Archive for March, 2011

So this was Thursday.

One of my new-found adult responsibilities of late has been that of recorder of mother’s finances. She has advanced to a point in her life when it’s no longer necessary to make her keep track of things like bills and money and numbers.

The responsibility has thus, finally, fallen to me.

I know. Scary, scary world we live in when kids are given the keys to their parents’ lives. Which is why I didn’t ask for it. I won her in a raffle.

One of the hardest things I have ever done in my life occurred Thursday. I had to call the Social Security Administration and — how dare I? — request information.

If this gets too technical for you to follow, please raise your hand or tug on my sleeve and I’ll try to eliminate as much of the technological jargon as possible without weakening the point.

I might still be on the phone if I hadn’t, for illustration purposes only, shattered the part you hold in your hand while slamming it back down on the part that has the numbers and stays on the desk.

The task before me was to be a simple one. Without going into excess detail and giving up any privileged matriarchived data, I am trying to have the Social Insecurity Double-Secret Association stop direct-depositing a check in this account and instead direct-deposit into that account. Both accounts still being held by dear, sweet mother.

The explanation of the rigmarole involved in this seemingly innocent task takes up two sheets of legal paper and more space in my brain than I currently have available. So I will spare you.

Mom lives on the outskirts of Lebanon, Pa., home to some amazing bologna and little in the way of anything that can help me with my problem.

The Social Security office phone number in that fine city “is not in service at this time.” Think of the convenience they are sparing the needy public by making themselves impossible to contact.

Inconvenient and simultaneously brilliant.

This left the national 800 number as my only option. I dreaded picking up the soon-to-be shredded (in my mind) pieces of my telephone and making what I knew was going to be an agonizing call.

Sometimes modernization is monumentally annoying. I think intentionally so.

A major employer that forces you to navigate its automated phone system before granting you an audience with a living person is really telling you: “We would rather frustrate the living tar out of you than swiftly attend to your every need.”

“If you agree, say ‘yes’ now.”

Following Thursday’s call to the 800 number I am convinced no one works there any more. They’ve all been replaced by a friendly voice schooled in the fine art of frustrating human beings until they give up and start breaking things.

“Thank you for calling Social Security. Your call may be monitored for quality control and to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. To continue in English, press 1 now or say ‘English.’”


“Please tell me briefly the reason for your call.”

Direct deposit.

“For example, you could say, ‘What is the cost of living adjustment for next year?’”

Direct deposit.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand you.”

I’m trying to change the bank account a direct deposit check goes into.

“Would you like to hear this message again?”


“Main menu.”

No. I don’t want the main menu.

“If I can help you with anything else today, just say what it is.”

Rat poison for the neighbor’s dog.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand you.”

Direct deposit information.

“For example, you could say, ‘I need a proof of income letter.’”

Bank account switch.

“I can help you learn about direct deposit, set up, change or fix a problem. Just say ‘learn,’ ‘set up,’ ‘change’ or ‘problem.’


“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand you. Would you like to hear this message again?”


“If I can help you with anything else today, just say what it is. For example, you could say, ‘I need a proof of income letter.’”

I would like to hear this message again.

“Main menu. Thank you for calling Social Security. Your call may be monitored for quality control and to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. To continue in English, press 1 now or say ‘English.’”


“Please tell me briefly the reason for your call.”

I want to speak to a person.

“For example, you could say, ‘I need a copy of my work history.’”

I want to speak to a person.

“I understand you would like to speak to an agent. However, this could take a lengthy period of time until one is available. Our automated voice messaging system can handle many tasks. Would you like to try it?”


“If I can help you with anything else today, just say what it is. For example, you could say, ‘I need information about my local field office.’”

I need information about my local field office.

“Sure. To help you find information about your local field office, say the five-digit ZIP code now. If this is not the information you seek, please say, ‘Main menu.’”

I don’t know the ZIP code.

“Main menu. Thank you for calling Social Security. Your call may be monitored for quality control and to ensure that you receive accurate and courteous service. To continue in English, press 1 now or say ‘English.’”


“Please tell me briefly the reason for your call. For example, you could say, ‘I need information about my local field office.’”

I am going to need a new phone very shortly.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t understand you. If I can help you with anything else today, just say what it is. For example, you could say, ‘I need a replacement Medicare card.’ Or, if you are finished with this call, you can say, ‘Main menu’ or simply hang up. This call may have been monitored for quality control and to ensure that you received accurate and courteous service. Do you hear that banging sound?”


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I had a pretty fun experience recently when I ran into a childhood friend, classmate and neighbor whom I hadn’t seen in more than 30 years.

Sherman apparently set the WABAC Machine without telling anyone — namely, me.

Out of respect for privacy, and because she might actually see this, I will refer to her only as She, in the pronounical self-imperative form of the bilateral fricative.

She and I lived in the same small Mellencamp town, one street away from one another. The house in which she, her brother and sister, grew up was one of three that filled the huge picture window on the front of the house in which I was raised. (A house, by the way, which is now, for obvious reasons, a national hysterical landmark and a highlight of every walking tour of Ghent, N.Y.)

There are footprints painted on the streets. They didn’t miss a trick.

I’m over it.

This young-as-me young lady has a brother who, when we were neighborhood kids with Super Balls to bounce over the house, Frisbees to toss on the garage roof, baseball cards to chase, and frogs to stick in the spokes of our bicycle wheels, used to spend lengthy summer evenings on the Ghent basketball court with two of our other friends (all of whom were also raised just on the other side of the picture window).

Fast-forwarding to today, as circumstance would have it, Karen and I have lived within a mile or two from this neighborlady/classmate since we bought our house on the outskirts of Saratoga Springs 20 years ago. She’d been living in an adjacent neighborhood since leaving college and entering the job market. Who knew. Kinda weird.

Anyway, I say running into her was a pretty fun experience until I realized afterward that the last time she would have seen me, I was the average size of one human being (not the three in which I presently reside). I was able to justify in my head this massive change by telling myself that at least when we ran into one another, it was in the gym. (Hopefully this gave the impression that I was a work in progress.)

The phrase “Hi. How are you? Gee, it must be three decades, two marriages and an entire forehead since the last time I saw you” would have gone a lot more smoothly and perhaps be a little less infamously embarrassing if I wasn’t wearing appetite-suppressing gym attire and an hour’s worth of treadmill sweat.

Why couldn’t this mini-reunion have transpired after I had, oh, I don’t know, perhaps bathed and dressed? Or dried, at least.

The long-time-no-see is historically swaddled in abnormalities. I didn’t need to add my twist to it. I’m just glad I wasn’t carrying a turkey drumstick.

I have to admit, in the past several decades, I haven’t run into many (and by “many,” I mean “any”) people my age with whom I was once acquainted and who were also my age when I was young.

It’s kind of a trip to hear someone I only remember as a kid speak now with a grown-up voice and relate all these grown-up experiences (like families and vacations and children’s college graduations). Because even though I’ve had my share of some of that, mentally, the feeling of “old” and the feeling of “young” I presently experience reside in different categories.

Every time I surprise myself with how young I still feel and how age is not yet creeping up on me, I try to stand up and am reminded by the cracking of my knees and a giant involuntary gruuuuunt that I really don’t know what I’m talking about.

And why I stood up.

The feeling of youth is, for me, changing lanes from a state of being to a state of mind to a state of nostalgia. And while trying to keep a firm grasp on that suggestion, I sit here trying to remember what Karen asked me to pick up at the store after work today. Was it aspirin or lettuce? Or perhaps her brother? And was it the train station?

This whole “running into a chapter of my former life” thing was new to me. It gave me pause and an opportunity to reflect. Probably a little more than I should have.

It reminded me how much of the past 30 years I have spent waiting for the next thing to happen, instead of making more of the things that were.

For many reasons, none of which have to do with running into an old friend, I’ve found myself in a bit of a reflective mood of late. Been one of those months. Happens every once in a while.

Then a butterfly flutters by, I chase it through the daisies, and all is forgotten.

But lately, it seems, things have been building up on their own. The kind of things that coagulate as we get older.

I say all this as the 30th anniversary of my father’s demise speeds toward me faster than the drunk who killed him. The frailty of our time together is misunderstood, under-appreciated and never firmly in our grasp.

It’s not something upon which I choose to dwell with much regularity, but that doesn’t mean I can’t respect its role.

There is only so much youth available and far too much of it is spent before we know its value.

Youth is wasted on the young. … If I knew then what I know now. … Stop it; you’ll get warts. … If you keep making that face, it’ll freeze that way.

There are reasons these sayings were invented. We don’t know that until we’re the ones saying them. I didn’t, anyway.

I wish we as humans spent more time on the big picture and less time on the maudlin.

So what if the spoons have spots on them, the workload seems insurmountable, there’s cat hair in the goulash, the favorite pen is missing (again), and the light is green yet the idiot on the phone in front of me still has his foot on the brake.

So. What.

The things that seem to bother us the most are the things that mean the least. We don’t spend enough time enjoying the time we have to spend. Worry is an over-exercised yet unavoidable emotion.

I wish the young really did understand how lucky they are and how much we hate them for that reason. Far too much of my youth was spent on me, and I find myself wishing I was smarter about all that time I frittered.

The amount of time I spend today attempting to reconnect with the acquaintances, photographs and memories of a previous mindset (through the convenience of the social Internets) would have been better spent if I had simply stayed connected to them. Duh.

Knowledge, like my youth, which I was too busy ignoring while staring out that picture window.

Waiting for yesterday to hurry up and get here.

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Not that for one second do iBelieve you can muster the least bit of interest, but in my obsessive compulsion to over-share, iHad to tell someone (and you were the first person who came to mind) how measurably impressed iRecently became with my ever-increasing level of technological savvy.

iMean, iHave crossed a threshold, and iMay never look back. iAm swiftly becoming a member of Generation Text. iHope we get t-shirts.

Last week, Karen and iTraded in our old technologically challenged cell phones (the ones that — horrors — merely placed and received telephone calls from anywhere on the planet) for a pair of smart iPhones.

Or, as iQuickly learned, smarter-than-iPhones.

The delight these little bundled bundles of joy have brought to our lives goes beyond explanation. And not only because we haven’t argued (or spoken, for that matter) with one another since the blessed purchase. It’s like having a pet or a child, only better, because there are no fur balls to scrape up or spilled juice cups to mop up and refill.

Oh, iKnow she’s still over there on the couch, because iCan hear the beeping and booping and bopping sounds coming from the telephone she’s been dying to own. (And i,Not being the type of husband who likes to disappoint, went along with the iDea, so as not to appear curmudgeonly. Also, to have a legitimate excuse for playing cyber games during important work meetings and marital discussions. “Hmmm? No, just … ooh … checking my … ooooh … messages. Ahh, darn it. What were you saying, angel of my morning?”)

iRealize, being a member of Generation Captain Kangaroo, iAm behind the curve of those born into the much more learned and technologically snarky Generation Text, members of which spend more money and time on their gadgets than they do on domesticity, a wardrobe that fits, and the development of a common sense.

But a whole new world has now opened before my very eyes. A world filled with time management issues, ignored household chores, and a seemingly inordinate amount of time looking for the battery charger.

These suckers eat a lot of juice.

My phone can tell me where iAm. It can tell me what song is playing over the speakers in the restaurant. It can tell me what restaurant to choose when it comes time to apologize for ignoring the love of my life. It can tell me how to get there. It can buy my movie tickets, send my flowers, e-mail “iHeart you” to my BFF, place my parimutuel wagers, and give me a live running update of the game of the night when my BFF is reading her e-mail during the dinner iWas forced to schedule because iHave been ignoring the living … ooh, rats … tar out of her.

It’s not as if iHaven’t taken notice of the vast numbers of our species who already crossed over into the world of smart-phoning. It’s just that until now, iThought they were mindless techno-geeks who had trouble with interpersonal communication, needed a dose of substance in their lives, and really didn’t like people all that much.

Now that iWalk, phone in hands, eyes focused downward, thumbs flailing, beeps beeping, texts flying, Facebook updates loading, solitaire cards shuffling, hungry hippos gobbling, space invaders invading, and pac men wakka-wakka-wakka-ing, iRealize how absolutely right iWas: iDon’t need to bother with anyone or anything ever again. iHave … ahh; take that, you blue ghost … crossed over to the smart side.

On this side, my favorite new place to shop is the App Store. At my fingertips are positioned thousands upon thousands of unnecessary widgets iNow have the pleasure and sheer privilege to purchase (because the amount these little gadgets cost each month isn’t already enough to feed and cure an entire African country) and load into my state-of-the-art, hand-held, portable telephonic device.

(Sidebar: Un-invent the cell phone, send society back to the days of the one black rotary phone that sat on the desk in the hallway — which, somehow, got the work done and got us here today — and collect up all the money being spent on cell phone contracts. THEN tell me there isn’t enough money to find the cure, house the homeless, feed the starving. Apples — pun intended — and oranges, iKnow; but there’s only one giant pile of money. Seems there should be more than one way to divvy it up. … He said, as his thumb flicks another computer-generated bowling ball into a computer-generated gutter. Oooh.)

iBelieve iHave already earned my own downloadable parking space at the App Store. Addiction has never been a difficult task for me to master. But when it’s at the end of your thumbs, it’s made all that much easier. Thank you for the sip of Kool-Aid. May iHave another?

If iWas to tell you how much time during the past week my phone has spent delighting me in a stupid game called Paper Toss, you would be justified in organizing an intervention. The concept is simple: with your thumb, flick a rolled-up wad of paper across the office and into a waste basket which is sitting on the floor.

iKnow it’s simple, because iCredit myself with the invention of its predecessor: a game iUsed to call Clippers. (You and a co-worker sit across the desk from one another and take turns throwing paper clips into each other’s respective coffee cups, which have been placed in the center of each player’s respective desk blotters.)

iAm not going to sue for copyright infringement because iKnow when iDon’t have a leg to stand on. But just to be clear, iInvented the concept. And for those of you as technologically savvy as iNow find myself, there is Wikimattison proof on the Internet at: https://mattisonsavenue.wordpress.com/2010/01/22/games-of-the-office-olympiad.

iKnow that as time passes, iWill discover many more ways to use this amazing new tool iHold firmly in my hands just about every minute they are available. Just the other day, iWas holding it when it started to buzz, like an electric razor, then it made a ringing sound. So as soon as iFind out what that’s all about, iWill be more than happy to share this with other members of the Captain Kangaroo Generation who have not yet decided to follow us techno-lemmings into the abyss.

iHear you can also place and receive telephone calls with the little gadgets. iHope to find out how to go about doing that, as soon as iGet my thumb to flick this one last pesky cyber-wad of paper into this cyber-waste basket before iHave to put this bugger back on the battery charger.

These things go through more juice than a day care center at snack time. iThink they should sell battery power in the App Store.

Always thinking, us new-age techno-geeks.

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We, meaning all of us, you included, have so much stuff in various stages of use, neglect and unimportance, that many of us — even the neatest of the neatest neat freaks among us, you included (yes, you), dedicate an entire kitchen drawer to the miscellanity of it all.

This is the stuff in our lives that floats between the worlds of “what do I do with it” and “where can I keep it.”

I tried to open that drawer the other day, but the soup ladle caught between the top of the cabinet and the metal tongs, which had flung open, I honestly believe, in a desperate attempt to keep the outside world from finding out what really goes on in here, in the darkness, behind the closed junk drawer.

The mysterious catch-all drawer, where I find a variety of scissors; a few paper clips; several rubber bands of many sizes, colors and elasticities; bread bag twist ties and date-stamped plastic bread clips; the large utensils that don’t fit in the regular utensil drawer; the useless utensils I couldn’t live without and have yet to use; a handful of Pampered Chef gadgets Karen was sweet enough to bring home from her most recent hen party that in this life have no earthly purpose or ability to function properly (including, but not limited to, the plastic doohickey that is supposed to separate the juice and rind from the citrus without the seeds falling into the stock); the string that comes with the Thanksgiving turkey that is supposed to hold the bird together as it is lifted from the roasting vessel onto the carving vessel, yet never does without at least one turkey appendage flopping wildly or falling off completely; a smattering of toothpicks from the time the box was accidentally dropped and several tried to make a break for it; the metal skewers that came with the barbecue set and then got rusty and dingy after one use so instead of throwing them out they got stuck in here in the event they might be called into service to hold the turkey wings in place because that string thing is a joke; the paranoid metal tongs that spring open in an attempt to keep the walls of the drawer from closing in; several vegetable peelers (which have the ability to hide when you need them and rest in plain sight when you don’t); a hand-held knife sharpener that is better at making noise than razor-sharp edges; every pencil every door-to-door politician has ever dropped off inside the “vote for me” litterbag hung from the front door while you were slouching quietly in the living room, lowering the volume on the TV and ignoring the door bell (these have yet to be sharpened, because who owns a pencil sharpener anymore?); a pencil sharpener (oh); a couple of pen tops, long separated from their pens, holding out hope that some day they will be reunited for eternity; several random forks and knives and spoons with red plastic handles from the old everyday utensil set, most of which eventually broke but for some reason cannot be thrown away because these forgotten remainders are still in working condition and you never know when you’re going to need one extra bent, unmatched fork (these utensils are often laying sideways in the back of the drawer, behind the crumb-filled drawer organizers); straws in paper wrappers found at the bottom of the fast food drive-through bag that was finally brought into the house after several weeks on the floor of the back seat because you never know when you’re gonna need a straw; another small handful of rubber bands, in various sizes, colors and elasticities; three packets of sprinkle-in water enhancer intended to make the flowers in the vase live longer (one of the few things in the drawer with value and purpose); a handful of pens, most of which have escaped the smothering grip of their caps, and which, like their pencil brethren, tout the best candidate for town council and justice of the peace; a variety of plastic-handled steak knives, stolen from a Ponderosa during those wacky college days, still sharp after all these years; a 20-year-old address book that no longer serves its intended purpose but is now a diary of the many addresses and phone numbers of relatives and friends — some living; some no longer — an alphabetical road map of the lives that have crisscrossed our paths, which now holds a collection of uncanceled postage stamps and a pile of address labels torn from years of Christmas cards with the intent that some day they would be used to update the listings but that chore has yet to make it to the top of the to-do list, so here they rest, like pressed flowers in the old family dictionary, waiting for purpose to return to their flattened lives; chip clips (plastic wimpy ones, metal-toothed death-grip shark-like ones that tear a hole in the bag and in your finger; useless plastic-coated wires ones); a coupon that expired during the Bush administration (the first one); clear plastic gelato spoons in a multitude of colors because I, curiously, have always preferred to eat my ice cream or pudding or baby food oatmeal (leave me alone, it’s good) with the smallest spoon I can find (but not soup — soup has to be eaten with a rain gutter); tarnished, ornate, antique serving spoons that only come out to play for the holidays — including, but not limited to, the one from Aunt Helen that mom always used in the cole slaw, the one for the dressing, and the matching ones (of which there are few) for the veggies and mashed potatoes; the offending soup ladle that started this whole thing; more than one set of fork/spoon implements intended to help the tossed salad get from the bowl to the side dish without that slice of tomato falling onto the tableclo … ahhh, never works; twin giant pitchforks, both bent out of shape and one with a tine missing, used for picking up the turkey because we never expected that string contraption that came with the bird was actually going to work, did we?; a box containing three wooden matches for those times when we don’t need four or more; three mismatched dice; chop sticks, still in the red paper sleeve; five identical pizza shop menus and seven crumpled Chinese restaurant menus that we inconceivably have yet to memorize, even though the food order never varies; an obsolete hand-crank can opener that has always been a little too big for the drawer, has virtually rusted solid (thanks to all the tuna water and cling peaches sap that never quite got wiped entirely away), and hasn’t been used since its electric countertop replacement model made its debut several Christmases ago; all crammed in a hodge-podge fashion into a variety of plastic drawer organizers that wind up getting in the way as often as they serve their intended drawer-organizing purpose; which, after staring at for all this time while tucking the tongs back into position, I finally realize I don’t remember why I opened in the first place.

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