Social Security Saga


Today I had to go to the social security office downtown. The last time I went, ten or twenty years ago, was such a horrific experience that it is permanently etched in my mind. I was carrying a Swiss army knife my dad had given me in my purse, as I always did. I had to go through a metal detector, and was told to get rid of my knife. Of course it wasn’t as if they had a locker or were willing to keep it for me or be helpful in any way whatsoever, so this entailed walking several blocks to my car and then back. I must have said something in a frustrated tone of voice, and the rude and ill-willed employee accused me of threatening her (ridiculous!) and called a security guard to forcibly eject me from the building! So I was not looking forward to my appointment today.

I showed up to the scene of a long line of broken-down looking people in the front. However I was amazed at how nice, positive and helpful all the employees were. The uniformed guard in the front said to each person, “Go to this lovely man at desk ___, and then to window ___” … really going out of his way to create a positive tone. Another uniformed guard who was dealing with a large man babbling crazily the whole time I was there was calm and kind. The woman who took my appointment was helpful. What a change! Are people receiving better training (I think so)? Did the complaint I filed about the woman ten or twenty years ago have an effect (probably not, but perhaps many people filed such complaints). Some accuse Americans of being “superficially nice,” but I sure appreciate it!



My morning with social security. I am taking over the affairs of my mother with Alzheimer’s and my autistic sister, with the social security administration. I had a phone call scheduled at noon with “Susan,” the social security person who is handling our case. So I went to the county courthouse this morning to try to dig up some conservatorship records that are needed to process this case.

I struggled to use the microfilm reader to locate her case records and copy them. Of course not being an attorney, it was difficult for me to sort through 30 pages of legalese records and know which ones to copy. I could not find the page with the judge’s signature, and started to get panicky, worried that I would not get home in time for my phone appointment.

This is a critical matter, since you cannot call social security workers nor can you email them. All you can do is receive calls at prearranged times, go there in person or fax them, and I don’t even have a home fax. Finally I remembered that I had actually passed the social security office in walking the eight blocks from my parking space to the courthouse, so I thought – I will just walk to the office and talk to Susan in person rather than the phone call! Problem solved! Of course a little voice told me that changing a single detail within a rigid bureaucracy might not work …

Meanwhile there was an atmosphere of desperation at the courthouse records department, as I was not the only one there on a social security mission … the lifeline for many people … and it was hard to get much help. As I finally gave up and went to pay for my copies without the judge’s signature, the clerk took pity on me and helped me locate the correct pages. I copied them and walked quickly to the social security office, getting there 15 minutes before my scheduled appointment.

Daria (to uniformed officer): I have a phone appointment at noon, but I won’t be able to get home in time because I was at the county courthouse getting some documents I need for the meeting. So I would like to meet with “Susan” in person instead of over the phone, if you could let her know that I am here.

Officer: We don’t deliver any messages. You’ll have to take a number, sit down, and when they call you to the window, they can let her know.

Daria: How long a wait is it?

Officer: About 40 minutes.

Daria: Then that won’t work! The time for my appointment will have passed!

Officer: Well that’s how we do things. Have a nice day!

I resisted saying, “That’s unlikely, due to you, asshole,” and took off at a run, despite my sprained ankle and the fact that I have not been able to run in months. I sprinted the several blocks to my car, and by the time I got there had exactly eight minutes to get from downtown to Mission Hills. So I took off like a bat outta hell, as my father used to say. I called our roommate and told him, “I’m expecting a really important call. Could you pick up the home phone if it rings, and say, “just a minute, I’ll get her,” and I’ll be home by then.

I got home at 12:01 and Susan did not call until 12:10. I told her about my attempt to meet with her in person, and she said, “You could have just dropped the papers in the express box!” Yeah, as if I knew about the express box or had time. Maybe next time, only I pray there will not be a next time.

Let ‘er Rip – NOT!


Yesterday I got up and it was sweltering. So I decided to go to the beach and jump in the ocean. I haven’t done that yet this summer, and thought perhaps I could get a parking spot if I went early enough.

So I took off for Ocean Beach at 7:45 am. The parking lot was half empty, which was awesome! As I walked toward the ocean I looked to see if there were flags to indicate the swim zone, but did not see any. I also looked for lifeguards and did not see any of them either. There were many surfers in the ocean all along the shore. So I went in the ocean, which felt pretty cold … as far as I could without getting my hair wet. Then I came out and started walking to my car. But as I reached the sea wall I decided I felt incomplete – I would need to shower anyway, why not get my hair wet?

So I headed back into the ocean. This time it was easy to adjust to the water temperature. As I went out, I felt the ocean pulling at me, strongly – out to sea! Could this be a rip tide? As I felt myself being pulled, I realized my feet could not touch the ocean floor any longer. This was not my plan! Time to get back to shore immediately. But I could still feel the tide pulling, pulling – what incredible power!

I decided – This is the day I become a body surfer! Maybe this was why this happened! I tried to catch every wave going in and let it carry me. I didn’t feel I was making much progress at all, but finally I could feel the ocean floor again. I dug in with my toes and tried to resist that relentlessly current snatching me out to sea.

Finally I was walking in to the shore – still fighting the current – and saw a lifeguard in a jeep on the beach. I was planning to say to her – That was scary! There is a powerful rip tide out there!

But she beat me to it! “If you want to keep swimming, you want to go beyond these jetties, because there’s a powerful rip tide out there today,” she said. “It will pull you all the way out there.”

“No kidding,” I replied. “That was scary!”

“I was coming to get you,” she said. That was a relief. I knew when I was out in the ocean that I would not die, because there were so many surfers. And I knew that to get out of a rip tide, you swim parallel to the shore until you get beyond it. But that would be a lot of swimming. I knew that if I called for help, hopefully one of the surfers would get me in to shore. But the embarrassment of a rescue operation was definitely not something I wanted. So I was grateful to learn that there was a lifeguard, and even more grateful that I had not needed one!

  • Laser hair removal – being hairy used to ruin my life
  • Cut & paste in word processing programs – I used to type a paper, cut it into pieces by paragraph, rearrange the paragraphs, retype it, and repeat – kids today don’t know how good they have it!
  • Online reviews – Amazon started it all – a genuine revolution
  • Yelp – has brought accountability to most businesses
  • Internet, websites – endless source of fascination and learning
  • Blenders and vacuums with sufficient power – hooray for things that actually work!
  • Books on CD and downloads – Audible – allows me to “read” vastly more than I could otherwise
  • List & outline app (Omnifocus) – bliss for a list maniac like me
  • Budgeting / tracking spending website (LearnVest) – I finally feel like my financial life is under control!
  • Online banking, credit card management, bill-pay – life is so much easier
  • Real estate management websites – ClearNow, EZ Landlord Forms, Rentometer, Zillow – could not manage real estate without these
  • Navigation – such relief for a directionally challenged person such as myself
  • Email – such a great way to communicate for those of us who tend to avoid phone calls
  • Cell phones and texting – used to simply not be in touch as much

Last weekend, Mike and I attended our middle son Jake’s graduation from UCLA. To begin with, it never occurred to me that he would participate in this commencement at all, since he is lacking five classes that he needs to graduate, and has not even declared a major yet! But that is apparently how things are done these days. Jake was happy to get to “walk” in the commencement with his friends from the last four years.

Jake had invited us to this commencement at the last minute, a week or so before it happened. Of course we told him we wouldn’t miss it for the world. We were already scheduled to go to San Luis Obispo that weekend to move our daughter, Nina, a freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo (SLO) home to San Diego for the summer.

So Mike and I took off in our old Toyota Previa van, with 260,000 miles on it, bound for SLO, six hours away. We said a prayer that our car would hold together for yet another trip. Our plan was to leave early, load Nina’s stuff after we got there, and spend the night at Morro Bay. The next day we would drive to LA (midway between SLO and San Diego) and attend Jake’s graduation.

Mike drove most of the way, while I finished reading Investing Online for Dummies. Along the way, we discovered that since we were not in our usual cars (this van is usually loaned to my mom’s caretaker), we were lacking a number of essentials that we usually keep in our cars: sunglasses, iPhone charger and Kleenex, to name a few. There were some very ugly sunglasses that my mother’s caretaker had left in the car, so I got to wear those, and luckily he had left some napkins in the car. Mike made jokes about how we looked like the Clampetts, and we sang the theme song from The Beverly Hillbillies. I remembered all the words!

We got there around 6 pm, and decided we were too tired to move stuff, so we would just go to dinner. Last time we went to SLO we also stayed at Morro Bay, a cute little seaside town 15 minutes away that I fell in love with. It has a waterfront with boats and seafood restaurants, and is like a miniature version of Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. I had been waiting ever since that time to go back with the fam and eat at one of those restaurants again!

As we drove to Morro Bay, Nina looked at restaurant reviews on Yelp on her iPhone (our kids will not eat anywhere, ever without consulting Yelp), and chose a place called Tognazzini’s. We got there and all loved the look and feel and menu. We got our clam chowders, fish & chips and shrimp linguini and started to eat, but soon Nina started talking woefully and then burst into tears! Here I had thought she was doing wonderfully in college, but I guess she was only telling me half the story.

She sobbed that she didn’t have enough friends, Cal Poly was very white-bread and conformist, she felt she didn’t fit in, her department was mediocre, and she didn’t even know if she wanted to go back there. The dam had burst and she sobbed out all her frustrations. She was also mad at me for not calling her enough. I sympathized with her situation and feelings, but also told her I’d had enough of her accusing me of not calling her. I raised my voice a bit when I told her that if she wants to talk to me, pick up the phone!

Next a stranger approached our table and said, “I can see you’re going through a hard time here, but we are trying to enjoy our dinner at the table behind you, and could you keep it down?” Our jaws dropped and I don’t think we even answered him.

We continued our conversation, with an added topic – this jerk! I could think of a few choice things to say to him. Such as that restaurants are typically loud (my main pet peeve with restaurants), and we were not even being very loud, and who in the hell would say that to a sobbing teenaged girl and her struggling family? Someone with a hollow life?

After five minutes I managed to reframe my angry thoughts into something positive and self-affirming and marched to his table. I told this man, his wife, teenaged son and someone else, “Since you felt free to interrupt our meal, I have a few things I would like to say to you. I am really happy and grateful that I have a family who is honest with each other, that we can have deep conversations, and that we express our feelings to each other. It’s too bad this was so disturbing to you …” His wife smiled and said, “Oh, we totally understand, we just needed you to dial it down a notch.” She actually seemed so nice that I just said, “Okay,” shrugged and left. Our daughter thanked me for doing something. It had just felt like an attack that required a response.

Next we retired to the quirky “Masterpiece Hotel” (“Each Room a Masterpiece!”) hung with various works of art, telling Nina we would be at her place at 7 am.

The next morning, Mike’s alarm rang at 6 am and I told him – go back to bed, get some sleep, we’re on vacation! So we got to Nina’s dorm around 8:30.

We loaded the van and Nina’s car with two dressers and an unbelievable number of boxes and bags of clothes somehow acquired by our “clotheshorse” daughter. I thanked god that she did not attend college anywhere that was a plane ride away.

We drove to LA, using Google Maps on my phone for guidance. The route was pretty much Highway 101, but after some time, Google Maps wanted us to turn off on state 154. “Ignore it,” Mike said. Then he got tired so I took over driving, right before the 154 turnoff. “I want to try it,” I told him, thinking it would shave a bit of time off the somewhat winding Highway 101. And okay, I have a taste for trying new things.

So I turned onto the 154, and immediately could see that it was a two-lane highway; actually not what I would call a highway at all. Oh well, Google Maps must have told us to turn here for a reason, right? We drove past large estates with horses, which I was excited to see, being a horse nut. Yet another part of California that I never knew existed … just north of Santa Barbara.

Then the road started taking us uphill, and the hills became mountains. It was beautiful – the Cleveland Forest with thick stands of pine trees – but then there were drops of thousands of feet on either side of us, and this was taking a long time. What the f___?

Mike was periodically yelling at me for my folly, and texting Nina, DON’T TAKE THE 154. That was before both our cell phones went dead, with no car charger — no more Google Maps. But I was enjoying seeing a new route, grateful it was not quite as scary as the mountain roads in Yosemite, cursing Google Maps, and remembering to never take this route again …

Finally we were back to the 101, which was choked with traffic. We inched toward Los Angeles at 4 pm on a Friday, bummer. After hours, we arrived at Jake’s apartment to pick up the parking passes for commencement. He did not seem to want me to go inside. I went inside anyway, since he was in the shower, and saw a male figure sleeping on the couch (always), towers of empty beer bottles in the living room, more in the hall, stacks of dirty dishes in the kitchen. So what did I do? Took photos! I had the urge to “document his lifestyle” …

We managed to get to our hotel and change, navigate the college maze and park, and arrive at the commencement almost on time. It was in Pauly Pavilion, venue of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden, with Wooden’s statue outside, hung with banners of some of his sayings. “Make each day your masterpiece.” “Be quick, but don’t hurry.” We were treated to some speeches, and watched most of it on a huge monitor hanging in the middle of the stadium, which wasn’t bad. The one speech I remember was the chancellor saying that no one ever remembers commencement speeches, so he had decided to highlight a few students instead. He described two African American students and an Asian student who had overcome a lot of obstacles to attend college and were doing a lot to give back to the community.

Afterward, our daughter asked me what I thought of the proceedings. I told her – “Well, commencements are notoriously boring, almost like torture. So they were trying to do something different, which was good. But it was the usual politically correct garbage. What about profiling a white kid who has busted his ass his whole life to get into UCLA, put up with the unbelievable obstacle course that a UCLA education is these days, and has made it to graduation? It was an insult to us.” She said “Yeah, I thought it was shocking, but I just never know what to think.” I told her, “Yeah, it’s hard to know what to think … the world is full of propaganda from all sides … and this is just my reaction. Everyone is trying …”

The next morning we went to the School of Psychology commencement (Jake is getting his BS in Cognitive Science, a “newfangled” major that includes classes in psychology, philosophy, neuroscience, computer science and more). There was one really funny speech by a professor that I wish I could reprint, and a great speech by a student. Then they called all the students by name for their diplomas. I would say that 75% of the names were Asian, and there were small smatterings of Hispanic, Indian, Iranian and European names. I can tell you that “John Smith” is dead. Nothing remotely like that. But gotta love those Asians for the work ethic and drive that has gotten them so far …

Our poor daughter was again puzzled. Where were people like us? I explained to her, “Rich people and poor people (on scholarship) attend private colleges. The middle class can’t, for the most part.” We discussed how public colleges have changed so vastly from the time that Mike and I graduated from San Diego State. California colleges used to get 75% of their funding from the state, and now they get only 10%. Why? Perhaps a research project for a future column. Fees used to be a few hundred dollars a year and now they are $12,000. Way more than the rate of inflation. Why? Public colleges now must seek every international student they can get, since they pay out of state tuition that is vastly higher than local kids. The new PC mantra is that every kid should attend college, which gets a lot of airtime, while others (including me, a former teacher) think it is misguided.

Mike perhaps summed it up best when he said, “China doesn’t need to invade us. They’ve already conquered us.”

I wish this book had a different name, because it is about the money! That being said, this is one of the most profound, wisdom-packed, life-changing books I have ever read. I would have called it “The Eight Financial Archetypes and How They Affect Your Life and Key Relationships.”

I found this book due to family struggles. Of our three kids, the youngest, our 18-year-old daughter is quite the spender, while I am the maven of thrift. This has made for endless conflict between my daughter and me. Since she will leave for college in a couple of months, I had been doing everything in my power to heal the rifts between us. A thought finally entered my mind – maybe I should not be looking at money management in terms of right and wrong – maybe people simply have different styles in how they deal with money.

A few days later, the minister at the Science of Mind church we attend announced a new class based on the book, It’s Not About the Money, and people’s different patterns in how they deal with money. I knew I had to attend!

It’s Not about the Money is written by Brent Kessel, cofounder of Abacus Wealth, and one of the top wealth managers in the country. Kessel has a Jewish background but has been studying and practicing yoga and meditation extensively for over 20 years. This is reflected in the book, which is filled with viewpoints and quotations from both western and eastern religions, and advice based on Buddhist and yogic principles. It is some of the best therapeutic and spiritual advice I’ve heard anywhere.

The core of the book concerns what he has identified as the eight financial archetypes, and their tendencies, gifts and pitfalls. Although each of us is primarily one (or more) archetype, Kessel believes all the archetypes have something to teach us, and we should ideally contain elements of them all.

Another of the book’s most helpful concepts is that of the “Core Story,” formed when we are very young, and composed of our deepest beliefs and expectations concerning money. The purpose of this Core Story is to protect us from pain and suffering. However, unless examined, it controls our unconscious and our lives. No matter how much we might want to get ahead and get our financial house in order, we will keep gravitating back to and recreating our Core Story expectations in the present. One of the exercises in the book asks us to write down our Core Story, including the “money wounds” we have suffered, and examine it critically and realistically. Then we can retain the healthy parts of our story’s message, and let go of the unhealthy and unhelpful parts.

Following is a description of each of the archetypes:

The “Guardian” is ever alert for looming financial disasters, and tends to obsessively worry about money. He spends hours a day going over his accounts, and often accuses others of overspending. The Guardian’s gifts are alertness and prudence, and his pitfalls are worry and anxiety. The Guardian’s Core Story usually includes “money wounds” around having too little, or sometimes guilt over having too much. Guardians believe in doomsday scenarios. They tend to worry excessively, even if their financial situation is secure, according to objective standards. The Guardian can be helped by looking at his situation realistically, ideally with assistance. It may reduce worry to set concrete benchmarks and plan potential actions, such as – if my business drops by 50%, I will cut costs by moving to a smaller office.

The “Pleasure Seeker” loves to spend her money – all of it and then some! – on sensory pleasures. The Pleasure Seeker’s Core Story may include growing up poor and wanting to make up for early deprivations, or growing up rich, and feel entitled to continue a lavish lifestyle, no matter what. The Pleasure Seeker’s sayings may include, ‘Life is too short to not …”, “You can’t take it with you,” or “I deserve it!” Though let’s face it, we all need some of the Pleasure Seeker in us! Who wouldn’t want to eat fine food, live and dress in style, get massages, shop, recreate and travel? The problem is when we live beyond our means, and it leads to debt and heartache in the future. Pleasure Seekers also tend to create tension in their relationships due to their “retail therapy.” Pleasure Seekers need to face when their spending is masking an inner pain or void, find different ways to experience pleasure, and plan realistically for their futures.

The “Idealist” wants to save the world, or at least a portion of it. Many idealists are artists or musicians, or work for non-profits or social services. They are distrustful – of government, big business, bosses, corporate polluters – and feel like outsiders in a middle or upper class world. They often see money itself as the problem, rather than their relationship to money. Sayings might include, “Money is the root of all evil,” “I’d be a sellout if I had more money,” or “Money isn’t happiness, it’s what’s in the way of happiness,” and they like to rant about “the one percent” who control the country. Idealists need to achieve balance within themselves in order to be more effective agents of change. They need to consider how their own Core Story and relationship to money is affecting their lives, as well as their ideological beliefs.

The “Saver” may come from the Great Depression era or have parents from that era. He gains great satisfaction from frugality, and/or seeing his investments grow. The Saver is the personal finance archetype that is idealized by our society, and promoted in books such as The Millionaire Next Door and Rich Dad, Poor Dad. So what could be wrong with saving? Nothing, except that Savers tend to take it too far, and ultimately feel addicted to or imprisoned by their need to see their investment balance grow. Savers can be aided by getting some bookkeeping help so they don’t have to stress over paying every bill, and by setting some money aside into a fund to be spent either on themselves or on giving.

The “Star,” like the Pleasure Seeker, likes to spend a lot of money. The difference is that the Star’s motivation to spend is to impress other people – either via personal image enhancement (clothes, jewelry, hair, cosmetic surgery, entertaining, cars, fancy electronics, home), visible generosity to charities, or trend-following in general. Stars crave attention, recognition and prestige. Their sayings might include, “Clothes make the man,” “You get what you pay for,” and “First impressions count.” The roots of the star’s emphasis on physical appearance might be a circumstance from his childhood that made him painfully aware of how much we tend to judge each other on appearances – perhaps discrimination based on race or class – or starting out as an “ugly duckling.” Or a Star’s parents might be Stars themselves, and harp on their children’s appearance and success status. The Star may ultimately feel trapped by her own image and the need to maintain it. The focus on image usually masks inner feelings of worthlessness. Stars can change by becoming aware of and working therapeutically on these inner feelings, and by making a decision to downsize their self-marketing machine.

For the “Innocent,” the ends never meet, no matter how much money he makes. Unlike Idealists, Innocents are not “against” money. But they struggle financially, are perpetually in debt, feel they aren’t competent with money, and can’t hold onto it. They avoid balancing their checkbooks, looking at account balances, creating budgets, and paying bills. Their Core Story revolves around scarcity and lack, a strong belief that they will never have enough, and feelings of powerlessness. They are sometimes in dependent financial relationships. Even if Innocents win the lottery or earn a lot of money, they will almost always end up penniless, because they have such a firm unconscious belief that this is where they belong. Innocents can make progress by valuing their own good qualities and gifts, and mustering the courage, self-valuing and support to learn to deal with their finances.

The “Caretaker” prioritizes others’ needs above her own, is “the responsible one” in relationships, and often ends up supporting family members or even friends. Some caretakers have relations such as disabled children who really are dependent on them, and whom they need to support. But more often it is voluntary, with Caretakers often having assumed such a role early in life. Their empathy, caring and generosity are very positive traits that others archetypes would do well to emulate. But the downside of caretaking can be resentment, burnout, and enabling irresponsible behavior by others. The cure for caretakers is for them to care for themselves with as much enthusiasm as they care for others, and to lovingly wean others from their dependence on them.

Lastly, the “Empire Builder” is the classic entrepreneur, either in the business or non-profit sector. The Empire Builder tends to be a visionary, an innovator and a workaholic. He thrives on making a large-scale impact on society, likes having control over others, and strives to leave a legacy after death. Empire Builders are not confined to the business world – they can include artists or musicians who leave a large body of work, social activists or politicians. A pitfall of the Empire Builder is that he is never content. Having achieved one goal, he immediately sets the bar higher, barely skipping a beat. Empire Builders can benefit from getting some assistance in assessing their financial needs (they can be overly simplistic) and deciding on investment strategy (they are often overly cautious in investing, assuming their business will support them). They may need support in devoting a portion of their resources to enjoying life and part to giving to others.

The book contains a chapter for each of the archetypes, including case studies drawn from working with hundreds of financial planning clients. Kessel describes each archetype’s Core Story, discusses the archetype’s pitfalls and gifts, and the “payoff” for its type of behavior. He provides exercises and suggestions to help readers cope with the challenges of being that archetype and evolve beyond it. Kessel is appreciative of all the archetypes, and the exercises he suggests are compassionate and self-supportive. There is also financial planning advice tailored to each archetype.

You may recognize what archetype you are, or you can take a quiz on the Abacus Wealth website at http://www.abacuswealth.com/education/quiz.

In general, Kessel’s solution is for us to follow “the Middle Way.” As taught in Buddhism, the Middle Way lies between self-indulgence and asceticism. In this context, the Middle Way consists of satisfying both our “inner four year old,” who believes in and defends our Core Story, and the highest and wisest version of our adult self. The book has exercises to help us access our “innate financial wisdom,” or our most joyful and achievable adult dreams for our future.

The remainder of the book is financial planning advice, which focuses on diversifying between small, mid and large cap value and growth stocks, both in the US and internationally, real estate, and bonds (maybe), with an emphasis on index funds. He also has excellent advice on both philanthropic and family giving, suggesting that money be left to grandchildren in phased-release trusts.

In conclusion, this was one of the most life-changing books I have ever read. Formerly, I had thought of the financial behavior of family members as unfathomable if not crazy. The book helped me understand my husband (Innocent), children, and father (Guardian), and be much more compassionate and less judgmental of them.

I now feel that one of the most heroic and worthwhile journeys we can take is to work toward a balance of the archetypes, and a reconciliation of our inner child with our mature and wise self. In this endeavor, it helps immensely to have a deeper understanding of the archetypal positions from which people typically start out.

— Daria Russell Doering

My husband and I are both college graduates with master’s degrees. But our son (and we) are having many rude awakenings as he navigates through UCLA. Either times are really different from when we were in school, or UC’s are really different from state colleges (where we went), or both. It’s ridiculous what they do NOT tell you on those BS college tours. Anyway, here are some things we have learned the hard way. This from the prospective of a former high school teacher (me) who thought I knew what was going on with college (our third kid will go next year).

What the UC’s Don’t Tell You (or at least UCLA … other UC’s may be different)

• Far from fearing that your child will not graduate in four years, UC’s WANT YOU IN AND OUT IN FOUR YEARS, PERIOD. THEY WILL NOT LET YOU STAY ANY LONGER IF THEY CAN POSSIBLY HELP IT (at least UCLA and Berkeley). Or they will ship you off to a different UC that is not so popular.
• FORGET BEING “UNDECLARED.” Bad idea. Many majors require you to declare a “premajor” (who ever heard of that?) as you take the prerequisites. Read the college catalog for your potential majors carefully.
• FORGET “EXPLORATIONS” of different classes and majors. If you have too many units, you are screwed, and will not be allowed into many majors. Do any “exploring” AFTER being accepted into your major.
• FORGET “GOING TO COLLEGE PART-TIME” while you work or otherwise have a life. As stated before, they want your ass in and out in four years. While my husband and I took many years wending our ways through San Diego State while we worked, had fun and took interesting academic detours, don’t try it at a UC! You will get slapped with “inadequate cumulative progress,” be required to go to summer school at community colleges, etc.
• MOST MAJORS ARE IMPACTED. That is, anything that might possibly lead to a JOB. The only majors NOT impacted are Slavic Languages, Women’s Studies, stuff like that. It is difficult to get into impacted majors and to get classes.

A Parade for all Ages!

The Ocean Beach Holiday Parade was the craziest, funkiest, most homegrown thing I’ve ever seen in my life – fantastic!  Getting into OB was almost impossible, and parking was even worse.  I couldn’t find any space to park until I got at least a half mile away, and the parade had already started.  Got out of the car and started walking, then decided this was ridiculous and returned to the car.  But something in me screamed, “I WILL NOT BE DEFEATED!  I WILL DO SOMETHING FUN THIS WEEKEND!  I WILL ATTEND THIS PARADE!”  So I threw my folding chair back into the car, and took off at a run.  Got there in time to see most of it.

My very favorite was “Disco Wonderland” – a huge flatbed truck with a bunch of people dressed all in white with silver glitter wigs in the back dancing disco, as the music blared!  There is just nothing like the Bee Gees!  Plus they were sending out swirls of glitter, so the entire truck and passersby were enveloped in an iridescent cloud!

Next best was the “Just Want to Be In a Parade” group.  The MC explained that this group got tired of feeling they were not as cool as those in the OB parade, so they decided to do something about that!  Thus was born the colorful lighted truck with “Just Want to Be In a Parade” signs.

And then there was the “Off-Key Choir” entry, singing horrible versions of Christmas Carols.  Only in Ocean Beach!  But I had to hand it to them.  What’s so great about being on key?  Whatever you are, go for it!

And some of the juxtapositions.  At one point I heard Irish music, and there was a bagpiper accompanied by a somewhat motley assortment of Irish dancers and musicians.  Two entries down, so the music was almost mixing but not quite, were some dancers that riveted my attention.  These gals were wearing gold glittery boots with platform heals, black tights, gold sequined booty pants, and red bustiers – bumping and grinding to a “band” playing Latin music.  Hot, hot, HOT!  Oddly, there was no indication of who they were, other than “Brazil” on a few of the band members’ yellow T-shirts.

I also appreciated, amidst several convertibles conveying teen beauty queens, “Ms. Ebers St.” – just some middle-aged mom, about like me, who decided to be queen of her street, I guess!  All right!

Some other memorable entries: Silvergate unicyclers, consisting of little kids riding unicycles, and being helped back on by walking adults if they fell off; a yoga studio whose walkers stopped periodically to do an energetic “sun salutation”: a karate studio stopping to do their supercharged routine periodically; “Noah’s Ark” consisting of a school bus with Ark-like pieces on the front and back; a collection of lighted up vintage Volkswagen bugs and vans; a group of Go-Karts with miniature car bodies on top; and much, much more.

I will go to this crazy playground for adults next year, and bring my parade-hating husband too!

Gingerbread Men R Us!

I’ve made an important decision: the gingerbread man is my symbol!  Gingerbread men are happy and simple.  They live from the heart.  They are childlike and innocent.  They serve our need for celebration, festivity and magic in a sweet and soulful way.  They are decorative.  They smell and taste good.  They have the sense to jump out of ovens and shout, “Run, run, as fast as you can!   You can’t catch me, I’m the gingerbread man!”   I emulate you, gingerbread man!

The next day I subbed at a high school in North County, which is a very cushy district in the world of sub-land: beautiful schools, huge solar panels cover all the student cars in the parking lots, nice kids.  However the only thing that is weird about this district is they really emphasize that subs will not be given codes to log into computers.  And that if you are being paid for a full day, you must make yourself available for any work that is needed during a full day (i.e. during the regular teacher’s planning period), or face termination.

Well, once I realized the school was on block scheduling and I had a two hour break, I immediately tried to circumvent the first rule by going to the Media Center, hoping I could somehow log onto the internet, go to my teaching wiki, and get some work done.  I innocently asked for a guest logon, but they didn’t have any, so my plan didn’t work.  I hadn’t brought any reading, so I inwardly sighed and decided to check in at the school office for additional work after all, not wanting to lose this cushy job.  I figured maybe this whole thing was semi-voluntary: you were supposed to check in, but they weren’t going to hunt you down if you didn’t.  The office lady sent me to the nurse, who had a stack of filing for me to do.

That got me going.  Me doing freaking filing.  How ridiculous.  I get paid so little that I deserve a long break.  But I started my task , and decided to do the right thing by being as pleasant as possible to the nurse.  So we started chatting.  She said, “I have two volunteers … one’s been with me for five years … they do most of the filing, but only a teacher can do these forms”(which contained confidential health information).

Suddenly all those stacks of annoying forms that you have to fill out and turn in at your kid’s school every year had a human face behind them.  Yes, some poor soul had to file all that stuff.  And suddenly I felt good.  I was helping out this poor nurse in her 60’s who had undoubtedly done more than her share of filing through the years.  We talked pleasantly and she told me about how she was attending her 45th high school reunion that night, and damn that her just manicured nail had just broken, and her hopes to get lucky that night and meet Mr. Right.  She also told me her daughter was an art teacher, and she’d had some tough assignments.  “Yeah, at this one place, they drew penises in all her books,” she drawled.  “She had a really nice collection of art books, and had spent a lot of her own money on them.  After that, she couldn’t use ‘em anymore.”  I commiserated … what was wrong with some of these kids?!  And thought: Hey, there was something that had never happened to me!

So I filed the stack, and afterward my eye fell on some magazines on the coffee table.  I leafed through one and came upon a profound article.  The subject was stress reduction, and the article cited research that stated that eating chocolates or sugary snacks does NOT reduce stress.  But looking at certain photos DOES.  The most stress-busting photos are of nature, water, family, vacations, pets, or attractive people of the opposite sex (such as movie stars) looking at you.  The article correlated with some thoughts I’d been having, and felt like key information that might help me in my search for alternatives to emotional eating.  I reflected on how I would never have seen this old magazine had I not been in this nurse’s office.  Among other good outcomes from doing this lowly filing job.

A day in the life …

The other day I had an assignment to go and sub at one of the Court Schools for the afternoon.  I set off, and got there about five minutes before the job was to start.  I had brought some lunch with me, and just as I unscrewed the jar of peanut butter and prepared to put some on a rice cake, I noticed a woman who must be the teacher striding toward me.  She glared at me, and I rolled down the window.  “You’re late, and now I’m late to my meeting!” she said.

I told her, “I thought this job started at 12:15.”

“It starts at 12:00, and you’re supposed to be here early anyway in order to orient yourself,” she snapped.

“I’m sorry, I’ll go right in,” I said, as I put down the jar and the knife, feeling bummed about having to start this job having eaten no lunch.  The teacher muttered again about being late to her meeting, I hurriedly hid my purse in the back of my car, and rushed into the classroom.

I was faced by about 15 unfamiliar faces, the typical assortment of Hispanic gangbanger types, who had started their journaling assignment.  They stared at me, sized me up, and called out a few questions and comments … “You our sub?”  “How long you gonna be here?”  “You gonna show a movie?” and so on.  I spoke with the aide, introduced myself to the class, and told them to carry on.   They were actually quite well behaved for a class of kids at the Court Schools, and were doing their writing, and later their other assignments.  So aside from confronting some disruptive trouble-makers in the beginning, and changing their seats, there wasn’t a whole lot for me to do.  Just sit there, stare at them assertively, keep them on task.

So I had time to think.  I was upset by my interaction with the teacher.  She had come in to use the bathroom before leaving, and I had at the beginning of this episode made the decision to accept the blame for this mishap, and had told her “sorry” again.

I could see why she was ticked off at being made late for something.  However the reality was that I was mightily ticked off myself.  A lot of things went through my mind, such as:  “You’re lucky I’m here at all … I’ve been seriously considering quitting subbing for the Court Schools” … “You’ve got a cushy job that you get paid a huge amount for and you do practically nothing … subs have a tough time and get paid next to nothing … the whole thing is unfair and outrageous, and you should damn well be acting thankful to me rather than being snotty” …

But there was no real solution for my feelings of having been misused.  Maybe the scheduler had told me 12:00, though I knew it said 12:15 on the list of locations and hours.  I told myself to just let this go … let it go … let it go.  I had liked this teacher the last time I’d taught next door and talked with her … science teachers tend to me “nuts and bolts” types without very good people skills … there was absolutely nothing to be gained by my being angry.  I saw a classroom sign that said, “School starts promptly at 12:00!”  I chatted with the aide, who said the last sub said the same thing, that he thought school started at 12:15.  I made a note to call the scheduler and tell her the hours were listed wrong.  Let it go … let it go … let it go.  (In retrospect I should have been telling myself: send her love, send her love, send her love …)

We actually had a nice day.  The kids were more or less good and did their work.  At one point a man came in, talked with the aide, and left.  One girl, Lana, came in very late.  Then at lunch time the aide said to me, “That guy was Lana’s PO (probation officer).  He commented on how well-behaved the class was.  He said it was much better than the rest of the Court Schools he visits.  I told him that there is even a sub here!”  That felt good!

Also, somehow, we got on the subject of subs, and she commented on how many of them do absolutely nothing – just read or play on the computer.  Well, I told her, I felt I was doing very little myself.  She said, “Oh no, you’ve been very helpful.”  Well, I thought, I had done something.  I had gotten in there and made my presence known, as you need to do in some form.  If badly behaving kids are dominating the class, you have to step right into the locus of the problems and break it up, which generally means having a showdown with one or more kids.  And I had done that.   But the aide’s compliment felt like the second feel-good to come out of this day that had started out so badly.

We watched a movie, Mall Cop, which was actually enjoyable and inspiring (good thing #3).  And the theme was somewhat like my life.  Someone in a humiliating “loser” type occupation, trying to make something good out of it.  Also perhaps like the personable aide.  It turned out she was in school getting her masters in education.

I wrote a note to the teacher at the end of the day, telling her things had gone well, thanking her for leaving an awesome movie, and conveying my hope that her meeting had gone well.  Sending her some love.