Monday, July 2, 2018

A Matter of (Bad) Taste


[“Let Inga Tell You, La Jolla Light, published July 4, 2018]  ©2018

Olof and I are compatible in so many ways, but not in books and movies.  Or more specifically, movies made out of books.  Olof loves fantasy stuff – Harry Potter (he’s read all of them twice), Lord of the Rings, Star Wars.  Me, I can’t figure out how the actors keep a straight face while filming them; they just seem so hokey.  For years, it always seemed like there was a Christmas release of one of the above series, and as a demonstration of my love for Olof, I always bought two tickets for him for Christmas.

Unfortunately, I could never find anyone to use the other one.  So I was forced to go.  I always paired it with a nice dinner afterwards with suitable liquid refreshment as an inducement not to gnaw off a limb during the movie.

Olof was pretty clear that fantasy wasn’t my favorite genre.  But there were unspoken rules that I would behave.  No laughing out loud. No snarky comments. No eye rolling. 

For his part, Olof has equally disparaging things to say about my taste in movies which he describes as “talking heads.”  And just as I have been willing to see all those gag-able fantasy flicks that he so adores, he has dutifully endured movies that I wanted to see. 

Talking heads movies, at least, tend to be two hours. Fantasy movies generally run three.  Or more. I guess once they filmed all those scenes, they felt compelled to use them.  So the torture-per-minute ratio is waaaaay less for Olof than it is for me. I would like this noted. 

The Harry Potter movies were, in my view, the least bad.  But did they have to make FIVE of them? I mean, we got the point after two.

As for the EIGHT Star Wars movies, I could never figure out the plot (was there one?) other than that good was fighting evil, the bad guys wore black and the good guys wore white (thank you), the sound track was deafeningly loud, and they were basically vehicles for a lot of special effects.  Oh, and usually somebody was trying to resolve a traumatic event of their formative years, generally involving a parent.  (They always blame the parents.)

But the three Tolkien movies – released on three consecutive Christmas days – were the ultimate torture.  Our younger son Henry, home from college, went to the first two with us. He turned out not to be a big Tolkien fan either.  Twelve minutes into the first one, he leaned over and whispered, “How much longer?”  My sentiments exactly. 

Recently, in cleaning out my files (nobody should have this many filing cabinets), I came across a folder full of email correspondence with the kids, this one about the final Tolkien movie. 

From: Mom
To: Henry
Sent: Wednesday, December 31, 2003  5:32
Subject: I’m free! I’m free!

Hi Henry –

Olof and I just saw the last of the Lord of the Ring movies today.  Thank GOD Tolkien is dead and can’t write any more of these. I thought Frodo would never throw the damn ring into the volcano. Even after he fiiiiiiinnnnaaaaallly did, the movie went on for another FORTY-FIVE MINUTES.  Frodo and Sam had to be rescued, then Aragon had to be crowned king and then get married to the Liv Tyler character, then they all had to make their very slow way back to Hobbit Land (did these folks have a no-cut contract?), then Sam had to fall in love and get married and have two children, and then Frodo had to decide to write his memoirs and then he had to go away on a ship for more adventures which necessitated long mawkish weepy goodbyes with the other midgets, then we watched the ship sail ENDLESSLY off into the sunset and then we had to go back to Sam’s hobbit house and see how happy the fam was and then…I almost stood up in the theater and started screaming STOP ALREADY!  NOBODY CARES! HE THREW THE EFFING RING IN THE VOLCANO FORTY-FIVE MINUTES AGO! IT’S OVER! LET US GET OUT OF HERE!

Worse, there were a full half-hour of previews ahead of the movie – all of them weird Lord of the Ring-type movies, so it was three and a half hours imprisoned in the theater. 

 How utterly clever of you not to be home for Christmas this year and thereby be paroled from any obligation to watch another two hours and 59 minutes of Tolkien.  (Why are they all exactly that length?)  Is this why you went to Australia instead? (It’s OK to say so.) 

That I have now seen all three Lord of the Rings movies is a testament to how much I love Olof. As the screen credits rolled today, he happily exclaimed, “Was that the greatest movie you ever saw or what!”

What.


Monday, June 25, 2018

A Solution To Short-Term Vacation Rentals


[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 27, 2018] ©2018

If you’re local, you’ve probably been following the debate as to what rules should apply to whole-house short- term vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods – particularly areas near the beach. Unfortunately, more and more investors are buying homes in quiet family neighborhoods in coastal areas (particularly La Jolla) and turning them into short-term vacation rentals, creating major problems with parking, trash, and noise until all hours of the morning.   Incongruously, our mayor is leaning toward favoring wholesale greed over the quality of life of people who find themselves suddenly living next door to revolving hordes of partying tourists.  News flash, Kev:  allowing investors to buy and rent out a non-owner-occupied residence on a nightly basis is not “home-sharing”: it is a motel in a residential neighborhood. 

If a short-term rental moved in next to me, I would hope that after a month, the reviews of this property would read something like this:

ACK, DO NOT RENT THIS HOUSE! We thought we’d be having our extended-family reunion in a nice home in La Jolla a few blocks from the beach – at least that’s how the place was advertised.  The owners made no mention of the next-door neighbors who sunbathe naked.  Did I mention they’re SEVENTY? The husband sits out there in his deck chair with a glass of Scotch playing with himself and drooling.  His wife – also naked (she could really stand to lose some weight!) – would come out from time to time and shrug apologetically at our kids who were gawking from the second-floor windows. She’d try to cover him with a towel but he just tossed it off cackling maniacally. Not in the property description!

These same people had a little white dog who was constantly pooping on our home’s front lawn although we were at a loss to figure out how such a tiny animal could be generating as much excrement as a pack of St. Bernards. But it pretty much made the front grass area unusable. 

Did I mention the dead rats?  They were all over the yard!  You’d think there was some kind of plague going on here and in point of fact, the neighbor lady (Ina or Inga or something like that) informed us that the La Jolla Chamber of Commerce is paying big bucks to keep people from knowing that those deceased rodents are carriers of Bubonic Plague, Typhus, and Hanta Virus.  She said we should sue the home owner for not telling us about it or at the very least not advising us to be inoculated for those illnesses before we came.  She insinuated that her wanker husband had been “normal” before contracting one of these diseases. (Alas, she declined to name which one.)

Another problem: Parking Control kept tagging our cars for towing insisting that neighbors had reported our six cars for overstaying a 72-hour limit. How could this be? The Inca or Helga lady said that the parking control people are total nazis and often tow cars that haven’t actually violated the statute. She recommended moving our cars every hour just to be safe. (It was a total pain.)  She also mentioned that there was an unspoken rule in the neighborhood that the space in front of one’s home is reserved for the owner’s vehicles and that that the neighbors could be very “vindictive.” This Ina or Inga person recommended parking our cars in the one-hour parking on Fay Avenue and taking Uber back and forth.  (She said the meter maids never ticket there – local secret.)

As if the rats weren’t bad enough, there was clearly an infestation of cockroaches around the base of the house that were the size of small animals. Ilsa or Erma or whatever her name is said there is a giant colony of them living right under their house and ours.  Apparently, they are a mutant strain that frequently come up from the sewer, sometimes in droves, so it would be best not to sit directly on the toilet seat or one could be risking a “nasty surprise in the nether regions.”
 
 We realize that we have probably been making more noise than we should, especially past the 10 p.m. noise curfew, but this IS a family reunion and we came here to party.  But our noise is nothing compared to theirs.  Their outdoor speakers seem to be pointed in the direction of our house and they seem to prefer drum solos, X-rated rap (we would NEVER let our children listen to such lyrics), and old Mantovani CDs perpetually stuck on “Jamaican Rumba” – all blasted at what seems like 120 decibels.  We went over to ask them to turn it down but the creepy husband answered – does he EVER wear clothes? – and said the speaker volume control was broken but they had a service call scheduled for next week. Then he started scratching himself and we couldn’t get out of there fast enough. 

We had rented the place for a week but escaped after two days to Alpine (no neighbors!) I think we should take Ima or Ella’s advice and sue the home owners for a refund for this “Vacation Rental By Owner.”   

###

Monday, June 18, 2018

Another World

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 20, 2018] ©2018

Recently, my husband Olof and I made our first official foray out of town since his heart attack in January to attend Grandparents Day at our grandson’s school. 

Let me say that Grandparents Day is a phenomenon totally new to me.  Olof and I and the kids all attended public schools so we were unfamiliar with the rituals of private education. My son and daughter-in-law had been profoundly underwhelmed by their local public school and finally decided to make the financial sacrifice to go private. If they lived in La Jolla, they said, it would definitely be public school.

I have to say that Olof and I initially assumed that the purpose of this event was to hit up the grandparents for money. This is our grandson’s first year at this school and we were solicited for donations three times before Thanksgiving. After the third, I emailed my son, Henry: “Did you sell our address to these people?”  He replied, tongue-in-cheek, “They offer a 25% discount to any student with grandparents in an upscale zip code.” 

Unlike public schools, who would be thrilled with a donation of $500, the bottom of six tiers of donations for this school was “Under $1,500” which would merely identify us as embarrassingly cheap. We never received a fourth request.  We were genuinely expecting that the topic of money might be revisited when captive physical bodies were on campus.

But nope, it was all about giving the grandparents a nice experience. Upon getting our pre-printed name tags, we were ushered to table upon table of amazing pastries (next year I’m bringing a large handbag to stuff with those fabulous chocolate croissants) from a high-end L.A. bakery.  I texted Henry a picture of one of the tables with the caption: “Not in public school anymore, Toto!” 

Among the entertainments was a musical program in the auditorium.  The performance was truly outstanding, but then, it is one of the school’s signature programs.  Usually with a grade school orchestra, you think they’re doing well if you can actually identify the piece of music. But these kids were dazzling. The fourth graders were singing in three-part harmony.  There was choreography. Not much resemblance to the charmingly off-key Spring Sings I remembered. But it doesn’t come free.

Not surprisingly, all the songs were “message” music with themes from saving the environment, to championing the equality of humans of all races and creeds, and ending with a rousing rendition of “Circle of Life” by the school’s stunningly talented choir.  Let me just say that they were themes that can’t be emphasized enough these days. 

We got to visit our grandson’s kindergarten classroom and let him take us on a tour of the gorgeous grounds. A catered lunch was served. Olof shared my feeling that we had been transported to an alternate but very lovely universe.

Speaking of alternate universes, I have to confess that sometimes L.A. seems like a foreign country to me. Back at the house after Grandparents Day concluded, I asked our three-year-old grandson if that was E-damame he was eating.  He looked at me said, “ED-amame, Mormor.” OK, looked like soybeans to me and I was pretty dazzled that his mother got him to eat it.  But he was chowing it down like it was MacDonald’s chicken fingers, which I might add, was pretty much the only thing his father would eat until he was ten. 

Another new phenomenon for us: our son’s house has all manner of electronic stuff like Alexa, the Amazon robot thing that does everything but… no, I think she really does everything.   One thing Amazon might not have thought through, however, was the problem of Alexa Abuse by three-year-olds. Most preschoolers aren’t used to having much power over anything and our grandson delighted in relentlessly ordering Alexa around then cackling hysterically as she attempted to keep up with his commands. 

“Awexa! Pway “Baa baa bwack sheep!”  Poor Alexa wouldn’t even get to as far as “Have you any wool?’ before our grandson commanded her, “Awexa! Pway “Twinkle twinkle widdle star!”  Unfortunately, Alexa 1.0 doesn’t isn’t programmed to respond to the command from his mother, “Alexa! Ignore voices of persons under five!” - clearly a needed upgrade in 2.0 – but she will respond to mom’s command, “Alexa! Stop playing music!”

I can’t even imagine the chaos if someone in the family is actually named Alexa.  (Can you get one named Bob?)

I tried telling Alexa to play Vivaldi’s Four Seasons but the three-year-old cut it off seconds later. Just like those GPS robots that start to sound positively surly if you keep ignoring their directions, I could swear Alexa wanted to say, “Would you guys make up your effing minds?”

But altogether a very successful trip.  Glad to be back out into the world again.  And our grandson’s school didn’t ask us for dime.  Or maybe our reputations had preceded us.


Monday, June 4, 2018

To Hell And Back?

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published June 6, 2018] ©2018

My perversely-curious mind has often pondered why there are loads of books by people who have had near-death (or actual death) experiences and were sure that they had glimpsed heaven, but none by anyone who has come back from hell.  I mean that would truly be a best seller, never mind a compelling cautionary tale. 

All the heaven books I’ve read seem to have a reassuring commonality:  the patient describes a white light, being transported through a tunnel, and a feeling of pure peace. So, is the tunnel to hell one-way only?  Or is it because that tunnel is actually the 405 freeway in L.A. and the decedent decided that staying in hell was far less of a hassle than trying to get back?

Since no one has ever made the round-trip journey, we don't truly know what hell is like, other than
Biblical references like “the lake of fire” in Revelations 20:13-15 or the Matthew 5:22: description of “hell fire”.   

This after-life issue all came up recently after my 8-year-old granddaughter, who is a voracious reader, was reading a book about what the possibilities are after you die, including reincarnation.   I am guessing she did not get it out of the library at the Catholic school she attends.  Her partial Catholic heritage qualified her for admission to this school although a number of her classmates, refugees of substandard public schools, are not Catholic at all. One advantage of growing up in a multi-ethnic multi-religious family like she does is that we’re happy to have her learn about all religions, and she is thriving at this school.  But reincarnation might not have been on the First Holy Communion curriculum. 

So, she wanted to know after reading this book, can she choose reincarnation instead of heaven vs hell if she wants? She liked the idea of coming back over and over as different people – or even animals – as her soul evolved. Can we choose what we want to believe, she wanted to know?  If different religions say different things about the afterlife, how do we know who is right?  Is anyone right?  Heavy duty stuff for age eight. 

Telling this story at a subsequent dinner party inspired dialogue as to what our own concepts of heaven and hell were.  Hell for me immediately conjured up a snow storm at O'Hare, a neighbor kid who plays drums, and the non-appointments line at the DMV. Root canals, leaf blowers, and a job in data processing could be added to that.  Being trapped in any of those situations in perpetuity would be pretty grim. 

A childhood friend from the East Coast, when posed this question, replied, “I’d say that hell is the forced endurance, repetition, tolerance of painful or unpleasant situations. Could be in life, could be otherwise (if there is any otherwise). For example, the twelve years I spent at Germantown Friends School: Hell. My seventh semester at Cornell: Hell. Summers at Camp Blue Bell and Kamp Kewanee: Hell. Summer courses at Southern Regional High School in New Jersey: Hell. (There is a special area of Hell that pertains to New Jersey. You gotta problem wit’ dat?) And so forth.”

He continued:  “Outliving the sanctimonious ****s that took delight in torturing, hectoring and bullying me: Heaven. Seeing those same people plump up, declare personal bankruptcy, get divorced and impoverished, get indicted and/or convicted, Heaven. Doing well myself: Heaven. Having a few good ears of corn on the cob: Heaven. Waking up after quadruple bypass surgery and realizing that my surgeon was right . . . my odds of survival were 99+%: Absolutely Pure 100% Unmitigated Heaven.”  

Having had a Protestant mother, Catholic father, and Jewish first husband, I’ve logged a lot of time in houses of worship and had both lovely and miserable experiences with religion.  Probably low on the list were those big scary ruler-wielding nuns who looked like human Shamus as they bore down on their hapless terrified charges ready to inflict knuckular damage on those not knowing their Catechism.  I confess when I first learned that my granddaughter would be going to Catholic school, I developed a facial tic.

But Catholic school appears to be a whole new ballgame.  Classes at her school are taught by non-ruler-wielding lay people who encourage positivity.  It just seems like a genuinely happy place and her experience there has been a corrective emotional experience for me.  Olof and I are convinced that her constant prayers for him after his heart attack genuinely helped his recovery.  Ultimately, she’ll have to decide for herself what she believes about religion and afterlife, just like the rest of us. 

But I’ll tell you: I’d definitely buy the book from the moribund miscreant who briefly had a glimpse of hell but got to come back and tell us all about it.  I’d be especially interested in the parking. 




Monday, May 28, 2018

How Times Change

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 30, 2018] ©2018

I’ve said it before: when you live in the same house for 45 years, you don’t always get around to cleaning out filing cabinets as frequently as you should.  My husband, Olof, who moved every three years during his Air Force years, said that he had a policy that if a box hadn’t been opened for three moves, it went directly into the trash, unopened.

I probably should use that approach. But then I would have jettisoned such gems as my son Rory’s age 10 Mother’s Day (“You’ve been like a mother to me”), not to mention the time capsule envelope that recently surfaced from my college days.

I went to college in the late 1960’s, a time of tremendous upheaval politically and socially. In fact, one of the items in this envelope is an ACLU-issued sheet entitled “Demonstration and Arrest: Rights and Liabilities.”  Under “Demonstrations,” it advises “Have your attorney and a bail bondsman notified in advance and prepared to act immediately in case of arrest. Memorize the number of your lawyer.”  (Did I have a lawyer?)  Suffice to say, this was not the first info I gave to my kids when they went to college in the late 1990s.

The ACLU pamphlet further advised demonstrating students to:

(1) Do not carry a weapon or anything that could be characterized as a weapon and do not have any trace of drugs on your person. If arrested, all your possessions will be taken from you by the police.

(2) For your personal safety, wear good shoes to protect your feet and avoid pierced earrings which could be torn off.

(3) It would be useful for some in the group to have inexpensive cameras, to take pictures of arrests for future evidence.  [Where were cell phone cameras when you needed them?]

(4) Avoid harassment of police which will lead to retaliation and hasty action, possibly causing serious injury.

(5) You can be frisked if the policeman has reason to believe you are carrying a weapon. Make sure that you don’t consent to the search of yourself or your car but don’t physically resist.  [A harbinger for airport security?] 

Demonstrations in that era weren’t just about civil rights and the Vietnam war.  There was huge social change going on, even within college campuses themselves. 

Given that I was attending a college rather than a reform school for wayward girls, there were some surprisingly strict rules, anachronisms leftover from the 1860s when the college was founded. You had to live on campus in a dorm. Men were only allowed in dorm rooms during specific daytime hours and even then doors had to be unlocked, and “3 feet on the floor”.  (No specific mention was made as to what the fourth foot could be doing but I recollect it was put to creative use.)  Pregnant?  Gone the next day. Married? Not on this campus. All the dorms had their own dining facility which required skirts for girls at dinner, and a jacket and tie for male guests. A selection of (deliberately?) abandoned cheap sports coats and hideous ties were punitively available should your date show up without one.

In 1969, the school decided to go co-ed and the first 70 men – junior year transfers from other colleges - were added to our 900-student population.  It became immediately clear that someone had not thought out all the details. Like dominos, a century of rules collapsed within two months.
First to go: the guys refused to dress for dinner.

The college was now even willing to consider letting students marry. I was engaged to my first husband at the time and got married just before my senior year, spending weekdays at school, weekends three hours away at the hospital where my husband was doing his medical internship.

Having men housed in women’s dorms made the men-in-your-room hours pretty unworkable. So the college just gave up and abolished the “parietal” rules altogether. (Is parietal even a word in use anymore?) You could now be in some guy’s room – and he in yours - 24 hours a day if you wanted.

Unfortunately, the new parietal rules didn’t sit well with some parents who considered it a breach of contract. They sued.

So the college was forced to set up one corridor on the campus that still had the old parietal rules. It goes without saying that no one signed up.

So those rooms were assigned by a lottery no one wanted to win. Against all odds, I ended up in one. When my husband came to visit, he couldn’t stay in my room.  My manila enveloped contains the letter from the Dean of Students responding to my lament of the irony of all this. “It won’t be the last one in your life,” she said, turning down my appeal for an exception.

She was certainly right about that.


My 1970 college graduation

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Just Clearing Up A Few Things

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 23, 2018] ©2018

OK, I’ll admit I’m a sucker just like everyone else for “listicles,” those popular website lists like “seven foods you should never eat” and “12 ways to lose 30 pounds in a week.”  So it wasn’t too surprising that when I saw “10 Styling Tips that will instantly slim you down,” I had to go for it. Especially after the five-week food felony that was the holiday season. 

The one thing that was clear about this listicle is that it was not geared to my demographic.  I may not be in the pastel polyester pantsuit crowd just yet, but for me, it’s all about comfort.  Unless I get a spinal transplant, there is no way a pair of heels will ever grace my feet again. 

So here are the 10 listicle suggestions:

(1) “Invest in shapewear, particularly a seamless slenderizing piece that has reinforced panels to suck in your stomach, slim your thighs, boost your derriere and define your waist when wearing bodycon dresses, clingy skirts, tight pants or evening gowns.”  First, what is a “bodycon” dress?  Does Land’s End sell them? Actually, it doesn’t really matter because I’m pretty sure I don’t own one, or for that matter, any clingy skirts, tight pants, or evening gowns.  Whew! Dodged the fat squisher bullet! 

(2)  “In terms of skirts, a knee-length pencil skirt is the most universally flattering silhouette.”  Are you kidding?  The only silhouettes that pencil skirts flatter are pencil-shaped people. The rest of us look like fermenting pork sausages.

 (3) “Say ’yes’ to higher rise jeans.”  They advise “going for a rise that hits directly above your belly button.”  That’s their idea of “high rise”?  I will say no more. 

(4) “Rock out with vertical stripes.”  I will concede that vertical stripes can make a person look “longer”. But we chunkies tend to eschew stripes altogether.  For good reason.

 (5) “Cinch with skinny belts to accentuate your natural waist.” What if you have no waist?  Of course, I make up for it by having multiples of other parts, like chins. And thighs.  But it makes the whole skinny belt thing moot.

(6) “Don’t discount maxi skirts; a well-cut maxi skirt can actually give you the appearance of looking longer and leaner.”  I’d totally agree, so long as you weigh a maximum of 95 pounds.  The rest of us look like a beluga whale about to give birth.

(7) “Buy a new bra.”  I don’t know what it is about aging, but bras just keep getting more and more uncomfortable as you get older.  For me, it didn’t help that I got my chest crushed and three thoracic vertebrae permanently de-stabilized by a drunk driver a few years ago. But maybe I wouldn’t be any happier with bras even if hadn’t had this accident.  I was telling a friend that the first thing I do when I get home is take off my bra.  She said she usually takes hers off in the car.

(8) “Choose heels with a low-cut vamp.”  A vamp, apparently, is the portion of a shoe that cuts across your foot at the front which allegedly gives your legs a slimmer look, even as it cuts off circulation to your toes.  A high vamp shoe comes up the foot and possibly up to the ankle.  (Do Adidas lace-up walking shoes count?)

 (9) “Mask problem areas with dark colors and highlight assets with bright colors.”  Not a bad concept, but what if your whole body is a problem area? Do you wear all black?

(10) “Wear all black.”  You were probably waiting for me to shoot this one down just like I did the first nine but this one I could (mostly) get behind.  OK, I don’t wear ALL black which seems a tad funereal. But I’m really big on the slenderizing effect of black slacks.   When my young granddaughter was visiting one weekend, she queried, “Mormor, why do you always wear the same thing?”  As I explained to her it only looks like the same thing.  Mormor actually has eight pairs of those black slacks (and at least as many white tops the combination of which I admit make me look like a server at a trendy trattoria).  It is my personal opinion that black slacks best minimize years of abuses of chocolate and chardonnay.  I wear them with colorful tops and sweaters even if they bring attention to areas that No. (9) suggests I shouldn’t be highlighting.  But tough luck. I LIKE color.

Unlike my college years when I wore miniskirts to sub-zero college football games (can you say “bronchitis”?), I am no longer willing to suffer for fashion. And I would also aver that all the camouflaging tricks in the world won’t help chubby folks like me look good in anything that’s tight.  Sorry, listiclist lady. That’s the word from the trenches.


Tuesday, May 8, 2018

The Most Expensive Jell-0 You Never Ate

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published May 8, 2018] ©2018

Before Olof even got home from the hospital in January after his heart attack and brain injury (from falling during the heart attack), I already had my spreadsheet set up and my phone log ready.  I knew from Olof’s 2009 surgery that went awry that my part time job in 2018 was going to be reconciling medical bills.

This time we were going to have bills not only for the cardiac cath lab, but for paramedics, ER services, twice daily head CTs, never mind assorted MRIs, the cardiac ICU, the trauma ICU, laboratories, the cardiac rehab gym, cardiologists, trauma surgeons, and neurosurgeons. Even the occupational therapy folks stopped by to say hello although Olof is retired. 

Let me just say once again, he got fabulous care.  He’s alive and healthy because of all those people.  We are beyond grateful.

Who I am less grateful to is Scripps Health billing.  If the doctors operated on the same level as the hospital billing service, they’d be amputating the wrong leg. Reaching the billing people by phone is at least a half hour wait, often longer. They’re hoping you’ll just get fed up and pay the bill even though they’ve forgotten to credit you for payment by your secondary.  You know they got paid because you’ve got the EOB (Explanation of Benefits) from your secondary, dutifully logged into your spreadsheet.

I’m trying to think of the bill reconciliation as a sort of sadistic Sudoku game. I can see why people hire a service to handle this stuff. Because it will drive you TOTALLY EFFING CRAZY.

Of course, it may not be Scripps Health billing’s fault that what shows up on the Medicare and secondary insurance EOBs doesn’t always match up with their bills.  This appears to be because the twice-daily head CTs, for example, were all billed individually, but clumped together in mysterious combinations when we actually got a statement.  That’s the “game” part of it: trying to get any combination of EOB “You owe this amounts” to add up to the bottom line of a bill.  When I succeed, I’m deliriously happy. 

The first few days that Olof was in the hospital generated a ton of EOBs that merely said “critical care services,”  “medical care,” “therapeutic services.” or “hospital inpatient.”  I’m just assuming that lots of people did a lot of all those things to him during that time. 

Recently we got a bill from Scripps Health for $10.90. Usually if it’s less than $50, I just pay it.  Mental health move.  No point in my having a heart attack over Olof’s heart attack bills.  But there was no date of service and the Type of Service was listed as “recurring.”  I waded back through the Medicare and secondary EOBs and in a eureka moment realized that the co-pay for Olof’s thrice-weekly cardiac rehab gym visits was $5.45.  So this must be for two of them!  I was so excited I could hardly contain myself. 

If you have large medical bills, you’ll get a form from Meridian Resource Company, an organization hired by medical insurers to drive patients into homicidal rage and/or despondency.  Their purpose is to make absolutely sure that you don’t have some other previously-undisclosed insurance coverage (Workers Comp, third party after an accident, etc.) so that they can hurl you into an endless perpetual loop of denied claims that will never be resolved, even after your death. 

I’d dutifully filled out the Meridian form, keeping a photocopy, verifying that we do not have other insurance and that charges are for “A medical condition or age related condition that is NOT work or accident related.” 

So, smack in the middle of (at least) $200,000 worth of medical bills, our secondary starts denying claims with the notation:  “Are group health insurance benefits for these expenses available from any other source? If so, please send us: name and birthdate of the other insured person. If you do not have any other coverage, please indicate such on this form along with your signature and date, and return to us for payment consideration.” 

Now, the folks at Meridian aren’t as bad at customer service at Scripps Health but you can expect some serious hold time. They agreed, oops, their mistake, you DID send the form, they will go back and mark those denied never-ever-going-to-be-paid claims for payment consideration. 

Of course, the EOB that really got our attention was the one for the ICU for “Room/board”:  $152,972.83. Olof definitely wants to dispute the “board” portion.  When he collapsed during his heart attack, he did a face plant into an armoire, which in addition to causing a brain bleed (do NOT have a heart attack near heavy furniture!), resulted in a mouth full of stitches.  So he couldn’t eat. Not even that nasty Jell-0.  So he’d like a partial credit. Not much, maybe $10,000.  We’re reasonable people.