Sunday, December 26, 2010

Let's Get Real About Christmas!

Dear Friends,

It's Sunday December 26th and we survived. It's the time of year we have gathered with those we rarely see and some we do, and we all have to just shut up about whatever is bothering us unless you have early onset dementia, frontal lobe dysregulation or are simply a canterkerous asshole.

Gifts are exchanged or not depending on one's employment or public assistance status. Paper is thrown everywhere and trees sigh in the forest. Alcohol is abundant usually and someone is either monitoring someone's consumption or overconsuming themselves.

The underachieving member in the family entangled with the legal system again expresses grandiose ideas about his future. "Donald Trump made a ton of money, so can I!" It's career number ten for that person who laments the legalization of drugs lest his source of underground revenue is taken from him.

Pets are hiding from all the little kids running around scaring the crap out of them. People make snide remarks directed at one another designed to get them in line but really eyes are rolling which makes it hard to take good pictures. The teens are sneaking out to smoke pot and they think no one notices the stench around them when they return. Or they spray themselves with some stinky chemical that chokes you and makes you stand several feet from them.

But hey, it's family and we love them. Who else would dare to put up with this? Or each other? Cheers! -Alison Whiteman

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Crazy Cat Lady Game

I just want to thank Box Top Vintage in Tacoma for supplying me with best board game ever! Yesterday I scored "The Crazy Cat Lady" board game which is going to help me heal from my five year personal encounter with a cat collector. They say you can't choose your family, but you can choose your friends. But ya know what you cannot sometimes choose? Your neighbors! And let's face it. No matter who is in your family, you love them anyway. That's what family is for. But neighbors, well, you have to tolerate them but perhaps love is pushing the envelope.

She seemed benign enough at first. An elderly woman moving in downstairs. I had this majorly cool apartment that overlooked Commencement Bay in Tacoma. Sure, it was only 500 square feet, but who could argue that a water view was not a major score? Plus I had an attic where I could just store stuff. And a pull down ladder so I could get into the attic to retrieve stored stuff. Besides, I am not sure anyone really needs more than 500 square feet if they live simply enough. As a longtime Quaker, this is my lifestyle choice.

My elderly neighbor seemed okay at first. But then she started to walk past me and say things like, "You are weak." I thought she might have attributed this to my handicapped parking space. Sheesh, that didn't make me feel very good. One day I opened up my door to get my mail and she said, "I have been looking at the garbage and the reason you are gaining weight is you eat pizza." Sheesh. At least I had a heads up she was searching my garbage. And those extra pounds, well I wasn't feeling too well about that either.

One day she walked past me and said, "People just don't understand me." I was speechless. Then the entrapment started. She'd stop me on the sidewalk and start telling me these horror stories about her life. Everything from foster home placements to abusive relationships to an ongoing battle with poverty. But she had a major number of cats. She was plucking them off the streets and taking them home. I guess it never dawned on her that all of those cats belonged to someone else. I don't think she cared either.

So, being the nice person I am, I listened to these tales of woe. I have since found out that it really doesn't help a person to listen to their tales of woe. It is far more helpful to direct them to things that will change their present or even their future. Plus, she started attacking my other neighbors about their garbage. "Those shoes," she said to my very nice neighbor, "could go to someone in need! I object to your throwing them out!" My poor neighbor was as frightened of this person as I was getting.

It got so bad that when I came home, she would listen for me, head up the sidewalk and bang on my door to say something outrageously unkind. I chose not to fight back for the longest time. It was not until she banged on my door and asked me if me or any of my friends had stolen her cat I decided a line had to be drawn. "No," I said, "I believe it is you who steals cats." Oh, the downhill slide from there.

Fortunately or unfortunately my kitchen sink stopped working at that point. My elderly landlords were not going to fix that sink. I was told to wash my dishes in the bathtub. Sure, I could have employed the use of all sorts of landlord tenant laws to get the sink fixed, but instead I fled from the entire situation to the east side of Tacoma where my kind partner, Jay and I have joined households for a year. It took me months to get my deposit back from these landlords. It was the only battle I ever waged with them during my nine years as a tenant.

During my move out, though, which I tried to accomplish without the neighbor noticing, she came up the sidewalk to warn me about how Jay was going to beat me. Well, in four years he had never beaten me so I figured this just was not going to happen. She said all of this in front of poor Jay. I had to draw the line with her. "Okay," I finally said, "I am not a therapist. I do not play one on tv. You need to remain five hundred feet from me at all times from now until all eternity as you are now crossing the line."

Months later I get a certified letter from my old neighbor who had successfully tracked me down. I never signed for it. It presumably got sent back to her. "Aren't you at all curious as to what that letter said?" someone recently asked me. Actually, no, I am not. I doubt a certified letter one signs for is anything nice. I wanted her words to go directly back to her. Perhaps it was some kind of threat about her missing cat that I had, in her mind, snatched. I don't know. One must pick and choose battles.

I am just glad she never ran into my car. She told me about fifteen claims she had made regarding her car. Most of us just walk away from scenarios where someone accidentally scrapes our car. Not this person. She bragged about how much money she had made making all these claims. Then she told me how dangerous people with schizophrenia are. "Geez," I thought, "more dangerous than a cat snatching sociopath?" Oh my. "The Crazy Cat Lady" game indeed. Let the healing begin! -Alison Whiteman

Monday, December 13, 2010

This Was Not My Best Year

On New Year's Eve in 1999 I stood in the street on the south side of Tacoma and yelled, "The worst year of my life is over!" Well, was it really the worst year? In many ways it truly was. In the last twelve months tests had finally confirmed I had a life threatening illness: multiple sclerosis. Worse than just plain feeling sick, my brain had actually gone from freeway speed to old country road. People would say things to me and I would stare at them like a deer in the headlights before responding. The brain, it turns out, is a very important organ. But 2010 turned out to be truly bizarre.

In 2010 I had my cell phone stolen and then given back to me by the thief who had for some reason began to suspect I had connections to government officials that gave me superpowers. Now, if anyone had ever really gotten to know any government official, one would know that none of them have superpowers. They are civil servants who generally have large stacks of papers and a complete lack of a filing clerk at their disposal. She used twenty minutes of my air time presumably to get information for a story she then posted on my blog about our county auditor. To my horror, the story was a poorly crafted and bizarre conspiracy tale that I demanded she remove from the blog immediately. She did so, but then lied about having put it up on the blog in the first place despite my having printed a hard copy. Now, you're wondering, why did she have my password? Can you say naive? Please understand the following.

I grew up in Colorado Springs. The city is still ranked the fifteenth safest city in the nation. I did not grow up around savvy criminal types. I knew nothing about drugs or conspiracies or anything of the like. The worst thing I did as a teenager was run a red light on the way home one night because I was late. My friends were nerds about to enter the world as doctors and other white collar professions. I take people at face value. Even though I started out as a reporter at the tender age of sixteen, one must remember it was in a very safe hometown. I wrote stories about artists and opera singers and my Jewish friends taking a trip to Israel. So my phone was stolen, an article posted, and later I find out our auditor has gone completely off the deep end, much like the person who took my phone.

I can't even talk in great detail about the client I was taking care of as a caregiver. Suffice it to say, her family has been involved in crime for generations. I had no idea. The agency I worked for did not tell me. I just showed up for work for weeks taking her threats of "you better not make me mad" as the dribblings of a grumpy elderly woman, not a gun wielding mentally ill criminal.

I moved from the North End of Tacoma to the East Side of Tacoma this year. I really do like it over here. People actually speak to each other quite a bit and the neighborhood pulls together. That has been a good part of my year. Plus, for the first time in fourteen years, I do not live alone. I share a house with my domestic partner and our furry shelter cat. Sure, the cat came from a meth lab house in Spanaway and has stories to tell, but I don't understand them. And that's all for the best I think. I don't know anything about meth labs except for what I see in movies. They blow up sometimes I guess.

My Reiki "Master" turned out to be a fraud and I had to get the money I paid her to train me to do Reiki back from her. I didn't check her credentials, I just took her at face value. Silly me. Well, I changed the password to my blog. Now I am the only one who posts here. Someone recently told me it's a weird blog. He said my viewpoint is not consistent. Oh well. At least I am not running around town with a latex glove on accusing the entire auditor's office of discriminating against my religious beliefs. Nor am I smiling upon hearing of the untimely and horrific death of a city code enforcement officer who merely stepped out her front door to assist another person. My elderly client not only smiled upon hearing this, she said, "She should have minded her own damn business!" What a horrible thing to say. Later, when I told my client I had taken trash out of the recycling bin and placed it in the trash bin, she pointed at me and said, "You should mind your own damn business." Cripes! I was in my own version of "Throw Mama From The Train." I am glad this year is over. -Alison Whiteman

Friday, December 10, 2010

Times Are Really, I Mean Really Bad

Well, today I got the letter from The Department of Social and Health Services. I would love to tell you in detail what was in it, but I ripped it up because I was horrified. The most horrifying section pertained to children with disabilties. The state will no longer pay for the following services to disabled children: occupational therapy; physical therapy; nursing; speech therapy; psychological assessments; and audiology screenings (which just leads to speech problems that won't get treated anymore anyway) among other things.

Glasses are no longer paid for. My independent pharmacy reports supplies for diabetes patients are slashed out of the budget. The letter went on and on really. No more co-pays for anyone on Medicare Part D, the prescription portion of the Medicare program. So basically no assistance with prescriptions for the elderly or disabled who are low income.

At first I was angry. Then I cried. Then I talked to some friends and family. Then I remembered what it was like for me when I taught special education. When I had my first contract in a public school, I had no books, not a single computer, no assistant in my classroom, about twenty to twenty five kids per class, and a budget of five hundred dollars for the entire school year. I had kids with seizure disorders, violent tempers, developmental problems, and one who was so poor he had no running water in his home. Someone recently told me he should have been pulled from that home. "Really?" I said, "because his father was a disabled Vietnam veteran we should have further punished the family by yanking the kid into some horrifying foster care circumstance?" Worse yet, I was sent to a portable classroom which isolated all of us from the main campus.

Have things gotten any better since that first teaching contract in 1995? I am not sure. It depends where you go. Some school districts are highly funded. Some parents can pay for the services that other parents cannot. But mostly we are sinking into a widening class split. And we are turning on one another. I personally cannot do social work jobs anymore. It's just too heartbreaking for me and with my health problem (multiple sclerosis) it is just short of insanity for me to even try. I am very close to tossing my television into the alley where they sit for months and months and no one collects them. However, I do not live alone and this is not a choice I can make. I lived for two years once with no television and internet access was not as available as it is now. It seems to me I did a lot of art projects.

I had a co-worker, a dedicated teacher, who quit teaching and went to live in a cabin with no electricity for a time. That's pretty much what social work can do to one's soul. I lost touch with her. She was an amazing person. I have no idea if my MS medication will be funded anymore. I have to wait until January because my pharmacist is so confused by the changes. I have spent most of my working life fighting battles for others. Now I have no choice but to fight for myself. At a cost of $3,178 per month for the MS drug, I will have to make an appeal to the pharmaceutical company itself if my coverage is impacted. Again, neither my pharmacist or I know if the state has been making payments on my behalf or what that amount may be. The MS society sent out an alarm e-mail. They think they can somehow impact the legislature. I don't think so. I think it's a done deal. Too bad if you're hit with the disability stick in this, the reportedly wealthiest nation in the world. The help is gone. It's just gone. And I don't think it's coming back. Not today I don't think that. And unless someone hits me on the head with an optimism stick, I may never think that again. --Alison Whiteman

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thirty Short Years Ago We Lost John Lennon

I was going to bed. I was always going to bed earlier than the rest of my family. I didn't know why then, but I had been battling multiple sclerosis as a young teenager already and the one thing this disease does is make you very sleepy. So there I was in my soft blue pajamas tucked safely away in my bed. My oldest brother wondered why I was always so tired. He does not recall expressing concern about this recently, but that's because he has been so slammed with the events of his own adult life. I was sleepy, tucked away, and then I heard the noise coming from downstairs.

We had a Zenith television. It was one of those huge televisions that sits on the floor. In those days, you had to actually change the channels by hand. There were no remotes. It was also, as I recall, our first television. We didn't get a television until 1972 mainly because we lived overseas. We lived in Germany and there was no point in watching television shows you could not understand. Before that, I don't recall having a television. I don't think I cared. If we did have one, I don't remember it. Children played outside in those days. Thinking about that makes me feel really old.

So the noise startled me and I stumbled out of bed to find out what the heck was going on down there in the television room. John Lennon had been shot. As a family we were devastated. We had an original copy of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" and we all loved, loved, loved The Beatles. We just could not believe it. The next day, apparently, it was all I could talk about at school. I learned this some twenty-three years later at a high school reunion. "Oh," said my former classmate, "I remember you. All you could talk about was the death of John Lennon at school the day after he was shot." It's weird what we recall versus what others recall.

Lennon's death shocked my family. A lot of things shocked us that might not shock other families quite as much. Irish Republican bombings in London scared us to death. We would determine the time and then try to calculate the location of our English family on the tube or subway. Royal family events meant a lot to us and we would get up in the wee hours of the night to watch them because we had to see them live. And one day our basement flooded because one of my brothers had left a hose in the window well during a freeze. The hose exploded and left several inches of water behind. The original copy of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" was floating along with books and other keepsakes. No one got angry about this. It was an accident. We just cleaned up our basement and got rid of ruined books and items. The record was just a thing. It's John we miss. -Alison Whiteman

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Hilarious Middle Schoolers I Eavesdropped On At Target

I am not sure what we found the most amusing about middle school when I was a middle schooler, but this is what the boys must contend with these days. Girls get stuck in their jeans. That's right, their jeans. "Her jeans were so tight." said the boy, "I had to help cut her out of them!" It was all I could to do to not snort laugh out loud in order to continue eavesdropping.

"One girl wears her jeans so tight she can't breathe!" said the boy. "She is like on the verge of fainting all day long!" I nearly choked on my horrible lunch: a hotdog. The preservatives from that poor choice of a lunch are probably killing off parts of my immue system. Perhaps my "inside laughter" helped.

As much as I like kids, I am so glad I never had a daughter. I would have been one of those moms blocking the exit to the house yelling, "Too tight! Too low! Too revealing! I am going to shred your clothing if you keep this up!" And facial piercings? There is no way in hell any offspring of mine would have gotten away with that. Some soul somewhere is thankful I am not her mother. -Alison Whiteman