Today I asked readers to write in with their experiences of living in Hell World whatever that meant to them. Some of their stories were gutting and horrific and some were the run of the mill indignities foisted upon us under capitalism and some were about living with the understanding that while things are not presently terrible the prospect that they might become so any time soon is always hanging over their heads. If you’d like to share a story of your own you can email me.
If you’re enjoying reading Hell World well not enjoying but you know what I mean please either purchase a subscription or spread the word to your friends thank you.
But first a couple other things.
Forty three year old Tracie Weaver had been held in the Washington County Jail in Alabama for a week when she started vomiting profusely. She hadn’t been well the entire time but now her blood pressure was dangerously high so someone at the jail called the administrator Arthur Ray Busby to say something had to be done what should we do should we take her to the hospital and shit like that and Busby said fuck uh figure out what her insurance situation is before we do anything according to a phone call heard by AL.com and ProPublica. Busby didn’t want to be on the hook for the medical care or the transport to the nearby hospital in an ambulance and he said in the call that she should be released on a “medical bond” which is a scum fucking technique jails use sometimes whereby they “release” seriously ill patients so they can go get medical treatment but since they are technically not “in jail” during that time period the jail doesn’t pay for it. Pretty cool shit.
Weaver died later that night after she was eventually taken to the hospital from a “massive cerebral hemorrhage” and a “cerebrovascular accident” according to the report.
She was being held on charges of “illegal possession of a credit or debit card.”
Here are five recent headlines:
1.) ‘It Was Pandemonium’: Homeless Encampments Burned In Brush Fire In Sepulveda Basin
A brush fire Tuesday tore through about 10 acres of thick brush in the Sepulveda Basin and displaced as many as 100 homeless people, officials said.
2.) Glendale resident accused of trying to light sleeping homeless man on fire
While investigating the incident…detectives were able to obtain surveillance footage from a nearby business that showed a man intentionally setting the fire and taking photos as the cardboard [with a homeless person inside] burned.
3.) Burned body found in Los Angeles encampment after fire attacks on homeless, report say
Authorities in Los Angeles on Thursday found a burned body stuffed in a shopping cart at a city homeless encampment, a report said.
4.) Friends gather to recall the skid row guitarist who died when his tent was set ablaze
Daniel Fields, 62, was inside his tent around 11:30 p.m. when, prosecutors allege, another man set his living quarters ablaze. Responding officers found Fields walking down 6th street, his body still burning, according to two law enforcement officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the case candidly.
5.) Two men specifically targeted and set fire to Eagle Rock homeless encampment, officials say
Two men have been accused of setting a blaze at a homeless encampment that grew into a large brush fire and prompted evacuations in Eagle Rock and Glendale late last month, authorities said.
Here’s just some of the shit the president has said recently about the issue of people living without homes on city streets according to Vanity Fair.
“We can’t let Los Angeles, San Francisco, and numerous other cities destroy themselves by allowing what’s happening,” Trump said aboard Air Force One, adding that the homelessness crisis is causing residents of those cities to leave the country. “They can’t believe what’s happening. We have people living in our…best highways, our best streets, our best entrances to buildings…where people in those buildings pay tremendous taxes, where they went to those locations because of the prestige,” he said, probably internally shuddering at the idea of homeless people crowding the entrance of Trump Tower. “In many cases they came from other countries and they moved to Los Angeles or they moved to San Francisco because of the prestige of the city, and all of a sudden they have tents. Hundreds and hundreds of tents and people living at the entrance to their office building. And they want to leave. And the people of San Francisco are fed up, and the people of Los Angeles are fed up.” During a speech at a Republican conference in Baltimore last week—a city that Trump has described as “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” where “no human being” would “want to live”—the president said that he had put California on “notice” to “clean it up,” adding, “These are our great American cities and they’re an embarrassment.” The president has also called the homeless situation in San Francisco “inappropriate” and the city “disgusting,” because his empathy runs deep.
One of the ideas the administration is weighing is whether or not to go into these cities and round the people up and bring them to government shelters and if you were wondering what the next step is after snatching up all the immigrants it tends to be disappearing the undesirables.
Ok here’s the main feature for today now. If you’d like to share your own story about living in Hell World I’ll probably do this again soon so feel free to email me.
Also sprinkled throughout are some responses to this intense thread from the other day on Twitter about getting fired for absurd reasons.
I actually married him
The most Hell Worldy thing that’s happened to me wasn’t even the time a bunch of cops did a non-consensual search of my car while I was moving cross-country alone, completely tearing apart my carefully packed stuff after dragging their drug dog across the sides to scratch the paint and threatening to release my cat onto the side of the road. They found nothing illegal, as there was nothing to find, and left me shaking and nearly vomiting with repressed rage trying to repack my worldly goods in the long grass on the side of the highway in Colorado in December.
Nope. The worst thing was this:
I was in an abusive relationship for years, and I actually married him because I was terrified of losing healthcare. I knew I could never afford my meds if I moved or changed my job. He had gone back into the Army which I thought would help but it only intensified things. Surprise, surprise.
I ended up running away almost 3,000 miles. I left behind my entire support system so I could hide from him. I didn’t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. It took years to get a divorce, and I only got it because my grandmom died and I used what she left me to get a lawyer. Terrified the whole time. All this because I was worried that I might not have healthcare.
The biggest irony was after I ran away I wouldn’t use the Tricare coverage because he might be able to track me down. I ended up getting sued for an urgent care/ER bill that my new work insurance didn’t cover and had my wages garnished lol.
Anyway, I know my story isn’t as bad as little kids dying from brain cancer or people getting executed by cops, but I lost a big chunk of my life that I’ll never get back. And I’m still terrified of losing benefits.
I gave them my blood because I couldn’t afford not to
I should preface my own recent Hell World-y story with the disclaimer that if you were someone invested in saying that our current world is good and fine you would maybe use my life as an example, because on paper it is very good. I am paid $75,000 a year, enough money to not feel constantly fucking broke in New York City, as a senior editor at a renowned magazine to which many rich dipshits subscribe, which means that a few times a year my company will pay for me to fly somewhere nice that a lot of rich dipshits hang out. My company also pays for me to have health insurance.
My company brags a lot about their excellent “employee wellness program.” This wellness program consists of a variety of normal and non-humiliating activities, like a fun company-wide weight loss challenge that you may participate in, and a variety of data points you may provide. It’s strictly voluntary of course! It’s cool if you don’t participate but then your premiums will triple. But that’s the beauty of capitalism right? All that choice! You have the freedom to pay hundreds of dollars a month more for health insurance if you want to. Unfortunately even with $75,000 a year I do not really appreciate this freedom, since I don’t have an extra $400 every month just sitting around to protect my privacy or get me out of mandated company-wide weight loss challenges.
The data you may opt to provide to keep your premiums in the low three digits a month includes stuff I would not even tell my mother. I asked HR why the company needed to know my cholesterol, my blood pressure, my exact cocktail of psychiatric medications, all of my Fitbit data, how much I drink, if I smoke or eat meat, my height and weight, my body fat percentage and my bust, waist, and hip measurements.
“Oh, don’t worry!” chirped the HR lady. “We don’t have access to any of that! The wellness program is managed by our third party data management partner.”
I looked up the partner and they’re a data broker, of course. I look forward to receiving their specially targeted ads for people with depression and my exact size tits and ass in the future.
Another voluntary activity you must participate in is uploading scans of your bloodwork and Pap smear results to this data broker’s website. If your bloodwork results are in a non-compatible format though, or if you don't get them in time, like me, they have a few days where a phlebotomist comes in and you can sit with them in a conference room and they will take your blood. A thing which I actually did. Me, someone for whom this whole terrible system is purportedly working, the most privileged, luckiest girl alive, and even I sat at that grey table and gave my employer’s third party data management partner my literal fucking blood because I couldn't afford not to.
Oh if you do print these though please don't use my name since I want to keep that job and health insurance ha ha ha.
He sees nothing wrong with this
At the digital media startup where I work, when the CEO was choosing an insurance provider, he picked a very shitty (read: cheap) one because he knows all of that company’s executives and could speak to them if anyone was having issues with the insurance company refusing to cover certain procedures or doctors. In order to have him advocate for them (which happens constantly, because the insurance is always refusing to cover things), several co-workers have had to violate their privacy, telling him that they’re on therapy, pregnant, etc., or face paying thousands of dollars out of pocket. He sees nothing wrong with this. It’s disgusting.
The second I get another job, I definitely [want to turn it into a story]. It’s a small office and I don’t want to write anything while I’m still here, but I’ve been keeping track of what’s been going on.
Hell world story: A friend and former coworker was a young adult when both his parents died in a car accident. Being dead, his parents were subsequently very late paying their mortgage. His Bank of America account was separate from theirs, but had been previously linked when he was a minor. Bank of America drained his account to pay for his dead parents' delinquent mortgage.
They unhooked her IV and told her she could come back
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 36. I guess I was 14 or 15 at the time. Anyway, we were pretty poor and lived in a really rural part of north Florida where everything resembling civilization is at least an hour's drive away. My dad worked but my mom didn't. It was that time at the end of the 90's early 2000s where the whole single income family thing was really falling apart but some people were still trying to do it because that's just the way they grew up.
So my mom was diagnosed, and it was pretty bad. Already stage 4. A year or so goes by and my mom and dad have a falling out for reasons. There is a divorce and since my dad was the sole income provider, the terms of divorce stated he had to keep paying her health insurance. Except, sometimes he didn't.
One time my mom was at her chemo appointment, they brought her back to the back room, hooked her up to the IV drip, and then one of the people, who I can only assume aren't able to sleep at night because they are awful, came out to tell her that her insurance had lapsed. They unhooked her IV and told her she could come back when her insurance was figured out. She had basically only the pittance allowed to her for being on disability and the doctor was an hour away from home and of course gas money was an issue too. All the things that non-poor people take for granted was a real and present struggle for her every day. This exact scenario happened a few times.
She would also miss appointments just because she couldn't afford the gas money. She was able to make it to age 45, through all that daily stress, worry and just pure paperwork bullshit before she passed away.
I get pretty mad when people think universal healthcare is a bad thing or that the people who use government assistance are lazy or morally bankrupt and just trying to scam the system. I've never met anyone living the high life and drawing disability or social security. I can only assume they think that because they've never had a loved one get sick and die because the healthcare and safety net system failed them so utterly.
Let's call him Adam
Where I work the owners are pretty big pieces of shit who have opinions about brown and black people that really show up in their policies and how they talk about and treat their workers. The people who do the worst parts of the job, out in the hot un-air-conditioned factory, are largely brown and are largely poor. That's a totally different aspect of the story that could be elaborated but I won't here because you already probably know exactly what I would say.
Maybe 5 or 6 years ago I had a co-worker, a guy who had come back from Afghanistan, that they gave a job because I guess he was in the military at some point, though he wasn't qualified to [do the job] at all. This guy had some real PTSD issues, and his behavior seemed like he might at some point maybe come in and shoot up the rest of us for reasons only he knew. He would often talk about shooting villagers in Afghanistan, or he'd recall with a chuckle the time they blew up something on a mountain and a big bolder rolled down and crushed someone's house. He also had a scarf he'd wear and brag he took it off a dead Afghan. I don't know if he was lying about any of this, but even if you'd make up a lie about killing people that's pretty fucked up. I don't know if he was like this before he went over, or if he got on bored with the killing thing after he enlisted or what. After a while of him freaking everyone out and just generally sucking at his job we eventually fired the guy.
A few weeks ago my boss and the owner of the business comes into my office. He starts off by saying “Hey, do you remember a guy who worked her a few years ago?”
Let's call him Adam.
Apparently the boss came across Adam and got to talking to him and it comes out that Adam's greatest wish in life is to become an ICE agent. According to the boss, Adam is “totally normal now” and is “really getting his life back together.”
The reason he's come to tell me this story in my office is because Adam finally put in the application to become an ICE agent and as part of that process, a federal investigator is coming to interview anyone who knew Adam to see if he really should be trusted to become a person who thinks it's totally cool to put people in a concentration camp. Boss then goes on to say “Hey, so I really don't want to ruin Adam's chances of bettering himself and making a better life, so when you get interviewed, just keep that in mind.”
In other words, Hey are you ok with lying and saying this guy was totally cool?
I was obviously not cool with that. I guess he read that on my face. The next day when the investigator came, I saw her walk past my office and then out of the building and thought Huh, I thought I was going to be interviewed. A little while later my boss comes in and says “Hey, I really saved you.”
I was like...uh what?
“Yeah, I saved you from having to lie to the investigator. I just told her that no one else knew Adam while he was here and so you didn't have to lie about how he was when you worked with him. The investigator started asking questions about whether he scared anyone while he was here and I had to lie, so I just didn't want you to have to lie too.”
That asshole knew I'd tell the truth and he didn't want to take that chance.
So that's the story of when my boss lied to a federal investigator so a dipshit racist could become an ICE agent. That's how we can know the “vetting” process is total bullshit, and rich white people will protect and further their own worldview by lying with basically no consequences and no check up by the authorities in charge of that kind of thing. It's disgusting. I felt really angry, afterwards, like I should reach out to the authorities and tell them my boss lied, but I figured the only thing that would come from that is me getting fired somehow. It sucks.
The only means of communication
I had an awesome conversation with Partners billing where she called me a consumer and told me they have to charge facilities fees because having a hospital in Boston is expensive. Oh and I should feel lucky because people come from all over to go to the hospital here. I talked to her for 20 minutes and asked her how much the CEO makes... Typical healthcare bullshit.
But really I wanted to reach out because I got an email today from an incarcerated individual in Kentucky. The email told me that he wanted to talk to me and all I had to do was create an account and pay some money and then we could chat. The effed up thing is that this app is the only means of communication, and loved ones have to pay a fee to talk to a private company. The worst thing is that I don't know the incarcerated individual and he must have gotten the email wrong and there's no way to let him know. Maybe you know about this but I thought it was hellish that a private company gets to make bank on commodifying communication. Given how we love to incarcerate people for being poor, this is really cruel.
Thinking about going into more debt
My “Hell World” story is that, even though I have a PhD and years of experience working in and outside academia in administrative and communications roles and have published books (although admittedly none particularly successful), the best I could do after finishing my program was a series of part-time, adjunct, and gig economy jobs. Then I got a full-time office job that still only paid $14 an hour even after a couple of “raises,” which offered health insurance that left me $2,000 in debt for treatments for a chronic back condition. Then I got laid off without any warning whatsoever three months after I received a promotion and a “merit” raise.
Now I'm in my late 30s and seriously thinking about going into at least $10,000 more in debt to get a Masters in Library Science because so far even with a PhD and a resume full of office gigs under my belt the only people who have interviewed me so far are a university's temp recruiter and there's maybe two higher ed teaching jobs I'm qualified for being advertised right now.
A good old boy
I'm a Native American. I work for the county, at a nature center that's part of a very large public park. Basically a zookeeper. A guy at work was doing a contract gig, he was locating gas lines for some future construction. He calls me a wetback and says he is going to get me deported. Again, I'm a Native American. Not that anyone should receive this treatment.
This guy was in his work uniform. So after a heated exchange, I tell my boss that he needs to be reported to his company. I'm told that since his company is a small one, his employer is likely of the same [mindset] that he is. My boss also tells me that if the head of that company complains to our department, I'll probably be fired because my boss's boss is “a good old boy,” a polite way to say bigot. Hell World indeed.
Send me home
I was at work training someone new on the register when I got the phone call that my dad died. I told my boss and she said someone would come cover me asap, so I had to stay there for a solid hour (maybe longer, I don’t remember) weeping silently and brushing away my tears anytime a customer came in while my trainee pretended to be filling out her w2 for the whole time lol. Someone did finally show up to cover me but I still think I should’ve been allowed to just leave. I’m sure you’ll get far worse stories than this one but it did feel particularly stone cold on my employer’s part not to just send me home without coverage.
I knew what they were doing
My bosses lied to my face earlier this year when I asked for a raise. I make $10-15K less than two other people who have the same job as me, and I didn't get a raise last year when I was promoted into the position. So I asked earlier this year and was turned down on the case of 1) Not meeting some arbitrary goals that no one else in the company met and 2) I didn't have enough “seniority” because my coworkers have been working here longer than me. They goosed up the numbers of how much longer they had been there. I knew what they were doing, but I could already tell things weren't going to go my way, so I had already entered “save face” mode. It sucks.
A couple months ago I finally worked up the courage to talk to my girlfriend of almost five years about some money problems I had been having, and I felt like it was a big step in our relationship. Then she dumped me two weeks later, which was less than a month into the lease on our apartment renewal. So after moving out we are on the hook to pay for the apartment until it is filled. The property management company has no incentive to fill it because we're paying for it, so I have this albatross around my neck in an already bad money situation.
But the un-Hell World part is that a couple of my friends are letting me crash rent-free until I can get back on my feet. I guess things work out.
The dog died
It's not as bad as some people's experiences, but I used to be chronically late to work. I was on a 90 day warning, and at day 89 without an issue. I arrived to work and before clocking in got a call from my mother letting me know the dog died. I asked for 10 minutes to go sit outside and smoke a butt and compose myself. They said of course, then fired me for being late when I came back in. I always think of it when I think of a company really not giving a shit.
We live in Hell
I was in McAllen, Texas last month to volunteer at the respite center for people leaving the Ursula ICE detention center, or “Ice Box” and I said “We live in hell” out loud so many times.
Just to set the scene: the respite center is a charity that originally was set up for the usual homelessness thing, but in recent years has become pretty much migrant- centric. ICE used to just dump people in front of the bus station with no plan and disappear.
All their paperwork is in English, and some of the people have no way to contact their sponsor to get a ticket to their sponsor’s home city. Most don’t understand their paperwork. They’ve been detained sometimes for a much longer time than ICE will admit, but before that some of them have been traveling for months in the same shoes. ICE takes their shoelaces when they go into detention and packs them like sardines so they all get the same colds and Norovirus and chicken pox.
So if they have enough donations to give them a new pair of shoes they will. People are ashamed of how badly their shoes stink, plus they have likely tracked through vomit and feces in the detention center. Some started stripping the silver blankets to make new hair ties and shoelaces for themselves and would be very happy to at least get real shoelaces and hair ties.
One woman had given birth two days earlier in the center. She was very weak and in a lot of pain, and would be sleeping on a gym mat that night.
One guy was really worried about his paperwork because his ankle bracelet that keeps him within 75 miles of his sponsor city was apparently rigged for Chicago, but that didn’t make sense because he was going to North Carolina. It was just him and his tiny two year old and he was about to get on a bus to North Carolina and immediately be in opposition to his ankle bracelet. Luckily a volunteer lawyer happened to be there that day and got his info sorted out.
One thing the volunteers do see sometimes is information seemingly left off the paperwork from the interview on purpose, so that your home city is New York but you have to report back to a court in Texas within three weeks.
Friday night we are about to close up, and there have been more people dropped off than usual and we’re all raggedy by 8. The center closes at 7, so they’re about to start putting everyone to bed and letting volunteers go home. All of a sudden another huge group shows up, which is rude of ICE since they know very well how this will fuck us, but they do what they want. By Saturday we realize that this is because Nancy Pelosi and some other senators are planning a visit to the detention center so we are getting all the runoff so it looks nice and empty for her.
So Pelosi shows up in a white blazer and pencil skirt with white stilettos, and another senator with her just straight walks up to a woman holding her baby and takes a photo of her without asking. That’s not cool, it can fuck up someone’s status and it isn’t cool anyway. She says a whole lot of nothing in the press conference and it’s just optics optics optics. We live in hell. I wasn’t there because I got Noro’d so I watched the live feed in between visits to the toilet.
Then we went to Matamoros, the other side of the border where people waiting desperately for asylum are piling up because Trump has decided to redefine asylum.
There are hundreds of desperate people there rotting in the sun and none of the volunteers can bring enough food or water for them. It’s cutthroat. At one point it looked like the group were going to be trampled over a jumbo jar of peanut butter.
What was the point
I read your callout for readers to describe their own encounters with Hell World, and as much as I wish I had one to offer, I don’t—not really. But that callout made me realize that even if I don’t live in Hell World, I live just outside, in a comfortable exurb that before too long will be consumed by its nightmarish urban core. That is: I have it pretty good. I’m a married, middle-aged white guy with a wife and two kids; we own an apartment in Brooklyn; we are healthy; our extended families are in fine shape, too. And yet we’re seemingly always on a precipice—my wife runs her own very small business that’s far from profitable, I’m a semi-employed journalist in a rapidly collapsing industry, neither of us has health insurance.
Essentially, we’ve been lucky our whole entire lives—since before we were born, really—but how long can that luck hold out? The Way Things Are Going (as they say), life and work are only going to get harder and more frustrating, and all it’ll take is one slip-up to make it all unbearable. What the fuck was the point of it all if this was what we had to look forward to?
Anyway: Hello, Hell World. Being seeing you real soon, probably.
They’re just deluding themselves
When my employer told me I needed to come back to work or else my family’s health insurance would lapse, I took that phone call while sitting in a pediatric intensive care unit room next to my 4 year old who was in a medically induced coma.
Four months prior my son almost died in an accident. Fractured skull, broken arm etc. He had a bunch of surgeries at that time and had seemed to be recovering well. Four months later he starts having complications relating to the head injury. He had two surgeries to repair the complication that were unsuccessful. The third surgery was successful but it required him recovering in a medically induced coma for a few days. This meant he had to be in the pediatric intensive care unit for the duration of the coma and a few days after that so that he could be observed.
By the time we had his third surgery he and I had been living in the hospital for three weeks. My wife was home with our other two kids. During this time I had used up all my paid time off, so during a quiet period in the PICU in between helping nurses change his shitty coma diapers, or watching him get a lumbar puncture, I called my company’s Human Resources department to see what I should do with my PTO balance heading toward zero. They told me that once that ended it started a period of unpaid leave and once that was up my job and health insurance was no longer guaranteed. I had a few coworkers try to “donate” their PTO balance to me so I could stay away but that wasn’t allowed. Eventually what they settled on was that I could take negative PTO which meant I lost a bunch of leave from the coming year, and then worked remotely from the PICU, and then once he came home I would work nights after spending the day caring for him as he recovered.
It was shit but I was lucky to be able to manage to keep my job
All of my fellow professional managerial class people think they’re immune from Hell World, but they’re just deluding themselves. We might be a privileged group within the working class, but capital doesn’t really give a fuck about us no matter what we tell ourselves