The Social Security Train

As it turns out, my boarding pass for the Social Security train has been waylaid, held hostage until I meet with a real, live Social Security Administration person to prove I am indeed who I claim to be.  According to Carlos in the Albuquerque office, who I spoke with after receiving a letter from the SSA, I need to take my photo ID to the appointment and then I can be on my merry way.

Why I’m one of the unlucky few (or many?) who are being required to do this is a mystery.  When John retired, we applied for his benefit online without a hitch.  I went through the same motions when my turn rolled around, but no.  I get a letter instead, instructing me to call Carlos for the annoying news.

To top it off, the closest regional SSA office is in Silverdale, an hour’s drive.  It’s a godforsaken city, to boot, a confusing concrete maze of strip shopping centers harboring every fast food joint, every big box store, every chain restaurant and chain retail store possibly on earth.  One of our friends refers to it as “Silverhell.”  Another dubs it “Consumerdale.”  Either name is spot on.

Long ago, I set up my account on the Social Security website and have faithfully updated my password when required.  Since then, the SSA has made sign-in more secure by using a two-step method:  Once you enter your user name and password, the site sends a temporary numerical code to either your mobile device or email.  You have ten minutes to plug in the number on the sign-in page.  I’ve obediently done so every time, naively believing the process proved who I am.

I was equally compliant in my online application for benefits.  Maybe that was my problem; I was being too meek.  Perhaps a different approach would have garnered a more satisfactory result.

Oh, you want me to type in this information?  This rule applies to me?  Okay, bucko, you asked for it — I’m headed straight to Uncle Donald, and I’m not talking about the duck, if you get my gist.  And believe you me, he doesn’t like to be interrupted while he’s tweeting.  Or in the tanning booth.  Or on the golf course.  Or tweeting again.  You don’t want to be the subject of one of his misspelled, nonsensical rants, correct?  No, of course you don’t, so start depositing that monthly “entitlement” into my bank account pronto or, as Uncle likes to say, YOU’RE FIRED.

Probably that wouldn’t work either.

I have another theory as to why I was singled out, a creepier, Orwellian one:  the iPad overheard something I said that put me under scrutiny.  It’s like when John and I started discussing buying a new mattress.  Ours was verging on ancient in mattress years, and during our procrastination period we often brought up the subject in passing.  As in,

“We really should look for a mattress.”

“Yeah, you’re right.  You want a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch or should we just reheat some leftovers?”

Not only had we not yet visited a single brick and mortar store, we hadn’t done the Google nor initiated an Amazon search when suddenly every website we viewed lit up with mattress ads.

It didn’t take long to figure out what had happened.  We live in a small house and during the day our iPad sits on the kitchen counter, almost always turned on, with that innocent look on its face.  Listening.

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I’m just crazy about the Social Security Administration, aren’t you?  They are without a doubt the finest people — in the finest administration! — bar none.  And you know who I especially respect and admire?  Carlos.  He’s a prince among men, he truly is.  Heck, I’d do anything for that guy.  In fact, I’m going to make a special trip to the Silverdale SSA office simply because I bet it’ll make him happy.

Plus, it will be such an honor to meet my local Social Security representative face-to-face!  There’s no doubt in my mind I’ll be speaking with an outstanding individual, someone who’s highly intelligent but also kind and caring.  I can’t wait!

 

 

 

 

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Retirement: Take Two

Hello.  Haven’t seen you in a while.  How’ve you been?  Good?  Nice to hear it.  I can’t believe more than three years have passed since we last spoke, can you?  Time goes by so fast.  What have you been up to?

Oh, me?  Well thanks for asking.  In a moment of weakness, the non-profit organization where I’d been volunteering hired me part-time in the housing group, meaning I was working with homeless folks — or people at risk of becoming homeless — helping them with rentals using various state grants.  It’s rewarding work.  Not so much monetarily, since non-profits by design don’t pay worth a damn, but when a formerly homeless family is able to move into an apartment due to the efforts you’ve made on their behalf, it’s a happy day.  The resulting hugs are nice, too.

But I’m done with that now.  Nearly two weeks ago, I retired.  When I posted a photo on Facebook of the cakes my co-workers brought in for my last day,

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some commenters called it my “second retirement.”  One even said so in such an accusatory way, he sounded downright pissed.

See, the thing is, I did indeed leave an extremely full-time job when John and I sold our farm and moved up here to Washington state.  Never once did we think of it as retirement, however, and in fact John snagged a part-time job only a few months after our relocation.  The fact that I lingered in unemployed limbo for two years wasn’t entirely my doing — I wanted a job, as well.  Yet in this small town, with a work history limited to either the legal field or farming (neither of which I had a desire to resume) local employers were less than enthusiastic about hiring me.  Thus the delay in gainful employment, yet during that time I never felt fully retired.

That has changed.  In spades.  This is the real, 100% bona fide it’s-time-to-jump-on-the-Social-Security-train thing.  I do plan to go back to my volunteer gig at the same non-profit but not until the glorious summer months have passed, and only then on an even more part-timey schedule than in my employed years.

Now, I do realize retirement comes with inherent risks, not the least of which is sudden onset irreversible brain atrophy, or as behavioral health professionals refer to it, The Use it or Lose It Syndrome.  After all, a person needs to keep the synapses firing for fear of them fizzling out altogether, right?  John has been retired over a year and hopes his online chess games will keep him sharp.  I’ve been addicted to New York Times crossword puzzles for quite a while already and vow to continue solving them daily, with gusto.

Still, something happened just last night that had me a little concerned about post-retirement mental acuity.  As we were getting ready for bed, I noticed the toilet paper in John’s bathroom had unrolled to the point of nearly touching the floor.  Being the patient, understanding and non-controlling spouse I pride myself to be, I mentioned it to him.  As in, Hey, roll that back up, would ya?

Maybe as a form of retaliation, or simply an honest attempt to right a wrong, John began to explain how I need to be more careful when I get a new roll started.  That if I don’t pull the initial sheets simultaneously — our toilet paper of choice is 2-ply — one of the sheets will likely go all akimbo.  Become misaligned.  Out of sync with the intended second ply, never again to be ripped off the roll in tandem with its twin.  I listened closely as the gravity of the situation sunk in.

Until it hit me what this most serious discussion was indeed about.  After falling into hysterical laughter that lasted long after my slightly perturbed husband turned off the light, I started to wonder whether online chess and NYT crosswords would be sufficient to stave off what was so quickly showing itself as the inevitable.

Yet is it really that dreadful an omen when toilet paper sheet calibration is considered highbrow commentary?  Perhaps not.  It’s like the old adage:  One man’s analysis of bathroom tissue alignment is another man’s dissertation on the theory of quantum mechanics.  Same/same.

I think we’re going to be fine.

 

 

 

 

Cataract Surgery: Part I

The optometrist didn’t bother to ask my permission.  As soon as he finished the exam, he went straight to the front desk and told his receptionist to make me an appointment with the cataract surgery center.

It would have been difficult for me to argue with him, even if he’d given me the chance.  After being unable to read line after increasingly larger line of letters shown to me by the optician — who had trouble stifling her gasps as she neared what she knew would be the final, humongous O filling the entire screen — it was pretty apparent the time had come to be separated from my longtime cloudy companion, my congenital cataract that had been slowly robbing the vision from my left eye since I was in my early 40’s.

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It was a miracle I’d been able to get my drivers license renewed last year.  Only by the grace of Port Townsend’s DMV clerk was I able to squeak by, despite my admission that I couldn’t read a single thing on the left side of the vision test screen.  I don’t know if she was feeling generous that day or merely too bored and disinterested to bother but whatever the case, I was grateful beyond words to be granted permission to drive half-blind on the streets of Washington state.

I doubt the vehicular travelers crossing my path would have been quite so tickled, had they known.  Pedestrians and bicyclists even less so.  Yet in my defense, at my pre-surgery ophthalmological consultation, the doctor explained that because my right eye has been so busy doing the heavy lifting these past 15 years or so, my overall vision really wasn’t that horrendous.

Granted, he mentioned this not to ease my mind about any potential peril I’d been inflicting upon all who traversed the roads alongside me.  I hadn’t confessed to the doctor my poor performance at the DMV.   He was simply warning me that once my cataract was gone, my resultant vision improvement might not feel so dramatic as it does to those folks who have cataracts removed from both eyes.  Still, I chose to take it as affirmation of my decision — and that of my dear DMV clerk — to continue driving.

Come to think of it, though, the ophthalmologist obviously didn’t give one hoot about endangering myself or surrounding drivers, considering he sent me on my way that late afternoon (more like early evening) with fully dilated eyes and no one to chauffeur me home.  In the dark.  From Silverdale to Port Townsend, a nearly 45 mile trek.

After the front desk ladies cheerily handed me the packaged strip of black plastic that looks more like a roll of camera film than a substitute for honest-to-goodness sunglasses, I walked out to the car, took my place in the driver’s seat…and began to panic.  Already the traffic had built up to a frenzy — Silverdale is nothing but a maze of strip malls squeezed between zigging and zagging thoroughfares (my friend has aptly nicknamed the town Silverhell) and to make matters worse, I was in that godforsaken place at the height of Christmas shopping season.

I’d gotten so turned around trying to find the surgery center in the first place, I had no clue how to get back to the highway.  Add to that a thousand glaring headlights.  I slipped the black film under my glasses, hit the “Home” button on my GPS and waited for Nuvi (John’s and my terribly clever name for our Garmin “nuvi” model GPS) to coo her directives at me.

As soon as I pulled into the street, I yanked off that black film.  It’s bad enough to have blurred vision in a sea of headlamps — even worse when the background to all the bobbing, weaving lights is pitch blackness.  Without the piece of film obscuring what little focus I still had, I could at least make out the stripes in the road.  Blurry stripes, indeed, but stripes all the same.

It was a long, teeth-clenching drive back to Port Townsend.  Only a small fraction of the journey is divided highway; primarily the roads are two-laned, meaning a continuous line of oncoming traffic, each car’s lights boring straight into my enormous pupils, made it feel as if I were staring directly at the sun.

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So I concentrated instead on those white road stripes (and held my breath at every intersection where the stripes disappeared) until finally — finally — Nuvi guided me through the entrance to our neighborhood.  When I turned at the stop sign on our street, Nuvi instructed, “Drive point three miles to Home, on left.”

Lovelier words have never been spoken.

To be continued….

In a Tent

A moment of weakness, that’s the only way to explain it.  Despite my heretofore utter, adamant (dare I say pig-headed?) refusal to participate in any way in the so-called recreational activity of camping — tent camping, no less — I caved to peer pressure.  I agreed to accompany John and two of our friends to a campsite in the woods and spend three nights, however insane the thought, in a tent.

Did I mention I was drinking wine at the time?  I was, and in a quantity sufficient, apparently, to throw me just enough off-kilter to almost convince myself it was a good idea.  I mean, I enjoy the outdoors.  Hiking is a lovely way to spend a crisp Pacific Northwest day.  Thing is, though, after the hike is finished I’m ready for civilization again.  A hot shower.  A restaurant.  A real bed in a real building with real walls.

You know, the opposite of this.

setting up the tents

When setting out for a three-day camping trip, not only are you forced to carry along your own shelter (and I use that word generously, considering the only things between you and the elements are a few sheets of stitched canvas and a zipper) but good heavens, it takes damn near as many days to pack everything else four people need — including what appeared to me to be a good half cord of logs to build fires (for warmth, of all the ridiculous things) — as it does to camp for that same amount of time.

camping stuff

Had we planned the exact trip — hiking, sightseeing and all — yet tweaked it just a little to include three nights in, say, a charming B&B, we would have instead packed:

suitcase

And we needn’t even discuss bathroom issues…but of course I will.

I give our camping friends the utmost credit for securing us a mighty nice site — or as nice as a site sans private bath can be — in that there was a perfectly respectable public restroom facility within reasonable walking distance.  In the daytime.  In the dark of night, however, it would have proven far too tricky a trek a la flashlight when half-asleep.

Thus, once (or twice, or thrice) per night when a certain business required attending, either John or I would shake the other awake and whisper the need to unzip the door and venture out into the blackness to find a tree at a (barely) polite enough distance from our friends’ tent.

As every woman in the universe knows, this is much easier for a man.  Much.  Granted, I’m a squatter from way back, beginning in the early ‘80s when we were building our second home on a couple acres hidden discreetly in the woods and minus the luxury of a portable facility.  Yet as accomplished as I became at answering nature’s call in full view of Mother Nature herself, my expertise is limited to the daylight hours.  With the cover of night comes the very real worry about the consequence of bad aim, namely — and specifically when sleeping outdoors — crawling back into the tent slightly, ahem, soggy.

I’m pleased to report, in spite of my fears, that never happened over the course of our three-day camping adventure.  At least not that I was aware of at the time.  Or would be willing to admit afterwards.

Fortunately for all of us — especially my three camping companions who would have otherwise been subjected to relentless whining — there were no serious mishaps of any kind during the trip.  The weather gods smiled upon us, granting us three clear, sunny days, and the one night we were awoken by sounds of something padding around our campsite, it turned out to be neither bear nor Sasquatch.  (As far as we know, anyway.  None of us unzipped our tents to find out).

And on the very last afternoon, while our friends chose to stay at the campsite to relax and nap, John and I headed into town — to civilization — for a little souvenir shopping and a visit to a waterfront adult beverage establishment to whet our whistles and reminisce.  We were in the charming village of Eastsound, after all, on Orcas Island.  The very spot where, just over two years ago, we decided quite off-the-cuff to sell our farm and move up here.  It’s a special place for us.

So all’s well that ends well, right?  Yes indeed.  Still, when next summer rolls around and we’re again partaking in a bit of the grape with our camping aficionado friends, should the topic of repeating this trip come up, I intend to take a drastic measure to ensure I keep my wits about me:

I’m switching to coffee.  Black.

The Massaaaahhhge

I love a massage.  I love everything about it.  The aroma of scented oils in the dimly lit massage room, the gentle new age-y music, the way the therapist speaks in hushed tones.  Even the padded face hole in the massage table pleases me.  If I could afford it, I’d have a regular spa appointment once a week.  Maybe more.

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And it wouldn’t matter what other treatments the spa offered — defoliating scrubs, body wraps, facials — I’m interested only in massage.  Twice John has given me a spa day as a birthday gift, and both times I eschewed any treatment that didn’t involve being rubbed.

Although I did make a fairly critical mistake on my first visit.  I signed up for the warm mud massage — it had the word “massage” in it, after all — and while the initial hands-on portion was sublime, once the therapist smeared on the mud and left the room for a while, all I could think about was how much time was being wasted; time that could have otherwise been filled with a whole lot more rubbing and a whole lot less lying there sweating.

I do have one very strict rule when it comes to receiving a massage:  other than the intermittent whispered instruction to roll over or to ask if the amount of pressure she’s using is adequate, the therapist must remain mute.  I’m not patient with chitchat during massage time.  I don’t need to know where the therapist grew up or what her children are studying in school.  Likewise, I feel no desire to report my life story to her.  I’m on that table for one reason and one reason alone, and that’s all I want to think about.  Massage me.  From head to toe.

Oh hang on, I almost forgot.  There is indeed one massage spot I’d prefer the therapist skip over.  Two spots, actually:  my ears.  When she starts kneading my ears it makes me feel silly.  I have no qualms about other extremities — each toe and finger thanks the therapist for the individual attention — but when she grabs for an ear, all I can think about is…big floppy ears.  And I have small ears, strangely enough, the right one even freakishly tiny.  Still, when someone touches them during a massage it’s like I’m Minnie Mouse.  Or Dumbo.

No matter.  Putting up with over-handled ears in order to be massaged everywhere else is a sacrifice I’ll make without qualms.  So when a friend offered me one of her pre-paid massage appointments, I jumped at the chance.  She had to give up the appointment because of a spinal problem that will likely require surgery, and I did suffer a pang of guilt for accepting her gift under such a circumstance.  Yet the feeling only lasted a second or two.  In my world, you see, the prospect of a free massage trumps all else.  I’m not proud of it but hey, I can live with it.

Especially when someone’s rubbing me.

Dancing Queen

Because I seem unable to form the word “no” anymore, I was recently recruited to be part of the Drill Team — a chorus line dance ensemble — at the upcoming Cape George Revue. Cape George, by the way, is my neighborhood. The Revue is its annual variety show. And the Drill Team uses — get this — actual electric drills as props. Who would have imagined that?

Yeah, I know. Pretty much everybody. Especially everybody who’s lived in Cape George for more than twelve months, it turns out, since the Drill Team always performs at the Revue. Different songs each year, happily, and different costumes…but always with drills.

Maybe I was enlisted because word has gotten out I don’t have a terribly full weekly schedule. While that is absolutely true, what the other Drill Team members are not aware of is that not only did they secure someone with ample time on her hands, as a bonus they’re getting a person with a background in professional dance. On an honest-to-goodness stage. With matching outfits and everything.

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That’s me, on the far right. I was exactly as talented as I looked.

In fact, one year (because yes indeedy, I tapped my way to stardom several years in a row!), despite an instruction from the choreographer to STAY IN UNISON even if you know in your heart of hearts the other girls lost step with the accompanying piano score, I rebelled. Thing is, I was born with rhythm. Deep, deep in my soul. I wasn’t about to shuffle-ball-change on beat number 6 when I knew darn well it was supposed to happen two pulses earlier. No sirree. I clicked and clacked to my own inner drummer at that recital and was darned proud of myself for doing so. Never mind that at the end of the song I was headed stage left while the rest of the tappers remained smack in the center.

It was pure serendipity that the Cape George Drill Team found me, don’t you think?

There’s a down side to being chosen for the Drill Team, however, one I wasn’t aware of when the words “Sure I’d love to join” shot out of my mouth too fast to cram them back in: rehearsals are scheduled every Sunday for two solid months. Apparently, it takes a whole lot of dance sessions to memorize the steps (and drill moves) to Shania Twain’s ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman.’

I made it to the first rehearsal a week ago, right on time, drill in hand. We learned the moves for half the song in the 1-1/2 hour stint that had been set aside, after which the team leader announced she’d be out of town for this week’s session and thus would not be here to teach us the steps (and drill moves) for the remainder of the tune. Still, we were instructed to meet at the clubhouse as planned to practice what we’d learned so far.

I didn’t go. Not out of disrespect for the process, certainly, nor because I underestimate the importance of utmost perfection come Revue time. To be the creme de la creme at neighborhood variety shows, practice is essential. At least for the amateurs in the group.

Yet I’m no amateur. Not only do I have experience performing for an audience, I have experience performing for an audience while carrying a prop.

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Theater, you see, is in my blood.

Join the Club

I wasn’t one of the popular kids in high school. Too tall and lanky, too bashful, and yes I’ll admit it, too dorky. Almost always I was one of the last people chosen on a team in Phys. Ed. class, and the only clubs I belonged to were of the scholastic sort. No fashion club for me; no yearbook club or prom committee. I wasn’t invited to join and honestly, I wasn’t the type anyway.

Fortunately, my social life improved greatly once the horridly awkward days of high school came to a merciful end, and by the time I was settled into college I was able to let loose of most my inhibitions (being introduced to pot my freshman year probably helped). While I wouldn’t exactly say I flowered into a hipster — or more accurately, given the decade, a hippie — I was at least able to shed some of my earlier insecurities and felt more comfortable in group activities.

Still, I never belonged to a social club. The closest I got was when John and I became members of a racquetball club in the mid-‘80s, and that was only because we enjoyed the game and had no other option to play. When that came to an end, the only club laying claim to us as members was Costco. They’re not picky, those Costco folks. Pony up your annual membership fee and you’re set — tall, short, lanky, chubby, dorky, cool, it matters not.

Eventually we and our Costco cards moved up here to semi-retire. John’s a semi, at least, with his part-time job. Thus far I’m full-out retire, with local job creators not terribly interested in inviting me to join the employment club. I suppose that’s part of the reason, in fact, that when a neighbor asked me to be a member of her book club, I went for it. I figured if I’m going to be a retiree, I might as well behave like one.

Who would have imagined the slippery slope. Soon enough, I was approached about another book club — still in this neighborhood, yet with a completely different set of people. And although I made it clear to the woman who queried about my interest in her club that I already belonged to one book club and couldn’t possibly join a second, a week or two later I was handed a piece of paper with that month’s assigned book and the date and place her club was to meet.

I tried to pretend it didn’t happen. Shortly afterward I received an email from Book Club No. 1 and before I could say “I haven’t bought the book yet,” a similar email from Book Club No. 2 popped into my inbox regarding a different tome altogether.

While this was all transpiring, I did indeed read a book of short stories and a collection of essays.

books

Neither of them were assigned by the book clubs, of course. Those books, I ignored.

I’m starting to question whether I’m really club material.

Regardless, when the manager of the food bank invited me to a girls night out one Thursday evening — a club, of sorts — I kind of hated to say no. Not only do I admire the heck out of her, but she’s also a lot of fun and there would be other food bank volunteers there, people I wanted to get to know better. I decided it wouldn’t hurt to join in just this once. Besides, there would be wine. My resolve holds up only so long when you throw wine into the mix.

During the course of the evening, I found out these women meet for happy hour every other Thursday. It isn’t off the cuff; it’s a commitment. There are no prerequisites like book assignments, yet it screams social club nonetheless. What is it with the people around here? I spent the last portion of our get-together formulating an excuse to miss the next meeting.

A recent invitation to breakfast and a rousing game of Bananas (a mashup of Scrabble, crossword puzzles and elementary school) seemed innocent enough, so I set off that morning to join the four other women who’d be there. We had a great time. Lots of laughs. So much so, at one point the woman sitting to my right suddenly blurted out, “We should do this every month!”

Oh dear.