Monday, January 13, 2014

First Migas of 2014

Odd Sign of the Year (so far): A church I pass frequently is displaying on their sign the message "Attend a local church in 2014." Now, the general tenor of this message is one I basically support, what with my efforts to patronize independent businesses, local enterprises, and all. there anyone in Austin who gets the family up on Sunday morning, gets them all dressed and into the car to attend services in Wimberley? San Antonio? Waco? Even Taylor? I'd tell this pastor that if nobody's showing up on Sunday, it's not because their churchgoing isn't local.

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Sticker Shock: For years, I've been getting blood-pressure medication, the same basic mix of pills. This started in Berlin, continued in France, and, last week, I ran out of my French pills. Thus began an adventure. 

First off, I needed to find a doctor. Having become officially old in November, I qualified for Medicare, which was something to take into consideration when choosing one. I did what any sane person would do: I asked the Austintites on Facebook. I then followed up all the suggestions that weren't too surrealistic and made an interesting discovery: every single one of them said they would only take Medicare from "established patients." In other words, sign up before you're 65. But I hadn't had that option, having arrived back in the country a few days before my birthday. Or, rather, I had, but it didn't seem like the most important thing at the moment. 

Foolish me. Not only was it very important, I also missed the deadline for signing up for the program that would pay for prescription drugs, unfortunately. (I'll get another chance much later this year). So suddenly it was January, and I needed a doctor and prescriptions. 

But social media to the rescue  once again! I mentioned that nobody at all would accept me, and someone mentioned that if a current patient made a recommendation, perhaps someone would bend the rules. So that's the route I took: I asked someone to ask their doctor, a guy whose setup looked particularly nice, and next thing I knew I had a same-day appointment with a guy who seems very well informed, smart, and maybe not so inclined to overprescribe and suggest unnecessary procedures as I hear American doctors tend to do. (I actually had an encounter with one of these a few years back, but that's another story). 

A few days later, my French pills ran out. I picked up my prescription slip and headed out to one of the many pharmacies that dot the landscape around here, choosing a Walgreen's which seemed to be the closest. I walked in, handed the slip over and was told to come back in an hour and a half. Which, given the labor at hand, seemed excessive. In France, that only happened when they were out of something: they'd go to the back, open drawers, pull out boxes, and that was it. Then I'd get stuck for something like €27 for four kinds of pills. This was only three, but I knew it wasn't going to cost me any $36.85. 

Probably more like $60, I told myself as I headed back to Walgreen's. As if: the damage was a whopping $110 -- $109.97, to be exact. Good thing these pills work, or my blood pressure would be through the roof. And yes, they're all generic and so on. 

America seems to be a rather expensive country to live in!

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There's also a food angle to this story: the doctor's office turns out to be approximately in the same complex as Austin's Trader Joe's. Disparaging Trader Joe's, as I recently did, provoked a storm of complaints from readers and friends. (One told me they had real good, cheap tortilla chips, and I had to remind him that if there's one thing that's not scarce in Austin, it's real good, cheap tortilla chips). Thus, after the doctor's I walked over and took a look at the place again, which was useful because there were things I needed and I had the list right with me. So here's what I found. 

* Wine: there were inexpensive wines I recognized, wines for under $10 a bottle. This is worth remembering. Also the famous Two-Buck Chuck, their house brand, which is now Three-Buck Chuck, at least in Texas. I picked up a bottle of pinot grigio to cook with. 

* Juice: there were several flavors other than orange. I don't get this: in France, we had one-liter containers of juice from Tropicana that came in a bunch of different flavors -- at least a dozen. Here, the smallest size seems to be 1.75 liters, and the only thing available is orange in your choice of a dozen different varieties of how much pulp is included (why is this a problem?) and whether or not you want calcium or not in it. 1.75 liters takes a long time for a single guy to go through, but so far that's what I've been doing. Trader Joe's had a liter of tangerine juice, so I picked it up. Unfortunately I hadn't looked at the expiration date, and the next morning it was swollen up and fizzy. Dang. 

Other than that, there was a lot of packaging: I noted plastic boxes with jalapenos in them, which I thought was odd because any old supermarket has plastic bags and piles of peppers to choose from, which I, certainly, prefer to do. But all the fruit and vegetables were packaged. 

And there were a lot of prepared dishes. This is the deal, as I've been noticing when I go shopping: Americans don't cook any more, preferring to buy frozen and packaged items they can just heat up. (And before anyone jumps on me, this is just as true in France, from what I could tell). And Trader Joe's has much more creative and interesting items in this category than most places, so that, I believe, is what the foofaraw is about. 

I have another doctor's appointment on the 27th, so I'm still on the case

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That, however, is the only food-related item this time. Sometime just after Christmas, my nose shut down again. I'm not really anxious to return to France, but if I could fax myself to my nose doc in Montpellier long enough to get a prescription and pick it up, I would. On the other hand, maybe not: I've had problems with my kitchen sink since I moved in here, and the landlord's been over to fix it several times, on the last of which there was also a plumber along. But the thing still doesn't work right and the other night it flooded the kitchen again. It's the drain, the same drain the dishwasher uses, so I can't use that and I can't wash the dishes by hand in the sink, so they've piled up and probably stink. And my poor landlord came down with the flu, which then turned into pneumonia, after which he tripped and fell down stairs. He's a young guy, so he'll likely be fine eventually, but every single dish in the house is now dirty, so I guess I'm going to have to clean the bathtub out and wash some of them there so I can cook more meals I can't taste. The silver lining is that it's not quite cockroach season yet. 

* * *

And while I'm waiting on my book proposal to sell, I've got some work around here that probably pays. I had a great meeting with a woman from the Writers' League of Texas, and I'm going to be giving a workshop with them in February, which you'll all want to sign up for, I'm sure! Then, two months later, in April, I'll be taking over a very popular class at the University of Texas' Informal Classes, and this one should be fun for all concerned. I'm already scheming to bring in some unsuspecting types to pump them for info about what they've seen and done. 

These two projects are just the start, I hope. I have other schemes in mind, while, of course, being available to other writers' groups and schools for lectures. What I really need is a lecture agent, and they're impossible to score without a recent book publication. Which puts me back where I began. But watch this space for more announcements, and meanwhile remember that I get a piece of the action from the e-books and cookbooks advertised in the Amazon widgets in the right margin, and am constantly adding to my Amazon store of odd and interesting first editions, art documents, and cookbooks. Every little bit helps me get adjusted in this expensive, bewildering new country I've settled myself in. 

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