Sunday, June 17, 2012

You’re never too old to get your feelings hurt

Carolyn J. Rose

Over the years I’ve developed a fairly thick skin. Things that once sent me racing to my room in a flood of tears now rankle for a few minutes and merit a philosophical shrug instead of a 14-tissue pity party.

At 5, not being invited to a birthday party was the end of the world. At 15, being dumped by the boy of my (misguided) dreams was emotional Armageddon. At 25, knowing my mother-in-law from my first marriage didn’t care for me was more insult than injury. At 35, disastrous dating experiences were revised from lamentable to laughable within a few hours after the events. At 45, taking unjustified heat from a boss made me disappointed (in said boss) rather than distressed. At 55, rejections slips piling up from agents and editors made me more determined than dismayed.

But, a few months short of 65, I found myself in a snit over the tone of a letter from the government, a letter I received because I was honest and proactive, because I acknowledged ownership of a debt before it came due and arranged to make payments.

You’d think those are qualities that would be recognized and reinforced. You’d think there would be the words “thank you” somewhere among the bold type and bullet points in the letter.

But those words weren’t there.

Not that I could see.

Unless it was in teeny tiny type.

Anyway, here’s what happened. To my surprise and delight, sales of my e-books have been brisk—not fantastic, but brisk enough that I will exceed the earnings limit set by Social Security and have to pay money back next year. Wanting to avoid getting a bill and having to work out a payment plan, I went to the nearest Social Security office and explained the situation, making a point to tell the very helpful man behind the counter that my monthly income was unpredictable and I wanted to set a total for the year higher than I anticipated in order to cover my financial butt and pay homage to optimism and possibility.

VHM did the math and arranged for my next few Social Security payments to be withheld in order to balance my unexpected income. I thanked him and went home, feeling proud of my forward thinking.

A few days later, the letter arrived. “We paid you more than we should have,” it said. “You owe us,” it said. “We must withhold your benefits,” it said. “If you disagree,” it said, “you have the right to appeal.”

Disagree? Appeal?

This was my idea. Did they think I changed my mind? Did they think I’m suffering from short-term memory loss?

I was still ranting when Mike came home. Pulling up a chair, he listened to me vent, keeping a straight face until I concluded with, “I should get a letter thanking me for stepping up.”

At that he stood, adopted his “poor baby” expression, and patted me on the head.

“It’s a bureaucracy,” he said. “They don’t have a letter like that.”

Well, maybe they should.


  1. Isn't that the way that WWI started? The German bureaucracy had only one form letter to respond to a national crisis and sent it to their generals who promptly attacked the wrong country?

  2. If that isn't the way it happened, it's a darn good story.

  3. Well that was obviously a little oversimpified, but the historians make WWI look like the deadly result of interlocking treaties (form letters)which required actions that weren't wholy relevant to the initial event (a murder). Hey, weren't you the high school teacher? I was just a lowly bureaucrat. No one expected me to know anything except which form to send.

  4. The government that sends a reprimand such as you received, rather than a warm, we-are-so-proud-you-are-one-of-us-and-it-is-people-like-you-who-make-us-happy-to-be-taking-your-money letter, is comprised of nothing but churlish varlets.

    Poor baby.

  5. Churlish varlets? Wow! I'm still swooning over that one, Melanie. :) Carolyn, unfortunately, the universe (let alone the gov't) does not always reward us for our good behavior. Your friends, however do. Especially those of us who have yet to take Social Security yet. We appreciate you not emptying the account before we get there. Your experience reminds me of a story from my pal, Dave. He rescued a live mouse that his cat had caught in his house. He couldn't bear to kill it so he put it in a shoe box, drove to an open field to set it loose. He walked out to the middle of the field, bent down and gingerly opened the box lid. The mouse jumped from the box, stood for a moment getting his bearings then ran back and bit Dave's thumb before disappearing into the tall grass. No good deed goes unpunished. :)