Robo-Guy Just Doesn’t Understand Me

I’m writing this while listening to “on hold” music that sounds like the record is stuck and somebody needs to move the needle. I try not to do non-writing business during my writing time, but if I wait until later to call my insurance company, I’ll lose my courage, so now, while we have sun and hail happening at the same time (craziest winter ever), I dial the 800 number and encounter Robo-Guy.

Now, Robo-Guy and I have a problem. He does not understand what I’m saying. I think I’m speaking English. I’m enunciating as hard as I can. And yet he doesn’t seem to get me. He keeps spitting out a list of choices, none of which apply to my situation. Specifically, I’m turning 65 on Thursday, I have gotten a pile of stuff in the mail from Medicare and Blue Shield and I don’t understand how the two insurances interact. Do I have a Blue Shield “supplement plan” plus Medicare or what? This is not on Robo-Guy’s list, the same list I saw online before I decided I would have to use the telephone.

Every time I start to mutter to myself, he stops and restarts his list. I must be silent unless I can say something that’s on the list. BUT IT’S NOT ON THE LIST.

I take a chance. I say “Medicare supplement.”

“Did you say benefits?”

“No.”

“My mistake.” He repeats the list.

I repeat “medicare supplement.”

He says, “Did you say benefits?”

Head slap. “Yes.” I’ll say anything that gets me to a human being.

So I get one. I immediately forget his name. Dennis? We’ll call him Dennis. I give could-be-Dennis my information. He puts me on hold. The line goes silent. Am I still connected? Oh! There he is. My plan does not show me having Part D. Part D? But he’s not the right guy, which I knew because I picked a “wrong” choice to get to a human. Would I like to be connected to the other guy? Yes.

Commence the loud hold music. I start to scribble because I am unable to sit and do nothing and the music cannot be listened to. Why is loud annoying music considered better than silence?

Oh! Dennis. He’s still working on it. Hold on.

Why not give us news, information, quizzes, gossip, the Beatles, anything but this noise? How about, this is brilliant, how about employing professional “hold chatters,” friendly people who will talk to you while you’re on hold. You could talk about anything: work, kids, recipes, the weather, frustration with your in-laws. Kind of like therapy. I think it’s a great idea, as long as they’re live people.

Hey! Dennis has delivered me to Erica, who actually makes jokes. She’s going to check which is my primary and which is my secondary insurance. She giggles. “Who’s on first, who’s on second?” She actually remembers the old comedy routine. I love Erica.

Now I’m back on hold. The music didn’t miss a beat. For anyone calling government, insurance or financial institutions, always use the bathroom first and come supplied with coffee, tea, or whiskey and something to do because it’s going to take a while.

Erica is back. I’m listed as a “PPO retiree.” Okay. Blue Shield is still my primary insurance and Medicare is secondary. Is that what it’s supposed to be? Shouldn’t it be flip-flopped with Medicare primary? Somebody who is older than me and understands this stuff, please explain in plain English?

Erica offers to transfer me to another person. I can’t take anymore. “Not today,” I say. I may be over-insured, but going into my birthday, at least I am covered. I am double-blessed with insurance from my late husband and from Uncle Sam. I know a lot of people struggle to have any kind of insurance at all. I am lucky to have had Blue Shield all these years via Fred. On my own, I’d be at the mercy of the Affordable Care Act, which our president wants to abolish.

I’m still thinking about Robo-Guy. Oddly, I feel guilty, like I screwed up our conversation. He wasn’t even real, but he sounded so real, so anxious to please yet so perplexed by what I was saying.

So, tell me about your Robo-Guy experiences. Does he have trouble understanding you, too?

***

I wasn’t going to write about my upcoming birthday anymore. So I’m turning 65. Get over it, right? Right. But let me close with two important reminders about the upcoming anniversary of my birth (Thursday, Thursday, Thursday).

1) Some of my local area friends are joining me for lunch at The Chalet in Newport on Thursday at noon. Contact me if you want to come, too, so we can get a big enough table. No presents or even cards are necessary. I’m still thinking I will end the day at The Drift Inn in Yachats, where the music begins at 6 p.m. Let me know if you want to join me there, too. In between, I might go for a long hike if the weather is decent. If not, maybe I’ll do a little antiquing.

2) The Great $6.50 Birthday Book Clearance Sale will continue through the month of March. You can buy copies of Shoes Full of Sand, Freelancing for Newspapers, Childless by Marriage and the original edition of Azorean Dreams for only $6.50 each, including shipping. That’s less than half price. The next two customers will also get a free copy of my limited edition chapbook The Dog Ate It, my gift to you. Do not go to Amazon for this sale. This is strictly between you and me and Paypal.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Turning 65: Good, Bad and Scary

On March 9 at 4:10 a.m., I will turn 65. It’s a good thing. It’s a bad thing. It’s a scary thing.

Good?

I will be eligible for every senior discount that exists. No worries about whether you have to be 50, 55, 60 or 65. Everybody gets the break at 65, although here on the Oregon coast, with so many retirees, you don’t see a lot of senior discounts because the businesses would all go broke. National Parks pass, here I come.

It’s also good because I will be free from people thinking I need to stop messing with my writing and music and get a real job. I am not retired, have no plans to retire, will write and play until I either die or lose the ability, God forbid. But for those folks who just don’t understand the artistic life, I can say bug off, I’m 65, I can do whatever I want.

Besides, the newspaper business for which I was trained has disintegrated to the point I barely recognize it. Plus, do I want to cover the news in this Trumpian era? I don’t think I could keep my opinions to myself anymore.

Not that I might not need to actually get another job, finances being what they are. (My father thinks I should get a job because to him writing still doesn’t count as work. I’m never going to win that battle with him.) I worry that young employers might think I’m too old. I’m not old, kids; I’m experienced. My resume goes back to the days of manual typewriters and black and white film, and that’s a good thing.

Bad

Turning 65 is bad because it means I’m old. I can’t deny the wrinkles, the gray hairs, or the memories that stretch back before a lot of people were born. I can deal with all that, but I wince at the thought that other people see me as old. That’s what really bugs me. I especially worry about folks who classify me as too old to write a bestseller or to play wonderful music. If I do succeed, they will single me out as an anomaly. Look at what this sweet old lady can do. Gah!

How old is old? With no kids or grandkids to mark the generations, I feel much younger than 65 most of the time. Our vision of “old” changes as we age. When you’re a kid, your 40-year-old parents are ancient. If you’re 80, looking at me turning 65, you think I’m just a kid. My maternal grandmother, who died at 80, refused to go to the senior center because it was full of old people. Exactly.

If I’m lucky, 65 is just a new beginning, with lots of years ahead, 20.2 according to most life-expectancy charts. But nobody knows. Grandpa Fagalde lived to 98. My dad is almost 95. His cousin made it to 96. I could live another 30 or more years. Or I could be gone tomorrow.

My mother had just turned 75 when she died. My husband was 73. My father’s mother was only 58. Grandpa Avina was 66.The obituaries are full of people in their 60s and their 90s. It’s all a crapshoot.

I’m moving into these older years in a great wave of baby boomers. Wonder Woman Lynda Carter, Sting, and Meat Loaf are all 65. Paul McCartney is turning 75 this year. President Trump is 70, and he hasn’t grown up yet. Helen Mirren, 73, is my new idol. Check out this list of hot seniors. Here’s another one. Our bodies might be aging, but our spirits are as young as ever.

Scary?

It’s scary because I’m petrified of going on Medicare. Blue Shield and I worked well together, as long as I kept giving them $500 a month, plus deductibles, co-pays and exclusions. It was better insurance than a lot of people have, and I’m grateful that I got to keep the insurance after Fred died. Medicare confuses me, and it doesn’t help to keep hearing dire predictions about the whole system falling apart, going broke, or falling under the hyperactive pen of our new president. I have already learned that my annual gynecology exam may not be covered and my frequent chiropractic visits for my messed-up back will definitely not be covered. If Dr. S. could just put everything in place, then seal me in wax . . .

Medicare has Parts A, B, C and D and something called the “donut hole,” which is not a delicious bit of pastry but a black hole into which you fall if you collect too many prescriptions. For a few months, my phone rang constantly with folks ostensibly wanting to help me with my Medicare questions. Actually they wanted to sell me supplemental insurance plans, but Blue Shield and I will continue a reduced relationship. How much that will cost, I have no idea. How much Medicare will cost, I have no idea. Apparently I have to wait until my first paycheck in March to see whether turning 65 will be good or bad for the Lick economy. Please God, let it be good.

As a fully blossomed senior, I expect to hear more and more of the doctors’ theme song “At your age . . .” Meaning, “You’re old, so you can’t expect all your parts to work or me to waste time fixing them.” I think about my battered VW bug with its 120,000 miles and how it was literally held together with duct tape and prayers. Guess I’m lucky I still run. Not very far, but I run.

To be honest, if some young bloke offers to carry my load or give me his seat on the bus, I will accept it gratefully because my back hurts and I’m tired. But give me a minute’s rest, and I’m ready to go again. 65? Dad was mowing his lawn yesterday at 94.

You can get Social Security now, you say. No. Not yet, although I do receive a portion of my late husband’s Social Security as a widow’s benefit. People my age, born in 1952, must wait until they’re 66 for full Social Security benefits. Assuming we still have Social Security by then. Maybe we should call it Social Insecurity.

I’m also scared that I might end up celebrating my birthday alone. Did that last year, don’t ever want to do it again. All I need is some people and cake. Got to have cake. Chocolate or red velvet. Who wants to join me on March 9? I’m thinking The Chalet for lunch because it has cake and a senior discount or the Drift Inn for dinner because fabulous musician Ian Smith is playing there that night and the food is amazing. Maybe I’ll do both. Who wants to join me? You don’t have to buy me a thing, just help me celebrate.

How does turning 65 look to you, whether it’s decades ahead, coming up fast or already ancient history? I welcome your comments.

 

 

Dad’s 94th birthday full of surprises

Dad42911People can be rude, annoying and selfish, but sometimes they can be so very, very good.

Yesterday was my father Ed Fagalde’s 94th birthday. I couldn’t be in San Jose to help him celebrate. I worried that he’d be spending the day alone, that even though he says, “It’s just another day,” he would be sad. But people stepped up, people you wouldn’t even expect.

Yes, Dad’s cousin called from Texas, my aunt took him to lunch on Saturday, and my brother’s family took him to lunch on Sunday (Thank you!). Yes, I sent a gift, which arrived on his doorstep on time. But nobody expected a neighbor he barely knew to call to wish him happy birthday and invite him to come over. And nobody expected what happened when he went to dinner alone at his favorite restaurant, the Country Inn on Saratoga Avenue.

Eating dinner alone at a restaurant can be daunting. You find yourself surrounded by couples and families while you have no one to talk to. I always bring a book, but Dad just eats in silence since Mom died in 2002.

Not this time. The manager joined him at the table, saying the staff could run the place without him. They talked like old friends. Indeed they have been seeing each other at the restaurant for many years. At dessert time, seven workers sang to him and brought him a candlelit slice of cake that was so big he brought most of it home to enjoy later. And when he asked about his check, he was told the meal was “on the house.”

It wasn’t over. At church yesterday morning, even though it was First Communion Day and the place was packed with little girls in white dresses and little boys in suits, the congregation honored my father. He didn’t expect it. He’s not active in church activities. He sits in the second to last row with a young family with three kids who have claimed him as an extra grandfather. They’re the only ones who know his name. He had just come back from the restroom when a woman up front told him not to sit down. She announced that it was his birthday, and over 500 people applauded him. He was thrilled. The priest asked how old he was—94—and how long he had been coming to St. Martin’s—65 years. San Jose is a big city. It’s easy to be anonymous in the crowd. But not this time. People recognized and honored him. That was the best gift anyone could have given him.

Last night on the phone, Dad said someone asked him how he kept going so long. Eating and sleeping, he said. When you stop doing that, you’re done.

Dad still lives on his own in the house where I grew up. Since he broke his hip in 2014, he can’t move like he used to, but he’s an independent cuss and he has good genes. His father lived to 98. His cousin made it to 96. We all know that things could change at any minute—or not. Meanwhile, I am blessed to have him, and I am so grateful that people paid attention this year. It matters.

Look up and notice the people sitting alone. Say hello. They might be great people like my my father.

Happy birthday, Dad.

We all lost an hour, but I gained a year in California


When the time changed last Sunday, I was in California. It happened to be my birthday, so I not only lost an hour of sleep but added a year to my age. Now I’m a nice even number.
 
When you’re my age, birthdays aren’t what they used to be. My mother, who used to make sure birthdays were special, has been gone for almost 12 years, and my husband, who did his fumbling best, has also passed away. My dog doesn’t do birthdays. In recent years, I have had some great celebrations with my friends and some quiet ones with myself. Many years I have bought myself a tiny cake and eaten it alone, but don’t cry for me, Argentina. I enjoyed every bite.
This year, I found myself in California with the family. I had heard about a poetry workshop that sounded wonderful, realized I could arrange the time off from work to do it, and could combine it with a visit with Dad, whom I last saw at the hospital after his heart surgery in December. The fact that my birthday fell on the day after the workshop was a coincidence.
Dad is doing great, by the way. The sparkle is back in his blue eyes, and he mowed the lawns while I was at my workshop. The fact that he feels well enough to do yard work again is a darned good birthday present. Anyway, it was Sunday. We got up early and went to church at St. Martin’s. Then we took our usual trip to the cemetery to visit Mom and the rest of the gang.
By then, my brother and his wife were on their way. After they arrived and I opened my gift of scarves and fuzzy socks, we sat around and talked a bit, debated a while over where to have lunch, and ended up at Red Lobster. It’s a lot more expensive than the commercials imply, but the food was fabulous. After gorging on shrimp and lobster linguini, I was encouraged to order dessert. My red velvet cake in a jar—seriously cute—arrived with a single lighted candle on top, and the servers sang “Happy birthday.” I heard my sister-in-law, brother and father singing along, a first. Unlike me, they don’t sing. So nice.
Back home, I talked to my lifelong friend Sherri on the phone. She moved to Texas three years ago. She’s about six weeks older than I am, and we always call each other on our birthdays. We had a great talk, although she had sad news. Her old dog Gus died. She has a new pooch named Pepsi. Much worse, her older brother is dying of cancer. Nuts. Getting old is tough. I was sitting in the patio looking out at the lawn and reminded her of those summer evenings when we used to play badminton out there until it got so dark we couldn’t see the birdie. I can still feel the grass on my bare feet and the moths rising up around us. Those were the days, we agreed. No troubles, at least none that mattered. Thank God we’re still friends.

My sweetest birthday gift was the one I gave myself, that poetry workshop led by Ellen Bass and Roger Housden. If you’re into poetry, check them out. Great people, great poems, great workshops. Of course Dad’s response was “Poetry???? What do you get out of that?” Never mind. The workshop took place at Dominican University in San Rafael, which happens to be where I attended one of my first writing conferences in the 1970s and won first prize in the poetry contest. So, I had good memories. Of course, nothing looks the same and the drive through Bay Area traffic added a few gray hairs, but Dominican is still a quiet world of trees and squirrels and stately old buildings.
For seven hours, we poets talked, wrote and shared what we wrote. We could write anywhere we wanted, so people spread out on the lawn, the stairs, and the benches scattered around. Most of us were boomers, nearly all women about my age who knew the value of a day with nothing pulling at us. We had time to think, time to write, and time to make new friends. Two of us were celebrating birthdays on Saturday, and mine was Sunday. Lots of Pisces are poets. For me, that day was the perfect gift.
So, I have survived another birthday in good health. And the Facebook good wishes are still pouring in. Thank you to everyone. I am blessed.

Don’t Tell Me I’m Too Old for a Birthday Party

It’s all Mom’s fault. Every birthday, I woke up to find my bed covered with gifts and cards. I got to wear new clothes to school and eat whatever I wanted for dinner. We had company, cake and singing, and I felt like a princess.

Somehow, now that I’m a grownup, it doesn’t happen quite that way. The plumbing backs up, clients want their work on time and don’t care if it’s my birthday, and most of the family kind of forgets that hey, it’s my special day.
Hello! It’s March 9th. It’s my birthday.
It seems as if once you pass a certain age, you’re not supposed to celebrate birthdays. At least not so that anyone would notice. Just another day, says my brother. Don’t you dare tell anyone it’s my birthday, says a friend at church. One year closer to death, says another gloomy friend. I don’t have birthdays anymore, yet another friend responds when asked if this might possibly be her birthday.
Not me. I want to celebrate. I’m still alive, still healthy, still doing what I want to do. Sure, I’m older, but I don’t feel any older. I think a birthday is an important occasion, time to look at yourself and your life and thank God for the good things and resolve to get rid of the bad things. It’s a time to say, “Hoorah, I have passed another milestone.”
 It’s the beginning of a whole new year of life.
I still have fantasies of the family gathered around, torn wrapping paper and presents at my feet, and chocolate cake on a plate in my lap–with big frosting flowers so sugary they make your teeth hurt. I want to see the lit candles in the dark and hear everyone singing to me.
Me, me, me. I recently discovered that large groups of Christians and others don’t approve of birthdays. There’s the “me, me, me,” factor, selfish, spoiled and ungodly. But also, the whole cake-and-candle tradition began as a pagan rite to ward off evil spirits thousands of years ago. Since Jesus never mentioned birthday parties in the Bible, we have no scriptural basis for having them. Furthermore, keeping track of birthdays smacks of astrology, a kissing cousin of witchcraft.
Holy cow, but my saintly Catholic mother started it. If Mom baked the cake with her own hands and lit the candles and sang “Happy Birthday” to me, how could it be bad? She wasn’t singing to chase away evil spirits; she was singing about how she loved me. And maybe celebrating having gotten this accident-prone offspring through another year of life.
In our American culture, kids get birthday parties. We also throw parties for adults celebrating the so-called milestone birthdays: 21, 40, 50, 65, 80, 90, 100. For the years in-between, things sort of fall apart. You don’t get a party, unless you’re like our departed friend Robert who used to throw himself a whopper of a fiesta every year, with tons of food, a huge crowd, and hangovers that lasted for a week.
The rest of us mark our birthdays with sedate lunches, cakes at the office, and a few cards–some of which arrive a week or more after the actual birthday. Now we also get e-mail cards from those family members who will never get their act together enough to actually buy, sign and mail a real card. Last year, I received one with three pigs singing “Happy Birthday” to the tune of “Funiculi Funicula.” I read it, I laughed, it was gone.
Over the years, I have developed certain birthday rituals. My favorite is to run away for the day, then go out for dinner and cake that evening. On a typical birthday when Fred was still here, I drove north up the coast. I did some shopping at the outlet stores in Lincoln City, took myself to lunch, visited the quilt museum in Tillamook and walked on the beach. At Cape Lookout, I stood high over the Pacific Ocean and blew soap bubbles from a red plastic bottle of Mr. Bubble, watching them float into the sky and disappear into the clouds. I thought about my life, counted my blessings, and made some plans. Then I came home and pigged out on chocolate with my faithful husband, whom I had programmed for a month to either honor my birthday or sleep with the dog.
Aside from lunch with friends, I don’t know what I’ll do this year, but I do know that it’s supposed to be a special day. Mom always said so.
Perhaps it’s unseemly to celebrate one’s birthday as if one were still a child. Perhaps it’s even sinful. But I don’t believe it. God gave us this life, and if he grants us another year, I think it would be ungrateful not to celebrate as hard as we can.