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.

 

 

 

 

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.

tap dancers

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.

baton twirlers

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.

Not My Job

I used to be yogurt and drinks. Not alcoholic drinks, mind you. We are talking the Food Bank after all, and I can’t imagine handing each client a bottle of Jack Daniels, or even a six-pack of Bud Light. The beverages I was in charge of distributing were more along the lines of orange juice or cranberry drink, with a pomegranate kombucha or coconut water/green tea combo thrown in a time or two to liven things up.

Then the multi-millionaire bumped me. Such is the way of the monied, isn’t it? Thems that has, gets? To be fair, I understand the Food Bank manager’s decision to bring in ol’ Ritchie Rich — the quest for funding is a constant challenge in the world of non-profits, and it sure doesn’t hurt to have someone with overflowing pockets on your side.

This particular well-heeled fellow is the very one who purchased the old cannery building on the waterfront and turned the entire thing into a condo for himself and his wife. Fortunately, they left the exterior pretty much as it was so it continues to blend in with the other historic downtown buildings. That’s it there at the lower right corner, the pitch-roofed structure just on the other side of the pier.

waterfront

I’ll bet he has one hell of a view. And now, every Wednesday, he also has my yogurt and drink station at the Food Bank.

food bank sign

Truth is, I was a temporary fill-in at that spot anyway. The regular yogurt and drink person is spending the winter in Southern California and I knew all along that when she returned, I’d be reassigned. To which station, I don’t know. The manager will find me a permanent place somewhere, though, that much is certain. See, for some crazy reason, she’s thinks I’m the greatest. The Rolls Royce of volunteers. She decided as much the first day I walked into the joint, before I’d done a lick of work or uttered maybe a dozen words.

That she has no real basis for placing me on a pedestal (or in the case of the Food Bank, a cracked fold-out table) is something I don’t intend to argue with. I’ll take all the accolades I can get, warranted or not.

When Mr. Money Bags arrived on the scene, I bid a silent adieu to my yogurt and beverage table and spent the work day substituting for the vacationing computer check-in lady. It’s an easy gig — you sit at the front desk and on an Excel spreadsheet, type a “1” beside the name of every person coming to get food. (Even I’m enough of a computer wizard to handle it, and that’s saying something.) At the end of the day, the computer totals up how many clients came through.

Sharing the desk with me was 92-year-old Grace and her stack of paper print-outs with the exact information as on the computer. Every time I typed a “1,” Grace thumbed through the pages and felt-tip penned a red splotch beside the same name on her list. Why the duplication of effort? From what I gathered, simply to give Grace something to do.

Which would be great if her final total agreed with the one on the Excel spreadsheet. It didn’t that day — my tally was 273; hers came out to 256 — and Grace was convinced it was the fault of the computer (in other words, me). As all the other volunteers slowly filed out of the building, Grace and I sat firm while she recited the name of every person on her list who visited that day and one-by-one, I double-checked the computer to make sure I’d entered them all correctly.

I had. As Grace once more began scratching her numbers onto a piece of paper to try to find the error, my resolve wore thinner and thinner until I finally reached over and snatched her tally sheet, grabbed a calculator and added them up myself. When I showed her the total — 273 — she declared, “Yes, see? That’s what I had written down.”

It hadn’t been, of course.

I realize I should have been more patient. Yet patience isn’t one of my strong suits and besides, Grace talked pretty much nonstop while we shared that desk, meaning I had my head turned her way for a neck-breaking six hours with relief coming only in the seconds it took to search a name on the computer and enter the corresponding “1.” Still, once the aspirins I dry-swallowed as I exited the Food Bank took hold, I was able to appreciate how the experience maybe wasn’t all that bad. Maybe.

Next week I’m being moved to the bread table. It’s in the adjacent room, out of sight from my beloved yogurt and drinks, and I have to get to the Food Bank an hour earlier in order to sort the various bread products and arrange them on the shelves. At least I won’t be the front desk again, however, for which I’ll be most grateful.

Regardless, when Grace arrives and settles into her chair, I’ll sincerely bid her a fine good morning. At 92 years old, and having volunteered at the Port Townsend Food Bank every week since she was 78, it’s she who deserves the real accolades.

So thank you Grace, very much. There needs to be more people like you in this world. Could I ask you one little favor though? If I ever work the front desk again, do you think you could maybe take a few minutes beforehand and learn how to use the calculator?

The Meaning of the Game

Playing sports is a positive activity, right? Good for the body, good for the mind. Gathering together for backyard volleyball, touch football or a rousing game of horseshoes also builds friendships by shoring up feelings of camaraderie through fair play and goodwill, no matter the outcome of the competition. As the old adage goes, it’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

Right. Tell that to Lance Armstrong. To Tanya Harding. Mike Tyson. Granted, these athletes had risen light years above the level of, say, a neighborhood pickup basketball game by the time their need to win led them to engage in such ruthless behavior (and ultimately topple them into infamy). Yet even on the neighborhood playing field, competitive sports often bring out the worst in a person.

racquetball

John and I used to play racquetball and I remember well how combative people could be, especially in the local leagues. The way some of them behaved, you’d have thought there was real live money stashed inside those chintzy plastic trophies. Of course, there never was. (What did you say? Oh…how did I know the trophies were empty? Um, heh heh. Somebody told me.)

It’s been years since we’ve partaken in organized sports. Well, besides John’s brief tenure in a regional basketball league. They played at nearby Leander High whose school song was “Meander in Leander,” an inspiring ode to mediocrity if there ever was one. No matter the motto, however, those games were brutal, as are pretty much all team sports whether professional or amateur. It’s human nature, I suppose.

So it should have come as no surprise when we were first exposed to the phenomenon at the neighborhood pickleball court. But surprise us, it did. I mean, we’re talking about a doubles game where each side whacks a whiffle ball back and forth with racquets only slightly larger than pingpong paddles. One where the rules, when written down, could fit on a cocktail napkin. Don’t get me wrong; John and I love the game. It’s just, you know, pickleball.

Consequently, we were taken aback when the ugly side of sports showed up at the court one day. Another pickleballer (sounds like the latest kitchen gadget, doesn’t it?) had made arrangements for that afternoon’s game, and we didn’t know exactly who all would be joining us. As we drove into the parking lot, there was only one other person there — a woman we’d pickled with once or twice before. We waved from inside the car. She stared back in what appeared to be disbelief, as if we’d just pulled up in a tiny Volkswagen and many clowns would soon pile out. Evil clowns.

“It’s you!” she exclaimed, horrified, despite the dearth of murderous clowns. We were struck temporarily speechless.

“I was expecting someone else,” she continued, her disappointment palpable. A little shaken, we stuttered the names of a couple others soon to join us. She turned to leave.

Yes, leave. Although she’d come to the court ready to pickle, when faced with the options of doing so with us or heading back home, she was choosing home. Just then our fellow picklers arrived and, confused by her hasty retreat, they attempted in vain to persuade her to stay for at least one game. Obviously, in her eyes, our motley crew was far too inferior for her to bother even stepping onto the court.

Okay, admittedly I’m no pro. I’ve noticed, in fact, that I’m probably on the losing side 85% of the time no matter who’s unfortunate enough to play as my partner. A telling statistic. But John is quite good — he takes to sports like a puppy takes to a new chew toy — as are the other two players who showed up that day. Miss Snooty Pants (I pride myself on maintaining the utmost maturity in all situations) would have had ample competition, picklewise.

Regardless, we’re not talking Wimbledon here. No one is playing for a silver guilt cup or sterling silver platter. John and I attended the latest neighborhood pickleballers potluck and awards ceremony, and thus had the opportunity to take a peek at the Grand Prize: a bouquet of brightly painted whiffle balls stuck into a pot to resemble a flower arrangement. It was as stunning as you might imagine, yet I’m thinking it might not bring quite as much at the corner pawn shop as that silver platter.

In today’s spirit of everyone deserves a trophy, all the neighborhood pickle players were surprised this holiday season with a beautifully handcrafted ornament, no matter their ball pickling skill level. Our resident pickleball instructor stealthily left the tissue-wrapped gifts at each pickler’s door.

whiffle ball

And that’s what I call good sportsmanship.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to run downstairs to grab a hammer and break into this thing in case there’s any cash inside.

Backwards

It was a day of weird comments. First, during my weekly volunteer gig at the Food Bank, one of the clients explained, in no uncertain terms, the reason for the obesity crisis in this country: people have quit smoking.

Forget about fast food, forget about choosing electronic games over physical activity, forget about high fructose corn syrup. According to this guy, if overweight folks would simply pick up a carton or two of cigs and start puffing away again, the problem would be solved.

cigarettes

After leaving the Food Bank, I stopped to pick up a few things at the grocery store (none of which contained tobacco or high fructose corn syrup, by the way) and as I wrestled away one of the carts from the outdoor rack I inadvertently blocked another shopper’s path.

“Oh, I’m sorry!” I exclaimed when I noticed what I’d done. “I was walking backwards and didn’t see you.”

“It’s all right,” she assured me. “We’re all walking backwards.”

I might have pointed out the fellow at the Food Bank who believes all Americans should backpedal to the nicotine-fueled days of tar-stained fingers and black lung would probably disagree. Yet assuming she was speaking in a more global sense, I simply smiled.

Less than 48 hours later I found myself traveling backwards again, though this time not in a parking lot. Instead, this rearward trajectory was a result of an email I received — a Facebook message, to be precise, a “friend” request from someone John and I went to college with and had since completely lost touch.

This isn’t the first college friend with whom I’ve reconnected through Facebook. As silly as social media can be — and oh my, can it ever — it’s difficult for me to argue with these kinds of results. I’ve been enjoying contact with my sophomore college roommate for some time, and now here shows up one of John’s former roommates and best friends from that same era. This one surprised me more, maybe because he’s male. (Females tend to make for better pen pals, in my experience, and I see Facebook as essentially the same thing). Or maybe it’s because my memory of him, although vivid, is kind of a drug-addled. His addled state, as well as ours. (This was, after all, college in the early 1970s.)

marijuana leaf

All these years later, we find out he’s an upstanding citizen, a pillar of his community who drives a bus for special needs children. He’s been long married, has an adult son and one granddaughter.

Wait a minute. A granddaughter? As in his child’s child?

baby

How can that be? I mean, he’s our age! And as we all know, John and I are far too young — FAR too young — to have grandchildren. Heck, we never had kids at all so even the idea of one of our old classmates…hang on, let me rephrase that…the idea of one of our former classmates having children older than, say, eleven is already a bit freaky.

Come to think of it, though, this former classmate and others we’ve subsequently “friended” are indeed starting to look a bit longer in the tooth. Gray hair, wrinkles around the eyes, extra padding in the midsection. And that’s what grandparents look like, right?

Thank goodness John and I still look exactly as we did the day we were married, over 36 years ago.

wedding photo

That’s us in the center. But you know that already, don’t you? Yes, of course you do because other than a change of fashion and hairstyles (for which we should all be eternally grateful) we’re both just as thin, our locks are just as brown and our skin is just as smooth as when that photo was snapped.

As proof, I refuse to post a more recent picture. You’d only be jealous.

Okay, okay, I’ll ‘fess up. I’m not reed thin anymore, not by a long shot (and I’m remaining steadfastly mum on the hair and wrinkles issue). And while I have no desire to be 21 years old again, I wouldn’t mind at all still being able to squeeze into that dress. That’s one backward step I’d be happy to take, fashion be damned.

John, on the other hand, has retained his girlish figure all this time. Even our recent Facebook friend expressed concern about John’s health, referring to photos I’ve posted of him as looking “awful skinny and almost gaunt.” I assured our newly rediscovered pal that John is absolutely fine, always has been. Truth is, he eats like a horse but is just naturally slender.

And get this: he doesn’t even smoke.