Awarding Insanity

In Columns, Features, Pieces to Peter's Puzzling World by Peter Webster

The settlement over my son’s death finally came through. The city referred to it as an “award,” one of the stranger definitions of that word. I’ve begun spending it. As if I had a choice…

The “award” means I have financial assets for the first time in years. These assets

Peter Webster

eliminated me from the state’s Medicaid system. It also disqualified me from a small SSI supplement. I’m now paying for my HMO Medicare gap policy, as well as for Medicare itself. Other than a small co-payment and the price of my prescriptions, it’s the same coverage as I had. I’m now one of the 14,300,000 Americans spending more than a fourth of our incomes on medical stuff. 3/5ths of my income goes for rent and utilities. What’s left isn’t much.

To get back on the Oregon Health Plan (and the stipend from SSI), I have to perform a “spend down:” liquidate my assets with documentation, of course. It’s more like a bobsled run of spending.

Going through the severance from Medicaid (as well as SSI) wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. A few phone calls and my signature on a form and it was over. Signing up for the HMO policy was equally simple. I future-trip a lot about what’s to be done— wasted energy, as usual. As I said, I’m a slow learner.

I also applied for and received a credit card—which is strange. I’ve even used it several times, because if I charge a certain amount in the first month, I get a two-for-one airfare or cruise or hotel deal. We’re going to do some down-spending on travel.

I’ve been poor for so long I still think of myself as poor. New clothes? That’s unique! Buying some new instead of used books is different, too. I have to keep reminding myself I can, for now, afford these once-luxuries… But I find myself browsing through the thrift stores for clothes and books. I guess it’s not a bad habit.

As I write this, though, a have a new book in front of me.

And I’m sitting in Starbucks (even I sometimes hangout in the mocha monster, since it’s in the local Borders Books), using my new laptop.

I have a new Macintosh “iBook.” Other than my first computer experience, a DOS system, it’s been Macs all the way. When I first got on Social Security Disability, I used part of the retroactive check to buy a new Macintosh Classic. Until now, fourteen or fifteen years later, I’ve had used Macs (a half-dozen of them, at least), from the thrift shops. This new one is a pleasure.

At home I have it hooked up to an old 17-inch monitor and a full-sized keyboard. It doubles as a laptop and a desktop. It even has a wireless card so I can sit in coffee houses and look serious.


We spent last week in Portland. Our friend, Jan, is dying of cancer and we went and spent some time with her in the hospice. Definitely there were some lessons in that.

We had no idea what hospices were like. This one is homey and comfortable. Some sadness floated around, but there were staff people who just listened and reassured. A big Golden Retriever wandered around, sometimes visiting a patient, sometimes flopped in the main room, wagging her tail at everyone who came through. It seemed like everyone spoke to everyone else; food was offered to anyone who happened to be around at mealtimes. I don’t feel comfortable in hospitals, but I felt comfortable in the hospice. The place smelled good; the vibes were upbeat.

The other lesson is how Jan is experiencing this part of the grand adventure—with acceptance, some dry humor, and a mind that still pays attention to the outside world. We talked about the old days and current events. Sometimes, of course, she drifted, nodded out on
Dilaudid and Vicodin; other times, we had reasonably normal conversations. She didn’t show any self-pity, just frequent hard grimaces.

Lung cancer to bone cancer and now it’s eating her brain. Drugs can only do so much. And we really can’t do anything to help. I don’t like that. I also learned, in a middle of the night melt-down, that I’ve reached the saturation point with death.


I can’t handle any more. Unfortunately, I don’t really have a choice about it; whatever comes along, comes along.

We stayed with a friend who lives in a small downtown apartment. It’s a HUD building, filled with society’s walking wounded. It makes the hospice seem very cheerful. Across the street is a park where street kids hang out, beating drums, buying and selling dope, and selling themselves. Throwaways: children who weren’t wanted, who were cut loose from crumbling families, who had problems with neural circuitry, maybe all of the above. Beth and I were throwaways, but we got through it at an earlier and less toxic period.

At night, around downtown Portland, dozens of people slept in doorways. It’s like a city in the third world: big expensive cars and people crouched in shadows, security guards and cameras everywhere. Our friend’s apartment house has dozens of security cameras, like living in a fishbowl.

It was good to get back over the mountains.


This week I’m signed up to participate in a “Meth Summit.” I think it’s a traveling dog-and-pony show. It’s a series of panels and presentations by law enforcement, mental health professionals, and treatment workers. These “summits” on current drug epidemics always mention prevention and treatment, but all they do is mention it. When it comes down to the nitty-gritty it’s about more cops, more jail and prison cells, harsher punishments. Prevention and treatment get shortchanged.

I’ve experienced a series of anti-drug crusades over the last forty years: LSD, heroin, tar heroin, marijuana, cocaine, crack cocaine, Ecstasy, and now meth. Each and every one of the drugs was presented as a horrible crisis that was about to destroy Society As We Know It.

Insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different

Drug policies, on national and local levels, are insane.

But…insanity has become normal. Lucky us…

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