My name is Ben Hurr. And yes my parents understood the connotation. They were hippies and undoubtedly high at my birth. The story goes that they had not decided on my name and were still kicking around "Ben" and "Him &" when the time came. Between those two names, I think I got the better one. After all, who would want an ampersand as their middle name? They argued over names for so long that I was born at home. My father told me he acquiesced and accepted the name Ben after my mother yelled at him during her final contraction.
As an adult I have moved about as far away from my parents as possible. Not geographically, mind you, as they live just outside a planned community in which I own THE two bedroom ranch. During association meetings, where I chair the finance committee, I am announced as, "owner of THE two bedroom ranch" as a sign of respect. It took months of meetings before I recognized this. I had previously thought I may be being mocked for living in the smallest house, and only ranch in the neighborhood. I maintain that I chose this house, not because I couldn't afford to buy anything larger, but because THE ranch was, by far, the best home in the neighborhood.
This particular neighborhood design is the most popular in America. Ameriaprop Realty came up with the design and there are now approximately 5,321 copies of this neighborhood scattered around the contiguous lower forty-eight. Some would say that the reason for NEH103285's (the technical name for the neighborhood plan) popularity is the sheer number of different housing styles. Each development contains one hundred thirty six homes, offered in twenty-two housing styles, with up to four floor plans per style. Most housing developments contain less than ten house styles and very few floor plan variations. The ranch is home number one hundred. Legend has it a widower named John McCauley was on the original planning committee for NEH103285 and wanted something small enough to be easily maintained, but large enough to host his children and grandchildren during holidays.
Other reasons people often use to explain the popularity of housing development NEH103285 include, its relative low build cost, the ratio of homes to available land, common water areas, and, what I WILL NOT consider as correct, retail. You see, development NEH103285 was designed and implemented by America's largest employer and retail chain, Wal-Mart. The claim that Wal-Mart's influence in the retail industry is so great that, it was guaranteed a leading role in arguably the greatest ever planned community is laughable at best.
It's not that I dislike Wal-Mart. Its products are well built for my needs and I often partake of the heavily discounted items that they supply. I also find that shopping there in pre-dawn hours calms my head yet keeps my brain healthily occupied while I carry out the mundane tasks of purchasing green Colgate toothpaste with mint mouthwash beads, Charmin toilet tissue, and Old Spice antiperspirant.
While I hadn't physically moved far from my parents, I moved away from them psychologically. They chose to live in a one room cabin built by hand during a drug fueled weekend in 1974. "The Shed," sits on a property easement between two other single family dwellings. Earlier that year, the city had seized the property to build a walkway to a local park. My parents and another couple they befriended through their mutual drug connections were fighting to save a tree that was to be cut down in the process. A lawyer, who owed my parents a favor, discovered that the city could not lawfully seize the land under imminent domain if the property in question contained any "habitable dwellings." My parents decided to stop the "walkway to communism," by building a cabin to protect the condemned tree. In the year of our lord, nineteen hundred and seventy nine, in the middle of June, my childhood home was built while the neighboring families called the police to have my parents and their friends removed. Once the police arrived, it was determined by our less than sober lawyer that because the city had already taken possession of the property in question, it was no longer owned by the two adjoining property owners. His argument successfully stalled the city and the neighbors causing a lawsuit that is still in litigation some thirty years later. Since there were no approved building plans, my parents were forced to stop work after the first day. The city engineer who was called out to stop the work deemed the cabin sound and I grew up in a five and three quarters sided home. (The west side was never completed.)
Before my eighteenth birthday, I filed for emancipation on the grounds that I was a better custodian for myself than my parents and was allowed to move out. Having completed my preparatory studies a year early, I matriculated into college and was able to live on campus through a series of grants and scholarships including one that I received for being a left hander. I was only asked to prove my left handedness by writing my name on a blackboard once using each hand. When my left hand wrote more clearly than my right, I was awarded the financial help. I am however, a righty through and through. I read on the internet what was required to prove left handedness and practiced writing my name with my left hand for a week before the test. When I wrote with my right hand, I simply held the chalk as if it were a dagger and used a larger, less refined font. To this day, no one suspects of my deception.
After college, where I majored in the lucrative field of medical billing, I landed the perfect job. It afforded me THE ranch house and I was, until this week, happy with my life.
I work as an "authorized representative" for a local hospital located two bus rides and an a half a mile walk from my ranch. Since I have decided not to own a car, my garage is used for storage. That is where I place all of the non collector grade coins in my ever growing collection. I also kept some of my less valuable postage stamps in the two car cavern but the humidity began causing irreparable harm to the glue backs and some concern for my retirement plan was becoming eminent.
During my rides and walk to work each day I focus on what tasks will surely be on hand once I reach the office. As everyone with a real job knows, the first thing a worker should do each day is check his voice mail. Some may believe that checking e-mail or getting coffee and socializing are more important. These tasks, except for the socializing of course, are important but must be taken under consideration. The coffee should be served to oneself complete with the requisite number of "lumps" (sugar) and half and half BEFORE one punches a time card, thereby officially reporting for duty. Many professionals think that these tasks are acceptable after the clocking in has already taken place. They are sadly mistaken. As for deciding the level of importance among e-mail, regular mail, voice mail, and physical visits, one only has to look at the retail field for advisement. The rule of thumb is that a person standing at a counter should precede any other commitment. After all, they did make the effort to visit your location and walk to your counter. This is a lesson that everyone could benefit from learning. If the phone rings whilst dealing with a flesh and blood person in front of you, the phone call can wait (even if that phone call is another hospital trying desperately to contact you regarding your father's emergency liver failure in which you are the only viable donor).
Once the flesh and blood visitors are taken care of, voice mail should always supersede forms of mail. After all, the caller has taken the time to dial YOUR number and leave you a message which should be returned promptly between the appropriate hours of business so as not to interrupt any sleeping cycles. Just because I and some of my co-workers get up before five AM does not mean that the rest of the world does. Some people may work second shift or have an off day; in which case they may be sleeping in until the late morning as I sometimes do on Saturdays when there is nothing to get done before seven AM. A professional must also be sure not to call too late in the evening. Sometimes, when I, "burn the midnight oil," I forget that it may be too late to call a client. After say, eight thirty PM on a weekday would not be an acceptable time to attempt a return phone call as said client may already be asleep, resting up for the next busy work day. The point here is that voice mail always precedes mail because the caller has worked harder to reach you than a mailer.
E-mail, while important, is the lowest form of professional communication and should be treated as such. Even when a memo comes across as an e-mail, it should be held in lower regard than a paper notice, and I will usually sort my paper mail before checking e-mail.
Once my correspondence is caught up, I usually take the first of my two pre-described daily brakes. My morning break usually includes the preparation of a second cup of java complete with an extra "lump" of sugar. 8.5 out of 10 work days, I will have to make a new pot of coffee as 85% of the time, the person before me is clearly too lazy to make a fresh pot of "go juice." Since my colleagues have never extended the hand of friendship, I normally use the rest of my ten minutes reading up on the latest in medical procedures. I think that it's important for people in my field to stay abreast of any and all new advancements in the field of medicine since WE authorized representatives are the ones who figure out the party of payment for any and all medical expenses incurred while in our facilities. WE make the hospital go.
After my morning "rest period" as the employee manual so succinctly calls it, I make my rounds. THIS is my favorite part. My job starts when someone comes into my hospital without a way to pay for services. These unsuccessful lazy people are called "self pays" and have many great excuses for why they do not have regular full time health insured employment. I hear a lot of laid off stories, and even more, "I just made one mistake" stories. But since doctors believe in that silly "Do No Harm" pact that is forced down their throats from their first day in medical school, they cannot just let people die in the parking lot when they are unable to pay for their own treatment. It is my job to figure out a way for the client to make good on their bill. Mostly, I gently force the injured party or, "self pay" to sign forms stating that I may represent them to the government. The government has made things very difficult and exceedingly confusing for poor people to receive help, be it in the form of Medicaid, welfare, or SSI. People like me or, "Auth/Reps" as we are nicknamed, meet with and/or talk to the self pay very rarely.
After my initial interview, I speak with the client to either inform him that his application for free medical help has succeeded in bilking an all too forgiving democratic hippie regime for the amount of said care; or to inform him that the application has failed and that he is on the hook for the entire bill. If the latter is true, I also inform the self pay that all payments are due within thirty days from the time of treatment, and if the bill is not zeroed out within that timeframe, a referral will be made to a collection agency. My hospital utilizes a collection agency entitled, "LCMC," which stands for "Loving Care Medical Collections." Some of my colleagues have renamed the acronym to mean, "Low [on] Cash Medical Care."
Even though my job is dependent on approving as many clients through government assistance programs as possible, I feel a pang of anger each and every time I succeed. While I am very good at what I do, over the course of the last year my approvals have been diminishing exponentially due to what could only be described as an increasingly negative attitude toward what I consider to be, "government hangers on."
Which brings me to today. As I was just getting up to attend to an empty cup of java, my direct supervisor pulled me aside on my way to the break room and guided me to his office. Sitting down in the chair facing the door, I knew where Bill Thomas was going to sit. He has always been one of those bosses who fakes the attempt to be your friend. No boss actually wants to be your friend, of course, but some, mostly white men, who feel emasculated by their place in modern society now that Woman's lib and affirmative action are here, try anyway. As I predicted, Mr. Thomas sat in the chair closest the door on the "guest" side of his desk. In this way, he attempted to project a sense of community and a relaxed management style. This failed, as usual, as I have been able to see through his ruse since before he accepted the promotion to management.
Mr. Thomas was wearing a tie that would be called a "power tie" in certain circles. The tie sported alternating blue and black lines, sliding diagonally down and to his right. The reason I bring up the tie is to highlight an oddity, a flaw, in the way that my boss knots his ties. Most men in power, or men projecting they are in power, use a knot known as the Windsor. The Windsor (or Full Windsor as there is a "small" or "half" Windsor that can be used but has no purpose in this current narrative), has a clean and symmetrical knot that is wide and, if tied correctly, its pattern should match the visible body below it. Mr. Thomas however utilized what is known as a "Shell Knot." The Shell is applied backwards and the main body of the tie turns forward after a certain number of undulations. Once a Shell is tied, the knot is small, and depending on the handedness (left or right) of the person tying the tie, one side will slope more steeply toward the feet. This knot is used primarily by the working poor, men not raised by strong fathers, or mothers who, having been woman, never properly learned to tie knots
Mr. Thomas was born seven years after me and at that time, the divorce rate was high. I am sure that he was emotionally scarred by his childhood, as was I, but has never spoken with me about his upbringing. Two Christmases ago, I pulled his name for our office secret Santa gift exchange. I bought him a rather high end, (over $100.00) Forzieri tie, made from the finest cashmere, in the most luxurious green available. I slipped a folded piece of parchment into the box demonstrating five ways to build the perfect knot. One of the featured knots was the Windsor, though the Shelby, Pratt, Four in Hand, and Bow Tie knots were also included. It is apparent he has not used any of the proper knots since receiving the tie from me, though he often wears it.
From Mr. Thomas' demeanor, this was going not going to be a positive conversation. It had something to do with the way he had closed the door, softly, like he wanted my presence in his office to be a secret. He dropped a file onto his desk. The file was mine; my personnel file to be specific. I knew this because the manila folder, wrapped in a green hanging file, was not color coded. I had suggested that the company adopt a color coding system when I began employment, and all subsequent hires were coded in varying shades. I knew what he was going to say before he admitted it.
"Mr. Hurr," he said with a sigh. "I'm afraid we are going to have to pa-"
"Lay me off, I know." I interrupted. My emotions roiled. Even though I had been getting fewer approvals of late, I was still way ahead of the rest of our "team" as far as total dollars go. I couldn't believe the gall. I could not believe that the owners had approved this decision. My first instinct was to interrupt Mr. Thomas so that I could save face. Now it was too late to go back. I needed to save face in a big way. I inhaled slowly.
"Don't bother filling out the paperwork for severance. I don't need the pathetic charity you, no doubt, have in store for me. I quit." I stood up and left the office. Walking briskly back to my three sided cubical, my hands shook.
I was never one to bring personal effects into an office. During my nine year tenure, I had only brought in my own coffee mug, which I was currently carrying, and my personalized memo pads that read, "I have the 'Munday's every day.'" I blew out of the office so quickly neglecting to say goodbye to any of my colleagues. I did not want to make a scene, but between the front desk and the door, I managed to trip on the rim of a pot containing the Ficus Elastica that I had insisted on purchasing for the office eight years ago. I had forced the issue on Mrs. Ludite, two supervisors prior to Mr. Thomas. The plant, I had campaigned, would increase oxygen in the surrounding rooms as well as add a feeling of warmth that would increase morale in the office. My shoe caught in the overflow water catch at the bottom of the pot and my ankle twisted as I fell to the ground. My mug landed first and broke. The mug had read, "Life's a Beach" and was meant to convey that I was part of the team by wishing I was both there and on a beach at the same time. A few years after I bought the mug, I realized that the word "beach" could be misconstrued for the word "bitch." Dirty word or not, it didn't matter now, the mug was broken beyond repair. I left the building.
My ankle began to swell as I walked to the bus stop. I mentally kicked myself for leaving a perfectly good apple in the refrigerator. It was to be part of my balanced lunch that day but now, it had gone to waste. No doubt one of the other unprofessional employees would eat it or worse, it would get thrown away after the "fridge" started to smell. Without me cleaning the refrigerator once a week, (on Friday's during my lunch period) the apple would certainly become "ripe" in no time. I caught the number 33 bus, with a driver I didn't know. Attempting to sit in my customary seat, I was accosted by the sight of gum. Chewed gum blighted the seat that I had occupied for the last five years. I sat to the left of the gum, in a huff of course, as I was, understandably, very angry.
During the bus ride I started to think about logistics. Things would be OK. I had plenty of savings and a plan for the future. I would be able to "overcome." I wouldn't need any "unemployment" compensation or "welfare" during my time away from the workforce. Once I was off the bus, and walking toward THE ranch, I knew what my future held. As a reputable member of society, I had a layoff contingency plan. I had been taking night classes in real estate and was prepared, and legally permitted, to sell model homes from the NEH103285 catalogue. Not just in the fifty United States, but across parts of Canada as well. What with Canada's colder climate, the populous would surly enjoy spacious, ultra efficient, two bedroom ranches in their new developments. I would make a killing.
After walking into my foyer, I resolved to take the Canadian ranch home market by storm. I removed my shoes and placed them in their cubby hole to the left of my custom "Brass Diplomat," the prestigious electric shoe shiner of which you have no doubt heard. I went about my usual after work ritual even though the time was only 12:15pm. I removed my Corinthian Leather belt, rolled it up and placed it in a drawer of my poplar Apothecary table (large).
I sat down at my personal computer and wrote this letter. I wanted the future world to know of my exploits as I began to change the world with my decision to leave the Auth/Rep position. I would change the world, but needed a record of the events so that my pursuits would not go unnoticed in the present, or forgotten in the future. What you are reading is a manifesto, of sorts. It is a description of how the most popular home style in America took the world by storm, and the way that I, Ben Hurr was to become the most renowned real estate agent in the contiguous forty-eight and three Canadian provinces.
"You can't be serious." Joshua Davis, editor of the local daily sat at his desk looking at the document presented to him. He looked at the nine pages of text, then back up to the lawyer. "Mr. Barth, with all due respect, there are over four thousand words here." The lawyer stifled a smirk.
"I am aware of the length of my client's document. But he has asked for the entire writ to be published in the event of his death. My client has expired and... a chortle built up within the lawyer and twenty-three years of professionalism could not stop the outburst. A long inhalation of air into the nostrils slowed his heart and he continued. "Mr. Hurr has asked that all of his assets be allotted to the publication of this document in the case of his demise."
"And how..." the editor paused. He didn't know where to start. The "writ" was funny as hell, and ever since Mr. Barth sat down he had been at a loss as to what exactly he was looking at. "How did Mr. Hurr pass?"
"Well," Mr. Barth began, with a smirk. "Mr. Hurr died of brain damage, it started with an aneurism. He had quit his job over a misunderstanding about water cooler filters."
"I'm sorry, did you say water cooler filters?" The lawyer nodded and the editor continued. "I don't understand."
"Mr. Hurr thought he was being laid off, but in reality his request to upgrade the water cooler filters was being denied." The two professionals stared at each other for some seconds. Mr. Barth continued, "His insurance was declined and after his savings and possessions had been sold to pay for treatment, he was placed on state assisted Medicaid for the remainder of his life." The lawyer bit his lower lip and vowed never to work with the Hurr family again.
"OK. Here is the issue," the editor stated with a tired expression. "You have offered three thousand dollars to publish this obit along with a picture of the decedent." The lawyer nodded. "Our paper charges eight dollars and sixteen cents per text line with an average of five words per line. The photo fee is one hundred forty-nine dollars and twenty three cents, and the header will count as two lines plus a processing fee of seventeen dollars and fifteen cents." The editor laughed, causing a domino effect between himself and the lawyer. They laughed for some minutes. Both men were fast with math and had done the calculations in their heads. The obit would cost almost seven thousand dollars. The lawyer caught his breath and resumed.
"I am also required to ask that the newspaper be printed in a sans-serif font on the day of publication as Mr. Hurr did not like the Times font that has been used of late." The lawyer thanked the editor and got up to leave. "Mr. Hurr's estate has no other money to draw from. His house was sold at auction after the bank foreclosed. No one wanted to buy a ranch surrounded by mansions. What was left of the coin and stamp collections brought in a considerable amount of money but the burial, at Mr. Hurr's insistence, had tapped all but three thousand dollars of those funds. There is no more money."
"Then Mr. Hurr will not have an obituary."
Alone in his office, the editor contemplated what should be done with the manuscript. After laughing one last time, he filled out a thin paper strip with Mr. Hurr's name followed by a block "X" so that the file would stand out. The file was sent to the basement were it was lost among tens of thousands of published transcripts. Mr. Hurr would not be remembered.