Yesterday was time to fill in all the electronic paperwork relating to Benefits And Stuff. I enjoy electronic paperwork, largely because if there's paper paperwork, it will force me to write stuff. Since I've been using computers for umpteen years, I haven't been writing much. My handwriting, never really legible for the most part, has gone completely to hell. Moreso. So online works better for me. That is, until I try it.
It was a dark and stormy day. It's usually a dark and stormy day, and you can take it for granted that any day I post a blog entry, it's a dark and stormy day. In fact, when you think of Philthydelphia, your first thought should be 'dark and stormy day.' This more than adequately sets the tone for any story.
There is nothing quite like the joy that is logging into some random site to purchase something or worse, to perform some job function. The level of stress and agitation approaches knife fighting. My wife and I have had three-day arguments that were much more calm than logging into certain sites. Usually the first issue is that I'm using linux. I am not sure why this is an issue because a browser is a browser, regardless of operating system. Some sites require Internet Explorer, which is heinous in the first place. Even Windows users shouldn't be messing with Internet Explorer. In the early days, Clever Folks found a clever way to run Internet Explorer under linux, but not lately. Speculation runs to these Clever Folks killing themselves in the most frightening and painful ways possible.
Fortunately, Internet Exploder is not a requirement for this site. How do I know this? Because I could not log into the site, regardless of browser or operating system. When I called the site's 800 number, I was told that I had locked myself out, a handy security feature to keep everyone, including me, out of my account. Mind you, I had locked myself out by trying to log in with the credentials they provided. This is what the very nice customer service lady told me. I asked her if it wouldn't have been nice to indicate that I was locked out, but she said no, it was a safety feature. Well, it certainly kept my account safe from me accessing it. She told me that Internet Explorer didn't behave correctly in certain spots so they recommended something else, like Firefox. Firefox is my favorite browser, so this was good. In fact, Firefox works on most operating systems, including Windows, linux, and android. Not sure about iDevices.
Once logged in, I proceeded to the benefits section. Or rather I tried to proceed to the benefits section. The site told me there was an authentication error. Since I keep Firefox pretty locked down, I tried a different browser. Still the error. At this point, in spite of the dark and stormy day, the neighbor across the street decided to do some minor construction. This inevitably involves cutting things with a Very Loud Electric Saw. In fact, I don't believe they construct anything; they just like sawing things outside.
I tried four more browsers, including one so wide open it's probably a red flag that says HACK ME. Nothing. No authentication. Cursing the existence of Windows, I fired it up in a virtual machine.
The dog, realizing this is a Very Important Activity, tests us by interrupting in his own delightful way... he walks up to me, puts his snout on my knee, and whines pitifully. If I stop petting him, he turns around, comes back again, and continues the whining. This will go on until I get up. (Foolishly) assuming he needs to go outside, I proceed to the door. Almost as if he's laughing at me, he positions himself next to his food bowl. He's having fun, trying to interrupt and annoy me, seeing if I'll get up and feed him. This normally starts an hour or so after he gets fed.
Using the evil Internet Explorer, I log into the site, only to discover that the same error occurs here.
This seemed as good a time as any for my wife to suspect that the noise she hears is mice. She stands absolutely still, waiting for the noise to occur again. Leaning against something turns out to be not as good an idea as first thought - while quietly waiting, she falls over on top of a pile of something or other. My wife is gifted with the grace of a pregnant hippopotamus (that's ok, she has her charms. I'll let you know what they are when I discover them). This fact is documented in her medical charts and is referred to as Positive Tilt. One day at the doctor, he wanted to test her balance and told her to close her eyes and put her arms out. This happened very quickly so I didn't have the chance to tell him this wasn't a very good idea. I made it out of my seat just in time to catch her as she went over. This seems like a very dangerous test and should only be performed in a hospital setting, where she can stand on a hospital bed so she'll be in great shape when she falls down.
Continuing with mice, this activity is not passive. It requires constant vigilance, in case there is more Mouse Noise. HINT: this will become a recurring theme.
Screaming, clenching my fists, and throttling my accelerating urge to throttle someone or something, I know it's time to call the nice people in Support. Again. This nice lady (they all seem uncommonly nice for some reason), without much interaction from me, proceeds to ask me if I'm getting precisely the same error I'm getting. AHA - a known error! The nice lady tells me yes, this is known to happen sometimes. So why, I wonder out loud, don't they make some sort of notation that this happens? She does not know, but guides me to an alternate way to get where I want to be. This is also not noted, making the site what web designers call user friendly but I call User Hostile.
So I go forth, again, to sign up for benefits. First up is health insurance. This is very important to me, as it's generally expensive and generally required. We're essentially betting a huge corporation that we won't get sick. I am presented with a choice of ten insurance options, all of which start with Aetna. I've heard horror stories about Aetna, but I've had good luck in the past. Fortunately in the User Hostile mess is an option to compare plans. This is even more fortunate, given the plans all have coded names, completely impossible to understand by normal humans, no less insurance industry types. AETNA QPS1000 was one, followed by AETNA HMO25.7 - are you seeing where this is heading yet?
I pull up a comparison of four insurances, selected because I like some of the numbers in the title, and start trying to figure out the benefits. I was assisted in this by a screen that told them what was important to me. I unchecked random selections like hysterectomy, birth control pills, and mammogram (because I have external plumbing, as you guessed). Trying to figure out the chart was an interesting exercise, even when I put it on a 26" monitor so we could both see. I went to ask Wife a question when I discovered she wasn't there. She was, however, on Mouse Patrol again. This forced me to ask questions loudly, hoping she'd recognize it was a question, as opposed to me just randomly screaming at something. Mostly she failed. After asking a time or four, I got her attention and her answer was "I don't know." I got through most of the comparison on my own because Mouse Patrol seemed to include stopping at random places and cleaning. Cleaning is wonderful, but not when I need somebody sitting next to me, providing a second brain.
The tv was on, which was a shame as nobody was watching it. As I got to a particularly frustrating question on the form, her phone rang. That was about IT for me and I let loose with a tirade that still scares the dog and the neighbors, after many years in the same house. The ringtone, which is the intro from Aerosmith's Back in the Saddle, thunders out of the phone at a volume that scares the shit out of me and causes the phone to walk itself right off the table. The phone is never with my wife when it goes off; it's always near me, as if to provide comic relief to the universe. She looks at me angrily and demands to know why I'm shouting. Well, it's not like I don't complain about the phone every time it shakes the house. Plus I have attention deficit disorder, which makes too much input VERY frustrating (tv, mouse hunting, power saw, phone ringing, and the internal children watching the tv with their mouth instead of their eyes).
The dog, through repeated experiments, has learned that the "Get Daddy off the couch to feed him more" routine only works two or three times.
Four hours later, with the occasional help of my wife, I have selected health insurance. I expected to feel elated with the accomplishment, but I just felt sad and relieved it was over. And then I saw the NEXT button.
NEXT dealt with life insurance. This is where you bet a huge corporation that you won't die. The joke's on them, as you always die. The joke is also on you, as you always die AND if you do so at an inopportune time, your beneficiary won't get paid. I do not know what happens if your beneficiary kills you, thus it's always better to follow the Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Not Get Caught.
As I'm no longer twenty (physically anyway), life insurance is important. Not for me, but for my wife. Structuring it smartly, I will never be worth more dead than alive. Life insurance comes in many types, with many options and many prices. Never having had life insurance before, every single one of them was foreign to me. There's term life, whole life, half life, and variable universal studios life. Some have premiums that go up. Some can be borrowed against. Some can't be paid out at all. And some allow you to visit Universal Studios at a small discount, in the middle of winter, in years that end with three. I asked my local expert, who, at that moment walked out the door for a smoke break. Unsure how that was going to help, I perused some web links, looking for prices. When there were prices at all, they were for several more types of insurance that I could not understand if I spent my entire life in life insurance. And they were all rated for thirty-year-old non-smoking women, of which I am only non-smoking. The other option was to ask for a quote online, which would no doubt result in constant calls from life insurance salesmen, which is only slightly less annoying than having to use Internet Explorer.
Where was my Subject Matter Expert? Simultaneously cleaning and on Mouse Patrol. I considered myself lucky that she was at least on the same floor as me. If I needed her on an emergent basis, I could always stand near her, gesticulating wildly and screaming at the top of my lungs, in hopes she'd notice me.
As it turns out, you can make your dog sole beneficiary.
If you have any questions, please ask. When she reads this, and she will, I'll be spending a lot of time on the couch, so I will be able to answer inquiries at all hours.
If you get nothing else from this entry, I hope you get a giggle and my single piece of wisdom around insurance: When the going gets tough, quit. It's better for your blood pressure and well-being in general. I did, and survived to write this blog entry. This will no doubt be a problem when I have to log back in (if I can) and re-fill out the same information all over again. I now need to sit with people much smarter than me (football players with traumatic brain injuries and rappers) to figure out which options I need.
Next week I'll tell you about my 401k. I anticipate the experience like I anticipate a dental visit - with me running as fast as I can in the opposite direction. And when I can't come up with any other new material, I'll tell you about the dream I just had. It was kind of like The Bachelor, but with eager women in skimpy black lingerie. Perhaps it was just like The Bachelor.
Remember when signing up for benefits involved someone from Human Resources handing you a pamphlet and forms to sign? I do not want to be accused of being a Luddite, but the electronic way just doesn't work.