BRING ON THE ANGRY MOBS! – Marilyn Armstrong

I’m mad at life. This is not what I planned. In fact, it’s not even close to what I had in mind. I was planning to go gently into my elder years, able to do whatever I always did, but perhaps a bit more slowly. Gray hairs which turned out to be white — about the only thing that worked out the way I planned.

But all the other stuff? Poverty and ill-health? The endless crumbling of the house? It’s just not fair!

I do not feel insightful, but I could probably incite a riot. I feel very non-insightful. Mostly, I’m pissed.

I want is to win a ton of money so I can not only fix the house, but improve it so that it’s comfortable for both of us. I want our lives for the first time ever to become easier.

My childhood was rough. Adulthood has been, to say the least, bumpy. Somehow, I thought as I wandered into Older Age, life would get easier. Those things we’ve always needed to do would slow and maybe even give up. We could relax, surrounded by our nurturing family who would take care of our needs and maybe even provide a few small luxuries.

That has not been exactly been how it has worked.

Meanwhile, I’m just pissed about the whole “getting old” thing. Why doesn’t someone else cook dinner? Why are we both still scrubbing and vacuuming and cleaning? Why does the house persist in requiring maintenance and repair even though we’ve already fixed it more than once? Isn’t there an “end” point when you don’t need to fix it anymore? What’s wrong with this picture?

I say let’s round up the angry mob and attack age. Who’s with me? If we can’t evade age, maybe we beat the crap out of it.

WHEN YOU GET TOO OLD TO BE COST-EFFECTIVE – Marilyn Armstrong

DISCOVERING I’M PART OF THE EMERGING DEMOCRATIC RESISTANCE (ALSO LEFTWING, SOCIALIST, AND NO DOUBT COMMUNIST)


If you have asthma or any kind of chronic medical problem that requires continuing care and medication, that’s the message you are getting. We have had a brief interruption during which almost everyone had access to at least basic medical resources. You could go to the doctor, get some medicine. Have your cancer removed, your broken leg treated. Now … well … who knows what lies ahead.

If you’re on Medicare, that’s the message you’ve been getting for a while already. Several years. They’ve been chipping away at the benefits. Fewer dollars for medication. Fewer covered medications. Deeper deductibles for tests. The out-of-pocket costs for an MRI or CAT-scan are ridiculous. Garry hasn’t had any major medical issues, but I’ve had enough for both of us.

Yet, I turned down a cancer CAT-scan last year because I didn’t have the $450 co-pay … and I’ve had cancer twice, so it wasn’t a decision made lightly.

medicare__estelle_carol___bob_simpsonMedicare doesn’t cover eyeglasses, dentures, dental care of any kind, CATscans, MRIs, or asthma inhalers. In the 1990s, when my asthma finally got bad enough to require treatment, a daily inhaler cost (without insurance) about $75. Which wasn’t cheap, but I could manage it, especially if I didn’t use it every day (no matter what the label advised).

One day, two or three years ago, the same Advair inhaler shot up to more than $500 a month. Medicare will only pay for about $12 of that price. Although they are not paying for it, they will charge the entire price of the medication against my annual drug benefit.

Let me repeat that because you probably think it doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make sense, but it’s true. If a drug costs $535 per month and Medicare contributes $12, they charge all $535 against my annual drug benefit. The amount of the benefit has been dropping each year while medication prices have soared. This makes sense only if the real goal is to kill off the older generation.

In another bizarre but real piece of anti-intuitive reasoning, if you are prescribed a medication, towards the cost of which Medicare pays not a penny, and you pay for it out-of-pocket, Medicare still charges the entire price of the prescription against your benefit. “What?” you cry. Nonsensical, but true.

It’s a lose-lose. If you don’t get any medication, you will have trouble breathing. If you do get the medication, it’ll break the bank and burn through your benefits, even though Medicare isn’t contributing anything towards the cost.

It’s absurd and true.

medicare confusion

From the government’s point of view, I am not cost-effective. I am sure my compassionate government would prefer I cast off my mortal coil. Save them a few bucks.

Never mind that over a lifetime of work, Garry and I paid enough taxes to fund a small country. Our contribution vastly exceeded any amount we will get back. Even now, we aren’t exactly free-loaders. We pay income taxes, excise taxes, and some hefty property taxes. And Medicare, while not expensive (compared to no medical care), is not free.

Ever since I turned 65, it’s been downhill.

The day I turned 65, I was dumped by MassHealth (Medicaid). I hoped I’d be protected by my disabled status. I’d been on disability for years which was why I was entitled to MassHealth.

Medical marijuanaNo problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified me, eliminating my disabled status. Poof — I’m just old and not disabled.

They switched me to standard Social Security, so I get the same monthly check but without the extra medical protection conferred by disability or the other discounts on electricity and heating oil. They also lowered the poverty guideline so we no longer qualify for any extra help on anything — not fuel, medication, electricity and are not entitled to senior housing. In short, we get nothing. Because apparently when you turn 65, your costs go down. You don’t need money when you get old. Nice.

We’ve outlived our usefulness, so how come we aren’t dead? Why do we stubbornly cling to life? If we cared about our fellow humans, we’d get out of the way.

My doctor found some free samples of asthma medication so if I’m lucky, it will keep me breathing for another 6 months. Used cautiously and only when I’m really desperate.

As of today, we have a president — if you want to dignify him with that title — dedicated to making the lives of everyone whose life is already difficult, worse. Compassion, common decency, basic fairness? What? Huh?

medicine wheel 8

Today was the first time, I realized being a Democrat is not just being part of a political party, but makes me part of “the emerging Democratic resistance.”

I have to admit, being part of an emerging Democratic resistance sounds more romantic than just being old, sick, poor and not Republican. Maybe they’ll write books about us. Sing ballads. Talk about how brave we were right up until the moment when they put us up against the wall and shot us.

THE MANUAL YOU DON’T HAVE – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, someone I know and who should know better, complained that Olympus, from whom he bought his camera, should fire the tech writer. Because there was no manual.

There was a booklet that listed the options but didn’t explain what they were or what to do with them. Well, duh.

I wrote this. Then I rewrote it to make it better.

I felt obliged to point out the reason there is no manual is they never hired a tech writer in the first place. If they had a living, breathing technical writer, there would be a manual.

You wouldn’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a camera and get a generated leaflet. You’d get a real book with an index and a table of contents. Screenshots. Explanations not only of where to find a function but what the function does. So when you get there, you know what option to select and what it will do to your photographs.

Once upon a time, that was my world. I thought it was important, at least to the people who bought products about which I wrote.

The mysteries of the menus in my camera are hilarious. It might as well be written in Urdu.

Years went by during which the work I did was most of my life. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the way) and went through my day. Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, life was busy.

I knew, no matter what the ad said when I took a job, my work wasn’t permanent. I would work until the book was finished, then I’d move on. That was the way it really was.

The industry in which I worked ultimately decided the work I did was no longer necessary. Who needs a manual to tell them how to use equipment that costs a gazillion dollars and controls the operation of a steel mill? Or a missile tracking system? Or a satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk — especially in space where you can easily find a signal for your phone.

I was the one who organized the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not always have to call someone. Considering the state of tech support these days, you can see where this failure to supply reasonable documentation has landed us. That’s why the phones are always busy and why the quality of support is so bad. How often do you find that you know more than the “help tech” individual knows? Basically, if you can’t fix it by rebooting, uh oh.

The help desk people don’t have the manual, either. And they badly need one.

Regardless, I was obsolete.

You need developers and a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee.

But a writer? They only hired me when they were at the end of a production cycle, realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn a product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one cared what was in the book or whether the information would be of any use to anyone. It just had to be big, thick, nicely designed, and weigh enough to use as a doorstop.

My days were numbered. Eventually, I was gone.

To substitute for professional writers, they produce “automatic documentation.” Which is raw data generated by a program using “comments” left by developers, many of whom speak English as a second or third language and in any case, do not understand how non-engineers work or the kind of information they need to navigate a complex product.

It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right. No one cares until they get an expensive product that includes nothing. The good news? You can find entire books — the kind I used to write — on Amazon. Buy them and find out how the product works. It’s just like the books people like me wrote. Cool, huh? Except they don’t come with the product. You have to buy one and they are not always available.

My best bet is finding people online who own and use similar products and pick their brains.

For all of you who believe that crappy documentation is because tech writers are lazy? No, we aren’t lazy.

What we are is fired.

TIME OFF AND RETIREMENT – Marilyn Armstrong

Weekly Word Prompt: Time Off

Periodically, we go to retirement parties. Well, not so much now because most of our similar-age friends are already retired. For a long time, it was all retirement parties all the time. Except for the funerals, usually held for people who didn’t make it to retirement.

At some point during the party, someone — usually the wife of or the actual retiree — would say: “Now I (or we) will have plenty of time to visit and hang out.”

This causes the rest of us who are already retired, to laugh hysterically. I’m not sure how or why it works this way, but it always works this way. One day, you are working 40 or 50 hours a week. The next week, you are retired and vaguely worried about what you are going to do.

A month later, you are wondering how you found time to work because you barely have time to get anything done. The more retired you are, the busier you become. Bloggers blame blogging. Artists blame their art. Grandparents blame babysitting. People with money complain they seem to always be packing or unpacking, though I find it difficult to sympathize with those who simply can’t stop vacationing.

Please don’t complain how hard it is to manage your summer-house in the mountains and your extra house in New Mexico. Or at least only do it with friends who also have spare houses.

If you aren’t blogging or on a permanent vacation, you are probably writing, painting, teaching, volunteering, or discovering half the children you thought had moved out are now moving  back– with or without the rest of their family.

Dogs and cats multiply. Houses need repair pretty much all the time and as soon as you finish one task, another — like magic — appears.

Time off?

What’s that?

What happened to all the time you were going to have to visit friends and just hang out? The only thing which changes is you can finally get enough sleep. Among my husband and his sleep-deprived colleagues, sleep is the number one activity on their life chart. They are serious sleepers. This is apparently what happens when you’ve been sleep-deprived for 50 or 60 years. You can’t seem to catch up.

Many of us discover while we used to be casual about cleaning, we now seem to feel a more persistent need to keep the house clean. And doing that is harder than it was. I used to be able to do a pretty good clean-up of a 9-room house in about four hours, as long as Credence Clearwater Revival was playing in the background. Now, I can’t even reach half the things that need cleaning. I’ve grown much shorter during the past 10 years.

The one thing you can count on is that you will not have lots of leftover time. It’s like the magic closet which, no matter how much you remove from it, remains full.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Life is permanently full unless you are uninterested in anything. Most of us have always had hobbies and other activities we have wanted to spend more time doing but we were busy earning a living or raising kids. Now, as retirees, we slide into our “hobbies” with the same gusto we had professionally. Except we don’t get paid.

Oh well. You can’t have everything, right?

CRANKY AND CANTANKEROUS – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Cantankerous

Cantankerous is what we all are when we are tired of smiling when we want to scream.

Cantankerous is what set off the #metoo movement. Women stopped wanting to smile and pretend. They got cantankerous. I always wanted to carry a small hammer and whack any man who laid hands on me without my permission. Nothing personal, mind you. After all — he wasn’t personal about it. I was just a female person whose name he probably didn’t know. Just a body.

Old people — or at least the over-70 crowd — tend to get cranky and cantankerous. We are tired of being pushed out of the way of some 40-something who is in a mad hurry to finish shopping lest his car’s engine cools off in the parking lot.

These days, I look at everyone’s hurriedness. I was in a hurry when I had to get to work, but so many people are permanently in a hurry. They aren’t going anywhere. They hurry through their leisure with the same fury they give to their work. I wonder if they realize there’s supposed to be a difference?

It’s particularly baffling when they are on vacation and they are pushing you out of the way at the museum so they can get on to the next part of their vacation agenda.

Maybe they think hurrying is the same as living longer? If you hurry through everything, you get more done before you croak?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

And then there are the pushers. The younger people who feel that old people who walk slowly are a serious aggravation. “Am I walking too slow for you Sonny?” Whack over the head with my cane. “Feel better now?” You wonder if the idiots will live long enough to need to walk slower.

I always thought a cane could have useful side effects — I mean other than helping me stay upright. Use the hook on the end to pull down all the stuff on the top shelves that apparently only the very tall and agile are allowed to reach. Pull the card closer. Hook that guy who won’t stop talking around the neck. I’ve always wanted to give someone “the hook.”

Mostly, I think we older folks are just tired of pretending to agree with a lot of stuff we detest. You don’t get a lot of benefits with age, but one of them is a certain “right” to speak your mind and get away with it. They can always put it down to senility.

It isn’t senility. It’s what we USED to call … (are you ready?) …


HONESTY!


ANOTHER YEAR ON A FIXED INCOME- Marilyn Armstrong

We got our taxes done.

This used to be a big deal because we got so much money back at the end of the year. Then Reagan changed everything and we got back less than half we’d gotten in the past. Now, on a fixed income, we get pretty much the same thing every year.

This year we got a little more Federal, a little less State, but the result was essentially the same as last year.

Not a big deal, but it beats out nothing. It’s the only “lump” of money we get all year and I’m hoping it’ll be enough to get the chimney fixed.

I’m still a little punchy with the upcoming fix up to the bathroom and trying to snip whatever payments I can downward so that maybe we can get through this alive. Getting out of AT&T and into US Mobile brought $40/month back into our account. I’ve got a few almost finished accounts and when they are done, we’ll have another $100 maybe?

It’s the fixed income thing.

Prices go up, but income never goes up. We haven’t had crazy inflation, yet the price of food has been slowly rising. Heating oil has risen. Trash went down a little, but taxes went up too. And somehow, our “low-end” cable package keep crawling upward. A dollar here, two dollars there, another five in that corner.

We dumped cable and got “YouTubeTV” and haven’t looked back. Of course, we still have to keep paying Charter for Wi-Fi and somehow, the price of Wi-Fi is now more than our original cable bill was. Funny how that works.

We don’t get “big hits” of income change, either positive or negative — but over time, since we’ve been on a fixed income, it has eroded by 15%, give or take maybe another 5%. That’s with low inflation, mind you. If inflation rises faster, we will be in trouble.

There is nothing to be done about it … other than winning Mega Millions of course. I suppose we should buy a ticket. Just in case.

THE DAY WE WON IT ALL … WELL, NOT EXACTLY – Marilyn Armstrong

THE FISCAL DREAM

I just won $1,000,000,000 — that’s one billion dollars — from the lottery. It is a bit mystifying since I don’t remember buying the ticket, but I’m not going to argue the point.  

What’s next?


So there we were watching the news. Trump. Mueller. Some moron fell into the Grand Canyon trying to take a selfie. And then there’s this guy who just won the Lottery. Again. He won $10 million ten years ago and he just won ANOTHER million yesterday.

You don’t believe in luck? Really? AND he bought each ticket in a different location. I want some of his ‘not luck’ because whatever it is, I want a piece.

Winning the lottery is a major fantasy here on the Kachingerosa. I don’t know about you, but I can lull myself into a pleasant sleep imagining what I’d do if a huge amount of money — so much that I don’t even have to count how much I’m spending — were to come my way.

The only time I inherited money was when my father died. It turned out to be exactly enough to fix our dying septic system — and a new camera. It had to have been just about nine years ago because that’s when I had cancer.

The money and cancer arrived simultaneously. Everything has a price, it would seem.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

It was the defining moment of my unfortunate relationship with my father. He was much too dead for me to thank him, but it was the single nicest thing he ever did for me. No longer being alive, he could not, this once, ruin it with a lot of snarky not-funny jokes at my expense.

Home

After the executors finally coughed up a check, we had the septic system repaired. This meant we wouldn’t have to abandon the house and live in the car. We should have had the well done at the same time, but who knew it was going to pack it in? Anyway, it wasn’t enough money.

falling-money

With no windfall or backup money, we’ve been paying things off.

But with a billion dollars … well, that would turn the tide. I could pay everything off, knock this house down and build a new one suitable for we aging folks.

A flat house. No stairs. Insulated windows. New heating and cooling systems built in. New bathrooms with great showers.

Two new cars. The non-winter vehicle will be something entertaining and sporty. When bad weather comes, our little sports coupé goes into the garage. The second car will be our winter truck, an all-wheeler that can plow through snow drifts and laugh.

Oh and an extra-large garage. Enough room for the cars we use and at least one we might want to use. Sometimes. AND room for the other “stuff” like snowblowers and lawnmowers and rakes and brooms and weed-whackers. A powerful generator so we can stop being terrified of wind and snowstorms.

Huge closets. Huge. Someone to come in and clean — and a cook!

How about a garden tractor? We’ll have a guy tend the gardens, clear away the leaves in the autumn. Run heavy errands which involve hauling and lifting — groceries for example.

We won’t forget our friends and family. We’ll make sure everyone we care about has what they need. Maybe we’ll have a compound so we can live in close proximity. Visit without driving long distances.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Beyond this? Security for whatever years we have.

Life won’t have to be so hard. We can grow old and enjoy ourselves without wondering what weird laws the government will pass or which strange new rules will make it impossible to get medication. It won’t buy us more time on earth — money doesn’t matter when your number is up — but it could make the time we’ve got more fun.

More fun for us and for our friends and family. Maybe for you, too.