Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Elderhood, with More Money

Last night I had the privilege of being on John Carney’s radio show in St. Louis to talk about the late, great Phyllis Diller. I spent time in her home in Webster Groves back in the early ‘60s, when I was friends with her daughter Stephanie.

It’s always fun to talk to John. Besides, he taught me to drink martinis, so I’m a loyal fan. Since we did this by phone I didn’t get the benefit of a big hug from him, but he said maybe he will head West at some point to revisit his old stomping grounds and roam the streets with me, both of us clad in tie dye. (Look out, San Francisco!)

At the end of the segment, John mentioned my blog, Late to the Haight. So glad he reminded me! It’s been awhile since I checked in here. Why? I’ve been busy:

·      playing with my grandson

·      being annoyed that “elderhood” is the stupid new term for my next stage of life

·      watching “The Newsroom” and missing deadline journalism

·      reading Cheryl Strayed’s “Wild” and admiring her immensely

·      popping in at museums large and small for a travel story for the Post-Dispatch

·      watching “Political Animals” and wondering whether Bill and Hill are watching

·      assembling a bag for Goodwill (when a new jacket comes in, an old one goes out – see below for details on the uptick in my income)

·      waiting, patiently and im, for August 22.

Tomorrow is the Big Day – the day my first Social Security payment will show up in my checking account -- if all goes according to plan. If you read the June 22 post, you know that nothing at all went according to plan when I first signed up. Actually, “signed up” is not the correct term. You APPLY for Social Security -- and that means you can be rejected.

To recap, I signed up on line and when I emailed to ask when my benefits would start, the agency replied that the representative I had met with had already told me that information. When I emailed back that I had not met with anyone, the agency sent me an email about my spouse. I don't have one. When I said so, immediately they wanted to see the court document that changed my married name back to my birth name, which I did one year after the divorce. This is all ancient history, but I complied with that request.

New news: Next I got a letter saying Social Security wanted to “verify” my earnings record. Wait – these are the very people who send me a report of my earnings every year. What don’t they know? I assumed they wanted to ask me why I was applying before my full retirement age, since for several years I did quite well in the unwieldy world of freelance.

I wrote a concise letter about my drop in income in 2012. I copied tax records from last year, typed up quarterly payment records, put together my current client list and even gathered up pay stubs from this year. I assembled proof of my puny pension and my health insurance expenses. And I remember thinking how efficient I am, and being pleased that I keep meticulous records.

Unfortunately, what I took to the office the next morning had nothing to do with what the agency wanted to know.

The woman I met with wanted to talk about 1994, 1995 and 1997. I cleared up all the questions. Then I made my pitch for taking – excuse me, applying for -- Social Security before my full retirement date. The woman typed furiously as I spoke. She fired off several emails. Then she faxed all my documentation to the office in Richmond, Calif., where apparently people have been sitting around picking apart my employment history.

One week later, a woman in the Richmond office called me. She said she had called several times (hmmm, no record of that on the Smartphone) and she had sent me an email. (She had not -- I even checked spam.) The woman also said she had not received any emails or faxes or reports from the woman I met with in the San Francisco office. The she asked me all the same questions I had answered the previous week. And at last the woman said YES -- I can have my money!

My Social Security allotment is not a fortune, though it will pay the rent. Right now, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in San Francisco is $2,600. I pay much less -- thank goodness I got here when I did! And again, what a lucky break to find a place that offers views of glorious sunsets night after night. (Click. Click. Click.)

Still, this new bump in income seemed to call for a celebration. Not a spending spree, but a few special purchases. I bought a new spring green fleece jacket for me and some books for The Baby. I bought a six-pack of Sierra Nevada Kellerweis. (That’s a long-term investment, as it takes me four months to drink six beers.) And my friend Chris wants to have dinner to celebrate with me.

I’m ready to party – or I will be, once tomorrow gets here.