I lived my life on automatic for a long time. I got up, got dressed, scraped the ice off the car, went to work (stopping for coffee along the route) and proceeded through my day. Stopping to think only as required. Usually that was when someone asked me a questions, like “Hey, we’re sending out for pizza, you want in?” and that wasn’t a very big think.


Between having done the same kind of work for a long time and perpetually racing against a deadline, thinking was a luxury. I wasn’t against it. I employed it when needed, but anything that I could do without engaging the frontal lobes made the day go more smoothly.

And then, everything changed.

An office

The industry decided that the work I did wasn’t 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 space satellite grabber for use out in space? They can always call the help desk (especially in space where you can always find a good solid signal for your phone). Of course, those were the days when you actually could get help from people at the desk because everyone in the company was available to answer questions. From the CEO to the developers who designed each product module, we were all there to help. I was the one who organized all the chaotic information into a book with a table of contents, and index, chapters, and diagrams so you would not alway have to call someone.

empty equipment boxes

But the bottom line did me in. You can’t cut developers and you need a boss because someone has to say why you are all gathered here this morning. Also, the boss makes sure there’s coffee to fuel workers. That’s critical.

But a writer? They would only hire me when they were nearing the end of the cycle and realized the contract required they deliver documentation with the product. Sometimes, I got as little as three weeks to learn the product and produce a book that looked professional. At that point, no one much 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 OUT.

They created “automatic documentation” 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 people work and what information they need to successfully navigate a complex product.

300-gibbs-sofa-dog-13122016_002It turns out, people were still willing to spend oodles of money and for an undocumented product. So I guess they were right.

Now, I live in the world of retirees where automatic is a word applied to machinery only. The boiler that heats the house. Electricity that powers everything. The pump which delivers water from the well. Supposedly the cable, telephone, and WiFi is also automatic, but not nearly as automatic as it should be.


Nothing I personally do is automatic anymore. I walk purposefully because I prefer to not fall and break something. I think before I get out of the chair or bed, making sure my feet are solidly planted on the floor and I’ve found my balance. I navigate stairs slowly and rough ground even slower. From living in the fast lane, we have moved over to the far right and follow the slow traffic.

We go to bed when we want to and get up (only) when we must. We do what we should, but not everything we ought. Good-bye automation!



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 a 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 several years. They’ve been chipping away at the benefits. Fewer dollars for medication. Fewer covered medications. Deeper deductibles for tests of all kinds. The out-of-pocket costs for an MRI or CAT-scan are beyond us. Garry hasn’t had any big 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 … or asthma daily inhalers. Those are the inhalers that keep you from needing emergency treatment. In the 1990s, when my asthma finally got bad enough to require treatment, a daily inhaler cost (without insurance) about $75. Not cheap, but doable. One day, about 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 the total price. Although they are not paying for it, they will charge the entire price of the medication against my annual drug benefit of about $2800.

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 the annual drug benefit. The amount of that benefit has been dropping each year while medication prices have soared. This makes sense only if the real goal is to kill older generation as quickly as possible.

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 total benefit.

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

It’s true. Absurd, but true.

medicare confusion

I am not cost-effective. I have not the slightest doubt that my compassionate government would prefer I cast off my mortal coil and stop costing them money. 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. And we aren’t exactly free-loaders now. We continue to pay income taxes, excise taxes, as well as some hefty property taxes. And Medicare, while not expensive, 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 simply reclassified me, eliminating my disabled status. Poof — I’m just old, 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. They also lowered the poverty guideline so we no longer qualify for any extra help on anything — not fuel, medication, electricity, nothing. Because apparently when you turn 65, your costs go down … or anyway, that’s the reasoning.

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

Meanwhile, my doctor found some samples of asthma medication that if I’m lucky, will keep me breathing for another 6 months. I expect it will get much worse. 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 learned being a Democrat is now being part of “the emerging Democratic resistance.”

I have to admit being part of an emerging Democratic resistance sounds much better — far more romantic — than merely 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.

Where is Earnest Hemingway when we need him?


The day was beautiful. A perfect summer’s day. Cloudless blue sky.

I needed a prescription from a doctor near Boston. It’s 50 miles away. Typically, about 45 or 50 minutes driving. But not on Friday afternoon in mid-July. If you live around here, you know summer weekends begin on Thursday and climax Friday when everyone is coming home from work, jumping in the family buggy, and taking off for somewhere else.


New York, New Hampshire, Cape Cod. The population of New York is on its way to New England. The mid-Atlantic and New England regions do a population swap every weekend during July and August.

We forgot. It was the day of the asshole driver. The ones who cut you off, the ones who hog the fast lane while driving slow, but will never let you pass.

Endless stretches of “construction,” Miles of orange cones with nary a worker in sight. Closed lanes, crawling traffic. Accidents on the side of the road and each driver feels a compelling need to slow down for a long look. A few major mishaps with sirens, police cars, and ambulances. Accidents that close lanes in two directions … and of course require all drivers to stop and take an even longer look.


Police, supposedly in place to keep traffic flowing hang out in the middle of the road having a friendly chat with fellow officers. They get paid extra for that.

It wasn’t one road. It was everywhere. Bumper-to-bumper in every direction.

When we got to the doctor’s office, they’d forgotten to get the prescription ready. I simply said (very firmly) that we’d just spent hours getting there through the worst traffic metro-west Boston can offer … and I wasn’t leaving without my prescription.

I got my prescription.

We took a side road home, so we got home.


For all the years I commuted though hell and high water. For all those years I dragged my tired carcass out every morning to plow through traffic to meet a deadline that was not a real deadline, but a lost hope. Because the product or project had long since gone off the rails but no one told me — this was a ghastly reminder.

Did I work better under pressure? Actually, I worked regardless of pressure. I worked best with encouragement, resources, and sufficient time to do my job properly. When those conditions could not be met, I worked less and less well until finally, I could not work. At all.

I doubt anyone works “better” under pressure. Some people deal with it. Others break down.

Modern management has a lot to learn about how to get the best from workers. They don’t seem to be learning.


If you’re on Medicare, that’s the message you’re getting.

Paul Ryan wants to bring back allowing insurance companies to refuse insurance based on pre-existing condition. In other words, if you’re really sick, you definitely won’t get medical help. He also wants to eliminate additional help for people with serious illnesses who need expensive medications and long-term care. Way to go Ryan. What a guy.

medicare__estelle_carol___bob_simpsonIf this stuff were to actually go into effect, a lot of people will die. I’m very likely to be one of them. Our death certificates won’t say “killed by their government,” but that will be the truth. Nine years ago, I almost died because I didn’t have medical insurance. I got lucky. I was saved by a great doctor and his hospital who performed the surgery I needed. If not for them, I wouldn’t be writing this or anything else.

Even without any additional cuts, out-of-pocket expenses of Medicare have been going up annually. Ever-higher deductibles and premiums and the massive doughnut hole in prescription coverage keeps going up … while Social Security doesn’t. Many of the most fundamental, critical medications aren’t covered at all — emergency and other inhalers for asthma sufferers, nitroglycerin, newer antibiotics. This year, I did not get a CAT-scan as part of my cancer check up. I haven’t had a scan for three years because I can’t afford it.

Vaccinations are no longer a medical expense either. Instead, they are now classed as prescription medication and fall under Medicare Part D. Of course, none of the prescription plans actually cover vaccinations — except for flu shots. They’re free. Anything else will cost you. Hundreds of dollars. It’s cheaper to let us get sick — maybe we’ll die and save even more money — than vaccinate us against preventable diseases. Millions might avail themselves of preventative measures (we are old, not stupid), but many fewer will contract the illness. It’s all about the good old bottom line.


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

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.

No problem getting around that. Social Security reclassified (sound familiar?) me as not disabled and switched me to standard Social Security. This eliminated the extra protection and medication support I’d been getting.

“Why don’t you just die already?”

Social Security and Medicare is not charity. This is money we paid into the system during our working years. It is an entitlement as in “we are entitled to that money.” Because it is our own money supposedly being returned to us. As promised.

They took our money and promised it would be our safety net when we were no longer able to work. When they make cuts to Medicare and Social Security, they are stealing our money. Remember that when you hear the rhetoric.


I just noticed I’ve published 4014 posts. Here, on Serendipity. I must have passed 4,000 posts last week. I didn’t notice. I was busy.



Time slips by. Years slip by, but the last couple of months have been dizzying.

Fallen leaves on the deck

I will continue to be way too busy during the few couple months. I have been posting less … and there will be even fewer posts coming up.

72-Canal-River Bend_053

I’ve got my big project that eats hours of my time … and I am dreading the holidays. I haven’t shopped and don’t have time to even think about shopping, much less creative blogging.

72-Window Dressing_02

I wish I could magic a few more hours in my day, but hard as I try, the spell eludes me. There isn’t enough time in my life to get it all done. In the name of not turning what should be fun into stress, I hereby say: I will do my best. I will do what I can, when I can.


If it doesn’t get done, oh well. If anyone knows that spell and would please send it to me?


I thought retirement meant I was going to have a lot of time on my hands. What happened?


Finally, A Plan For The Planner, by Rich Paschall

Bill woke up refreshed on another warm and pleasant Florida morning.  As he lie awake staring at the window shades, he wondered what time it could possibly be.  In retirement, Bill did not worry about such things as alarm clocks.  Yes, he had one just in case he needed it, but he tried never to set it.  This Monday, however, Bill did have something he wished to do.  So he decided to get up and start his week.


Not far away, at the county hospital, Harold was barely conscious.  He had been transferred from Intensive Care to a regular hospital room.  It was a trip from one bland room to another, although the current room did not contain so many machines humming and whirring, not that any of the noise was noticed by the recovering retiree.

The previous Monday Harold was brought to the emergency room.  He had a stroke on Monday, or perhaps even the day before, no one knows for sure.  Harold was not talking and they could only make a guess.  The paramedics told a neighbor it did not seem to be a long time, but they were not sure.

Bill, and nosey Mabel Crockett, were the only neighbors who knew where Harold had gone.  Neither knew of any of Harold’s friends or relatives, so Harold had to lie for a week in Intensive Care while Bill tried in vain to get news.  Now he could finally go and see his retirement friend.

In truth, Harold was not in much better shape, but since he had moved to a regular room, he was allowed visitors.  As no one had been notified, there was no one to visit Harold until now.  Even though Harold had been a master planner in his profession, he had never planned for a life event of this magnitude.  As a result, his future was in the hands of strangers to whom he could not communicate.

When Bill had finished his morning routine, including a light breakfast, he prepared for a trip to the hospital to see Harold.  All through the previous week, Bill had tried to see Harold and was turned away on every occasion.  He was not a relative and since there was no medical power of attorney or permissions granted, no one besides the medical staff could see old Harold.

At the moment Bill was ready to give up on Harold the previous week, a hospital volunteer slipped him the word the Harold had improved and would earn his way to a regular room.  Now Bill was ready to go find out of Harold could tell him anything about friends or relatives.  Just who should be notified.

Heading to the medical center

Heading to the medical center

Bill drove through the light traffic to the county hospital and parked in the multi-level parking garage.  It seemed that all of the spaces on the first two levels were reserved for staff or the handicapped so Bill drove up and parked near the elevator.  He rode down, walked across the roadway that lead to the Emergency Room, and entered the hospital.

The same receptionist who Bill saw everyday the previous week was on duty, but this time she was able to give him some information and a room pass.

“Good morning,” she said upon seeing Bill.  “You will want to go to the fifth floor and when you get off the elevator, go right and down to room 502.”  At that she handed Bill a room pass and instructed him to return it when he came down.

“Hello,” Bill said with a smile when he was finally able to jump in.  “Thanks,” he continued as he took the pass and headed to the room.  Oddly enough, no one ever asked to see the pass that Bill stuck in his pocket.

Dana Farber lobby

When Bill arrived at the room he discovered a whole group of medical people around Harold’s bed.  They seemed to be discussing their plan of recovery for Harold.  They all spoke as if Harold was not even in the room.

“He’s already been here a week and there is only slight improvement in motor skills,” one doctor announced to the gathering.

“We believe his cognitive skills will return to full capacity,” another doctor chimed in, “but only time will tell for sure.”

A nurse stated that Harold was being fed by a tube in the stomach because he was incapable of eating.  The brown liquid in the bag hanging overhead would have to do  for a while.

As the discussion of Harold’s condition, both good and bad, continued, Bill asked the nurse if he could see her in the hall.  “Can Harold hear what all of you are saying?”

The nurse explained that Harold might be able to hear but perhaps he could not follow along too well because of the medication.  “Then don’t you think we should be careful what we say about his recovery?” Bill wanted to know, trying to make a point she did not understand.

“Yes,” the nurse replied in a cheery voice, “please be careful what you say.”  A frustrated Bill walked back into the room where the discussion of Harold’s condition continued.

A physical therapist discussed rehabilitation plans.  This was followed by a speech therapist.  She not only spoke of the relearning to talk, she also discussed the work that would be necessary to teach swallowing.  This act that we all take for granted would have to be relearned following the paralyzing affect on one side of the body.

An occupational therapist was the next to speak.  There would be a need to practice typical household chores, such as reaching for cans and bottles and opening them, preparing food, and doing every day tasks.

All of the therapists and doctors announced a schedule they would follow each week.  They discussed a timetable for success and how much they had hope to accomplish in an optimal situation.  As they left the room, Bill tried frantically to ask how long this would take and if Harold would fully recover.

As that was taking place, a slight smile appeared on Harold’s face.  The Midwest planner was pleased at the extensive day to day plan they had laid out for him.


Carly Simon is in my head a lot these days singing, “You’re So Vain”. After decades of seeming perpetual youth in my career as a reporter, the portrait in my attic has become an illusion. It’s something with which most people who work in the public eye must come to grips as time goes by.

First, it was my hair turning salt and pepper, then predominantly gray. And, then, oh horror! A bald patch atop my head which has crept ever forward. Mother of mercy!!


As a TV news guy, I was on the air several times a day, five or six days a week. For 31 years. I remember walking into an electronics store and seeing myself on dozens of TV sets, surrounded by a throng of appreciative people. From an ego point of view, it just doesn’t get much better.

The hair crisis was paralleled by my body telling me I could no longer work such long hours, nor party with little sleep and questionable dietary habits.

Understand that I’ve been retired going on 15 years now but I’ve been very slow to accept that the guy I see in the pictures on our wall no longer exists. Last week, I visited my two younger brothers at our family home. Our mission? Prepare the 60-year-old house for sale. Huge cleanup. My body cried for relief the first day. My brothers were sympathetic. I was grateful but my ego took a hit.

Three brothers and a cousin

Three brothers and a cousin

The drive home from West Hempstead to Uxbridge was out of “The Twilight Zone”. Bumper to bumper from start to finish. More than five hours! I used to relish such trips, regardless of traffic. It was fun in those convertible days, top down, letting memories blur the idiotic, incompetent motorists around me.

My convertible days are history along, with my tolerance for long hours on the road.

Credence Clearwater Revival rode shotgun the final hour of the drive, keeping me alert as I finger tapped the steering wheel. “Midnight Special” played a half-dozen times, right into our driveway as I arrived home and allowed myself a long sigh. I slowly — very slowly — extracted myself from the car. I tried to stretch.

Oh, the dismay. The fear and trembling. Where the hell was Ponce De Leon when I needed him? Probably still in his eternal search for that elusive fountain of youth …