#512: An Economy of Teeth

August 5th, 2015

Sparkles of water and, I assumed, particulate of tooth spattered out from below my field of vision, which was locked ahead on a view of sunglass-shaded light and one, two hands of blue coming at me to jab drills, mirrors, lights and hooks into the collection of holes and porcelain that was once my mouth.

I haven’t been able to go to the dentist in years. The economy wouldn’t let me.

RRRRRRRRRRRHHHHHHHHAAAAAAHHHHHHOOOOOO went the drill, hollowing me out for the first of too many fillings.

It’s not that I hadn’t worked since 2012, when I decided to quit a job I’ve referred to before as The Coming Darkness. I’ve worked a lot. Two, three jobs at a time sometimes.

I even had a full-timer, once. 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year (unless I wanted to go without pay during a vacation), directed labor in office with hours set by the employer using computers and other tools provided by the company alongside full-time employees paid to do similar jobs, but who, unlike me, had HR protections and full benefits, including not having to relieve the company’s taxes by covering the Social Security and Medicare pay-in through the self-employment tax.

You know, things that would probably get me categorized by the IRS as a common-law employee rather than the independent contractor they claimed if I filed an SS-8 and an 8919 and flipped the office block the double bird as I peeled out on a dirt bike and did some sick wheelies while a crowd of IRS agents and ‘70s-era Skynyrd groupies applauded how awesome I am.

Anyway, the point is I did what was outwardly a full-time job, but did not receive the benefits legally due a full-time employee.

I’m not alone. There are at least 109,000 Americans in that situation. Those are just the ones the Department of Labor caught in 2014.


I also taught journalism at a wonderful university, which has taken me to heart as much as a university can an adjunct. I feel trusted, respected and appreciated. The student speaker gave me a shout-out in her commencement address. I’m on first-name basis with the associate dean.

I’m not trying to make a living off this, just make some extra cash while keeping involved with an industry that crumbled away around me.

I’m an adjunct. I don’t need to pay the self-employment tax, but I don’t get benefits. There’s a set amount I get paid per class, with a bump if I earn a Ph.D. If there’s not a class for me, I don’t work that semester.

I’m not alone. There are 1.4 million Americans in that situation. That’s 76.4 percent of American college and university instructors, a recent study found. A report by the U.S. House surveyed many who reported living below the federal poverty line.

I’m not trying to make a living off this. Others are.


I’ve written for newspapers, magazines, websites. I was an editor at a legal trade magazine. I liked everyone there a lot, and they liked me. The magazine abided by the rules for freelancers, but didn’t have the funds to keep me.

Freelancers come and freelancers go. Job by job, no work but what you hustle.

I’m not alone. There are 53 million Americans in that situation. That’s 34 percent of the American workforce engaging in some form of full-time or moonlighter freelance, according to a study commissioned by the Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk.

It’s called “the freelance economy.” The study called it “independent, exciting, potentially risky, and rich with opportunities.”

I call it work that bosses don’t have to pay benefits for. I call it disposable employees who can’t go to HR if they’re being mistreated and who sure as hell couldn’t go to the dentist.


I had insurance the whole time. I paid out of pocket for major medical. I could get some care from a hospital in the event of a traumatic accident.

Now, with Obamacare, for 20 bucks more paid a month to the same insurance company, I can get regular, preventive care from a doctor and dentist, just like one of you.

The doctor found me fit as a fiddle. The dentist found that my years not able to get dental care left me with five cavities and plaque so bad I needed to space out my cleaning over two days.


We chose our lives, yes. I chose whatever fun mess this existence has turned out to be.

My friend Kim chose to turn her Ph.D. back toward academia, and is doing the adjunct slog. She broke her leg this year. Obamacare fixed it.

My friend Nick chose to be a journalist, and is stringing for a certain World’s Greatest Newspaper while looking for full-time work. He signed up on Tuesday while we worked at a coffee shop.

If you don’t like Obamacare, think it’s a socialist nightmare hellscape or just a bad use of funds, there’s a simple, easy and effective way to get rid of it:

Get our bosses to give us health care. Give us a better deal.


Later, the dental hygienist went to work on my sensationless left side with a high-pressure water drill that sounded like a 33 1/3 of humpback whale song played on a 78.


More thoughts on the worker

More more thoughts on the worker

I think communists are dumb

Talking to teachers in the 2012 strike

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