Saturday, March 31, 2018

A sad ending

I set my alarms to wake me up early this morning, and this meant I wouldn't get much sleep. So I took a quick shower, got dressed, and prepared for the expected bad news.  Around noon, the dealership's service representative told me that the car repair would cost at least $2400, and I was very glad that I made sure to get a loaner vehicle before leaving the dealership.  At least, this car will likely have made a last visit to a shop until my next oil change needs to be done.

Now that I had wheels, I ended up driving home to rest before having to go out again.  Ex-GF-M's wake would start at 4 pm, and I would be expected to be there.  I also had a dinner date at 6 pm with the Cat Lady (TCL), and this could be cancelled at any moment due to a health problem that pops up from time to time.

- - - - - -

Around 3:30, I drove down to Dobbs Ferry to attend Ex-GF-M's Wake.  When I got there, I saw her family, and we chatted like old friends. And then I chatted with Ex-GF-M's sister in law.  It seems that her brother and sister's families felt that my ex had been pushing all of them away, as she continually looked for accolades for doing favors for others.  At a certain point, they got tired of my ex, and put a distance between their families and her. They had also been concerned for my ex's health for years, but they couldn't help her help herself.

(A picture of Ex-GF-M taken in 2003)

As you can see in the above picture, Ex-GF-M was a Zaftig woman.  She was already wearing a Woman's size 3X in this picture.  When we broke up in 2011, she was already on a downward path, and I as a food addict had to break away from her, so that I could have a chance of breaking this addiction. Several years later, I saw her at one of her parents' wakes. And her health had already deteriorated enough that she needed a cane to walk.  She was not willing to do the exercises needed to restore her mobility, nor was she ready to lose the weight needed to make it easy to get around.

Move forward a couple of years, and I decided to renew contact with my ex, so that it wouldn't be awkward to ask for career placement services from the department she once ran.  However, by the time I tried to see her again, she was in a rush to complete her doctorate and didn't have the time to meet. One week after she was awarded her doctorate, she was dismissed from her job of 20 years.  And that ended my chances of using her department as a vehicle to help me find new work.

In today's conversation with with my ex's sister in law, one word that kept coming up again and again - "Preventable".  There was a trace of anger in her voice, as the family cared for my ex, but my ex was too stubborn to be helped by others. And the sister in law understood why, as a food addict, I had to escape the relationship - I needed that chance of preventing myself from taking the path my ex took - isolation, disability, then death.

My Ex's Sister in Law (SIL) told me that my Ex had been living in the downstairs apartment with her Mother in Law (MIL) for the past 7 years. The tiles on the porch were loose, and the steps were treacherous in bad weather. It was an unsafe place for a person with bad legs to live. But SIL never was comfortable with my Ex living in the same building as her late husband's mother.  SIL felt that my Ex should have stayed for a year, then left for new digs. Not leaving created a codependent relationship between my Ex and her Mother in Law.

The second to last time I saw my ex was during a quick visit to her house in September.  The place reeked of poorly cared for dogs, as she had three rescue animals in a place which could barely house two people at best. It was a quick visit, and one that would help provide further insight when in today's conversation with SIL.  When they entered the ground floor apartment after my Ex's death, they found that the house was infested with pests. SIL told me that the garage door had been breached by vermin, and that the house was virtually uninhabitable. Specialists in Hazmat suits will be needed to clean out the place, as it sickened them to be anywhere inside the building.  To make things even worse, they didn't even know where the keys were to the upstairs apartment, and didn't know how they could gain entry until they could gain title to the building.  Of course, with MIL's will still in probate, and the status of my Ex's uncertain, there is no quick way for the family to show that they have the right to enter the place.

There was much more that I wanted to find out, and so little time.  About 1 month ago, my Ex had a glucose attack.  So I looked up what blood sugar levels should be in a person without diabetes:

For someone without diabetes, a fasting blood sugar on awakening should be under 100 mg/dl. Before-meal normal sugars are 70–99 mg/dl. “Postprandial” sugars taken two hours after meals should be less than 140 mg/dl.

My Ex's brother told me that when she was admitted to the hospital, her blood sugar level was over 1,000 mg/dl. When he got there, the attending physician told him that her levels were at 200 mg/dl.  This was not good.  But they stabilized her, and eventually transferred her to a rehab center where she was supposed to stay for a while.

E, the woman who introduced me to my Ex joined in our conversation and told us that my Ex had a feeling she was going to die (from a couple of her conversations with my Ex), and that she was at peace with it. Over the past few months, E had tried to reach my Ex, but she wasn't answering the phone - even though she was at home.  EX-GF-M was acting like an animal who instinctively knew it was dying. Like the animal, my Ex had found her own "Hidey Hole" and was waiting for the Grim Reaper to take her.

According to my her Brother, Ex-GF-M started shouting out "I can't breathe!" from her bed in the rehab center. And my Ex was rushed back to the hospital where a pulmonary embolism took her life.  SIL recognized the vicious cycle at work - Ex-GF-M couldn't do the exercises she needed to do to get better in her last months, and she got progressively worse as a result.  Ex-GF-M's stubbornness pushed her family away from her, and kept her from doing the very things she needed to do to stay alive.

All too quickly, my deadline of 5 pm came.  I knew that it was extremely unlikely that I would see any of these people again, and that the bond I once had with the family was gone. I was now a visitor from the past, someone with friendly intent to help comfort them in their time of need. And I wish them the best, because this loss will be one that may haunt them for years. The word "Preventable" will keep coming to mind, and they will likely wonder what they could have done to prevent this woman from dying decades too early.

- - - - - -

Next, it was off to TCL's place.  It took me a full hour to get there, and that was in rush hour traffic.  She was in a much more talkative mood than usual tonight, and it was not because she wanted to share news of her new grandson.  Instead, she needed to talk about problems going on with her job, and I couldn't get in a word edgewise.  Later on, when she asked if I could sense that she was nervous, I mentioned that she was talking faster tonight. (She tends to talk much more when she is nervous.)  She needed the glass of wine she had at dinner to relax enough for me to talk a little.

TCL will be going down to her Daughter's place for Easter to see her new Grandson.  Hopefully, we'll be able to see each other during spring break week before she has to  go back to work....

Friday, March 30, 2018

A mediocre lunch, a visit to Lili's doctor, a new dress, and the death of an ex-girlfriend.

My face looks like crap, my wig looks terrible, and the framing of the photograph is worse than cow dung. And yet, I like the dress.  It's not my color, but it's not bad for a summer wedding.  I think I'll keep it....

- - - - - -

But first....

Lili still had a little resentment at me not having lunch with her yesterday.  But she was not upset enough to be angry, as she knew in her heart that it was a problem with us reaching each other AND me making other plans quickly as a result of the miscommunication.

I made sure to be able to get to a Chinese restaurant near her that we've visited before. And on the way there, I had a problem with my car - the "engine hot" indicator came on for the first time since the "near zero" weather we had in January. So I did the same thing I did then, and the light went off. Then, I drove slowly to the restaurant, and figured that I'd pour in some coolant some time later in the afternoon.

Lili was already in the restaurant when I got there, but service was flawed to say the least.  We had to track down our waiter to get our order placed, and then it took forever for us to get our food.  When it did come, it was either Luke-warm or cold,depending on whether you asked me or Lili. Either way, we were unhappy with the egg rolls and the soup. By the time the main course came, we had to rush to get out the door by 1 pm.  Lili complained to the man in charge and he dismissed her saying that if she didn't like the place, she didn't have to eat there again.  So if you're near the Golden House restaurant in Jefferson Valley, go elsewhere if you want service or a well cooked meal.

- - - - - -

Once out of the restaurant, we rushed down to Valhalla where Lili had an appointment with her weight loss doctor. She's not familiar with the area, and depends on Google directions for almost everywhere she drives in the area. I, on the other hand, needed only to glance at a map and get an idea of where the building was to get where we were going. Unfortunately, our two different ways of looking at things can cause us problems if we have to drive somewhere and be there at a specific time. And this could have been one of those times - but it wasn't. When Lili reminded me that she was the one writing the check, it put things into perspective.  As long as she didn't overdo it, the doctor's office had to accommodate people who were a few minutes late.

As we left the doctor's office, Lili was unhappy.  She'd have to go on a liquid diet to help her stomach shrink to a "new normal" size, and then eat a carefully planned diet. (You can see why I don't go for the surgery - I'd go nuts with all the restrictions she now has to live with.) So we had one last ice cream together before going our separate ways. And then I filled up my car's radiator with coolant and went home to nap....

- - - - - -

When I eventually got moving again, I knew I had to try on the dress in the picture above.  It was impossible for me to zip it up from the rear. But I was fortunate that I could get it on by sticking my head into the dress and making it fall over me (as if it were a dress without a zipper).  It still took a little work to get it on correctly, but I think it's a good fit.  And so does the Cat Lady (TCL) and Lili.  So I changed back into what I was wearing earlier and started my trip to Yonkers. But the Pooka that's been bedeviling me for the past few weeks played some more mischief - the car started smoothly, and all the idiot lights went out.  This will be a problem when I bring the car into the dealership in the morning, but I'll worry about it then.

On the way down to Yonkers, I picked up a Mickey D's meal and started munching away while en-route to game night. And then I got a Facebook friend request from Ex-GF-M's brother.  I knew something must be up, so I responded to him. And he told me that his sister passed away this morning from a pulmonary embolism. I knew she was in bad health, so this was not unexpected.  Yet, little did I think that when I broke up with her about 7 years ago, that I'd be seeing her obituary before she turned 65.

I reached game night too late for the first round of games. This was not a big deal, as I wanted to be in touch with key friends and family and pass this news along.  My brother tried to contact me while playing games, and I was not going to voice chat while in Marian mode with others.  So I passed along the news that I had, and said that I'd be going to the wake tomorrow.  (Of course, this puts my on-time arrival at TCL's place at risk. But she will understand.  I certainly do not want to go to voice therapy on Saturday as Mario, nor do I want to go to the funeral as Marian. So this gives me only a short window to pay my respects.)  The second round of games was fun, and I got to hang out with a new lady.  It seems as if we're now being labeled "female friendly" and I'm glad of it.

- - - - - -

It was a smart thing to do to drive back home at a measured pace, and not rushing home at highway speeds. If the problem I've been having was to be triggered again, then a slow drive might be the best way to trigger it.  Unfortunately, I won't know if I'm successful until tomorrow morning when I drive to the dealership for service.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Volunteering - for the first time in several weeks.

It was the first time in several weeks that I went to the GLBT Center to do a volunteer stint. And if I didn't have a schedule to adhere to, I'd have stayed at home and hibernated some more.  This is why I've tried to do things in the volunteer world - it prevents me from totally retreating from the world.

- - - - - -

Today's task at the GLBT Center was simple and monotonous. And that was perfect for the mood I was in. First, I had to update a spreadsheet with this month's dates for all planned support group meetings. Then, I had to transcribe the topics of peer group discussions into another spreadsheet. And finally, I had to enter all the volunteer hours on another spreadsheet.  It's hard to believe that there is this much activity going on in a place where I usually don't see much activity.

While entering data into the spreadsheet for peer group discussions, I noticed how detailed the list was for the transgender groups. What I seem to have done on my own with research and online discussions, these people are doing in their peer groups.  Our hopes, fears, and challenges are common - we just go about dealing with them in a very different manner. And there is no one right answer for all the questions we pose.  Some of us deal with the anxiety of buying clothes, as I did in my early days of recognizing my transgender nature. Others are further along this path and are dealing with the issues of getting hormones and the physical changes the hormones do to the body. All of us are going in the same direction, but not all of us will reach the same goals, as each of us has to choose our final destination.

- - - - - -

After the GLBT center, I decided to look at the new offerings at The Avenue.  They are finally getting in the Spring offerings, and I will likely buy a few T-Shirts for the summer, as I like their colors. But I am a little concerned.  They may be rebranding some of their stores to go for a younger, less Zaftig customer - and Yonkers may be one of those stores.  (Stana has noted this has happened with some of the Dress Barn outlets.  But she has the body and shape where these changes will not be a bother for her.)  Hopefully, they will still keep selling the size 28-30 clothing I need.

And then it was back home for the night....

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Starting off the week by expecting more snow.

Over the past few days, I have seen quite a few electric trucks in the local area that come from other regions of the continent. For example, I've noticed Canadian trucks (Toronto and Quebec) as well as American trucks (Tennessee and Colorado). And still, people are waiting to be hooked back up to the grid from the first storm - an event which happened over 10 days ago (at the time of this writing).

- - - - - -

The important tasks on my to-do list for Monday are:
  1. Contact an in-network dermatologist, and have him/her perform an examination of my face and back.
  2. Make appointment to drop paperwork off at accountant for tax preparation.
  3. Make appointment with Honda dealership to bring car in for diagnosis of "idiot light" problem, then schedule repair and time with loaner car.
  4. Pay bills.
  5. Check with Verizon in regard to new "unlimited" plan that allows me to have unlimited calls, texts, and "unlimited" (22 gig, unthrottled) data.
  6. Convert NY Times subscription to "Electronic Delivery Only" to save money.
  7. Check with tattoo/piercing artist for information of how to get ear pierced, and yet be unnoticeable by casual observers.
  8. Buy ticket to Mel Brooks' appearance in May
Do I expect to get this all done?  No.  But I figure that I can get the most important things done, and do other things later on.  And hopefully, be back at home before the expected snow comes in the evening.

- - - - - -

I didn't get moving until late afternoon.  It's been ages since I dropped in at The Avenue and at Catherine's, so I decided to head that way for "entertainment" and maybe, a little retail therapy.  After joking a little with the store manager, I realized that DD's problem with her may have been an over exaggeration. But without being there for the incident she reported, I'll never know for sure. However, there was only one item I wanted to buy at The Avenue, and I challenge you to tell me what this is:

If you thought it's a sex toy, you're not alone.  The store manager thought so too when she first saw it.  If DD were still with the store, I'd have been a little graphic and said:

"How can it satisfy when it's even shorter than our president?"

But I kept it cleaner than I would with trusted friends.  You can bet that I will bring this to game night this week and joke with the hostess and any other women there - while keeping things clean enough to be invited back.

- - - - - -

On the way home, I stopped at Walmart to pick up some groceries.  Of course, "healthy food" did not make it into my cart.  Instead, the very food my doctor advises against came home with me. At least, I made sure that I picked up the Oreos for my weekly contribution on Thursday night.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A "Long" Weekend with GFJ

Friday came, and my car was scheduled to visit the shop again....

This is getting to be a habit I'd gladly break.  I lose my car for the day, and we're still not sure of what the problem is.  My brother has some ideas. But if one of them is right, it'll be an expensive thing to fix - spending money that I can ill afford to spend.

I got up early, and drove my car to the mechanic.  The idiot lights were on when I drove the half mile to the shop, and I discussed the problem I had a couple of months ago when the weather was below zero for several days.  When I was driven home, the idiot lights recycled. So I told the driver how I was driving for the past few days, and that my last drive had me going for 30 minutes at 70 mph from Yonkers to Croton before I turned off the engine for the night.  The engine was running normally hot (as you'd expect at highway speeds) and this may have something to do about this morning's idiot light reset.

Later on, I was told that there was no charge, but that the mechanic couldn't go any further. He said to take the car to the Honda dealership if the problem happened again, as he believes that the head gasket is failing AND that it's not a job he feels comfortable in doing. When asked for a ballpark figure, the mechanic estimated that it would likely cost me $2,000 or so.  Ouch!  But it will be worth it to keep this car on the road for a few more years.

- - - - - -

The sun rose on Saturday, and I rose to get prepared as Marian while GFJ was relaxing on the couch.  (She has a long term sleep problem where she will go to sleep with the CPAP mask on, wake up 3 hours later, and not be able to sleep after that - except in stretches during the day.  Her GP wants her to see both a sleep specialist and a shrink regarding this, but there are not enough doctors on her insurance plan for her.)  When I started the car for my drive, the 3 idiot lights came back on - and I knew for sure that the car was going back to the dealer sometime in the near future.

My session with speech therapy went well, and I cruised back to the apartment, where I didn't expect GFJ to be.  (She had planned to go out for a walk, and come back after I had changed back to Mario.)  Well, she was in the shower, as she had went back to sleep after I left for my weekly session in Dobbs Ferry. So I went into my bedroom and changed back into Mario for the rest of her stay here.

We were both hungry, and went to the diner. Unfortunately, we couldn't find a movie worth seeing after that, as there were only two in the region I wanted to see, and both could be ruled out for two completely different reasons.  The first, a presentation in Pleasantville, was a 60+ year old French film, Bob le flambeur.  One problem - GFJ hates subtitles.  The other, a presentation in NYC, was The Death of Stalin. I ruled out this film simply because of the hassle of going to see it.  So we ended up going to Trader Joe's to pick up some food, and going home for the night.

- - - - - -

GFJ had to go to her mom's on Sunday morning, so neither of us had much time with each other.  In a way, this was good, as I needed some time to myself. And we would still have the same problem today as we had yesterday - what should we do?  Living as close to NYC as we do, we could go into the city and go to a museum.  But I'm not sure if she'd be comfortable doing this on a bright sunny day.

So what did I do?  I could have gone out as Marian.  But this lingering mild cold told me that resting would be the best choice of things to do for the day. And that is what I did.  Later on, GFJ called me on the way home. She mentioned what I could do with her left over food - none of which made it anywhere else but the trash bin.  If I had realized that she had left half of a pastrami sandwich in the refrigerator, I'd have eaten that instead of tossing it out. But I was able to enjoy a couple of Chicken Parmigiana sandwiches I made from ingredients already on hand.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Some things could not be avoided - such as snow.


As soon as I got home from the cruise, I had to prepare for an oncoming snow storm, as well as attend a co-op board meeting.  AARGH!  I'd have preferred to stay on the cruise ship for another 11 days.

Once I got home, I took the time to rest for a while before changing into Mario - for the first time in almost 2 weeks. Once in Mario mode, I started to take the write-ups I typed onboard ship and generated blog entries with photos captured during the cruise. Although I didn't finish up this work before the board meeting, I completed it afterwards - and freed myself up to write entries on a relaxed schedule until I am back to a normal lead time.

I knew that tonight's board meeting would be rough. We had serious issues that had to be discussed with our managing agent, and several had to be carefully addressed as part of our ongoing process of dealing with the aftermath of the sudden loss of our former site representative.  (No, I can't go into any further details here.)  The meeting took longer than expected, as one board member kept getting lost in both details and process - something we can't afford if we want to get everything done as planned in our meetings.

- - - - - -


I didn't sleep that well the night before because I left my CPAP mask off. So I put my mask on, and ended up in blissful comfort until the afternoon came. There was no reason to get up. Snow was already coating the driveway, and I had nowhere to go.   Since I had to get up, I decided to get comfortable (again) and watch the idiot box in my bedroom until getting a call from Lili. Not much was going on there.  Her boyfriend went to work at the hospital, and she was a little lonesome and wanted someone to chat with. And that worked well with me, as I was in the same mood.

Towards dinner time, I decided to call my brother. He decided to go to work today (he's the CFO of a Long Island based company) and was just getting into his driveway as I called. So that call ended up earlier than I wanted. So I tried to reach GFJ, and she wasn't available. Later on, she called, and we were on the phone for about an hour - continuing our call after power went out at her place. And then, I was interrupted by HWA, who also needed to chat for a while.  It seemed like everyone who had no where else to be was starting to call me today.

- - - - - -


It looks like GFJ is coming over on Friday night, making herself scarce on Saturday morning while I'm in Marian mode, and returning when I'm again presenting as Mario.  This means that I can not even attempt scheduling anything with the Cat Lady until next week.  For the most part, it's OK with me, as I want to spend some quality time with GFJ before she boogies off to her cousin's place on Sunday morning.

This was a day where I didn't get much done.  I wanted to pay some bills, check with my health insurance carrier about dermatologists, and do some laundry.  Everything I wanted to do got pushed into tomorrow's task list because I didn't have the energy to do more than clean off my car and move it before the plow came.

When I finally got moving to game night, I had a warning - game night was still on, but parking space would be at a premium.  Luckily, it was a smaller game night than usual and one of the gang (L) was dropped off (and later picked up) by her husband. So there were more than enough parking spots on the street for everyone who needed one.  L is a nice lady, and she asked me for my email address.  I found out why when I got home - I had an invite to her 41st birthday party.  YAY!  Although it is at a Karaoke club, it looks like fun. I'll just have to tell GFJ that I'd be coming up that Sunday morning instead of Saturday afternoon. Hopefully, GFJ won't be too upset about my schedule for that weekend....

On the way home from Yonkers, I was driving between 65 and 70 mph. Suddenly, I felt my car being "drafted" on the side by a car going much faster than I was going.  If I could have clocked him, I'd bet he had to be going at least 90 mph or so. Too bad that the State Troopers weren't on the road at the time.  Several minutes later, as I was about to take the flyover from the Taconic to Route 9A, I saw several cars stopped on the exit ramp. And then, I saw a car flipped over on the grass between the Taconic and the flyover.  Could this have been the same driver?  Who knows?  But people in the cars stopped on the side of the flyover were already trying to help the person in the car, and I was not in a position to help. So I drove home and thanked my lucky stars that I was safe and sound.... 

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 11 - Return to NYC

Winter Cruise: Day 11 - Return to NYC.

It was nice to come home today.  The captain said we'd be arriving at the dock at roughly 10 am, and that we did.  Of course, Lili was upset that I was waking her up. But then again, she's not a person who likes getting up before 11 am if possible.

I ended waking up around 8 am, and started with my final preparations to leave the ship. Lili didn't start getting moving until 9 am, and we were both ready to get off the ship by 10 am. However, many more people had the same idea, and we had to wait on a long line to get off the ship.  Once off the ship, we had to go through customs. And this meant herding all the former passengers into a path that took us through the building, down an escalator or elevator to the floor where the customs desks are, and then routing this flow to one of up to 16 customs agents.  So it's amazing to me that people could flow through the building as quickly as they did.

My path differed from Lili's path due to one choice - she wanted to wait for a slow elevator, while I took a quick escalator.  And I ended up having to wait for her to rejoin my path before proceeding to the customs agents. I figure that once we hit the ground floor, that it took no more than 15 minutes to reach a customs agent. And when I reached the agent, I took off my glasses and spoke in my male voice, saying: " Yes, that's me!" After a couple of glances at me and my passport, the agent waved me on, and we were free to go and wait for our ride home.

Lili's boyfriend reached the dock at the same time we reached the place where we arranged to be picked up.  It was perfect timing for a change. To make things even better, I got home to an apartment where there was no power interruption during the prior storm, and Lili was able to return to a home where she had both power and internet.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 10 - At Sea.

Day 10 - At Sea.

Again, I got up very late and wasted most of the day away. I was still recovering from the bug I had, but was better able to eat food that Lili brought to me for breakfast. Unfortunately, what she brought back was way too much starch, but easy to digest. And this is what I needed most after a couple of days of dealing with a bug.

Looking at the above picture of our ship's sister vessel, you might get an idea of how much the ship was rocking with a day left before reaching New York.  When the ship hit a wave the wrong way, it was as if a giant sledgehammer was hitting the side of the ship. If one was walking, one might feel as if she went from .5 G to 1.5 G in less than a second. It was not an easy time to be in a cabin near the ship's bow, so I tried to spend as much time as possible in one of the ship's lounges.

Sometime in the afternoon, we tried to reach the mainland with Lili’s remaining free phone minutes. One call to Lili’s next door tenant told her much more about the shape of her property than her boyfriend did. But I was unable to reach my neighbor for similar information. Hopefully, I’ll have heat and electricity when I get home.

Before dinner, I stopped by the duty free shop to get a gift for GFJ. She may not be interested in rum chocolate turtles, but I wanted to be sure I had something to give her when I see her this weekend. It’ll have been 2+ weeks since we were together and I wanted her to know I missed her. After that, I went to see Jeri Sager perform in the theater. Considering that this was a second performance, her backup band had to rehearse new numbers for tonight’s show. Seeing her show makes me wish even more that I was able to see the first one.

Dinner was at Cagney’s tonight, and I had the fish dinner for a change from the usual. The fish was good. I only wish my stomach would have been safe with another steak dinner. After that, we retired to the room before going our separate ways - me to pick up pictures, and Lili to gamble in the casino.

It’ll be nice to be on solid ground in the morning....

Friday, March 23, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 9 - At Sea.

Day 9 - At Sea.

Seasickness was the focus of my day. I stayed in the cabin until 2:30pm or so, then got something light to eat. And then it was back to the room to rest. Lili occupied herself by gambling until dinner time, and we both got something light for dinner.

Not much to say about the day, save that I played the craps tables a little and had very shitty luck. When my small stash ran out, I watched Pirates of the Caribbean- Dead Men tell no Tales. The best place to see this mindless fluff may just be on the big screen on a ship rocking with stormy seas outside.

At least, this night’s sleep will be more restful than last night’s sleep.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 8 - At Sea.

Day 8 - At Sea.

Both of us woke up late and realized that this would likely be the last day we could go in the hot tub as they were already stacking up deck chairs on level 13 to prepare for the storm. So both of us got into our swimsuits and headed for a quick bite to eat, and then to the tubs. By the time I got to the hot tub, Lili was nowhere to be found, so I hopped in alone. And I was witness to the spectacle of one nubile young woman with wonderfully sculpted artificial breasts moving her hands across her man’s crotch in a public exhibition of wanton desire.  I was far from aroused by this public exhibition of sexual intent. Yet I was interested to see how far she’d go. After 15 minutes, I had enough sun, and it was time to go back to the cabin.

The ship started to rock as we approached the storm, so I should have known better than eat well at dinner. And we should have known better than to eat at Teppanaki, the ship’s Hibachi restaurant. The soup served Lili was sickening, and there was no flavor in the food. The Hibachi place in Croton is much better than this joint, and I wish we were eating there instead. But I should qualify this point a little, as I don’t wish for Lili to be eating out because she has returned to a house still without heat or electricity.

By 11pm, the ship was rocking and I was getting sick. It got so bad, that I vomited - not being sure whether it was seasickness or a virus I caught on board. Either way, I felt like crap and did all I could do to stay tolerably less uncomfortable. Although I was finally able to get some sleep this night, I knew I'd be far from rested when I got up the next day.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 7 - St. Thomas.

Day 7 - St. Thomas.

Lili noted that we were lucky to be on the cruise while the Northeast US was hit with a storm. She called her boyfriend, and he sent pictures of the snow outside the door. The electric was out, and he was stuck fending for himself - but not as well as if Lili were with him. But what’s most worrying is that a couple of trees fell down on her driveway and that they will need to be cleared before the end of weekend.

 D&M flanking Lili and Marian in St. Thomas

In our area of the world, we went ashore with D&M to do some shopping. The stores near the dock were the usual jewelry, liquor, cigarette, and souvenir shops, all geared to make their money extracting money from tourists. I was able to find a bottle of cognac for $44 onshore that I’d have been charged $55 on board. You can guess where I bought my one bottle of booze this trip. What I found most interesting is the number of ex-mainlanders manning the shops. How do they afford living here?

Upon returning to the ship, I encountered no problems with security at the gate. I guess he’s seen it all and done it all already. It was good to get in air conditioned comfort. But I’ll miss the balmy air of the tropics.

Politics has been the topic of many of the conversations as of late, with most people I’ve met saying Washington DC has gone nuts. Even Lili is starting to get interested in what’s going on, and that says a lot about these strange times.

So far, Lili has lost enough money at the casino to pay for this trip twice over. I’m glad she has the assets to do this. As for me, I’m still up $10 from where I started. I expect that I’ll be down $20 by the end of the cruise. But that’s because I may get bored and be willing to play the slots a little more than planned.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 6 - St. Lucia.

Day 6 - St. Lucia.

Neither Lili nor I wanted to get out at this port, but for different reasons. In her case, she didn’t want to take the tender to the island. In my case, I had a feeling that I might have problems being TG. So we both stayed on board the ship and met up with D&M again, and Lili went to the lounge chairs with M. Shortly after I left (didn’t want sunburn), M started getting ill, and Lili had to take her to her cabin.

Later, we ate dinner with two ladies I met in the hallway. In many ways, these ladies remind me of my two neighbors who should be in assisted living facilities - down to the voice of the younger lady, whose speech is identical to my neighbor’s voice. After dinner, Lili noted that she felt that they are a couple of strange people, and I agreed for my own reasons. Anyone who always carries all her valuables with her on the cruise has no trust in other people, and that is a sickness.

While at dinner, we heard an announcement. The ship was skipping Martinique due to weather concerns, and was making its last stop in St. Thomas the next day. Given the storm approaching New York, and the storm building in the Caribbean, this made perfect sense. But is was also a let down, as I wanted to see Martinique on this cruise.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 5 - Antigua.

Day 5 - Antigua.

I was not in a mood to get off the ship and take a shore excursion today. To see the ruins of an old fort didn’t interest me. However, Lili got off the ship and did some shopping. She returned with a nice inexperienced dress that she could and would wear on the cruise.

Later on, we went to one of NCL's specialty restaurants (not sure if it was Cagney’s Steakhouse or Moderna Churrascaria) and has a tasty meal. The difference in service between the specialty restaurants and Magenta is like night and day. We have had problems with Magenta on a previous cruise and on this cruise. But we never have had problems in any of the specialty restaurants (Cagney’s, Moderna, and Le Bistro) on the ship. This makes me wonder about the training given to the staff for the standard restaurants.

When we retired for the evening, Lili was complaining about my CPAP machine making too much noise. I’m not sure what really bothers her. Could it be the occasional air leak? Could it be my chin strap becoming undone, and air coming out through my mouth? or, could it be something else?

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 4 - At Sea.

Day 4 - At Sea.

This was the first day that I could go to the hot tub with Lili. But this visit was unplanned, and I was wearing the wrong wig and didn’t make sure that I was fully denuded of hair. Yet, I enjoyed my soak with Lili. Upon getting back to the room, Lili made sure that my stray hairs were gone, so I will be safe when I go back to the tub again.

I wore my lavender dress today. Lili said that it doesn’t look good on me, and that I should no longer wear it. (After seeing myself in it today, I agree with her.) so it’s likely that I’ll put it in the charity bin sometime later this year. But it will be a good knock-around dress to wear until then. Lili also mentioned that she wished I brought her favorite dress with me. If I had dug deeper into my summer clothes in my storage bins, I’d have brought that dress and my favorite summer dress.

Again, the topic of shore excursions came up. I’m only interested in the cheaper drives around the islands, as I don’t want to walk much and break out a sweat. I’m not interested in the food and drink excursions, as they are all over priced.

We decided to go to a non-specialty restaurant (Magenta) on the ship. Both the service and food were mediocre tonight. If you ever take Norwegian cruises, skip the Chicken Parmigiana if on the menu, as it has the texture and taste of a chicken patty. I’ll probably write to the cruise line when I return to complain.

Since there was one way I could send a cheap outbound message to anyone, I decided to go to the photo kiosk and send a “wish you were here” selfie to GFJ. I intend to send something to the Cat Lady soon, as well as friends I know that know me as Marian.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 3 - At Sea.

Day 3 - At Sea.

Lili woke up and couldn’t find her phone. This wouldn’t normally be a big deal, but Lili gets very nervous when she can’t find things. Then she wanted to find out how to use her free ship to shore phone minutes, and this took a little bit of effort. We found out that she needed to get a PIN number that she would use for the internet - and she wasn’t able to use her access. So she ended up being told that she would have to wait for tomorrow to meet with the person in charge of such things to receive her access code.

We had a nice steak dinner to close out our day. As usual, Lili couldn’t finish her dinner, so she pushed her rib eye steak to me. I’m getting tired of this, but tolerate this behavior from someone who lived in a house where children were taught not to waste food. I’ll bet that this is why many Americans develop food addictions. But this is another story for another day.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 2 - At Sea.

Day 2 - At Sea.

Both Lili and I got up late. On her own, Lili rarely gets up before 11am, and I knew enough not to wake her when there is no reason to do so. Before we left the room, she made some comments on my masculine name being on the card when presenting as female. And she recommended that I get my name changed to a name which can be used in both male and female presentations. (I only wonder if she remembers how much of a pain it was when she got married and changed her family name to her husband’s name.)

As usual, Lili went to the card tables and started to give money back to the cruise line, while I played the slots and won a few dollars. Unlike Lili, I can be quite entertained away from the casino as long as I have a good book to read, an interesting movie to watch, a good band to listen to, or nice people to chat with.

Lili wanted to take some shore excursions, but I wanted to err on the side of caution. I had forgotten to look up the LGBT advisories for St. Lucia, Antigua, and Martinique. Since I had already been to St. Thomas, I wasn’t worried about the island because United States laws applied here. But I wasn’t going to say much about this to Lili. Instead, I was going to mention a truth about the islands - if you’ve seen one small island, you’ll rarely see anything that isn’t already familiar to you on a new island. Most have at least one old fort, many have small rain forests, but all have duty free shopping districts geared to extract as much money from tourists as possible.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Winter Cruise: Day 1 - Embarkation.

Day 1 - Embarkation.

Both Lili and I were running late. She got to my place at 1130, and had no problems getting to the pier. It was strange for me to sit in back, but there was no way Lili was not going to sit next to her boyfriend on the way to the cruise.

I was pleasantly surprised that I had no problems checking in at the pier. Given that this is the age of Trump, no Transgender person can afford the luxury of feeling 100% safe. But, so far, I’ve had few issues while “cruising pretty.” However, there was a minor screw up at the pier that would cause me a little problem later. 

After boarding the ship, I found that my key card wouldn’t open the door, so I had to get a new card issued to me. And this is where the above problem caused me a minor concern - I got a new card issued with my full male name. The fellow at the pier issued a card with the familiar form of my name, whose androgynous nature helps me blend in as female. So I now had to deal with ship personnel occasionally using the dreaded “S” word. 

 Lili's Gift - It looks better than in the photo

Once safely back in the room, Lili gave me the tunic she bought for me. It looked good on me, and I’ll wear it often in the future. Then, I returned the small handbag she gave me, as the strap didn’t lend itself for use as a crossbody bag, and I don’t do well with over the shoulder bags. 

Then it was time for dinner.... Both of us were starving, and didn’t mind being seated with other couples. There was one young couple from New Jersey, and one older couple from Boston. We clicked with both couples, but Lili made friends with the older couple. (Let’s call them D&M for now. I’ll refer to them in later entries.). It was nice to have a tasty dinner at the end of the day, and I was glad to have someone other than Lili to talk with on the cruise.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

'Twas the night before cruising, and all through the house....

Twas the night before cruising, and all through the house
This transgal was stirring, and wearing a blouse....

OK, so I started this entry off in a corny way. But by the time you read this, I'll be back from the cruise with a lot of things to say about being alone in a room with Lili for 10 days.

- - - - - -

Lili and I were supposed to go for a Mani-Pedi today.  But late last night, Lili sent me a message that she had to make an emergency visit to an Oral Surgeon.  One of her teeth broke overnight, and she had to arrange for it to be pulled before we went away. So this freed me up to go for my Mani-Pedi all by my lonesome.

I didn't do much during the day, save for removing a few items from my suitcase, and took it easy until about 2:30.  Then, I got showered, shaved, made up, and dressed - and out the door to the nail salon.  It was a terrible day to go for a pedicure, as it was wet outside and I wasn't going to wear sandals on a cold, rainy, February day. By the time I got to the nail salon, it was 3:30, and I was there for almost 2 hours.  It was one of the rare times I was comfortable in the chair, as I was able to get the nail technician to push the seat back as far as it would go before she worked on my feet.

When I left the salon, I chatted with Lili.  She wished I had told her when I was going to the salon, as she would have come down to have her nails done at the same time as mine. But I was just as glad not to have her there, as the place's vibe was one of a relaxed mellowness. More importantly, I was in a position where I could have easily fallen to sleep - and didn't want to talk with anyone while in the salon.

- - - - - -

Arriving home, the rain started to come down harder than it was earlier in the afternoon, and I figured that it was best for me to be in for the night.  So it was off with the wig, and back to packing duties....

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Thoughts about my upcoming cruise.

Lili and I enjoy cruising together, but for very different reasons. She likes being able to get away with one of her small number of friends and I like being able to travel as Marian. We accept each other for who we are, but neither of us ever really understands the other, as we come from very different places in life.

- - - - - -

When Lili thinks of a discount, she doesn't look at the real cost. She's the type of person who sees the phrase "30% off" over the rack of dresses on the wall and doesn't think that this is the "normal" base price for which these goods are meant to be sold. So when she talked about getting a discount on shore excursions, she didn't think to look at whether I'd be getting the same discount.

You'll note that I could always piggyback on Lili's internet packages and her phone call credit. But the $50 shore excursion discount applies only to her.  This doesn't bother me too much, as once you've seen the highlights of one tropical island, you've seen something similar to the highlights of most other tropical islands in a region.  So I may go one one excursion, but I won't bother seeing everything.

- - - - - -

I look at cruising as a way to get away from my routine of surfing the web, walking around clothing stores, and taking long drives. It turns me from a simple couch potato into a couch sweet potato.  No, I'm not as bad as that.  But sometimes I wonder....  Every time I go out as Marian, I am a little happier than if I had gone out as Mario.  So to be able to spend 10 days away from home as Marian is a great pleasure for me.

When I'm home, I usually schedule my time in blocks of "Mario Days" and "Marian Days", where I can commit to a single presentation for a whole day.  It gets trickier when I have to be in both presentations in the same day, such as when I have the dentist in the afternoon and game night in the evening. Then, I have to completely remove one identity and replace it with the other - a time consuming activity at best. This can lead to problems, as I can't afford for people who know only of Mario to meet Marian. So I sometimes have to jump through hoops to keep the associated engagements as separate as possible.

- - - - - -

It's always interesting to see how I'll be treated by people who see my legal identification. One time, the customs agent kept looking back and forth between me and my identification, and I dropped my voice to say:

"Yes, That's Me!"

He responded:

"Get outta here!"

The next trip, I got called in for special screening.  And yet, I got through the line quicker than Lili did.  But each time I travel, I find out something new.  For example, no one is allowed to help me with my luggage once on line to go through customs. I guess this is to protect them from being associated with a potential crime is something illegal is coming into the country in my luggage.

However, what is most interesting is how I get treated by the average person with whom I come in contact. Most people don't give a damn that I'm transgender. And others are totally oblivious to this and see me only as a female.  I can remember walking in Boston on a humid day.  One woman saw perspiration on my face and said:

"You must be going through the change."

And I responded:

"You don't know how true that is!"

This story still brings a smile to everyone I tell it to. And it kind of fits what has been going on in my life as a whole.  I'm going through many changes, and not all of them are visible to the casual observer.  And cruising allows me to see how much I've changed as it puts me outside of a normal comfort zone, while allowing me to have some degree of safety outside that zone.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Preparing for a July Wedding

Lili's son's wedding is in July. And assuming that the dress above fits, I'll be wearing it to the wedding.  The ceremony will be outdoors, but the other festivities will be indoors. So this dress may be the perfect compromise between Lili's style and mine.

Sometimes it pays to buy a garment once it becomes available, and sometimes it pays to wait a while.  One may run the risk of losing out on a good bargain. But the opportunities to save money are important when living on a fixed income.

Here is the original "undiscounted" price from Roaman's:
Lace Popover Dress
price: $129.99 (If bought through Amazon's site, the price is higher, but shipping is "free".)

And here's what the dress sold for on Roaman's site after applying the discount code:
Lace Popover Dress
price: $77.99 (Discount of 40% applied here, using code from Honey or Retail Me Not.)

Finally, after the cruise, buying the same dress from sister site Full Beauty:
Lace Popover Dress
price $56.99 (An even greater discount was applied using a code from Retail Me Not.)

You can guess which price I paid for the dress.  However, this leaves me with a problem - I still need to buy a pretty pair of shoes that fit and a clutch in which I can carry my lipstick, keys, identification, and some cash for necessities.  So far, I have narrowed down my search to the following pair of shoes:

Hopefully, they will fit well - at least for the day I'll be wearing them.  (I'll be sure to carry a pair of flats in the car, just to be safe.)  Next, comes the clutch.  This will be an easy choice, as it only has to look good for the short time I carry the necessities in it.  And here, I've found something simple, elegant and inexpensive for that day:

Of course, things can and do change. But once I pay off this month's expensive bills (I'm expecting a high car repair bill), I'll be able to think of the upcoming wedding.  And then, there is one more question I have to ask - how much money should I give as a wedding gift?

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Health care, the ACA, and how it affects us.

And now a diversion from my transgender life...

Health care insurance is a complex social problem. To reduce the average person's cost of insurance, the insurance pool must be large as possible and as reflective of the whole community as possible. In short,  a large number of healthy people will pay for a small number of the infirm.  Often this means that healthy young people subsidize the care of older people. Private, for profit firms need to use a business model which cherry picks the healthy people from the larger pool of customers, creating smaller pools which carry a lower cost of insurance. But this has a ripple effect in many areas.  Corporations select insurance carriers based on lowest cost / highest benefit for their workers.  Older people, who usually cost more to insure, are discriminated against (in all but name) when in the hiring process.  Why increase the costs of group insurance by hiring an older worker, when we can hire a younger worker at the same price?   This is one problem created by a distorted marketplace.

Healthcare marketplace distortions were introduced into the American economy in the 1940's.  To prevent people jumping from job to job for higher wages, businesses were allowed to compete for workers using untaxed benefits. We started requiring hospitals to treat the indigent without full reimbursement for care. Thus, we introduced the following key distortions:
  1. The user(s) of a product (health care and insurance) was no longer the person(s) making the decision which doctor, hospital, or insurance plan was being used. The employer, and not the consumer of health care was making purchasing decisions.
  2. Providers of health care had to shift unremibursed costs to other "customers". Large insurance firms could negotiate prices for their corporate clients, so these costs usually got passed on to the people who did not have insurance from their employers.
This set up a vicious circle of problems.  Insurance pools got smaller, and the cost of covering people outside of cherry picked pools skyrocketed.  Smaller hospitals ended up closing down, as their operating margins were too small to provide appropriate care for the communities they served. This left many people either uninsurable at an affordable and reasonable price, or left their areas with no places where they could receive health care.

Doctors were also caught in this problem.  The average person doesn't always ask the right questions of his/her doctor, expecting him/her to lead the medical conversation to where it needs to go. The average person is often unable to accept that many problems are just plain dumb luck, and can not accept that bad things happen to good people. Since we live in a litigious society, many doctors were easy targets for lawsuits - especially pediatricians. No one wants to hear that one's baby has an incurable disease, no one wants to hear that a baby is born with a defect, and no one wants to accept that some babies are stillborn.  So they sue the doctor for things which couldn't be helped.  As a result, the cost of insuring doctors in certain specialties has zoomed through the roof.  The "Tail" covering a doctor's prior years' "customers" lawsuits can be a high part of the cost of the doctor's insurance. So their rates have to go up to account for these costs.

Hospitals are also caught in the vise of maintaining adequate operating capital.  There is no true "rack rate" for most procedures done in the hospital, and that includes the emergency room. This allows management the ability to negotiate prices with each insurer, so that as many of their costs are covered by paying customers. Without transparency in pricing, people are unable to shop around to select where their medical procedures will be performed.  In the New York City area, one hospital charges $8000 for a "standard" child birth, while another in the same suburb charges $40,000.  Who pays for this?  There is no market pressure to being the expensive hospital's costs in line with the general marketplace.

- - - - - -

In computer systems development, we have a phrase: 

"Cheap, Bug Free, and On Time - Pick any Two."

This example of a "Three Legged Stool" applies to many industries.  In health care, the three legs are:
  1. Insurance Pool Size
  2. Cost of Coverage
  3. Items included in Coverage
The American healthcare system prior to the ACA shrunk insurance pool sizes.  As a result, customers either had to pay more money for coverage, or have less items covered in their policies.  America is an outlier here.  Most developed nations recognize that large insurance pools allow for lower costs of coverage and more items included in that coverage.

The ACA (also known as Obamacare) tries to address the problem of insurance pool sizes with "community ratings" and mandatory purchase of coverage. But this introduced a new problem: Many of the working poor were already way too poor to purchase insurance. How would we require these people to buy insurance when they struggle to put food on their plates and a roof over their heads?  This is where the subsidies come in for the most needy. The ACA subsidizes coverage for those ineligible for health care insurance under the old Medicaid rules, and makes it possible for those people earning up to 400% of the official "poverty" income bracket to get help to buy insurance.  This is not perfect, as the cutoff for subsidies is still too low for many people in high income/high expense regions.

- - - - - -

There is a tension between individual rights and community responsibilities in America. Our culture has a mythos of "Rugged Individualism" which is in conflict with "Community Values." The left and right wings of our society do not agree which responsibilities (or rights) are individual and which responsibilities (or rights) are communal.  If we look at health issues from an individual's point of view, he/she would have an unrestrained right to do to his/her body as he/she sees fit as long as it doesn't harm others. Yet, most states deny people with terminal diseases (such as late state cancer) from terminating their lives. The states insist that people are medicated into a pain free stupor, so that the sanctity of human life is preserved. In at least one other state, the individual is allowed to terminate his own life (with assistance), so that the person can die on his/her own terms and with the dignity he/she wants in death.

But let's go one step further.  We are mammals.  The females of our species carry a relatively benign parasite (please ignore the negativity of this term) for 9 months until a baby is born. If you believe that life begins at conception, then she has no right to terminate that life. If you believe that the fetus has no rights until birth, then the woman has a right to terminate the pregnancy.  Does our government have the right to determine whether the woman should carry that fetus to term?  When does government's right to protect a life override the right of an individual to control her body?  This is a moral issue.  And it is part of the problem of deciding what should be covered in a standardized set of procedures which should be in all insurance plans.  (Let's not make this discussion into a pro choice / pro life discussion.  I'm only trying to describe the issues we face without taking sides.)  The authors of the ACA finessed all "women's health issues" by rules that took into account an organization's moral values in regard to contraception, as they allowed the government to provide funds for controversial women's health care where it was not provided by the organization's insurance policy.

- - - - - -

There are people who believe that they have no duty to buy insurance, and no duty to subsidize others' insurance. If you remember from the top of this article, insurance is cheaper with the largest possible insurance pool.  Does society have a right to compel people to buy health care insurance? We have many examples of government mandates which force us to buy products we may not want to buy. For example, if we require people to buy automobile insurance if they drive on public roads, we should also require them to buy health insurance well in advance if they want to be able to use public hospitals in case of emergencies.  

But what would a truly free market look like?  In the case of a person not buying insurance, the hospital would be allowed to turn away patients unless they could prove they could pay for their care.  How many of us would want that?  So America really doesn't want a free market, no matter how much one political party claims that a free market will solve most of our problems. 

I pose that there is no way to create a truly free market for health care.  Government would need to make rules, so that many anomalous situations could be addressed in a consistent manner. For example, what would happen when an unconscious person carrying no id and no insurance card is brought into an emergency room?  Would the hospital be free to turn the patient away?  I hope not. This situation would require a hospital to absorb the risk of not being paid for service. There are many more situations where the public would not want market rules to apply. And this costs money.  From where will it come?

- - - - - -

Obamacare is the current law of the land, and is functioning reasonably well in states which wanted it to succeed, while tolerably functioning where the states wanted it to fail. Politics got in the way of making the law a success across all 50 states. And yet, politics has been keeping the law alive (so far), as no one wants to cast the vote that will kill the law outright, as he/she and his/her political party will own the disaster a poorly designed "repeal" would create.

The toxicity in our political system exceeds anything I've ever experienced in our lifetime. Marriages are breaking up because of political affiliations. Since 2010, the GOP has said that they would "repeal and replace" Obamacare as soon as they gain power. And yet, almost 7 years later, they didn't even have a draft law to float for comments. When they hurriedly drafted several repeal bills, none of them could get the approval of 50 of the 52 GOP Senators. What does this say about the GOP?  A good opposition party would be ready to lead with fleshed out ideas of its own when in power. This is not the case today.

It'll take some time for the GOP to get used to the fact that government will need to interfere in the health care insurance market to achieve social goals.  Years ago, the same people that campaigned against the ACA then campaigned against Medicare. And they used the same reasons for their opposition. If we're lucky, we'll get that time for the ACA to be accepted by all, and then we can get on with the real task at hand - How do we fix the important flaws in the law, while preserving the market place goals envisioned by the authors of the law?

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Quickie: A discussion at Game Night about dresses

Sometime in July, I'll be attending the formal wedding of Lili's son.  And one of the problems I'll have is getting a nice outfit to wear for a gathering which will be partly outdoors.  In my size, there isn't that much I can wear. And for what is available, I'll have to order it online.

- - - - - -

In an earlier post, I mentioned 6 dresses that I "sorta" liked for the wedding. None of them jumped out as perfect for me. I chatting with the hostess of game night, she liked the dress above for me.  If I go with it, I may have to use a pin to prevent the outline of my falsies from being seen.  But I think it will look good on me.

In a pinch, I can wear the above dress, as it should cover up a bit more than the other dress and still have much of the same effect while being comfortable.

And that leaves us with this last dress.  Lili wants me to wear it. But I think the light coral shade will look washed out on me.  What do you think?

I have several months to make a decision about a dress. However, I expect that some of the dresses in my size will sell out before long. So I will likely end up buying a dress sometime in March or April, in order to be sure to have something that looks good on me for the July wedding.

- - - - - -

Once I choose the dress, then the "fun" begins.  Next, I'll need a pair of dressy, but comfortable shoes, as well as an appropriate clutch for the few items I'll be bringing with me. If I choose one of the blue dresses, that points me to a darker color for the shoes and clutch. And if I choose the coral dress, it forces me to pick a different color.  Gone are the days I can choose a dark suit, white shirt, black shoes and belt, and conservative tie to be sure that I am presentable at the wedding.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Be careful of your IRA balance

I have two retirement accounts.  One of them came from the firm I worked at for 30 years, and the other from a firm I worked at for 9 months. One account has a nice balance, and the other would barely cover the cost of a nice cruise for two people. This entry is not about my accounts, but the fees that one pays to maintain an account.

My main retirement account is in a 401k associated with the firm I worked at for 30 years. When one takes into account a generous profit sharing plan that expired 20 years into my stay there AND generous contributions to the 401k into which profit sharing monies were then placed, I am earning more then enough to cover the expenses charged to my funds by their administrators. The bank I worked for has done a tolerable job of keeping management fees down.

Contrast the first account with a Rollover IRA associated with the second firm.  I had not reached the $5000 level where this firm would be required to allow me to keep my funds in their 401k.  (I didn't like their fund structures, as they had a set of target date funds which one could invest in, and they had moderately high management fees.)  A few months after I left the firm, this money was rolled over to an IRA, a savings account which pays almost nothing. When I checked my paperwork on this account, I received $9.50 in interest, and was charged $25 in fees for the year.  You can bet that I won't keep my money there much longer!

- - - - - -

This got me thinking about an ex girlfriend of roughly 20 years ago. She was a nice and generous lady, and didn't deserve me as a boyfriend. But what I remembered today was that the fees being charged to her retirement account were destroying the value of that account.  She was being eaten alive by fees, and there was little that she could do about it at the time.

After we broke up, she quit the small nursery school she then worked for and began work at a NYS prison for female inmates. Her responsibilities: Teach inmates with infant children the skills needed to care for children, so that they could find work taking care of others' children in a daycare setting.  Only one problem - NYS would never license these women to work in a daycare center. Instead, this training was really geared to help these women bond with their children and reduce the odds of them going back to prison. By now, my ex girlfriend has accumulated 20 years of experience and has earned a full NYS pension.

- - - - - -

Today, the internet provides everyone with a wealth of information. Yet, few people really understand how to manage their wealth - however much or little it may be.  If my ex girlfriend knew half of what I know about retirement planning (which isn't that much), she'd have chosen the lowest cost funds for her IRA (probably Vanguard) and follow John Bogle's advice and invested in only two funds - An S&P 500 fund and a US Government Bond fund.

I've claimed for years that the big brokerage houses charge fees that will eat the average person alive.  There is no reason for exorbitant fees for minimal returns. Yet, the average person believes that a managed fund will beat the market, and that the big name firms are looking out for the interests of the customer.  If you believe that, I will be more than willing to sell you a bridge in Brooklyn.  But I digress.

Years ago, I was having a conversation on the commuter train into NYC. I was having a conversation with the woman next to me, explaining how fund fees were eating up the modest gains of the average investor, and that managed funds had an 80% chance of trailing index funds. Someone overhearing our conversation got very upset at me, and almost caused a scene.  You can guess that she worked at one of those firms and was deeply ashamed that her income was made off the backs of ignorant investors.

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I can still remember seeing ads for the old investment banking firms. And they used phrases such as: "When E.F.Hutton speaks, everybody listens."  We know what happened to most of these firms, and we know how their excesses helped cause major problems in our economy. And even worse, we now have a government that aids and abets these firms by not requiring them to act as fiduciaries. No wonder why Millennials have little trust in the system.

So look carefully at your account balances, and be ready to move your assets if the trustees of your retirement accounts are making more money from your money than you are.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The World, The Flesh, and The Devil

How many of you believe that Times Square could have been this empty?  When the movie "The world, the flesh, and the devil" was made, the film makers were able to empty NYC streets for short periods of time at daybreak to shoot many iconic scenes which depict Harry Belafonte's character as the only living person in New York after a cataclysmic disaster.  How many of us could stand to be this lonely?  How many of us could go on living before deciding to end the loneliness by taking our own lives?

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Over the years, I have read many Facebook entries where Transgender people I know are one step away from taking their own lives.  The "Black Dog" of depression gets to them when other things in their lives are pulling them down.  And there is nothing I can do, except offer my hand of friendship and hope that someone will grab it so I can help them get out of their collective ruts."Rut" is too soft a word here. But there is nothing I can find that accurately describes the lack of hope than many people feel when the Black Dog bites.

I've been very lucky myself.  Unlike many transgender folk who have lost their families, lost many of their friends, and have lost their jobs, I am in good shape. Yet, I am vulnerable, and I have managed my life relatively well.  Since I started to go out as Marian, I have outed myself to only one family member - and she is cool with things.  Most of my friends know that I am TG, and I haven't lost anyone important - yet. And I lost my job due to corporate downsizing, not because I am TG.  I have a pension, and enough financial assets to make it to retirement age as long as I manage my assets well AND we don't have hyper inflation.

What about other transgender folk?  How can they get to a stable place where they can grow as people and live without many fears?  This is a big problem in a world where we are discriminated against by many, and savagely attacked by others who fear what we are. Like Belafonte's character in the film, we are better than the "old world" we came from. And yet, like his character, we have to struggle with problems from our pasts.

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It took a couple of generations before the federal government recognized that Gays and Lesbians have the same rights as Heterosexuals. And yet, they are fighting to preserve their hard won rights.  We are in the early stages of our struggle. But I expect things will go much quicker for us, as many of the traditionalists who hate us are quickly dying out. Ours will not be a war won quickly. But it will take much less time for us to win, because of the prior victories of Gays and Lesbians.

Don't give up hope.  The light at the end of the tunnel is not from an oncoming train.