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The Acupunctured Counterpoint to Social Insecurity

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Acupunctured Counterpoint to Social Insecurity

On Monday, September 16, I turned in my mother’s applications for VA Health Benefits at the hospital next to CSULB. One of the small details I learned about my mother’s life is that she had the desire to attend college, even after she had gotten married during World War II. Her discharge papers from the U.S. Navy in October, 1945, include a box to indicate plans for further training: “attend u. of California” (lower case “u”). My father, on the other hand, was never interested in attending college. Even if he had also gotten out of the Navy at the end of the war, it’s difficult to imagine him encouraging my mother to attend college on the G.I bill while he headed off to work as a clerk in a retail store (which was his first extended job after a 20 year career as an “aviation mate”).

My own application for social security benefits back on August 1st seems to have run into a classic case of bureaucratic indifference. It’s bad enough that a couple weeks ago I had to wait 45 minutes on the phone, listening to a recorded voice loop with all the officious sincerity of a “Do not park in the loading zone” command of a metropolitan airport, in order to get sent a copy of my electronic application that was supposed to have been automatically mailed out. That’s a minor irritation, compared to waiting for some statement from social security about the status of my application. Finally, I spent half a morning in a local office two weeks ago to find out that additional information is needed and that nothing can be done on my application until I submit that information. “And why did I not receive a phone call or an e-mail or a letter requesting this information at some point in the past six weeks?” “Oh, we’re sorry.” There was no explanation of why I was not contacted or acknowledgement that I could very well have just kept waiting and waiting and waiting, wondering when my application would receive the slightest processing.)

I should emphasize that nothing on my Social Security application portended that any kind of specific document would be required from the University of California about my time as a graduate student, during which I was part of UC’s retirement program. Now I am given a deadline to get this information, and have been informed by the workers at UC that it will take a couple weeks to process my request. Unfortunately, the Social Security retirement date begins in 10 days. All of this could have been resolved if only the workers at Social Security had done their job and sent out a simple letter or e-mail a month ago. I guess working and contributing to Social Security for almost half a century is not enough to earn the basic respect that should be accorded any worker’s co-operation with a painfully unequal system of rewards and punishments.

Meanwhile, it turned out that by yesterday (Friday, September 27), nothing had happened with my mother’s application whatsoever. I had twice called the number I had been given by the intake worker to inquire about the application, but my message was never returned. Finally, early yesterday afternoon, I parked in a school lot and walked over. It turned out the intake worker was out for 10 days with a serious cold and had just gotten back on the job, but if I were willing to wait, the application would be processed. I settled into a chair with the Complete Poems of Robert Frost, whose work is just ahead in one of my classes. By the end of the afternoon, my mother was officially in the Health Care system of the VA as a WWII vet, with a “group five” designation. Now begins the process of getting her vetted as being eligible for a “group four” rating, which would provide an allotment for assisted care.

Fortunately, the morning had its exquisite counterpoint. Susan Wiggins and George Hart (one of my very favorite colleagues at CSULB) spent the past summer at work on converting a commercial space on Atlantic Boulevard in Long Beach into a community-based acupuncture clinic that offers a sliding scale of payment. Neither Linda nor I had ever tried acupuncture before, but both of us have reached the age when we feel we have very little to lose by trying alternatives. The unexpected part of the acupuncture treatment was that it gave me a period of rejuvenating surrender: I leaned back in a recliner and permitted the entity I am conscious of as the performer of a public identity to experience the absence of that need to perform. A vulnerability set in that allowed me to meditate in an integrated manner distinct from any sitting seance with Nothingness. Instead of having my knees folded in selfless-enchantment, the acupuncture encrypted my stiff body into an elongated horizon that cradled me in a gentle levitation. What secret messages were sent from nervousness to mindful nerves remain too whispered to have been heard by other than the recesses of my body; more than an hour after the first needle was inserted with exquisite precision by Susan, though, my mind found itself clarified with remunerative aftertastes of unusually peaceful continuity. My posture (both physical and psychological) has never been vibrant and its accumulated disintegration has put more pressure on my spine than it is designed to absorb; hence, I was gratified beyond expectation about twenty minutes into the treatment when a tender but firm warmth began slowly effusing from my spinal fusion. It was like an infinitely tiny solar eruption of a pent-up knob, as if a hemisphere of remorse had had a tectonic plate settle back in its proper groove. Leaving the clinic, I walked with a new sense of purpose, which I turned out to need later on in the day.

Perhaps the most meaningful part of my visit to this clinic is the realization that not all the aspirations of my youth have foundered in the vortex of conservative obeisance in the 1980s. The willingness of gifted individuals to commit themselves to a life of generous service that empowers others by strengthening their frailties is exemplified in this community health project, which is a member of POCA (People’s Organization of Community Acupuncture). If you are living in or near Long Beach, you can find Susan’s clinic at:


If you live elsewhere and want to give your body and mind an equally restorative moment, then start your search at: