa, life

Rage and anguish in line for ice cream

I decided to stop by Snookies Malt Shop on my way home from errands Sunday evening. The line led out the store’s short driveway near Beaver Avenue and 41st Street all the way to Franklin Avenue, where the line bent around the corner.

Regular visitors to Snookies expect this sort of wait on a weekend with lovely weather. The night was a warm 75, with the humidity just between leaving the windows down and turning the air conditioner on.

Regular visitors also know that when the line backs up to the lights at Franklyn, cars should join the line on Franklyn rather than block the intersection with Beaver.

That’s what I did Sunday night with my windows down and Creedence Clearwater Revival playing on the car speakers.

The mood was mellow and despite the CCR lyrics, I truly felt like a fortunate son.

A horn blared in front of me. There was a guy with some other people in his little crossover SUV. He was ticked off that a guy in a larger SUV cut into the line by crossing at the light and pulling into the line ahead of the people who were wound around Franklyn.

This is rude by neighborhood standards, but it’s not a hanging offense.

Except this is the 21st century and everything is an excuse for outrage.

The man in the small SUV got out of his vehicle and cursed out the man in the big SUV.

The guy from the littler vehicle complained the guy in the bigger vehicle should go around the block and get behind the rest of us on Franklyn.

The people in the big SUV just looked confused and frightened. That tends to happen when somebody gets out of their car and starts yelling at you in your car.

In other cities, that’s how you get shot. In Des Moines, the guy taking the tongue lashing just rolled up his windows.

I thought about telling the yelling guy to relax and get back in his tiny SUV.

Then I remembered a lesson I too seldom forget: “You can never listen yourself into trouble.”

I wished I could have loaned the guy a copy of my Creedence CD. It’s hard to be in a bad mood listening to Creedence. I recommend it at almost any occasion.

This confrontation lasted only a minute or two, but it felt emblematic of how we behave toward one another these days.

Everyone seems to be looking to either become a victim about which they can complain about slights for all time, or they want to explode into rage so everyone else knows how important and righteous they are.

I don’t know what the fellow in the little SUV was so worried about. We were all in line for ice cream. That’s a treat.

You go to the ice cream store for fun. Maybe you had a crap day, and a sweet confection takes the edge off. Maybe you had a great day, and this is the capstone. Or maybe you just wanted something sweet.

There should be no anger at the ice cream shop.

It is not as if we were waiting for whole units of blood after our chopper went down behind enemy lines in ‘Nam. That’s a life-or-death situation. You triage that to see who needs treatment first.

We were waiting for soft-serve ice cream. If a guy cuts you in line, you’ll only have to wait a few more minutes to enjoy a delicious twist cone. No one will ever die having to wait a few more minutes for ice cream.

I think people in line for ice cream at 8 p.m. on a Sunday have some time on their hands. No one is at the bedside of a relative dying of cancer saying, “Hey, this could take a bit, let’s run and grab some ice cream and come back and see if grandpa is still here, OK?”

No one in line is an ambulance driver whose holding off responding to a heart attack so they can get a banana split.

These are people with a few dollars in their pockets and of the mindsets to have a cool treat on a spring night.

This should be all mellow.

The only time it’s acceptable to get upset at an ice cream shop is if you drop your cone on the ground before you get the first lick. That is a true tragedy.

I get the driver of the big SUV committed a neighborhood party foul.

So what?

Maybe the guy’s not from around here. I didn’t always know the accepted way to queue at Snookies.

Even if the guy did jump the line on purpose, I don’t think it’s something to let raise your blood pressure. Remember people, we’re getting ice cream here. This is supposed to be fun.

It took about a half hour for Snookies employees to clear out the line. By the time I got my ice cream, it was almost 9 p.m. The shop was closing.

The guy ahead of me got his treats. The guy who cut in ahead of him did, too.

I pulled over to the side of Snookies lot and turned up my Creedence as the wind blew through my open windows.

I let my trouble drift out on the lyrics of “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”.

Figures those guys would have an answer for this silliness:

I want to know

Have you ever seen the rain …

Coming down a sunny day.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
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des moines, life, News, politics, Unemployment

Huzzah! Identity theft debacle with Iowa Workforce Development solved … Why I feel queasy about it

Great news. I’m me again. I wasn’t me for about three weeks, but now, I’m officially me again.

Someone stole my identity. Most of the time, I would let that kind of thing go. I’m not doing a great job with this identity. Maybe someone else should have a go.

My levity in the face of this adversity faded when it cost me money.

The scofflaw attempted to claim my unemployment benefits. This proved a particular problem since I am unemployed and need those benefits to keep the lights on at Camp Daniel.

Iowa Workforce Development, which manages the state’s unemployment benefits, spotted the fraud.

They got me to upload copies of my driver’s license and Social Security card. We cleared up the discrepancies in my account.

But the unemployment office employees told me it might take a month or more for the fraud case to resolve.

This put me on red alert. The utility companies, insurance agencies and property managers tend to want to be paid on time.

Monday, a good friend and political operator, called to check on me.

I told him of my plight. He asked if it would be all right to make a call on my behalf.

Now, I was a journalist for a long time and I felt queasy about trying to jump the line with the old “who you know, not what you know” move.

I needed to get things back on track. And I’m not a journalist anymore — by decision of the current journalism warehouse gatekeepers.

So I gave the green light.

The person he called, also an old friend, forwarded the case to the Iowa Attorney General’s Office.

Within 2 hours, I got a call from the fraud investigator who was working my case.

She had just received my file, she said. After 10 minutes of verifying my information, she removed the fraud hold on my account.

My missing checks deposited into my account Friday.

Maybe all of that is coincidence.

Maybe the fraud investigator just happened to receive my case after a couple of my friends who know what buttons to push in state government pushed those buttons.

That is possible. I’m not a gambler, and I can’t guess the odds of coincidence. I want it to be true that I didn’t use influence to get back on track.

Then again, I really needed to get back on track. I’m deeply grateful to both my friends and the fraud investigator who resolved my issue.

What gnaws at me is the people whose stories are in my inbox, people who like me are on “fraud hold” and don’t have years worth of friendships and connections that maybe speed up serendipity.

One woman wrote she hadn’t seen a check in six weeks — and she was getting the minimum $203 plus the additional $300 from the federal stimulus.

What about the disabled veteran on fraud hold in KCCI-TV’s Scott Carpenter’s story from April 19? Has someone unlocked the system for him?

How many people are struggling with this “fraud hold” in silence?

I got mine. I should be satisfied. That’s how we behave in America. We look out for No. 1 and everybody else is on their own.

I don’t believe that. I don’t want to live that way. But I’m not a journalist anymore. I’m not paid to ask tough questions and make open records requests or pressure public officials for specific details and data anymore.

No, I’ve got just enough of a conscious left to feel guilty that I beat the system and just enough cynicism to realize the system is a game, but the constituents aren’t the players — they’re the pawns.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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des moines, Faith and Values, humor, Media, News, Newspapers, Unemployment

Dear Jon from Alaska, F— off.

Jon from Alaska comments on one of my recent columns about my troubles with Iowa’s unemployment office:

“You could get a job. Just a thought.”

First, fuck off, Jon. I don’t know you. You don’t know me. Let’s keep it that way.

I can say things like that now. I don’t work for media companies and probably never will. I don’t have to pretend every troll’s eyeballs are sacred to my survival.

So, again, fuck off, Jon from Alaska.

But let’s consider Jon from Alaska’s suggestion that I get a job.

I apply for at least two jobs every week just to be eligible for unemployment benefits.

The problem is that between 1990 and 2020, half of all journalism jobs were eliminated by the greedy corporate hustlers and slimy hedge fund operators who systematically sacrificed news coverage in the name of the United States of America’s favorite deadly sin: Greed.

The skills I spent developing since I was 15 years old are no longer in demand.

There are job postings for writers, of course. But what they really want are webmasters with design skills who can turn every story viral and spell most of the words right. The craft I practiced is practically extinct.

There were pretty good signs this was going to happen when I was in college nearly 30 years ago.

The internet was a new and mesmerizing curiosity in 1995, when I was a junior at Drake University. Now even my 72-year-old parents have Facebook and email.

My dad used a computer for the last few years of his career as a printer. He sends texts with GIFs now.

That’s like being born in a well and later living on a space station.

There were signs journalism was doomed before AOL started giving away 500 free dialup hours on compact discs jammed in the mailbox each week.

The movie “Network” seemed like satire in 1976, with poor Howard Beal shouting, “I’m mad as HELL and I’m not going to take it ANYMORE.”

But Beal died for daring to speak too much truth.

If I showed that movie to my classroom, the kids would probably think it was a documentary.

So, Jon from Alaska, the best place for getting a job would be in journalism. That’s what I know. That’s what I’m good at.

But journalism is hardly practiced anymore by the remaining news outlets.

What you see in markets big and small is a kind of burglary passed off with a good cover story about being overwhelmed by changes in technology and babbling about social media.

I worked in St. Louis for a while. It didn’t go well. I was an asshole in a town where you could only be an asshole if you grew up there.

They had a saying about the old newspaper owner while I worked there.

Joe Pulitzer was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer II was a great newsman. Joe Pulitzer III was a great art collector.

Pulitzer III’s widow sold off the paper to Lee Enterprises, an Iowa company.

This was a little bit like a guy who owned a few fishing boats buying a battleship. They both go on water and you can fall out and drown, but that’s where the similarities end.

Lots of people fell off the St. Louis paper and drown over the last 15 years. More will before it’s done.

Somewhere, a couple of bag men drop off a few more suitcases of $100s in unmarked, nonsensical bills at Lee executives’ houses.

The cases get lighter every year and so too does the payroll at the paper, which exists mostly to cover the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team.

Eventually the suitcases will be reduced to some pocket change and whatever is left of the newspapers the corporations have wrecked, mostly used furniture, will be auctioned off.

Jon from Alaska is right. I should get a job. I’ve applied for a job at the local Gannett outlet store several times. They don’t bother to respond. That’s probably for the best.

After two layoffs in a dozen years, I’m beginning to think they’re serious about not wanting me around.

I wonder if they’ll even be around each other anymore. They’ve been out of the office since the pandemic started and they aren’t considering a return until fall.

This could be the moment Gannett says, “Do we really need an office?” They issue laptops and smartphones. They have instant messaging. Why bother paying rent for a combo fax machine and printer?

I digress.

I hate to disappoint Jon from Alaska. But I am trying to get a job.

I’m retraining in graduate school to become a teacher.

That’s right. I’m going from the beloved highly respected field of journalism to the carefree and lucrative field of public education.

When I write it down like that, I get that feeling the Coyote in Road Runner cartoons must get when he realizes there’s no ground beneath him, only a long fall to the desert bottom with a giant rock landing on his head.

So, sadly, Jon from Alaska, I’m going to need those state benefits for a minute.

Some folks would tell me not to bother with Jon from Alaska. He’s a troll. He’s beneath my contempt.

I disagree.

The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that the cruel things people — even strangers — say about us don’t hurt.

They do. They absolutely do.

We do a disservice to our emotional well-being to pretend we’re invulnerable to cruelties cast so casually at us by others.

Jon from Alaska’s snark did hurt my feelings. It made me mad enough to stack all these paragraphs.

But Jon from Alaska doesn’t define me.

I’m gonna fight for my benefits allowed.

I’m gonna fight for my career.

And, one more time, fuck off Jon from Alaska.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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des moines, Iowa, life, People, Unemployment

I am having an series of unfortunate events that are draining the life out of me

Sunday.

Woke up at 7:30. Filed for unemployment.

Well, I tried to file for unemployment.

I forgot my pin.

The stress of fighting identity theft for the past few weeks jarred four numbers from my head.

I tried too many combinations. The system locked me out.

This is going to be trouble.

The only way I can unlock my account is to call the unemployment office Monday morning and reset the password.

I guarantee this won’t work. It won’t because every time I’ve called the unemployment office in the last month, they’ve told me a dreadful story about identity theft and how my benefits were tied up by some fucking algorithm.

The result being I won’t get paid until the anemic fraud investigators at Iowa Workforce Development stumble across my case at the bottom of the paperwork avalanche.

To recap, I’m not getting my unemployment benefits because someone else committed a crime.

The unemployment office people told me to keep filing. I have.

But Sunday I forgot a code.

Now I’m condemned to the hell of calling the unemployment office, a mixture of talking to a robot that will keep me on hold no less than 5 minutes. Then the robot will ask if I want a call back.

Sure.

When that person finally calls back, they’re going to ask for my birthdate, Social Security number and other data.

And then the unemployment office caller will tell me that my birthdates don’t match.

I will again point out that we’ve known this for some time.

But here’s the nasty trick.

I bet a hard nickel this failure to remember this damn four-digit code on Sunday morning will result it yet another hassle in filing for benefits — likely resulting in me getting shorted a week whenever this mess is finally sorted.

Honestly, I hate to keep bitching about this.

I would rather talk about the five best food stands at this year’s Iowa State Fair or five things we learned at the Cyclones/Hawkeyes spring game.

And regular readers know I’d rather scrub my face with a carrot peeler than talk about those topics.

Here’s the thing.

This foul-up with the pin code was caused because the unemployment office made me change the code.

Of course I forgot. I have something like 700 passwords. Every time I change one, I forget it by the next time I lose it.

The loss of the pin wouldn’t be such a hassle if it weren’t tied to this giant clusterfuck with unemployment office.

That hangs over my head all week except for Sunday. That’s the day when I put in my data and then slack off to watch film noir, read a comic book or take naps.

I botch this thing first off and it revs up the anxiety meter.

There’s a problem. I can’t fix it right now. And it contributes to another problem.

And pretty soon it’s 9 p.m. and the only thing I’ve done all day is worry about a thing I can’t fix until Monday — if at all.

Dear readers, I promise to get off this endless, whiny diatribe soon.

It’s been all consuming.

Maybe I’ll have a list of something or some goofy food product to write about to breakup the monotony.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification.
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311.
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des moines, Faith and Values, mental health

When melancholy becomes malignant, say something nice about someone else to make yourself feel better

Let me make myself clear: I’m not suicidal. I am clinically depressed. I also live with generalized anxiety disorder. Prescription pills work most of the time, but this is an exceptionally stressful period.

I’m out of work. I’m trying to learn a new career at middle age. Arthritis squeezes my knees and tendonitis stings my Achilles.

My temper is short. My days vacillate between a general melancholy with a dash of sudden rage to a disengaged desire to interrupt sleep just long enough to turn over and take a nap.

I reached for a facial tissue in the bathroom and realized the box was empty. I went to the closet and it was bare. I realized I couldn’t afford Kleenex until my tax return arrives.

Forgive me if I’m skeptical of the federal government’s promise of May 5. I’m supposed to be getting paid unemployment benefits by the state of Iowa. But some rogue algorithm stole my identity and tied my account up at Iowa Workforce Development, where the bureaucrats can’t tell me when my benefits will resume.

I apologize to regular readers who’ve seen nothing but stacks of paragraphs about these problems for a month. But believe me when I say I am more tired of living this successive series of disconcerting events.

When the melancholy becomes malignant, I phone friends. I text random compliments to people I love.

JANE BURNS: You’re one of the best people I ever met, and I learned so damn much from you. I miss sitting beside you at Drake women’s basketball games. Seldom have I known a keener observer who could also translate those observations into readable copy. Thank you for being my friend.

TRACEY DOYLE GORRELL: Thank you for being my friend. You are one of the wisest peers I know. You made my life immensely better with your broad mind and big heart. You are one of my true Super Friends.

MEGAN GOGERTY: To be serious for a moment, I love you. I mean that in the friendliest way. Like everyone, I’m going through a lot of shit right now. Your skating videos, your writing and the light you project in the world helps me hang on. I know you’ve got your own woes, but it takes a special person to take a few minutes every day to write a joke or make a funny video. Thank you for sharing.

SARA SLEYSTER: Thanks for being my friend. Thanks for sharing your faith and hope with me. And especially thanks for editing the foul-ups out of my blog posts.

KEN QUINN: I remain honored and humbled to count a man of your astounding accomplishment, unmatched intelligence, insight and kindness as my friend.

Naturally, these messages disconcerted some of my friends. They were worried the expression of love was an indication I was suicidal.

That’s good insight on their part because that sort of thing can be an indicator. It just isn’t for me.

I feel better when I say nice things about people I love.

This is one of my depression repression techniques. Most of the time, there’s nothing I can do in the moment I’m feeling depressed or anxious to address the cause of my depression or anxiety.

What I try to do is solve what can be handled in the moment. I wish I could tell you I think positive thoughts about myself, but that’s rare.

But I do think all the time about the people I love and who’ve loved me.

You always hear people at funerals say that they wish they had told the dead person something deeply personal while they were alive.

So, I’m doing it. I’m texting. I’m sending letters.

I may not be able to fix my problems, but I can put a little positive energy out there.

Check your inbox.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
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des moines, Faith and Values, Iowa, life, Media, Newspapers, obesity, People, Unemployment

The story of falling down: ‘It’s just a lot of shit right now, Bob’

The Rogers-Finney clan about 24 years ago, from the left, Bob Rogers, Joyce Rogers, and their second-hand son, Daniel Finney.

My right knee buckled and I fell off the back stoop to the driveway. Arthritis plagues my knees and lower back. Weather changes exacerbate the already maddening condition. My obesity makes it even worse.

The fall came at the end of a visit to the home of Parents 2.0, the kindly east Des Moines couple who raised me after my first set of parents died.

Parents 2.0 are vaccinated. I’m half vaccinated, with the second shot to come early next month. We decided we’re comfortable visiting.

We ate lasagna with garlic bread and fresh salad. Dessert was strawberry shortcake.

We chatted after dinner and we all took naps. Afternoon turned to early evening and I decided to go home. Mom 2.0 gave me a hug and plastic sack with a quart of homemade chili and a leftover piece of lasagna.

I stepped off the back step and something went wrong. I don’t know if I missed the step or seized up because of the pain in my right knee.

It felt as if I was falling down forever, caught between the moment I knew I was going to fall and the impact with the cold concrete driveway. The chili and lasagna took a flight. I landed on my left side.

My friend Megan Gogerty is trying to win a rolling skating contest by skating every day in 2021. She posts funny videos on Instagram about roller skating and reading “War and Peace.” Megan has diverse interests.

In a recent video, she mentioned that it’s better to fall on your side than your back or front. Maybe I had that in mind when I crashed, but I landed on my side. I don’t know if it hurt any less, but I walked away without any broken limbs. So, Megan, if you’re reading, thanks.

I rolled over on to my belly and then my right side. My right shoe had come off. This must be how turtles feel when they’re stuck on the back of their shell.

My parents came out to help me up. This embarrassed me. I’m 45 years old and weight more than a quarter ton. Here two 72-year-old people were trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

I rolled on to my belly, got one leg under me and kicked another one behind. My folks each wrapped their arms around arms.

They both have a pretty good grip, especially Dad 2.0. They raised me to my feet and quickly sat me down on the picnic table. Mom 2.0 collected the scattered leftovers sack and went inside to repackage them.

Dad 2.0 sat with me on the bench, his grip like a vice on my right arm.

“Are you hurt?” he asked.

I knew he was asking about my physical condition. That’s not the question I answered.

The long virus year hurt us all in multiple ways. I lost my job. I lost two jobs. I was basically housebound for a year and my body suffered because of it. I was trying to get through school and become a teacher.

Some asshole stole my identity with algorithm and now I can’t get my unemployment check because the government leaders take six-figure salaries to make sure their offices make dealing with them as difficult as possible.

I’ve applied for rental assistance from the county. If things don’t work out soon with the unemployment office, I may be visiting food banks instead of Hy-Vee for groceries.

I could lash myself a billion times for every penny I wasted on comic books or treats instead of building up an emergency fund that everyone says you need and almost nobody does.

Nearly a year has passed since I was a practicing journalist. Most days I’m glad. I don’t want to go knocking on doors of the people who suffered tragedy to ask them to tell me their secrets anymore. I don’t want every paragraph I write to be subjected to the hideous system where my art is put on a spreadsheet and its value decided by how many people clicked on a goddamn link.

Yet, being away from the newsroom, as battered and empty as it was when they kicked me out, still burns. And that makes me angry.

I don’t want it to hurt that I got laid off by the one institution I ever wanted to work for, but it does. I know the place isn’t what it used to be, and it’s never been what I fantasized it would be.

But I always loved having my byline in the newspaper – even in the last few years, where I started to hate what our company had become.

They told us in college, way back in the early 1990s, that our generation would not work in one place. I was going to prove the exception and get a job at the local newspaper and worked there until I died.

It didn’t work out that way. The teachers were right. I was wrong. I don’t know why I’m still upset about it.

But in that moment, sitting on that bench with Dad 2.0 by my side, I felt more frightened and more vulnerable than I had at any point during these recent personal disasters.

I cried. Not much. But a tear in each eye that streaked down the cheek, hot on cool skin.

I know I have many blessings, Parents 2.0 chief among them. I have a handful of good friends who love me as I love them. I have shelter and TV and comic books and toys stacked floor to ceiling. I know I’m not the saddest case in the world. But that’s a fallacy of relative privation, the rhetorical concept that just because your problems aren’t the worst in the word does not mean they are not significant problems for you.

So, when my dad asked me if I was OK, I said: “It’s just a lot of shit, Bob.”

He still held my right arm. He looked at me through his bifocals and I could feel his sadness and worry.

“I know,” he said.

And we sat there together on the plank of the picnic bench, father and son, with the cold wind blowing across our faces on an early spring evening.

My mom joined us. I started to jabber about being a failure. She stopped me.

“It will work on,” my mom said. “It always has. It always will.”

I make a practice not to disagree with my mom. She’s right more than any of the teaches I ever had. They helped me stand and gathered my cane. They walked me out to my car and told me to be careful.

I thought again of my roller-skating friend, Megan. She recently wrote a lovely essay titled “A Reminder That This Is Impossible: And yet we’re doing it anyway.”

I find it best to avoid disagreements with Megan. She is right a lot, too.

My parents helped me to my feet. I leaned on my cane and waddled out to my car. I drove off to try and keep on keeping on in the age of impossible.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Crime and Courts, des moines, Des moines police, Iowa, life, Media, News, Unemployment

Iowa Workforce Development bigwigs hide when reporters come asking question about fraud, data breach

Scott Carpenter, a reporter for KCCI-TV, called me Monday. He was working on a story about Iowa Workforce Development, the fancy name our state government gives the unemployment office.

Carpenter asked me if I was willing to be interviewed. I declined. I’ve got nothing against Carpenter. I don’t work for the news media anymore. I like the idea that I can say no after nearly 30 years of almost always having to say yes.

Still, I talked to Carpenter about my situation for a few minutes. I told him he could use my name in his story if he wanted. He didn’t. That’s OK.

Carpenter asked me if I’d heard anything about a data breech at the unemployment office. I hadn’t. They told me my identity had been stolen and that attempted fraud may delay payments indefinitely, which I’ve written about on this blog.

I watched Carpenter’s story on KCCI’s website Monday evening. He got an interview with a disabled vet who went three weeks without an unemployment check. Carpenter asked for a Zoom interview with someone from the unemployment office to clarify the fraud problem.

He received a message from Ryan Ward, Iowa Workforce Development deputy director. Ward’s message read, “Iowa Workforce Development does not have the availability to do a Zoom interview and Iowa Workforce Development has not suffered a data breach.”

Ward made more than $153,000 in the last fiscal year for a job titled “public service executive.” I don’t know what that job title entails nor do I begrudge a man his salary, but I fail to see much public service in Ward’s email to Carpenter.

There seem to be some legitimate questions about the security of data at the unemployment office. And there are a lot of questions that remain unanswered. We need those “public service executives” to step up and tell us what’s going on even on days things aren’t going so hot.

I don’t know Ward, so I’m going to take him at his word despite my skeptical nature. Maybe he was busy Monday. Maybe all the people who could answer a few questions were busy.

But what I find odd is that later in the day someone at the unemployment office dusted off a laptop and put out a news release that “reports an increase in recent fraudulent activity related to unemployment insurance.” They talked about criminals using sophisticated algorithms to steal data and attempt fraudulent claims for people’s unemployment benefits.

Fucking algorithms, man.

Algorithms have ruined society. Facebook algorithms pushed racist and fake news. Some hackers used algorithms to jack up the prices of stores that were otherwise on the brink of extinction. Russian hackers used algorithms to interfere with the 2016 election. Sports teams use algorithms to make games in all sports duller and more predictable.

If only there was an algorithm to get an obese paragraph stacker through graduate school so he could teach kids how to sling sentences.

I digress.

The news release denied a data breach again and then churned up a bunch of boilerplate language about keeping your data safe.

The news release, as such things often do, left more questions unanswered than answered.

For example, the release says the fraud uptick occurred “recently.” Be specific. Was it the last month, the last six months, Tuesday, how long? And if you can’t – or don’t want to say the time frame – tell us why you don’t want to tell us.

The release says this is a national issue and they’re working with national partners on the issue. How? What are you doing? How are you doing it? Is it yielding any positive results? Have you involved federal agencies?

The disabled veteran KCCI’s Carpenter interviewed says he’s been without a check for three weeks. I haven’t missed any checks yet, but they told me last week I likely would start missing checks because of the fraud investigation.

But I sent Iowa Workforce Development copies of my driver’s license and my Social Security card.

If they want, I’ll come down to the office and somebody can look at me leaning on my cane from six feet away through binoculars.

Or Google me. There are pictures of me on the web from various jobs in the news industry. I have not lived a quiet online life.

What I’m saying is I’ve proven my identity. I’ll bet that veteran has, too. If you know who we are, pay us our benefits and don’t pay the fraudulently set up accounts.

How did “don’t pay anybody” become an option? What is Iowa Workforce Development going to do about that?

The told me I would get back pay. I’m OK for now. My big bills are paid. I’m stocked with groceries. I’ve got my graduate studies to work on, but the longer this goes on, the tighter things will get.

What about those families who can’t go a week, let alone a month or more without their unemployment benefits?

The snide answer is we should all get jobs.

Well, I’m trying. It just so happens that thing I’m very good at, writing newspaper stories, is not a thing valued by greedy corporate hustlers and slimy hedge fund managers.

So, I’m learning to be a teacher.

Until then, I’m going to need that benefit, like thousands of other Iowans.

And it would be nice if Ryan Ward, deputy director of Iowa Workforce Development, would earn some of his $153,000 annually by answering a few questions and letting us know when they’re going to fix the problem.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.

Crime and Courts, des moines, News, Unemployment

In Iowa, if someone steals your identity and claims your unemployment benefits, Iowa Workforce Development won’t pay you until they find the bad guy — even if you can prove your identity

My identity has been stolen. I may possess the driver’s license and Social Security card of one Daniel P. Finney of Des Moines.

But these documents mean nothing against the weight of data in the computers at Iowa Workforce Development.

Those computers say Daniel Finney has a different birthday than the one I celebrate, a different address than where I live and, most importantly, chooses to get his unemployment checks on a debit card rather than direct deposit into his credit union.

There is the possibility this evil doppelganger has already stolen roughly $1,200 of my unemployment benefits.

Once more, this faux Finney has forced the unemployment office to put a fraud hold on my benefits — as in the actual Finney — pending an investigation by the fraud department.

“How long will this take?” I asked the unemployment office.

“We don’t know,” the woman said. “There has been a lot of fraud. Our investigators are backed up and the cases are worked on in the order they received.”

“Will I get paid while the investigators figure this out?” I asked.

“No,” she said, “but you will get paid back pay when the case is resolved.”

“But you don’t know when that will be,” I said.

“No,” she said.

The social safety net frayed greatly during the pandemic, but it doesn’t help when criminals pick at the ropes like bored crows eating the strings of a basketball net.

The interruption in my benefits is stressful, but I remain chipper.

I spend my time wondering what faux Finney looks like. The original series of “Star Trek” episode “Mirror, Mirror” set the standard for the evil doppelganger trope: It’s a person who looks exactly me with a wiry goatee and silky shirt and a gold sash at the waist.

So, if you see a goateed, morbidly obese man limping along with a cane going on a spending spree at comic bookstore, call the cops. It could well be faux Finney.

If faux Finney has stolen my identity, that means Finney actual is tabula rasa.

Philosophically, this makes some sense. I’m amidst the greatest transformation of my life since my first trip through college.

I am trying to leave behind a career in journalism for a career in teaching. I happily give all the grief, rage and anguish that went with 23 years in a variety of mostly Midwestern newspapers to faux Finney.

My doppelganger is welcome to my student loan debts, my arthritic knees and the tendonitis in my elbow and shoulder.

Heck, I’ll even throw in my Green Arrow and Hawkeye comics. Nobody really needs comics about guys who shoot arrows.

I suppose I could let go my gallows humor catchphrases such as “too fat to live, too lazy to die.”

If I ever met faux Finney, I doubt there would be a big battle in the tradition of mighty Marvel mayhem. I might even give him the keys to battered-but-beloved big black car and the number of my very understanding insurance agent.

I would probably ask faux Finney for his address, so I can forward my bills to him.

What I would really ask this scofflaw is how many other people he’s ripped off. Or she. Or they. I don’t want to get hung up on pronouns when dealing with low-rent criminals.

I wonder if you’re creative enough to figure out how to rip off people who need help while they’re unemployed, why couldn’t you put those skills to work getting a job.

You hear all these rumors about how inventive prisoners are about sneaking in drugs, smartphones and pornographic magazines into their facility. Some make wine in the toilet.

I met an ex-con once who told me they made a kind of panini maker by covering the inside of a shoebox with tinfoil and cutting a hole for a bare tungsten light.

I would not have thought of these things.

But I’m not a very creative guy.

In fact, I’m not any kind of guy.

Tabula rasa, remember?

I’m certainly not the kind of guy who is going to see his unemployment checks for a while.

Daniel P. Finney writes columns for ParagraphStacker.com, a free, reader-supported website. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.