Sunday, February 1, 2009

Not By Fire, Not By Ice, But By Paper

We will not perish by fire or ice next time but by paper. If I thought I had too much paperwork when my children were young, well this “biz” (as I call it) is overwhelming now that they are adults. For instance, Akili needs to show proof of enrollment at SDSU or he will lose his medical benefits under Ron’s plan at the school district. The only acceptable proof is a letter with raised seal from the bursar’s office, which he cannot obtain until he shows up for the first day of class. Clock is ticking and I am receiving increasingly hysterical “reminder” emails from the benefits lady at the school district. Do I lie awake at night worrying about global warming? No, I’m too busy worrying that Akili will have a freak skateboarding accident during the 48 hours that his medical coverage is not in effect and that I will have to hold a raffle to sell my house to pay the subsequent emergency room bill. How did contemporary life become so complicated? Four centuries ago, if a young man had a skateboarding accident, he would have bled to death in the street while bystanders murmured, “Dang, I left my leeches in my other breeches” and “What’s a skateboard?”

My daughter was laid off and while looking for another job, she thought she’d file unemployment. She can’t schedule an appointment by phone or in person as the unemployment office got overwhelmed with all the folks now out of work and so they went to play mini-golf. Who can blame them when half the country is unemployed, including everyone in Wyoming who doesn’t own a dude ranch? She applied online and subsequently received a packet of forms thicker than the Talmud in the mail. She came home to get help from me to figure out which ID to photocopy to verify her identity. We selected one from Column A and one from Column B and ordered won ton soup and spring rolls on the side.

Now that Sudi has sent in his college applications, he has joined a paperwork trauma recovery group. With the admissions applications behind him, he has progressed to th next level of bureaucracy: putting together scholarship applications. He leaves for school in the morning with “recommendation letters” written on the back of his hand and returns in the evening with “read War and Peace for English” written on his forehead. I suggested he try writing lists to stay organized and for once he took my advice. He mounted a dry-erase board on his wall and wrote the word “SKATE” on it. (As in skateboarding.) Skate is not just at the top of his list. It IS his list. Getting him to write the scholarship essays is like extracting Orson Wells from a wet suit. “So why do you want to study art? What inspires you?” I ask. “Have you seen my chapstick?” he answers. That Jewish genetics, answering questions with questions.

On my last trip to the grocery store, my debit card was rejected. How embarrassing. Especially after I had just put back the pound of flour, gallon of apple cider, marinated artichoke hearts, and the bag of Barbara’s all natural organic cheese doodles (that Ron had specifically requested) in order to get the subtotal down to $200. Since when are apple cider and organic cheese doodles luxury items? I had to pay the bill with my credit card instead. When I got home I went online to find out what was going on with my checking account and discovered that the bank had changed my password as a courtesy to prevent anyone from hacking into my account. Including me. The next morning, first thing, I turned up at the bank and discovered that they had frozen my checking account until I paid my home equity line of credit payment, which I had already paid (I had the receipt to prove it). Oops, their bad. They fixed it. I am trying to switch over to paperless online bill pay, but I find it distracting to be in the middle of a conference call with a grant writing client and have the cell phone bill arrive via email. I can’t resist taking a peek and then, when I see that AT&T has accidentally charged me $3,000 in individual text messages sent by Sudi (at 10 cents a message) because they removed his unlimited texting plan for some mysterious reason, well, I have an apoplectic seizure, which sounds bad over the phone to my grant writing client.

No wonder I snap at the financial aid counselor from the Art Institute who calls to remind me to file the forms for federal student aid. His name is Mark. Mark was assigned to us when Sudi was accepted at the Art Institute. I explain to Mark that we need to complete our taxes before we can file for federal student aid and that I have provided the accountant with all the paperwork except Ron’s deductions and that Ron, my darling ADD husband, has been up until midnight all week wading through his fleet of baskets of paper, several of which were thrown intact onto the moving van and then taken off the moving van in June without missing so much as a paperclip in the process. I am only as fast as my husband’s filing system when it comes to this one. And he doesn’t even have a dry-erase board with the word “skate” written on it to help him. It’s Mark’s job to help us find the money to pay the tuition so Sudi can attend the Art Institute. Unfortunately, the tuition is more than the total annual income of a small village in Nigeria. Why do I feel like a Hedonist for wanting my son to attend college? Mark reminds me that the Art Institute managed to come up with enough scholarship money to enroll a homeless student this year. This is supposed to make me feel better, but I am thinking, yes, it’s middle class people like me who make too much money for a free ride and who are returning apple cider and cheese doodles at the check-out stand to pay tuition so that homeless children can receive scholarship money. I sound ungrateful, don’t I? I should remember that I am one of the privileged people who lives in a house and owns filing cabinets. I must accept the things I cannot change and find a good recipe for homemade cheese doodles.

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