Thursday, August 14, 2014

Minutes from the August meeting of the Optimist Club

The Choctaw Ridge Optimist Club met for its regularly scheduled meeting at noon on Tuesday, August 12, at the Bluebird Café.

Daryl Stuckenhorst, treasurer, reported that $11.56 was raised at the annual Fourth of July BBQ fundraiser, a figure attributable to the flash flood that swept through Carroll County that day. A total of $6,350.14 was spent from the club’s treasury on meat, salads, desserts and equipment rental. Despite a valiant effort by members of the BBQ committee, none of the foodstuffs could be salvaged for donation to local charities due to the prolonged power outage resulting from the flood.

Marvin Raines, youth chairman, reported that word has been received from the Piranha region of Brazil that Jesus, the orphan the Club has sponsored for the last 11 years, passed away on March 29 from a snake bite. Marvin has asked the foundation through which the club found Jesus to submit photos of new orphans from which one will be selected for sponsorship at next month’s meeting.

Roger Applebee, who was chosen to represent the Club at the District Regional Convention in Petersburg last month, reported the event was canceled after a car crashed through the picture window of the Ramada Inn lounge where the welcome cocktail reception was being held, injuring nineteen delegates including the Regional Vice President who was supposed to preside.

Chapter President George Rudd announced his resignation due to the closing of the plant where he has worked since 1978, which has been relocated by its parent company to Mexico. George said he regrets he is unable to commit the time needed to fulfill his duties owing to the fact he has accepted a position with 7-Eleven where he will be working the night shift. Vice President Jack Hemphill will assume the chapter presidency provided the search party looking for his plane locates it and he is able to serve. 

Members voted to send a sympathy card to the family of Billy Joe McAllister, Jr., son of longtime member Billy Joe, Sr., who drowned tragically following a fall.   

Wanda Jane Stafford, owner of the Bluebird Café where our meetings have been held since the Choctaw Ridge chapter was founded, announced that with the closing of the plant, she will be shuttering her restaurant effective immediately and suggested members appoint a committee to search for a new venue.

There being no more business, the meeting was adjourned at 12:14 p.m.

Lunch was not served due to Wanda Jane’s cook being in jail. Wanda Jane said she was sorry but she wouldn’t be able to refund the money Club members had paid in advance for the meal because he stole it from a locked drawer in her office, the reason she had his sorry ass locked up in the first place.

Next month's meeting will be held at a place TBD.

Submitted in the spirit of Optimism by:

Ralph A. Jones
Recording Secretary

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Well then, how about a martini?"

In the wake of Robin Williams' death I’ve been thinking today about my good friend, Egg. I wrote this post about his death in November, 2004. 

I lost a good friend last week.

His name was Ed but all of us in our fraternity pledge class called him Egg. He was one of the few friends from my youth I made a point to stay in touch with. 

Though Egg grew up in a well-to-do family, he was the most down-to-earth guy you ever met.

After college Egg landed a job at a radio station in a sleepy southern town. To everyone’s amazement, he never left. He married local women, became active in regional politics, even developed a southern accent. He was managing a chain of radio stations when he died.

Egg committed suicide. Turned a shotgun on himself. Didn’t leave a note. Nobody saw it coming.

I learned about it from a message his wife left on our answering machine. His brother, when I called, said he couldn’t bear the thought of standing up in front of a room full of people and delivering a eulogy. He said he would be grateful if I would. So I did. And I’m glad I did.

I wanted people to remember the guy in the polished wood casket for his sense of humor – one of the best of anyone I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing – rather than his exit strategy. I wanted to tell funny stories that would make them laugh, the kind he always told.

So I told them how Egg loved to tell about the time a computer glitch caused his company’s pre-programmed gospel station to start broadcasting vulgarity-laced gangsta rap that was supposed to be playing on the urban station and vice versa, making the phones ring off the hook in his Bible Belt town. He thought it was hilarious. And it was.

I told them about the ancient Shelley Berman comedy album he played so often he not only memorized the dialogue, he nailed Berman’s delivery. His favorite bit was a sketch about a nervous airline passenger who summoned the stewardess (Berman said the plural was “stewardeye”):

Passenger: “Uh, miss … the wing is on fire.”
Stewardess: “Coffee, tea or milk?”
Passenger, becoming agitated: “We don’t have time for coffee, tea or milk. We’re doomed.”
Stewardess, perking up: “Well then, how about a martini?”   

I told them about the time I sent Egg a copy of my book, a compilation of columns written for the local paper. A few weeks later John Grisham came to a bookstore in Egg’s town to promote his latest novel. While Grisham’s back was turned, Egg placed my book atop the stack of books Grisham was signing and took a picture. It made it look like people were lined up to get a copy of my self-published book, not Grisham’s best-seller.

I told them about our national fraternity’s member directory that had mistakenly listed Egg as deceased and how he milked that for all it was worth, telling fund-raisers who called he couldn’t very well donate to the national chapter since he was dead. 

I said I wanted to address Egg directly in case he was listening. I reminded him about the only time I could recall he annoyed me. He had returned from spring break complaining about a rash that itched. Turns out he had measles and passed them on to half the fraternity, causing us to have to cancel our annual formal.

I told Egg that, this time, he had annoyed me again. In fact, he had gone light-years beyond annoying all of us in that room: He had broken our hearts. Then I told Egg that we forgave him.

And while I had no right to speak for his stricken family or friends, I do forgive him though I can’t understand why he did it and never will. Nobody will. 

I’m writing this on the plane coming home from his funeral. In a minute stewardeye will be coming through the cabin with a choice of soft drinks, as well as beer and wine for $5 and cocktails for $6, exact change will be appreciated.

Assuming airlines still sell those miniature bottles of premixed cocktails, I believe I’ll have a martini. Maybe two.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Health insurance hell

I’ve ignored my health. Last year, we were busy packing up and moving from Connecticut to Florida, so I skipped my annual physical. Once we got here, I no longer had a doctor to call if I needed one. So last month, nearly two years after my last doctor's visit, I logged onto my insurance company’s referral web site, found a primary care physician who seemed competent (e.g. he went to a top med school) and scheduled a check-up.

Like all doctors in our litigious society, he needs to cover his ass to defend himself in case I sue him for missing a pre-existing condition so he sent me to lots of specialists who, in turn, ordered all sorts of tests.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been poked, prodded, X-rayed, CAT-scanned and have had cameras inserted in places I had no idea cameras could go. Everything has checked out great so far and only two tests remain. If those turn out fine, I should be good for another 50,000 miles.

I'm sure you're wondering who’s paying for all this medical work. The answer is, I sure as hell don't know.

I have to buy my own health insurance. To keep the monthly premiums affordable, I pay out of pocket the first $2,500 in medical expenses I incur in any given year before the insurance company is obligated to pay anything. I was under the impression that once I paid that amount, insurance would take over and pay the rest of my expenses through December 31. But that isn’t the case.

I keep receiving from my insurance company emails inviting me to check the status of my various claims on its web site. When I log on, I've found that the company is paying fully or partially for services and procedures I thought weren’t covered, but is not paying for expenses I thought were covered. The claims status report shows the amount the provider billed, the amount the company says it negotiated to pay the provider (who is apparently content to accept approximately one-tenth as much as he or she billed) and the amount, if any, for which I’m responsible. It’s confusing as all get-out. Then there are the networks. The company pays in full providers who belong to certain networks, pays partial amounts to providers in other networks and pays zippity zip to those who are out-of-network, even though the receptionists at the out-of-network providers claim they accept my brand of insurance.
To wit, I’ve paid $2,000 out-of-pocket since July 1. You'd think I'd just have to pay $500 more before the insurance company starts picking up the tab for everything but no. It claims I still have over $2,100 to go until I’ve satisfied my deductible. Very confusing.

Even more bewildering, the claims status report lists charges from providers I’ve never heard of for procedures I’m not even certain I had. Other services I know for sure I received aren’t listed at all.

Here’s my latest statement:


Insured: Dryden, T
Plan: B
Blood Type: Yes

7/11/2014HUXTABLE COFF VISIT$950.00$56.99$75.11NBC
7/12/2014HAUSER DCYTO/SCAN/H$46,842.00$10.00$0.00ABC
7/13/2014FEELGOOD DRROTATE TIRES$594.00$50.007/11NA
7/32/2014JEKYLL DRURINE ANAL$666.66$66.66$6,666.66N/A
8/1/2014NURSE JACKIEBLT N ICU$100.00$17.76$0.00SHO
8/1/2014WELBY MSPAY/NEUTER$15,320.00$1,000.00$5,000.00ABC
8/2/2014TROY C401(K)DEP$5,999.90$599.99$0.00FX
8/4/2014HOUSE GHRT TRNSPLNT$94,333.11$00.00$94,333.11FOX
8/6/2014KIMBLE R1099-E$3,462.45$100.99$500.42ABC
8/6/2014ZHIVAGO YANASTASIA$875.68$1.11$485.23HBO

The only thing I know for sure is this: If the insurance industry is so screwed up it can't even send statements you don't need to be a CPA to decipher, it's a good thing the government is taking over health care. They'll straighten things out. I'm sure of it. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Tommy and his amazing Technicolor nightmare

Have you ever had a nightmare so terrifyingly real you had to will yourself to wake up and, when you did, discovered you were drenched with sweat and your heart was pounding so fast you were probably moments from a heart attack?

I had one last night.

My wife and I were in Wilton, Connecticut, in the kitchen of the house where we raised our sons. We were in our old kitchen – the one with the oak cabinets and Formica countertops before the house was remodeled in 1996 –  but we were the age we are now.

We were about to leave for the evening. I was under the impression we were going to meet friends for dinner.

She said she wanted to drive – odd because I almost always drive. I handed her the keys and we got into our teal Volvo 740 DL station wagon. It was the official car of Wilton during the early- and mid-1990s, the car everyone who had kids drove back before SUVs. 

She headed the car south, toward the town center.  I assumed we were going to Portofino, my favorite Wilton restaurant. My mouth was watering at the thought of its signature rigatoni with sausage, marinara, peas and a touch of cream. But when we got to the second stoplight on Danbury Road, instead of continuing south toward the town center, she took a right onto School Road. We wound our way up a steep hill and turned left into the parking lot at Cider Mill School.

“What are we doing here?” I asked, as she brought the car to a stop.

“You’ll see,” she said.

We got out and walked toward the front door but when we got there it was gone. It had been replaced by the box office of our local Regal Cinema here in Florida.

“Hi Kate,” she said to her friend who was seated behind the window. “I have two tickets reserved.”

At that moment I realized I had been tricked into attending a performance of the Wilton Children’s Theater. It’s a volunteer organization run by artistically inclined parents that twice a year stages elaborate musicals in which elementary and middle school kids play all the roles. Our sons were in the chorus of shows like "Lil Abner" and "Cinderella." The high point of their thespian careers occurred during "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat" when the oldest landed a solo as one of the brothers who sang a song lamenting starvation due to a lingering drought and the younger played a butler who got to sing four lines while relating his amazing dream to Joseph as both languished in an Egyptian prison cell. 

There I was standing in front of the vine.
I picked some grapes and I crushed them for wine.
I gave them to Pharaoh who drank from my cup.
I tried to interpret but had to give up.

Whatever show they were appearing in, my wife made sure we attended all four performances held over the course of the weekend – Friday night, Saturday matinee, Saturday night and the Sunday matinee. The boys, as extras, were on stage for only a few minutes. I then had to spend what seemed like hours watching other peoples’ stupid children in whom I had no interest whatsoever. If given the choice between sitting through four performances of Cinderella or having a colonoscopy, I'd have no trouble deciding.

“I’d rather be water boarded,” I pleaded. “Anything but this.”

Kate, who is our age, was in her late thirties or early forties in the dream. She started thumbing through a wooden box marked “Kraft Cheese” containing white ticket envelopes. It was identical to the one in which my father kept booklets of customer charge accounts in his general store.

“Our tickets are for the back row,” my wife said. “You can slip out after the boys appear. They're on near the beginning.”

“But they're not in this! They're grown! They live in Washington! One's got a kid of his own for Chrissakes!"

“Here you go”, Kate said with a smile, handing my wife the ticket envelope. It was clear my wife had discussed with Kate her plan to trick me into attending. “I upgraded you. You’re in first class, on the front row. Seats 1A and B on the left side.”

“What’s the show?” I asked.

“The Sound of Music,” my wife replied.

“But why?” I pleaded. “Why are we doing this?”

She took my hand and pulled me into the lobby where people were milling about – familiar faces who, like Kate, were in their thirties or early forties –  then into the theater itself. She handed the tickets to an usher, who walked us down the aisle, passing fellow Wilton residents Christopher Walken and Patty Hearst who were sitting in the same row, to our seats.

“You’re not going to be able to get up and leave since we’re down here," she announced. "It’d be rude. Everyone’ll see you.”

“Please!” I begged, as the lights dimmed. “I can’t sit through this. There’s no reason. Our kids aren't in this. We don’t know anyone who has kids. We don’t even live in this town anymore!”

The piano player started playing the overture, “The Hills are Alive.” The curtain began to rise.

At that point, mercifully, my eyes flew open.

I laid awake for a half hour or so trying to interpret but I finally gave up.  

Saturday, August 2, 2014

10 seconds guaranteed to make you smile

Truth be told, I always thought my friends who are grandparents were boring old coots with nothing else to do but prattle on and on about their kids' kids. Until I became a grandparent myself on March 19 with the arrival of Theodore Edward Dryden.

Not only is Teddy the world's cutest baby, I freely admit I am the most insufferably obnoxious grandpa in history. My greatest joys are the "Teddy-grams" of photos and/or videos my son and daughter-in-law send their far-flung families via text mail.

Here's my favorite (as of today. Tomorrow I'll have another one). It's a video of Teddy discovering something all of us learned at some point -- that a Bronx cheer is hilarious.

If you're feeling down, ten seconds after you click this video I personally guarantee you'll have a smile on your face.

And if you're already feeling pretty darned good, this will make you feel even better, compliments of the world's cutest baby.

Smartest, too.