"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

I've Got Medicare ... Now What?

     As I described over three previous posts -- summarized in Tips for Enrolling in Medicare -- I recently signed up for Medicare.

     I never had to try to sign up for Obamacare. I've been spared that exercise because I became eligible for Medicare just in time.

     Before Medicare, I had my own medical insurance that I purchased through a professional association I belonged to. That's one of the several problems the Affordable Care Act promises to solve: Until recently it was breathtakingly expensive for early retirees to buy individual health insurance ... if they could get it at all. When I left work and had to get my own health insurance, I could not find an insurance company that would carry me. The only way I got coverage was to search around and find an association I was eligible to join, then purchase a plan through the group. It still was expensive, but at least I was able to get it.

     Anyway, a couple of months ago, I signed up for Medicare, along with the AARP Medicare Supplement plan through United Healthcare. But, like many people, I didn't really know what I was getting into. Who reads all that material they send you?

     So I'm here to report some preliminary results -- not on how much it costs, but on what benefits you get.

     I went for my annual physical a few weeks ago. It was free (to me anyway), just like my old plan. I received a flu shot, also for free, just like my old plan.

     Subsequent to that, I had to fill a prescription -- nothing that resulted from my physical, but a drug I've been taking on occasion for the past year or so. How do I say this? It's a performance-enhancing drug, if you get my drift. I'm not embarrassed about it. After all, women use plenty of cremes and lotions and "estra-fem" type products. So why can't men take advantage of modern medicine for their own issues? Anyway, my old private insurance plan offered a modest discount for a bottle of six pills. It cost around $140. However, the AARP drug plan did not cover the drug at all. The same prescription cost me $194 ... which seems ridiculous, but what are you gonna do? Maybe the AARP plan doesn't cover this drug because the issue doesn't come up that often among elderly Medicare patients?

     Anyway, for almost two months, I've been suffering a terrible cough, with some mild pain in my chest. I actually told my doctor about it during my physical. He was not concerned; he said it might be a touch of post-nasal drip, or else a bit of acid reflux. He suggested a couple of over-the-counter remedies.

     Over the past three weeks it got worse, until it finally broke out into what seemed like a cold. Except I didn't get a stuffy nose, just a horrible sore throat and congestion in my throat, and a cough that wouldn't let me get to sleep at night without taking something like Benadryl or NyQuil.

     So I finally decided to go back to the doctor. Saw him on Tuesday. Did I have a copay? I asked. No copay, I was told. My old plan would have required me to pay $35.

     The doctor measured the oxygen in my blood and listened to my chest and peered into my throat. His conclusion: my lungs are fine; I have post-nasal drip, aggravated by the change of season, the dry air and possibly a slight infection.

     But the point is, he prescribed two items for me. One is an antibiotic. The Medicare drug plan paid a portion of the bill. I paid the rest, which was $10. He also prescribed a special cough suppressant. The Medicare drug plan did not cover that at all. Cost to me: $25.

     So what am I to make of my new Medicare plan? It may be too early to tell, but preliminary results say that the coverage for doctor visits is very good, but the drug coverage leaves a lot to be desired. Does this square with other people's experiences? I guess I'll find out more as time goes on.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

How Much Should You Tip?

     Last weekend B and I got home on Sunday evening, after a busy day running errands, going to the mall -- humdrum things -- and since we were tired and B didn't want to cook, the two of us went out to dinner. Just a local place around the corner from our house. Nothing fancy. Not much more than a neighborhood bar.

     She had a chicken dish, and I ordered the salmon. We both had a glass of house red wine, and we shared a salad. We also shared a dessert, but no tea or coffee. The service was decent; nothing out of the ordinary. We were there for about an hour and a half.

     The bill came to $81.49, which seemed like a lot for a modest meal at a neighborhood restaurant, but I didn't think much about it. I went to figure the tip. Let's see, 15 percent of 80 is $12. That seemed a little stingy. So $13? That's an odd number. So I marked down a $14 tip. I figured out later, that's a 17-percent tip, which is about what is expected these days. And for that, the waiter spent between five and ten minutes with us.

     Then on Wednesday, I met two of my friends for breakfast. We do that every once in a while. We were meeting at 9:30 a.m. at a diner up on the commercial strip.

     I got there a little early and ordered coffee from the very nice waitress. One friend showed up about five minutes later. The waitress came over and gave a big smile, and he also ordered coffee. Then the third friend arrived; the waitress came over again and took another coffee order. This friend had been held up, he said, because the main road was closed about a mile down the street.

     "Oh yeah," the waitress chimed in. She'd been held up when she was getting to work, too, around 7 a.m. The road was still closed. Apparently, there was some kind of accident; no one knew exactly what it was; but my friend and the waitress talked about it for a minute or two, just because they were both curious.

     When the waitress came back with the third coffee, she asked if we were ready to order. No not yet, we said. We needed time to look over the menu (like there's a lot to look over for breakfast).

      She returned five minutes later, still smiling and friendly, and we finally ordered. She brought the food out in a timely fashion. It was all good; it was all hot. After we were done, the waitress cleared the table, gave us more coffee. The three of us sat around talking about our families, our vacations, TV programs, music, books, golf ... whatever.

     In all, we were there for about an hour and a half, and the waitress refilled our coffee cups two or three more times. Finally, the bill came. It was $23-and-change. My friend and I each threw in a $10 bill; and the third friend went up to the cashier to pay. He came back and tossed a $5 bill onto the table for a tip.

     "Wait," I said. "Come on, give the waitress another couple of dollars."

     My friend looked at me. "Well, that's a five," he said. "Isn't that enough?"

     My other friend added, "Yeah, sure. It's basically a 20-percent tip."

     "No," I said. I must admit, I was thinking about that $14 tip I'd left for dinner the other night -- for what I thought was less service than what we'd gotten that morning. "Besides," I pointed out, "we each paid $10. If the bill was $23, and you tipped $5, then you only paid $8, so you should throw in another $2 anyway."

     He looked at me again. I know he's no math major, and he looked genuinely puzzled. "Gee whiz," he said, "I've never been accused of under tipping." He laughed. "I usually over tip."

     He was right about that. I'd seen him in action before. He tips the guy $2 just to carry his golf bag from his car to the clubhouse, a two-minute job. (I usually try to avoid that guy altogether, but when he does manage to grab my bag, I tip him $1.)

     Anyway, my friend peeled off another dollar and dropped it on top of the $5 bill, shaking his head the whole time. He put his coat on and turned to leave.

     I did the same. But as I stepped away from the table, without my two friends noticing, I reached into my pocket, pulled out another dollar and tossed it on the table.

     So ultimately we left a $7 tip for a $23 bill, a 30-percent tip. But don't you think our waitress at the diner deserves the $7, even more than the waiter who got $14 for less time and less work?


Thursday, November 21, 2013

It Is, of Course, a Trifle ...

     I have a trifle to share today, a literary quiz called What Literary Character Are You? Perhaps it is a reminder that what you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is, what can you make people believe that you have done.

     Where did I come up with such a quiz? Ah ... a conjuror gets no credit when once he has explained his trick, and if I show you too much of my method of working, you will come to the conclusion that I am a very ordinary individual after all.

     You see, you answer ten questions, and the quiz tells you what fictional character you most resemble. Understand? Nothing clears up a case so much as stating it to another person.

     Regardless, the exercise is a lot of fun, though I don't know that we should consider it with too serious a demeanor. I took the quiz. And I was revealed to be Sherlock Holmes.

     The quiz results are accurate in that I do tend to be old fashioned. But otherwise, I must admit my dear friends, I am one sorry excuse for Sherlock Holmes.

     So follow the trail over to AbeBooks. Take the quiz and divulge your personality. What literary character do you resemble most? For any truth is better than infinite doubt.


Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Healthy Dose of Boomer Advice

     The Best of Boomer Blogs focuses this week on several health issues. For example, did you know that older adults suffer from anorexia, too? Hospitalizations for problems caused by eating disorders grew by 48 percent in adults ages 45 to 64 between 1999 and 2006. See Rita R. Robison's The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide for more information.

     Karen Austin reminds us that just as we wanted patience from our parents when we were awkward teens, our parents would like our support as they adjust to age-related changes to their bodies. Karen discusses this in her post Don't be a Boy Scout.

     And Laura Lee Carter on the Midlife Crisis Queen wonders why we in this country pay those whose primary job is caring for others very little, especially compared to those who manage things or sell things.

     Meanwhile, Amy Blitchok tells us that on Nov. 5, 2013, Attorney General Eric Holder announced the Justice Department had reached a $2.2 billion settlement with Johnson & Johnson to cover criminal and civil fines for illegally marketing Risperdal, an antipsychotic drug, to older patients with dementia. The company was found guilty of targeting the most vulnerable portions of society. Learn more at Modern Senior and decide for yourself if J&J was guilty of unethical practices.

      As for me, I've been having a discussion about the Affordable Care Act with Douglas over at Boomer Musings. I admit there's a lot about health care I don't understand and probably never will. For example, I don't understand why, despite marketing efforts by a major pharmaceutical company, doctors would go ahead and prescribe a drug like Risperdal for patients who aren't intended to be helped by that drug.

     On a different but related subject, I don't understand why drug companies are allowed to advertise prescription drugs on TV. These drugs are available only through your doctor, who is supposed to be an expert. Why should drug companies be trying to sell these products to uninformed people who have no idea how to diagnose let alone cure whatever health problem they have? Obviously, the companies are trying to get people to pressure their doctors to give them a drug, which may or not be beneficial to them, just because they saw an ad on TV. That doesn't seem right, does it?

     Anyway, in the interest of good health for all of us, I ran across an item called How Much Water Should You Be Drinking? Someone recently told me that we should drink our weight in water every day, in ounces. I weigh 190 lbs. So I'm supposed to drink 190 ounces of water? I know we're all supposed to drink water. But still, that seems like a lot to me.

     I do know, however, know that you're not supposed to wait until you feel thirsty before you drink. By the time you're thirsty, you're already dehydrated.

     And then there's the eternal question. If you drink other liquids -- like orange juice or lemonade, or tea or coffee or soft drinks -- do they count as water substitutes? Go check out the section on other ways to hydrate in the water article and you'll find out. But I am pretty sure that beer and wine don't count.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Why Retirees Make Better Financial Decisions

     Do you get smarter as you get older, or do you slowly lose your mind? A recent study from the University of California, Riverside, and Columbia University, with the mind-bending title of Complementary Cognitive Capabilities, Economic Decision Making and Aging, has the answer.

     Researchers tested one group of 20-somethings against another group of people in their 60s and 70s, in various subjects such as basic financial literacy, knowledge about debt, how much they thought about their financial futures, and their tolerance for risk.

     Despite a general loss of mental acuity, the older group did better than their younger test-takers in virtually every category. How is that?

     Researchers explained the results by teasing apart two different kinds of intelligence. One is termed "fluid intelligence" and covers short-term memory and problem solving -- the ability to manipulate information and process it quickly. The other is called "crystallized intelligence" and involves the sum total of knowledge acquired through culture, education and a lifetime of experience.

     As we age, we lose fluid intelligence, but gain crystallized intelligence. The study concludes, For decisions that rely heavily on processing new information, it is likely that the negative effects of aging will outweigh its positive effects relatively early in middle age. On the other hand, if the decision relies on recognizing previously learned patterns in a stable environment, age may be an advantage.

     In other words, young people who can process information quickly will make better day traders. But day traders almost always lose money.

     Those of us who are more seasoned -- who have seen the ups and downs of the markets and weathered our own personal financial challenges -- are the ones who have achieved some wisdom, who make better decisions, who have the better approach to our financial lives.

     Here are a few specifics distilled from the study:
     Retirees have better knowledge of finance and debt. A greater understanding of debt contracts and interest rates leads older people to make better decisions in the real world. We are more likely to save and invest in the first place, then make better decisions such as choosing mutual funds with low fees. We avoid high-cost borrowing, such as credit-card debt, and also avoid incurring other financial costs such as high bank fees. How many of us carry over a credit-card balance? Not many, I'd bet.

      Older people have more control over their emotions. We are less likely to follow the crowd into a hot stock, only to lose our shirts. (Okay, my brother-in-law is the exception that proves the rule.) We are less likely to buy at the top, or sell at the bottom, and will not get sucked into a financial bubble that is going to burst. Who suffered the most during the housing bubble of the 2000s? Not retirees, but first-time buyers.

      We are "better at avoiding the influence of irrelevant alternatives." Older investors, according to the researchers, can tune out the noise from CNBC and other financial media, which give too much attention to the current news, even when it's not important to our actual investments. The latest new stock issue (think Twitter), or yet another impasse in Washington, can get everyone excited. But older investors know that this week's news is usually forgotten by next week.

      Older investors have a better sense of their own limitations. Young people tend to be overconfident. We older people have gone through some bitter experiences and know that we can sometimes misjudge things. And there is no more important quality in managing your finances than a bit of humility. Experienced investors know when to swallow hard and cut losses when they are still small, rather than wait and hope and pray that an investment will somehow work out when all the evidence says it will not.

      Seniors have more perspective and are more patient. We are not after the quick buck. We are more able to weather the ups and downs of the market, without panicking and changing our minds with every twist of the financial wind.

     Anyway, this is all what four academics from Columbia University and the University of California concluded. I think financial decisions are also largely determined by people's personalities. Some people are risk-takers; others are more conservative. Some people do their homework; others are more impulsive. But still, I think these researchers are onto something. I'm sure not going to argue with them ... especially since they make us seniors look pretty smart!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Hey, What Happened?

     Just last week it was close to 70 degrees. And now, look what greeted me this morning when I stepped out the door!

     Guess it's time to start planning my trip south for the winter. Hmmm, where should I find the sun this year? Florida? Arizona? Where are you going?

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vitamin D May Help Stop Cancer

     Last week I went to the doctor for my annual physical. I had never been to this doctor before. My old doctor, I was told, was out of the office on an extended medical leave. That in itself was a little upsetting, since the doctor is supposed to cure you, not get sick himself.

     I asked several people what was wrong, but everyone claimed they didn't know. I don't count my doctor as a friend. But he's the same age as I am, I've been going to him for about 15 years, and he asks me about my kids and tells me about his vacations, and I feel I know him well enough to at least extend my regards. Would it be appropriate to send him a get well card in care of the medical center?

     Anyway, my new doctor seemed okay, and I liked him right away because he told me I was healthy and my EKG looked good. But I do have a history of cancer in my family. My mother developed breast cancer in her late 50s and finally succumbed to the disease at age 89. My dad got cancer when he was 90, and died at age 91. I have a sister who had breast cancer, although it was years ago and she seems to be doing fine now.

     The doctor asked about my smoking history, and my drinking, and my exercise and diet. Then he said he wanted to do a test for vitamin D in my blood.

     He told me there have been studies suggesting that vitamin D has a preventive effect in the development of cancer. He was careful to say that the research was preliminary and inconclusive. But he advised me to drink skim milk fortified with vitamin D, as well as orange juice with calcium and vitamin D. And I should try to get outside to the sun for half hour a day, especially in the winter. Then, he told me, if I tested low for vitamin D, he might prescribe a supplement for me.

     I hadn't heard about any anti-cancer effects of vitamin D, so after I got home from my appointment I did a little research.

     The American Cancer Society has a report on the topic, pointing out that very few foods naturally contain Vitamin D, so some people may not get enough from their everyday diet. There's vitamin D in some fish like salmon, tuna and sardines, as well as in beef liver and cod liver oil. Milk and orange juice are often fortified with calcium and vitamin D. And you make your own vitamin D from sunlight.

     According to the National Cancer Institute, vitamin D's potential anti-cancer qualities were first identified when doctors noticed that groups of people from southern latitudes were showing lower rates of cancer than people in more northern climes. And so researchers started doing some tests. In mice, vitamin D exhibited several activities that might prevent or slow the development of cancer, including decreasing cancer cell growth and reducing blood vessel formation in tumors.

     A survey in the 1990s of more than 3,000 humans, mostly men, showed that those with the highest vitamin D intake were less likely to have advanced cancer than those with low intake. A study published in 2007 of 1,179 women over age 55 showed that those who took calcium and vitamin D, or who otherwise had high levels of vitamin D, had significantly less risk for all types of cancer combined.

     Some other studies failed to produce these results, and one even associated an increased risk of pancreatic cancer with high levels of vitamin D, especially among smokers. But a researcher who collected and analyzed a series of studies seemed to confirm the protective effects of vitamin D, in particular for colon and rectal cancer.

     So, like my doctor said, the studies are suggestive, but not conclusive. The American Cancer Society does say that people over age 50 whose skin does not make as much vitamin D, and people who live in northern areas with limited sun exposure, and adults with darker skin, may be at risk of vitamin D deficiency. These people might consider a supplement -- although all the experts say it's better if you can get your vitamin D in foods rather than pills.

     So for most of us, I guess we should just eat some fish, drink our milk, and quaff some orange juice fortified with calcium and vitamin D. As for me, I actually like salmon and tuna, but I'm not going to order up sardines any time soon. And I drink my share of milk -- I can deal with 1%, but cannot stomach skim milk, so I hope that little bit of fat isn't going to pose other problems that I'm trying to stave off by drinking milk in the first place.

     And, I'm sorry to say, apparently the milk products in ice cream are not fortified with vitamin D, so going out for ice cream doesn't count.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Phoney Business

An old stalwart from the 1970s
     Right here, sitting on my desk next to my computer, I have an old push-button phone. I picked it up from my office at work when the company revamped its phone system sometime around 1986. The phone itself probably dates to the 1970s ... and still works just fine. The only problem is that it doesn't have caller i.d.

     For some reason I got thinking about the different telephones we have around the house, and how telephones have changed during our lifetime. Upstairs, we have the white phone (below) that B got at some point in the dim, distant past. Is it a Princess? In any case, what would you say -- on hold since the 1980s?

Our cute upstairs phone
     We have a slightly more up-to-date portable phone in the kitchen; I'd i.d. it from sometime in the mid-to-late 1990s. It was a huge advancement at the time because the handset isn't hard-wired to the base. You can walk around while you talk, even take it outside to the yard. And yes, it has caller i.d. The only problem is that now, 15 years later, the battery is beginning to wear down. It doesn't hold a charge for very long anymore. 
The kitchen portable

     And then there are the cellphones. Here's what we still have around ...

This even looks historic
     ... an early version with an aerial, from circa 2000. It was my son's first cellphone; and a few years later he handed it over to me, as my first cellphone, when ... 

My phone, until a month ago
     ... he got this new phone (right) ...

     ... which he in turn transferred over to me when he got a Blackberry, and even though he traded in his Blackberry for an iPhone long ago, I kept his old phone until ...

My son's old Blackberry

Everyone's impressed with my new phone
     ...  just recently when I finally called up a smart phone -- the Samsung 4, which is a very impressive phone, but to be perfectly honest, I have yet to figure out how to use it. Oh, I can make a phone call; I can text; I can take photos. But I have yet to access the Internet or get an app for the phone, or do any of the hundreds of other things it can do. Just haven't found the time to figure it all out yet; but I will ... I will, I promise.

     So tell me, what's the oldest phone you have in your house? Meantime, yes, I know I should bring all those old cellphones to recycling -- but gimme a break, at least I've graduated beyond this:

Although, honestly, it's more my style

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Remember Her?

     She is a first cousin to 90-year-old Shimon Perez. She is 89, lives in New York City, and was recently in the news.

     Shimon Perez was born Szymon Perski in Poland in August 1923. He moved to Palestine with his family in the 1930s, and became a leading Israeli statesman, serving as Minister of Defense, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prime Minister, and since 2007 as President of Israel.

     She was born Betty Joan Perske in The Bronx, NY, in September 1924. Her mother, Natalie, came from Romania. Her father was born in New Jersey, to parents who'd immigrated from Poland. She was an only child. Her father turned out to be an alcoholic, and her parents divorced when she was only five years old. Afterwards she lived with her mother and took her name.

     She went to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, the oldest acting school in America. She got a job as a theater usher, and began to work as a fashion model. She won an opportunity, with a friend of hers, to meet her idol Bette Davis, and at age 17 she made her acting debut on Broadway with a walk-on role.

     Her picture was spotted in a woman's magazine, so the story goes, by the wife of movie director Howard Hawkes. She urged him to give the model an audition for his next project, the film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. Hawkes asked his secretary to find out more about the young woman. The secretary misunderstood the request, and instead sent her a ticket to Los Angles for an audition. Hawkes saw her in Hollywood, and signed her to a seven year contract.

     Hawkes's wife took the 19-year-old ingenue under her wing, dressing her stylishly and teaching her the Hollywood ropes. During screen tests for To Have and Have Not, she was nervous, and she pressed her chin against her chest to keep from shaking. Then just as the cameras rolled she'd look up and tilt her eyes up to face the camera. The effect became known as "The Look" and became her trademark.

     Have you guessed who she is yet? She went on to star with Humphrey Bogart, and even though he was married at the time, and he was 25 years her senior, the two of them fell in love. They were married in 1945 -- she was Bogart's fourth wife -- and remained married until Bogart's death.

     In 1945 she also made a trip to Washington, D.C. and got her picture taken sitting on the piano with then-vice president Harry Truman. The photos made a splash, creating headlines literally around the world.

     After To Have and Have Not (1944) she played opposite Charles Boyer in Confidential Agent (1945), then again with Bogart in several film noir movies: The Big Sleep (1946), Dark Passage (1947) and Key Largo (1948).

     In the 1950s the star (she's Lauren Bacall, in case you haven't figured it out yet; Bacall was her mother's name) expanded her repertoire to other roles, including comedy opposite Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire (1953) and opposite Gregory Peck in Designing Woman (1957). She also did a TV adaptation of The Petrified Forest, co-starring husband Humphrey Bogart, along with Henry Fonda and Jack Klugman.

     Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart had two children together, before his death from cancer in 1957. Afterwards, Bacall began seeing Frank Sinatra, and then in 1961 she went on to marry Jason Robards. They had one son, and got divorced in 1969, reportedly because Robards was an alcoholic.

     In the 1960s she curtailed her career, turning down scripts, acting in only a few movies, although she did appear on Broadway several times and won two Tony awards.

     Bacall also garnered a number of film awards, and in 1999 was voted one of the 25 most significant female movie stars in history by the American Film Institute. But she never won an Oscar, until 2009 when she was awarded an Honorary Academy Award for "her central place in the Golden Age of motion pictures."

     Throughout her life, Lauren Bacall has been active in various political causes. She campaigned for Adlai Stevenson, was a staunch opponent of McCarthyism, and later campaigned for the Kennedys. However, despite her liberal views, she was friends with the conservative John Wayne, with whom she'd costarred in two movies. She also wrote two memoirs Lauren Bacall: By Myself (1978) and Now (1994), and did an update in 2010 called By Myself and Then Some.

     So how has she been in the news lately? A Chicago law firm wrote a memo to female staff members, encouraging women to dress modestly, telling them not to giggle or squirm, advising them to keep their voice low -- to "think Lauren Bacall, not Marilyn Monroe." The memo got out to the public, was criticized as sexist and lampooned on several websites.

     Nevertheless, despite the memo's cluelessness, I think the advice would be taken as a compliment to the incomparable Lauren Bacall. Don't you?


Saturday, November 2, 2013

I Don't Make My Bed Here Anymore

     I left work over ten years ago. And yet work is still with me. Do you still have dreams about your job? Are they happy ones, or nightmares?

     I had what I would call a middling successful career, working for four different companies throughout my life, not counting the jobs I had when I was still in school. Some jobs were better than others. Some were fun and rewarding at times, but boring and stressful at others.

     The last fulltime job I had -- the one I had the longest -- was with a book and magazine publisher. The actual work was mostly interesting, but the people could be difficult, especially during my last years when the company -- like a lot of print publishers -- was having problems. Management was always anxious, never knowing quite what to do about changing tastes and changing habits. They tried one strategy, then another, until they came upon one tactic that improved the bottom line, at least for a while -- what they called "right sizing," which as everyone knows means layoffs.

     The layoffs came in waves, usually once a year, sometimes twice a year, sometimes smaller waves, sometimes bigger ones. I especially remember 1996. That was a tidal wave. Somehow I was spared that tsunami and ironically, because the ranks were so thinned out, I was then able to work my way into more responsibility and got a promotion and was, briefly, even making more money.

     But be careful what you wish for. Now, instead of watching other people get laid off, I was thrown into the position of being the hatchet man. I vividly remember the four different occasions when I had to go into someone's office, carefully place the dreaded manila envelope that came from Human Resources on their desk, and tell them they were being laid off. Meanwhile, I watched with both regret and envy as a few other people quit their jobs, either to take early retirement or go to another job in different company.

    But in a declining company in a declining industry, that situation didn't last long. Eventually I was the one on the receiving end of the manila envelope, which I approached with a mix of panic and delight. Panic because . . . how was I going to support myself? I was well into my 50s. Who hires anyone in their 50s? And delight . . . because I was finally going to be delivered out of this poisonous, stressful and untenable situation.

     As it turns out, I was able to find my own way, making some money as a freelancer and consultant, and with my kids mostly grown up I had fewer financial responsibilities. So in retrospect, that day I was laid off should be counted as one of the happiest days of my life.

     But wounds leave scars. They remain with you, even many years later. I still have dreams about my old job -- they're not always nightmares, but they are usually disturbing.

     Last night I dreamed . . . I was lying in a bed in the corner of an office. Was I just waking up, or taking a nap? I'm not sure. But I remember the covers were all messed up, the pillow askew, the bedspread all crumpled up, the sheet trailing on the floor.

     I heard voices in an outer room, friendly voices, but they were discussing some sort of business issue. I got up and opened the door. My old boss was standing outside, talking with a group of colleagues. They were dressed in business clothes. I was wearing a t-shirt and pajama bottoms,with bare feet. But I wasn't embarrassed.

     The people in the group turned their heads to look at me, and offered a friendly greeting. I nodded cordially, then started to make my way out of the room, not back to the office with the bed, but out into a hallway.

     As I reached the door, my old boss casually called to me, pointing back into the office. "Tom, don't forget to make your bed."

     I looked over through the door and saw the bed, all in a jumble. A sudden realization came to me. And I laughed as I said, "I don't have to make my bed, anymore. Goodbye!"