I’m singing the healthcare.gov blues

Has anyone else tried to sign up for the new mandatory health insurance in the last month?
I don’t recommend it. Not that I’ve had much choice since my COBRA coverage ran out in December.
My odyssey began the first week in December when I tried to sign up for insurance online and couldn’t do it.
Next step, an insurance agent. She guided me through the setup and then told me I needed to send in a 2013 tax return and wait to be approved.
I’m still waiting, healthcare.gov, and I’m getting impatient.
Meanwhile, you keep sending me more computer-generated letters telling me I haven’t sent you enough information. But you won’t tell me the one piece of information I could give you that would let me get all this settled.
So back to my insurance agent I went after suffering through a frustrating toll-free call in which the person “helping” me confessed she’d never seen my file and wouldn’t be seeing my file. And, no, she couldn’t transfer me to anyone who had seen my file.
I apologize, government employee, for venting my spleen because there was some semi-shouting involved by the time I hung up after 45 minutes of non-help.
So my insurance agent and I did a conference call and we got the same run around.
I went back two weeks later to my insurance agent who called again and it was the same story. Nobody could see my file.
Today, over the lunch hour. someone from the health market place called and asked if it would be a good time to talk.
“It’s great,” I cried, thinking I would finally settle this pesky problem.
Turns out, this caller was just like the computer-generated letters. She’d never seen my file but was calling me to tell me I should send more information. She didn’t know what information, just that I should send more. At least this time she told me to have my insurance agent ask for a “supervisor” who would surely be able to see my file.
What a bunch of bunk. I’d like to meet the four or five people who have successfully navigated this horrible bureaucracy. I have an insurance card — I just don’t know what I’m going to be paying for the privilege of using it.
Healthcare.gov, I think you should take the word “care” out of your title because I haven’t found anyone yet who cares enough to get this settled.

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I’m back

I’ve had a tough technology week.

First, my computer died an inglorious death. It had been malingering for weeks but I continued to limp by with its recalcitrance until it gasped its last and refused to wake back up.

Even when I got a new computer, and after a detailed connection tutorial, I had to struggle through actually plugging the many various cords and USB thingamabobs in all the right places.

Not pretty.

But just as I got that all done (OK, not done — no functioning printer yet), my TV modem went kaput. Foolishly, after talking to my cable provider on the phone, I decided to pick up the modem and install it myself.

Plug in one USB thingamabob and I think I’m a tech genius.

I’ve proven once again that I am not.

A phone call and much frustration later, I arranged to have a technician come and connect the cable modem for me.

Much to my chagrin — but also relief — he took care of that in three minutes. It took another hour for him to survey the mess of my cable outside and to clean it up and tack it to the house once more.

To counteract all of this technology frustration, I have been cleaning.

I scrubbed the kitchen, straightened the office, organized items for my upcoming sale, and raked leaves. I was concerned, as I always am, that the house wasn’t tidy enough for a service call.

I’m not sure what I think will happen if I don’t clean. Will the technician go home and tell his spouse about the den of dirt he visited that day?

I can’t worry about that right now, though, because I’ve got bigger problems. My phone keeps asking me to change my answering machine message. Or maybe it’s my voicemail message. Yes, I have both on one phone and sometimes both of them kick in, confusing the many telemarketers who are so fond of calling me.

Perhaps the next caller can help me hook up the printer.

 

 

 

 

It’s a wonderful life

I am having a wonderful life.

Sometimes, when I’m caught up in the horrible deeds that men do in the name of politics and power, I forget that.

So tonight, I hopped on my one-speed Schwinn and pedaled off into the twilight to explore the UW-L campus and to indulge in some reminiscing.

This is living on the edge, I thought. After all, it was almost dark and I might encounter lithe and athletic college students as I wobbled my way through the near-dark.

But, as has always been the story of my life, it didn’t happen. Instead, I encountered a pair of inept skateboarders who were even more wobbly on their boards than I was on my slow-moving bicycle.

And for that, I am grateful. Life has never turned out as I expect and that is a bonus.

When I decided to become a reporter in the fifth grade, I didn’t really understand what that would mean. I figured I would write and, even at that age, that is what I loved to do.

I certainly never expected that I would end up reviewing heavy metal bands, pop music, country and theater productions.

That was the bonus. And I was the least likely person I could have imagined to be doing that.

But when the director of the old Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium called over to the Tribune office one afternoon and said there was a free ticket waiting if someone would come over and review the Heart concert, I stood up and yelled, “Me, me, me.  I’ll do it.”

“You’ll have to do it on your own time,” I was told, because at that time I was doing mostly copy editing and the Tribune wasn’t about to pay anyone to hang out at a concert.

“No problem,” I told them.

The problem was that I had never been to the Mary E. Sawyer before. Fairly new to town and brand new to reviewing, I wasn’t familiar with the building.

I soon found out that management did not police the use of marijuana and joints were passed around freely, even to strangers. Though I can truthfully say I never smoked one of those joints, I must admit I inhaled because the old Mary E. had a dreadful ventilation system.

I was so sick by the time I got back to the Tribune, I could barely write. Luckily, back then we were an afternoon paper so I could take an hour to write that review.

I never looked back from that first review. When they built the La Crosse Center, the Tribune decided they needed an entertainment reporter and because I was already doing it on my own time, I got the gig.

I also covered, art, poetry, books, theater, folk music and sheep shearing. Yes, there were a few rodeos, historic home renovations, interviews with jet pilots, aerial artists, clowns and some WWF heavyweights.

And, yes, I got paid for all of this.

That’s why it felt just right to be pedaling through the UW-L campus because of all the theater, music and art I had encountered there. And because I am now older and aware of the dangers of the dark, I managed to make it home in time to watch part of the Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC.

Yes, now I watch 24-hour news channels.  Chris Matthews and Rachel Maddow have some pretty peppy political repartee on any given night.  Talk about a walk on the wild side. It’s not Metallica, but it’s still a pretty wonderful life.

 

Where have all the writers gone?

It seems my Facebook feed has been inundated this week with slash-and-burn cuts at a variety of newspapers. And the La Crosse Tribune announced new deadlines as the printing of the paper moves out of town.

It’s dismaying and disappointing, but not at all surprising.

If ever an industry did not see the writing on the wall, it is the newspaper industry. For an industry of communication, we did a poor job of communicating the importance of what was happening to news as Facebook and other online platforms came roaring into the news mix. (See how I used those new-fangled technology terms there?)

Management ignored the obvious for many years and then started cutting all their best people in an attempt to save money. That gutted operations and left newspapers with little content to attract the people who were already reading the paper, and certainly not luring in new readers.

Though I have been “retired” for six years now (forced out with no notice on a sunny Tuesday in June), I still feel like a newspaper reporter. So all of this is extremely painful to witness.

And beyond the ink that runs in my veins (my dad was a hot-metal printer so this is my personal history), I just love to hold a newspaper in my hands and peruse the news.

I don’t do that much anymore and it makes me sad.

The more practical of my acquaintances have told me to get over it and just enjoy reading online.

I’ve got news for you guys — ain’t gonna’ happen.

Nobody gets to tell me how I absorb the news. You can make it more difficult for me, but you can’t make me like it.

I was the dinosaur that was dragged kicking and screaming from my Remington toward computers and technology. I was convinced onto Facebook before my ouster from the Tribune but never did jump on to Twitter. In evaluation after evaluation where I was criticized for my lack of technological expertise, I told my bosses they needed at least one reporter who still wrote honest-to-goodness stories, not two-line tweets. They finally gave in and just let me write.

I know a few other old dinosaurs who missed the vigorous pounding on a manual typewriter keyboard. It made deadline seem more urgent. The keyboard clacking mixed with shouts across the newsroom and the ringing of telephones as City Editor Larry Olson would yell, “Give birth, give birth, we have a paper to get out!”

Call me crazy, but I loved that.

 

One of my arts sources was standing by desk one day at deadline and I must have yelled, which rattled him. Yelling happened a lot in the newsroom so I didn’t even notice when it was coming from me. But he called me later that day and told me he found it very upsetting.

“But wasn’t it exciting to be in the newsroom at deadline?” I asked him, after apologizing.

“No,” he said. “You scared me.”

I don’t get to scare anybody much these days. No deadlines loom, the telephone rarely rings, and there’s no clacking sound as I pound on my computer keyboard in the quiet of my home office.

I feel like we should be having a funeral for all the daily newspapers that are dying off. I’ve written the eulogy; now, it’s time for a drink.

 

I’m cleaning the basement with dad

Facebook is full of touching tributes to dads everywhere — both present and past.

Every piece of praise I read makes me want to talk to my own dad. But since he’s been gone more than 20 years now, it sounds a lot like talking to myself.

So I went down to the basement and started cleaning. That seems like a really Dad thing to do, only his cleaning usually happened in the garage. Right now, my garage is too jam-packed to straighten up, so I decided to descend to the equally messy depths of the house where gems are waiting for judgment — do I polish it up or send it to Goodwill. Right now, the polishing is winning, but there are plenty of Goodwill items waiting on the steps to finish the journey to the car.

I remember once, as a teenager, deciding to clean out the garage for Dad. Boy, was he mad. I didn’t realize then that he knew where everything was and what appeared junky and messy to me, was just right to him. I had invaded his kingdom and I didn’t make that mistake again.

Still,  it is amidst the junk and mess that I feel right at home and close to Dad. The only other places we had in common were the garden (which I didn’t discover until my 30s) and under a good light with a good book.

Now that I have dirt smudges everywhere, I’m going back to the thriller by Barry Eisler I was reading earlier. I think Dad would approve.

 

 

Come-pleat

When the ringing phone woke me at 9:12 a.m. today — don’t judge, I’m retired — I was deep in a dream in which I was teaching someone to pleat.

To understand just how odd this is, you should know that I don’t think I’ve ever pleated anything myself. Pleating takes precision and measurement. I don’t do those things.

However, in my high school years, I’m guessing I ironed over a thousand pleats because part of the Pacelli High School (Austin, Minn., not Stevens Point, Wis.) uniform was a green-plaid wool skirt.

Yuk, yuk, yuk.

To this day, I don’t wear pleats, I don’t wear green plaid, and I don’t wear skirts. And don’t get me started on green blazers. Not gonna happen.

But that pleating dream did get me thinking about that uniform skirt. It was such an obvious hallmark of where I attended school that advisers told us we should wear our uniforms on job interviews because Pacelli had high academic and comportment standards.

The complete uniform consisted of the skirt, white blouse and green blazer.  Go, you Pacelli Shamrocks! We could wear knee-highs, nylons, anklets or any other kind of stockings. My memory, though, is they had to be white.

But somewhere in the middle of my high school career, the administration had a mental hiccup and proclaimed we girls could wear any kind of shirt we wanted with our uniform skirts.

We went crazy!

I fondly remember an olive green paisley shirt that was a favorite of mine. It was passed down from a far-out cousin in California and I couldn’t wait to pair it with that horrible skirt. That same cousin had gifted me with a wild Hawaiian shirt, which I thought looked quite wonderful with green plaid. (Never been a fashion guru.)

My sister Therese took it as personal style challenge and never wore the same ensemble twice during the school year. Although,  I think her variations may have included scarves and the pairing of sweaters and blouses.

Maybe it was this experience that brought me to the bit of style rabble-rousing I exhibited at the La Crosse Tribune. I was probably the first employee to occasionally wear jeans to work before we ever sponsored a Jeans Day.

At first, I would say I was going to tour a construction site and I couldn’t do that in dress pants. Or, I was going to go on a garden interview and you don’t do that in a skirt. Or, I was interviewing a musician and I should dress the way my interview subject was dressed.  Pretty soon, I wasn’t even explaining it and by the time I retired I was wearing jeans every day.

But one thing I can tell you for sure. None of those jeans had pleats.

 

As the trump turns

When I was in college, I got hooked on “All My Children.” How many men would Erica Kane marry? How many marriages would she destroy? How many times would characters come back from the dead, or at least from the other side of the world?

It’s been decades since I watched a soap opera. And I’d say that’s because there are hardly any of them left on television. But just when I was about to settle for game shows and talk shows, along came 24-hour news shows. And now it’s become “All My Politics.”

How many lies will Donald Trump tell? How many dictators will he fall in love with? How many foreign leaders will he betray and unfriend?

When I covered news for a living I rarely watched televised news. Why would I want to question people all day long and then go home and turn on the TV to see people being questioned? It just didn’t interest me.

But in retirement, I’ve become hooked on MSNBC. If you watch it all day long, as I sometimes do in the winter, you see the same guests on panel after panel being quizzed by host after host.

Poor Jeremy Bash. When does he get a chance to eat a meal or throw in a load of laundry? I can do both while I watch this former chief of staff for the CIA and DOD pontificate on the many sins of Donald Trump.

And if I’m to believe counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance, the world is on the brink of destruction daily. It makes it hard to enjoy munching on an ice cream bar as former CIA Chief John Brennan details all the ways in which Trump has turned himself into a Russian co-conspirator.

Never did I think I would know the names of so many cabinet members and ex-cabinet members. They seem to change out of the Trump administration more often than I change the sheets on my bed.

In the beginning, I burned with rage at all the horrible, immoral things perpetrated by Trump. Now, I’m just exhausted by watching this 6-year-old in an old man’s body insult foreign dignitaries, deny climate change, pretend to be pro-life, and expound on his own faux greatness.

Please, Robert Mueller, release your report. Please, SDNY, get him for tax evasion. Most of all, please Nancy Pelosi, just impeach him. I want to go back to watching game shows.

 

 

 

 

Crime and punishment

Part of being a good parent is preparing your child to be a good adult.

You teach your kids not to lie, not to steal, not to cheat, not to bully.

Donald Trump’s parents apparently skipped all those lessons.

Most of all, they never taught him how to say, “I’m sorry.”

Not only does he not know how to say it, he doesn’t know how to feel it.

It seems there has never been a time in his life when Trump has been able to admit to a wrongdoing, a mistake, an error. It is always someone else’s fault, someone else’s misstep, someone else’s job to take the blame.

But we’ve all seen the video timeline of his lies. Yes, let’s call them lies. Unlike the media that has tiptoed around his perfidy by calling it factual errors or misstatements, I am willing to call him out for what he is —  Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire.

It was frustrating to hear the constant lies. It was infuriating to hear him call my profession “The Fake Media.” It was painful to see him cozy up to international bullies and killers.

But watching him punish government workers with a needless government shutdown is the last straw. He doesn’t care about the unjust pain he is inflicting simply because some FOX hack tells him he needs to keep fighting for the wall.

Trump needs to be taken to the woodshed and given a good political beating. I hope the Democrats, with the help of any decent Republican still holding office, will finally teach him what his parents never did.

It’s likely too late to hope for any decency out of this most indecent of presidents.  But maybe he can be forced to do the right thing when circumstances leave him with no other choice.

I hope that happens soon.

 

 

And still I remain

Today was the last day of delivery of the La Crosse Tribune to my door.

Because it actually costs money to deliver it to me, the promise of a free paper for the rest of my life has gotten shuffled to the online world.

I like to hold the newspaper in my hands, thus never reading it online.

I like to hold a book in my hands and turn the pages, thus no e-reader or anything of the sort for me.

I like my magazines the same way, thus no online subscriptions.

So this a blow to the last living Luddite.

Yes, they don’t come much more tech-averse than Geri Parlin. Even this online blog came about because a former co-worker gave me instructions on how to do this. That’s how tech-averse I am. I’m still bad enough at it that I don’t know the number of people who read it. (But I know for sure that my mom is following it.)

Once, when I couldn’t get a new router to work, I just banged on the keyboard for a few minutes in frustration … and the thing connected.

Isn’t that a bit like the 17th Century Luddites smashing the textile machinery when they were displaced by those machines in Nottingham, England?

I have never owned a garbage disposal or a dishwasher. My kitchen scraps go on the compost heap where they belong and my dishes go into soapy water where my hands do the washing. These were supposed to be time-saving devices but I don’t think I spend any more time on these chores than my sister whose garbage disposal seems to break down way too often and always seems to be loading or unloading the dishwasher.

I own a little apartment-size dryer that my mom gave me when she sold the rental property next door. I tried to use it once but it appears incapable of drying anything. That’s OK, though, because I didn’t actually want a dryer.  My house is so dry in the winter that my sheets dry in a few hours. And in nice weather, the laundry goes out to the clothes line where it belongs.

I don’t have a smart phone, partly because they are expensive and partly because I feel my operational level is not where it would need to be to use one. I still have a difficult time answering the dumb phone I own. It could do a bit more if I let it, but I’m not interested in sending or receiving texts.

I have a hair dryer that I use once in a while to dry out something I am refinishing. My hair and that machine have never been introduced.

I don’t tweet, or do Instagram, or find music on Spotify. That’s what my radio and turntable are for.

For a long time, I couldn’t post pictures on Facebook until wonderful Facebook friend Lynn Miller Carr responded to my distress and sent precise directions. Now, I can post like crazy, which gives me rare moments where I almost feel tech savvy.

But now, if I want to know what the Common Council is doing or what nefarious criminals have been nabbed in the Coulee Region, I will be reduced to scrolling through the Tribune’s website.

It’s enough to make a Luddite read a book.

 

 

 

 

PARLINS IN FOR PRAYERS

It’s December. That means well-meaning folks are angst-ridden over whether to say
“Merry Christmas,”  “Happy Hanukkah” or “Enjoy the Heck Out of Kwanzaa.” Most have decided it’s great to just say “Happy Holidays.”

I don’t care what you say and I hope you don’t take offence if I mistakenly yell out “Merry Christmas” to you.  What I really mean when I say that is I hope you get together with your family, have some great food, get a few presents and generally feel great.

When I say “Merry Christmas,” it’s not an indication that I expect to see you at Midnight Mass. Let’s face it, many people who never attend church celebrate the commercial aspects of Christmas. Why can’t that be merry?

When I was growing up, religion was not something to be ashamed of, likely because I lived in a largely Catholic neighborhood. Each night in the summer, Dad would lean out the front door and yell, “Parlins in for prayers,” and we would come running into the house, crash to our knees and join my parents in the Rosary. And if some of the neighbor kids were around, they had to crash to their knees, too.  Heck, they were Catholic, too, and, in my house, at that time, everybody was praying.

The Parlins were so well known for praying that when we would go running home, friends would ask, “Is this just prayers or do you have to go in for the night?”

So I can only imagine anyone trying to convince my Dad to say “Happy Holidays” just to be politically correct.

But time rolls on and the world changes. The Midnight Mass I attend nowadays starts at 8 p.m. Honestly, I don’t think I could stay awake until midnight now.

The Parlins don’t come running in for prayers anymore. We are scattered to different cities and pray separately.

But we still get together for Christmas. I am circulating the annual Christmas email right now trying to figure out how many will be there for the holidays and what each family member will contribute to the Christmas dinner table. (It seems we have a surfeit of carbs coming to the table at this time.)

If you find that offensive, then Happy Holidays to you. But I hope they are at least as merry and bright as I expect mine to be.

 

Don’t vote for me

If elected, I will not serve.

Seriously, after watching all of these political ads, I have to wonder at the people who willingly and eagerly subject themselves to the rigorous scrutiny that follows the announcement of a run for office.

I am not aware of anything in my background that would trip me up on the way to the popular vote, but does anyone really think the skeletons in their closet are going to come out to rattle in the light of day?

Probably not.

But as a graduate of Queen of Angels Elementary School and Pacelli High School, I feel well armed with advice from nuns and priests that has helped guide me through the pitfalls along the path of life. (And, contrary to what everyone thinks of Catholic priests, I never met an abuser throughout my school years.)

I don’t drink. Well, hardly ever.  Once, about 40 years ago, when I was in charge of getting the paper out on time, I let the guy who made PMTs (photo mechanical transfers) go home early. Then I discovered we didn’t have a PMT of the Blue Stars. That may not seem like a big deal but our managing editor at the time was a big Blue Stars fan and I knew I would hear about this at length on Monday morning. So I called a series of bars looking for the PMT guy, but never did find him.

By shift’s end, I announced I was going to get drunk. Every person with me trotted along to watch me down four gin and sevens. I don’t know how I decided on that drink, but I was smart enough to get a ride home and sick enough the next morning that I swore off drinking. That’s my wildest drinking story.

As for drugs, never used them, but I did inhale. At the old Mary E. Sawyer Auditorium, where I was reviewing a Heart concert, the ventilation system was really bad and everyone around me was high, giving me a contact high. I was so nauseous by the time I got back to the Tribune I could barely write.

Since I didn’t drink or do drugs, I didn’t have to worry about drunk driving. Though my car was involved in many car accidents, it was usually parked when it was hit. A car even hit the back door and front porch of my house once, but I wasn’t at home at the time.  Still, it was weird to come walking up the back way and notice a car in my yard and cops questioning folks as they tried to locate me.

I’ve always lived within my means so that means no credit card debit, the house is paid off, and I bought my car with cash.

I’m kind to old people (especially now that I am old) and love babies.

Yes, now that I think about it, I am well qualified to run for office.

But don’t worry, I won’t. I can’t stand to attend meetings and haven’t attended one since I retired from the La Crosse Tribune. I don’t even attend neighborhood meetings.

So don’t invite me to any meetings and don’t ask me to run for office.

I mean it. If elected, I will not serve … and I won’t have a gin and seven.