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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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. 
Post: 1217 24th St., Apt. 36, Des Moines, 50311. 
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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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