Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Fifty frickin' fowl

To make up for the sad post, a couple random happy things from the many joys I have ALSO experienced in the last few days:

1) my Valentine's Day present from Pat is here. I got him a MedicAlert necklace so that he would be protected in emergencies... a sort of practical, weird gift, I know, but one that I hope demonstrates that I love him. He demonstrated WHY I love him by getting me mine... a MedicAlert necklace whose engraving reads simply, "incurably sexy."

Imagine being the EMT who finds that on my unconscious body. You'd be annoyed, sure, but you'd laugh, too. And you'd know the only important thing there really is to know about anyone, despite medical foibles: there's someone at home who cares.

2) this weekend and early next week, my new home is getting cleaned, fixed up, carpeted, painted. I'm just so excited I can't believe it. Next weekend, I am moving in! And I can garden! And cook for myself in my very own kitchen! And all that ooh-I'm-home stuff!

I can't believe it's true. It's like a dream so far... we went and walked around the place tonight, and it's perfect, and going to be more perfect when it's got new paint and carpet and my stuff and husband and cat and cookbooks and paints and easel and computer. Oh my!

3) the previous tenant released some of the ducks she has rehabbed into the drainage behind the complex. FIFTY FREAKIN' DUCKS come walking up every morning to ask for breakfast, and she has asked that we feed 'em. Fifty ducks. One duck is a duck; two ducks are a cacophany; ten ducks are an aflockalypse... I don't even know what to call fifty. Pets, I guess. But never late to dinner.

Obviously, I love ducks. They're my totem animal, partially because they're cussed, mean, venial, and filled with cupidity and malice. But... fifty ducks?!

Fifty ducks. I'm sure I'll write more about these guys later. Heck, maybe with pictures.

In the meantime, read this:

It's EXACTLY why I shouldn't be allowed to play any kind of game among civilized people willing to share a consensual fantasy.

Requiem for the blue fairy

This week has been a toughie. Friday I was sick with the flu, and it lingered through Sunday. The kitty wasn't eating well and we resolved to take her to the vet on Monday to find out why she was a little trembly and a little disinterested in food.

Monday morning, I was up and ready to get back to work, and then...

Pepe couldn't walk. Her back feet wouldn't hold her. She dragged herself about miserably with a frightened expression, taking time to angrily lick her front paws or the bony girdle of her hipbone. She was frightened. We were frightened. I was sure it was the end. Pat took her to the animal hospital while I, sobbing discreetly til I was there, went to work and made a complete loon of myself by breaking down into hysterics.

The complete loon-ness of weeping frenziedly over my "only child" because I am sure she's at the end of her nine lives is compounded by two facts:

1) R., the sweet lady training me to take over her position as the office claims specialist, is a breast cancer survivor and first-generation cancer sufferer. Unfortunately, she is not the only person in that first generation to be hit. Her brother, whose family had arranged a Sunday get together in honor of his impending birthday, passed away after a long, painful war with lung cancer, on Sunday morning. She is relieved that he is no longer in agony, but you can imagine what a sick cat is to that loss... and yet, she held me in her arms and comforted me when I began to cry. I could not wish to take ANYTHING back as much as that crying jag.

2) Claudette, who was as smart, kind, devout, and good a woman as I have ever met, and who has raised a wonderful bunch of children, finally let go her iron grip on this world early Monday morning, and passed into the next.

I don't want to talk about the cat yet, except to say that she's at home and is doing surprisingly well, for a cat who cannot use her hind legs for no reason $1400 of tests could diagnose. I am still holding my breath regarding the fragile health of my baby.

I cannot talk about R.'s brother, as we never met, except to say that R. made me cry afresh when she enumerated the family members that had joined the Choir and announced, with calm joy, that her brother could play his music again.

I don't know Claudette well, but I know a few anecdotes. Those, I will share.

She had brain surgery just a week or so before the Super Bowl. She kept saying she wanted the Colts to win, as she had a C on her head, like a football helmet... we reassured her that both teams had a C. In this world of false modesty and myriad vanities, a woman who can take joy in the scars of her frightening surgical adventures is an amazing creature. While most people are shy about minor physical trivia like a scar or a crooked feature, she took a new, conspicuous mark on her shaved head and turned it into a bloom of beauty-- one that displayed her brilliance, humor, and lack of obsession with those minor details that do not matter unless we force them to. I can't even fault her for rooting for the Colts... heck, they won. :)

Two nuns came up from Mexico to visit her and pray for her: they had each been the general of their order, and they came to lavish their love and their love of God on her. That's pretty neat, and makes me almost wish I were Catholic... such support is a beautiful thing. I didn't know this, but before she was married, Claudette was a nun. Her son is a priest. Her family are close-knit, enviable in every way for their mutual love and their decency, religion, and kindness. I don't think she ever left it far behind.

She knew she was going to pass away and she helped to prepare for it, although she did everything in her power to remain on Earth. She shopped for coffins to pick one that was shaped well for her frame and was not a hideous color.

They sent the hideous color she detested, a powder blue coffin with a VERY blue lining. Her daughter was appalled... until she remembered that her mother would have laughed.

She said up until close to the end that she wanted to be buried in her blue fairy costume. What's her blue fairy costume?

The whole family showed up for a costume party at a fancy dress restaurant near one Halloween. Claudette was a blue fairy... I think the one from Pinocchio... and the family were dressed as the Village People.

They were the only ones in the restaurant in costume. It was the wrong day.

They stayed to party anyway, and although when they walked in a pin could be heard dropping, people applauded them for staying and having fun. Claudette went from table to table, granting wishes with a wave of her "magic wand."

Her daughter is going to slip a couple things into the coffin with Claudette... the detachable wings from that costume, and a magic wand.

And that's what you need to know about Claudette.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Barking for your supper

None of the humor in this is of my origin, so I'm plagiarizing, but I thought I would share. Besides, I'm giving credit, I'm just not mentioning the author's name because I don't know that she would approve.

I mentioned that I had a claim on my second or third day upon the paperwork for which I scrawled cryptically, "there were injuries."

My office mate, trying to fill out the DMV version of that form, which is a service we perform for our clients, looked at me and rolled her eyes. "Linda? What the heck did you mean by 'there were injuries?'"

I blinked. "That there were injuries?"

"Well, what does that mean?"

"That people were hurt in the crash? Awright, awright, let me look... jeeze, it was my 2nd day, how should I know what I meant?"

My friend, fingers hovering above the keyboard: "Who was hurt? Our insured? The people in one of the other cars?"

"There was only one other car."

"There are two claimants listed!"

"Yeah, they were in the same car."

"Who was in the OTHER car?!"

"Our insured."

"No, the third car."

"Um... I don't think there was a... I'll look at the loss report." I pulled it up. "Looks like our insured swerved to miss a large SUV and hit a small SUV. In the small SUV were both those claimants. All three were injured."

"Ours spent 10 days in the hospital, I remember taking that report."

"Why haven't I talked to this person?" I looked. I had been supposed to follow up 12 days before. Why hadn't I? No notes on the file... I went looking for it, and found it, tucked inside another file for the correct day. I slapped my forehead.

"So which party was injured?" my friend asked.

"Look, all three. Our person was hurt, and in the hospital for 10 days. The other people had X-rays and CAT scans and have both been back to the doctor; one is claiming against us for lost work. All three."

"Which one was driving which car?"

"The woman was driving. The man was her boyfriend and her passenger."

"Which woman? Our insured--?"

I looked at her. "No, the one with someone in her car."

She frowned. "Which one of the other cars?"

"Look... our insured, the A driver, MISSED one SUV and HIT a second SUV, which contained BOTH of our claimants-- the B driver and the B passenger."

"What about the first SUV?"

"They don't have a claim, they got missed and kept driving."


It's all in acronym code derived from jargon. Sometimes it's hard. This one was especially hard because the B carrier sent over all the information with their claim and we were deciphering it from their point of view.

I called our poor, neglected, 12-day-neglected driver, feeling miserable. A gaily robust sixtysomething voice greeted me.

"Hi, this is Linda with Stacy's office. I just wanted to check on you and see how you were doing, and to apologize for taking so long to do so."

"Oh, hi, honey! I'm doing great-- the car's totalled and I still haven't bought another one, and I'm still sore, but I'm doing better every day."

"I'm glad to hear that. I saw that you'd been in the hospital for ten days..."

"Eleven!" she yipped. "Eleven damn days and I cannot for the life of me see why they kept me so long. Do you know what they did?"


"When they had me in that ambulance I TOLD them I wanted to go to San Luis, but they told me they had to take me to the nearest hospital, which is AG. Well, that's a cat and dog hospital, and I told them so, only it's so filthy I wouldn't even take my cat there!"

"Oh no!"

"And they took me to that dog and cat hospital, and I was so sore I couldn't move and they gave me pain medication that made me sleep for about a day and night."

"How were you hurt?"

"Just sore and bruised-- there was not a mark on me, no cuts or nothin', when I had a friend come and see me he said, well, you don't LOOK like you been in an accident, and I told him, well, I'm bruised, I have one black boob and one white boob, and he said, neat, you can have your choice of chocolate milk or regular! It's a one stop shop!" We laughed. "But the bad part is that that damn cat and dog hospital put down a mistake on my chart and they said I could not walk! So they wouldn't let me up out of that damn bed. I told the nurse on my third day, I said, you let me up out of this bed, and she was the first one to say the words, she looked at my chart and told me, but it says you can't walk. Well! I threw off those covers, and I threw my legs up in the air hospital gown and all, and I danced, I just danced my legs around, and I yelled, 'you let me out of this bed!' So she got two orderlies, and they helped me up, oh, I was so sore I couldn't get out of bed on my own, and they got me in that chair, and I said you get me my cane! Because I have a couple problems. And they got me that cane and I walked right across the room and I turned and looked right at them, and I came back and said, now, does that look like somebody who can not walk? And from then on they let me up to the bathroom and to exercise and eat and stuff, but it was hard to get them to listen. Damn cat and dog hospital."

I gasped for breath, laughing. "Did you feel like you were being boarded in a kennel?" I asked.

"YES! In fact, I barked one night for my supper. The nurse, she asked me, what is it, doggy? And I said, doggy wants her dinner!"

I laughed. We chatted. Her only concerns were that one of her two material damages checks had been lost in the mail (I had it cancelled and re-cut) and that she wanted to know that the other drivers were going to be okay (I asked, and they were, and I told her so).

If you ever wonder why I love it, this is why.

Being an insurance customer for dummies, special edition

More about lawsuits:

I was surprised to get a call from the adjuster for the other party's insurance company on one of my lawsuit cases the other day. "The thing is, they've bounced this paperwork about three times," he told me. "The last time, it was for not filling in the county box on the form. What the -- do you know, I've been doing this for 16 years, and this is the first time they've ever wanted anything to do with the 'county' box?"

"Oh boy," I said. I had no idea, having never filled out any of that kind of paperwork.

"It's ridiculous! And I'm sorry I took so long to get back to you-- I've been at a week long meeting every day. Guess what? It's gonna get a whoooole lot harder."

"Flood claims?" I asked.

"Yep. See, the current legislation was put together by Republicans. The Democrats are in power now and they don't like any of it; wanna rewrite all of it. There's even talk of cutting funding."

"After Katrina?" I guessed.

"Yeah, even after that, can you believe it? Anyway, what they're doing now, like for next year, they're combining Wind and Water. Before, they were on two separate policies, see? And with Katrina, there was all this squabbling, they're still sorting out some of the claims if you can believe that, they go, 'no, this looks like wind damage.' 'No, that's water damage.' Well, you can't tell! There's no way to tell! And nobody wants to pay up! So they're combining it now."

Me: "That actually sounds pretty good, then."

"Oh, yeah, it's gonna be great! Seriously easier."

I squished shut my eyes. Sometimes conversations boggle my brain. "Super cool," I said.

"Yeah! Anyway, he should get a check, well, the delay should be momentary."

"One more thing--" I said, remembering. "You're aware there's a lawsuit, right?"

"Oh yeah, he's suing the county or some crap like that. Yeah."

"I just wanted you to be aware so that you were protected, you know."

"Yep. Well, let him know a check is on the way."

I asked permission, but they let me. He grumbled about having NEW claims because there was more inventory to account for than previously discovered: it was a flood at a business. But he's a nice guy.

So, live and learn, sometimes insurance money DOES come through for people in lawsuits, and some of the people in insurance can continue to work to get you money even when others have their hands tied. But expect, if you are in a lawsuit with an insurance claim attached, that one hand will not talk to the other.

Workers' Compensation:

This varies state by state. However, it pretty much goes like this: if you are hurt on the job, your employer should be able to give you a form to fill out to file a Workers' Comp claim. Your employer has Workers' Comp insurance, and it is his/her policy that you will be claiming against. (Only CRAZY rich employers can provide their own self-insurance for this in California, and I think they're crazy as well as rich, since this is a thing about which I would want to pass that buck... but then I am a big believer in social welfare and support systems in government, so you might have expected me to say such a thing.) If s/he can't provide you that form and doesn't know much about his/her insurance, it's still going to be okay... the Internet will have information for you.

On the California version of that form, there is an automated helpline listed. When an injured worker called us because it is through us that her boss has her Workers' Comp insurance, I faxed her that form, but really, she and her employer have to fill it out and submit it. I listened to the (incredibly good) automated helpline. I went to the website it mentioned. I sent her the relevant fact sheets to her claim, and the forms that she might need.

This is the most important part, I think. Your DWC or whatever it is called in other states has local offices, and in those offices, they might, if they are like California, hold monthly workshops for injured workers. That means that you get one-on-one and group help in sorting out Workers' Comp issues, and that you have access to people who can answer your questions and put the right forms into your hands.

If you are hurt on the job, don't be afraid to do a little research and even to enlist the help of your insurance agency in tracking down your next steps. You will be interfacing with the state... they will have their own claim evaluators come and see you, and they might require that you see one of their recommended doctors unless you submit special forms declaring your intention to go with your own physician. But, although it may look intimidating at first, the process is designed to be accessible and it is not impossible to decipher.

Better yet, don't get hurt. But, you know, life.

IT lives...

Today, the flu. I've been fighting it since Monday, and last night it decided to win. I'm actually quite bummed out to miss a day of work, which should go to show you that I love my job; I called in "maybe" this morning and my superheroine office manager* told me to stay away, as we have a couple health-fragile office mates for whom a virus might mean the end. I was proud to be able to offer advice on which clients will need to be contacted today... I am, miraculously, remembering names and on top of (some) claims!

(*She's not a superhero because she doesn't want me barfing all over the office phones. She's a superhero because she just IS. She's tough, loving, smart, and hard as nails, and about as physically fit as she can be. I think she may be in her late fifties or early sixties, but in my office, any employee could be any age... we have a 72 year old and a 69 year old. The 72 year old is NOT one of the fragile ones and looks deceptively 60. You're only as old as you feel: my office manager only takes the car if the weather is so bad as to be life threatening, preferring to walk wherever she goes. Hugging her -- it's also a huggy office -- is like hugging a very enthusiastic statue whose single-minded purpose is to make ribs creak: she's that hard-bodied.)

Yesterday we had torrential rain mixed with hail. I know, I know, those of you living where there is weather and where there are seasons are saying "cry me a river." But this area isn't prepared for it (especially me, because I grew up during a 10 year + drought) and it makes our power go out.

It didn't STAY out long, just went out every time lightning hit a power pole, which was pretty much every time lightning struck anywhere. But each time, the answering machine at work would scream and the lights would flicker, and the Internet would go down.

The Internet going down in an insurance agency is pretty much the end of the world. We can take down your info, but it isn't going anywhere.

The very funny woman who serves as the first line of defense answering phones and directing traffic would announce, before anyone else had a clue: "It's down." Or, "it's up."

I was frustrated; I had been trying to sort out why a check had not arrived for a client and where to send medical bills for a different one, and this requires a lot of research to follow up-- getting the phone numbers for the claims' adjusters from the claim reporting network, for instance. When I take any action, it must be documented on the electronic filing system where we keep track of our relations with clients (as my boss puts it, "The agency with the most information wins.") And I can't do either of those things, nor e-mail those addresses to the client with the bills, until it's up. I wrote the notes and saved them for later. I composed the e-mail and waited.

"It's up."

I pounced, clicking "send" on two screens.

"It's down."

"DAMN it," I said, looking at the "nope, the system failed" message. It was the first time I'd cussed in the office. My friend chortled. I toggled to the other screen. Nope, that one failed too.

"It's up."

I sent the files. This time, they went. "It's you-- you're doing this," I told my giggling friend. "You've got a button over there and every time you hit it, it toggles on or off." I opened a file festooned with sticky notes explaining all the things it needed done with it next time. It was next time.

She turned to look at me deadpan. "Honey, I've been single again for a long time... 11 years now. And it had been a long time before that. I don't touch any buttons and I don't turn anything on."

I cackled, surprised.

"It's down," she smirked.

I was defeated. "To continue your metaphor," I said, writing another sticky note to come back to the complicated file I'd just opened later that afternoon, "the system needs a little Viagra."

"Oh, thank God they didn't have that when I was married," she said with passion. "My husband was the kind of guy who has to be the best at everything--"

"Mmm-hm, MVP, BMOC?" I asked.

She nodded. "Only -- he was NOT the best at that. You just knew you were in for a long boring evening. Hey, look, it's up!"

Yesterday was like that... only with a birthday party in the middle. It got so difficult in the afternoon that I wondered if it was "haze the new kid" day... I took a glass claim from someone who was incoherent, cagey about sharing such sensitive information as "when did your windshield break?" and "where were you when it happened?" and "is this your current address?", and uncooperative about setting up a follow-up appointment with the glass repair company... had to sort out a billing snafu of my own making while speaking to someone stubbornly unwilling to listen to what I was saying to her... had to decipher whether those were 5s or Ss in my hideous scrawl... had to decipher what I had meant on a claim report by the cryptic "there were injuries" written on my 3rd day on the job... answered tough questions from the home office, a rental car company, and an adjuster ("it's just a red flag when the client is unwilling to contact us on a theft claim, is all"), and tried to figure out where I had lost one file and when I had intended to act upon another, all within the same 20-minute chunk of time (it bled out to about 45).

I love my job. I hate missing a day. When I called in "bleeeargh" my office manager told me that she'd cancel the surprise meeting where they were to tell me they were expanding my duties, and reschedule it for next week. I'm gonna be as busy as a one-armed paper hanger.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Just so that it matches the curtains.

Earlier on in this Blog contraption I have talked about my mom and brother acquiring our future home: the duck-adjacent house where the bird-lady lived. What I did not mention is this:

Mom, playing The Sims in real life, as is her way: "And once she moves out we'll do a walk through and we'll put in new washers and dryers, or maybe you can have mine since I HATE IT" (which she does) "and a new range because we want you to have a gas stove, but we've talked to our contractor and he can run a gas line if the Homeowners Associations Terms and Conditions allow" (as I hate electric ranges, as does every serious cook-- argue that point with me and I'll armwrestle you about it, they suck suck SUUUUUUCK) "and a new fridge and microwave, and it has a brand new water heater and garbage disposal, and we'll replace the toilet with a handicapped one" (this is a tradition: they are taller for my brother and they have a nifty flush on them) "and what style of furniture do you want for the living room?" She paused for breath. "Oh! And YOU get to pick out the paint color and the carpet!"

Me, doing what I always do when stunned: "Just so long as it matches the curtains." (Thank you, I call my color palette for this house Obliquely Off Color.)

Mom: "What!? We can BUY new curtains, you moron." (That's pretty much her pet name for me-- she says it without rancor and when she thinks I'm being, well, you know... I guess I'm belaboring the obvious here.)

So I'm picking colors, with Pat's help. Paint and the Art of Passive Resistance.

Me: "What colors do you like?"

Pat: "I don't know, I haven't thought about it."

Me: "Okay, so think about it. I was thinking bold colors on the walls, since we're not in an apartment for once. Like in Peru, but not colonial colors."

Pat: "I have always liked neutral colors."

Me: "I was thinking that! Browns, greens-- you know I like green-- maybe seascape blues and tans."

Pat: "I don't know, honey. Whatever you decide will be fine for me."

Me: "Let's go get color chips at Home Despot. We can use our board-and-nail zombie apocalypse money for paint and bookshelving supplies anyway."

We went to Home Despot and boy, did we get a lot of paint chips. I picked out vivid greens, browns, and blues. Pat picked out muted ones with a silvery gray undertone, which, upon reflection, will really be better for the place. I took them out and pondered them. My brother likes the ones I picked, but I'm leaning more toward Pat's, now. The next time Mom asked, I was able to tell her, "We went to Home Despot and got paint chips."

"Did you look at carpet while you were there?"

"They have carpet?!"

"YES, you moron!" (Honestly, her other name for me is Sweet Pea. I hear about ten Sweet Peas to the moron. My dad calls me Punkin. Pat calls me Ducky.) "By the way, if you're doing browns and naturals, I have two big paint cans of Swiss Coffee-- I love Swiss Coffee-- that you can use for the ceilings, because they're cottage cheese ceilings and they will need to be repainted, I imagine." (As it happens, that will work out fine.)

So the next day, we went back to ogle carpet. Snrrrk. It went like this.

Me: "What do you think of this?"

Pat: "I HATE that."

Me: "Too light? Too dark?"

Pat: "It looks like RV carpet. I hate the texture."

Me: "Ignore the frickin' texture already. I'm trying to get an idea about color."

Pat: "Maybe I don't like carpet at all."

Me, rolling eyes: "Okay, come here." Leading husband to plush carpet instead of short-pile carpet. "I like this color set-- do any of these appeal?"

Pat: "This one."

Me: "About that lightness, but not with that horrible yellow tan color, right?"

Pat: "I thought we were doing browns."

Me: "Not baby-diaper browns. What do you think of this? It's about the same shade but in a better color."

Pat: "Ugh... there's too much pink, or something, in that one."

Me: "I kind of like pink..."

And so it is settled. We need a grayish lightish mocha color without too much (baby-diaper) yellow in it and without too much (makeup foundation) pink in it... NOT tan and NOT brown, not too pale and not too grubby looking and we really don't want it too dark.


I'm going back to stage one. Just so it matches the curtains.

Readers, I married him.

And may I direct you to the OTHER reason?

I do recommend scrolling down to enjoy the Driving Miss Lazy Part 1 before Driving Miss Lazy Part 2. Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Being an insurance customer for dummies, volume 1, appendix

Just a short little footnote, this time.

If your car is broken into and the vandals steal your stuff, be aware that that stuff is covered NOT by your car insurance, but by your homeowners/renters' policy. Because the loss of stuff will rarely exceed your homeowners' deductible, you will probably end up paying out of pocket anyway. If it DOES exceed your homeowners' deductible, be aware that your HO policy's premium-- what you pay for it-- will go UP by 30%+ for at least a year if your carrier pays one red cent of the loss. Bottom line: don't leave anything valuable in the car.

Better yet, if you regularly carry COV (Crap Of Value, for those not fluent in Linda-speak) in your vehicle, check with your insurance agent to see if an exception for said Crap can be added to your comprehensive auto insurance.

Also, I sort of "strategically forgot" to mention that your state laws will vary. For instance, in California, if you have a child seat in the auto and the car is subject to any kind of collision claim (be it a rock flying up from the road and puncturing a part of your air conditioning system, or anything), you MUST replace that child seat. I believe insurance helps cover that loss in California but I am not sure how the adjusters wrangle that one out. Anyway, be prepared for some peculiar addenda if you ever have an auto claim... they're meant to help, but, as many of my politically active friends suggest, too many nannies spoil the nursery.

And as Grampa pointed out in his note on the last installment:

ABS=Anti-lock Breaking System (a safety feature which should help insurance rates)
AWD=All-Wheel Drive (a safety feature which should also help insurance rates)

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Being an insurance customer for dummies, volume 1

On the one hand, it's insufferably pompous of me to tell people how they should buy their insurance based on the two and a half mighty weeks of experience I have being the claims representative for my agency. On the other hand, even two and a half weeks has taught me that most people don't really know what their coverage entails or how they can screw it up when push comes to shove.

So, here I go. But there's a disclaimer-- seriously, I've been doing this for two weeks. The only thing I can tell you with absolute certainty is that if you cannot sit down face to face with your agent and discuss what will happen with your coverage if you have an emergency, you need a better agent. And agents are not the companies they represent. John H. Doe Insurance Agency is probably representing one of the big national chains: know which one he represents, but know him, better. It's his office that will have to go to bat for you if there is a dispute.

Without further ado:

Headnote: your insurance carrier has certain preferred repair companies, whose work they will guarantee and who will get things done faster (because they are trusted to do estimates without an adjuster having to haul his ashes out there to look at the damaged goods) than other shops. I highly recommend using them if you don't have a strong preference not to.

1. Health Insurance:

Have it. If you need it, it will positively ruin you not to have it. If you don't, it'll be good for your blood pressure and peace of mind to know it's there.

Be aware that certain policies, such as Blue Cross', cover you up to a lifetime maximum limit (usually pretty robust, say, $5 million.) If you bill your medical care to this policy it will nickle and dime that maximum limit. For most people, this is not a problem; if you are in an accident that produces a coma and lots of need for rehab and surgery, it may dig a couple million out of that limit.

The only additional thing I know about this yet, thank goodness, is that because of the size and inertia of Blue Cross, if they pay some medical bills for you and you later recover a reimbursement for them from a legal settlement or an insurance claim against another party's carrier, it is very difficult indeed to get them to correct your limit back to what it should be. Again, usually, that is not a problem, but be aware that it can cost you lots of time if push comes to shove... so take the steps to fix it while you are hale, hearty, and unharmed.

2. Life Insurance

All I know about life insurance so far (thank goodness) is that if you ride a motorcycle and do not wear a helmet, it will become relevant. If you ride a motorcycle or work as a stunt-person or something, you may want to be sure you have a life policy. Also, if you have dependent minors or a non-working spouse.

Don't be afraid to ask your agency to take care of as much of the work as possible in getting something done on your claim, if you are a surviving beneficiary. They're there to spare you trouble, and emotional pain is trouble-- they will be generous with assistance.

3. Homeowners', Landlord Protection, and Renters' Insurance

Like car insurance, homeowners' policies (every flavor) have a deductible. This is the part of the bill that YOU end up paying when and if you have to report a claim, before the insurance will kick in a red cent. Make sure that this amount is something you can afford to pony up if something nasty happens to your domicile. If your deductible is $2500, that means that you will have to fork over that amount to fix your damages, and the insurance will pay the balance.

This is the most important thing to know about homeowners' policies: if your insurance policy pays one red cent in repairs, your premium (what you pay for the policy annually) will go up by about 33% for at least one year. So if you have a repair to make that will cost $500 to make, and your deductible is $250, you want to be sure that the rise in your premium won't cost you more than $250 (the remaining balance that insurance will cover) before you accept settlement. Here's the other boot (and it's encouraging): you can ALWAYS turn down a settlement so that your premium is not affected.

Appraisal by the adjusters and estimates by repair companies should cost you nothing. That and service are the things you get in return for paying your premiums.

Also like car insurance, if the problem from which the claim arises is from your negligence, faulty maintenance or faulty prior repair, you are NOT covered for insurance claims. The adjusters will come and inspect damages and make this determination. So make sure that you stay on top of little wear and tear issues as they come along, or they could cost you painfully somewhere down the road.

Insurance on your domicile probably covers the structure, its grounds, your stuff in the place, its fixtures, etc. If a windstorm chucks a tree branch through a French door and hits your TV, breaking it and your DVD player, and then your indoor fountain, causing it to break and spill water all over your prized Turkish rug... the door, the floor, the carpet, the DVD you can't get out of the machine, and the TV should be covered. Pretty neat, huh?

Mold is never, ever, ever, EVER covered. However, your agency will probably be able to recommend a mold remediation company, and it is a good idea for you to fix it promptly, because the damage will only increase (this will be if you are the building's owner; tenants can defer to their landlords.) This is because it's so prevalent and there was a huge class action lawsuit a few years ago in Texas and there is nowhere in the country that you will find a policy with a mold exception. None.

For water damage to be covered, the release of water has to be a "sudden and accidental discharge of water" (or hot soup, or molasses, or whatever) that does NOT result from a flood. (Flood policies are separate, as are earthquake policies where they are relevant.) Insurance will cover damages to your floors, cabinets, structures, and the contents of your property but will not cover the damage to the pipes that coughed out the water in the first place... pipes are more or less considered an alien, hostile entity that want to kill your home.

Likewise trees: if the wind blows a tree onto your building, insurance may repair your building, but not replace your tree. Tree removal is never covered. Damage caused by trees behaving normally is considered to be a maintenance issue that should have been dealt with prior to the crisis, and won't be covered.

Nuclear explosions aren't covered, but other ones are. Zombie apocalypse might be covered, unless the problem is that they vandalize things. Oh wait, no... pathogens aren't covered. So if it's a 28 Days zombie apocalypse, you might have some trouble. The point is, know which kinds of emergency and damage are exempt from coverage: read your policy and have someone at the agency sit down with you and explain it.

Commercial insurance is similar, but I am not savvy enough to know how they differ, yet.

4. Auto Insurance

A lot of what I said about homeowners' insurance pertains here. I *think* that the thing that makes your premiums go up is not the fact that you collected on a claim, here, though. I know that it involves an unsavory mix of the cars on the policy, the drivers listed for those cars (the length of time they have been driving, the tickets they have received, and the accidents they have been found at fault for causing.) I think it also might involve the sacrifice of a virgin brown goat and a lot of chanting. It's tricky, and I don't know the voodoo yet (and it'll be a long time before I do.) The person who calculates it for you at your agency should be able to sit down with you and explain where the charges come from, and should be able to spin it so that it's the best it can be, so long as you have multiple drivers and cars (put the lousier drivers with the lousier cars, and the cost goes down.)

DO look into making sure you have rental car coverage on your policy: that will cover the rental of a replacement vehicle for a while during the repair or replacement of your own vehicle. If you don't explicitly add it, it won't be there.

A word: cars depreciate. Adjusters estimate the lifespan of your kind of vehicle (there's a list somewhere) and knock off value for the vehicle accordingly. So if you have a $20,000 car that is expected to last 10 years under normal circumstances, its value drops by $2000 per year. Ouch. ADDITIONALLY, if your maintenance or wear and tear on a vehicle is heavy, the adjuster will deduct from the car's value, too: if your sheet metal is rusty and your engine is filthy, expect your car to be worth bupkis. I think mileage counts toward wear and tear, but I'm not sure.

The insurance company that covers an accident is the one that works for the person who caused the accident. However, the other guy's insurance can really drag its feet. If this happens, you can elect to cover the damages on your own side with YOUR insurance and then have the other guy's insurance policy pay back your own: this is called subrogation. Be aware that you can request this if you are not having things fixed in a timely fashion.

Know what your deductibles are and be sure you can afford to cover them (it's a balancing act: premium vs. emergency funding). Here are things that your deductible varies for:

Comprehensive: this insurance covers material damages to your vehicle and property in it if there is no other driver involved in the loss. In the event that it is stolen, vandalized (broken windows, stolen stereo*), you need a tow or a locksmith, a tree smashes your roof in, someone steals your CDs and cell phone, rats chew through your wiring (it's happened!), your air conditioning breaks (and is both unwarranteed and not due to an accident), if you hit a deer or a bird or rock breaks your windshield, etc, this covers you. Your comprehensive deductible is what you have to cough up to get these things fixed, while your insurance company picks up the rest of the tab; a low deductible means a more expensive premium, but it may be painful if you have a tree kill your car. Comprehensive is generally optional unless you have a lienholder on that vehicle (i.e. you are still paying on it.)

Glass: if you have a high comprehensive deductible, it is possible that you will have a glass deductible buyback program available for a few extra dollars a month: if you choose this option, it will lower your deductible for the purposes of replacing glass only.

Collision: this insurance covers material damages to your car if you are at fault in an accident. Without it, if you cause an accident and your car is totalled, as the person training me puts it, it is just "too bad, so sad." If someone runs into your car while it is parked and drives off, this is what covers you, too. You can gauge how much you want this. Collision is generally optional unless you have a lienholder on the vehicle (whom you are still paying.)

Personal Liability: This is the insurance that is pretty much required. It covers the other motorist's vehicle, and medical damages for people in both vehicles, in the event that you cause an accident.

Uninsured Motorist: This goes along with Personal Liability, I think. What it covers is YOUR vehicle if the accident is caused by another driver who is not insured. If you don't have comp and collision and you get hit by someone, pray that they are not insured: not only will your car get fixed by your own insurance, but they will waive the deductible. That's right: if the other party is not insured and causes the accident, you will not have to pay your deductible. Bonanza!


Discounts: you may apply for a discount for auto insurance based on your profession. I don't know why they picked the ones they did, as it seems odd to me, but it cannot hurt you to ask if you qualify. Good students qualify, too. If you DO manage to get one of these discounts and then you change profession, for heaven's sake, do not tell your insurance providers. :) They range from 5% to something like 15%. If you're a hard scientist (NOT an archaeologist, you filthy bastard!) or an accountant, well, come on down!

Safety feature discounts: if your car has features that help it avoid damages, you get a discount for each of them. Front/side/curtain airbags, 4 wheel drive I-think-they're-called-ABS-systems, On-Star, etc. Be sure to bring it up if your agent doesn't and see what you've got-- it can matter!

Exceptions: you can add extra insurance to a policy by adding an exception. If there's something special or nonstandard about your vehicle, ask how to provide insurance to protect it. If you have a sweet set of subwoofers worth $2000 in your trunk and they get stolen, they will NOT be covered unless you have this kind of coverage. It's happened on my watch already. :( I don't know if your Billy Bass Art Car qualifies, but I bet it does.

Lawsuits: THIS IS IMPORTANT. If you begin a lawsuit, or the other party begins a lawsuit, while there is any insurance claim open that is relevant to the damages your lawsuit is haggling over, it will bring your claim process to a screeching halt. By law your insurance provider cannot advise you and cannot pursue the claim. I have seen three of these, and they are heartbreaking. If you sue for whiplash and your car is totalled, make sure you are suing for the totalled auto, too; your insurance company's hands are tied regarding that accident. Better advice: wait til the insurance settles before you start your lawsuit. Turn down the settlement on the unit that you object to (medical vs. property damage, etc.) and then proceed to call a lawyer about recovering for medical damages. ALSO, and this is massively important to know: if the other party has shallow pockets, you'll end up recovering only from their insurance company... which will give you exactly what you would have had before, MINUS your own insurance company's help, and also MINUS the lawyer's cut (something like 33%). Don't shoot yourself in the foot by starting a frivolous lawsuit: make sure you have something to cry about before you cry wolf.

Haggling: You don't have to accept what they offer you. You can say, "I understand that my medical bills are only $2300, but my mom was flying down on my dime for Thanksgiving and I was unable to pick her up at the airport, hang out with her, or prepare her a Thanksgiving dinner. I should be able to recover half that airline ticket and something to compensate me for stress and suffering and for the loss of that holiday." You'll be surprised; it actually works. Expect them to lowball compensation for suffering, and reply with a slight highball-- you will settle somewhere in the middle. But be reasonable, don't annoy them and burn your bridges. You want to be able to fall back on "I have reconsidered your last offer."

Finding of Fault: Your insurance company will follow the police report for this, and there are formulas when there is no police report (i.e. the party backing up is always at fault if one car is going forward and one back; the person who hits the rear end of another car is at fault even if the driver ahead slammed on his brakes). Often, this is not fair. You might not be able to budge it, PARTICULARLY if the witnesses support the other guy or if there is a police report, but know this: you only have 30 days to object. If you don't like what they are saying, bitch about it quickly... don't stew about it for 3 years and then kick up dust.

Loss of Use: Particularly for homeowners' policies (all flavors), if you cannot live in a building, you can ask to be compensated for a move somewhere else in the same style to which you are accustomed on your insurance provider's dime. It might be 3 nights in a hotel while ServiceMasters dry out your floorboards after a toilet explodes. It might be up to a year's relocation funds when your house burns down. If you lose the use of your car, and it's the other driver's fault (or if you have rental car coverage) you will be able to rent a car -- but ONLY while the other car is in the shop -- on the insurance companies' dime.

Phew! I'm sure I forgot a lot, and I know this was a dry post. But, as Geordi LaForge says, the more you know...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

We're doing it as hard as we can, part 2

I won't do this chickenshit "look, a video I found on the Intarnetz" thing often, but this is really pretty priceless:

Also, for heaven's sake, if you haven't heard of MC Chris yet, DO go to his website. His "Fett's Vette" song rocks, and if you love the original music you hear on Adult Swim and it isn't from the obscenely talented Brendon Small, the chances are pretty good that it's from the also obscenely talented MC Chris.

Eulogy: Hudson's Grill

My brother's hangout for 21 years was a restaurant known as Hudson's Grill. They did burgers and wings, bar food and such, and were much beloved. At least once a week since their junior year of high school, unless they were out of town, some combination of Robert and his many wonderful friends have met at Hudson's to play CCGs or miniatures, eat, drink, be merry, and be silly.

The staff have been extraordinarily accomodating and fond. For instance, once, when one of the friends couldn't decide on a drink order, he said "surprise me." And they did. They brought a milkshake mix can (one of those stainless steel Slurpee cup thingies) filled with ice and ketchup.

Hudson's closed this weekend. Last night and today, Robert went and met various friends. We went along for today's meeting, after viewing the reverse-floorplan version of the home we will soon occupy (lovely, spacious, and quiet, sitting right on a big' ol' pile o' Nature-- deer, cougars, birds, wetlands, hooray!) and unpacking our truck (or what was left of it-- Pat had made a heroic sally at the thing yesterday).*

*About unpacking: those of you who packed the truck-- again, thank you. You did beautifully and our household goods have arrived safe, sound, neat, and tidy. Brothers Robert and David, you are awesome-- I cannot believe you volunteered for this, in the rain, without ever getting so much as a come-hither crooked finger of "c'mere" about it. Hallelujah, good friends make the world go round!

When we got there, there was a big "WE'RE CLOSED" sign in messy sharpie on notebook paper on the door. With a couple of sloppily drawn lightning bolts and some surreptitious "True Love Always, True Love Forever" symbols, it could have been cadged from one of my high school notebooks. We were crestfallen. They had jumped the gun and closed early. We met in the parking lot (3 cars from various locations, holding 8 people-- and another came along later) and wondered where to go instead. The die-hards were sad.

On inspiration, Robert went to check the door to see if they were really closed.

They weren't. But their menu was severely limited to "whatever the hell we have left." Which wasn't bad: bacon cheeseburgers and bbq sauce; spicy chicken burgers; mountains of crisp delicious fries; 2 orders of hot wings; chocolate and vanilla shakes; soda and beer; lots of liquor, which we didn't order.

We had fun, sitting and laughing and bullshitting, unwilling to leave (until the news vans pulled up to do a bit on the closing, which was enough to rout us-- even though this bittersweet tomfoolery had a Last Episode of Cheers quality to it, it was geekier than any of us wanted to be to mourn its passing on the local news for all to see.) We told each other funny stories, most of which were well known to all the participants. We played word games. We drank it in and discussed buying furniture, hot wing recipes, and bar games.

We didn't say a eulogy for Hudson's: we tipped immensely and laughed loud instead.

But one of the things we bullshitted about was the mysterious passing of Anna Nicole Smith.

"She didn't have enough drugs in her system, and it didn't know what to do," offered Heather, who had on sparkly, pastel face paint from a juggling-and-stuff show she'd done for children earlier that day.

Dave, my brother by gumption, said, "It's a shame when the young die. Hey, she was 39, but her breasts were only 12."

Quincy, who has been called that since high school even though it has nothing to do with his name, insisted that the money Anna Nicole will leave behind is cursed. "If they offer it to you, don't take it," he says. "It's killed before, and it will kill again."

"The curse of Slut-ankh-amen?" I asked.

That stuck, of course. Pointed words are like pointy things: they stick.

But the fanciful, impy part of my brain got hold of the idea of a mummy curse on the woman ... and now I am imagining a pyramid decorated by Bobby Trendy. There can be no undead apocalypse like the fashion challenged nouveau riche mummy apocalypse ... Michael Jackson taught us that with his "Thriller" video before the things he taught young people became darker and spookier by far. (Well, maybe not, but he hadn't been caught.)

Picture it. A pyramid lavishly lined with alternating squares of pink and white fun-fur, with heart-shaped red satin pillows--fringed, of course-- surrounding the heavily painted sarcawfulgus ... small, mummified dogs in large handbags to accompany the Queen of Poor Taste to her afterlife ... frescoes of lesbians in go-go boots shakin' it at the disco ... cowboy hats and marabou hatbands adorning the heads of the carven soldiers lining the tomb...

One archaeologist, brushing away the purple glitter liberally dusting the bubble-writing on top of a hot pink-and-maroon credenza, blowing away the last vestiges from the heart-dotted i's and bedoodled margins. His assistant: "Was it Amen-ho-bag?"

"No..." he replies, adjusting his glasses to hide the telltale signs of the creeps. "It's Slut-ankh-amen. And it says, "Death shall come on swift wings to him that toucheth the tomb of Pharaoh."

"Oh my Gawd," breathes the assistant, holding his light aloft to view the dazzlingly bright frescoes, which, lit, showed Anna Nicole preening nude in endless profusion courtesy of the huge dressing-room mirrors adorning the facing walls and the ceiling. "We've got to get out of here, before-- before--"

And that's when the zombie apocalypse comes.

I know, I'm heartless. Mean and horrible. And I have a keenly honed sense of the absurd, which insists on my exercising it. So you can see that good eulogies really aren't in my blood. I don't have much against Anna Nicole, really; she never did anything bad to me except keep me riveted with her mean-spirited, poorly enunciated, tackily-dressed antics. I don't mean her any harm, and I hope she went comfortably into the Great Beyond. I also hope that there's enough room in the Great Beyond that we never run into one another there, but hey-- eternity is a long, long, long time and it's always possible we'll meet. Heck, maybe even wearing the same dress. Ugh.

Rest in peace, Hudson's. They'll remember you, and I'll remember you, and sometime, when we're gathered at someplace just as good, but yet not as good, we'll remember you together.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Infiltrating the Illuminati

I didn't want to go, but I went. I wasn't consulted. It was okay with me, though. It's very flattering to be shown off proudly by a parent when you are a somewhat prodigal-in-the-sense-of-parable child, returning to the fold after a prolonged absence for which you can no longer remember the rationale.* Like everybody, I'm a sucker for flattery, and parental pride is worth basking in for me. Off I went.

*(What did I ever see in academia?--I mean, past the undergraduate level? How long have I been unhappy with my career choices without realizing that? I like what I am doing so much, now, that I am befuddled and struck dumb and foolish when I try to say why I have not been Out Making A Living for a longer time.)

Mom and Robert had a business dinner to attend, an annual thank you dinner thrown munificently and lavishly by Mom's long-time investment partner and colleague. I went after work, with them, after the Reading Of The Poo Sample Documents (see previous post). The host greeted me graciously and at long last, and I felt at home despite my not knowing anyone in person. I knew many, many of them well through Mom's anecdotes. My boss was there, which was great-- I really like my boss. And the other people my mother works with were there, and made me very warmly welcome.

Nice, nice people on an interpersonal level. Warm, lovely, salt of the earth, when you've got them face to face. I put it that way, because most of them are SUV-driving, energy-guzzling, not-recycling, land-lording, beef-munching, champagne-drinking, McDonald's-drive-thru-ing, varmint-shooting, golf-playing, cowboy-boot-wearing, homeless-loathing, Texas-worshiping, tax-dodging, pro-life-anti-choice thinking, God-fearing, Muslim-hating, Grace-saying, baby-sacrificing Republicans. Okay, okay... maybe that's excessive. Not all of them say Grace.

(We said Grace.)

In short: the rich and powerful. The movers and shakers. And people who like to consider themselves oh-so-very-down-to-earth even while they discuss quantities of resource that would simply puzzle the majority of us who are employees of the service industry. (They do have a lovely collection of mock-genuine cowboy catch-phrases: "we live out in the skinny branches" was my favorite of last night.)

We mingled and sat, three long tables of at least 24 people per table. I had the novel feeling that if I even whispered the heathen words "blue state" in this company, I would be strung up like a New Yorker in a Pace salsa commercial. But it's okay. I've got training as an anthropologist, and I figured I could sit among those with whom I shared little (like, oh, say, for instance, the conditions of having a "church family," financial solvency, or dental insurance) with the same relative comfort level I would feel among a gathering of very loving, welcoming members of the Shining Path.**

**(No. I do not support "terrism." Go directly to hell if you suspect I do; do not pass Go, do not collect $200.)

I ran over possible warding mantras in my mind, which I could recite in order to repel attacks: flat tax, fence the border, super-size it.

It was really very nice. There were short, invited speeches: one talked about his church so I'm afraid I mercilessly tuned the rest of it out until he said Grace for us, then other speeches followed during the soup and salad courses. One told us how he planned to gentrify a city recently devastated by an earthquake, as it rebuilt; one told us how to dodge property taxes through charity and investment; one told us how, as a local politician, he was bringing a Texan-inspired tracking system for the disaster-displaced to a telephone near you. (Well, near me, anyway, but that's not nearly as well represented a phrase in advertising as the other.) But the Illuminati-izing died down sometime before the barbecue and hey-we-tried-to-make-it-vegetarian arrived (not that I've been very vegetarian since I arrived... this, too, shall pass. Just not as fast as it would if I were getting enough fiber.)

Holy shit, am I ever out of my depth. I am swimming among the sharks, and I just have to hope that my rather patchy chainmail dive suit of moral purity can protect me when my political, economic, and social positions inevitably act as chum upon the waters.

Mmm, chum. We'll see. Zombie sharkocalypse, anyone?

For dessert they brought us root beer floats, which delighted everyone. And that soothed me, really. How scary can someone be when they're eating hard-frozen ice cream out of a glass of root beer with a sticky spoon?

If I vanish, it was the Gnomes of Zurich what did it. Remember me.

Blogging my brother: I won't be having the sampler...

Last night I came home to find my brother heaving around things in his garage, which will become my storage unit in the imminent future. The garage wears other hats (if I can get away with that metaphor): home for his Harley Davidson bike, which is mostly a gorgeous knick-knack for him; laundry room; home for clotheslines; home of boffer weapons and LARPing gear; repository of strange aromas, empty boxes, clay pigeons, half-filled cabinets stuffed with the uncategorizable flotsam of a life lived with many hobbies; and coldest floor in the West. In this, it is like other Californian garages. My mother's is the front door to her home, which does not stop her from drowning it in clutter so that only the very tidy storage shelves full of plastic-boxed keepsakes around the edge and the exactly-her-SUV-sized space where she parks are vacant.

(The clutter in her garage is mostly food; I come by my strange purchasing habits honestly, as during the winter or when stressed I tend to stockpile staple foods and snacks, and so does she. I'm talking abnormal levels of squirrel-preparing-for-winter zombie apocalypse bunker stockpiling, here. My friend April once had a dream wherein my mom bought so much margarine she could neither fit it all in the fridge, the freezer, nor the freezer in the garage-- it was, she explained with uncharacteristically dotty dream logic, on sale.)

(While I'm on the subject of zombie apocalypse, even though I'm really not... I got lunch from the Cookie Crock Warehouse today -- which, some of you may remember, is on my just-in-case map -- and I can tell you there's hardly a more zombieable grocery store anywhere. To the good, it has an impossibly large selection of Asian and Mexican foods. It's also two doors over from my workplace. Handy.)

Back to Robert. Sorry about that.

So, we went inside, and sat down on the couch. He brought a big package with him. It's been a couple days of novel packages: the other day we received a box full of an empty box in the mail. Evidently this is how Comcast does its business... it mails you, fully assembled, an empty box so that you can mail back the cable-box. It does make for a damn entertaining package. Like Russian dolls, only with postage affixed, and not as pretty. Anyway, this was another package, NOT full of Comcast's empty box. No, this was a special box. It also had an empty box in it-- among other things-- but this one was a small, return-postaged carton addressed, rather cyberpunkishly I thought, to Diagnos-Tech.

Me, canting my head to read the upside-down little carton label: "Diagnos-Tech?"

Robert: "It's for the saliva and stool samples my witch-doctor wants."

Me: "Hahahahahahaha... hahaha."

It should be explained at this point that Rob's "witch-doctor" is a real doctor, or at least this one is. He is second in a series of two witch-doctors. The first one is a holistic medicine guy who may or may not have credentials. This guy, the second one, is evidently the holder of a doctorate from a fully accredited coven of witch-doctory: he is using science-- diagnos-tech, even-- to troubleshoot Robert's digestive tract.

Robert, offhand, while unfolding tightly folded, printed instructions he had extracted from a plastic baggie of small vials: "What's witch-doctor in Spanish?"

Me: "Actually cures you, or does hocus pocus and tells fortunes?"

Rob: "Cures you."

Me: "Curandero."

Rob: "And the other?"

Me: "Brujo. But that just means 'witch,' pretty much."

Rob, scowling at his instructions, and absently: "Hunh." Then he sneered. I should explain about Robert's sneer-- it is magnificently and regally scornful, expressive both of his sense of humor and his contempt for things he finds really stupid-- an impressive expression I have practiced before a mirror to duplicate, and have always failed at copying. "What the--"

Me, raising eyebrow: "Something odd?"

Rob, reading: "Rinse mouth in very cold water for 3-5 minutes, then place special absorbent pad, enclosed, under tongue and hold for 2-3 minutes. Place pad in saliva sample vial and return to Diagnos-Tech in enclosed package. Repeat four times." Then he railed against the prohibitions: no mouthwash, oral hygeine of any kind, gum, mints, antacids, vitamins, minerals, caffeine, onions, cabbage, garlic, marmalade, marmosets, oral sex, chicken necks, or auto wrecks for 24 hours before the test, and pretty much nothing at all for an hour before.

Me, snickering: "Sucks to be you."

Rob: "Oh, my God. They want me to do this at four different times of the day. But they only enclosed one sponge."

Me: "Maybe they want you to use the same one every time."

Rob, not so easily fooled now that he's a grown-up: "Ew. I'll just drool into their container."

I grinned. He shook his head in disgust and picked up the other package. This time, I was way ahead of him. Laughing: "Is that for your poo samples?"

Robert: "Yes." Reading. Then, the wince of disgust coupled with the sneer of disbelief. "Ugh." He held up a dinky vial. "How am I even supposed to get the sample in there?!"

Me: "No, no. You see, you drop a deuce on a paper plate. Then you get them a smear with their handy-dandy swab."

I wasn't far off. They suggest a layer of cellophane stretched over the toilet receptacle, under the seat. And it's not a swab, it's a card thingy. He made disgusted noises for a while between reading me passages and over the sound of my crows of laughter.

(I should probably mention the phrase, "don't discard the liquid," because they did. Hey, don't blame me.)

I thought he couldn't be more annoyed or grossed out-- annoyed, because if you think the prohibitions list is vexing for the saliva sample, as he does, the poo sample list is simply breathtaking in its sadism; grossed out, because, well, who wants to play in their own poopie? But then he found the kicker...

You take these samples over a four day period.

In the meantime, you store the previously gathered samples in the refrigerator-- but not frozen.

"I don't want my poo in my fridge!" he howled.

Me, still laughing although I was doing my best to look at my book and look serious: "I don't want your poo in your fridge either. How about you do this after we get our own place?"


Rubbing it in as only big sisters can do: "I do find it amusing. You won't even store garlicky food in the fridge because it smells things up."

Robert: "Gaaaah. That has to violate health code rules."

Me: "Nobody's inspecting your apartment, dude. Just sacrifice one of your veggie drawers to it. And it gives you a place to use one of your million pieces of tupperware." (He has the all-time biggest collection of mismatched plastic doohickeys I have ever seen. He's offered to pay me to sort them and toss the orphaned ones. It should give you insight that even as skint as I am, I have not yet taken him up on it.)

Robert: "That's it! I'll sacrifice a tupperware to that."

Me: "It has to be one with a lid, though."

Him: "Yes, a tight fitting lid."

Me: "And you have to throw it away."

Him: "Yes, of course I'll throw it away."

Me: "You going to do this?"

Him: "Of course. I want to justify the $1400 I paid this guy-- also, I have to send the crap out before I put this crap in." He went on to show me no less than EIGHT BOTTLES of different nutritional supplements prescribed for him to take every day. I'm all for health and I'm sure he's dedicated, but it's all I can do to take a multivitamin and a calcium supplement or two every day... I hope he can stand to dine on a full meal of pills daily, but he is the guy with the virgin Harley.

(Sorry, Rob-- let me show you my collection of half-finished paintings and you'll know I'm not knockin' ya.)

So he has to go a week without eating pretty much anything that would be a dietary staple, without taking ANY supplements or medication of any kind (even pain meds and analgesics), without drinking either the lemonade he loves or the caffeine he is trying to quit... in order to take eight bottles of pills he has been prescribed before Diagnos-Tech has had its cyberpunkish way with his spit and poo samples.

What comes after? What, what? I cannot wait to see. And part of me cannot wait to see what a witch-doctor charges for the real knock-down, dirty, spit-on-your-palms work, the real shit.

Viva el curanderismo!

Monday, February 5, 2007

Friends help you move. True friends help you move...

No, not "bodies." What's wrong with you people?! Sheesh.

True friends help you move on Super Bowl Sunday, in Chicago, when the Bears were playing, in -30 degree weather (okay, with windchill, but it's not like you can stop the wind from blowing, is it?)

Sweet. Merciful. Jeebus.

You people deserve a medal. Yes, you, Greg, and you, Travis, and you, Jayson.

One thing that people in my recently departed line of work like to work their jaws about* is the question of whether or not true altruism exists. Hippies and religious people mouth platitudes about casting bread upon the water and how it will return to you (oops, maybe that's actually a parable or something-- anyway, it's Ecclesiastes 11:1), but you see that that one has the not-altruistic thing built right in... hey, it's comin' back. Anthropologists like to talk about "generalized reciprocity"-- the kind where you give stuff and labor to your culture-mates and stuff and labor sometime, from someone, gets back to you, but not on a fixed date. Other anthropologists and behaviorists like to ponder whether giving one's life to save a stranger's child would be altruism or not... because you do, after all, get to engage in cultural reproduction by ensuring that a younger generation carries on your values and knowledge. And of course decency and uncommon service and/or valor are activities that can translate into other forms of social capital. It can hurt when nobody notices what a stand-up person you are; even Chewbacca roars when he is overlooked, when he has done exactly the same job that gets his companions shiny medals and honors.

Altruism is a fuzzy thing. I, for one, believe that it exists. Yes, people do give of themselves every day in ways that they do not expect to be repaid. They do it because it gives them character. They do it because they have character already. They do it because it makes life better. They do it because they have an inner compass that says they ought to... and I, for one, don't think that compass is always pointing to "next it's my turn."

One thing I know is that my friends don't expect much of us directly in return. We're moving far away, and most of them have already been victims of my execrable discipline as a correspondent. The circumstances under which it would even be possible for me to repay their kindness would arise again only under conditions so rare as to boggle the mind.

But several things apply. 1) You have character, gentlemen. Oh so much character. You have my unbridled admiration and my awe, and I am grateful not only for your help but that I got to know you. 2) I am inspired, and will do something huge for somebody the next time, and every time, the opportunity presents. 3) I got your back, and I will get you back. If you ever need a body... er, a household moved in freakishly inclement weather on a festival day, you know who to call.

Bread on the waters? Maybe. At the very least, it's gonna come back as pizza and beer. My intentions are that it come back as far, far more.
*Oh yeah. At first I mistyped "work their jawas about." I thought I'd share that typo-- the idea of whipping those poor, little, glowing-eyed, cloaked opportunists into building a road or pyramid or something, or moving my frostbitten crap onto a moving van, makes my inner Darth smile.

Blogging my father: "and then he went up on the roof"

Tonight, over dinner, my mom, brother, and I were chatting about parties and whatnot. My dad evidently likes sweet drinks-- cuba libre, flavored brandy, etc. My brother finds this novel, because it helps to elucidate certain stories about my dad's youthful excesses. More about this in a minute.

Alcohol tolerance varies widely among my family members. I'm afraid I inherited my dad's lightweightedness. I'm a cheap and surly drunk. My mom, who once claimed to be "allergic to alcohol" and tipped her drinks into my glass at dinner parties when I was a young teen, has waxed and waned in tolerance: as a diabetic, she does not currently drink at all.

On the other end of the spectrum, my brother, in a move brilliantly calculated either to kill him or to make him stronger, once engaged to discover just how much alcohol he had to drink to get drunk. As often follows in these circumstances, he didn't stop once he got there. He did stop one long swallow into his third fifth of vodka, because it was apple vodka, and he had been drinking the regular stuff... hence he noticed that it was the third and stopped. I will spare you the details of what happens to your friend's furniture, trenchcoat, party guests, vehicles, pets, and security deposit when you drink two and one tenth fifths of vodka. (Wow, I invented a new form of math! Take that, Fifth Third Bank!)

Anyhoo. My brother, speaking about my dad's preference for "girly drinks," or maybe the "Breakfast of Pansies," said this:

"That sheds a lot of light for me on some of the stories I know about Dad: the Mustang incident, the turning himself in to base police incident..." (Yes, I have heard both of these. They're both funny in that schadenfreude way. The Mustang incident involved rolling a Mustang down a steep hill and being fortunate enough to walk out of the thing unhurt and belligerently indignant, despite the fact that my dad remained 6'7" and the car had been dramatically remolded into something like 2'5". He walked 10 miles to find help, all alone, immediately after that accident. The base police thing involved him getting so blind drunk on the base where he works that he got very, very lost... and turned himself in to the base police so they could help him.)

I love to hear sentences like this one about my elders. I feel much less like a goof-off when it becomes clear that goofing off is a family tradition.

Mom told more stories about Dad's rare, wild moments in his youth. 1) The time he crawled up the front steps on his hands and knees drunk, an hour before his teetotaling churchy family members arrived for a party-- people who had never seen him crack a beer. 2) The time he got drunk with two of his friends the day after his best friend Doc, who lived in the other half of the house Dad & Mom had when they were young with his own wife, got a surgery to widen some part of his seminal delivery system (hell, I dunno-- they were trying to conceive and he had issues-- that's another story). Dad and the other friend were carrying Doc on their shoulders and each went his own way around a post, and Doc... slid down... and never did have a child. 3) The time he got drunk after eating a lot of Rice-A-Roni and vomited, and wailed "oh, my Rice-A-Roni, ohhh, my Rice-A-Roni" in mourning over the toilet, until chased out of the bathroom. This, my friends, is where it gets good.

"And then he went up on the roof," Mom continued. "We had to turn the hose on him to get him down, and it worked, but then he got back up there. He had found some fireflies and he would not come down until he figured out how they worked. 'How do they do that?' he would say, over and over. 'How do they light?' Eventually I told him they had teeny tiny light bulbs screwed into their bottoms, and that made it okay. He was satisfied, and we managed to get him back down."

Don't get the impression that my dad is a lush. He's not-- I have rarely seen him drunk at all. But it seems that under his placid and spokesman-of-decency exterior lurks one of the lampshade-wearing party people we see so much of on sitcoms. I wish I had such a lurker, too, but I do not. I go through an entirely different process as I drink. I think that if I were on a sitcom, drinking, I would have to be played by a tag team of actors as I became progressively drunker: Lily Tomlin in her Ernestine role, then maybe that churlish chick who plays Chloe on 24, and then something even sleepier, angrier, and less scintillating company. Like a female Steven Seagal. Eew.

It occurs to me that I rather hope that my friends have stories to tell about me that are just as preposterous, just as purple, just as mad and glad and charming as "and then she went up on the roof" and looked for the answer to fireflies.

Oh, my Rice-A-Roni. It's almost enough to drive a girl to drink.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Blogging my brother: Guitar Hero

So, Guitar Hero. My brother's been telling me this about it:

"Everybody sucks at it-- well, almost everybody. It's a great party game because almost everyone sucks, especially with a couple drinks in them, except there's usually one person at the party who's really good."

Those who know my TV watching habits may know that I am absolutely enamored with Metalocalypse. It's a brilliant show-- a Brendon Small cartoon, kind of like Home Movies, if the band that played on Brendon's movies grew up to be a metal supergroup (Dethklok) with the kind of wealth and power that real bands only dream of, and a dark consortium of illuminati trying to thwart their accidental but inevitable bringing of the apocalypse. The lead singer character, Nathan Explosion, speaks as he sings-- in a growly metal roar. Aside from "brutal," his favorite adjective seems to be "metallllllll." And I've picked it up (okay, somewhat deliberately.) And after I proselytized the virtues of Metalocalypse to Robert, he, too, picked it up.

Anyway. When he went on about something being "metallllll" to one of his friends, that friend rewarded him with a copy of Guitar Hero 2-- which has, evidently, one of Dethklok's songs on it as a bonus track.

After our Bears disappointed us at the Super Bowl, during which my dear husband and three of the best guys ever to pack a truck packed our fucking moving van in -30 weather, during the Super Bowl-- while I helped Rob with a barbecue and Super Bowl party-- I was done for the night. A couple Red Stripes in me, along with a lot of barbecue, and a long damn day of entertaining, made for a curl-up-with-a-book night.

I curled up. Robert made interesting noises, and I wondered if I had stuck him with putting away the copious leftovers by himself, so I went to investigate.

He was opening a game and installing stuff. Well and good, I thought; he was about to play a game on his Playstation.

Imagine my surprise when I came back through to get water and he was laughing himself silly, nestled in his big living room chair, with a toy guitar in his hands. And he was playing the thing by mashing its buttons rhythmically.

I peered at the screen. It's not that hard to catch onto the game. "This is Guitar Hero," I said, brilliantly.

"Yup," he replied, teeth clenched. He missed a note.

I watched what his hands were doing, and what the screen was reporting. "Ohhhh, it's all a matter of timing," I observed.

"Yeah," he said. I watched the end of the song. "You wanna try?" he asked, and gave me the little guitar.

"I guess," I said, holding it as if it were a large live scorpion. It wasn't.

It should be noted that I'm one of those people who sucks at Guitar Hero. And Robert, for whatever reason, is one of the ones that is surprisingly good. I got my little avatar booed off the stage; Rob, trying the same song per my challenge, got an 88%.


Saturday, February 3, 2007

we are doing it as hard as we can

Also, you eat your own farts. What kind of creature derives nourishment from its own farts?

I shamelessly kyped this picture from another blog, so don't give me credit.

Also, here's my friend April's website-- which I think is pretty kickass.

Dreaming the ridonkulous

No more Starbucks coffee and horror movies for me right before bed.

Last night there was an imp in my dreams, right before I woke up. He was singing this, to the tune of "Fly me to the Moon."

"Fry me with your fumes
And make me choke among the farts
Smell like you've been crappin' when you're
Drivin' in your car."

Gotta hand it to my sleeping brain... it can rhyme. Imagine trying to shake THAT out of your head during your morning shower. I was giggling and humming it.

Fortunately he didn't finish the song, because even that much of it is a crime against music, but he was bouncing on the bed as he sang.

The weird thing about the last couple "nightmares" (unpleasant dreams, anyway) that I have had is that they are so freakily connected with my real surroundings. In that dream, he was jumping on the bed-- but he was trying to wake me up, and the bed he was jumping on was the one I was in.

The other one, the REAL nightmare that got me up at 2:00 a.m. and had me reading all night for fear of falling asleep... in it, I don't remember anything happening. Then, a voice shouted in my ear: "THERE IS NOTHING ON YOUR LEFT." I woke up sitting bolt upright and gasping, terrified. And I searched every inch of the bed, the floor, the window, everything on my left, terrified of what might be there.

It could mean a lot of things. Pat sleeps on my left side and he wasn't there, as he is following me out. Could have been that. I'm going to have to learn to drive again. It could have been a driving test dream, I guess. It might have been in Claudette's honor, as they have removed all of the left temporal lobe and some other parts of her brain. I don't really know. All I know is that my subconscious thinks that nothing on my left is pretty scary, and that my sleepy self agrees.

More later.