Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Life Through the Dark Eyes of Winter

"Life is only something taken for a moment, rubbed warm and held back from the chill… Winter waits and finds all life. In the end, each of us stares through the dark eyes of winter.”
 - Richard Nelson, The Island Within

I have lamented at length before about the state of customer service and how people now work for computers instead of vice versa. So let’s not talk about the trials and tribulations I’ve had with Blue Shield so-called health insurance; or with USAA bank, of all places.  

Except to say that Blue Shield was the only coverage I was unfairly permitted to “elect” by my retirement system and, although allegedly covered since 12/1, I have paid for most of my medical, dental and pharmaceutical care since I moved here in November and still have no proof of coverage.

As for USAA, they found the large deposit of the proceeds from the sale of my house confusing and after I transferred a large portion of the escrow deposit from my primary account to my household account their reaction was to simply initiate an investigation of possible fraud. The bank progressively inactivated my debit cards, then disabled the credit function of said cards, then declined my checks, and finally shut me out of both accounts. A week long death by a thousand fiscal cuts. They almost certainly notified me of the security alert, but since I had been locked out of online access, I have been unable to retrieve the messages I can see are waiting for me. 

Let's just say that repeated phone calls to so-called customer service representatives have been not only frustrating but fruitless.

Finally yesterday, I was able to sort out both problems. I was assured the check I wrote to the plumber would be honored. Today I was able to withdraw $500 to pay the yard guy who graciously waited a week for payment.  As a bonus, during the 45 cumulative minutes on hold with USAA, I was able to master the steps required to un-encrypt the proof of coverage Blue Shill has e-mailed me several times.

Instead of carping about the necessity of resorting to profanity to obtain customer service, I could blog about the cardiologist I waited 6 weeks to see only to miss the appointment by a day because I’d written it down wrong. When I called to apologize and reschedule I was told that they wouldn’t make an appointment for me because I was a no-show. I said that was probably just as well because the doctor was an asshole, and it turns out I was looking for somebody with compassion. Another 40 days to see another cardiologist.

I could blather about the degree to which mood swings have overtaken my life, but I have no constructive observations about how to avoid dizziness and palpitations when they leave me momentarily suspended over the precipice. I just hold on when things tip sideways, and take great comfort in feline companionship and hard cider. Nor can I impart words of wisdom for defending against panic attacks, or less severe quiet smothering of all confidence in dealing with the world. When I went to the gym this morning, I realized I hadn’t left the house for four days. From the weather, you’d never know. It’s perpetually damp and rainy, or cold and drizzly, or twilight at noon. Or it’s the middle of another night spotlighted by neighbors whose houses are too close and who are afraid of the dark and leave lights glaring in my bedroom windows all night.

Much other contemporary social media like FB and Instagram are hipstamatically illustrated, presenting curated lives of love, adventure and happy children; or posters of banal clichés (is that redundant?) or two sentences worth of pre-digested and misspelled thoughts some twit incorrectly assumed would interest the internets. Blogging seems positively relatively primitive anyway and requiring an attention span longer than a TV commercial.

Upon further thought however, my thoughts this gloomy afternoon can be summarized in two short sentences: It has been a long time since winter has found me. I had forgotten how much my mood is influenced by real winter.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Sunny With Chance of Contentment

Have you seen the rain
Turn the earth to mud?
And watched the mud turn gold in the rising sun?
Have you seen it, brother?
Will you come outside and see?
-       The Handsome Family, Frogs

According to a legitimate peer-reviewed study conducted by reputable scientists that I just made up for this post, grumpy old ladies have perfect comic timing; we just don’t perform standup very often.  I exclusively perform for my cats, who appreciate the sublime cosmic significance of my humor, the subtle double entendres, the understated sarcasm, the self-deprecating modesty that I deploy with such dependable and consistent hilarity. My cats don’t judge me.

Actually, although the above was correct when I first wrote it back before Thanksgiving, it’s not true now. It’s me and my cat – singular. Patti was old and tired and now she’s gone. We agreed it was time and we said goodbye.  She cried on the way to the vet – real tears.  I don’t want to talk about it any more.

I was depressed and that was the low point and now I’m a lot better. I feel a bit guilty when natives meet me and immediately apologize for the harsh weather: we don’t usually get this.  Of course I don’t tell people not to feel personally responsible for my misery.  I’m enjoying too much the pity I get for being exiled from Paradise in this stark, dark, cold wet winter.

The sun is out at the moment and I’ve done some catching up on my Honey Do List. Yesterday, I finished an onerous chore: I got my WA driver’s license and replaced my CA tags on my old car. It was an all-day task, requiring a visit to the DOL drivers’ license place, and then a perilous drive across-town in the rain where I got my WA license plates at another DOL office. There is no DMV in Washington and apparently it hasn't occurred to them to combine the offices. They have the Department of Licensing, complete with different branches in different places to obtain your driver's permit, and to register your vehicle and obtain license plates. And all supported by an unhelpful website. From the website, it was unclear whether I had to have my license before I could register my car (I did), whether I'd have to take a driving test (I didn't) and whether I'd have to provide proof of insurance (I didn't although it's required go figure). It was unclear precisely what I needed to get a license, how long I'd have to wait (just under 4 hours) to find out whether I'd guessed right and brought originals of my expired passport and sewer bill to prove citizenship and residency. Possibly respectively. 

The biggest source of uncertainty and anxiety was whether they'd check my license and find that I had a speeding ticket - photo enforced up the street. in mid-November. Thank goodness the cameras in WA only photograph the vehicle and license plate, not the driver. Which was lucky because the ticket that chased me to So Cal and back to WA and included an affidavit I could have signed to deny being the driver although the car was clearly mine. One of the registered owners is deceased, so I gave a moment's thought to whether his ghost could have been speeding. But then, since the tags had been expired over a month at the date of the ticket and were over 2 months expired by yesterday, I decided to go under the radar and pay the fine. Which I did and which included a "courtesy fee" of $4 for the privilege of paying online instead of sending a check. Presumably, WA needs to fund their DOLs from such polite fees and should probably increase the courtesy instead of increasing the wait times.

I opted for an Enhanced ID that includes a magnetic strip for identification details like what I had for breakfast and that enables The Man to see through the back of my eyes and read my thoughts.  It takes longer to sell your soul in exchange for the promise of visiting British Columbia without renewing a passport than it took MYS yesterday morning to fly back to -19F weather and 600 emails. In exchange for paying an extra $25, my license will include my motorcycle permit, and no irony intended, my consent to donate my organs. I also registered to vote, I think.

After getting my "temporary" license (which looks suspiciously like a  xerox copy of my license) I went to the registration store across town where there were two signs hanging from the ceiling. The first, which had 0 people beneath it, said "New or Transfer Registration" and the other line which snaked out the door said "Renewals Only".  So I stood beneath the empty sign and was immediately waved to the front by the next available clerk. Only to be rudely interrupted by a woman at the back of the long line who demanded that I tell her what line I was in. When I pointed to the sign above, she said she didn't see that sign - like it was my fault and that's the line she should have been in.  I graciously waved her in front of me without even suggesting she pay me a $4 courtesy fee for being a dumb shit. 

Just now, I walked around the front and back yard with a landscape expert who will return next week and do a yard cleanup to undo the effects of months of neglect and weeks of freezing temps and rain. I can’t wait to see the yard again, even if it’s months before I can go outside and play.

Saturday, December 05, 2015


"It might sound sentimental to say it, but we are blessed by the dead, and we know that we are, in spite of our protestations to the contrary. They leave spaces in our lives that, for some of us, are the closest thing to sacred that we ever know."
 - John Burnside

Friday, December 04, 2015

No World Domination After Lunch Today

“Space is infinite to men without destinations.”
-       Alasdair Gray, Lanark

Operation Inherent Flaw has been an unqualified success in the sense that I’m still alive. For the first time, I went to the new orthodontist today all by myself into the big city, and I made it home.

I have a talking nav system in my car. When I programmed in the address, the nice lady - inexplicably named Louella - directed me there. Unfortunately, her directions for getting home were inexplicable. Lu assumes road are all at ground level. However, there are a lot of places in Seattle (especially when crossing between Puget Sound and the mainland downtown across a body of water I have yet to identify) where there are roads on top of roads. Lu usually detects when I miss a turn because my icon moves the wrong way on the map. But when I take a road above the road she told me to take, she gets confused and thinks I’m still at sea level on some frontage road leading to the bridge when I’m on a very long entrance ramp at a different altitude.

Or, perhaps she’s trying to kill me. All the way across the bridge across the water, she kept telling me to turn right.  She told me to take imaginary exits while I calmly stayed the course and finally un-pried my white knuckles from the steering wheel to hit the “suspend stupid guidance” button to shut her up after I made it across the bridge without taking her advice to plummet to a watery grave.  Good job, you.

I was so elated to make it home on my own that I had wine for lunch. This required me to reschedule my call to the home warranty people about the circuit breaker that trips halfway through the washing machine cycle; talk with the escrow people about the escrow snafu du jour, or call and attempt to speak to humans about health, home, or car insurance.

This decision not to interact with other humans was made after I barely get through a call from a guy who called to schedule delivery of my new mattress. I was all, I want it tonight, dude and he was all, next Wednesday and somebody over 18 has to sign for it. I solemnly assured him I was old enough to sign for a stupid mattress and in fact, by next Wednesday I should have overthrown the stupid Washington State Department of Licensing which sounds like a good name to call a place until you realize you have to go to a different place to register your car and the DOL doesn’t make appointments and their website doesn’t tell me whether I have to pass a written or road test. And plus, I have to cross the bridge and take some other 3-D route that cause Louella to attempt to murder me again to get to a DMV, I mean a DOL.

So, Wednesday then, said the poor guy. He shall taste the bitter wine of defeat when I abolish those two branches of state government. And the Department of Redundancy Department, I said after I hung up.

The wine, and the possibly unwise conversation with the delivery schedule guy about the auto licensing and registration procedure, caused me to re-think the wisdom of attempting to conquer the world before dinner. I still have goals. They are just flexible is all. Decaf latte, anyone?

Monday, November 30, 2015

Shut Up about Seasons

"What foolish forgetfulness or mortality to defer wise resolutions to the fiftieth or sixtieth year, and to intend to begin life at a point to which few have attained."
 - Denis Diderot

The sun sets by 4:30 and never makes it to the top of the sky at noon because I now live at latitude 47N and tomorrow is December.

In addition to coastal regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, the fabled Mediterranean Climate (30-45 degrees north and south of the equator) are found in western coastal regions of large subtropical continents including Southern California, central Chile, southern Western Australia and the western cape of South Africa. I lived in a Mediterranean climate until last week.

I had to use the defroster on high to melt the ice on my windshield this morning, which I appreciated the hell out of because it gave me time to overcome the shock of needing an ice scraper. (Notice the outside temperature in the upper left corner of dash display.) When I moved here a week ago, the temperature was 43f and I was assured this is as cold as it gets. (Insert insufferable joke about how now I live where they have seasons.) Just because meteorologists in San Diego rarely use the term wind-chill factor, doesn’t mean they don’t, quotey hands, appreciate it. Despite what some people think, there are seasons in Mediterranean climates. They are slightly subtler than a blizzard or a hurricane; and the understated charm of warm sunshine cannot be overstated. The beauties of the swirling grey fog at noon escape me.

Basking in the breeze from my Dyson heater, and in the glow of my full-spectrum light bulb I’m taking a break from unpacking boxes and wondering what the hell I was thinking moving here alone this time of year as we head into the colder, shorter and darker days of the year.

While the industrial strength grease prescribed for my anxiety-induced hives has begun to stop the blistering and itching, I was unable to obtain a simple blood test to determine whether the elevated levels of rat poison in my blood have subsided, because the people at the anticoagulation clinic were, let’s just say, uncompassionate. I was denied a test this morning despite a referral I was told they required. We never even got to the point where the receptionist listened to me explain today is the last day of my current insurance coverage and I haven’t had confirmation of my new local insurance. Nope, even if you’re bleeding from your eyes.

I thought this was the season of peace and joy, asshole. Guess you don’t have that season in this latitude. Before walking away in disgust, I said why don’t you just tell me “I am not the little prick you are looking for”?

Monday, October 19, 2015

Going Local

Slowing down your body enough to feel.

Thought you were at a standstill
but you were only slowing down enough

to feel the pain. There are worse things

than running to catch the train, twisting
your ankle, the afternoon fucked.

Running to get to or away from?

the stranger who helps you up
wants to know, you who are so used to

anything scribbled on a prescription blank.

Just want the pain to go away, you say,
surprised to find yourself

reaching for someone else's hand.

-       Timothy Liu, All Trains Are Going Local

There’s nothing fun about uprooting from the climate you’ve grown old in and transplanting to a new climate zone. I have a 40 year long taproot here. My trunk has grown thick and ragged and my knuckles are like small branches with arthritic twists and bumps.

There has been much stress about leaving the old place. That includes selling this house after cleaning and fixing up the worst parts. That includes attending to more logistical and financial detail than I’m now accustomed to. Finally, that includes the fact that I can’t pack and carry a box of books to the car without having to take a nap.

Now that that’s mostly behind me, and I can start to be stressed about moving to the new place. I have become a happy hermit who prefers the company of my cat and a good book to lunch with the ladies. That is about to change.

I’ve adapted to a drought tolerant lifestyle and am worried about adapting into a neighborhood where things and people grow so profusely. Like becoming accustomed to gardening with little water, I have chosen to live without people. I have made do with knowing a single neighbor in this house I’ve occupied for 30 years. I don’t need to socialize, limiting my friends to a few carefully chosen like-minded eccentric friends who volunteer together a few hours a week.

Now, I’m moving to a clime zone where it rains people. I’m moving into an actual neighborhood like the one I grew up in. The broker that sold us the house lives across the street. Several neighbors (including the guy pictured here) have dropped by to introduce themselves in the brief few days I’ve visited prior to moving. The seller’s grown child lives nearby and – with our permission - is sending a letter to introduce us to our new neighbors. She asked for a brief biography.

My sister, who has taken point on all matters involving actual interpersonal contact, wanted my thoughts on what we would say about ourselves. I wanted to say I have moved here as part of the Federal Witness Relocation program and will no longer answer to the name “Thumb-Crusher” preferring to go by my brand new name and brand new profession as a Life Coach. I wanted to say that my sister has recently returned from what is hopefully (not sic) her last extended stay in a facility that helps its guests to recover from nervous disorders by prescribing medicines to replace un-prescribed medicines.

I wanted to list our reason for moving to WA is not, as they rumor may have it, to be closer to family and support each other as we age. It is not to maintain the lovely garden created by the former owner. Basically, it’s because of recreational pot in my case and assisted suicide in my sister’s case.

My sister preferred to stick to our cover story about sharing a room growing up and agreeing that because we’d both outlive our respective husbands who smoked, we have spoken for years of ending up under the same roof. We each get our own bedroom and bath now.

Being an acute observer of my sister’s moods (she has a surprisingly quick arm for an old lady) I hastened to explain that the fake bio would end on an upbeat note: we are still negotiating who gets to kill whom.  She still vetoed it, the sour old biddy.

To be perfectly honest, negotiating murder is a hopeful sign. For a while I was almost hoping I wouldn’t live to see this day. Murder is more positive than suicide, right? I’m not ready to throw a holiday open house where I serve Dad’s egg nog and worry about my kitty sneaking out. But I’m almost ready to begin my new life.

This is perhaps the most stressful thing about the whole move. I’m almost ready to reach out for somebody’s hand.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Change is Hard

Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled.
 - Bob Dylan, The Times They Are a Changing

There are those who insist that nothing is impossible. I respectfully disagree. I used to do nothing every day. Except this week while I’ve been staggering more than a one legged man on a tightrope. I saw this fork in the road, and I took it and I didn’t realize it would involve so much deciding, spending, worrying, scheduling, working and getting dirty.

And so very much cleaning. Hoarding should be a hanging offense and everybody should have to move every 5 years. To a smaller place each time.

I would have said doing all this in such a short time was impossible. I was wrong. I also underestimated how cranky it would make me. And believe me, I already know I am easily pissed.

The cats complicate my life because they have to be segregated from each other and from whatever room people are coming and going and there’s been a lot of that. The other day, I was wandering around looking for my misplaced (fill in the blank) and glanced outside and noticed Lily strolling through the back yard. Inside the house no longer constitutes an enriched environment/hoader’s paradise and the cats are cranky about losing their hiding places.

With all the coming and going and packing and loading and cleaning and looking for the disappearing magic markers (Wait! Is that why they’re magic?) I’ve been blocking hallways or been blocked in doorways. I have totally not been stalled and I’m covered with the kind of bruises only a 3.2 INR and hauling boxes (or losing a meth-head slam-dancing contest) can make.

What has got me through? Although I have not abused any substances, I have treated several with great respect.

(Photo credit: Kitty Crowther, Le Grande Disordre, which looks like me but I wasn't getting any help from living rats)