Reader Reactions & Anecdotes


27 September 2008

Insurance for the Incurably Stupid

I was brought up in an era that placed insurance, and the companies that sell it, just three inches to the right of God. To hear my elders talk, there was no better way to build an estate, no more sanctified way to save money, and, being an impressionable and dutiful tad, I grew up to accept the theology, lock, stock and checkbook.

An insurance man had only to lower his brow, drop his voice a mournful octave, and intone, “How well off will your loved ones be” (pause, sigh, a pious rolling of the eyes) “if, Heaven forbid, you should” (sigh) “pass away tomorrow?” and I’d have the old pen out, ready to sign everything in sight.

Compounding my vulnerability to such raw emotion would be the romantic idea that I’d be able to look down from that Great Writer’s Studio in the Sky and bask — be it ever so indirectly — in the grateful goodwill of assorted beneficiaries. In my mind’s eye, they’d enjoy my insurance proceeds beside the sun-dappled Mediterranean, sipping tall cool ones and agreeing (with considerable surprise, of course) that the old boy hadn’t been such a parsimonious klutz after all.

The question was what kind of policies to buy and how much to pay for them. I’d rarely have to invite an insurance agent for a chat because one would always seem to materialize unbidden, like ectoplasm in a haunted house, crooning about mutual acquaintances, referrals and the dreadful inconvenience of death.

And I’d never have to ask. He’d tell me what to buy. “What you need,” he’d say in his earnest preacher’s voice, “is one of the best insurance buys going: a 30-year, double-compounding, indestructible deductible, self-paying, bigger-than-life semi-mutual anti-inflation impersonal endowment. I think I might persuade my buddies at United Benevolent Peachy-Keen of Flatbush to write such a policy for you.”

“Really? I wouldn’t want to put them out in any way — ”

“Provided, naturally, that you pass a very tough physical and can prove that you voted at least once for Franklin Delano Roosevelt.”

“I see.” (Pause) “Well, ah, I’m a little embarrassed to ask, but, ah, how much — ”

“The premium? Dirt-cheap, at your age. A mere $900 a month.”

“Gosh. How can United Benevolent do it for so little?”

“Please.” (Condescending chuckle) “Not United Benevolent. Make it Peachy of Flatbush. We never say United Benevolent. Sounds too much like our top competitor.”

“Excuse me. I should’ve known — ”

“Now you must remember: speed is of the essence. You must have written me a check for $10,800 — a year’s premium in advance — by midnight tonight, or you’ll be considered a year older, and the cost to you will be appreciably more. Which is only natural, of course, since Peachy of Flatbush’s risk will have risen dramatically.”

And so I’d sign, and when the policy arrived I’d put it in the lock-box and entertain momentary visions of sunlight sparkling on a deep blue sea. And then I’d get on with living, refreshed by this new proof of my heart and prudence.

I walked right into my latest adventure, though.

I happened to mention to a friend at dinner that it might be a good idea for a freelancer like me to have a little accident and health insurance against lengthy illness or disablement. It would help keep bread on the table while I reassembled the old bod, and like that.

Sure enough, the ectoplasm materialized two days later in the form of a glib gentleman from Jacksonville. “What you need,” he said in his earnest preacher’s voice, “is an A&H policy whose premiums are covered by the interest you make on an IR.”


“Individual Retirement program. You buy a policy that puts aside a certain amount toward your retirement. The tax-free interest you eventually realize will cover the overall cost of your modest little A&H program.”

I signed (as the Insurance Salesman’s Training School had pre-ordained) an application for A&H insurance and wrote a check for an Individual Retirement policy.

A week later, the agent called, chuckling. “Guess what?” he chortled. “Peachy of Flatbush has turned down your application for A&H.”

“Why? I haven’t even taken the physical yet.”

“Well,” he laughed, full of high good cheer, “they can’t see where a freelance writer really needs accident and health insurance. A guy like you gets sick, he won’t miss work or anything. He can lie in bed and do his thing.”

“Have those people” (anger rising) “ever tried to write 2,000 coherent words when they’ve got two broken arms and pneumonia?”

“Well, ha-ha, if you’d had a regular job — something dignified and trustworthy — there wouldn’t have been a prob.”

“You make freelance writing sound obscene.”

“Oh, it’s not me. I’m broad-minded. It’s the boys at Peachy of Flatbush.”

A couple days later, the IR policy arrived. I sat down and read it from cover to cover, three times. Nowhere, in all the whereases and howsomeevers and tables and subsections, could I find even the vaguest mention of accrued interest. All kinds of percentages appeared there, but the highest was 4%, and the explanation even of that figure read like a Russian appliance manual.

I now had, it seemed, a policy I hadn’t really wanted that nowhere, in plain language, promised to deliver me what I’d expected to get.

I was about to surrender to exasperated confusion when my eye fell on a small box at the bottom of a page. It read: “10-Day Free Look Provision: If this policy doesn’t satisfy you, you have 10 days in which to return it and your money will be refunded.”

Now there, by golly, was something I understood.

I returned the policy on the fifth day and have since opened exploratory discussions with my banker, who, incidentally, thinks that my being a freelance writer is altogether peachy-keen.

* * *

By-the-Way Department

I’m sure you’ve noticed the links to Der Rittmeister Militaria on my website. So you might be interested in what Ken Greenfield, CEO of Der Rittmeister, has to say to his worldwide clientele in his latest newsletter:

Jack Hunter, the author of The Blue Max, has been a good friend of mine for many years. When [Der Rittmeister was] a new and emerging business, he supported us and allowed us to sell his books and artwork on our web site. Over the years our relationship has strengthened. Following the death nearly two years ago of Tommy, his beloved wife of more than sixty years, we have spent even more time with him. Jack is now an energetic eighty-seven years young. He still writes and paints and plays piano daily. And, on or around 1 October 2008, he will release his 17th novel, The Ace.

I have read an advance copy of this new one. I can tell you in complete honesty that it is some of Jack’s best work (if not his best work). I guess 40+ years of developing one’s craft proves helpful! Like the The Blue Max, it is a story of an interesting character, uncertain of his place in the world, who expresses many of his frustrations through the stick of an airplane. Unlike Bruno Stachel, The Ace’s primary figure is an American. The Ace is set from the perspective of the U.S. in 1917-1918, as America finally enters the Great War. It features four leading characters. One of the things I have enjoyed in Jack’s previous sixteen books is his attention to detail. I particularly like how he allows us to become familiar with the people who populate his books. This sounds easy, but it isn’t. It is the rare writer who can do it as well as Jack does. Like them or hate them, you get to know Jack’s characters very well — with all their imperfections, warts, and blessings.

Our letter today celebrates the work of an old and dear friend. It is also extending a very special offer to you, our readers. Jack has reserved a very limited number of copies from the First Edition. For you ONLY (you can’t buy them anywhere else, even from Jack himself. Der Rittmeister has been designated as his exclusive agent in this respect.) Today we are offering an autographed and/or personalized copy of The Ace. Not only that, but on the flyleaf Jack will personally insert a Remarque (original pen and ink sketch) of a WW I airplane. Jack will draw whatever plane strikes his fancy. Each one will be different. The Ace will be published as a top-quality, soft cover edition.

And then Ken goes on to tell his incredibly widespread and sophisticated clientele — collectors all — about the rare and precious military antiques he acquired during his latest visit to Germany.

With friends like this, it’s a lot easier being an 87-year-old. Just ask me.


Copyright © 2008 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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