Ten bucks -- wait, 50 -- says no current member of the U.S. Supreme Court has imagined himself, or herself, living in a car.
I have, though, despite bearing a superficial resemblance to those Men and Women in Black: Ivy League education, professionally respected, big house, law degree (though mine's only a master's).
The difference? I'm out here in the Real World, sweating it, rather that living in my head ... and have "skin in the game," at least when it comes to the court's ruling on "Obamacare" (which will likely be announced in June).
I have cancer -- a "good" cancer, thankfully, but one that probably won't be covered by my health insurance should The Nine strike down the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare's technical name).
Hence the Retirement Car: If my lymphoma goes "active," as this strain often does, I'm not sure how I'll be able to afford further treatment, since I've already reached the "lifetime limit" that Obamacare eliminated.
How'd I get from Promising Young Man to Future Ne'er-Do-Well? Good question.
I've been a freelance writer for 35 years, but for the past decade mainly a teacher and volunteer, after having realized that if you really wanted to improve the world, you had to do it yourself. (Yup, I sometimes quote Gandhi's "Be the change you wish to see.")
And self-employment means self-insurance -- which was possible because my wife Lisa, back in her New York City publishing days, had a health-insurance policy with a "grandfather" clause for those who left the company.
The fly in the ointment? Lisa stopped working in 1990, when our daughter Thea was born, and a $100,000 lifetime limit didn't seem laughably low (and you could occasionally buy a gallon of unleaded for less than a dollar).
Fast forward to 2005. I'd been replaced, years earlier, as a book columnist for the L.A. Times -- a blessing in disguise, perhaps, since standalone book reviews were the canary in the coal mine for print journalism, foreshadowing the industry's Internet-precipitated contraction.
I'd published two books, both of which bombed in the marketplace despite good reviews: I'd have to change my name to publish again, I thought, having become well-nigh "untouchable."
Amid the bad career news, though, was a personal silver lining: I'd discovered Habitat for Humanity, and had great hopes for the book I simply had to write about the organization and its history, whether or not I could sell the manuscript to a New York publisher.
But why not do-it-yourself and self-publish? If Habitat could break all the rules -- "Sheesh, what sane person is going to donate time, skill, and money to build houses for complete strangers?!?!?" -- maybe I could, too.
I was planning my Faith is a Verb book tour when I found the lump in my groin.
My oncologist at Danbury Hospital, Dr. Robert Kloss, said the standard medical protocol was "watchful waiting," adding that while follicular lymphoma (a non-Hodgkin's variety) is "incurable," it's also "highly treatable."
He also described the cancer as "indolent," because it advanced at a snail's pace, and was truly dangerous only when it turned non-indolent.
The word that stuck in my mind, of course, was not "indolent" but "incurable," leading me to get a second opinion at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and then signing up for treatment with Rituxan, a monoclonal-antibody infusion developed through mouse-gene engineering, that "lists" for $44,000.
Rituxan is, indeed, something of a miracle drug, effectively "re-setting the clock" by killing the nasty B-cells (a kind of white blood cell) characteristic of non-Hodgkin's lymphomas. The drug kills normal B-cells, too, though that's OK, because the body soon replaces them.
But some of the new cells will eventually "go bad," and the cycle begins anew. Indeed, "incurable" -- though why the medical profession doesn't use the word "chronic" -- so this sort of disease sounds more like arthritis than a death sentence, is beyond me.
As any cancer survivor will tell you -- which I can't claim to be, since death is the most-common "cure" for indolent lymphomas -- life, post-diagnosis, is never the same.
You've either taken a bullet, or dodged one -- and in either case, existence suddenly has, or requires, more meaning.
The upshot, for me, was a sense that I was supposed to do nonprofit work, was supposed to "serve others," that my earlier emphasis on professional success, on reaching "The Big Time," was misguided.
Cancer forced me to re-imagine my life, and the result is that I've spent much of the last six years organizing Global Village build trips with Habitat, and co-founding and co-managing my own somewhat similar nonprofit in the Dominican Republic, Cambiando Vidas.
Which brings us to another, much bigger fly in the ointment: all that work is volunteer, indeed forces me to pull out my wallet -- I've been dipping deeply into savings for years, because it's hard to make a living from freelance journalism and teaching.
But that's OK: It turns out that if I'm forced to choose between a "meaningful" life and a "solvent" life, I'll chose the former.
I readily admit to being a bad capitalist -- that I've painted myself into a health-care corner by failing to read the small print of my CIGNA policy, by not getting a full-time job that would ensure my treatment.
On the other hand, if the sky cracked open and some Being offered me a "re-do," I think I'd say, "Thanks, but no thanks."
Over the last decade of my developing-world "build" work I've met scores of people with significant health problems, from cancer and muscular dystrophy to diabetes and missing limbs, and the vast majority regard illness, and death, as a natural part of life.
Sure, I still hope the Supremes rule in my favor, that I can get another Rituxan treatment when it seems necessary, but on the other hand, living in a car isn't so different from camping. And I like to camp.
Chris Goodrich is a resident of Brookfield.