I started to write yesterday—a teaser about today, the ten-year anniversary
of the day my mom died, "I was sitting in a cubicle in Bingham Farms, Mich. when
I learned about it." Adjusting insurance claims, helping everyday people recoup
from the many bad things that can happen to property. Fire, flood, theft,
wind, and lesser-expected events (e.g., hundreds of gallons of fuel oil
mistakenly pumped into the wrong house, the wrong basement, a basement without a
fuel tank while you are away on vacation, taking in Disney Land while the fuel
oil seeped into your back yard, under the garage and the in-ground pool, and
filled the house with greasy fumes that spread throughout the place,
chemically bonding to the surfaces of your walls and things).
Some days the job sucked.
My dad used to tell me (and, as he is inclined to do, re-told me a time or
two since) that you can see into a job by looking at the 50-year-olds who have
been doing it since they were young. How does a job wear on them? Are they
spry, lively, enthusiastic (or, at the very least, expert and well-paid), or
might they, on the other hand, pass for the walking dead? Many of the
50-year-olds handling insurance claims, other than the few who gave orders and
managed the profitability of the outfit, were taking leave for heart operations.
Their arteries were constricted from all of the stress (travel, emergencies,
desperate insureds), the unending grind of humans and their property against
I was sitting in a cubicle….
When that awful call came telling me she hadn’t awoken from her sleep on the
10th, I was stupefied–crushed under those waves of confusion, pain, and intense
disbelief. This hardly needs repeating. She was 48 years-old. And the
cause, as I’ve written before, was never settled. Perpetually unsettled,
you could say. And, at my desk just then, I felt a rush (among rushes) to
act–to tell others, to pack, to drive, and so on. But the phone rang
again–before I’d done anything–and I picked it up (in a moment when the world
was so completely caved in, it couldn’t have been about anything else).
Someone called about an insurance claim! Checking on its status. The
scenario: a tractor trailer was parked outside a suburban Detroit warehouse. Its
contents, something like 880 cases of Smirnoff Vodka. When it arrived at the
next destination, the cargo was gone. Something like
$150,000 worth of vodka evaporated into thin air. The policy for the warehouse
covered mysterious disappearance. As was customary for claims involving
property, I visited the warehouse some weeks earlier, verified that in fact that
vodka was not there. Most of the warehouse bays were stacked high with pallets
of unmounted engines from the Ford Motor Company. The vodka had
mysteriously disappeared. This photo of the warehouse from the day I
visited proves it.
The vodka’s missing. I’m not sure why I hold onto the photo. I gave the insurance biz
30-days notice and split from Detroit for Kansas City, leaving town before this
claim was settled. I’m sure there was more to it–interviewing the driver
of the rig, tracing the vodka’s manufacturing and shipping record before the
goods arrived at the warehouse, even calculating the depreciation (is it
appreciation?) of the booze. Anyway, I doubt the liquor has been located
after all these years.