Empire State Human

Imagine for a minute that you are a film maker. You have five seconds of stock footage in order to set the scene. If the action takes place in Paris, you are likely to choose a shot of the Eiffel Tower, if London, then probably the Houses of Parliament. If New York, then what? Until 2011, you would probably have chosen the twin towers of the World Trade Center, but before that, and probably even today, you might well choose the Empire State Building.

As we only had one day in the city, this was very much on our itinerary. After lunch and the Staten Island Ferry ( see An Englishman in New York), we hopped in a cab and headed north to the tower. I will admit that for me, this was the highlight of the day, it’s such an iconic building and probably the first thing anyone would ask about. It did take some time to find the right entrance as it’s still a working building and one can’t simply have tourists wandering aimlessly around the ground floor looking for an elevator to the 84th floor. I’m sure the door staff are heartily sick of being asked the same question every twenty seconds of every day, but I suppose if you apply for that job, you pretty much know what you are letting yourself in for.

The lobby is beautifully maintained and all the staff are impeccably dressed in uniforms which I’m sure are very similar to the original style, which I thought was a very nice touch. We were directed up a short flight of stairs to the airport style security station that is sadly now such a common feature of important public places. We arrived in the early afternoon as a quick web search had suggested this as good time to avoid the crowds, and our decision paid off. The area was pretty quiet, and it was nice to learn that we wouldn’t need to pay an extra $40 to avoid any potential lines. There is a long and confusing walk to the elevators, as the direction is rather poorly signposted, but I realised that this was due to the fact that most times of day there is a long wait involved.

To this end, the walls are covered with pictures, screens and signs telling the history of the tower’s construction in a very coherent and entertaining manner, much like the lines at Disneyland offer distractions to help keep kids and parents alike amused as they wait for their four minute ride. Of course, there is a very heavy emphasis on King Kong, with lots of original movie posters on display, and an equally heavy presence in the gift shop.  The first elevator took us most of the way to the top, where we spent several minutes looking out of the windows at the view. Reflections from the glass made taking pictures problematic, but it gave us a good idea of what to expect. A short wait in line took us to the next elevator bank, which looked like they had been maintained in their original condition. Of course, these were much smaller than many modern elevator cabins, so it made for a cozy trip. I will say, however, that the uniformed staff who operated the elevators did a fantastic job keeping  the line moving and making sure no one had to wait very long.

Finally, the top! The lobby at the top of the building looks new, with lots of signs pointing towards famous landmarks and tall windows providing an unobstructed view. Of course, we made our way straight outside, as there’s no point in coming all that way just to stare out of a window. As you would expect, the balcony was more than a little crowded, but not unbearably so, so we had no trouble finding a spot at the parapet from which to view the city. It really is a most impressive sight, to see such a huge city laid out like an architect’s model. We took our time making our way around, taking plenty of pictures. One of the sights I had most wanted to see was the Flatiron Building. I don’t know why this particular building fascinates me so much, but it does. We had talked about walking over to see it, but the time involved would have made it impractical, so instead I settled for a view from above.

 

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Maybe it’s the shape, maybe it’s because it is a great use of space, but I just love it. I took plenty of other pictures, but I won’t add them here, but suffice it to say that the Chrysler Building looks even more impressive when seen from above. Central Park is another obvious tourist site, but seeing as it’s a day in itself, I had to be content with this view

 

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Not great, but better than nothing, and it does give an idea of what a vast space it is in such a crowded city. We overheard one of the guides giving his group an explanation of the history of the various bridges and buildings, and I wish we could have heard more, but it was not to be. I did, however, have one stereotype reinforced, as it turned out that he had been an amateur boxer, crossing daily into New Jersey to train alongside several boxers who went on to find fame in the ring. I won’t use the term “Guido”, but this guy very much fitted the stereotypical image that his  mannerisms and speech suggested. After this great view of the city, we exited via the gift shop. I picked up tee shirts for myself and  the kids and made sure to buy a postcard to send to my Dad. My sweetheart, who grew up in the city bought herself two shirts! I was quite surprised, but seeing as we were in full tourist mode, it made sense, I mean, when will we be back in the building?

I should point out that the ESB is still a working structure, and for many people, entering the building is no more special than going into a standard neo-brutalist office block, so I have great sympathy for those who have to dodge hordes of gawping tourists just to get to their cubicle. I also learned that my sweetheart’s Mother once worked in the building, originally on the 34th floor and then on the 16th when she was an accountant, which gave the trip a more personal touch.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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An Englishman In New York

Editorial note: This will be the first in a number of posts over the next few weeks. I have a lot of ground to cover regarding my recent exploits and the best way to do this is to get it out there before it becomes ancient history.

I’ve just come back from only my third trip east of the Mississippi in 27 years. The main purpose of this little jaunt was to meet my sweetheart’s family in New Jersey, with the added benefit of some sightseeing and meeting some of her friends. As our time was short, we  only had one day in which we could see some of the local sites, so we made our way to  the nearest train station and headed into New York.

We had sketched out an itinerary, but as is usually the case, this was rather fluid and subject to change depending on circumstances, so we weren’t tied to the sort of rigid route march like agenda so common when time is short.  Our original intention had been to take the train to Penn Station and make our way from there, but due to repairs further up the line, we had to change at Hoboken and then take the PATH train into the city. Despite what you might imagine, there is no 200 foot high statue of the city’s most famous son, nor is the station named after him, but I did get  a very good view of the south end of Manhattan, and in particular, the World Trade Center while walking along the platform, so it wasn’t a bad start to the day.

Our change of lines meant that our arrival point was the station  under the World Trake Center aka The Occulus, a vast, shining, white labyrinth of very high  end shops under a vast, curved glass ceiling. It has a very futuristic feel about it, and was the antithesis of the stereotypical New York Subway station seen so many times in an endless stream of gritty, realistic movies from the ’60’s and ’70’s.

This meant that we were much  closer to our first stop of the day, an historic pub on Water Street called “The Dead Rabbit” where we met my sweetheart’s niece and her boyfriend. We enjoyed a very nice meal ( See ‘Food, Glorious Food’) and chat before they walked us down to the Staten Island Ferry.

Suitably fortified, this, at  least for me, marked the start of our sightseeing trip. I’m not sure what I expected, but I found a mix of the familiar and new in the terminal. Of course, it was much bigger than the ferry terminals I’m used to in my part of the world, but there was  still the expected mix of locals and tourists, although with more food outlets and people touting trips and cold drinks. Still, the ferry is free, so the constant assault of offers for tours and the like was as small price to pay. The ferry, although not much smaller than the Seattle boats, was foot traffic only, for obvious reasons, so we found a spot on the uppermost deck and tried not to block traffic.

I will admit that one of the things that irritates me the most about the local boats is the hordes of tourists swarming topside to gawp and take selfies. I just don’t see the attraction of taking a picture of a partial view, but I suppose social media is all about the self, so go figure. On the way to Staten Island the most prominent sight is that of  Lady Liberty, and I suppose there are now hundreds of people showing their phones to friends and saying  “Here’s a picture of me blocking the view of the Statue of Liberty”. Not so I. Of course, I took pictures, but I made darn sure I’m nowhere in frame. It’s a very enjoyable ride, I have to say, and by far the best and cheapest way to see such a famous landmark. The journey back is a little more prosaic, although there is a very good view of Governor’s Island and the Brooklyn Bridge, so all in all, a very enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half, although the Starbucks in the Staten Island terminal has by far the worst espresso in the world.

Due to the extreme heat and humidity, both in the high ’80’s we took a cab along FDR Drive, rather than the Subway to the Empire State Building,  the next stop on our trip. I’ll save the details  for “Empire State Human”, but it was without doubt the highlight of the whole trip, and well worth the price, although I could have done without the stress of being in New York traffic.

After exiting via the gift shop – what else did you expect? – we retired to an Irish pub – again, what else did you expect?- to regain our strength before meeting one of my sweetheart’s friends for a light dinner. Imagine, however, our surprise to see chalk boards either side of one of the pub’s many T.V. screens decorated with Seahawks and Husky logos. Apparently, the pub, Feile, is home to quite a lot of U.W. alums! Who knew?

We had  intended to visit The Highline, the park built on part of the old elevated railway line, but time and temperature meant we decided to leave it until our next visit, but even so, our truncated schedule made for a very long day, and we were glad to be able to relax on the train home. At least this  time we were able to leave from Penn Station and avoid changing trains.

I realise that two pubs and two attractions don’t make for an especially exciting or enlightening post, but considering out time constraints, I don’t think it was a bad use of time. I’ve checked something off my bucket list, and had a fine time to boot.

But enough of this travelogue bullshit. What are my impressions of New York? Well, it was just what I expected, but also, not. it was incredibly crowded, with hordes of people barreling along narrow sidewalk at  the bottom of concrete canyons. Even London isn’t as crowded. I was surprised at how many storefronts are not much more than a door and a small window, with dozens of such glorified kiosks on each block. Many stores appeared to offer little more than gaudy trinkets or fast food of dubious quality, yet many others seemed to be long established local stores.

The traffic was insane, and we narrowly avoided a collision due only to the quick reflexes of our taxi driver as a car pulled into traffic from the kerb without warning. I will admit to gasping and slamming my right foot onto a non existent brake pedal, but this seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary to our driver. I guess I’m just a small town  boy after all. One other thing that struck me was the noise. The fact that the area consists entirely of very tall buildings means that all sounds are trapped in narrow canyons, and I’m sure my sweetheart was as tired of repeating herself as I was of asking her to repeat herself. It’s not that it was a deafening roar, but a constant background bass rumble that made it very difficult indeed for me to hear anything at all.

On our way to dinner I did experience a truly N.Y. experience. While crossing the street we witnessed a homeless woman with obvious mental issues yelling incoherently at a (I’m sure totally legitimate) street trader. We all found something truly fascinating  in the middle distance on which to fix our gaze and moved on. Once clear of the conflict zone both my sweetheart and her friend said “Welcome to New York”. I guess some things never change

 

 

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Rescue

Let me be upfront about this. I am a cat person. I used to live in a household with four of them, and as benign dictatorships go, it was pretty reasonable as long as I remembered my place and didn’t cause a fuss. My former girlfriend had two sugar gliders, and then a tenrec. The gliders, tiny though they were, could make one hell of a noise when they wanted to, and being woken from a dead sleep by barking at three a.m. is not something I would wish on anyone. The tenrec was an improvement, although when anxious would sometimes relieve herself on whomever was holding her, but apart from that, was no bother at all.

I’ve always had a certain antipathy towards dogs, and especially towards their owners. I need not repeat the trope of owners who allow their dogs to  crap in public and then walk away as if the deposit had nothing to do with them, and we all know  that the most common statement after a dog has just bitten an innocent bystander is “Well, he’s never done that before!”

My friends have dogs, one couple have a Scottie and a Westie, the other couple three Border Collies and a Golden Retriever. The second pack are crazy but friendly, if you don’t mind being surrounded by a quartet of barking, jumping and extremely excited dogs for the first 20 minutes after you arrive. They will eventually calm down, sort of, and then you can get on with things, but it is a bit of a riot at first.

The thing is, while I don’t like dogs as a species, I’m quite willing to give each individual animal the benefit of the doubt until proven wrong. Usually they don’t pee on me or my rugs, nor bite me, so that all counts to the good. I could quite happily live my entire life without the presence of a canine, so how the hell did I end up living with someone who is an ardent dog lover and an active member of her local Humane Society?

Let’s face  it: potential partners and their  pets are a package deal, just as a potential partners and their kids are a package deal. If you can’t handle one, you may as well just walk away and go back to the website. I have to admit that in both departments I seem to have struck gold. My sweetheart’s dog, (or should I say our dog?)  is, of course, a rescue. She’s probably a Papillon/Border Collie/Spaniel mix of between four and six years old. She is very sweet natured and the fact that she almost never barks make me wonder if she doesn’t have some Basenji in her ancestry.  The fact that after some initial scepticism she took to me is a big plus. On of my ex wife’s cats never fully accepted that I was now sleeping in “his” bed and would lie at our feet scowling at me through the night, wondering when the hell I was going to go away. Not so Maggie. I will admit that she was a little unhappy at first, but seeing as we use my King size bed as opposed to my sweetheart’s Queen size, there is enough room to accommodate all three of us.

She has accepted me and will even follow my instructions when it comes to meals and toilet breaks. She will follow me downstairs in the morning when I call her to let her into the garden, although having grown up in 1980’s Britain, I find it very difficult to avoid chanting “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie, out! out! out!” every time I open the sliding door for her. I’m quite happy to perform these tasks as it makes it easier for my sweetheart  to get ready for work and helps Maggie accept me as a permanent part of the household.

There is, however, one line I am not prepared to cross, and it’s the obvious one. We use a dog walking service from time to time due to our schedules, but when time and weather permit, we take her for a walk along the local trail system. Well, I say walk, but in reality any distance we cover is done three yards at a time as Maggie needs to stop and sniff absolutely everything she encounters. Being a dog, she naturally needs to take care of certain functions she can’t do in the house and it is solely down to my sweetheart to deal with the consequences.

I cleaned the litter boxes for four cats for 10 years, and the diapers on two children for a combined six years, so my cleaning up other people’s shit duties are well and truly fulfilled. At least with cats and kids the product goes into a bag and is then disposed of, with a dog on a public trail, said bag is carried for the remainder of the walk, the trail having only one bin, and that is in the parking lot. Maggie is not my dog, and much as I love her, I’m not going to carry a bag of her crap around with me like  some sort of  bizarre fashion accessory.  That remains the exclusive purview of my sweetheart.

I am however, the logistics carrier. I  have a great 1950’s French Army messenger bag that I used to use mainly when walking to work or when out shopping. Now it contains antiseptic wipes, hand sanitiser and spare bags. it seems that I have come full circle from the days when the backpack I toted was solely for diaper changing supplies.

On  a lighter note, I found life imitating art recently. On a recent trip to the dog trail I opened the door for my sweetheart only for Maggie to hop straight onto the front passenger seat and curl up. She refused to move, so my sweetheart had to sit in the back. As she got in, I removed the sunshade from the windscreen. The sunshade has a Star Wars theme, bearing as it does, a picture of Han, Chewbacca, Luke and Ben looking out of the cockpit of the Millennium Falcon towards the Death Star. I thought about the  situation, how I was now in a somewhat ageing vehicle with a furry copilot next to me, and all I could think was: “Laugh it up, fuzzball!”

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The Things We Do For Love

There is a time, well, a period of time in any relationship when “I” and “I” become “us” and “we”. Each person adapts themselves, their behaviours and lifestyle to accommodate the other person so that they can live together without killing each other or a minor disagreement dissolving into a red – faced screaming match at eardrum shattering volume heard by everyone within a 500 yard radius.

Before I met my sweetheart I had been living alone for around six years. I don’t count the five weeks I lived with my previous girlfriend when between rentals as that was more a case of me bringing a bag and having somewhere to shower and sleep. There was absolutely no way we were going to live together, as her place was even smaller than mine and in no way suitable for two people. Over those six years I had developed a number of habits that didn’t affect anyone else and made my life simpler. For instance, I had the habit of leaving clean pans on the drying mat, leaving clean laundry in the basket until I either needed to wear it or couldn’t cram any more in. I will admit that I would often leave my clothes lying on the bedroom floor for lack of anywhere better to place them, and of  course, as a guy living alone, I didn’t bother to close the bathroom door.

This particular habit had it’s uses, though. The downstairs powder room opened into the living/dining room, so if I was watching a movie or a football match I didn’t need to pause the action in order to take care of business. Please,whatever you do, don’t think about that image. When it comes to living alone, we all fall into routines that make our lives easier and at some point we just don’t see them any more.

Then it happens: you meet someone special and you do your best to create as favourable an impression as possible: the kitchen counters are spotless and uncluttered, the bathroom is neat and clean, the bed is made. The list is endless and well known. Of course, after a while the charade is dropped and the process of actually living returns to the fore.

Of course, most of the early part of the relationship involves short stays at each other’s home, so in reality not a lot changes as first, as a weekend isn’t really long enough for things to become annoying, but eventually you decide that it makes sense to live together and then the process really gets under way. For us this happened rather quickly: I moved in four months to the day from our first date. Yes, I know that is rather quick, but it very quickly became apparent that it was  the right thing to do, and as we are both adults, why wait?

I will admit that at first I felt like a visitor and that the place wasn’t really my home, but  this feeling soon passed and  settled in to what was now my normal routine. My main adjustment was in the kitchen. You see, my sweetheart is paranoid about her kitchen counter tops, as she readily admits, and swoops on any sign of moisture or food as soon as she sees them. It took me  a while to get used to this, as I didn’t really care too  much about the Formica in my old kitchen beyond the desire to avoid getting charged with the replacement cost should I have damaged  them. I’ve become more conscientious about spilling on the stove top, but I still leave shreds of cheese scattered around from time to time despite  my best efforts.

In my former life my bathroom counter was littered with toiletries of various sorts, including those left by the kids, largely due to lack of  storage  space, but now  everything except my toothbrush it’s recharger are tucked  away under the sink.  I will admit that this took a bit  of getting used to, but now I find that I prefer having an uncluttered counter, and appreciate the much tidier appearance.

Lest you think this is a  one  way street, it isn’t. My sweetheart has accepted that I will leave clothes on the Ottoman, and in one respect she has changed completely. When I first moved to the U.S. it took me some time to adapt to the habit of taking  off one’s shoes upon entering the house. This was a totally alien concept to me, but of course, it makes sense and now I do so without thinking. My sweetheart, on the other hand, left her shoes on, this despite the fact that she lived in Japan for some time and must have been accustomed to this habit. I found it rather odd, to be honest, and even though it is her house, she quickly consented to remove her shoes once indoors. I know this sounds a bit weird, but  I just don’t understand why anyone would leave their street shoes on when coming indoors, even though it was an alien concept to me.

I suppose that we all make changes to the way we behave over  time. Some  of them are forced, some of them are difficult, awkward or uncomfortable, but I suppose  that it is all a part of life, and as long as it makes the other person happy, it is all in a good cause. My Sweetheart has now even started watching English football with me, something I never expected, so I guess she has made some sacrifices too. Let’s all hope Liverpool have a good season next year!

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Filed under dating, lifestyle, love, soccer

We Gotta Get Out Of This Place

How do you feel about crossover episodes? You know, the sort of T.V. episode that starts out as usual but quickly turns into a 30 or 60 minute infomercial for another show entirely. Of course, I excuse the annual Homicide / Law And Order episode from this question as Homicide was without doubt the greatest show of all time. In general I despise them as a cynical bait and switch, as the  show it  introduces is in general much, much worse than the originator, and the producers know it. For example, who ever watched Boston Legal, the spinoff from The Golden Girls or even Laverne and Shirley? Yeah, not even in TBS late night reruns when you were too drunk or stoned to get off the sofa.

Having said all that, this is a crossover episode wherein the posts about my romantic life meet the episodes about my domestic existence. As you are no doubt not aware, I have moved several times over the past five years. See The Boxer, Space Oddity and Should I Stay Or Should I Go for quick updates. A few months ago my finances were such that even affording the rent for what was a fairly bare bones townhouse was looking like an increasingly long shot, even though I’d pared my other expenses to the bone and beyond. See Ice Ice Baby for more detail.

Since meeting my sweetheart we had been spending an increasing amount of time together, mostly  me spending the night at her place, although she spent several nights and weekends with me whenever time allowed, with the effect that pretty much from the start we were a two location household. She was well aware of my financial situation and had suggested that maybe we could find a solution. My natural smart arse response was to say that I doubted I could raise enough money selling plasma nor was I ever likely to get my street corner back at my age. However, reading between the lines I could see what she was getting at. At the end of March we went out for lunch after I’d helped her with some house organising and across the table she asked me what I thought about combining our households.

Naturally, this is what I’d seen coming and so agreed readily. That was the easy part, as we were spending most of our time together anyway, with my house relegated to a pit stop for clean work clothes and sundries on my way to or from work. I hate packing, but at least now I knew I was moving to somewhere nicer and would no longer be returning to an empty house after a long day’s work. It was clear from the start that quite a bit of stuff would have to go into storage in order to clear room and make it possible to unpack and organise the stuff we needed the most. Of course,  being the one moving in, that meant I had to spend every evening and morning packing, loading the car and unpacking endless boxes of books, clothes, bedding, etc. As I’d given my notice to the property management company at the start of April, that meant I had barely four weeks to get everything done.

However, get it done, I did, even though I ended up simply cramming the last few items and cleaning materials into the car after spending half a day bringing the house up to an acceptable standard of cleanliness. I admit to being very tired by the time I got home and I did the bare minimum of unloading once I parked before collapsing in a heap on the sofa. Of course, this was far from the end of it. The new house of course was littered with boxes and items of furniture which needed to be unpacked or put in place. Our first weekend was spent doing just this, with my first task being to put all my cups in the kitchen cupboards and place my Georges Briard glasses and other glassware in the sideboard, which I also restored to it’s former glory by adding all the mementos that had graced it in it’s previous location.

It’s been a busy few weeks, but now I’m pretty well settled, and for the first time in many years I now  live somewhere that is truly a home,  rather than my last three residences which at best could be regarded, in the words of Le Corbusier, as “A machine for living in”. I can’t tell you how much better I feel knowing that every day I return from work to the woman I love and a true home. It has done wonders for my mental state, as has finding myself in a warm, supportive and loving relationship with a truly wonderful woman. I consider myself very lucky indeed.

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Pictures At An Exhibition

It will come as no surprise to you to learn that I am not a great art lover. Don’t get me wrong, I love art, but it’s that I don’t have a great deal of education in the subject, nor have I taken any art appreciation classes, although I did watch Sister Wendy Beckett’s history of art T.V. series, so I’m not completely uncultured. Several years ago I did see the Rembrandt exhibition when the tour passed through town, as well as the contents of a British stately home that were on the road while the building was being refurbished. However, the name of the home escapes me. I also saw an exhibition of Peruvian art covering the period from before contact with Europeans up to the present day.

I will also admit that Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss” is my favourite painting of all time, and I have a deep appreciation for the work of the Pre – Raphaelite Brotherhood, although that may have more than a little to do with my appreciation for tall, curvy redheads. Just in case you think I don’t have a point, I do, and it is this:

I attended an exhibition a couple of weeks ago. Actually, it was an installation, and I just loved it. You see, my daughters’ school has a year long project involving the eighth graders. They work all year on a project with a single subject, and this year it was “What are we made of ?” I was able to finagle an early finish so I could get to the school in time for the start. This involved all the parents filing into what passes for an auditorium/theatre at the school while the art teacher enlightened us as to the nature of the project, what it had involved, and a brief overview of the work. Then, each kid stood up and gave a one sentence definition of what we are made of. So far, so good.

Of course, the room was packed, and I couldn’t help but be overwhelmed with the stench of preciousness, white privilege and petit bourgeoise entitlement. I had to listen through grated teeth as a father behind me bleated on about his charity work in Rwanda, and I couldn’t help but notice all the high end labels on the coats and handbags used to reserve chairs as the chattering classes chattered amongst themselves. Just to give you an example of how twee the whole thing was, the art teacher made a comment to the effect of “How wonderful your children are, and thank you for sharing them with us”. Yeah, I nearly puked.

After this, we were split into three groups according to the colour of our entry ticket and thankfully I was in the group that was first to see the finished installation. I know the other two parts, seeing the “Making Of” video and reading the timeline wall would have been interesting, but let’s be honest: I was only there to see my daughters’ contribution, as, I’m sure where most parents. I didn’t know what to expect, but I was pretty sure it would be impressive. All the kids had worked very hard over the year for this day, and of course, you know how much I admire my daughter’s artistic ability.

To be honest, it was all very impressive, and there is a lot of talent among the grade, and I was particularly impressed by the piece that mimicked the Sistine Chapel, with God stretching out his hand to Adam. It involved a figure leaning down from the ceiling with one arm outstretched towards the viewer whose foot placement was marked on the floor. Of course, the figure was far enough away that even with arm outstretched, the viewer couldn’t reach the pointing finger of the figure. Not a good description, I know, bu I’m sure you get the picture.

I thought the interactive headsets were a very clever idea, but of course, I made a bee line for my daughters’ piece.

 

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She is nothing if not a perfectionist, and she was working on it right up to the last minute. The outer shield represents how people try not to think of themselves as being the same as other animals and wall themselves off from thinking about what they actually are, while the skull lays bare the reality. And yes, those are horse teeth in the skull. I was impressed but by no means surprised that she’d put so much thought into her piece and that she had such a strong insight into human nature. Let’s be honest, we all like to think of ourselves as being more than other members of the animal kingdom, we all try to deny our own mortality and cling on to some vestige of our youth.

I will admit that I bailed after my daughter had shown me the other pieces that impressed her, but I could see how much effort and thought each artist had put into their work. I doubt that any of them will put Damien Hirst out of work, but at least they are being given a chance to explore how to represent their worldview through art. I’m just glad none of them produced a piece involving a dead shark or a tank full of urine.

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Filed under Art, Class, Education, Uncategorized

Doctor, Doctor

There are, no doubt, a whole host of blogs and podcasts about the American healthcare system.  All of them well researched, insightful, educational and investigative. This is not one of them. As you know, access to healthcare in this country is determined not by need, but by employment. Without a job, people are forced to rely on the massively underfunded and difficult to navigate Medicare and Medicaid systems, both of which refuse treatment, exclude payment for certain procedures and indeed make it as difficult as possible for people to obtain timely, appropriate and effective treatment. Or indeed, simply go without coverage at all and go untreated, or find some type of Obamacare programme they can afford.

Most, but by no means all employers provide access to health insurance, but even so, the cost of providing coverage for a family of four can be eye wateringly high. And even so, there’s no guarantee that certain procedures or medications will be covered, nor that some services such as cancer treatment will not have lifetime payment caps. I’m not too badly off in that my job is unionised and as I’m single, my coverage is very affordable. I pay in the low double figures every month for coverage and I get three month’s worth of medication for less than the cost of a night out with the lads. So far, so good.

Late last year I received a letter informing me that my physician of many years was retiring, no doubt to give himself more time to hit golf balls off the back of his yacht, or whatever it is that retired doctors do. Of course, this saddened me as he’s a really nice guy, very thoughtful and he hadn’t killed me. As part of my ongoing programme to wean myself off my former place of residence I contacted a clinic that is on my route to work and by coincidence is run by the same company that provides my coverage. I won’t give too much away, but suffice it to say that their name rhymes with Scheisse Permanente. Not wanting to waste time, I simply asked if any of their doctors was accepting new patients and took the one offered.

As I would need a medication refill soon after, I set up an appointment to see my new doc. as a way to prove that I exist and preclude the need to see him at short notice should there be any pushback from my refill request. Everything was as you’d expect, with the M.A. doing most of the work before the star of the show arrived. We chatted for about ten minutes and then I headed off to work.

Imagine my surprise when about six weeks ago I received a form from them in the mail bearing the phrase “This is not a bill”. It certainly looked like one to me, but what confused me was the impression that I was being billed nearly $300 for a routine IN NETWORK  office visit. I tried not to perseverate on this until a couple of weeks later I received a very similar looking form that most certainly WAS  a bill.

There was absolutely no way I could afford to pay a bill like that out of the blue, so I called them to find out WTF was going on. You are all no doubt aware of the horrors associated with calling any form of customer (dis) service, so take that part as read. To cut to the chase I was told that I have an $800 deductible to meet before the insurance company would pay a penny. I also found out that had I not had not taken advantage of the  flu shot programme at work, the bill would have been $100 higher! I was passed on to another section and was told that any payment programme could only go out four months, so I hung up and pondered.

The thing is, I rarely go to the doctors’ more than once a year, if even that, so there was no way I would meet my deductible. In fact the cost of this visit would have covered two and a half year’s worth of medication refills. So effectively, I don’t have insurance I can use unless I have something major happen to me, and even then, I’m on the hook  for what is effectively two weeks’ wages. As you can imagine, I was not a happy camper.

I tried to find a way to work this new expense into my, I’m going to say “Budget?” Despite my best efforts the only way to do this would have been to invent an entirely new branch of mathematics. However, in an act of what I can only call true love, my sweetheart offered to pay the entire bill for me. See ” I Don’t Owe You Anything” for details of a similar event. I was truly humbled. At that point we had only been together for two months, so she was in no way obligated to bail me out, yet she did so anyway.

Thankfully, I’m in pretty good health, although I could do with losing some weight, but what’s new? With one less millstone around my neck I can breathe a little easier, but it has given me pause for thought regarding any kind of medical appointment. One decision I did make was to put aside a little cash every week just in case I need to see my doctor at short notice. Even so, I’m not shelling out that kind of cash just to walk through the door unless I have something terminal.

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Filed under lifestyle, Personal finances, Personal health