Archive for January, 2008

a new utility tax

The city council of the town in which I currently live voted in a five percent utility tax this week. That tax will go onto every utility service – gas, electric, cable television, and telephone. I don’t know if it will go onto the water/sewer/garbage bill as that service is already supplied and billed by the city, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it did.

There was a massive outcry against this tax from everyday citizens and businesses. There were plenty of petitions and the city council received hundreds of phone calls expressing opposition to the utility tax. In the end, government does what it always does – it voted to perpetuate itself and approved the tax necessary to support it.

There is a real problem brewing in the United States, and in this locale in specific. Every governmental unit – from state government, to county government, to city government – is doing everything it can to increase their incomes, and this can only be done by increasing taxes of one kind or another. After all, government is not a profit-making entity – it is the ultimate consumer, and consume it does.

I cannot believe that somewhere along the way, people aren’t going to say, “Enough!” Actually, a lot of people have been saying that, but politicians seem to have lost sight of the fact that they represent us. Instead, they appear to be legislating in such a way as to say, “We know best. Now go along and let us do our work. We will let you know when we want your opinion.”

At what level of taxation will people revolt? At what level will they take back the political process and return it to “the people?” Is this like the old story of the frog in water? Throw a frog in hot water and it jumps out right away. Put it in cold water and bring it to a boil and the frog will happily cook away. Are we getting so used to being raped by our politicians that we keep asking for more?

It’s getting scary, and I really don’t know where it is going to end.

shoveling snow

Once upon a time shoveling snow was nothing more than a simple, mindless chore. When did it become a possible bellwether for my health? Instead of just slogging away at the job, now I have to stop every once in a while and check my system to make sure I’m not “overdoing” it. Even without finding any signs of potential health problems, I have found it wiser to clear the driveway in sessions, rather than all at once, depending upon the amount of snow, of course.

Actually, I have a good reason to think about dropping dead of a heart attack mid-shovel. My father’s second by-pass operation was presaged by heart pain while he was clearing his driveway (against the doctor’s recommendation, of course). Besides that, whenever there is a decent snowfall, there are constant warnings on all the news programs to be careful about exerting yourself. Nice of them to care.

There’s good reason for this type of concern. With our increasingly sedentary lifestyles, jumping up and shoveling snow puts a much greater stress on our bodies than if we lived active lifestyles. Of course, when I say “our” and “we,” I am mostly talking about myself. With my typical day consisting of either sitting at my desk at work, or sitting in front of the computer or television at home, “active lifestyle” is not a phrase that applies to me.

So, I’ve started clearing the driveway, but it’s going to be a more protracted process than it has been earlier in the season. Sure wish I had a snow blower.

money

Money. A simple, little, five-letter word with more meaning to more people than the dictionary could ever define. Security, risk, plenty, despair, want, pleasure, inconvenience, sustenance, love, hate – just a very few of the words that can be related to “money.”

For those of us closer to clocking out of this life than clocking in, money is probably only second in importance to our health. Even then, our health can be greatly influenced by the funds we have. How much money we have determines when we can retire, or even if we can retire. It determines whether we will be eating canned cat food or caviar in our old age. It will mean the difference between being able to stay in our own home or needing to move to more accommodating facilities, and even then money will affect the quality of care we can afford.

I’m afraid that I’ve never been a great money manager. I’ve always spent it as soon as I got it, and usually even before then. Even this close to retirement, my financial situation isn’t any better. Retiring to a financially comfortable situation is not in the cards for me. I’ll probably regret this later, but there isn’t much I can do about it now. I sure as hell can’t go back thirty years and rethink my finances.

For now, the best I can do is to try to get ahead of the credit card bills so that at least I don’t have them staring me in the face each month after I retire. Other than that, I’ll most likely just keep on doing what I’m doing – spending on whatever is necessary, buying a few small “toys” along the way, and sharing what I have with my loved ones. If that doesn’t work, there’s always a cardboard box under a bridge somewhere.

political fools

I have little patience for fools. This may be because I have less and less time left in my life to bother with them, or it may be that I am just plain, old tired of listening to them. Throw in a campaign season, and my intolerance has a lot of opportunities to show itself, particularly when the fool is Bill Clinton.

To be fair, I’ve never cared for Mr. Clinton nor for the way he executed his presidential duties, so this is nothing new. But the man just does not know when to be quiet. This shouldn’t be a surprise, given the compulsive narcissist that he is, but you would think that someone – like, maybe the person actually trying to become the presidential candidate – would tell him to just shut the hell up. Of course, that would assume that this whole Clinton act isn’t part of Hillary’s strategy, an assumption that would be very much in error.

If she does not get him off the firing line, people are going to see her as a weak and subservient figure next to her husband. It would be easy to assume that were she to actually be elected president, Bill would really be the one running the show behind the scenes, and we sure as hell don’t need that. Then again, with Hillary’s submissiveness in regard to all of Bill’s philandering, tell me that people don’t already see her as a weak woman who let herself be walked all over. That, or as a scheming low-life willing to take advantage of any little boost her “husband” could provide to her political career.

Don’t get me wrong. I could pick on almost any one of the people trying to become their party’s candidate for president. They all hold more than one political position that rankles my sense of the proper function of government. It’s just that the Clintons make themselves such easy targets.

oh, for interesting work

I don’t know about any of you older people who have been working at the same job for most of your lives, but I find that it has become almost unbearably tedious. It’s the same thing day in and day out, hour in and hour out, minute in and minute out . . . you get the idea.

I posted earlier that I didn’t want my employer to bug me with any special projects or expectations of any special effort. I’m sure someone out there is thinking, “Well, stupid – it’s the special projects that make a job interesting.” I suppose there is some truth to that, if you really care about your job in the first place. But special projects usually only involve things related to your job, and when you’re already bored with your job those projects do not make it more interesting. It’s like telling a bus driver that you have a special project for him; clean out the bus. Like he doesn’t spend enough time on the damn bus anyways.

Once upon a time I could entertain the thought of looking for a different job, or finding a different field of endeavor. These days I’m faced with a harsh reality that I never faced before – people look at you and think to themselves, “Are you kidding? You’re going to retire in a few years. Why should I invest in you when I already know you are going to be leaving?” And that’s just the least obnoxious of objections someone might have.

What other reason might someone have to not hire an older person? Let’s try these on for size –

He’s getting up there in years, so he is probably going to have health problems that will require him to take time off of work and require us to pay for sick time and maybe even cause our health insurance costs to go up.

He hasn’t got the same energy as a younger person.

He isn’t going to want to start at the bottom and work his way up.

He probably isn’t as much fun as the younger people we hire and certainly doesn’t look as good.

He probably can’t think as well as he used to and most likely will get worse.

I don’t want to have to fire a guy as old as my grandfather if he doesn’t work out.

I can’t relate to someone older.

He’s going to want to have more vacation time than we offer.

Should I stop here? I might as well, because the list could go on forever. Am I saying that some of these concerns might not be legitimate, particularly for some people? Not at all. In fact, sad to say, if I were hiring someone I might be asking myself the same questions if the applicant were of advanced years. Fortunately, I’m not in a position where I hire people, but unfortunately, I could be an applicant for a job where someone thinks that way.

I’ll have to admit that changing my career (if you can call this a career) at this point in my life is easier said than done. First, in no way does my current financial situation allow me to make less money than I do now, so starting at the bottom salary-wise is out of the question. Secondly, I couldn’t physically do some of the jobs I would like to try. For example, I’ve always wished that I had tried out one of the building trades, but at fifty-seven, that just ain’t going to happen, not to mention that I doubt they would accept a fifty-seven-year-old apprentice.

Thirdly, if I couldn’t find something that was really interesting, why bother? Change for change’s sake isn’t the goal. The idea is to relieve the boredom, not just sit at a different desk. But after so many years doing the same job, or same type of work, everyone expects you to keep doing the same thing. After all, you’re not qualified to do anything else because all your experience is in what you have been doing.

The older you get, the harder it gets to change jobs. The only time when it really seems to be easier is when, and if, you are able to retire. Theoretically, you don’t need the income then and you have all the time you could use to develop a new career. But even then, the easier thing to do is to start your own business than to try to get a job with someone else.

I guess I have to wait until I retire to find more interesting work

new doctor

It used to be a given – your doctor was an older, wiser person that you depended upon to heal you when you weren’t feeling well and to give you advice when you were healthy. Somewhere along the way, you found yourself with a doctor that was more your peer than your elder. Then comes the day when you find yourself treated by a doctor who is the same age as your children – or younger. Today was that day for me.

Belonging to an HMO, I need to have a primary care physician to “manage” my health care. A while ago, I lost my doctor of many years when he decided that he liked the mountains of Colorado much better than the farm fields of Illinois. I tried to get a new doctor about my age but their practices were full – no surprise. I then picked another doctor, saw him once, and then was informed that he had left the clinic, so once again I needed to choose another doctor.

This time around, I looked at all the alternatives and, believe it or not, decided to go with a newly minted doctor – a young man only two years older than my son. Today was my initial visit with him, just to meet-and-greet and see if he would be acceptable. Turns out that I like him better than any doctor I’ve ever had.

Does his “kid” status bother me? Not really. What’s the drawback to it? In a word – experience. Years of practice can give a doctor perspective and knowledge that you can’t get in school. Also, over the years a doctor sees more diseases and illnesses than he does during his education. In my case, I go to a large medical clinic, and if my doctor ever needs a second opinion or is stumped with something, there are plenty of doctors around with whom he can consult. I’m really not worried about his experience.

Fresh out of medical school and residency, he has been exposed to the latest in medical knowledge and technology and probably knows some things that older doctors don’t. He’s not jaded about the profession, he enjoys it, and he has energy to devote to it. If he sticks with the medical group, I could have a doctor I can count on for the rest of my life. Besides all this, I like the guy. He’s a personable young man who is easy to talk to and was not condescending to this old guy. If he had been, it would have been a deal-breaker.

Like every other older person in the world, I have reached the point where I will be relying more and more on younger people for support in critical areas such as health care. While it is nice to deal with people closer to my own age who may more easily be able to relate to my condition or state of mind, the right young person is just fine with me. Then again, it’s not like we have a choice, is it?

what day is it?

When my father was alive, I would get a small kick out of his losing track of which day it was. Monday to me is the worst day of the week. Getting myself back to work after a weekend can require massive amounts of will power, not to mention encouragement from the mountain of debt that needs to be paid. On the occasional Monday that I would talk to my dad, after my complaining about it being a Monday, he would ask, “Is it Monday?”

Oh, to never again have to worry about what day of the week it is.

loss

As I’ve mentioned before, my father passed away a little over a year ago, and my mother has been gone for over seven years (seven years? can it be that long?). With my father’s passing, it was time to sell my parents’ house. At this moment the real estate market is in such sad shape that we have yet to get even a nibble on it. Standing empty as it is, my brother and I take turns every other weekend checking on the house to make sure all is well. Today was my turn.

I don’t think that I will ever be able to go into that house without expecting my parents to be there. This wasn’t even the house in which I grew up, but one they built after my brother and I had married and moved out. Still, my dad lived in that house for thirty-five years and my mom for twenty-eight years, which is plenty of time for the house to have become imbued with their spirits.

No, I’m not talking about apparitions floating around the house. I’m talking about the ghosts that live in my own mind. The corner of the family room where I would always find my dad in his recliner, the sound of my mother’s slippers on the tile floor, the sounds of their voices, the echoes of Christmases past, the sounds of kitchen cabinets closing.

There’s the wallpaper where the dog slept behind my dad’s chair, pulled away at the corner where she would rub against it. There’s the work bench in the garage, now completely empty but once filled with all the little things that my dad thought important to save. The empty dog run with weeds growing in it, no chairs on the front porch, the worn place on the rug in the bedroom where the dog would spend her nights.

Unfortunately, as we get older these types of losses only become more common. Not only do our parents pass on, but our brothers, sisters and cousins, and worse yet, our spouses. I know that we have no choice in the matter and that, for the most part, we find ways to live with these losses.

Do I have an easy way to deal with this? Not on your life. I do know that it helps a lot if someone is there for you when you encounter a loss like this. Just to have a shoulder to cry on makes the load a little lighter. In the end, we never completely get over the loss of anyone in our lives, nor should we. We need to be able to cherish the memories we have without compromising them with grief. I know, easier said than done.

it’s curtains for you

Who says an old dog can’t learn new tricks? The curtains hanging on my front door are proof that he can. Of course, they are also proof that this old dog still has more to learn.

These aren’t the first curtains I’ve sewn. A couple of months ago I made some for the kitchen door, but it was only one panel and it was a 1” gingham check, so it was like working with built-in graph paper. The curtains I made today were two panels of material with a random pattern.

In my work I deal with details, and have been pretty much a detail kind of person all my life. When I made the curtains for the kitchen, I treated it like an engineering problem. First, I had to buy two or three books on making curtains, looking for just the right example to follow. Then when I went to sew them, I pinned and pressed every seam as I went along. Even with all of that I screwed up, but was able to recover through a little creative change of plans.

With the new curtains, I already had the basics down and the memory of my last mistake was still pretty fresh in my mind. I was all set to treat the process in the same way as before but as I started to pin things up, knowing that I had two panels to produce and not just one, I started to dread it. Checking with my, um, significant other on-line about how she sews curtains, I began to rethink the process. In the end, I did a lot of approximate this and that and everything worked out just as well as if I had used a ruler and t-square – well, close enough at least.

As we get older, we have a tendency to stick to what we know and become resistant to learning new things. We are comfortable with old ways and can find ourselves avoiding any kind of risk, including the risk of looking stupid. The truth is, there is little that will age us as much, or as fast, as letting our minds slip into idle. To remain vital, capable people, we must eschew that mental stagnation and take up efforts that challenge us.

That’s why I’m already planning curtains for the two large windows in the kitchen. Maybe I can make all of them in the same amount of time that it took just to do a small pair for the door. Hey, I didn’t say they had to be big challenges.

sunshine

It’s a cold and sunny day here today, and it is going to be getting colder over the next few days. (Cold being a relative thing, I should say that this means temperatures below zero degrees F.) While I’m no fan of freezing my butt off, as long as the sun is out, I can take it. I’m sure that if I had to work outside in this weather I wouldn’t be so tolerant of the cold, but since I can just stay inside and keep relatively warm, I can be happy about the sunshine.

As John Denver sings, “Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy.” I will take a sunny day over a cloudy day any time. Well, I guess that depends on the clouds, but a gloomy, totally overcast day is pretty much a write-off in my book. Bright, sunny days give me a bounce in my step and the feeling that life is worth living and that there will be a tomorrow. Nasty, gloomy, cloudy days just make me want to stay in bed and hope for better days.

Of course, this depends on how long things stay cloudy and gloomy. The more it goes on, the worse I get. I don’t think that I could handle living someplace where the skies were overcast more often than sunny. I suspect living near one of the poles is out also, because almost a whole day of not seeing the sun, even if it is only for one part of the year, would send me into a total funk. I’ve never been diagnosed with it, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find that I have SAD – seasonal affective disorder.

I wonder if this is part of the reason that people like to head south, particularly as we get older. There’s a whole lot more sunshine down there than up here, as a rule. Even if the weather is changeable, where the day starts out sunny and then changes to rain and then back again, at least you get some sunshine. While I hate the idea of moving to a desert, it does hold a certain appeal, and is certainly more appealing to me than someplace with humidity thick enough to choke you.

For now, I’ll just enjoy the sunny days and live through the gloomy times.

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy
Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry
Sunshine on the water looks so lovely
Sunshine almost always makes me high