|Copyright:||(c) 2011 The New York Times Company|
|Source:||New York Times Digital|
Lacy, the auto-insurance agent, transfers me.
I have called about an error on my policy, which at first Lacy doesn’t believe was the company’s mistake. After two minutes on hold, to the theme song for “Titanic” — an odd choice for an insurance company — she returns and admits that I am right. Lacy narrates how she is correcting the error as she taps at her keyboard. Then she asks if anyone has ever discussed life insurance with me. “You are such a good customer,” she coos.
“No,” I say, “no one has.”
“Would you be interested in receiving a quote? It only takes about five minutes.”
“I would be happy to,” I say, magnanimous in my victory.
“Very well,” she says. “Let me transfer you.”
There is less holding this time — a snippet of what sounds like Wagner. I wonder if there are playlists shared among insurance giants, each song a subliminal nod to catastrophe (percussion) overcome by a prudent level of indemnity (wind instruments).
“Hello, my name is Michelle, and I’ll be talking to you about life insurance today.”
“Wonderful, Michelle,” I say. Bureaucratic conquest has induced a kind of high in me.
“I want to ask you a few questions to start.” Michelle’s voice is less songbird, more short-order-cook.
“Do you smoke?”
“Do you drink?”
“No. Well, very occasionally I have a beer or a glass of wine. I suppose I prefer the calories of dessert over alcohol. Do you know what I mean?”
A pause. “Are you currently on medication?”
“Do you have, or have you ever had —” and here she lists the daily specials: Alzheimer’s, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, seizures, stroke and the house favorite . . . cancer.
“No,” I’m pleased to report. What a rare day, I think: inspiring an admission of wrongdoing from a corporation and steamrolling through its screening.
“Do you own a home?”
“No, I do not.”
“Are you —”
“— Not yet, at least.”
“Excuse me?” Michelle asks.
“No doubt I will someday.”
“Well, today we’re dealing with today.” Well, when aren’t we, Michelle?
“Are you married?”
“No,” I say. Though I wish to qualify this response, I do not.
“Family of any kind?”
“Well, yes, Michelle, I have a family.”
“By family, we mean people like children. People you wouldn’t want to incur burdens in the event of your death.”
“Certainly I have family and friends for whom money might ease the burdens of what will be a boundless grief,” I say, laughing.
“Mr. Tapley,” Michelle scolds, “life insurance is meant to preserve an estate, not create one.” Tell that to
“So . . . ,” Michelle sums up, “we’re really talking about funeral expenses. Not passing those on. Since you don’t have a mortgage, children, college to plan for, or anything like that. Let me ask you: If you were to die tomorrow, who or what would it protect?”
It occurs to me now that, actuarially, I am a very poor customer for Michelle. My health is good, but my lifestyle is without enough obligation to be considered worthwhile. In the existential world of insurance, I am too free to be profitably afraid.
I wish I had some hold music to ponder this. I consider telling Michelle what I’m thinking. That, honestly, my only motivation for purchasing life insurance would be to provide untold riches to those I love — enough that they no longer feared anything. That this windfall would free them from ever needing any insurance of the real or metaphorical kind. College educations, mortgages and funeral costs would make way for better questions and more “reckless” answers: what should I study now that I don’t have to worry about money? Where will I retire now that I don’t have to think about the cost of living? What kind of charity should we run in Brendan’s name?
“Honestly, Mr. Tapley,” Michelle says, “I think we should re-evaluate this when circumstances have changed.”
“I agree,” I say. “Why don’t you give me a call me when they do?”