Friday, November 14, 2014

Joseph K., or Your Average Joe?

front gage from the play Everyman
What’s the difference between your average Joe and Joseph K, the anti-hero of Kafka’s famous The Trial. Not much it turns out and that plainly was Kafka’s point. K is the ne plus ultra of everyman and the final chapter of his or her evolution. K’s final words “like a dog,” are prophetic of the feelings that most humans feel when they, for instance, have to deal with a medical insurance claim. The average Joe goes to his or her doctor and hands over his or her insurance card. He or she dutifully forks over his or her co-payment thinking that he or she will receive his or her cure and then go home to deal with his or her unhappy spouse and children, irate friends and sickly pets. However, several weeks later a bill arrives in the mail listing a series of charges that he doesn’t recognize and which he or she was sure were covered by insurance. A call is made to the doctor’s office, but the once kindly receptionist, who has gladly taken his or her money, now seems to know nothing about it. He or she's told that payments are handed by a “billing concern,” which will have to be contacted, a process that could take days. Days pass and there is no word. A call is made, but the receptionist in question now begins to behave like a hostile witness at a trial. Why is she being asked questions she cannot answer? The patient realizes that he or she has become demoted from a suffering individual who once required medical help to a stalker. If he or she refuses to get off the phone or calls again, the receptionist may even refuse to take or even return his or her calls. Relief seems to be offered in the form of a telephone number for a billing company, but a subsequent follow-up with the billing company indicates that the patient is possibly liable for even more money than had been originally listed on their bill. No logic is offered since the person at the billing company has no idea of what these charges are or what they mean. He or she belligerently refuses to try to iron things out with the original biller, the doctor, under the theory that those providing the services would be the last ones on earth to know what the charges in question were for. It's always gray and cold out and Joe, Joseph K. or whatever you want to call him or her has no one to turn to. If he or she calls his perpetually depressed husband or wife, he or she will be derided for being obsessional and neurotic. “This is an example of what's wrong with you!” is the only solace they will be offered. The bill could simply be paid. It’s not enough to cause lasting injury, but the injustice haunts Joe and makes him or her feel even more vulnerable. He or she feels he's being blackmailed. What's the next bit of bureaucratic incompetence he or she will be forced to cave into. If he or she refuses to pay, he or she knows that the billing company will then put a collection company onto them. Interest will be charged and their credit rating will be affected. He or she might even find that their salaries are garnished. The car coming at them on the street suddenly looks good. If only someone could send the selfie he or she would take of the oncoming car to the doctor’s office and the billing company, the satisfaction might be even be worth dying for.

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