Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Playing It Safe

Your Life Insurance PolicyI paid my life insurance today. A monthly ritual, that.

Perhaps idiosyncratically, I choose to write a check and deliver it by hand to the insurance office, located just around the corner from where I live. I’m sure I could probably pay online or set up some sort of automatic withdrawal from my bank to take care of it, but for some reason I like to pay this one in person. Might well be some sort of hidden psychological explanation for that, if one were to search hard enough for one.

I first purchased the policy last summer shortly after leaving that full-time “day job” I’d had for many years. The job included some nominal life insurance -- like a year’s salary or something -- and so losing that I decided to get a new policy once I’d struck out on my own.

I recall going into the office and meeting the agent last spring. Gave him all the necessary info. And perhaps some not-so-necessary, too, as he was a friendly fellow with whom it was easy enough to chat. Such conversations are probably not altogether without meaning, actually. It helps, I imagine, to know a little bit about a person who is about to take out a life insurance policy on himself.

At one point in our conversation -- after terms had been reached and there was nothing left to do but fill out all the required boxes -- I brought up James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity (1943), one of my favorite novels about which I’ve written here before. That’s the one about an insurance agent who falls for a femme fatale with whom he brazenly plots to murder her husband so they can collect on a policy he sells to them.

'Double Indeminity' (1944)“I don’t believe I’ve heard of that one,” said my agent. I asked if he had ever seen the film adaptation, also from the 1940s, directed by Billy Wilder and starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. “Nope,” he said, shaking his head, adding that he’d have to check it out. He even wrote down the title on a scrap of paper as a reminder.

I keep forgetting to ask my agent if he ever did see the film. Thinking back, I guess it probably wouldn’t be so great for your insurance agent to say he was a big fan of Double Indemnity.

I remember asking a similar question at a dentist visit long ago. A particularly unpleasant dentist visit, in fact.

I can’t recall all of the details, but I was in need of some sort of filling work, and the dentist -- a new one to me -- had some sort of newfangled procedure that he employed. Whatever it was, lasers were involved, and novocaine was not.

At some point I was starting to become increasingly aware of the pain he was causing me. Perhaps you’ve experienced something similar, maybe even at the poker tables when things aren’t going well.

I can deal with this, you say. It’s all good. Then, suddenly, you are hit with a kind of wait-a-minute-this-is-much-worse-than-I-thought-in-fact-I-hate-hate-this kind of revelation. The sort of epiphany that’s usually followed by some immediate action to counter the direction things are going. If you are in a state to do so, that is.

Was too long ago for me to remember exactly what I said, but I did somehow bring it to my tormentor’s attention that I was hurting. Really hurting. His response surprised me a little. Rather than show concern, he instead seemed to offer some sort of rationalization. Something to do with the new method.

'The Marathon Man' (1976)I wasn’t sure how to respond. For some reason -- either out of confusion or a desire to lighten the mood -- I asked him if he’d ever seen The Marathon Man (1976).

You remember that one? With Laurence Olivier as the Nazi war criminal drilling the teeth of hapless Dustin Hoffman while asking him repeatedly a question which has no meaning to him -- “Is it safe?”

In fact, The dentist had seen the John Schlesinger-directed thriller. And far from finding my alluding to it humorous, he was Not Amused.

Uh oh, I thought. Seem to have hit a nerve.

“A live, freshly-cut nerve is infinitely more sensitive...”

Olivier’s slow cadence pulsed through my brain, surfacing amid the wavy rhythm of the laser’s hum. I don’t remember much after that.

Don’t believe I scheduled a return visit to that particular dentist. And maybe I won’t bother to bring up Double Indeminity again to my agent. No reason to give him any ideas.

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