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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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

Lost In The Supermarket

For several months from the end of last year we had been short staffed at work. Some positions had gone unfilled and we had a couple of departures. One woman went back to her old department after being offered a full time position and one recent hire leaving because she didn’t like hard work. To elaborate on that,  “J” joined us to make up her hours after her hours in her regular department were cut, and as she needed the money it made sense for her to take a position with us. Great, she knew the culture, was a quick study and put in a full shift.

Not so my other coworker. I don’t know what she was expecting, but the job wasn’t what she’d expected. Deli work is pretty demanding, especially on the back due to the amount of time spent bending and lifting. It doesn’t help that you are on your feet the whole day, and even though the anti-fatigue mats help, my socks are like tourniquets by the end of the day. Her major problem, though, was that as someone who had been an Aesthetician in Las Vegas, she was obviously better than us and too good to work in a deli. A big part of the job is learning the products so you can answer questions and give advice to customers. She never really made any effort to do this, which just made it harder for the rest of us as we had to fill in the gaps in her knowledge. She also made no effort to learn how to distinguish one salami from another, leading to difficulties when she mislabeled products.  Not to go into it too much, but imagine going into a furniture store and seeing a sofa labeled as a kitchen stool. That’s how bad she was, so it came as no surprise to learn that she’d be leaving before Christmas and surprise, surprise, she called in “sick” on her last day.

Another coworker leaving for a new job just made things worse, especially as she was a great worker, always pitched in, had a great sense of humour and was a genuinely nice person. So as you can see, having four empty slots ( one new hire failed the drug screening) made life a bit hectic for the rest of us. We adjusted, stretched ourselves further and worked harder to fill in, but all  that takes it’s toll, so it was with great relief that we learned that we’d be having four, yes, count ’em, four new recruits joining us early in the new year. Not only that, but they were all recruited as closers, meaning that there was a chance  that I’d get some mid shifts and hence 7pm finishes with all the attendant social life that entails.

Of course, any FNG creates drag as they get up to speed, but even that is an improvement over not  having enough staff. They duly started and we worked them into our routine. One woman had been in food service since she left school, so she hit the ground running, which is always nice to see. The other three took to the job pretty well, but are all a bit anonymous. The lone male of the group looks like he’s lived his entire life in his parent’s basement, and it didn’t surprise me to overhear that he  used to work at Gamestop. The other two women are pretty much ciphers. They seem decent enough but they don’t appear to have any personality and I know no more about them than I did the day they arrived. The guy, at least, seems keen to learn, and although he was very unsure at first, he was would ask for help when faced with a question he couldn’t answer or was unable to find a particular product.

One nice result of this is that I am now getting three or four 7 pm finishes a week which allows me to get out for a beer on quiz night and finish at a reasonable hour on weekends when I have the kids. I really think they’re going to work out, although one never knows. At least for the moment we are fully staffed and are able to start each shift without asking about the Crisis de Jour.

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Love Comes Quickly

As the song from which this blog post takes it’s title “Just when you least expect it, just what you least expect”. There’s no need for me to rehash the last couple of months, just suffice it to say that the last thing I expected at my age was to find myself truly in love. For the full(ish) story, see “Ring My Bell”. Anyway, things progressed much faster than either of us had imagined and we very soon found ourselves texting at every opportunity. Indeed, my sweetheart very quickly made a point of coming to visit me most days, usually on my second break, so we could at least spend some time together, even if only for ten minutes.

I have been staying at her place on a regular basis, usually heading over there after work and returning home the next morning in order to get ready for work. I know it would be easier if I got ready for work at hers, but I might otherwise be tempted to drive straight to work rather than walk from my house as I’m such a lazy git.

To put things into perspective, she went to Portland for the first week in February to meet up with some old friends from law school. No big deal, as this had been on the calendar long before we met, and although we texted, I made sure to give her enough space for her to spend time with her friends and not have me texting her every five minutes. Of course, no trip to Portland is complete without a visit to Powell’s bookstore. Had I been with her, there is no doubt that I would have spent every spare minute and penny in the store. Having said that, she texted me to let me know she was there and asked if she could pick a book out for me. I immediately suggested anything by Kenneth  Feder or Jeb Card, and very shortly after, she offered me two options. I went for Feder’s  “Frauds, Myths and Mysteries”. Along with Card and Sara Head, he’s one of the co hosts of  the  “Archaeological Fantasies”podcast, a show I’ve followed from the very start and just love. Of course, I started reading the book pretty much as soon as it was put into my hands, and I loved every page of it. In fact, I couldn’t read it without hearing Ken’s voice in my head.

This alone was enough to make me extremely happy, so imagine how I felt when later that day she announced that she was at Voodoo Doughnuts, and would I like her to bring some home? Do I have to tell you my response? I went to see her on the Monday and as well as the book and doughnuts she’d also bought me a beer glass at Powell’s as well as a coaster. The glass makes sense, as she’s a wine drinker, and having your own glass kind of means you have standing, and the coaster because she’s big on protecting her tabletops. Not because she thinks anyone would deliberately damage her furniture, but mainly because it’s a sign of civilisation.

Before you get the wrong impression, I’m not the sort of person who equates how much someone spends on gifts and how much they love you, far from it in fact. I mention it because she went out of her way to find gifts for me on a weekend away with friends she hadn’t seen in a couple of years. Not just that. She also put thought into the gifts and asked me for my input rather than picking up some random gewgaw in the hope that I would like it.

Lest this become a litany of gifts, I want to make it clear that we have grown very close in just two months. I can state with all sincerity that I’ve never felt this way about anyone before, and I include my ex wife of 20 years and my ex girlfriend of five in that statement. My sweetheart and I see each other pretty much every day, we text constantly and can’t bear to be apart. We don’t even have to be doing anything. Simply sitting on the sofa holding each other is enough to make us happy. I know that may make us sound like a pair of soppy teenagers, but it’s true. I never expected to find true love at my age, or indeed at any age, if I’m being honest.

It’s a truly weird feeling, to be so totally in love with someone that they are constantly on your mind. This must be what neurotypicals feel a lot of the time. I’m just now beginning to realise what I’ve been missing all these years, and I want  it to last.

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Ice Ice Baby

I don’t know if any of you have noticed, but it’s been a bit chilly around these parts of late. I realise that no one from the mid-west would even put on a topcoat for the weather we’ve experienced lately, but around here, it caused a bit of disruption. The arrival of 11 inches of snow brought life to a stop for several days, preventing many people, including my sweetheart from even getting out of the house for five days. I live close enough to walk to work, but even so, things have been far from easy.

You see, my house is pretty old, and made of the cheapest materials possible. My biggest problem has been keeping the house warm. This stems largely from the fact that the front door is about two sizes too small for the frame. Last winter was bad enough: I bought some weather stripping to no avail and even taped strips of cardboard over the edges of the door in an attempt to stem the draught that blew through day and night. I even bought a blackout curtain to hang in front of the door. None of these efforts made much impact, but last winter was not too severe, so I survived, if only just.

This year, however, was much worse. I know you are wondering why I didn’t just turn the heating up, that being the obvious solution, but the thing is, my house costs a fortune to heat and it’s simply beyond my means to keep the house at a livable temperature on a permanent basis. I only turn the heat on when the kids or my sweetheart are with me and instead rely on a small ceramic heater, extra layers and a heating pad to keep my self if not warm, then at least not too cold. Even in bed I was forced to don my patented Bronko Nagurski long underwear ( copyright “Car Talk”) to keep myself warm enough to sleep in reasonable comfort.

Seeing the wind blow through and cause the curtain to billow out despite duct taping the door shut and weighting down the curtain bottom was the final straw. I emailed the management company and in the meantime took some large boxes from my sweetheart to fashion a temporary solution. In true Blue Peter style I cut the boxes to size and used a glue stick and industrial strength duct tape to fashion a baffle large enough to wedge into place in front of the door. I can guarantee that it wouldn’t have won any design awards, but I’m sure it would have made John Noakes proud. of course it was not without drawbacks, in particular the fact that it constituted a fire hazard, was awkward to fit as I had forgotten to allow for the skirting boards when calculating the width and needed to adjust the curtain rod up every time I set the baffle in place. I know this may all sound a bit extreme, but returning home and seeing the thermometer register 44.8 Fahrenheit was more than I could bear.

Eventually the repair guy showed up and installed some weather stripping that seems to be doing the job as advertised. The house is still cold, but at least I don’t have an arctic gale blowing through the house, nor can I see daylight when I look at the door. I know I shouldn’t be surprised that the owners fitted the place as cheaply as possible. They don’t have to pay any of the bills, and for anyone of a decent income heating the house wouldn’t be much of an issue, but seeing as I’m not, seeing one’s electricity bill double due to running the heat six days a month is a bit difficult to stomach. Money is tight enough as it is without having to dig deeper into what little cash I have just to avoid shivering indoors. The forecast has changed quite a bit of late, so there is no more snow expected, but still, with the daytime highs in the thirties, I’m not looking forward to the next few days.

 

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Ring My Bell

I had intended to make my first post of the year to be an account of the Christmas period, but on reflection, it was pretty much the same as the year before, except for the choice of film and the amount of alcohol consumed. Instead, I thought I’d regale you with an uplifting and heartwarming tale of how my life took an upturn.

I won’t rehash my recent return to the world of online dating, but just after Christmas I received a message via a dating site from a woman saying she was finally in town, and would I like to meet for dinner? To be honest, I’d forgotten about her as I’d sent her a message a couple of months prior to this to be told that she was on the east coast, but in the process of moving west, and would be in touch when she arrived. Of course I took this as a kiss off and thought no more about it. Hence my surprise when she contacted me.

She lives nearby and suggested she drive over so we could meet at one of her favourite restaurants, conveniently located just ten minute’s walk from my house. She was already seated when I arrived, so there wasn’t even the opportunity for a greeting hug, still, we chatted as we waited for our orders to arrive and quickly found common ground. It soon became apparent that we were on the same page politically and shared a wide range of opinions, perspectives and experiences. We had a great time, even though we were both on our best behaviour, as is normal on a first date. I mean, you don’t want to ruin the evening by saying or doing something stupid and ruining the chance of a second date.At the end of the evening we parted ways, agreeing that it would be nice to meet again.

To my surprise, she agreed to another date just five days later, and so I dashed home after work, changed and drove to meet her for dinner. After a very pleasant meal, the night still being young, she asked me if I had any plans, so I suggested a drink at a nearby bar. So far, so good, I thought. She hadn’t fled at the first opportunity, and the chance for a quiet drink and casual chat certainly appealed. I still wasn’t able to judge how she felt about me, and although I really wanted to kiss her at the end of the evening, I decided that discretion was the better part of valour, so again, we said our goodbyes and went our separate ways.

During our chat she mentioned that she had just bought a video doorbell, but not being much of a handywoman, it was still in the box. A couple of days later I texted her and asked if she’d found anyone to install it for  her, receiving an answer in the negative I offered to install it for her, if she so wished, seeing it as my chance for a third date. She accepted, and so two weeks after our first meeting, I gathered up my rather pathetic collection of tools and set off for her home. The installation was a doddle, the hardest thing being downloading the app onto her phone. We shared a bottle of wine afterwards and spent quite some time getting acquainted on the sofa during the evening.

Before you ask, I went home that night, as she told me that she’d had bad experiences in the past by moving forward too fast. I certainly wasn’t going to push my luck, so I accepted the situation, actually very much in agreement, as I really didn’t want to spoil what was turning out to be a wonderful relationship. We agreed that I would come back in a week, and I offered to cook dinner, an offer she accepted with much grace. Purely due to good fortune, I went back a few days later after work, and it was at that point that she decided that I should stay over on Sunday night. She had been unsure up to that point, but apparently I had make a good enough impression to warrant us moving on to the next step.

I arrived mid morning, and we sat chatting, drinking wine and watching a film until it was time to cook. After dinner we resumed talking and enjoying a very nice bottle of Garnacha. Of course, I’m not going to go into detail, but even before we went upstairs I was pretty damn sure that she was the woman for me. I’d already removed my profile from the site, a revelation that both surprised and encouraged her.

I’ll be honest, I’ve never felt about anyone the way I feel about her. Seriously. In just three weeks we have achieved a level of comfort and understanding I’ve never experienced with anyone else. I know it sounds corny, but even just sitting on the sofa and holding each other makes me happier than I have ever been, or truly deserve.  What’s even more, she feels the same.

As she had to pick up a friend from the ferry yesterday, we left together and she followed me home and spent a few minutes in the house, untidy as it was, as she wanted to see my place. We texted a couple of times during the day, and I set off to deliver oranges to a friend, after which we went for a beer, not  having seen each other since New Year’s Eve. His wife and our other partner in crime duly arrived when I received a text from my new love informing me she had just dropped her friend off at the boat. On impulse, I invited her to join us, which she did. Thankfully, she liked my friends, and they approve of her. The fact that her dog got to meet some other dogs helped, but the time came for her to head home, so we kissed  and said our goodbyes. I stayed for one more beer, sending  her texts as I sat at the bar, only for her to invite me over for the night.

We had been texting about how much both of us didn’t want to have to sleep alone, so it was a no brainer for me to head past my own home on my way to hers. I honestly don’t know how we’ve grown so close and so attached to each other in barely three weeks. The phrase “Whirlwind romance” sounds trite, but I think that for the first time in my life I’m genuinely falling in love. This isn’t just some physical drive, I am drawn to her intelligence, wit and charm, and even though I only came home about four  hours ago, all I can think about is seeing her again on Thursday evening. I’m smitten, I’m in love. Truly, madly, deeply.

 

 

 

 

 

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