Personal Pieces postsSunday April 21, 2013
Change You Can Count On
Here's a bureaucratic adventure from this morning.
Patricia and I visited her family on the peninsula this weekend and were fairly lucky with the WA state ferry to and from Bainbridge Island. We had to wait maybe 10 minutes on the way out and no minutes on the way back. This morning it was waiting at the dock for us like it was trained. Like it cared.
On ferry boat rides, Patricia tends to read magazines inside, in the front seats, while I, with a history of motion sickness, often stand on the prow of the boat and take in the Sound. Lately I've been switching up my routine, walking back and forth, up and down the steps, generally staying outside. I did this for half the trip.
Back inside I passed a “Seattle's Best Coffee” vending machine, which, on the way out, had been plastered with OUT OF ORDER signs. Not now. Maybe we were on the other ferry (the WENATCHEE rather than the TACOMA). Maybe it was fixed. Either way, I decided a cup of coffee sounded good right then. But the machine wouldn't accept my $5 bill. Didn't even whir at it. A sign flashed that it wasn't accepting credit cards, while another sign flashed something like “Insert Mug.” Was it out of cups? Were we supposed to bring our own mugs now? Like canvas bags at the grocery store?
Next to the coffee machine stood a change machine and I thought, “Maybe coins will work.” So in went my $5 bill. And out came four $1 gold coins and a fifth gold coin reading NO CASH VALUE.
What do you do? You look around. There's no one around. I tried a $1 gold coin in the Seattle's Best coffee machine. Spit it right out. Tried the NO CASH VALUE coin. Ditto.
You feel like a schmuck. You wonder: Is it worth it to try to get a buck back? Of course not. But you shrug and think, What the hell.
So I talked to the guy at the convenience store at the front of the ferry.
“Hey. I put a $5 bill in the change machine...?”
Dryly: “Those things work great, don't they?”
“Right. Four $1 coins and a coin that says NO CASH VALUE.”
“That's not us. Talk to the second mate. He can help you.”
“Around that corner. Right before the women's restroom. Dutch doors.”
I found him, explained.
“Yeah,” he said, “that's not us. But there's a number on the machine. Call that number and they can help you.”
It was a Sodexo coin machine, from Sodexo, Inc.: “World Leader in Quality of Daily Life Solutions.” The woman I spoke with asked for the CV number on the machine. For a second I wondered if they had the capability to remotely discharge another $1 coin from the machine. Nope. She took my name, phone number, address. I assumed they would mail me a buck. Nope again. They're mailing me a $1 check.
A $1 check? I† have $50 checks I haven't cashed.
Anyway that was my ferryboat ride this morning. I wanted a cup of coffee and got no coffee, four $1 gold coins, a NO CASH VALUE coin, and a $1 check coming in the mail.†
Fight the power.
My Pharmacy, My Insurance Co., and Me
Here's a story of modern inconvenience.
Eighteen months ago I was diagnosed with something called subacute thyroiditis, which, after a year, necessitated taking a thyroid supplement every day: levothyroxine sodium. Num.
My pharmacy parceled this out in 30-day supplies. After several months I asked, “Can't I just get this in a 90-day supply? So I don't have to come here all the time and bug you guys?” The prescription was in fact written for a 90-day supply but I was told my insurance company didn't allow it. I made a mental note to contact them. Or it.
It contacted me first: an old-fashioned letter in which I was admonished for going with three 30-day supplies instead of one 90-day supply, which it preferred. The letter included this warning:
If you fill another 30-day supply of your long-term medications without contacting us first, you will pay the full cost of your medications.
Ah, an old-fashioned showdown. But before calling the insurance company, I called the pharmacy to double-check my facts. Good thing. Apparently I'd misunderstood or been misinformed. The problem wasn't my insurance company; it was my pharmacy's supplier, United Drug. The pharmacy rep told me, “We're not contracted to do a 90-day supply [with United Drug].” She didn't really know the reason why. That's just the way it was.
So I called my insurance company to apprise them of the situation and ask if there were pharmacies in the area that were contracted for 90-day supplies. The rep I spoke with didn't really know. He was nice enough, though. As was everyone in this story. Even me.
Anyway, an annoying flake of modern life. My doctor, my pharmacy, and my insurance company all want me to have a 90-day supply of a drug to keep me healthy, but United Drug, a company I didn't even know existed until the other day, has, for reasons unknown, blocked our efforts. Here is its website. And this is what it says about itself on its website:
Our ambition is to be a dynamic, leading international healthcare services company, fostering enhanced patient outcomes through partnerships with healthcare manufacturers, government agencies, providers and payors
50 Birthday Cards
My first thought was, “Hey, I got a birthday card!”
It was Thursday evening and there was a stack of mail on the dining room table when I got home from work. The top-most was in the red envelope of greeting cards, hand addressed, so I picked it up to see who it was from. Then I saw a similar card behind it. Then another. And another. “What the hell?” I thought. I'd been expecting one, maybe two cards for my birthday. It was my 50th but I know people tend not to send cards much anymore. Me, either. You get e-cards and emails and birthday wishes on Facebook. But here, on one day, three days before my birthday, I'd gotten ... how many? Five? Ten? And three from my brother? What the fuck? What was he on?
It was when I noticed the numbers on the backs of the envelopesó11, 12, 14. 32, 33, 34óthat the other shoe dropped.
“No,” I thought. “They're not sending me ... 50 cards ... for my 50th birthday ... are they?”
I immediately suspected my sister Karen and called her up. They were in the basement watching “The Big Bang Theory,” Jordy's new favorite show, but she denied culpability. She knew about it certainly, she'd participated in it certainly, but she didn't organize it. So who did? My sister, who is an editor at the Star-Tribune in Minneapolis, has always been a good reporter, in part, I think, because she keeps digging at people until they give her answers. She just doesn't accept no. And she may be good at this because she knows the power of secrets and the overwhelming desire to spill them. Which is to say she gave up the name in seconds: my friend Kristin, who runs a Waldorf school in south Minneapolis, loves crafts projects, and is a sweetheart.
The next day, when I got 20 more cards, I phoned her.
Me: So how long have you been planning this?
She (feigning innocence very poorly): Why do you think it was me?
It was such a great idea, I was curious if, a) she'd thought of it, and b) had done it before. Yes and yes. She came up with it last year for her friend Chrissy's 60th birthday. Chrissy lives by herself in Boston, she has all these people who love her, so what was a good way to let her know that? Out of such dilemmas, great ideas are born.
I love the numbers on the envelopes. When I was putting them together on Friday, I felt like I was a kid again collecting baseball cards. Ok, I have 3, 4 and 5, but I still need 1 and 2. Plus 50. Don't have that one yet. And dude I'm totally missing most of the 20s! Saturday I got 1, 2 and 50. I still needed about 12 more to complete the set. I opened more than half yesterday and put them on my desk for my 50th birthday party. Saved some for today. Which I'll open soon.
It is such a lovely idea, feel free to steal it. It makes getting the mail actually a pleasure. Remember those days?
In the Shape I'm In
Among the 6400 items in my iTunes library are four birthday songs: The Beatles' song, first and foremost; “Happy Birthday, Lisa” from “The Simpsons” (and Michael Jackson); that Altered Images' song from the early 1980s, which I associate with a girl I had a crush on; and Loudon Wainwright's song “The Birthday Present,” from his album “The BBC Sessions.” The one I've listened to the most is the Loudon Wainwright song. No contest. I guess I'm the right age for it. I already wrote about it on this blog three years ago but it's worth repeating, particularly since today is the day. I've reached that ripe young age, that halfway point, when life surely begins. Here are some of the lyrics:
And I know that in nearly four years
Iíll be hitting 50
That ripe young age
That halfway point
When life really begins
But Saturday letís celebrate
Neither the past nor future
But the present
Here I am
In the shape Iím in!
Love that last line.
Countdown to 50
Question: What's a good, smart answer to: “So how does it feel to be 50?” Since I'll most assuredly get asked that question. An answer that doesn't involve punching anyone. I usually miss.
ADDENDUM: Early front-runner: “A lot like 49. But rounder.”
Your faithful blogger, far left, in tennis sweater, age...7 (?), behind his best friend Mark (in tie), at the birthday party of lifelong friend Doug (center, with flag). It's our version of “50 Up.” Doug was born the day before me: January 19, 1963. Our mothers used to have to consult so our birthday parties didn't conflict.