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.

 

 

 

 

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.