The original smart phones …

Just because it made me laugh …

Get Smart (TV Series 1965–1970) – IMDb

Bumbling Maxwell Smart, Agent 86 for CONTROL, with a great deal of help from his competent partner Agent 99, battles the forces of KAOS – Starring Don AdamsBarbara FeldonEdward Platt.

Dark sky in the morning

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It’s windy. The oak trees are bending like saplings. The wind must be strong higher up. It doesn’t seem like much on the ground, but a hundred or so feet upward, the oak trees are dancing to Mother Nature‘s tune. You can watch the dance and hear the music. It whooshes and whistles, rattling dead leaves that still hang on the branches.

Sometime during the night, most of the trees stripped bare. Oak trees never go completely naked, not like the maples do. Some leaves cling to branches even in the deepest part of winter. To the extent that leaves will be lost, the oaks lost them overnight. When we went to bed, it was already after midnight. There was a bit of wind and a lot of rain, one of the “local bands of showers” the weather guys keep talking about, but this morning, it’s mostly wind. Skies are gray, dark and sullen.

Rain is falling, but it isn’t much. Not yet. Tomorrow will probably be the big day for rain, or maybe tonight. My instincts are saying tonight, but the weather gurus are saying tomorrow. I’m usually more accurate.

The air is heavy. It doesn’t seem as if day has quite arrived, just like yesterday. It never brightened at all and by late afternoon, it looked like midnight. Absolutely no feeling or look of snow now or to come. I can smell snow. Actually, it’s no big deal. You live in a snow belt, you can smell it. Ozone? Whatever. You feel it, smell it, and see it in the sky. It’s not hard to tell the difference between a sky full of snow or rain. A snow sky is white, or nearly white. Rain clouds are gray, sometimes very dark gray, but never white. Today is gray. Solidly, dully gray. You can’t see clouds. The cover is unbroken, no patch of blue to provide contrast, nor even differing gradations of clouds. These aren’t thunderheads or typical cumulus rain clouds.

I’ve got a headache that coffee isn’t going to dissipate.

We have power, so although trees are swaying, they are not falling, at least not on power lines, or more exactly, not falling on any that affect us personally. I’m sure somewhere trees are falling, but not here, not right now.

I used to like storms. I loved watching thunder and lightning, seeing nature put on her show with fireworks and sound effects. That was until lightening started hitting us, at which point I began to take the whole thing personally. I’m not sure why the valley in general and we in particular are so prone to strikes, but I’ve noticed every public building taller than two stories … there aren’t many of them, so mostly, we are talking about church steeples … have a lightening rod. People have asked me how come we don’t have one too since we’ve been hit three times. The problem is, the lightening doesn’t hit our house. It hits ]nearby, close enough to do damage, but not a direct hit. We’ve lot a utility pole up on the street that it knocked out a couple of computers and the router. One strike hit a tree in the front yard and took out the power. The best hit was the well pump. I thought lightening aimed at the highest points. You couldn’t find a lower point than our well pump. It’s 450 feet underground.

I think that Zeus has it in for us. I have trouble finding our well, much less the pump, so how did he do that? The gusts are picking up. This was not supposed to happen until tomorrow. If this is the prelude, the full show is going to be really fun. It’s much more entertaining when your home, family, and everything you own are not on the line. It’s amazing how much of a difference it makes.

I’m going to get some more coffee. I am doing what I’ve been told: planning for the worst while hoping for the best. If it doesn’t get much worse, we’ll be fine. But we haven’t gotten to tomorrow, so I have to wonder what the next 36 hours is going to bring. Meanwhile, there’s coffee and chocolate cake.

You didn’t expect me to go through a storm of epic proportions without chocolate did you?

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Where do the swans go?

 

When the wind blows, when the rain falls, when the snow piles up, where do the swans go? Do they shiver in nests beneath tall trees?

Do they hide under one another’s’ broad white wings? When the lake freezes over, how do they find food to eat?

Do they depend on the largesse of people to feed them through the long hard New England winter?

As everyone talks about the upcoming storm, I worry about my swans. I hope they will be alright. Where do the swans go to weather a storm?

Ten useful things I’ve learned about blogging

I started this blog in February 2012, but it wasn’t until the end of May that I started to write regularly. Before that, I posted erratically and rarely.

Criminal Minds Season 7 Promo

In September, I tossed off a very short post about Criminal Minds (the TV show, not politicians) that somehow wound up the first result in a Google search. It has stayed in the top 5 search results (out of 4,100,000 possible results) for more than a month. I have no idea how that happened. That single post has gotten more than 3,500 hits and keeps going. It took me 5 minutes to write and was a response to something that bothered me about the show. Who knew that so many people cared about a television series about profilers and serial killers?

The ups and downs of popularity remain a mystery. Immediately after that post, my numbers went way up, then as I expected, began to drop, then level out. Even so, I tripled the hits I get each day. Folks came for that post and stayed for others. I also have an unknown number of  followers on Bloggers, Twitter, ScoopIt, Pinterest and StumbleUpon.

I am, as my blog title suggests, eclectic. By profession, I’m a writer. By inclination an historian. My hobby is photography. I have distinct audiences for writing and photography. I haven’t figured out how much these groups overlap. Even within my writing, subject matter varies quite a lot. Amongst philosophical ramblings, discussions of whatever current events are on my mind, and so on, I write a lot of stuff about movies and TV. There is a specific audience for the media posts.

Posts I labor over may be barely noticed; others that I just drop on the page get lots of hits. I have learned, through trial and error, a few things worth mentioning. I’m sure I’ll learn more. I need and want to learn more. Meanwhile, here are 10 things I’ve learned that seem to be true:

  1. Less really is more. More than 1000 words is too long. 500 words is plenty, especially if you include pictures. Sometimes, just a caption is enough.
  2. Use more pictures, fewer words. Everyone likes pictures especially nature, pretty girls, children, dogs, and for some peculiar reason, Arizona.
  3. Funny gets more hits than depressing. Being serious is appropriate for serious subjects, but you can use a light touch even with heavy material.
  4. Popularity is nice, but it’s your blog. Do your own thing. That’s the point, isn’t it?
  5. Digress but remember to come back. When I tell stories, I ramble. It’s my style. I wander before I get to my destination, but there’s a limit to how far and how often you can roam without losing your reader.
  6. Be economical in how much material you use per day and per post. If you set yourself an unsustainable pace, you’ll burn out.
  7. Have fun. Have a lot of fun. Enjoyment is contagious.
  8.  Do what you love. Blog about the things you find beautiful, important, amusing, or interesting.
  9. If you aren’t having fun, give it up.
  10. On the graphics side, leave white space. At least 50% of the screen should be empty. This percentage includes the space between pictures and text, between paragraphs, margins at the top and both sides, space between columns. Clutter is hard on the eyes and gives your site a “rummage sale” look. Do you really need every widget?

She’s On Her Way

By the time we got to Walmart, there wasn’t any bottled drinking water left except for the expensive stuff that always tastes to me like polluted water. Yuk. So we bought one large trash can (plastic, with wheels, Rubber Maid), some instant coffee because if we are without power and without coffee, life will be Hell. We easily got the stuff we needed to make a lot of chili. We bought candles and long matches. It isn’t everything we need, but it still costs $60. We were going to stop at Hannaford on the way back, but the trash can was in the back seat because it wouldn’t fit in the trunk, so it seemed sensible to go home. I doubt Hannaford has any water left to buy either. We’ll give it a shot tomorrow morning and see if they’ve restocked, but I’m not optimistic. We should have started dealing with this sooner.

Hurricane Sandy – Photo by Talkingrock

We had our first power blip at 6:30 PM, Saturday, October 27th. Governor Patrick declared a state of emergency a few hours earlier for Massachusetts, beginning tomorrow afternoon. That’s when Sandy is supposed to make landfall in New Jersey. Normally, we wouldn’t be much affected by a storm that far away, but this is one hell of a storm, a super storm. The news just keeps coming and none of it is good.

Sandy’s has been upgraded to hurricane status. Again. The water in the north Atlantic isn’t as cold as it ought to be. That cold north Atlantic water is what keeps us safe from most hurricanes. As the storms start to move across the colder water, they lose momentum and power. Most often, they veer out to sea or fizzle. Not this time. With warmer water to feed her (what about that global warming, eh?) and two other weather fronts  on track to help ramp her up, Sandy is about to become a storm of a strength and magnitude  for which we have no name. In honor of the season, she’s been dubbed “Frankenstorm.” Appropriate for Halloween.

I’m having trouble believing this is happening. I know it is happening. But it’s surreal. We don’t get storms like this around here, at least not in my lifetime. There were some big ones before I was born and there was one in the 1950s when I was too young to really remember, but mostly, by the time hurricanes get to this latitude they are just huge rain storms. We get blizzards, sometimes really bad ones.

Cars trapped on Route 128 during the blizzard of 1978

The blizzard of 1978 was a killer. It came on so fast that thousands of people were trapped in their cars and some died. There have been a few big hurricanes. There was one in 1938 that was really bad, especially on the Cape and the Islands. But nothing noteworthy in recent years. There was “the perfect storm‘ in 1991 but that stayed out at sea. Sandy is bigger than any of those historically major storms and she’s coming ashore.

Looking at a live weather feed, the mass of this storm is astonishing. It’s the size of a continent. We should have gone and gotten the water yesterday and even that was probably too late. We should have taken stuff inside, put stuff away, laid in food supplies that don’t require refrigeration, but I was somehow sure it wasn’t really going to hit.

This is not hype, but we have been subjected to so much hyperbole about weather that we assumed it was another case of  TV meteorologists making a big deal out of nothing. They had cried wolf too often. We have grown so accustomed to wildly exaggerated descriptions of impending weather that we ignored this real threat until today, leaving us vulnerable and barely prepared. There’s not a lot more we can do. We’ll fill up the barrels so we have some water and if we get a lot of rain, it will refill the barrels. If trees don’t fall down and power stays on, we will be fine. If not? Que sera sera.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Foreign – Encounter From Hell

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“The Devil, too, sometimes steals human children; it is not infrequent for him to carry away infants within the first six weeks after birth, and to substitute in their place imps”Martin Luther

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Met upon my way, this dark representative from the dark side? Or merely a smelly old ram? You decide.

Serendipity – The Swans Are Back

So today, I took serendipitous photographs of swans on an unnamed pond on the road whose name I don’t know. The road runs between Uxbridge, through Northbridge and Whitinsville, past the old mill and the High School through Webster. I’ve never taken it to its end, which may be somewhere in Connecticut.

Along the way, there were swans on the pond and I took some pictures.

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Probably 75% of my best photographs are captured when I am not actively looking for pictures. On some level, I suppose I’m always looking for pictures and that’s why I keep a camera with me wherever I go. However, I also go shooting on planned photo expeditions to specific locations that I know will yield something attractive. This wasn’t one of those times. It was just a nice day, the best of autumn already passed, but with enough lingering color to make pretty reflections on water.

I carry a compact Canon point and shoot with a versatile and moderately high-quality lens. It’s light and small. I keep it in a little protective padded pouch and carry an extra battery because Canon P&S cameras are notorious battery hogs. I know there are some terrific point and shoot cameras that are as good as any other camera, but I can’t afford something that expensive. I do the best I can with what I have and what I can afford. I wish I were brave enough to carry my better Olympus PEN E-P3 with me all the time, but it’s just a little to expensive for me to feel comfortable dumping it in my purse and just schlepping it wherever I go.

Today was a runaround day. A trip to the doctor, and then a trip to IParty to try to find a Halloween costume for the granddaughter, but it was $50 and the same thing was only $20 at Walmart. PetSmart didn’t have the biscuits we normally buy. So back into the car to go to the Walmart near home. I didn’t take the fast way. I don’t know why. Maybe, subconsciously, I thought taking the slower road might just yield something unexpected. It did.

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Along this road, which is bordered on both sides by ponds that all feed from the Blackstone or Mumford Rivers, there are several rebuilt mills … and the pond where the swans seem to congregate. As we were passing, I saw them. A whole flotilla. I wondered if they were the same swans that were teenagers last year, but I did a quick right into a parking area and took pictures. They were pretty far off, so I had to use the lens almost fully extended … and that degraded the quality of the photographs. I played around in Photoshop with a bunch of them to see if I could get some better detail in the white swan feathers, with mixed results.

It must have been dinnertime in swanville. I have never seen so many swans in one place at one time. There must have been a dozen of them, a few just past adolescence because they still had patches of brown feathers. This pond must be rich in whatever it is that swans like to eat because most of the time, they all looked like floating, white blobs. No heads to be seen as they searched under the water for whatever yummy gunk they enjoy consuming.

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It was serendipity. We were traveling from one shopping area to another, about 25 miles from one point to another, known in these parts are “just around the corner.” I was still laughing at how “not rural” we are as we passed cornfields, ponds, woods, and bucolic scenes of exceptional beauty. I wish I could have stopped in all the places that wanted to be photographed, but not every spot has someplace where I can safely pull the car off the road.

Walmart had just one costume left and we bought it. We went home the fast way, took a quick trip to Mickey D’s drive-through, and got back feeling we’d completed a satisfactory number of errands and even a bit of art. A good day.

Enjoy our swans.

I wonder if any are the same birds who were immature in last year’s photos … or maybe some of this year’s swans are their offspring. I would have asked, but these are mute swans, so I don’t think they’d have give me a coherent response.

How Come They Don’t Simply Open the Windows? A Film Maven’s Dialogue

Earlier today, my husband the movie maven wrote me and a few of his old TV pals. He had a question, perhaps one that has long needed answering. Given the cost and scarcity of panes of glass in Ye Olde West, how come instead of breaking all the glass before shooting, why didn’t they open the windows? Following is the actual dialogue of leading movie experts.

Here’s the dialogue:

Garry (Chief Movie Maven and Former TV Journalist): Surprise!! I’m watching an old “High Chaparral” episode: ( A) Why do they always break the windows before the shootouts? Couldn’t they open the window first? Glass was expensive! ( B) How come the guys stationed on rooftops always get shot first in those shoot outs? – Big John Cannon

Marilyn (Blogger Supreme and Former Writer of Books Nobody Ever Read): I never thought about the windows. Not only are they expensive, but they’d be pretty hard to get. I mean, did they make that stuff on the ranch? Or did they have to haul it from back east?

Texas Tom

Texas Tom (Retired Famous TV Anchor): This reporter is nowhere near the movie expert that you are. However, my sense is they always break the windows for (first of all) the visceral sound effect of the breaking and shattering glass, which  also is a much stronger macho gesture than simply opening a window. Besides, opening the  window just might require one or two more seconds than smashing the glass, which can be interpreted as an act of absolute crazed panic and desperation, and also shows the blood curdling anger and hostility of the glass breaker’s killer instinct. As for always shooting the guys on the roof first, my sense again runs to the most bang for the moment answer. Having a stunt man tumble a story or two from a roof, balcony, overhang or whatever has a much more visceral (there’s that word again) impact on the  viewer’s brain and gut than simply shooting a guy standing  in front of you, or  on the same level with you.  It’s a much more dramatic way of saying “this is the real deal here”.  – T. Texas Tom: Champion Cap Gun Fighter of the Entire West

Garry: Damn, you are so much more cerebral than me. You sound more like a Pilgrim than a Texican. Mebbe it’s because we’re on a fixed income that I wince when they just break the windows rather than opening them to spray lead. That’s another thing. You would think they would be more economical with their bullets. Let the bad guys use up their ammo and shoot when you have a clear target. I guess the Duke would be pissed if he heard this austerity rant.

Jordan (Well-Known Radio Talk-Show Host): Do you think they only manufactured breakaway glass and furniture back in the old west?  Thought stuff back then was made to last?

Marilyn: You’d think the chairs would collapse if you sat in them. Balsa must be sturdier than I thought.

Garry: Yeah, I used to laugh my ass off at the six shooters that never ran out of bullets. Also, Roy, Gene and our other heroes being chased by hordes of bad guys could shoot over their shoulder with precision and nail three bad guys with one bullet.

Texas Tom: Remember (of course you do) in the old Westerns with Hoot, Gene and Roy and Tex and those old guys would chase the bad guys and shoot for a whole reel without ever reloading?   We used to laugh about that never-ending stream of bullets … they never ever fired their last one.

Marilyn: No one ever went into town to buy bullets, either. They must have had an armoury somewhere. Even the Lone Ranger never told Tonto to go into town and buy some ammo. They only ran out of bullets if the script writer decided it was the time to heighten the tension.

Young Swans

These are from last year. I don’t know which of them I’ve published, but I think just one or two maybe and a while ago at that. These are immature mute swans. They will be white at maturity. These are nearly full grown and can fly, although watching them take off is pretty funny. They are beautiful and graceful (albeit bad-tempered) in water, and powerful flyers in the air. It’s making the transition from water to airborne that’s the problem. They have to do a lot of running and flapping to achieve liftoff. Watching them is a total hoot.

Abstractions and Imagery

Many of these are on water, some not, but all are natural pictures and not doctored.

These are images taken along the river, by quiet pools, waterfalls, and marshland. Some are almost abstract, others remind me of Japanese block prints or watercolors.  Mainly, they are very pretty.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Mind the Gap — Being a kid only looks easy …

I could wax sentimental on childhood. The innocence, the fun, the lack of responsibility. But that would be a lie. It wasn’t easy. Innocent? Not as much as pop psychology and sentiment would like it to be. Growing up is hard work. School is work, learning to be a person, to find ways to fit in with your peers without disappearing as an individual is a battle that starts young and never entirely ends.

Many kids, maybe most, don’t have idyllic childhoods. We have abusive parents, or poor parents who are just too busy trying to keep the household afloat so there’s no time to coddle the children. Schools these days load down children with so much homework they have no time to play. In large households with many children, kids have responsibilities. That’s okay, maybe good, but playtime is important too. Play is how kids learn to use their imagination, test out the social skills they’ll need to have a successful adult life. Playing house is practice for the real deal.

Childhood is a perpetual challenge. There are kids who had a charmed childhood, but I don’t know any of them personally. Most of us had problems. We had learning problems, social problems, poverty, bad parents, busy parents, no parents. No siblings, too many siblings. Not enough “stuff,” or way too much “stuff.” No discipline, too much discipline, trauma and sometimes, just somehow never fitting in.

With all the pains and agonies of growing older, I wouldn’t swap it for going through childhood again, not unless I could have someone else’s rather than mine.

From a parents’ perspective, the odds of getting the parenting thing right approaches zero on a close order. Many of us had kids when we were ourselves still kids. What did we know? By the time we learned enough to be reasonably competent, the kid had his/her own kids.

Raising my son in the early 1970s, I didn’t think much about kids in adult versus kid-oriented places. Where I went, my son went with me. I wasn’t into bars or clubs, so it pretty much meant our house, or someone else’s house. We went to museums, safari parks, other typically family oriented venues, but we did it as much for ourselves as for him. He didn’t go out with us when we would be up late unless it was a friend’s house where he could go to sleep when he was tired. Otherwise, he was as much a member of the family as his father or I. He assures me it was great. I guess I have to believe him.

When my granddaughter came along, her grandfather and I tried to introduce her to stuff that would broaden her horizons. We took her to the ballet and she adored it. We took her to concerts. She loved them, too. We took her to the museum which she loved less, but the zoo was a big hit. I tried to do for her what I would have wanted … which may or may not have been right, but in the end, what else do you have to work with but your own life experience, dreams, hopes, and passions? I tried to teach her to love books … not as successfully as I might with, but managed to give her a love of old things, antiques, old dolls, things from days long ago.

Both my son and my granddaughter understood that there was appropriate and inappropriate behavior in public. That was true whether we were in McDonald’s or Boston Symphony Hall. They might have been hellions at home, but in public, they were polite, interested, and sometimes extremely funny. My granddaughter cartwheeled through the entire Museum of Science in Boston. Japanese tourists thought she was part of the entertainment. The guards applauded. Inappropriate? Maybe. But then again, maybe adults sometimes need to loosen up.

I gave her tools — a good camera,  a computer and a sense of curiosity. Maybe it will take, maybe not. She’s a good photographer and secretly, she writes poetry, but is shy about showing it to her family. When she’s ready to share, she will. I was shy about my writing until I was well into adulthood. She’s entitled to her privacy.

If you have more than one child, each one will be different, so whatever you know, you soon discover it doesn’t apply. Most of us do our best, but somehow, our best is never good enough. We make mistakes. We make them because we don’t know better, because we believe we are doing the right thing (but it isn’t), because someone told us that’s what we should do, or that’s what our own parents did … or some other secret reason. Most of us try to be good parents, but it’s not universal. Make no mistake: there are bad parents … brutal, cruel, uncaring and neglectful parents, and far too many of them.

Kids from ugly environments can turn out good or bad according to some whatever inner compass they have. You can see plenty of examples of great people emerging from dreadful homes, and dreadful people emerging from what appear to be an ideal upbringing. It’s a crap shoot. You just don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve made your toss.

I remember the school readers we were given when I was in elementary school. They were full of happy children, happy parents, lovely homes, peaceful streets, and everyone was white. No one was anything like me and no one lived anyplace like I did. It was science fiction for the young. Television shows: “Father Knows Best” and “Leave It To Beaver” portrayed homes so completely unlike mine they might as well have been from another planet, or maybe I was. Those shows did so many of us a disservice because reality is that almost no one had a childhood like that. That was Hollywood. Life isn’t.

When I was pregnant and taking Master’s courses in psychology, I had one professor who was a mother of four young kids. She was teaching child psych and I asked her whether she applied that stuff to raising her own kids.

“Hell no,” she said. “You just love them as much as you can and muddle through. All those books? Forget them. That’s all theory. Real life is something else.”

It was the best advice I got.

 

If we could see the future …

It’s such a bright shiny day. I wonder how many more of these we will have before the sullen skies of November arrive or worse, the bright white skies that presage the  coming snow. I’m entirely unready. We haven’t had time to get the leaves up off the back deck yet. I get sad thinking about the end of Autumn. It’s been a while since winter has been a glad time for us. The prospect of icy walkways, trying to make my way to the top of the driveway on slippery surfaces is something to dread, not welcome. Visions of broken hips are stalking demons waiting for me to make a mistake. I have trouble walking up the driveway to get to the mail on a bright, clear day. Once the snow comes, it’s over until spring.

Looking across the driveway under golden trees

As these last weeks of a golden season are with us, I embrace them. Who knows what my world will be like by the time the ice and snow recede? Life is not predictable, not even in the simplest, most fundamental ways. Everything is up for grabs. But knowing what the future might hold seems to me worse. Much worse. Who would have the strength to deal with the present if we simultaneously saw the end? Wouldn’t we waste our lives trying to avoid the end and lose our joy in the present? As long as we don’t have foreknowledge,  we can look at the good stuff we have and ignore the rest. Which is why time travel is deliciously mind-bending. It’s also why most time travel stories involve going back rather than forwards in time.

The past is known, the outcome written, but the future, in theory, having not yet happened, is labile, alterable by our actions in the now. Presumably we had no consciousness of time before we were born, or if we did, we don’t retain those memories. If we could see where life would take us before being born, would we choose to be born? Or would life and the future be so terrifying that we would opt for remaining wherever our spirits wait in the intervals between life and life?

English Heritage plaque for inventor of time t...

English Heritage plaque for inventor of time travel (Photo credit: jaywood_uk)

I occasionally catch glimpses of the future. Never my future. Visions of my future are always a combination of hope, fear and supposition. I do sometimes see things about other people. I have no control over this, so when they pop unwelcome into my psyche, I’m torn between sounding like an airhead trying to warn someone, or shutting up and hoping it was not a real vision. Sometimes I see things but don’t recognize the people. What is the point of visions of people I don’t know and can’t help? That makes no sense at all. I only know I saw truly if it shows up on the news and I recognize the faces. Clearly such visions are not sent — if indeed they are sent and not just somehow “picked up” randomly — with any intent to change the outcome. Add one more item to the long list of things I will never understand.

Are we powerless to change the future? Is the future already written and unchangeable? I know people have strong opinions about this and seem to divide fairly evenly into two distinct, opposing camps.

The predestination group believes that everything is written and although we have small choices we can make about how we live our lives, we can only alter it in minor ways. Ultimately, we wind up where we were supposed to be, no matter what we do. A friend of mine who I used to hang with in Tel Aviv had an extraordinary ability to predict the future. Someone sent me to her and we discovered that we were about to become friends the moment we met. She asked me a couple of questions then asked me “Why are you here? You can see as well as I can.”

I didn’t even bother to ask her how she knew that. If you know, you know. “We don’t see our own future rightly, you know that. Other people we see, but ourselves? We see what we want to see or what we are afraid might be, but never accurately.”

She nodded and asked me to take a look at her future and we’d call it even, which I did and then we settled down to having tea and talking about predictive techniques. For anyone who’s into this sort of thing, she worked entirely with the movements of Jupiter and Saturn and how they interact with the personal planets and houses. I tend to be more holistic, but that’s because I don’t want to see details. I certainly don’t want to see things like upcoming deaths. Yuk. Who needs that stuff? I asked her if she believed that the future was written and what about free will?

This was the answer: “We are born and we are put into a room. There is furniture in that room. We can choose to sit on the sofa, or one of the chairs. We can invite a few people to come and share our room, but we cannot leave it. That is our room and our choices are limited.” Predestination, in her view, was virtually complete.

The other group are those, like me, who prefer to believe that the choices we make now will  change the outcome. This doesn’t mean that I’m right, but I prefer to believe what we do makes a difference. If I’m wrong, it won’t matter anyway.

I am by no means the first nor last person who will brood on this, write about this, wonder about it. Meanwhile, I’m happy enough to not know. Not knowing leaves surprises and some of them may be happy. Others will be sad. We watched a documentary last night about Ethel Kennedy and when she was asked, by her youngest child who was producing the documentary, about the losses and traumas of her life, she said (and this isn’t a quote, but a paraphrase): “No one gets a free ride. We all suffer losses. We lose friends and loved ones. There’s no free ticket. You just do what you can, what you have to do.”

I don’t need to see any of what might be heading my way. I’ll deal with what comes when it gets here. The present is entirely sufficient.

There ARE stupid questions …

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare Bil...

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs Medicare Bill at the Harry S. Truman Library, 1965 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Let me start by saying that I thank God and Lyndon Johnson that we have Medicare because without it, I would not be sitting here and writing this. I would be long since dead and buried. For the most part, Medicare is surprisingly well-administered. You can call them any time of the day or night, 24/7 and someone will try to help you. Medicare works better than any other part of the government I’ve ever dealt with. It is easier to work with than any of the expensive private insurers I had while I was working. Moreover, the people at Medicare who answer the phones are accessible, pleasant, patient, and well-informed which is a lot more than I can say for any private insurer I had. When they say they are going to call you back, they actually do call you back. Amazing.

I spoke to them last week and they couldn’t help me with this because it’s a local thing. Supplemental and Medicare Advantage programs are available from specific vendors in designated areas. So they had to pass me on to local representatives.

You have heard it said, I am sure, that there’s no such thing as a stupid question.

That is not true.

I was trying to see if there is a less expensive alternative to my current Medicare supplement, aka Medigap policy. My goal was to reduce my monthly medical insurance costs without compromising the quality of my medical care.

I could have found what I wanted if I lived almost anywhere else. But we live out in the country and there’s not much available.  The plans would be good enough if you don’t get sick, or whatever is wrong with you is common and can be managed your PCP or a very inexperienced specialist. Definitely not a description of me.

To make things more complicated, we live close to Rhode Island, so most of the doctors that come up using all these plans’ search engines are in Rhode Island, not Massachusetts. The law governing medical care and prescription coverage varies hugely between the states. These search engines don’t know about state lines and just search within a designated radius you specify. Which makes the searches useless. Someone needs to do something about this. I can’t be the only person living near a state border who is on Medicare, can I?

Now, for the stupid questions.

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The Scene

Marilyn is sitting in front of the big monitor in her office. A cup of coffee is on the right, partially blocking the screen, and a glass of electrolyte rich zero calorie sports drink is on the other side. I have been roaming from provider site to provider site in the hopes of finding something that might work for me. Finally, unable to obtain any meaningful results, I fill out the form asking for more information. The phone rings. It is a digital phone, so really, it yodels.

Yodel yodel eeee. Yodel yodel ooooo.

Me, picking up phone: “Hello?”

Her: “May I speak with Marilyn Arstrong?

Me: “You got her”

Her: “I believe you inquired about Health Care options with ….?”

Me: “You’re fast. I’m still on your site.”

Her: “We have a variety of programs. How can I help you?”

Me: “I have a Medigap program, but I’m hoping to find a something less expensive, preferably a Medicare Advantage program, but there doesn’t seem to be much choice in this area.”

Her: “Do you have a computer?”

(Pause.) I just filled out a computer inquiry and said I was still on her website. It was dumb, but in the name of charity, I let it pass and moved on.

…. back and forth … back and forth …

Me: “So, in short, you don’t have a Medicare Advantage program that would work for me. It wouldn’t cost less and it wouldn’t let me keep any of my doctors or hospitals. It would be a Medicare Disadvantage plan. Why are we having this conversation?”

… back and forth … back and forth …

Me: “So, you don’t have anything that meets my needs. Have I got that right?

Her: “Do you live in a rural area?”

Me: (Pause) “You could say that.”

Her: “You might be okay with a more basic Medigap policy. Do you think  you are going to be sick? Do you expect to need hospitalization?”

(Very long pause.)

Her: “Are you still there?”

I did not say that I was thinking. Wit and irony need to be used selectively. There are people on whom it is lost.

I wanted to say that I was considering a mild stroke in time for Christmas, but if they were having any specials on particular non-lethal diseases, I’d be willing to consider something heart-related, perhaps a minor infarction. I thought of saying that I was not planning any major medical incidents for at least a year, but I might, just for excitement have a medium-to-serious auto accident … but I doubted she’d see the humor. She was trying to help me. Ineffectually, but asking me if I was going to be sick? Really?

Does someone own a medical crystal ball. If they do, they should patent it because it is worth billions.

I still don’t know what I’m going to do, but I signed up with a different prescription carrier who I hope will save me a few bucks next year. Meanwhile, tomorrow is another day. Maybe I’ll think of something else. I hope that none of these options require that I know if I’m going to get sick. Because I haven’t a clue.

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