Paper promises

A new year is full of promise. Out with the old. In with the new. New, as in my doctor joined a new clinic employer for 2020.

And in a new year I have new questions. Does my health plan change? Did he move? And why does the office number go to a pleasant, never- answered, “hold” message ? Being a retired Senior Chief, I assume I can overcome obstacles with charm, persuasion, or guile.

Paperwork has no respect for persons. I spent 20 minutes filling out new forms in the doctor’s office. But “seeing” my doctor is unlikely. Appointments are turned away. Forms need filing. Staff need training on new procedures.

The promise of my next twelve months may, for me, finding another doctor. But that will mean more paperwork.

Fire power- less

Modern society is in dire need of survival training. Since the same power company’s failures resulted in wildfire, now the danger in California is mitigated by shutting off power to millions.

Last Sunday, five of us on an annual guys trip to Yosemite, found the region’s power shut down. In emergency- generator- fed light, we bought groceries (but the meat was gone) and luckily generator- supplied gasoline for our near- empty car. After entering the park and driving an hour farther on, the park halted all tent camping for safety concerns. We decided rooms in a darkened park lodge, for a “reasonable” rate, certainly beat sleeping in the car.

Monday morning, camping opened, we set about to sound what we came for. Roughing it. Hiking. Relaxing. Though the park was without power until Tuesday, we noted that the two most- visited lodgings, Curry Village, and the Ahwani hotel, with generators running, had hardly been affected. Our traditional camping game of Mexican Train carried on that evening in the back room.

Well, there were casualties during the great California wilderness blackout of 2019. A chipmunk got into the car Monday morning, smelling a leftover scone- and closed in for about an hour, tore around the formerly gently- used vehicle. However, no lives are lost in the process of getting it out.

Three men and a little trail mix coaxed the varmint out. And we coaxed the car’s owner off his varmint hunt with a long hike. However, the little beast is still an unwelcome breakfast guest.

When the snow does come to the valley, i am quite sure that the deer and bears will be hunkered down, employees will be snug in their quarters, the at least one fattened chipmunk may have a warm Honda- fiber lined den under a bear- box in the Upper Pines campground.

Bears are no match for these thieves

never ask a Navy Chief to be a decorator

what “we” think “we” want -cabinet color, but a darker countertop
surface preparation: Voyage-tinted primer

A Navy Chief Petty Officer is never given the “how-to” just the task to accomplish. The wisdom of the Chiefs’ Mess provides suggestions and a sounding board. That is the wisdom I have lived for the past thirty-five years. For the last several days, I have been dismantling, cleaning, and priming the wood cabinets in our sixty year-old galley kitchen. Removing grime of years needed scrub pads, many buckets of hot water and TSP, and elbow grease. Cleaning and dismantling was easy compared to the next phase of the “in-port Habitability period” (remodeling, for you civilian-types).

What color do I like? I am not sure what “warm”, “complementary” or “2019” colors are. What drawer and cabinet hardware do we want? After hours of online research for kitchens resembling ours, I was given some wide margin. The retired Boatswains Mate at Lowes suggested a cabinet paint that will be “one coat and done” at $50 a gallon. Suspecting, if up to me, I would get the wrong shade, I bought a small can of primer instead, and had Valspar “Voyage” tint added.

where can I find a Boatswains Mate?

In 2019, matching paint and counters to a thirty-plus year old floor was low on my list of worries. Few current-millennium homes have white-tile floors throughout (the previous owner cursed us). Tearing up the floor was a job all my friends said would be a nightmare, so my first thought, would a terrazzo coating over the tile be an option? I kept that idea to myself. I had some experience working with it aboard the USS PETERSON. Color-matching the terrazzo, cabinet paint, with a yet-undecided new countertop, would challenge this Chief’s can-do. We both decided that the floor could be covered with a mat. As for colors, I was going to opine to the Admiral that her next shade pick was a glossy (Navy) Deck Gray. Shipboard colors were kept utilitarian and for camouflage. Deck Gray for decks. Haze Gray for exterior bulkheads (walls) and White, plain white for most everything else. I decided to keep that to myself also.

will terrazzo cover tile?

Next item: these cabinets and drawers never had handles before. I am thinking how to install cabinet handles and pulls precisely. I will need to design a rig to do that. With the ongoing plan to repaint the whole house interior, I am scheduling my “Intermediate Maintenance Availability” for as long as it takes. But time is not really the issue; I am not commuting to a job any longer, so as long as the job is done well, the Admiral shouldn’t fire me?

Sherwin-Williams “Gray Harbor”

the paint locker

When I wandered over to the Paint desk at my local Lowes, I had been tasked by my favorite “Admiral”, my spouse, to rehab our kitchen. This is where “Boats” comes in. Retired Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate, was, appropriately enough, working the Paint counter at Lowes the day I came looking for “cabinet” paint. I was wearing one of my favorite Retired CPO shirts, and we connected. During my career afloat in the Navy, I learned that salt water corrodes metal seven days a week, so it was a continual task for our Deck Division to chip paint and remove rust, and apply new. When it was needed, all hands took part in priming and painting.

Though our residence has never put to sea, periodic painting inside and outside is considered routine. At least, for married homeowners. My neighbor across the street completely rebuilt their kitchen at the behest of his spouse. Fortunately, I have a fiscally understanding Chain of Command. Since I am not a professional painter, Boats told me about cabinet paint and how to prepare the surfaces for painting. I bought a small can of primer, tinted to what we think we like, today. With friends coming over to dinner this week, I only got started before it was time to pack it up. Long ago, the mission would have been ’round the clock, to prepare everything for dignitaries arriving. Unfortunately, Senior Chief will be unavoidably detained.

the check is in the mail

and other misadventures of Navy Reserve retirement

Ten years ago, in August, I began my last months of work for the United States Navy as a uniformed member of the Navy Reserve. The following April I officially retired from the Navy Reserve. While many of my fellow Sailors retired at 38, 40, or 45, I was then 50 years old. For many Reservists who do not elect discharge, they are placed in a status the Navy calls “Gray-Area Reservist” for the next fifteen or twenty years. Like me, when eligible to draw retirement pay at age 60, we would receive retirement pay calculated from the Active Duty rates in effect at that time.

I turned sixty a little over a week ago. I expected a couple of enrollments, phone calls, and some waiting to be required. And predictably, it is a Government bureaucracy after all, it has not been a smooth process. For anyone familiar with the Affordable Care Act and the complexity of the online process of a Government-run website, the application for military retiree- healthcare (TriCare) was somewhat nebulous.

As it turned out, when I and my spouse got our expired ID cards replaced ( needed because I changed status at my birthday) , the healthcare site I had visited several times last month then became user-friendly-ish. Apparently, it only worked for the brief time I, prudently, enrolled my spouse (first) in a healthcare plan. Telephone numbers resulted in long wait times or directed me to the same website where I had issues. For the next week, that website obstinately would not let me complete my own enrollment! Finally, I got online but it asked me to pick between two confusing status changes I had not seen before. I picked the more unintelligible of the two, and successfully completed enrollment.

As for processing my retirement pay, a different bureaucracy altogether. It was a redesign of the website I had years ago monitored for my Navy Reserve pay, but the messages this year only told me it had nothing to tell me. No updates. And for anyone who has tried to use a telephone – a last option – it requires more patience than most can muster. After three hours on hold (I was disconnected once), then reaching a person only to be told their computers were offline, I ultimately learned that my records were still at the Navy Department. And from the Navy Department – a telephone number I only discovered by reading some commentary and related military-news websites – my record was still in the queue. Apparently a document the Navy should have had for the prior nine years I had been in uniform, that I then re-sent them – held up processing. I decided to give them an additional month before trying again.

While many of my peers, my children and their peers – Generation X, Millennials, and Generation Z, all believe in the Government as the best delivery system for Free Healthcare, Free Education, Free Housing, and Happiness, they had better stock up on anxiety medication now. I have patiently waited for ten years to receive the promised pension for Navy service between 1977 and 2010. I can wait a little longer because I put aside a fund over the last twenty years to live on one day. Until the Government decides to manage THAT – and we are stuck in a jam of red tape and offline computer systems – I will not be in a bread line.

when dreams collide

The acronym CBDR in navigation terminology stands for “Constant Bearing, Diminishing Range”. When the navigator announces a radar contact as having CBDR, that contact and you are on a collision course! Time for evasive maneuvers.

Where this comes into play was very early this morning. I was dreaming about being back in the Navy though I just marked my ninth anniversary since retirement. Somehow I was not a Chief, but rather much younger, and was wearing dungarees. There was some confusion about my role in this dream, for in my real Navy life, I worked with electronics. In the dream, I was being directed, and none too kindly, by a nurse demanding bandages, gowns, and other medical “stuff” for a patient. For some reason, this shipboard space was something like a ship I used to deploy on, but looking like a much older class of ship – like something in the CAINE MUTINY movie. And oddly, medical manikins crowded the ‘sickbay’.

Just before waking up, I recall having some sort of struggle with poor fitting latex gloves. I was handling something nasty with a single glove half-on. As a Sailor for more than twenty-five years, there have been numerous occasions that I was confronted with nasty things. Rarely, have I flinched nor have I been tormented in dreams by them.

But the source of my problems may be carry over from new business that my wife and I are running. While all of my medical training has been as a patient over the decades, I am getting a lot of medical training by observation as our business provides testing services to nursing graduates. Perhaps that is why dreams are colliding?

At least I know the dream was PSYOPS (psychological operations a.k.a. warfare). There was no coffee mug in “my” hand. And none brewing anywhere. THAT alone is enough to know that whoever that hollywood was probing my dream this morning, he was navigating in dangerous waters.

No coffee?! Sound General Quarters!

nerve agents

In the military services, it might still be a part of recruit basic training to train for chemical attack. In boot camp in the 1970s, I was marched into a gas chamber with sixty other personnel, all wearing our gas masks, and exposed to tear gas. Learning then that my mask had a poor seal, I very quickly ended up with tears and snot streaming inside the mask, hacking and choking when they had us pull it off for “full effect”! And I realized I would have been a casualty. And my poor carcass? filmed for a “here lies stupid” lesson.

That training has never left me. Even on a Thursday evening just before bedtime when my spouse in a fit of cleaning mania, liberally doses the bathroom off our bedroom in chlorine bleach. She happily scrubbed the mold and grime away. I wanted to be a good husband, and though I wanted to go to bed desperately, I offered to help. But the lesson I learned was to stand out of the way. I thought she wanted toothbrush to scrub the sink. In the best tradition of Chief’s wife (I’ve been long retired) she was scrubbing with a toothbrush to get the difficult grit!

No, she wanted a new toothbrush. For herself. At that moment I felt lower than whale excrement. And that’s something I haven’t thought about since it was applied to us in the first days of boot camp forty years ago. It’s okay she says. I can go to bed now. Except that the chlorine gas that she grudgingly opened a window to release – when I mentioned it – is already making me sneeze two rooms away. But it is okay. I probably would have died in boot camp anyway. My dumb#$# should have taken one for the team.

Wild Bill, ain’t no fighting City Hall

If I’ve got any authority in Hays, Mrs. Lake isn’t going to pay this town a cent of license for showing, and if any man attempts to stop this show, then just put it down that he’s got me to fight.

Wild Bill Hickok, http://www.brainyquote.com

Some may wonder which came first, shaping stones and bone into spearpoints and arrowheads, or the village council that decided Mog and Og needed approval, licenses and regular inspections of their enterprise.

Eight thousand years later, an enterprising small business person who ventures into performing a service or providing a product, is supporting a community. She has not just her own family’s living to support, but an entire “industry” of bureaucrats, at the local, state and federal levels of Government. And in California particularly, as a businessperson, earning a living that minimizes the costly regulations that have environment, employment practices, taxes, fees and so forth, driving small businesses under.

Deciding to start one’s own enterprise, in California, and certainly elsewhere, requires a great deal of capital up front, a niche market, and establishing quickly an efficient organization. Mentors, business seminars and other resources can provide training and encouragement, but skilled and dedicated owners and employees find, serve and retain clients. Many, like myself, who have decades of employee experience, soon realize the challenge of one’s own business to balance investment, expenses, and fees against recurring income to make a decent return in the first and succeeding years. It takes planning, and frequent tweaking of the business model. The bureaucracy is another thing entirely.

After filing the regulatory paperwork with the State, including forming a Limited Liability Company, we loaned the business personal funds for the contractual and mandated types of insurances, paying filing fees, and notarizing documents, setting up business banking, bookkeeping, and a Google GSuite of Cloud-based calendar, business email and document storage. Since we were still working for our respective employers, tax considerations of incorporation or forming and LLC were and remain an important issue. Prior to earning a cent, our Liabilities were looking to be a very big motivator to getting our business moving forward.

As a residence-based service business, our enterprise does not operate in an office building, nor manufacture products, nor maintain an inventory. Operating out of a residence located in an unincorporated area, I learned that reporting the actual physical location – separate from the mailing address – in business organization documents would mitigate municipal taxes, inspections and other recurring fees. (The mailing address bears the nearby municipality name.)

But there are other concerns as well. Operating a business, even one that travels to a customer site as our business does, is required to file for a business license. The “gray area” that no municipal clerk whose job it is issuing business licenses and collecting fees, would likely err on the side of the entrepreneur – is whether a license to do business in every municipality that one performs a service – is required. Of course, every municipality’s City Hall will state categorically that a license is required by a business according to a list of industry types. Some types require fees and inspections from safety professionals, zoning and building code enforcement officials. Business coaches I have spoken with, concur that paying fees willy-nilly can quickly eat away an enterprise’s bottom line. While membership in associations that help small entrepreneurs may be a necessary expense, I am considering that expertise gained in those associations may help steer a small business toward profitability.

At least, one of my prospective clients is a State agency, so there is an opportunity, however slight, that money coming out of my pocket, might eventually trickle somewhat back to me. And while I might appreciate a Wild Bill Hickok helping me fight City Hall, I think even he might be outgunned, particularly if he has not paid the required 2019 firearm licensing and entertainment business fees.

pure faxing magic

I got a chain letter by fax. It’s very simple. You just fax a dollar bill to everybody on the list.

Steven Wright, comedian http://www.brainyquote.com/

My at-odds relationship with technology, like copiers and fax machines is very likely material for a Steven Wright comedy bit.

Pure Faxing Magic

I have spent nearly forty years employed in the technology sector. Beginning with vacuum tube systems and basic electronics, by the later years of my career, I would assemble, program and debug very complicated encryption devices.

Nevertheless, copiers, the collating, multiple paper-size, scanners-with-email, touch-selection types have me looking like a kindergarten kid with paper,crayons and glue. I make a call to my ‘work wife’, our senior department Admin for assistance – or I avoid everything but printing.

In the Navy, I was first introduced to facsimile machines in the late 1980s. Who knew that these would be part of my job description with my new business. Between the drum life “nearing the end” messages (what is a drum?), a Mode button (one must select to actually RECEIVE the fax transmission!), and what to do when either the power or the telephone line drops out, I have learned how to respond appropriately. I do not get exasperated.

fax machines
not a musical instrument nor a museum piece

I learned steps from my IT point of contact at our customer sites (somehow nursing instructors always seem to fill in for technical experts on staff):

  1. Wait.
  2. Hit the “Mode” button.
  3. Cycle the “power” button.
  4. Call the “Help Desk” or the site administrator’s assistant.

grinders and coffee

Mention grinders to an older Navy veteran, generally brings to mind the large parade ground we marched around in Bootcamp.  But “grinder” also means a particular type of sandwich. In Southern California, while there are different names: submarine sandwiches, hoagies, and grinders, there are some places that are vastly different than the franchises that pop up everywhere.  And in El Cajon, California, not far from my home, is an institution 50 years in the making, The Grinder.

I actually only stopped in Thursday night at the request of my son, a Vocational Nurse working the evening shift, for a sub specifically made there.  It might have been my first visit though I have lived in the area twenty years.  After a long workday and a long, rainy evening commute,  but I would drive an extra few miles for a sandwich.

It was not a fancy place.  A video game table of the sort I had not seen in thirty years  was against the wall.  On the walls, were  Navy-themed art, a Bible quote,  articles on the history of this deli, a plaque honoring fifty years, and pictures of local kids.  But the one I noted just before ordering was the image of the late Chief John Finn,  Medal of Honor recipient (Pearl Harbor) on the wall. The kids working there know whose picture it is.   San Diego County is a military community, and El Cajon in the part known as “East County” is home to a large population of veterans going back to the Second World War.

“where do we eat and what show do we go to?”

On date night, quickly planned,  even the retired Senior Chief’s understanding wife may have felt a grinder was sub-expectations.  The mall was packed with Friday-night families.  As it turned out, a little pastry and coffee with live music at a coffee house we like was perfect.  We knew the music and lyrics; the acoustics were okay, and probably because the band and their fans are all about the same ages,  they concluded at a reasonable hour on a Friday night.  7:30 is almost bedtime.

So much for foodies partying into the wee hours (7:30PM)

“simple process” is not in the DOD Manual


No method of procedure has ever been devised by which liberty could be divorced from local self-government. No plan of centralization has ever been adopted which did not result in bureaucracy, tyranny, inflexibility, reaction, and decline. Of all forms of government, those administered by bureaus are about the least satisfactory to an enlightened and progressive people. …..Calvin Coolidge

http://blog.acton.org/archives/70151-calvin-coolidges-warning-entrenched-bureaucracy.html

According to information I gleaned from a thorough scrub of several websites,  a Reservist who has retired from military service under the normal circumstances (not a disability retirement)  has to request payment of retirement pay beginning at age 60.   

Now I am the old Salt

For someone who has a current DOD identification card, this may be less of an exercise than I have encountered to date.   But for  a “gray-area Reservist”,  a member who received retirement orders pending receipt of pay after age sixty,  this posed questions I thought best to get answered before I made some errors and had to resubmit.

You may never have dealt with a bureaucracy the size of the Department of Defense or the Veterans Administration.  But if you have ever dealt with a local planning board or other agency, you may have some idea.  Prior experience online directed me to look at the official Bureau of Naval Personnel (BUPERS).   When I found the proper sub-department for Reserve retirees it directed me to another website.  And a third. I used the telephone at last and actually reached a live person quickly.  While the representative was able to locate my record,  she could not tell me other than what I already knew.  When I did find a couple forms online,  editions more than sixteen years old, it seemed this information was what they already had on file.

Re-enlist, get a check. Retire:  who are you?

 The BUPERS website directed me to solicit assistance with retirement questions from the local military support office; I drove over to the military office that had served me while in the Navy Reserve nine years earlier.  After a lovely chat with a senior enlisted personnel clerk,  I spoke with a career counselor for a “package” that would include material needed for retirement pay requests.   After waiting in a line, I found that all “retired” reservists like myself had to go through, yes,  BUPERS, for these retirement pay questions.  

I did catch one tidbit of information.   The Department of the Navy is about a month late in a reported ten-month window prior to the member’s sixtieth birthday, sending a package of everything the bureaucracy needs before making payment.  I will make another call to BUPERS this week to find out whether this “package” has been mailed.  I probably will go back to the VA for a disability re-assessment.  When dealing with a Government bureaucracy,  blood pressure, headaches, dizziness, and muscle fatigue are common.   That’s gotta be worth something?