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The PJ Tatler

by
Sarah Hoyt

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July 14, 2012 - 1:05 pm

This week I had to go to the DMV to verify my younger son’s residence so he could get his license. Please, don’t explain to me there should be easier ways to do that. It’s how the DMV does things.

I had to do it, I didn’t have to like it. We got there an hour before it opened, and I got up an hour earlier than that to blog, which meant I was uncaffeinated and already in a mood.

My older son also had business at the DMV, so we made a solid family group.

The reason I explain all this is to let you know I was in a situation I’m not used to: out really early and forced into contact with a lot of strangers. As a professional novelist, I can go entire days without trading a word with a stranger.

The experience wasn’t that bad. Having arrived earlier, it took us only an hour to do what we’d come to do, possibly because there were only sixteen people ahead of us.

While waiting to approach the first counter, I sat down next to a blond woman, about my age or ten years on either side (on the down side of forty it becomes hard to tell), a lab technician my older son had engaged in conversation earlier.

As the boys and I were talking, the usual happened and our “neighbor” asked about my accent. Actually she added a new and odd wrinkle and asked what nationality WE were. (The boys sound so Coloradan they couldn’t be anything else, so this is a little strange.) We answered in unison “American.” This and the fact older son was wearing a stars and stripes tie (yes, he always wears a tie and a button down. He’s rebelling against his boomer professors. Kids these days.) should have given her a clue, but apparently not. So she said “Well, you have an accent,” to me. I stopped fighting it and told her I was born and raised in Portugal.

She said, as people do, that she wished she had an accent. I know this sounds odd but that statement exasperates me, because I can’t answer truthfully “No, you don’t. Total strangers ask personal questions about things like the languages you taught the kids. And they make guesses about you once you reveal your national origin. And they pre-judge your politics. And…” Also “I’ve lived in this country for twenty eight years, longer than I’ve lived anywhere else.”

So I just said “I’d rather not have one, since I’ve lived all my adult life in the US.” She waited, and she had that curious type of tenseness that people have when they’re going to make some outrageous and — they think brave — statement.

Finally she says, in a bombastic tone, “You see, I wish I weren’t an American. I’m trying to leave the country.”

This met with a subdued response from my family trio which, because we were in a public space and she was a perfect stranger, couldn’t include what all of us wanted to do which was grab her by the shoulders and SHAKE her. Besides, she might have some logical reason like “we’re all going to die in taxmaggedon.” So we held the type of barely polite silence that means “Are you out of your mind?” without saying it.

Instead she blurts out, “You see, here we don’t have a right to free health care.”

At which point I rotated my head like something out of The Exorcist and said in my best *I am controlling my voice because otherwise I’ll shriek so loudly people from Kansas will run in to see what is going on* tone: “You don’t want the free health care they have in other countries. I grew up with it. And Portugal is not as bad as some.”

She smugly gave me the “Better outcomes. Cheaper.”

At this point I started giving her home truths and anecdotes. I started with the “better outcomes” being because it’s so hard to GET in the system (and not be sent home to die) that most people aren’t in the system when they die — hence, not “outcome” of health care. I continued with the fact that my third year in college was spent sitting in a DMV-like office confirming that, yes, I still had impacted wisdom teeth, causing infernal pain and trying to grow into my jawbone. Every morning I went in to confirm that, no, this hadn’t magically resolved. And then I waited in line. Sometimes I made it to afternoon classes. All this for a two-hour procedure — at the end of the year.

Or the fact my grandmother was still being tested for “unknown ailment” when she died. Her results as having stomach cancer came three months after she died. Also, when my husband and I caught pneumonia while there, there was no way of getting us seen AND tested. We could go to emergency, but we couldn’t get the tests done or not right away. My sister-in-law who is an MD advised us to return home ASAP so we could get testing, since tuberculosis is endemic there. So we returned two weeks earlier than planned and were seen, X-rayed, and medicated the next day at one of the express care places.

Then I told her it was easier to get tested and treated in Portugal now, because now they allow private care too, and everyone who even remotely can goes private. Only indigents take advantage of the “free” health care. And it’s worth about what you pay for it. There are good doctors in the system, of course, but there are a lot of indifferent ones, and money and permissions for tests and treatments are controlled by an indifferent bureaucracy. And that’s the truth everywhere you go that has “free” health care.

Okay… so far so good. I expected her to come back with some factoids, and I expected to discuss it, and maybe even have words. You see, normally I don’t discuss this with strangers, but I was in a bad mood, so I didn’t care if she argued.

Instead, as I wound down, I found she was staring at me open-mouthed. When she could speak she said “Is it really like that? I thought we had the worst health care anywhere. No one ever told me centralized healthcare had problems. I never thought that it would need a bureaucracy and of course it would be like this”– gesture at the DMV.

She’s my age or close to it. Educated. HOW could she never have heard any of this, or even be led to think about it? HOW could she plan to expatriate without having investigated better? HOW could she think pie would rain from the sky? Where are these people getting their info? How come we’re not reaching them?  How come they don’t understand basic economic facts?

Yes, I’ll confess most of the time I’ll stay quiet in public rather than get in a shouting match, but the information is all over and not hard to get.  And most adults know you can’t get something for nothing, right?

Are conservatives/libertarians like the tree that falls in the forest and doesn’t make a sound?

Sarah Hoyt lives in Colorado with her husband, two sons and too many cats. She has published Darkship Thieves and 16 other novels, and over 100 short stories. Writing non-fiction is a new, daunting endeavor. For more on Sarah and samples of her writing, look around at Sarah A. Hoyt.com or check out her writing and life blog at According to Hoyt.com.
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