I’m too fat for an MRI at the zoo

Phone rings. The physician’s assistant from my orthopedic doctor is on the line.

Bad news.

Because of my weight (I’m morbidly obese), there’s not an MRI machine in town I can fit into.

“We even tried the zoo,” he said.

I’ll repeat that for people who think I made it up: They even tried the zoo.

You know the zoo, where there are elephants and rhinos and whatnot.

I’m too fat to get an MRI there.

They also tried Iowa State University’s famed veterinary clinic.

Nope. Not set up for humans. Legal reasons. Yada, yada, yada.

The physician’s assistant remained optimistic. Calls were out to Iowa City and locations out of state.

Unquestionably, this was the lowest moment of my life.

The torn meniscus in my left knee throbs constantly and makes the simplist of movements a challenge.

I’m to start my last semester of classes at Drake University before student teaching in the fall, earning my master’s degree and becoming a teacher.

I need to be able to walk to class, even with the assistive devices and a temporary handicapped parking pass.

I felt my mind slip toward a spiral. The pain in my knee ebbs and flows between a dull throb and the feeling someone is taking a rusty razor blade across my nerve endings.

How was I supposed to get to class this fall? Forget about student teaching.

Some friends kindly suggested disability. But what about the student loan debt?

What about my plan to do something positive with my life?

My despair had little time to overtake my mind.

The phone rang again. It was another guy from the orthopedic doctor’s office. My knee brace had come in.

Well, that’s something.

I went down to pick it up.

The guy strapped it on and showed me how to do it on my own. I stood up. It felt much stronger. The pain was still there, but it was reduced due to the brace’s compression.

With my cane, I could manage.

School was back on.

Survival was possible.

I could lose weight and get on one of the MRI machines and get the surgery later.

It would be hard. Damn hard. But what isn’t these days?

I drove out to the weight loss clinic in Clive. My nutritionist had moved back to Omaha, but the people were kind enough to let me come in to get a weight.

I got the number. I choose not to share it. I’m not ashamed of it.

I don’t want to talk about my weight like it’s a baseball statistic.

I don’t want its change, up or down, to be the thrust of my story. I am more than that number, whatever it is. I did that once, very publicly, and it ended in mixed results.

The last time I submitted to a weight was May 2020. The number I got Wednesday was the same. The clinician who helped me said I could safely shave off three or four pounds because I was wearing my clunky shoes and knee brace.

This was better news than I expected. There was a very good chance I weigh as many as 20 or 30 pounds more than I did in May 2020.

I began tracking my daily calorie intake May 12. Since then, I’ve cut calories by 34%. I also changed the quality of food I eat — more veggies and fruits, better cuts of meat, more home cooking.

Things are going in the right direction.

I stopped by the comic shop to pick up my latest funny books and got home exhausted, sore, and ready to rest.

I was proud of myself. Not too long ago, the challenges presented by this day and the back-and-forth between extremes would have inspired suicidal thinking. I would have started mapping out my overdose, my jump into the river, or hanging.

Instead, I called my therapist, but not in an emergency call. I wanted to talk through the disability option. He knows about such things.

To be clear, I don’t want to go on disability.

I want to finish school and become a teacher.

Persevere. Keep moving forward.

But the Cub Scouts taught us to always be prepared, so I checked out some facts.

I resigned myself to limping along with my cane and brace until I could lose enough weight to get into the MRI machine.

The phone rang again. It was the physician’s assistant. They found a surgeon at the clinic who was willing to do the surgery without an MRI.

I meet with the surgeon Tuesday.

That’s a lot of stuff for one day. A hell of a lot.

Sometimes the ride is filled with so many potholes and detours I think the car is going to come apart before I reach the destination.

But if I’m moving forward, I’m still headed in the right direction.

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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IRS refund hell: You’re in ‘error queue’

Update on my tax refund: It’s still stuck in IRS hell. Thanks to Congressional inquiry, we might have some indication of why. We, of course, have no clue when it might shake loose and salve financial woes here in the world outside the bureaucracy.  

I spoke with a caseworker from Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office in Des Moines. They discovered my tax return is in the “error queue.”

Why?

We don’t know.

Well, what can we do to fix it?

We’re monitoring the situation.

Will someone from the IRS or the Senator’s office contact me?

We’ll contact you as soon as we hear something from Taxpayer Advocacy Services.

How long might that be?

We don’t know.

Progress is slight when you’re dealing with the federal government.

Grassley’s caseworker, who was very kind, suggested people who took a tax credit for unpaid stimulus checks have ended up in the error queue.

I got both of my stimulus checks. I did not take the credit.

The caseworker said sometimes the computer just randomly spot checks returns.

Wonderful.

HAL 9000 is screwing with my tax refund.

It had to be this year.

Had. To. Be.

I’m unemployed.

I’m attending graduate school.

Gov. Kim Reynolds bailed out of the pandemic assistance program that paid an extra $300 on regular unemployment benefits. She did this even though the money came from the federal government and cost her nothing to distribute.

Reynolds argued that the money incentivized people not to go back to work.

The governor conveniently ignores that before the pandemic, the state’s unemployment rate was 2.9 percent. It stands at 3.9 percent now, up a tenth of a point since she decided to pull out of the pandemic assistance.

A possible “incentive” for people not going back to work is fewer jobs that pay a living wage.

Anyway, Reynolds can’t be bothered with this kind of thing. She’s got dinners to host for private parochial school fundraisers.

Regardless, I’m sandwiched between the soulless monolithic actions of IRS computers and Reynolds’ soulless political machinations.

I know some would read these paragraphs and start in with the bootstraps speech.

The thing is, I’m already doing that. Except I don’t have boots with straps on them. I have old man New Balance sneakers.

The point is I am doing what you are supposed to do when you get knocked down. I’m getting back up again.

I’m so getting back up again.

My career died.

Well, journalism isn’t technically dead, but I worked in several newsrooms over 27 years. Journalism is like living in a hospice without the morphine drip.

The days of me doing journalism ended. It wasn’t my choice, but it was, in the end, the right time. There was nothing more I could do for or in a trade that had changed so much since the beginning of my career.

So, I invested in myself. I enrolled in graduate school. I took out student loans. I began the process of remaking my entire life at age 45.

Yes, I use unemployment benefits. But I’m learning to become a teacher, a field where more workers are needed.

But for this to work, I’ve got to make everything go almost exactly right.

And that tax refund, the one tangled up in government nonsense, would pay for about three months’ rent.

If there’s truly an error, maybe it’s less.

But still, it’s a significant bit of relief.

This IRS cluster really burns me up.

This is money I earned.

It’s not a stimulus check.

It’s not an entitlement.

It’s not a benefit.

It’s money I overpaid in taxes.

I overpaid it apparently because we don’t have calculators in America that can figure out what a person owes and just deduct that from a person’s pay.

We instead play this guessing game that involves software, a visit to a stranger’s office in the mall, and chicken bone divination.

The IRS’s failure to function properly has created a hardship for me and what I can only guess is scores of other Americans.

Grassley’s caseworker said the IRS is getting closer to full staffing now. She thought that might clear things up faster.

When?

Soon.

I filed my taxes 74 days ago. I shudder to think what the IRS believes “soon” means.

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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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. 
Zelle: newsmanone@gmail.com. 
Venmo@newsmanone
PayPalpaypal.me/paragraphstacker.