Wednesday, December 25, 2013

That Little Voice

The Buddhists say guilt is useless, but regret is something you can work with.  To reflect on and improve yourself, not to wallow in, of course.  When you hear that little voice in your mind that warns you away from something, or the much rarer one which urges you to take this chance, do you let it be heard?  Do you usually just do what you think you're supposed to do or are resigned to?

When you're young and ignorant, and mindful of the sanctions that can be imposed if you step out of the conga line to make your own moves, it's harder to trust that voice at all.  You don't have much experience, don't really know what's true and can't spot manipulation or misinformation.  After much experience in life, if you haven't started trusting that voice and taking it into every decision, well, you've aged but not matured.  Thinking about it, I conclude I should have listened to it every time.

My mother believed everyone was allergic to hundreds of substances, and over the years concluded she had the experience to diagnose exactly what those allergies were for those around her.  She forbid my father to eat peas, salmon and lettuce, for example.  When I was a pup, the forbidden food list began with cottonseed oil (a cheap commodity then prominent in many foods such as mayonnaise and bread) and progressed to such things as all nuts, chocolate and citrus fruits.  We all believed it because were the adults in your family not trustworthy (I felt OK not trusting the discount dentist, but kept it to myself)?  Here's the thing, though:  as I grew, read and thought about things, it seemed logical to test these allergies one at a time in the spirit of scientific experimentation, because I had previously eaten some of these things without incident and many others very like me did so regularly, the only difference being the hundreds of scratch tests I had undergone on my skinny back.  To my curious head, it seemed if even a medical professional scratched your skin with a needle and dropped some concentrated liquid on it, there would probably be no other result than redness.  This just did not seem like proof of anything, and a pronouncement by my mother that a bout of sickness or a rash somewhere was caused by eating something so obviously inherently good as oranges or peanuts did not either.

 I had the subject (me), the time to note and observe, and a spare few bits of change to obtain each item and try it.  Of course, I had no reaction to any of those foods once consumed except a little glow of happiness.  They could have the cottonseed oil one -- who cared about that?

That was the first voice I remember saying that something I was told by a higher authority was just made up.  Funny, if I made up a crazy story it just got me in trouble.

When I worked for the science museum, the local Dairy Council approached us with cash in hand to sponsor an exhibit.  They also gave us a giant trade show exhibit about the glories of milk, which took days to assemble and promptly became a maintenance nightmare (no parts list, instructions, schematics, spares or anything came with it).  I did plunder the thing for years for salvage to re-use, so that was really no loss except for time.  I was really salivating to get my hands on the $1500 or so for the small portable unit they wanted based on the famous "food pyramid."  I never did the exhibit and so had to forfeit the money, which never happened before or after.  Why?

The little voice told me the official USDA food pyramid was just wrong, and I couldn't go along with it.  The wide base in the graphic was all grains, as the prevailing wisdom then (and mostly now) was to eat a whole lot of grain each day, with less protein and very little fat.  It seemed reasonable, but the findings since then have shown that all those carbohydrates and empty engineered grains and starches have a whole lot more to do with obesity and disease than good nutrition and health, and good fats don't really make you fat.  I didn't have any of the information on this to go on that's come out since the time I bailed on the exhibit, but somehow I knew it was the right thing to do.  It's odd, but no matter how much you know or don't yet know, that little voice does seem to know.

I can think of job interview situations stretching way back where the voice was pretty clear:  "get out now!"  It was right every time.  I did not, however, listen every time, and paid the price.  And the times I should have listened and avoided any further interaction with some people?  Yeah, you guessed it.

Someone's sitting in the living room right now because I did listen to the most important message sent by the internal oracle over the years:  "She's the one, dummy.   Let her get away and I'm never speaking to you again!"

'Nuf said.


Tuesday, December 17, 2013

To a Car Guy, the Fiftieth Anniversary is...Sheet Metal

1963 Mustang concept car

There are serial snowfalls on the ground, so it's the time of year to plan a trip to someplace inviting and warm.  We discovered some years ago that San Francisco in the summer is definitely the first but definitely not the second.  So it may be Napa again, but it has to be a standout because it will be our 35th anniversary.

Anniversaries and birthdays are, of course, such convenient excuses for spending and living large.  Things so justified are easier on one's conscience.  This year is also a big anniversary, the 50th, for two iconic autos: the Porsche 911 and the Ford Mustang.  Since only a few auto companies last that long, producing one model that does is exceptional.  How the Mustang survived its Mustang II years without total public rejection, however, is something of a mystery.

For its sixth generation and anniversary iteration, Ford plans to launch the new Mustang worldwide --with some trepidation -- trying to appeal to the different tastes of Europeans and Asians (only a few are sold yearly in Africa).  I understand the Swedes are crazy about old American cars, so they may cozy up to this too since it has retro cred as much as anything.

I've heard that Ford adopted the name for the product when new in 1965 in reference to the fast, deadly and sexy P-51 Mustang fighter of late World War II fame, but its logo is a galloping pony, the wild mustang horse of the West.  But it was not the first Mustang car.

It seems a former Ford executive designed a slow, nonsexy aluminum-bodied vehicle with that name and made one prototype of it in 1949 in Seattle, using an empty Boeing building as factory.  It was to have sold for $1235, had a small 4-cylinder engine producing all of 59 horsepower coupled to a 3-speed manual transmission.  There was also a Mustang motorcycle made in California in the same year, and a Mustang truck made by White, but it's the car that is of interest, especially considering which company the former executive worked for.

In 1956, Fiat of Italy introduced the Multipla, which looked very much like this poor thing.  Had they known of it, and if it was not a coincidence, why in the world would they have copied it?  One too many bottles of wine at lunch, maybe.

You can see why they only made one.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Can We Talk?

Apparently we can't communicate, despite all the talk.

It all started with a faint beeping sound, sometime in the evening.  It sounded just like the coffeemaker when it's telling you it's done, but that was far away and about twelve hours too early.  It happened again the next night, and seemed to be coming from my left collar bone area.  It occurred to me, after checking my phone, the smoke detectors and everything else that might have beeped, that my implanted device (sort of like a pacemaker) was trying to tell me something.

The next day was Monday, and I took myself and my little bionic-man implant to the cardiologist's office, where they coincidentally enough had just had a cancellation of an 8:15 a.m. appointment in the "pacer clinic," as the little room where they monitor these things is called.  The pacer lady was most annoyed that I had just showed up, probably because I had messed up her anticipated free 15 minute break, but I said I was concerned about the beeping and didn't know what it was.  She confirmed my suspicion that it was a built-in warning that the battery was running low and needed replaced (this unfortunately involves a little outpatient surgery for a whole lot of bucks).  I was surprised that no one had ever told me about this built-in warning, despite so many visits to said clinic.

Now Nancy was in the process of retiring rather abruptly, so we needed to get our health insurance ducks in a row pretty quickly since our coverage would end with the end of November.  And we are organized types who can read and use the telephone and computer reasonably well, so I did not think we couldn't get this done in time.  But I once again had underestimated how difficult it is to get simple things done quickly and efficiently when you're dealing with people who don't give one small damn about getting the details right from the beginning and closing the deal.

I had not only read the huge yearly Medicare booklet thoroughly, but had the page earmarked with the national telephone number to call to sign up for Medicare Part B (I already had Part A, which complicates matters a little).  The lady promised to send me the application, for which I waited three weeks in vain.  Why isn't the simple one-page application provided in the big Medicare booklet?  A minute with the pen and a postage stamp, and it would have been done.

That is, if either the booklet or the person I spoke to had mentioned that the required written statement from the former employer concerning termination date and "creditable coverage" was not actually what was required.  Neither the experienced HR person at Nancy's employer, who asked about "forms" without explanation or the Medicare/Social Security people whom I had spoken to on the 1-800 number a second time mentioned that what was required was a (again, one-page) Medicare form filled out with the same information.  Here's the essential problem:  why oh why won't people who do tasks day after day, year after year, just tell you exactly what's needed the first time?  Why do they somehow like getting many calls and communications from the same client when a precise answer at the beginning, or printed material that is exactly what they want, would prevent such a waste of everyone's time and effort?

Getting inaccurate or mis-information has happened to all of us many times, and I really don't know what defect in human beings or their education causes it.  Don't get me started on written instructions -- no wonder no one reads them.

Enough of the rant.  Things can be done well with less frustration; here are two examples:

* I called Moen's customer service line because the handles on our new bathroom faucets were getting loose and I didn't want to mark them up or break something trying to figure out how to take them off to find what needed tightening.  A young lady answered immediately and gave me quick and perfectly understandable instructions.  This was a rare and wonderful occurance and I do indeed treasure it.

* Despite our lousy weather here, one of the reasons we don't move to a place with lemons and palm trees is that our local township government does such a good job.  The police are always where they need to be amazing quickly, the building codes/inspection people are clear, prompt and fair, and the township robo-calls you with any information you may need -- leaf collection days, storm emergency parking rules, approaching natural disasters and various inconveniences, you name it.  Yesterday, they called to advise of a worrisome situation involving a misguided dude who fired a shot at a State Police officer over a traffic stop.  This was especially relevant since we were planning to drive through that area in a few minutes.  Saved us a lot of waiting in stopped traffic.  Seeing an episode of "Cops" played out in sleepy suburbia might have been fun, though.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

How I Got My Girlfriend Back

We were prepared and we weren't.  For the past few years, we have been working a plan to be ready for any major changes that might come up:  saving, reducing expenses, replacing all the mechanics of our home from roof to flooring, that sort of thing.  We figured that, in time, I'd have (maybe terminal) health problems or Nancy would retire early, either voluntarily or not.  We thought it would be best to be as ready as possible.

Good thing, because when things change, they can change fast.

Nancy was advised of the advantages of retiring before December 1st of this year sometime in mid-November (I still wonder why none of her co-workers where she has spent the last 26 years ever thought to mention this "deal" a little sooner).  We then had a week of intense discussion and some wild number-crunching, coming to the conclusion that when a rare opportunity comes a-knockin', you should answer the door and let it on in.

So this is her first week of retirement, and it looks like things will be just fine.  The weather report today predicts an ugly commute next Monday (ice, cold rain and all that); someone here will still be in her jammies thinking about what's good for breakfast.  I have always held -- and it's been proven both while a working tool and now as a gentleman of leisure -- that one gets more done more accurately, efficiently and with no stress, if one can organize his/her day without interference from above, below or the side.  The first few days of this week we've gotten a long list of chores and running around completed without leaving early or wasting any effort, simply because we can do things in the right order and at the right time.  The entire working world all on the road at the same time -- the madness of rush hour -- starts everything off wrong, and you know how much control you usually have over the timing and flow of your work once you get there.

Because of the short time frame and a lot of misinformation and misdirection over the phone from Social Security/Medicare and, we still don't have the health insurance thing set up.  A policy for the two of us, retail, would be $1300 a month, so that's a no-go.  Well, I've dealt with them before and have found that dreaded visit to the downtown office is what will have to be done to straighten out at least the SS/Medicare part out. is just as screwed up as you've heard.

But if we were afraid of the turmoil of change, we wouldn't have gotten to what looks like a sweet spot today.  The school-year schedule, the fixed hours of work and having to ask months in advance for vacation days, ridiculous personnel evaluations, supporting multiple cars because everyone has to be different places at the same time, wanting better stuff:  those are just some of the things whose absence leaves room for the light to shine through. 

No one's watching you now, no one needs to be pleased or placated, and your permanent record is closed and filed away.  I think it's going to be all right.