If It Ain’t Broke

This beautiful island, and its amazing people, are experiencing the full force of hurricane Irma right now. Keep safe, all! Here’s a blog from a few years ago …

 

Marriage, Mayhem and Mirth

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Consistency. It’s a huge part of my internal make-up. I believe if you find something worthwhile, you should a) appreciate it and b) keep it. That is why I have been married to the same mostly wonderful man for 29 years, or as we like to say, 26 years of wedded bliss. My best friends date back decades, I’ve lived in St. Louis all my life, and I still end each week with a Friday night steak and wine dinner with Hubs.

I love to travel and experience new places, but I find myself returning again and again to my favorites. The last ten days were spent in my personal Nirvana, Anguilla. This beautiful, hard-to-get-to island has stunning beaches with blindingly white, powdery sand, infinite shades of crystal blue waters, fantastic gourmet restaurants on the beach where you dine under the stars and in your shorts and flip flops. The…

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If It Ain’t Broke

d488d69a-7a11-42f5-b575-c4609acdbafb

Consistency. It’s a huge part of my internal make-up. I believe if you find something worthwhile, you should a) appreciate it and b) keep it. That is why I have been married to the same mostly wonderful man for 31 years, or as we like to say, 26 years of wedded bliss. My best friends date back decades, I’ve lived in St. Louis all my life, and I still end each week with a Friday night steak and wine dinner with Hubs.

I love to travel and experience new places, but I find myself returning again and again to my favorites. The last ten days were spent in my personal Nirvana, Anguilla. This beautiful, hard-to-get-to island has stunning beaches with blindingly white, powdery sand, infinite shades of crystal blue waters, fantastic gourmet restaurants on the beach where you dine under the stars and in your shorts and flip flops. The pace is decidedly relaxed, and the free-roaming goats and chickens outnumber the tourists.

I know there are many other places that match this description, I have been to a few. I keep trying to understand and explain what it is about Anguilla and why it calls me back so frequently (six times in the last 12 years!)

I think ultimately the irresistible allure is what I glean from the people and their culture. I find myself returned to my real world much more relaxed, more appreciative of all I have, and a better sense of what is really important in life.

First, Anguillans call themselves “Belongers.” What a fabulous term, signifying family, and community, and the spirit of their island. If you were born here, you belong here. Our taxi pulls up to our resort, and the taxi driver calls out “Hey, Cuz” to the woman greeting us. We drive by the same house every evening, and every evening a lively game of dominoes, complete with laughter and the distinct sharp clap of tiles being slammed onto the table, continues. Sundays on Anguilla are family days. Multi-generational groups gather after church and spend the day together barbecuing, playing games on the beach, swimming, laughing and enjoying one another.

There is always a weekend event for the children, with what seems like the whole island out to watch and support… a bike race, a foot race, sailboat races.

Every business transaction starts with a handshake and introduction, followed by friendly general chatting about the day, the weather, anything really, just showing interest in you as a person.

The pace is decidedly slow. I watched with awe and amusement as cars went through the drive thru at the local bank. First, the teller window was on the usual left side of the car, but Anguillans drive on the opposite side of the road as we do, and most of their steering wheels are on the right. Each driver approaches the drive-thru, gets out of the car, walks around to the window, chats, laughs and transacts business, then walks back into the car. I sat for 15 minutes waiting for Hubs to do his own transaction inside the bank, and only two cars completed their journey. Three cars were still lined up behind, and no one honked, grew agitated or even seemed to care.

Here is a “no parking” sign, Anguilla style.

anguilla parking sign

Any issues, concerns or obstacles that come up are always met with a “no problem.” Manners are impeccable, with pleases and thank yous, smiles and hugs.

Humor seems to be a key ingredient to the Anguillan personality, as well; dead-pan and delightful. They don’t put up with nonsense. I was at a beach bar and ordered a cheeseburger (I know! I know!) Owner Mo raised his eyebrow, gave me that “Really?” look and gestured towards the sea. We all laughed.

Keeping with our newly acquired Anguillan spirit, while others panicked, yelled, cussed and generally showed their worst side, here is how Hubs and I dealt with our very long flight delay leaving St. Maarten: drinks, snacks, laughs and a photo war…

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Of course the island is not perfect. There are real world problems here, like everywhere; but civility, manners, kindness, love and humor and an appreciation for life go a long way in addressing these issues.

I come back from these trips a better person, having learned life lessons from these wonderful people. I think I go back so often as I want to refresh and relearn just how amazing life can be if you slow down to appreciate it.

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I’m In Love With My Lawn Boy

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There are many ways to judge a man’s character. How he treats his mother, the elderly, children, retail clerks and waiters is a good start. “Please” and “thank you,” to me, show more than just good manners.

There are other ways, as well. Does he stick around after baking cookies is no longer fun, but you still have two batches left to make? Will he occasionally watch a really sappy rom-com movie with you? If you need the emotional soothing that only comes from that bacon cheeseburger, right now, from that one place, will he go get it for you? When everything goes wrong, does he make things worse by crabbing and complaining, or better by making you laugh?

But you can really tell the measure of a man by how he mows the lawn. Of course, there are some who pay others to do it, but that in itself tells me something. I, on the other hand, have better uses for $70 every week or so. To be fair, my perspective has changed a bit ever since I started occasionally helping out a friend’s moving company by packing up people’s houses. It’s physically challenging, hot, occasionally gross, and in no way intellectually stimulating. So now, everything I think of is in “packing” dollars. Such as, it would take X hours of packing to pay for someone else to mow my lawn.  Not going to happen.

Hubs and I vary greatly in our approach to yard work. He spends excessive amounts of time meticulously planning the mowing route. Last week was straight lines, so this week we go diagonal! Every little branch is moved out of the way to get each little spot under the trees. He consistently stops to empty the bag every few laps, so that no clippings might accidentally spill out. Stray weeds are wacked, and the job isn’t complete until the sidewalk and drive are swept. There is evidently a “right way and wrong way to mow” manual in his head, and he never deviates for his made-up rule book.

It is none of my business how people divvy up household chores. I know some women who don’t do yard work, good for them. In fact we, too, have a few gender stereotypical things going on in my own family. For example, I have been cutting Hubs off at the pass if I see him heading towards the laundry room, ever since the Silk Blouse Incident of 1986. In our defense, though, everyone is much happier if Hubs is doing the cooking.

I did refuse to mow for a few years, as we had a very intense mulch vs. bag argument, and I said if Hubs wanted to bag, I wouldn’t mow. (Not that I am a huge environmentalist or anything, just lazy.) I actually like mowing. First, I’m not the girliest of girls. In fact, my father was a bit confused as we kids were growing up. He knew he had a son, and a daughter, and that third one. Once, we were leaving on vacation, and Dad said to me, “Cheri, grab those suitcases and bring them downstairs. They’re too heavy for the girls to carry.” Only a few years of therapy needed on that one. Plus if I mow, I don’t have to go to the gym that day!

I recently dismounted from my moral high horse and am back to lawn mowing, weirdly just as our lawnmower broke and no longer walks itself while you gently dance behind it. Now it’s like pushing a cantankerous fifty-pound boulder. We are not getting it fixed as we are moving to the mountains in a few months, and will need only lawn tools of the pioneer variety.

Anyway, this is how I mow. I amble around, cutting areas down into manageable yet interesting shapes and complete them, or not, if I get bored.  I’ll go to another area, perhaps more shady, and work there for a while. Then I’ll go back and try to find where I left off on the other spot, and take a guess. I’ll also surreptitiously peek over my shoulder, and if no one is looking, I’ll give a couple haphazard vacuum cleaner maneuvers under a tree or two, and call it a day. I have never employed clippers of any sort, as I kind of like the aesthetics of longer pieces of grass decorating fence posts and mailboxes.

I know it’s time to change the mower bag when grass starts spewing out and blocking my vision, or the mower gets too heavy to push, usually only once during the escapade. I grab the dang mower bag, wrestle it, curse it, then pour the contents in the general direction of the recalcitrant waste bag. Most gets in, some does not, so the grass lands on the grass, who cares? Contrast this with how Hubs carefully lifts off the mower bag, ensconces all four corners of said bag deep into the yard waste container, and gently shakes the bag back and forth, coaxing the grass clippings into total, immaculate submission.

I think the way we mow reflects our personalities to perfection. I say anything worth doing, is worth doing fast.* He thinks there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and everything should be done carefully, with a plan (his plan) in mind.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of knowing your partner’s lawn care techniques before jumping into marriage. In fact, I recommend all couples live together before marriage. You will learn each other’s habits and idiosyncracies, and, as we all know, you can only hide your crazy for so long. I remember one of the first times Hubs and I did laundry together, and he said, “I hang my shirts up and button the first and third button.” I looked at him like the alien creature he is, and said, “Well, good for you. Why are you telling me?” Thirty years later, he simply brings them to the cleaners.

As for me, I’m still in love with my lawn boy, even if he does mow the wrong way.

*Okay, not everything.

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Marvelous Night for a Moondance

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“Coolest thing EVER!” This was all I could write to describe witnessing the total eclipse of the sun yesterday. I was at a loss for words, and this happens rarely.

I don’t wear my heart on my sleeve, but it occasionally does seem to reside in my lacrimal glands. Oh, I don’t cry at the usual events. I like to keep my mourning private. You may never know how much I grieve, or hurt. If something frighteningly ominous happens to a loved one, I react with research, not tears. Physical pain makes me angry, not weepy.

My leaking problem is almost always related to awe, not sadness. For me, yesterday’s total eclipse was seasoned with copious amounts of saltwater. I still can’t accurately describe the feeling, except to say humbled, and thankful, and honored that I was given the chance to experience it.

My tears seem to come at that place just past happiness, that yoga/zen spot where I feel a part of the universe; significant and yet miniscule, and so appreciative for the gift of life and the ability to witness something so truly amazing.

I have enjoyed a few such moments, beginning with the most significant, the birth of my children. There were others, as well.

Once I stood outside in a small mountain town on a cold, inky-black night. Looking up, I saw more stars than I had ever witnessed before or since. Soon, they began streaking across the sky, seeming to fall all around us. I held hands with Hubs, neither saying a word, witnessing the glory of an unexpected (to us) meteor shower that seemed like a  celebratory gift from the universe. There were tears, along with an intense feeling of gratitude that I was able to experience this, and share with my life’s travel companion.

This summer I sat on a high cliff overlooking the Caribbean sea. It is a tradition on the island of Antigua that people go to this spot, Shirley Heights, on Sunday nights to watch the sunset. There are people from all over the world, sitting next to one another and experiencing together the beauty of the moment. I shared this with Hubs and lifelong friends. Yes, there were tears.

A few years ago, after Hubs was diagnosed (and cured!) of cancer, we took that dream trip to Italy that we always discussed but somehow never executed. Of course I obsessively researched and knew to take the public bus up above Florence, to a little town overlooking the whole valley. We disembarked at a village square; pretty, but where were the amazing views we sought? We trudged up a road and around the side of a brick building, and then … breathtaking. The town of Florence and surrounding countryside spread before us, gold monuments sparkling like jewels among the brick-red, terra-cotta rooftops. There was a group of college kids sitting on the ledge overlooking the stunning vista. We began talking with them, and one said they had been lingering for over three hours. “I just like to watch people’s faces as they come around the corner and see the view for the first time!”  She noted that everyone takes copious amounts of pictures but that “they will never capture what it’s really like.” So smart for one so young.

My brother once told me that he thought the number of pictures taken on a journey is inversely related to the amount of fun had. I don’t know if that is true, but I am much more on the “fewer pictures” side of the equation. I tend to use my journals rather than a camera. With the ubiquitous use of cell phone cameras, I am afraid many are missing out on experiences in their never-ending quests to document things. I would rather look at something with my eyes than through a lens.

I took no pictures of the eclipse.

I think, perhaps, one of the reasons I am moving to Colorado is to have the chance to experience just a bit of those awe-inspiring moments every day. The views don’t pay the bills, or take away life’s troubles, but the mountains do seem to have a way of putting everything in perspective.

And I’ll be in Dallas, Southern Illinois or maybe Quebec in 2024, God willing.

 

 

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A Dancer Dances

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I have never been the graceful type. I’ve never taken a single dance class, worn a tutu* or in any way dreamed of being a ballerina.

My mother intrinsically understood me. While she shuttled my pink-clad from head-to-toe sister to dance class, I was put under the watchful eye of fairly uninterested neighbors, happy to share and explore my sandbox with any and all half-feral cats and my set of lime-green dump trucks. I was not the girliest of girls.

I liked to scuffle. In fact, I can still hear my church preschool teacher, as she lead me to my designated corner once again, saying “God made hands to play with, not to hit.” Good to know. I did run into little Bobby Name Withheld when we were both in college. He stood up to greet me, all six foot two of him, and I finally apologized for beating him up so much when we were children.

So what type of child was I, really? Let’s just say that a few years ago, a friend of mine ran into our old Girl Scout leader. The woman asked about a few fellow troop members.  My friend then mentioned my name, and our leader replied, “Oh, what penitentiary is she in?”

The flip side was that I was also a terrible boy. I liked to fight, but didn’t really know how to hit, or even make a fist.  I couldn’t catch a ball or play any sport … at all. Turns out I have no depth perception, which makes games like baseball and tennis infinitely more exciting.

Oh, I can fake my way through some things. After years of being kamikazeed by forty- mile-per-hour ping-pong balls, compliments of older brother, I did learn how to send one or two back in self-defense. I also occasionally could make a basket, as long as I stood in the exact same place that I had practiced the shot every single day of my life.

Years later, Son 2, aka Sporty Joe, was at first amazed as we played ping-pong together at grandma’s house. I could return most of his bullet shots. Ha! Right back at ya! As with every sport, he soon figured it out. Lob one, and watch Mom swat two, three or four times as the ball slowly descends, yet never make contact.   So    Much    Fun.

This handicap also helps with the revisionist history of my childhood. Of course I was picked absolutely last for every sport in gym class. It wasn’t that I was such a social oddity, it was that I had no depth perception! Um hmmm.

I still don’t like to wear dresses, haven’t worn heels in years, hate to shop, and am very ungraceful. Painfully ungraceful. I recently tripped over a sidewalk lip and bruised myself quite impressively: skinned knee and shoulder, black eye. In fact, I fall or trip somewhat often, and alcohol is almost always not involved. I also attract dirt and sand like a three year old. My most recent trip to the beach, I was dubbed “Pigpen of the Sea” by friends.

I do, however, love musicals, which of course involve singing and dancing. (I hope this is not too girly of an activity, as I did just recently discover my husband secretly watching Mama Mia on tv.)  I used to be a competent singer. Now I am a singer. I never, ever could dance, but oh, I love to try, how I love to try! Why? Because I’m absolutely abominable, and it’s guaranteed to make Hubs laugh. Every so often, I’ll bust out my “bad ballet” moves over morning coffee. Keep in mind, no dance classes EVER.

There also was one memorable scene, which will live on in family infamy, when, at 9 1/2 months pregnant with what looked like triplets (nope, just big old Son 1), I cast aside inhibitions and clothes, and gave hubs a lusty rendition of West Side Story’s  “I Feel Pretty,” with my own personal modern dance choreography. He will never forget it, no matter how hard he tries.

This week we saw one of my favorite shows, A Chorus Line,  at our local outdoor summer theater. Due to the serendipity of being a choir nerd in the late 1970’s, I know the all words to every song. Tomorrow morning I am planning another Hubs attack. I will simply wait until he takes a big gulp of coffee, and I will singingly proclaim “God, I’m a dancer, a dancer dances!” and proceed to do so. I’m predicting a large kitchen clean-up, but it will be worth it.

*Okay, I did wear a tutu once. A few years ago, I found one in the back of my sister’s closet and just had to put it on and model it for the crowd. Sis reminds me that this incident DID involve alcohol … or “too much sun,” in our family vernacular.

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Bare, Bear and Harry Potter

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It’s been a busy few weeks. A lot has happened, and I have found myself saying and hearing things I hope to never give audience to again. My top 10:

  1. “Could you please remove your (bare, hairy, smelly) foot from my armrest?” This happened last night, on a Frontier (You Get What You Pay For) Airlines flight from Denver to St. Louis. Dear Mr. 22A, I enjoyed so much your banging and kicking of the back of my chair, the way you stuck your legs all the way under my seat, past the bar that keeps stuff in place, and kept poking my ankles. But when you took your bare foot and shoved your toes up behind my elbow and onto my armrest, it was too much. I usually just talk about rude behavior loudly, hoping it will cease. This time I actually addressed the issue.
  2. On a related note, “What is that smell?” Our aisle mate, although less offensive than bare feet man, was quite amusing, yet slightly annoying, as well. Dear Mr. 21C, it is obvious that you thoroughly enjoyed your trip to Colorado and the opportunity to partake of marijuana legally. My first clue was your greeting of your seatmates. Yes, we are pretty cool, but seldom elicit the joyous freak-out you displayed upon meeting us. Our new friend then proceeded to eat an extremely malodorous Asian meal (props for using chopsticks) during takeoff, then opened a large bag of Fritos, demolished that, and finished by pouring the whole contents of a bag of peanut M&M’s down his throat. For more entertainment, he employed his ipad to first read a bit (I noted he was on the same page for about thirty minutes). Next he watched the Trolls movie, switched to Star Trek, then ended with a virtual reality game, riding a rollercoaster.
  3. “Are you sure this is beef?” I don’t know Colorado’s actual state motto, but I humbly suggest “The Alternative Meats State.” Okay, lamb is not really alternative, and many find it delicious, so I give it a pass. Buffalo is like those frozen veggie burgers you buy at the grocery store. It tastes okay if you put enough stuff on it. I do find it a bit strange that although live buffs look large and somehow pendulously fatty, their meat is almost fat-free. I imagine it is what an old, way-past-his-glory boxer would taste like, should anyone be so inclined to try cannibalism. Now elk, oh, elk. I love seeing you alive, and I admire your muscled, noble physiques, which serve in great contrast to your piercing bugle calls that somehow sound like middle-school girl screams when they see each other for the first time in like eight hours. But your taste? You are like a deer’s cousin, the one we don’t like to talk about, who never bathes and has very suspect personal habits. You put the “game” in gamey.
  4. “Come for the fires, stay for the floods.” An Estes Park, Colorado, friend advised us thusly, when we were discussing our big move. We figure we are giving up earthquakes, tornadoes, daily multiple shootings and horrible heat. Floods are a wash. It seems like a fair trade.
  5. Until you add in bears … “Do you think I’ll need bear spray when I walk the dog?” New neighbors report to us that there is an active bear community in the area, a mother and cubs. I’m not sure bear spray would help, as the only close encounter I have had with a bear so far was behind a locked door, and I was patently safe, yet still too paralyzed to utter a sound, much less move a muscle.
  6. “Where are all the elk?” Heard at Rocky Mountain National Park visitor’s center. The park is too crowded, even for elk. They hoofed it on out of there.
  7. “How much extra will that cost?” We are building a house, enough said.
  8. “No, thanks, we don’t want the upgrade.” (Also applies to #7, above.) We were on vacation with our besties a few weeks ago. As with typical Hagnauer travel luck, we were offered a room upgrade at our hotel, our friends were not. We declined, and then were told there were no  rooms immediately available of our reserved type.  Okay, if you insist …
  9. “Oh, God, how many stitches?” When I was growing up, my brother and sister always seemed to get into car accidents when my parents were out of town. Carrying on the family tradition, Son 2 seems to find himself in predicaments when we are away, especially if we are out of the country. It’s always bad when he starts off “Okay, I’m okay, don’t freak out.” So of course I do. It seems our young lad was leaving a downtown bar, by himself, (which I have set to repeat on the nag list of things NOT to do) and was sucker punched. Attempted mugging, knock-out game or drunken college kids, no one knows. He credits high school sports for saving him. He was accustomed to surprise hits (lacrosse) and still can run like the wind if need be (soccer). He says he won: They got nothing, he got 14 stitches. To add to the guilt, he was leaving earlier than his friends as he was dog sitting for us. Extra points for having a third interview with a great company three days later, and having to explain his new self-titled “badass Harry Potter” look. (Stitches cascading up from his eyebrow, and yay! he got the job.)
  10. “I am not getting in that car!” I feel like I need a bit of a lie-in after these few frenetic weeks. Lucky for me, it is 104 degrees here in St. Louis, and my car has no air conditioning, all the excuse I need to do nothing today. (Car’s worth, about $2400. Amount to fix air conditioning, $1200. Even this non-math person can come up with the correct answer to this equation.)

If you need me, I’ll be at home. In my pajamas.

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Dogs and Bones

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I’m like a dog with a bone. The more ridiculously complicated you make something, the more likely I am to pursue it to fruition.

Every year, I buy a new supply of expensive contacts lenses, and every year the company, Coopervision, offers a rather substantial rebate. In the old days, you filled out paper forms, pulled sides off of boxes and sent everything in, along with a receipt from your doctor, eye of newt, a piece of the Ark of the Covenant, your cholesterol numbers and your firstborn’s vaccination records. Correspondence was quaintly through the actual mailbox, and the first rejection would be something along the lines of “Yes, but you did not circle the date in red, as per required on page forty-seven of our rebate instruction manual.” Now I am a rule follower. If they requested only flash-frozen eye of newt from states north of the Mason/Dixon line, that is what I would send. I don’t know how the circling only in red ink slipped by me, unless I simply wasn’t seeing very clearly, and then whose fault is that, really?

Anyway, after months of back and forth, eventually I would get a cash-money check. Per hour, my compensation for this activity, minus postage and drinkage, probably netted an hourly wage of approximately eleven cents.

Over the years, many things changed. First you could fill out the paperwork online, but you still had to send in the box tops. This year, you could fill out the paperwork online,  take pictures of the receipt and boxes, then upload them. This was very high-techie exciting for me, as I actually can take pictures with my phone! (It’s just the dang toaster and television that have me stumped.)

But some things never change. Rejected. Again. Of course I was out of town when I received the rejection e-mail, and I somehow managed to erase it, so I did not have the stated reasons for the rejection, nor the all-important tracking number. I tried to reapply for the rebate, but after filling out all the forms online again, the application was denied, as someone at my address had already filed a rebate claim …

They had an e-mail form on their website, which I diligently completed: Name, e-mail address, real address, phone number, cell phone number, age you first had sex … all required fields, and then … tracking number.  Required, or the e-mail wouldn’t go through.

Luckily, they have a phone number listed, as well. I called, listened to all the options, did not push numero dos para espanol, but hit the correct buttons when the options seemed to slightly resemble what I needed. Somehow, I got into the continual loop labyrinth, always ending up at the main menu, and eventually hung up, as I don’t think there was ever really a live person on the other end. Perhaps I didn’t factor in the time change from here to India.

Finally I decide on the live chat. I reach Roberto B, whose typing seemed quite friendly. He finds the secret code we need, and looks up my file. Evidently I did not have the eye exam date and the proof of contacts purchase, and did not have the qualifying postmark date. He then quickly explained that they just put the postmark date disqualifier on every submission that gets rejected, it doesn’t mean you really missed the postmark date. Ah, that makes sense.

I asked if he had a copy of the picture I took of the receipt. He said “yes.” I explained, “See on the left-hand side of the page, there is the date, right there. Move over to the middle column and you see the contact purchase.”

“Well ma’am, your picture is too small, you will need to take another one and zoom in so that we can read the document clearly.” “You can’t zoom it yourself and see? I can.” “No, ma’am, it just becomes blurry. You’ll need to take another picture and send it to us.”

I informed him that I had been wearing their contacts probably longer than he had been on earth, and every rebate I have ever submitted over the years had been rejected on my first try. I questioned if employees were perhaps paid bonuses on numbers of rejected applicants, hoping that many would simply give up.

I then asked if he really thought I was trying to pull a scam, or perhaps, just maybe, their rebate regulations are a bit arbitrarily complicated. Believe me, if I were planning a big heist, it would certainly be for more than forty-five dollars. Give me a little credit.

We finger chatted a bit more, and then he reminded me that the requested zoomed-in picture had to have the complete receipt in the picture. So I am to zoom in but yet keep the whole 8 1/2 x 11 sized receipt in the picture? That’s a neat new trick, and I’m an old dog.

I then asked for a good old-fashioned physical address to send in my paper receipt. This I did, making sure to circle the date (in orange, with giant arrows pointing to it) circling and drawing a big eye around the exam information (in red, with arrows) and highlighting the contact lens purchase in neon yellow, with yet more arrows.

I am confident that with a just a few more interludes and a final request for a report card from my first-grade teacher, I will receive my coveted Visa gift card sometime in 2018. I hope I can figure out how to use it.

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