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Workers’ Comp Part 3: Workers Compensation

Workers Compensation continued! “Workers’ Comp” is a four part excerpt from my first book, Down and Out in California.

Part 1:

Workers’ Comp Part 1: Lying on Resume

Part 2:

Workers’ Comp Part 2: Office Drama

Workers compensation starts to be something I know too much about. I soon see that whether or not people are actually injured on the job, everyone pretends their injuries are worse than they are to get more money out of their employer’s insurance company.

It’s difficult to trace whether or not some injuries are related to the work at all, and sometimes they assign a percentage of the injury to work and the rest to the person’s personal life, and sometimes the lawyers spend hours arguing over this percentage and that is the focus of the case. Most of the injuries are small, many of them are chronic, but occasionally they are ultimate – the person died on the job and the family is suing.

The most common injury is carpal tunnel. I think about that, and stretch my hands as I continue to type, all day, every day, for eight hours a day.

Within days of returning to work I’ve outpaced the work and they make me file things. I do not enjoy filing nearly as much as I do typing, and so learn to slow the pace of my work so there are always a few things ahead of me to get through. There’s some injustice for me in filing things. I haven’t done so since my very first job at age ten, working as an administrative assistant for my parents’ company.

Here I was praised for my quick filing skills, and now I am again, a decade later. It makes me feel stagnant, like my parents invested in all that fancy education just for me to be back in the same place I was at the starting line. The one upside is that filing things takes me into the attorney’s offices, and here I overhear their phone conversations. It ends up being a valuable addition to my overall understanding of workers compensation.

It’s the first time I’ve had full time work, day in, day out, in years. It makes the time just fly by. I catch up on all correspondence and email between my transcribing for work. I schedule my social life around my work days and can accurately predict where and when I will be. It improves my self-worth in a way I couldn’t predict and I start to see the advantage to the lifestyle – yet at the same time I also see how it takes responsibility for my own rhythms out of my hands. It’s a trade-off.

I type stories of the strangest injuries, unfolding slowly over a variety of correspondence.

Today it is the women’s clothing department of the big box department stores where the corporate policy is to have the workers carry clothing on their hands to restock; they won’t allow a rack to be pushed through the store because of how that looks to the customers.

As a result the workers get repetitive strain injuries in their cramped hands, from holding multiple hangers with heavy clothing and restocking for hours on end. Now they are suing for workers compensation.

Hearing this dictation and turning it into words, it moves through my body and I realize that my right foot and ankle are sore, from pressing the pedal on the Dictaphone. It’s almost the same motion as for driving, I realize, and wonder if I’m just continuing the same injury.

I am.

The law offices represent the Los Angeles Unified School District, and teacher after teacher is suing for issues getting in and out of the schools, slippery sidewalks, loose tiles, lack of railings. Yet the claimants are all diabetic and obese and I can see from typing up their litany of health problems that they have issues getting in and out of anywhere.

I go to the gym now religiously, every day after work. I’m eating well and cooking from local, seasonal ingredients. I feel the difference it’s making in my life. I see how these people are really injuries waiting to happen, and I am in some ways on the side of the company in this. There are a lot of whiny people who simply aren’t taking care of themselves. Then again, the companies shouldn’t hire them in the first place if they don’t want to be liable for workers compensation.

For many of these claimants, the attorneys order sub rosa investigation.

This is the term for when there is a private eye who follows them around to see if they do things they couldn’t do if they were injured in the way that they claim. I’m surprised that this really happens, that it’s not only legal but par for the course. It seems like something out of a movie. The PI’s take photos and video as proof and submit it and the story as evidence. About half the time, they do find something that’s ridiculous – like a claimant having a broken neck but then removing his brace and playing basketball with his friends behind his house. I love typing these stories the most, because they are out in the world and true and outrageous. It reminds me of documentary filmmaking.

The depositions for workers compensation are also interesting.

Sometimes I see the clients themselves as they come in to the office for these, but sometimes they are held elsewhere. Often there is a translator with them, as many of them only speak Spanish. Matching the faces to the stories makes them more human to me, and makes it both easier and more difficult to type their stories. Sometimes I think I can tell if they are faking it just by looking at them. Sometimes I can’t. Often I want to edit their stories and their claims to make them stronger or weaker, but I don’t.

Least interesting is the correspondence. It has to be perfect and on point and I just don’t like how the most restricted form of expression ends up being the communications. It seems odd to me that the legal language itself could be less formal than letters between legal entities, but it’s just further proof that lawyers care most about their own liability, above that of their clients.

When there is less work I take more breaks, and one of the places I go for my lunch break is to the roof to smoke a joint and watch the airplanes land so close-by that when they pass the building it shakes and I marvel at the intricacies of their underbellies.

The roof is hot and unshaded in the late September sun. It’s made from cement around the edges and a white gravel in the middle. I crunch across to the only shady spot behind the doorway. I enjoy that blast of outdoors every few hours. It reminds me of a million Hollywood action movies with scenes on Los Angeles rooftops. I’m never quite relaxed up there because I’m always afraid I’ll get locked out and quickly dehydrate in the Los Angeles glare, no one able to hear my screams over the sounds of the jet engines.

I am doing well. I have to acknowledge that the stability of the work and money for rent and food has resulted in healthy habits. I’ve been biking around Venice as my means of transportation, only taking the bus when I go to work and back. I realize the true damage of driving during this period and lament the time I’ve spent at the wheel now that I am free of it. It’s just about then that my parents let me know they’ll give me their Volvo later this year when they retire to Maui. 

My parents won’t give me money and I don’t ask for it, yet I know they are there for me as a safety net. But just as solid as their taut resolve to keep me from hitting ground in a way that permanently injures is my own for them not to know whether I need help. I never ask for a car or expect that they would finance one, but one is offered and I am grateful for it.

Outside of work I’m falling in love with the Mad Scientist, whose virginity I take when he’s thirty-five.

He is inexperienced and awkward and doesn’t know how he feels. Painful times, raw, and delicious, and frustrating, and fun. There are parties and desert camping trips and fun drug experiments and an active life built on the foundation of this daily job and work schedule that never varies. 

We declare our relationship on a mushroom trip in the desert, on public land, in a spot we divine with a compass and four wheel drive vehicle. We declare our relationship to the sand and the full moon, and the coyote brush and creosote bush, with scorpion witnesses at a campfire altar. 

And then on Monday, I am back to work. 

To be continued…

(If you liked “Workers’ Comp Part 3: Workers Compensation” please buy a copy of my first book, Down and Out in California, or support me on Patreon for a free copy)

The Mad Scientist

Venice, California

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