des moines, life, News, People, politics, Unemployment

IRS refund delays put school plans at risk

The time: 12:39 a.m. The place: My cluttered 635 square-foot apartment a fart and armpit noise away from Drake University. I’m hunched over my elegantly aging laptop with Warren Zevon’s “Poor, Poor Pitful Me” blasting in my eardrums at top volume and my Oska Tigers ballcap screwed on my bald head.

My body shakes with anxiety. It’s been that kind of day. Or yesterday was that kind of day. These wee, small hours of the morning posts are tricky bastards when it comes to the timing of things.

I checked my credit union balance this afternoon. I needed to get some allergy pills.

I wanted to save back a few bills for when my buddy, Memphis Paul, hits town next week. We don’t close the bars anymore, but I was thinking of a nice trip to the Amana and the Ox Yoke Inn restaurant with a stop in Iowa City at Prairie Lights Books and Cafe.

To my surprise, my online tax preparer had deducted about $240 from my account, leaving me in the all-too familiar position of being flat-ass broke.

Bad balance juju

What fuckery was this?

I indeed used the company’s software to prepare and file my taxes. But they were to take the money out of my refund, not my bank account.

My refund was big enough to cover the prep fees and take care of a couple months’ worth of rent with change left over.

Said refund has yet to arrive in my account. Apparently, the previous president of the United States was not fond of the IRS, particularly their auditors, and gutted the staffing for the agency.

The pandemic forced federal employees out of their enclaves and taxes filed by paper form piled up for the 2019 tax year and the beginning of the 2020 filing season.

IRS hell

My refund has been tied up in IRS hell since my return was filed and accepted on April 15. Normally it takes 21 days to process. We are at 68 days and counting.

I’ve tried to get the IRS on the phone. This usually meant hours on hold with a recording bleating the woes of the understaffed agency. A few times I got to a point where even the recording gave up on the charade and said, “Call back tomorrow or send us an email.”

Only the federal government can stick its middle finger so squarely in your eye without fear of reprisal.

I tried to make my elected officials work for me, which on face value seems as foolhardy as chewing tinfoil to improve your car radio reception.

The futility of representative democracy

Calling your elected representative: The last refuge of the desperate.

I dialed up the offices of Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley and Rep. Cindy Axne.

Ernst’s office didn’t return the call. Maybe she takes personally all those columns where I called her “Dollar Store Sarah Palin.” That’s fair. Ernst seems exactly the kind of person who is only interested in helping the people who scratch her back.

Grassley’s office called and sent me a privacy form to fill out. I did so. I’ve not yet heard back from his people.

Axne’s office emailed me the form. I sent it back the same way. The next day someone called back and said they would assign it to a caseworker who deals with IRS problems.

They warned me this is an ongoing problem and they’ve dealt with a lot of calls about it. I’m supposed to hear something back this Friday.

Companies inside of companies

So, back to the online tax preparer, whom I’ve done business with since 2001. I paid the company the extra dough for 24-7 support because if there was a year shit was going to go sideways on my taxes, it would be the year I lost two jobs and lived off unemployment.

I dialed the tax prep company up and got a man on the phone within minutes.

The reason they hit my bank account: It’s the fine print, the man said. In the fine print, I agreed to pay the online tax preparer even if my refund never shows up.

We did send you three emails, the man said.

I searched my mail. I found nothing.

He read my email address to me. It was an address I hadn’t used for years and it isn’t the one I log into the tax prep site with.

Ah, well there was the rub, the tax prep man said. I changed my email with that part of the company, but there’s this other company that handles the money transaction side of things.

That part of the company sent emails to an address I no longer use warning me of the pending transaction. If I had replied to one of those messages, they would have extended my grace period.

But I don’t check that email. So, I’m out that cash. It’s legit. But it still sucks.

Hopeless against the merciless

I don’t know what a citizen is supposed to do. You can’t fight the IRS. You can’t get them on the phone. The government works about as well as going uphill in roller skates in an ice storm.
I’m unemployed. I need that money, which the law says is my money and should be returned to me.

This wouldn’t hit so hard if Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds hadn’t cut off the pandemic assistance unemployment, which tacked an extra $300 to unemployment insurance.

Reynolds seems primarily concerned that restaurant servers get back to work for substandard wages and earn their tips rather than make a living wage.

I’ll remind you that the $300 unemployment booster came from federal money and didn’t take a cent from Reynold’s budget. And the money ended in September anyway.

If Disney keeps up with this “Cruella” franchise, they might consider Reynolds for the lead role.

Job market is great for servers

Some jerk already has their pity “Get a job!” response keyed up. Yeah. I’m trying.

Funny thing about that, though. I had a job for 23 years. I worked at different shops. But I did well until one day I made too much money for the greedy Wall Street hustlers and the put me on the bricks.

By then, I hated my job and what it had become so much, it was almost a relief to be cut loose from the toxic trade.

What I quickly learned is the skill set I have may have value to other careers, but I have zero skill in translating what I can do to what people need done. I’ve paid companies to help me with it.

The closest I got was a short engagement with a TV station that was an absolute disaster because I was totally out of my element.

Trying to be a better person

But what I’m really trying to do is get a new career. I’m studying to be a teacher, to give back to the institutions that gave so much to me and maybe pass along what I’ve learned.

I’m am trying to be a better person. I’m trying to grow out of this miserable experience. And, yeah, I wanted to go for a nice meal with my buddy whom I haven’t seen in three years.

The time is 1:43 a.m. Zevon’s “Mr. Bad Example” blasts. Boy, that man knew how to sling a savage lyric.

I get it. This is America. There are winners and losers. And if you’re a loser, it’s your fault. Nobody gives a shit about the runners-up let alone the last guy to cross the line. And if you don’t make it? Hey, you might as well not exist.

Reminds me of another Zevon tune: “Lawyers, Guns, and Money.”

Somehow, I got stuck between a rock and a hard place

And I’m down on my luck

I’m down on my luck.

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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humor, life, mental health, Unemployment

Are emergency alert spam calls a harbinger of doom? What do they know that I don’t know?

The phone rang.

The number wasn’t in my contacts.

No good can come of this.

I answered.

Who knows? It could be a job offer.

It wasn’t.

The voice sounded like a pleasant young woman.

The voice told me one of my medical providers recommended me for an emergency alert system.

These are devices, such as necklaces and bracelets, you wear that call an ambulance if feel chest pains or fall and can’t get up.

Such devices became famous in the 1980s powered by a series of television commercials of an elderly woman pushing the button on her Life Alert device and shouting, “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up!”

The slogan became as popular as “Where’s the beef?” — spoken by an old lady on behalf of Wendy’s hamburgers — and “Just say ‘no.’” — for a federal government anti-drug campaign backed by Nancy Reagan, also an old lady.

The 1980s were a good era for old ladies making pitches on TV.

Mom 1.0 was an old lady in the 1980s. I wonder how her life would have been different if she had gotten to pitch a product on TV. Maybe that’s why she was so bitter. Well, she was bitter about something anyway. She’s dead now. So it goes.

In 2021, the pitch comes from a recorded voice. I couldn’t tell how old the voice was, but it sounded less like “Where’s my lidocaine?” and more like “Let’s get margaritas!”

If the voice was to be believed, and believe me I had suspicions, my doctor broke multiple medical privacy rules and gave my contact information to a company who used telemarketing to sell medical emergency alert devices.

I doubt my doctor would do this. She can’t even get me to eat vegetables. It’s hard to imagine her calling in the telemarketers.

Spam annoys me, as it does most.

First of all, why sully the good name of a quality canned meat product like Spam?

Mom 2.0 makes a wonderful campfire dish with Spam, onions, potatoes, carrots and green and red bell peppers rolled up in aluminum foil and held over the campfire with a special spatula on a stick.

“Spam” with an uppercase “S” is good; “spam” with a lowercase “s” is bad.

Lowercase spam has been around long enough I can be nostalgic about it.

I miss OG spam.

OG used to mean “original gangsta,” which comes from hip-hop.

I don’t listen to hip-hop. I am afraid if I start listening to hip-hop, I will be accused of cultural appropriation.

“OG’s” meaning has evolved to just mean an exceptional, authentic and incredible person such as Taylor Swift or Bill Atkins, the guy who invented the device that made possible chocolate and vanilla twist cones.

OG spam was the lame jokes people forwarded you in bunches via email back when email was relatively new.

These jokes were all in text, young people. There was not an endless supply of GIFs and JPEGs from popular culture to draw upon for a meme.

The jokes were rarely funny.

They were an early indicator that some of your friends and family had very different ideas about how the world should work.

They had done you a favor for years by not talking about these notions during holiday gatherings.

We’re way past that now. We have whole networks designed to pour spam into our eyeballs and ears at all times.

I wouldn’t be surprised if mad scientists at Nike are working on a fabric that subliminally encourages us to buy more shoes that look like electric highlighters.

Anyway, I’m trying not to take this spam call selling a medical emergency alert system too personally.

Granted, my body is in pretty poor shape right now.

My brain is riddled with depression and anxiety.

My arthritis is bad in my back and knees.

I have tendonitis in my right elbow and shoulder.

My left seems fine most of the time. That’s good. I need one limb to move the loofah in the shower.

I don’t believe in harbingers, but I am in a vulnerable spot right now that I believe relates directly to some junk mail I got in March.

The first piece of mail I received after my TV job ended was a solicitation from a cremation company.

I wasn’t cremated nor did I die, which when that time comes, I hope they get it in the right order.

However, I endured a series of calamities that included some scofflaw stealing my identity and fouling my unemployment benefits and the Iowa governor backing out of a federal pandemic assistance program because, you know, she’s whimsical.

I am a couple summer school classes and two semesters away from earning my master’s degree and teaching license.

The last thing I need is more haunted spam throwing things off.

I’m sorry medical emergency alert bracelet people, but I’ve already fallen.

I’m trying to get up.

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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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, 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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
Crime and Courts, des moines, humor, Iowa, life, Unemployment

What’s the best revenge against someone who tries to steal your unemployment benefits? Hint: It involves Taylor Swift #fearlesstaylorsversion

I called Iowa Workforce Development late last week and by happy coincidence Anna the Angel answered the phone.

I called because I wanted to double-check that my benefits were on track to arrive on time.

This was more a triple or quadruple check. The first few times I called with questions on my benefits, I got into a verbal shouting match with a robot answering machine.

I followed that by a useless encounter with an unemployment office employee who seemed most interested in not answering calls from the public.

This series of frustration eventually landed me in the care of Anna, who seemed to give a damn whether or not I got my benefits.

She worked out some kinks in the paperwork and sure enough, benefits arrived. Another bureaucratic wrinkle meant I would wait two weeks to receive a check rather than the customary one.

That inspired me to call the unemployment office. You’ll forgive me if I’m skeptical of the agency’s ability to get things right.

Anna checked and to no one’s surprise, there was a problem. Apparently, somebody tried to file for unemployment benefits under my name.

Identity theft isn’t a new problem. I’ve lost track of the number of letters telling me my data has been compromised or text messages from my credit union telling me somebody tried to use a debit card in my name in a place I’ve never been.

I often joke that if someone is serious about stealing my identity, they’re welcome to it.

They can deal with the obesity, the mental health issues, the aches and pains, near-constant self-doubt, and the bird poop on the hood of my big black car.

Heck, if somebody stole my identity, my credit score would probably go up.

The upshot is that Anna the Angel of the unemployment office is on the case. She alerted the fraud department. The downside: I might not get paid on time. Again.

This adds stress to a stressful time. I’m 45 years old trying to learn a completely different career coming off a spectacular failure in my last job and getting my job cut at the one place I invested more of my heart and talent than anywhere else.

Restrictions on cash flow tighten the grip around the throat like Darth Vader force-choking an Imperial admiral.

But I chose to look at it another way.

Somewhere out there, there’s a fake me. They’re trying, at least for the benefit of a few hundred bucks, to pretend to be Daniel P. Finney.

I don’t know what Fake Finney was doing Sunday.

But OG Finney (that’s “original gangster” for my older readers) finished his linguistics homework. He fixed a few of his toys that needed glued. Finney finally retrieved one of the Millennium Falcon models and a Spider-Man figure that had fallen behind his bookshelves in the bedroom.

OG Finney picked up the new Taylor Swift CD, her remake of “Fearless.” Her voice flowed out of his car speakers like an enchantment as he drove about the metro with his windows down on a postcard-perfect day with periwinkle skies.

OG Finney ate a burger and fries from B-Bop’s in Clive. He sat on a bench by the trail with the sun on his arms and the breeze across his bald head.

He stopped by Snookies for a twist cone in a dish and played a few more songs off that Taylor Swift CD.

He got home and watched TV shows where things blow up and the good guys win.

He feel asleep reading a Conan the Barbarian comic book.

Whatever swindles Fake Finney was up to on Sunday and whatever hassles that may lead to for OG Finney, the real me, it’s all trivial in the end.

Sunday was a good 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. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo: @newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.