Monday, June 18, 2018

The Down and Out

There is nothing like a trip among the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of our teeming shore, the homeless and the tempest-tossed to make one understand just how well they have it. And so it began with a simple letter to my mother-in-law from her insurance provider telling her that since she is eligible for medicare, they aren't going to pay as much anymore.

My mother-in-law is in the process of immigrating from the Philippines to our country which is a long drawn out process that we actually began almost 14 years ago. It involved petitioning her which in simple terms means we have to pledge our very souls to the U.S. government that we would not let her become a burden on society and that we had the wealth to live up to that promise. Once that was complete, we filled our reams of paperwork proving who she was and her reasons for immigrating to eventually be given permanent resident status. This status really means you have no rights other than the right to stay in our country. You can't vote, can't hold office, can't get any benefits, etc. but you can work and pay taxes. However, if you live here for five straight years and aren't a burden to society, you can apply for citizenship. So after calling the toll free medicare phone number, wading through dozens of touch tone menus and waiting for hours, I finally got hold of a representative (who was extremely nice) who told us that the reason we got that letter in the mail is because my mother-in-law's stay in our country was about to break the five year waiting period and thus since she could be eligible for citizenship if she desires (and she does), she is now eligible for Medicare. Because she has absolutely no income and has never earned income in this country, she isn't eligible for subsidies but even paying full fare, it is a savings of four figures per MONTH! All we needed to do was head down to the local Social Security office and apply. We jumped in the car and ten minutes later were sitting in the waiting room full of the above mentioned people.

We hadn't anticipated a lengthy wait so had really nothing to do except sit there and pretend not to hear the mentally handicapped fellow tell the same store over and over for over an hour at a voice reserved for encouraging your child from across the baseball field to get the ball. If he wasn't talking, you were listening to the multitude of problems people were explaining to the single agent manning the window. One poor fellow obviously missing a leg, was trying to get disability since he hasn't had a job or wife since March and had no more money to buy any food. He wasn't a native speaker of English so it took awhile for the agent to explain that he needed proof that he was disabled before they could process their benefits. This process repeated itself for two and a half hours as we waited for our number to be called and with the knowledge that there were still three or four people ahead of us. After hearing a fellow come in with an appointment time and getting promptly seen in a back room, we got up, got the number for this local office from the security guard and headed home thinking we would make an appointment for next week and avoid more hours of waiting. After another half hour of phone menus and muzak, I got someone in an office clear across the country to tell me the next available appointment was two months away! I took the appointment but we resolved to return to the office the next morning before they opened so that we would be first inline.

My mother-in-law, being filipino, means that she can never be early or even on time to anything ever. So the 20 minutes early that we had planned ended up being only three minutes early and there were half a dozen cars already there. One in particular was parked across three spaces and partially up on the sidewalk right in front of the door and guarded by a tall thin lady who looked very strung out on drugs, complete with ample needle marks following the veins up both arms. We hopped out of our vehicle and got inline behind another waiting lady who told us that we were number three since and the lady (pointed to the meth-head) was number one. Based upon yesterday's experience, I still figured that was about an hour to an hour and twenty minute wait which wasn't too bad.

The meth lady was called first and wanted to sign up for her benefits "as was her right" but soon realized upon questioning by the agent that she first needed to prove her identity. She first said she didn't have a license and when the agent asked for another form of identification, she changed to she was robbed the night before, and on and on for the next ten minutes. She finally stumbled away telling the rest of us in general that she was going to walk up to the DMV (a mile down a very busy highway) to get her license and would be right back to finish up. Fortunately the agent wasn't waiting for her and the lady in front of us was called. She was trying to get her "sister's" SSN because she wasn't able to come to the office herself. The agent said he would certainly mail it to her at the address in the file but couldn't tell the lady the number or the address for security reasons. That led to fifteen minutes of arguing and pleading before she gave up and stormed out of the office. Finally our turn.

Sure we could sign up said the agent and left to get someone. Two minutes later he came back to say no one was available and that he would make us an appointment. After clicking on the keyboard, he said the first available time was already scheduled by us, two months down the road. Disappointed by the efficiency or lack there of the office, we thanked him and went back home and our now resigned to paying at least two more months of four figure plus health care premiums before we see our healthcare costs go down.

As we drove home, we passed the strung out meth-head lady about an eighth of a mile from the Social Security office. She looked confused and staggered out into the intersection. I immediately tensed and was figuring out if I wanted to risk my life to run out there and pull her out of traffic but the cars were all stopped and waiting her out (typical of rural Iowa) and she eventually made it safely back to the gravel shoulder and continued her journey to the DMV in hopes that she would get her drivers license reissued so she could get her benefits "as was her right." I suspect if she made it, she would be disappointed to learn that these days she must show several proofs of identity in order to get a driver's license. I'm guessing those were also stolen the night before.

Friday, June 15, 2018

And the Winner Was...

As I suspected it would be in a rural very poor area of our state, the crowd was the largest I have ever seen for an eating contest. Our small town has an institution where they make loose meat sandwiches and not much else. When you go in and order, you just list your condiments on your sandwich because it is assumed you are getting a sandwich. Years ago when I was young, they wanted to tear down the building to build a parking ramp that to this day, really isn't needed. There was such an uproar in the community that they ended up building the parking ramp on top of the restaurant and thus it has remained there today, in an alley, underneath a parking ramp and invisible to the world that has never eaten there.

Someone in town got the idea to promote our town and our little institution of a restaurant by having an eating contest. The record was 15 canteens (that is what the loose meat sandwiches are called) in one hour. Amazingly, a few phonecalls later and the organization that holds the hotdog eating contest out east accepted the challenge and professional eaters from all over the country were on their way to our little town.

I was reminded of a professional wrestling event by all the grandstanding of the competitors. They whipped the crowd into a fury introducing everyone trying to drag it out since the actual event itself would only last 10 minutes. There was lots of elbowing, shoving, yelling, all by a people in the crowd as they jostled to get the best picture.

My daughters had sat down right in front where there was no room for anyone else to block their view and after getting elbowed or blocked one too many times, I shuffled through the mob and sat right behind my daughters so that I could take pictures over their heads without blocking anyone's view or them blocking mine. Later a large lady kept walking up and standing right by the right side of me (I'm sitting on the ground mind you) blocking dozens of people behind her whom were also sitting, just so she could get the perfect shot. Shouts and yells from the people behind her were not registered. Finally I tapped her on her knee and when she looked down I politely suggested she should listen to the people behind her who promptly started yelling at her to sit down or move. She finally did the latter.

As it turned out, I was sitting right next to the father of one of the "local" eaters from a town south of here. There were about five or six local eaters and the same number of professionals but I was still impressed with this father's son beat two of the professional eaters and came in fourth. His father was proud.

The event itself only lasted ten minutes and thus went by in a blink of an eye. Those two fellows sitting in the bottom left of this picture kept tripping over all the kids sitting on the sidewalk as ran back and fourth taking "live video" for their channels. I was disgusted with them more than the event itself which was pretty disgusting. But I figured this would be the only time I would ever see "professional" eaters and thus I found myself watching the event.

This lady fascinated me. The was thin, attractive and all dolled up when she came onto the stage and then was by far the messiest eater of them all. There was no manners or being lady like when it came to cramming food down her gullet. I do give her props because she ties for 5th place with another professional, right behind the previously mentioned local eater. But other than practice canteens the day before, this was her first time where most of us in the area have been eating them for decades if not lifetimes.

Although they were billed as being the real canteens, they were extremely slimmed down versions of them. I generally eat two of them and if I came in really hungry, I could probably consume three though I have never tried that. So 15 in an hour blows my mind.

In the end, the tall drink of water ranked 6th in the world and came in 1st at our event, seen hoisting the trophy and the prize check, ate 18-1/2 canteens in 10 minutes, a record I think will surely stand locally for the rest of my life or until the next time they hold this eating contest with the likes of Joey Chestnut who is ranked number one in the world.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Rest of the Story

I received my book about Ernie Kuck, my 1rst cousin three times removed who left $9 million dollars to the county in which he lived to start and fund a historical museum. I quickly gobbled it up but alas, it didn't mention his grandparents by name and made just one passing reference to them. There definitely was no information on his great grandparents from Switzerland.

Last time I mentioned that one of the authors had died 363 days earlier so I did some research on the other author who turned out to be the daughter of the original author, niece to Ernie Kuck. Even a decade ago, one could usually turn up a phone number but in today's age of cellphones and no land lines, I never could turn up one. Nor was there an official website for the daughter that I could locate. So I just did an old fashioned "ego search" by typing her name into google and seeing what popped up. Unfortunately her name was rather common so I started putting in The Dallas which is where Ernie lives in to narrow down the list and eventually found an address for someone by that name that lived just across the state line in Washington.

Even addresses are hard to find since data companies are buying sites up in droves and charging fees for public information but there are still new sites that continue to pop up and with enough clicking, I found one. So with a potential address in hand, I wrote an old fashioned letter to the dauther/co-author explaining who I am and why I am writing her. I signed it and left my email address too. Four days later I received an email from her.

I had gotten the right address and although delighted to hear from me, she couldn't help provide me with any more information to solve my genealogical brick wall of the names of Ernie's great grandparents from Switzerland. But she did invite me to stop by the museum and said I could probably get archive access to Ernie's papers to look through if I am ever in the area. I hope to take her up on that someday.

Meanwhile, I passed the book onto my grandfather who would be a grandnephew of Ernie's father and it will probably make the rounds of several other interested family members.

Monday, June 11, 2018


As I wrote in my last post, we were celebrating no new cancer growth in my mom's brain but we were also celebrating the fact that she tested negative for Lynch Syndrome. If you recall, my mom has a genetic mutation which as one point gave us great hope because there was a drug that worked really well in people with that mutation that cured around 40% of the people with brain cancer. My mom evidently still falls in the 30% who weren't cured and showed no improvement which was a bitter pill to swallow.

This genetic mutation is extremely rare and almost all people who have it have Lynch Syndrome. This is a genetic disease which increases your chances of obtaining colon cancer to over 50% and increases your chances of getting an very long list of many other cancers, including brain cancer, by 15%. Did I mention it was genetic and very very very rare to have outside of Lynch Syndrome?

So when my mom learned that she tested negative for Lynch Syndrome, it was like hitting the lottery in my world. Now I know that I no longer need to be tested and my kids won't have to be tested. Better yet, I know that their odds of developing cancers are the same as the average person and I didn't saddle them with a horrible genetic mutation that was out of my control.

Although I haven't lost much sleep dwelling on this disease and possibly having it, it never really left my mind and when my mom told me the news, it felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders so subconsciously, I know it was there in the back of my mind.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Good News

I just wanted to do another update on my mom since I know she has been in your thoughts and prayers. She IS normal again and the mom I've always known. It is good to have her back. The doctors gave back her driving privileges and she has been riding her bicycle 17 miles a day as she has most of her life.

Despite this, as we waited in the little room in the hospital post MRI, we were all nervous about what the doctor might tell us this time. The last two MRI's have been bad news, the first that the cancer was back and then promptly removed via surgery and the second that it was back again and this time not operable. This time however, the doctor told us there was no new growth of the tumor and that the swelling which had been so bad it had shoved the right side of her brain into the left side, showed no signs of being present at all. We were all much relieved at the news.

The tumor is still there and hasn't shrunk even with the chemo that mom is taking orally, but it hasn't grown in the last two months. For me, it feels as if we've gotten a reprieve and mom gets to enjoy the summer with my daughters. This spring, I didn't think she would make it to swimming lessons in June and here the lessons are less than a week away.

So we celebrated the good news by stopping for a late lunch at a Mexican restaurant about half way home where our paths depart as I head home and they go back to the farm. It was a quiet celebration with just the three of us but I hope to make up for that with the added time.