The ghosts of the past haunt my contacts list

The best Rolodex I ever saw belonged to Tom Alex, the dayside police reporter for the Des Moines Register.

You needed two years of CrossFit just to twist the wheel.

When one managed to crank the wheel, business cards rained out.

Most pages had six or seven entries hastily crossed out with the new contact shakily scrawled in with blue or black ink.

I worked as the night police reporter for several years and thumbed my way through that Rolodex many times.

I worked as a newspaper reporter for 27 years, but I never had a Rolodex.

Younger readers, if there is such a creature, will need to Google Rolodex.

I embraced technology and sought to be what edgy tech magazines such as Yahoo! Internet Life and Wired magazines called an “early adopter.”

Younger readers will also have to Google “magazines.”

And “Yahoo!.”

I used a cutting-edge Palm Pilot as my Rolodex. A Palm Pilot was just like an iPhone except it didn’t make phone calls and the screen cracked when dropped on a bar floor.

There was also no texting or social media.

There was a Tetris app.

My friend Jeff also owned a Palm Pilot. Jeff showed me how to upload databases into the device.

He uploaded the phone number and address of every Register newsroom employee. It was more than 200 names.

The data had a quirk. Everyone’s name was in ALL CAPS. This was in 1999.

I note this because I decided the contacts list needed cleaning. I realized how old some of the names were because they remained in ALL CAPS.

Over the years, my contacts list swelled to more than 5,200 people.

Some were duplicates, of course, but I found this task of winnowing down my bloated list more troubling than attacking a poorly organized linen closet.

Some of my contacts were dead.

I am not so nostalgic as to keep a dead person in my contacts in effort to keep their memory alive.

Yet when I came to my old friend and mentor Steve Buttry or my buddy Ken Fuson, the best writer any of us will ever know, I hesitated to delete either. It somehow made what has been final for years that much more final.

So it goes.

Other people deleted much easier.

One was a murderer. I knew him as a community-minded south Des Moines lawyer.

A few years back, he killed his wife and two sons and then himself at their home in Minneapolis.

There were a lot of cop contacts. I’ve been out of the journalism game for more than two years. I haven’t needed to call a public information officer in the middle of the night as a civilian.

Also, I think one or two of those guys are dead, too.

One of the cops that stung to delete was my old friend Dan Dusenbery. A Marine during the Vietnam War, he worked his whole career as a patrol cop.

Dusenbery had the best cop stories.

My favorite was the time he and his partner were ordered to clear out one of the city parks where teenagers were parking to make out.

His partner got the idea to work harder, not smarter.

They pulled into the park and flashed their spotlight into some nearby trees.

After a while, one of the kids asked what they were doing.

Dusenbery and his partner told the kids a murderer was on the loose and might be hiding in those woods.

Pretty soon there was a string of taillights leading out of the park. Dusenbery and his partner never had to get out of the car.

Dusenbery died a few years back. He was the kind of guy you hope is a cop in your hometown.

I trimmed out several former girlfriends or people I wished had been girlfriends or people who wanted me to be their boyfriend. That last pot was the smallest.

I felt pangs of nostalgia, but not hard enough to keep the numbers. What would we talk about?

The hardest contacts to let go were estranged friends — or people I’d had a falling out with over the years.

One guy got mad at me about a joke I made on Facebook. He vowed never to speak to me again. He’s stuck with that. I’ve respected his wishes.

Another was a best friend, as close as I imagine brothers to be.

But misunderstandings, hurt feelings, and my own guilt put a gap between us that has grown into a chasm with years.

By the time I was done, I had whittled the 5,200 down to a manageable 250.

I put down my phone feeling a bit cleansed — as if this minor exercise in digital cleaning served to knock some of the detritus off my soul.

Alas, the next morning I awoke to discover some unknown restore feature on my smartphone put all the contacts I deleted back on — even the murderer.

I bet this never happened to Tom Alex, who left his Rolodex behind the day he retired and hasn’t seen it since.

Former journalist and future teacher Daniel P. Finney writes columns for the Marion County Express. Reach him at newsmanone@gmail.com.


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.

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.

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.