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

HOT SHEET: How I’m getting ready to start my career in local television news

From the desk of Daniel P. Finney, Paragraph Stacker, 24th Street bureau, Des Moines, Iowa.

ITEM FIRST: I start my new job as an assignment editor for WOI-DT on Monday. The only thing I know about television is how to watch one. I decided to turn to the best possible source to prepare myself for joining broadcast media: movies. Here are five flicks I’m watching to get ready for my new TV job:

  1. “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy”
  2. “Network”
  3. “Broadcast News”
  4. “The China Syndrome”
  5. “Good Night and Good Luck”

ITEM TWO: Today is new comics Wednesday. Let’s talk shop:

  1. Darth Vader: The Heart of the Sith Vol. 1— The story picks up in the hours after Vader cuts off Luke Skywalker’s hand and lets the young Jedi know who his daddy is. Vader vows revenge on the Rebellion and the people who made Luke such a wimp, but first he has some questions of his own he wants answered. First, how did Padme survive the force choke fallen Jedi Anakin Skywalker put on her, and who delivered baby Luke into this world? To find the answer, Vader traces Padme’s final days and crosses paths with Padme’s old pals from Naboo. Again, Marvel proves it knows how to handle “Star Wars” characters better than the people who make the movies. This is Vader as we all dreamed of seeing him: pissed off, cutting people in half with lightsabers and just too much of a force to be reckoned with — even for giant sea monsters. The first trade paperback of the latest Vader series is on sale now.
  • Star Wars: Bounty Hunters Vol. 1 — What Vader gives to “Star Wars” comics, Bounty Hunters takes away. That’s not quite fair. The story centers on a comics character resurrected from the original Marvel comics of the 1970s and 80s, which were often mediocre to terrible. There’s Boba Fett, the most overrated character in “Star Wars” lore, and Bossk, a reptilian bounty hunter who makes for a better action figure than character in a story. The story deals with a protection job gone wrong, some mafia clans and other jibber jabber that just doesn’t entice more reading. The art isn’t for me. I’m always hesitant to criticize art because even the worst comic book creators make things more beautiful than I could ever create. Still, this artwork feels like posed shots that belong in pin-up galleries or sold as paintings at conventions rather than pages of a comic. It lacks action and sense of motion. But I know Boba Fett and bounty hunters as a concept sell, so a lot of “Star Wars” fans might want to give this trade paperback a look.
  • Green Lantern Season Two Vol. 1 — Writer Grant Morrison and artist Liam Sharp team for some of the best Green Lantern stories in decades. Morrison is one of modern comics’ geniuses. His stories are trippy, fun and balance badassery with a hint of Silver Age fun. Sharp’s artwork is so tremendous one might be convinced this is why God invented pencils.
  • Batwoman/Catwoman No. 1 — Writer Tom King shaped the love story between Batman and Catwoman like no other creator before him. That story propelled through his entire 85-issue run on “Batman.” This issue begins a special year-long story about Batman and Catwoman set after the events of “City of Bane,” during which Catwoman nursed a broken Batman back to health in order to defeat Bane and an alternate version of his father, Thomas Wayne. I’m looking forward to this comic more than any other on the schedule. I usually wait for trade paperbacks for stories, but I’m buying this in single issues.

ITEM THREE: A recent study found that when people preface a statement with the phrase “with all due respect” the thing that followed was in no way respectful in 100% of cases.

ITEM FOUR: A joke from a Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” from the 1970s: “A new record is out that teaches people how to have better sex. It encourages couples to play the record in the act. There’s already been a tragedy. One couple put the record on at 78 instead of 33. Services are this week.”

ITEM FIVE: This is the best #2020 thing ever and of course it comes from a collaboration between Taylor Swift and Ryan Reynolds:

ITEM SIX: One of the few things I know about English soccer leagues is the concept of relegation. The poorest performing teams are sent down to a lower league and the better performing teams are brought up to play at the highest level. Such a thing would have been a mercy to the Pittsburgh Pirates, who posted 20 consecutive losing seasons from 1993 to 2012. It similarly would be a mercy to Chicago Bears fans to see the Bears sent down to the Big 12 or the Pac-12 for a couple of seasons. Let Ohio State or Alabama have a go at the pros. Their college programs are damn near that good anyway. Anything to ease the suffering of Bears fans who have to watch a team without an offense, a quarterback, a competent coach and general manager play pro football games against bonafide NFL winners such as the Green Bay Packers.

ITEM LAST: I was overwhelmed with the kind notes, messages and well-wishes after the announcement of my new job. I plan to continue to write for this blog. There will be no more politics talk and the profanity will be scaled back to PG-13 levels. As for what I’m going to be doing at WOI, well, I don’t know yet. I do know I won’t be on camera and that’s a blessing to everyone including me. I will be working with our team of reporters, anchors and producers. And I’ll be doing some reporting and writing for the WeAreIowa.com website. Frankly, it’s good to have something to look forward to each day besides more worry. Unemployment is a crushing mishmash of depression and anxiety. You’re depressed because your old shop sent you packing and even though they tell you it’s not personal, it sure as hell feels that way. It’s anxious because the money goes fast and when you start to wonder if you’re going to be living at the YMCA by this time next month, your guts churn. So at the risk of one more political comment, having been through what I’ve been through and knowing millions of Americans are still going through, I hope Congress and the new president figure out a stimulus bill as soon as possible to help everyone who wasn’t as lucky as I was to find a job in the middle of a pandemic.

Daniel P. Finney is getting down to this sick beat.

ParagraphStacker.com is free, reader-supported media. Please consider donating to help me cover personal expenses as I continue writing while I pursue my master’s degree and teacher certification. Visit paypal.me/paragraphstacker.

The ultimate Paragraph Stacker playlist, Vol. 1

New music releases on Fridays. Today is Thursday. I always like to beat a deadline. Here, then are notes from a truly mad paragraph stacker on songs admired and enjoyed in my 45 years on planet Earth. Musicologists will be unimpressed by the lack of deep cuts. So it goes. I like the music I like and if it happens to be popular, well, why should that be a deterrent? YouTube links added if I could find the song.

1. COMING UP CLOSE By ‘Til Tuesday: I love Aimee Mann’s voice. As a rule, I prefer her solo work to her brief two-year stint with the 80’s one-hit wonders, ‘Til Tuesday. That said, this gem from their back catalog, which mentions Iowa in the opening lines, touches my heart and puts me in a place and time the way few songs do.

2. EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE By Neil Young: He’s Canada’s greatest songwriter, but could any song better sum up how it feels to grow up in a small town than this? Actually, come to think of it, could any song better sum up what it feels like to work in newspapers right now? I doubt it on both counts.

3. YOU’VE GOT TO HIDE YOUR LOVE AWAYBy The Beatles: For years, I rejected the Beatles. I realized it wasn’t the Beatles I was rejecting, but baby boomers. The Beatles are the source of so much good music, it’s hard to turn your back on them. This is the third track from “Help!,” the soundtrack to the motion picture of the same name. John Lennon’s lyrics speak to the part of me that fears too close of connections to people, especially women, after a collection of childhood traumas.

4. THE BOXER By Simon and Garfunkel: This is still probably my favorite song. It played over and over on my sister’s tape deck whenever I visited her. There’s a line in there that goes, “In the clearing stands a fighter … he carries with him a reminder of every glove that laid him down and until he cried out in his anger and his shame, ‘I am leaving! I am leaving!’ but the fighter still remained.” Damn right. Can’t change what you are.

5. MOTHER’S LITTLE HELPER By The Rolling Stones: This song actually helped me understand my dead, drug-addled, brain-fried mother a bit better. I realized there was a whole subculture of pill-popping matriarchs working through the wee small hours as they descended into late-life madness. Now, of course, I take “little yellow pills” to fend off madness deep set in my bones and blood.

6. BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY By Emmylou Harris: Harris has one of the great voices of country music. She wrote this song for her late father and boy, it chokes me up every time. I can see my father’s liver-spotted hands, flannel shirts with pockets stuffed with paperwork, bushy gray mustache and heavy-rimmed glasses. Her voice hits the tone of sorrow in my soul pitch-perfect.

7. HURT By Johnny Cash: This is Johnny Cash near the end of his life in 2003, I think, covering Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails fame. He essentially wrote his own obituary. The weariness in his voice and weight he gives the lyrics. He transforms the song and makes it his own. In the process, he reaches me as I struggle to balance the past with the present.

8. INDIFFERENCE OF HEAVEN – By Warren Zevon: There are so many wonderful songs by Warren Zevon. It’s a shame he’s thought of mostly for “Werewolves of London.” It’s a great tune, but he’s so much more than that. This is off “The Mutineer” album. It sums up my take on religion. A lot of terrible shit happens in the world. A lot of wonderful stuff happens too. Seems like Heaven doesn’t give a shit either way. Cynical? I suppose. But it’s how I feel.

9. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE YOU By Dolly Parton: Whitney Houston ruined this song. Dolly’s version from 1972 is the best love song of all time. If there is a better song about unrequited love, I don’t know what it is. When I made this playlist, I vacillated between this and Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes.” Both are beautiful, but I picked this for the most ruthlessly practical reason: It’s more that 2 minutes shorter and allowed me a 20th track on the disc.

10. ON THE WRONG SIDE By Lindsey Buckingham: This comes from the “With Honors” soundtrack, a movie from 1995 that I absolutely adore. This tune talks about transitions. Aren’t we always in some form of transition? Life is metamorphosis.

11. ONE MORE CUP OF COFFEE By Bob Dylan: The great Dylan is the only artist I allowed to appear twice on my soundtrack, three times if you count The Pretenders’ cover of “Forever Young.” This is my favorite song of Bob’s that sounds the least like his body of work. It has that weary journeyman quality to it that seems to talk to me. Keep moving forward.

12. MR. REPORTER By The Kinks: This is another band that is thought of in terms of one or two songs, but they’re much more than “You Really Got Me” and “Lola.” Get yourself a copy of “Face to Face,” if you can find it, and you’ll see what I mean. This is a pretty straightforward addition, but it captures the self-loathing of journalism quite well.

13. THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD By Nirvana: I had to get David Bowie on here somewhere, but this version by Kurt Cobain and the boys surpasses even Bowie. It comes from their magnificent “MTV Unplugged” album, despite it obviously being an affected guitar to open the song. That said, I see this as sort of my post-St. Louis anthem. I fucked up. I moved on.

14. THINGS HAVE CHANGED By Bob Dylan: This is a late-career gem from the greatest American songwriter who ever lived. He wrote it for the 1999 film “Wonder Boys,” which is a good movie, but the song is terrific. It, too, is my post-St. Louis anthem. Things I used to believe, about myself, about journalism and life, changed after that. I needed to become a different man, a better one. This song reaches that bit of me. “I’m locked in tight, I’m out of sight. I used to care, but things have changed.”

15. IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME By Cher: Mock me if you will, but Cher is a great entertainer. She owns a couple of Oscars, an Emmy and some Grammys. That’s a tough trifecta to match. This a damn good, rocking tune from her 1990 album “Heart of Stone.” It’s simple, but it expresses just right the feeling that most of us have. Who wouldn’t want to turn back time?

16. CLEAN By Taylor Swift: Taylor Swift music makes me happy. The woman seems to endure a lot of criticism. They say her “nice girl” image is carefully cultivated. I argue everyone’s image is carefully cultivated, especially in the media. The only relationship I have with an artist is their art. And I love Swift’s art. This is my favorite song off her “1989” album. I find serenity in it.

17. ANY ROAD By George Harrison: This comes from George’s final album in 2001, released not long after he died that November. This is the first track and it contains the lyric “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.” Goddamned right, George.

18. FOREVER YOUNG By The Pretenders: This too comes from the “With Honors” soundtrack, a record that is easily in my top five most played CDs in my collection. This is a Bob Dylan song, but Chrissie Hynde’s vocals are so beautiful, I think they make it their own. Also, Bob hits me right in the chest again with his lovely wish for eternal youth: “May the wind always be to your back …”

19. DON’T YOU (FORGET ABOUT ME) By Simple Minds: “The Breakfast Club” film made this song a 1980s staple. Each listen puts me right back atop my bed after Little League games watching endless replays of that flick on the local UHF station. I wanted to be John Bender, but was probably more like poor Brian and a smidgen of Andrew.

20. BREAKFAST CLUB By Z-Trip, et. all: I wanted to end on an upbeat note. This song is silly, but warm and inviting. There was a time when cereal and cartoons were all we needed to conquer the universe. I never want to forget that part of myself, even if my present day me knows it takes a bit more than that to rule the world.