I worked for NCO for a grand total of three months. I started there because, well, because I needed a job. Our roommate Dave was already there (had been for a year), so I had a foot in the door.

Just to let you know, NCO Financial Systems is a sort of “bill collecting” institution. Dave worked in the health-care division, collecting money from Medicare\Medicaid for various hospitals. The job was pretty simple; call whoever it is that owes the hospital money and get them to pay up. This meant calling insurance companies, workman’s compensation organizations, and—occasionally—the patent at home.

When I went in for the interview, they asked me why I wanted to work there. Now, I’m not going to sit there and say, “Well, my unemployment checks just aren’t enough and need to pay my bills.” But I did say, “Well, people always get sick and with the way the economy is going, there will always need to be someone to collect the bills.”  So, they hired me.

Doing this kind of work is incredible easy. So easy, as a matter of fact, that a well-written computer program could do it. You call the insurance company, give them the patent’s social security number, give them your tax ID number, date of service, total billed. They tell you the claim number, the amount paid, the check number, and the amount of patent responsibility.

Unless the claim was denied for some reason, like you didn’t file the right UB92 form for facility fees, or the 1500 form for specialist fees had the wrong doctor’s name on it, or someone didn’t get an approval code before seeing a specialist.

If the claim was denied for a missing UB92, you se if there’s one already in the computer system. If so, you print it up (with your initials in the address field) and mail it out. But if there isn’t a UB92 in the system, you have to request one by placing the claim in the correct computer queue and then, maybe, three weeks later, someone will bring one to you. Make sure you file it. And you can’t enter the form into the computer system yourself. You have to be certified to do that and there’s a $1500 fine if you do.

It’s pretty much the same deal with the HICFA 1500 form.

But if a claim has been rejected because of an approval code, well, ho ho, now you’ve got a real issue. You have to get the medical records from the primary care physician and then the records from the hospital and ask for an approval code, and pray that you get one, and, and, and…

But that’s not a normal day. A normal day is calling insurance companies and getting the amount paid, the check number, the claim number, and the patent responsibility. Over and over again. Over forty times a day.

I can’t bitch too much about it. It was a job. It was easy work. I was getting paid.

But I wasn’t on a real computer. I was on a dumb terminal. And we weren’t allowed to have radios or anything like that in the office. So when flight 587 out of New York crashed, I had no way of finding out what had happened. I mean, I was totally cut off from the rest of the world. I couldn’t just go look it up on the internet because there was no internet for me. I was working on a machine that didn’t have a mouse. I had two colors: black and orange. I didn’t have any arrow keys on my keyboard, but I did have an F13 button. How was I supposed to look something up? I was terrified. I had never been so isolated, so separated from what was going on in the world.

And my desk was broken. Straight up, that’s how it was. My desk hadn’t been put together properly, so it tilted. This wasn’t a problem until I put a pen down on my desk. Nothing round ever stayed on my desk; it always rolled to the floor.

Or it rolled into my perpetually open drawers. The desk had such a lean to it, the drawers couldn’t stay shut if they had something in them. The work environment bothered me.

The best solution I ever got from management was some Velcro-like tape to stick on the interiors of the drawers (like a lock). It didn’t work very well because the tape had really low-budget glue. Management always gave me new tape when the old tape wore out. They never fixed the desk. Management bothered me.

And I had this little plastic toy I had brought to sit on my desk and bring joy to my life. It was the little thing that made me smile. It was only there three days before somebody stole it for their fucking kids. I left a sign up in English and Spanish asking for it’s return, but no one ever found it in their heart to bring back my faith in humanity. I hope the fucking kid chokes.

Our office was women, mostly. There were three men working in the office and the super head boss was a guy. Actually, all the tippy-top big brass were men. The women were all middle management and underlings. It was the first work environment where I could actually see the glass ceiling. There it was, two inches over my head and four inches thick.

Which, considering who I was working with, was okay. I mean, I wouldn’t have promoted any of them. But then, I wouldn’t have hired them in the first place. Each one had a sob story. Most of the m had kids…or wanted kids. Few of them had a man to go with those kids. I don’t know who had an education and who didn’t, but that’s never really been an issue with me. I care more about your level of curiosity and skepticism then your degree. If you don’t know something, do you look it up? Do you even care enough to fix that little patch of ignorance in your life? No? Fuck you.

These women didn’t care. They didn’t. Their life was a string of unexplainable events and poor excuses.

You know these women. You’ve dealt with the women. Bureaucracy is packed with these women. Wherever there is paper work that doesn’t get filled properly, these women are waiting. Wherever a sale on towels is, you can find them. These women are stereotypes. These women read National Inquirer. These women care about Jon Bennett Ramsey. These women refer to Monica Lewinsky as “that poor girl”. These women suck. No, wait. They don’t. Good girls don’t do that. It’s as if the sexual revolution never happened for these women. The make me ill.

All these women had pictures of their kids up at work. A lot of them had stuffed animas at their desk. I could understand one, maybe two, but five? What the hell? What is wrong with you? Do you have a bunch of stuffed animals in the back window of your car? Is your bed covered in stuffed animals? Christ! No wonder you have trouble dealing with the real world. Do you call your father “Daddy”? Having a little trouble adjusting to the adult world, are we?

I see women like this at the grocery store. It bothers me to see them. They remind me of where we failed. They are our failure. They are the reason you have women’s magazines and women’s cable channels. They are the butt of every misogynist joke. They are the creators of the glass ceiling.

So, anyway, the point is, I had to get out. I was going crazy working with these people.

And then Christmas came along.

It’s one thing to have it rammed down your throat whenever you turn on the TV or radio, but having to deal with it at work was worse. There were Christmas decorations everywhere. I had tinsel and lights and little plastic presents on my desk (still broken!). Our manager insisted on playing Christmas music. Every goddamned insurance company I called played Christmas-themed hold music.

I brought my menorah is to work and set it up on top of my monitor. No one ever asked me about it. Ever. At least no one stole it.

And we had secret Santa, which I hate. The idea is simple: go spend money on someone you don’t know, or like, and get the same back. I don’t know who came up with this fantastic work-place tradition, but they should be shot. Probably the same brain-surgeon who thought that sending your employees on a “survival camping trip” would teach them good teamwork skills and show them how to depend on each other. I can tell you right no, if we had been sent on one of those trips, I would have stalked, slaughtered, and skinned each one of them.

Well, not Dave. Dave would have helped.

We had forms to fill out for secret Santa, which is sort of counter-productive to the whole “get to know your co-worker” aspect of secret Santa. I tried to be as difficult as possible on my form. “Favorite music: Neotropic, Orb, Muslimgauze, Ken Nordine” “Favorite resturant: Fogo de Chao.” “What do you collect? Out-of-print books.”

Oh… “out of print books”. That got them. My manager asked me what that meant.

“Uh, books that are no longer in print.”

“What do you mean, in print?”


We had an office party and there was a huge discussion on where and what and when.

I asked, “If the party is held after-hours, is it mandatory?”


“Just asking….”

Dave gave me a look and leaned in. “I don’t want to spend any more time then I have to with these people, so let’s vote it be held here during lunch.”

“Dude, I totally agree.”

My secret Santa gave me:

Dave got: And some other stuff that I really don’t remember.

Dave and I did our secret Santa shopping at a dollar store next to my bank. I think we spent, maybe, $12 total. And that includes the wrapping paper, ribbon, and tape. We bought candles, lotion, scented soaps, funky cast-glass bowls, and candy.

What can I say? I played up to the stereotype.

I hear she loved it.

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