Birdie and the DMV

The same day Birdie signed up for Medicare, in person–on line did not prove as easy and foolproof as Patty Duke promised– she decided she would stop by the DMV to renew her driver’s license as well. She had tried to do this on line also, but she had discovered that she was officially too old to be allowed to renew her license that way. She had to show up in person. So “in person” she was.

Birdie is never at her best when carrying out “official” chores. However, she had answered all the questions asked. It wasn’t really a quiz–just things like weight, height, color of hair and eyes. And she had told the truth. It made her wince to say her weight out loud. Birdie believes that if she never vocalizes the number associated with her weight, no one will ever realize she is overweight. She also thinks that if no one ever sees a photograph of her, no one will ever realize how “not good” she really looks. As if they can’t judge that by seeing her in person. Ridiculous, but body issues usually are.

Birdie passed the eye test. She was even congratulating herself for having the second proof of physical address with her when she hadn’t even known it was a necessary item to have. She’d witnessed two other people–geezers like herself– who had shown up without it. Things were going well. Too well.

The official who takes the photographs and fingerprints called Birdie up and asked for her full name and address. Birdie recited it. But she left out her middle name. An oversight. So DMV Official asked for her middle name and Birdie replied, “Jane, er, Jean.”

Birdie had gotten her middle name wrong! At the DMV of all places. She laughed and made a joke about not studying hard enough for the test. How stupid was that? DMV Official was very nice and laughed, too. He even offered the premise that everyone is entitled to at least 15 minutes of insanity every day. Birdie thought the DMV was an excellent incubator for insanity, but she was hoping not everyone present would exercise their 15 minutes. At least not all at the same time and not 15 consecutive minutes each. Not until she left, anyway. Let DMV Official handle it by himself. It was his theory, after all.

Birdie had been sitting next to a man who looked like he was about to cash in his quota of daily insanity. He was dressed in leathers, boots and chains. His arms and neck were emblazoned with tattoos of snakes, dragons, and skulls. His old lady, uh, moll, uh, significant other was seated beside him, in black lace tights, short skirt, long red nails, and big hair. Dragon man would lean over to Big Hair and say something each time DMV Official would call someone else’s name. The Dragon Man’s theme was that he had been here before the others and was being passed over. Steam was beginning to build, and Birdie was mentally formulating her plan to run for the exit if he blew. She mainly hoped DMV Official wouldn’t put her ahead of Dragon Man. It could turn into a hostage situation. And what if Dragon Man didn’t know his insanity was only supposed to last for 15 minutes?





Birdie had been getting mail from AARP for some time now and had also been taking advantage of senior discounts at the movie theater and fast food restaurants for quite a few years, but she hadn’t been OFFICIALLY OLD. Not OFFICIALLY. Recently, however, the government had alerted her that she was, in fact, OLD. It was now OFFICIAL. Birdie was on the government mailing list for OLD people. It was time to sign up for Medicare.

Birdie went on-line, being assured by Patty Duke, the patron saint of Medicare, that it would be a snap. She began filling out the form but encountered a glitch on the line that asked for her place of birth. She typed in St. Louis. The form kicked it out. Birdie put it in again. Kicked out again. So she reasoned that perhaps the electronic gods of Medicare did not like the abbreviation St. She typed in Saint Louis. The gods mulled that one over for a while and finally digested it and allowed her to click the continue button. She completed the form and was assured that she would hear something soon from Medicare or possibly from Patty Duke, herself.

Birdie did, indeed, hear something soon. She received a letter that told her that the information she had given on-line concerning her place of birth did not match the OFFICIAL OLD PERSON records. She would have to go to her local Social Security office to clear up the misunderstanding.

This was Birdie’s first ever visit to the Social Security office. She found that it is almost as hard to go to the Social Security office as it is to go through the airport, just not as much fun because there is no vacation on the other side. You have to empty your pockets, take off your jacket, surrender your cell phone, and walk through a security monitor. You can leave your shoes on. Apparently shoes do not pose a threat to Social Security officials.

Birdie explained to the young man behind the bullet proof glass, who will probably never get to collect Medicare or Social Security himself, why she was there and showed him her letter. He conferred with his OFFICIAL OLD PERSON computer records, and it turned out Birdie was OFFICIALLY born in Saint Louis or St Louis but not in St. Louis. Good to get that cleared up. So just as soon as Birdie can manage to have another birthday, she’ll be OFFICIALLY eligible for Medicare. That is, if her card arrives in the mail in time. Sure hope they don’t send it to Saint Louis.


The Cannonball Express

Birdie thought it was interesting how she and Gerald were so very different in their approach to mornings. In fact, it was so interesting, she found herself clenching her jaw.

Birdie needed a bit of space in the morning. Some quiet solitude. Steeping time. Whereas, Gerald entered mornings at full boil. Birdie wanted to slip into her day quietly and easily without making any ripples in the pond of morning. She needed to test the water, dipping a toe in and perhaps just sitting on the bank for a while as the light threw sun pennies on the surface of the pond. Then, as she made peace with wakefulness, she would slowly wade in, testing her footing and allow the morning to baptize her into another day.

Gerald liked to run off the end of the dock and do a cannonball into his mornings. Unless Birdie was vigilant, he would knock her in, too. And vigilance, especially in the mornings, was terribly wearing. Birdie did her best to stay off Gerald’s radar screen. She would go through the necessary motions of preparing his breakfast, while keeping herself separate, so that Gerald would see no opportunity for conversation. Of course, it didn’t always work.

This morning, Gerald assailed Birdie with a query about diet versus exercise. He wanted to know if there were diets that took into account the caloric burn of exercise needed to offset caloric intake of food eaten. Why in the world would a person be thinking of something like that first thing in the morning? The mere thought of it wore Birdie out. The discussion of it–well, no wonder she was clenching her teeth.

When his phone rang, Gerald abruptly dropped the subject, clambered out of the pond, dried himself off, shaking the water from his eyes, and walked off into his day. He never looked back to see Birdie sputtering from water up her nose and swallowed the wrong way. It was no use for Birdie to try and sit on the edge and begin again. The real beginning had been used up. She’d been dunked.



Birdie and the Great Bane

Wood smoke was the bane of Birdie’s existence. She wasn’t sure if a person could have more than one bane, (as bane seemed to have a rather singular connotation), but she thought that the number of banes tormenting anyone’s life certainly ought to be limited. Although, even if a pack of banes was allowed, wood smoke was Birdie’s Great Bane.

The Great Bane had awakened her this morning. It had sneaked out of the wood stove in the kitchen, tip-toed up the stairs, hopped on the bed, hovered above her head, and licked her nose.

Birdie had first realized her aversion to the smell of wood smoke as a young seventh grade teacher at a school in rural Missouri. A small, cheerful boy named Jimmy, who smelled like a smoked ham, caused her stomach to roil during first period class every morning when she came into contact with him. It wasn’t fair to keep her distance, and she truly liked everything about him except for the “smoked ham thing”, so she just didn’t inhale when she was close to him.

Neither did Birdie find campfires romantic. The smoke would envelop her, smarting her eyes, becoming tangled in her hair, and invading the fibers of her clothes. While others were singing “Kum Ba Yah”, she was thinking about showers and laundry.

The forest fires that did their war dances from time to time on the mountains surrounding Birdie’s home brought with them the daily morning inversion of smoke that accosted her upon waking and was viewed by Birdie as insult added to injury. She found the smoke abrasive, aggravating, chafing, irksome, irritating, rankling, vexing. Smoke was inescapable. You couldn’t close your eyes and avoid it. You couldn’t cover your ears and tune it out. You had to breathe, and there it was.

Smoke escaping from the wood stove was an enigma. The stove shouldn’t smoke. The seal was tight. The chimney was abiding by the formula for chimneys, which is a complicated math problem concerning length and diameter of stovepipe, distance from the peak of the roof, wind velocity and direction, and barometric pressure, all squared by the number of surfaces inside the house that will get coated with grime if anything goes wrong. (That last one isn’t really in the equation, but it should be.)

However, Birdie found you couldn’t count on physics to keep a Great Bane in its place. One of the variables in the equation would invariably lose its focus and unleash the Great Bane to romp about the house, assaulting Birdie’s nose and bedeviling her sinuses, while huffing and puffing a layer of grime over her life.



Spiders Go Postal


Birdie’s mailbox was infested. And not just with political advertisements. There was a spider lurking in the back of the box. Not a Charlotte’s Web type of spider, either. An Arachnophobia type spider. The kind of spider that jumped at you and ran toward you. A spider with way too many legs. One with vampire teeth and a harpy’s laugh. One that wore disguises–was black one day and orange the next.

Birdie discovered the unwelcome resident on a day when she had routinely gathered her mail and climbed back into her car. Spidey appeared, crawling out from between the letters on Birdie’s lap. Fortunately, Birdie hadn’t yet closed the door of the car, so she jumped out, scattering the mail on the ground and allowing Spidey to escape and retain possession of the mailbox.

Birdie didn’t know why she hadn’t sprayed something in the box to exterminate Spidey. Probably because she never thought about Spidey until she was reaching in to retrieve the mail. Birdie always pulled down the lid and peered in as if she might be able to see Spidey lurking in the back of the box. But Spidey was really good at blending into the background, so Birdie had to pull out each piece of mail, one at a time, and beat it against the mailbox to dislodge whatever might be creeping among the day’s correspondence. It looked like some strange ritual. “Thrashing the mail to exorcise bad news.”

One day, Spidey took the offensive and rushed at Birdie when she opened the box, running toward her on the open lid. Birdie was able to knock Spidey to the ground, where she disappeared into the gravel and leaves below. This time Spidey was orange. She’d always been black before. Perhaps Birdie had interrupted a disastrous hair coloring experiment, and Spidey was in a bad humor. Or maybe it was a different spider altogether. Whatever it was, a bad hair day or a visit from Spidey’s aggressive Aunt Velda, it was scary. There’s nothing like a territorial orange spider to get your adrenaline pumping. So far, none of Birdie’s mail had been worth it.


Birdie and the TSA

Birdie was apparently a threat. Just a random threat, but a threat nonetheless. This did not sit well with her. She always perceived herself as being a peaceful, “don’t stir the pot”, sort of person, and here she was setting off buzzers and being subjected to a random security check at the airport. It was a disappointment.

The young man who represented the TSA kept sending Birdie back into the glass tunnel, then telling her to step to the side, to go back, then to step on through. Back and forth. But the tunnel refused to trust her, so she was designated as a “random check”. Out came the wand and the hand wipe. Birdie had her small town smile plastered on her face the whole time, as if that would help, but the agent refused to be mollified by her good natured cooperation. The only way she could have made it up to him was if it had never happened.

The TSA agent’s gaze, as he put Birdie through the security di-si-do, made her feel as if there was something inherent in her very soul that he found offensive. His lip curled, his nostrils flared, his eyes engaged in icy stare, proclaiming that he thought Birdie had a lot of nerve triggering the alarm when she didn’t have any hidden explosives anywhere on her body. In fact, he was downright sniffy about it.

Perhaps he had been trained in the practice of unpleasant demeanor. After all, if Birdie had turned out to be an underwear bomber, it wouldn’t have looked good on the surveillance tape if the TSA agent were smiling at her.


In the Zone with Brad and Angelina


Last Thursday was mammogram day. Birdie never really dreads it, but after it has begun, she wonders why she didn’t have the sense to dread it. Once she is in the midst of the pulling and spreading and mashing and redoing this angle and that magnification, she remembers that this all happened exactly the same way last year. A sort of mammary deja vue which is intent on stripping her of any modesty, dignity, or sense of privacy she thought was her right. She finds that when she approaches the jaws of mammary inspection, she goes into her zone. That zone in which she detaches herself from what is happening.

Of course, before Birdie walks into the room, they have had the machine packed in ice, so that if the attempt to flatten her breast between two hydraulic plates is not uncomfortable enough, they can rely on the frigid temperatures to push her over the edge.

The tech directs Birdie to slip the gown off one shoulder and step up to the machine. Birdie is always hesitant at this point as she is not sure of mammography etiquette. Should she flop her breast on the plate before her or wait for the tech to take it in hand–literally–and arrange it as she likes. Invariably, Birdie’s indecision causes just enough delay that the technician grabs Birdie’s breast, spreads it out on the bottom plate like it is made of silly putty while she steps on pedals that raise and lower and tilt Birdie’s breast at her discretion. All the while telling Birdie to step back, lean in, reach over, relax her shoulder, and raise her chin. Then she says, “Ok. Hold it right there. This may be uncomfortable.” These technicians are masters at understatement. She then directs the machine to press Birdie’s B cup to the thickness of papyrus. She cautions Birdie to hold her breath, which is the first suggestion Birdie is glad to follow, as the required removal of her deodorant is starting to have its effect. Then, it’s over. Well, that pose, anyway. There are usually three poses for each breast. This is the only time Birdie is glad she has only one breast. Of course, it doesn’t end there.

The technician asks Birdie to wait while she runs over to the radiologist. Birdie picks up a magazine and begins reading about Brad and Angelina. It is an out of date issue, but how can news about America’s favorite couple ever really get old? It was reported they had just adopted their 42nd child from a 3rd world country and were considering getting married, but there was the problem with Angelina’s “possible” anorexia. She now weighed only 72 pounds and her lips were bigger than her upper arms. Also causing problems was Brad having love trysts with Jennifer Aniston, who felt she could no longer hit the snooze button on her biological clock, and was also considering adopting. Maybe a child, but possibly a 3rd world country. It wasn’t clear. Birdie’s attention was drifting.

The tech returns and explains that they need to make another go at it as things were not quite clear enough to suit the doctor reading the film. So they do their dance again, this time trying to get Birdie further into the machine without actually climbing up into it. She instructs Birdie to do several things all at the same time, which are virtually impossible to do all at once unless one is in the circus.
They finish and she leaves, giving Birdie an opportunity to read more about Brad and Angelina. She comes back, goes into tag team mode, and hands Birdie off to a more efficient, skilled, and apologetic technician. This tech takes Birdie into a different room with a more advanced machine. One with a zoom lens. This technician asks Birdie to do what the other lady has already asked her to do except she adds explanations for why Birdie is still in this purgatory–all the while commiserating with her for the inconvenience and discomfort. Birdie has retreated even further into the zone, but at the same time, she is calculating at what point she is going to announce she’s had enough and will walk out, put on her clothes, and leave them with whatever ill focused, ill exposed pictures they have managed to capture.

The technician finishes and requests that Birdie wait; Birdie resumes reading even more about Brad and Angelina. After a bit, Birdie is sent next door to her surgeon, who wants to see the results before he releases her. She takes a seat in the waiting room and picks up yet another magazine that is obsessed with Brad and Angelina. Pretty soon, Birdie feels someone’s eyes on her. She looks up, and Doctor is standing in the doorway grinning. He says, “Go on home. It was nothing. Just a bad picture.”

Birdie says goodbye to Brad and Angelina, steps out of the zone, and walks to her car.