Friday, October 25, 2019

Name Change

Elizabeth Ann, by Ernest H. Shepard
Well I knew this was going to be tedious and full of red tape, and so far that is true.

I called the CRA office first thing in the morning, within minutes of their opening, and already there was at least a 20 minute wait time on hold. I called my bank: no answer. I went out for a walk with the dog. I called the bank again: no answer. I called CPP/OAS and waited a very short time before someone answered. They were quick and courteous and they had all the information at their fingertips, they even knew what my birth name was without me telling them. Apparently some government departments do talk to other government departments. I called the bank: no answer. I called the CRA office and the wait time was now over 40 minutes.

I had an early lunch and drove to the Access Nova Scotia office where I thought I would get my driver's licence and health card changed. Turns out I could only do the driver's licence, I have to phone the health insurance people. But I also got my vehicle registration done and a new photo taken for the driver's licence which they said would be in the mail. In the car in the parking lot I called the health insurance people and they gave me an email address to send them a copy of my birth certificate and my new health card would be in the mail. Next on the list was Service Canada to change my name with the SIN people.

I am pretty sure the CPP lady got my birth name from the SIN office so this should have been pretty easy. At Service Canada they said they just needed my birth certificate, which I had. However, when they ran it through their computer it didn't work. Apparently there is supposed to be a number on my certificate that they can use in the computer. My certificate was issued in 1967 and it is a photostat. Being over fifty years old it is a little worse for wear but still legible. There are a few numbers on it, one typed and three handwritten. None of them are the number the people at Service Canada needed. I was told to get a new birth certificate, they couldn't change my SIN name until I did. Hard to believe since they already have my birth name on record, but that's what I was told.

I went to the bank, the one where they never answered the phone. Stood in line for a very long time only to be told that they required photo ID to change my name. Until the new driver's licence arrives I have no photo ID in my new name. I said something unpleasant about the fact that they don't answer the phone so I had to make a useless trip into their office. But clearly there have been so many staff cutbacks that there is no one available to answer the phone while there are customers lined up waiting for service.

So, I had previously looked into getting a new certificate and in the province where I was born they require a guarantor of a specific occupation (they give a list of acceptable occupations) who has known me for at least two years. I decided to ask the Mayor of my town. Strictly speaking he probably hasn't known me for two years but we did have a very friendly conversation at the Reservoir last summer so I thought he might do it. He has definitely known my dog for more than two years, so why not? I drove back to town and caught the Mayor just before he headed into a meeting. He said he'd do it, I just needed his permission and his work address so it didn't take much effort on his part. Unless they phone him of course. The town clerk was sorry to hear I was changing my name, she said she would have a hard time getting used to the new name. I told her she could call me whatever she wanted. Then I asked her how I change my name on my property and she gave me a phone number to call.

Since I was downtown anyway I got my name changed on my library card. Easy peasy, the library doesn't care what I call myself and has no requirement for proof of identity. I should have come armed with something fanciful, maybe Purple Dragon Lady, but I was unprepared and just gave her my birth name.

I went home and called the CRA, still over 40 minutes wait time. I put my phone on the charger with the speaker on and got Hapi's supper ready. Then I got my supper ready. 75 minutes later I got through to a live person. It all went smoothly and less than 10 minutes later it was done. So I thought I'd try one more bank, an online bank. Also easy. They just wanted my email address so they could send me a special message that included a signature card to fill in. In return they wanted a scan of my birth certificate. I had my supper and then replied to the online bank. For some reason my response was refused, I got a message saying that it did not comply with official protocol. Oh well, I would deal with that in the morning.

Today I did a bunch more phone calls and managed to get the online bank problem fixed (turns out it was an error on their side) and changed my name in two other places. I called another online bank who required a document with my new name and my SIN number. They said a T4 or an NOA would do. Had to ask what an NOA was (Notice of Assessment). I explained that the earliest I could get a T4 with my new name on it would be late February and the NOA never comes before July, so that was going to be a bit of a wait. Kind of crazy. I explained how the SIN change was delayed because of my ancient birth certificate. Maybe when I finally get the new birth certificate and take it back to Service Canada I can get them to issue me some kind of document with my birth name and SIN number (and address) on it. Probably too much to ask.

There are a few more places I can probably change my name but for the rest I have to wait until I have my new driver's licence and my new birth certificate. Slowly but surely it is happening. 

Here is a little poem about my new name, courtesy of A.A. Milne:


Elizabeth Ann
Said to her Nan:
"Please would you tell me how God began?
Somebody must have made Him. So
Who could it be, 'cos I want to know?"
And Nurse said, "Well!"
And Ann said, "Well?
I know you know and I wish you'd tell."
And Nurse took pins from her mouth, and said,
"Now then, darling, it's time for bed."

Elizabeth Ann
Had a wonderful plan:
She would run round the world until she found a man
Who knew exactly how God began.

She got up early, she dressed, and ran
Trying to find an Important Man.
She ran to London and knocked at the door
Of the Lord High Doodelum's coach-and-four.
The Lord High Doodelum lay in bed,
"Please, sir (if there's anyone in),
However-and-ever did God begin?"

But out of the window, large and red,
Came the Lord High Coachman's face instead.
And the Lord High Coachman laughed and said:
"Well, what put that in your quaint little head?"

Elizabeth Ann went home again
And took from the ottoman Jennifer Jane.
"Jenniferjane," said Elizabeth Ann,
"Tell me at once how God began."
And Jane, who didn't much care for speaking,
Replied in her usual way by squeaking.

What did it mean? Well, to be quite candid,
I don't know, but Elizabeth Ann did.
Elizabeth Ann said softly: "Oh!
Thank you, Jennifer, now I know."

(from Now We Are Six, by A.A. Milne, decorations by Ernest H. Shepard)

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

A peek behind the curtain

Yesterday I scrutineered at a local election voting poll and learned a thing or two about the messy side of democracy.

Scrutineering is a volunteer job, actually working the polls is a pretty well-paid job. Election workers put in very long hours, we scrutineers only show up at the end to observe. Some political parties have their scrutineers at the polls for the entire day and they do what is called "vote pulling". They have lists of people who have said they will vote for that particular party during door-to-door canvassing and they make sure those people actually show up to vote. The Green Party does not do that, they just observe the counting, and I was the official Green Party scrutineer for a nearby voting station. There were three polls there and I was assigned to one of them but I also got numbers for the other two before leaving.

So, I was amazed at how chaotic and confusing the whole process was. The doors of the poll were locked at 8.30pm, no one could enter or leave until the process was finished. Earlier in the day a Green Party representative had dropped by my place to "train" me. Basically, don't touch the ballots, do what you're told, and keep track of what is going on. Also no communication with the outside world until you leave. The poll workers had all kinds of binders and instruction manuals and envelopes and forms to fill in. The instruction manual was easily as big as an income tax manual, except they had to read and follow all of the instructions, not just the ones they thought applied to their particular circumstances. They had all been "trained", but judging by what I saw, I think they all got different versions of the training.

I had been told that if all goes well it would take maybe 45 minutes. I left after 2.5 hours and the poll workers were still there working when I left. I was barely functional at that point, I had not slept well the night before, been wakened by a strange nightmare and had a busy day doing other stuff, so by 11pm I was a zombie. Good thing there were no other cars on the road as I drove to the Green Party party.

Turns out they don't start counting the minute the doors close, there are a whole bunch of steps to be done before actual counting begins and a bunch of things that have to be reconciled. They did not reconcile. I think the big debate was, do we carry on with the count or do we spend a bunch of time trying to reconcile something we have no idea of how to reconcile? Apparently the manual had no answer to that question.

One of the three polls was very small, only 50 actual votes to count, and it reconciled and was counted in a speedy manner. Those poll workers got to leave early. The poll with the worst problem was of course the one with the most votes to count. The one I was assigned to was in the middle. We scrutineers were all sitting at a table away from the workers but one of the scrutineers had some experience doing this and he said we should go sit at our poll. It was interesting but I imagine it just put more pressure on the workers having us three "observing" them.

Finally our poll workers decided to go ahead with the count. The box of paper ballots was difficult to open and while there was plenty of paperwork and envelopes and pens and stuff, no box cutter was provided. So we "observed" the poll workers struggling to open the damn thing. Then finally the poll clerk got it open and started pulling out ballots one by one. She unfolded it, displayed the ballot to all of us scrutineers and the other poll worker, and called out the name on the ballot that got the vote. It was like something right out of "Survivor". She placed the ballot on top of the envelope designated for that particular candidate. She did this for all hundred-odd ballots.

Two of us scrutineers recorded the vote, the third scrutineer who was more experienced did nothing. He knew he could get the final tally at the end and as long as at least one of us besides the poll worker was recording this, he didn't have to do anything. Sneaky bstrd, lol. At this particular poll there had been a discrepancy of one before the actual count started, and a discrepancy of one after the count. I think the decision was made that an extra name had been crossed off the voting list that shouldn't have been—human error—but no real damage done since the differences between the counts for each candidate were well over one vote. They just had to record that as the possible reason why the numbers did not reconcile.

The poll clerk recounted all the ballots after she had read them all out to confirm the numbers. Then they were all packaged up and more paperwork done as per the manual. Meanwhile we scrutineers moved on to the last and biggest poll which was in progress. Since we were coming in the middle of the count we couldn't really confirm the numbers and since this poll already had problems with reconciliation it was not surprising that it did not come out right. But again the difference was only by one vote and the totals for each candidate differed by a lot more than one vote. I was so tired I just copied down the numbers the poll worker had recorded and left, knowing that the numbers I had were possibly out by one vote but not really caring at that point. The poll workers had to continue to recount and confirm the discrepancy and come up with an explanation for it.

All I can say is, if a simple First-Past-The-Post count is that chaotic, moving to some kind of Proportional Representation type of vote will be a horror show. We won't know for days what the final result is! But I do like that it is all done manually and on paper, and we are all just a bunch of amateurs trying to make it work.

Afterward I drove to the party and turned in my records to our candidate. We all knew she wasn't going to win, not even close, but still I could see the disappointment on her face. She had to call the winning candidate to concede and she was putting it off, her husband was urging her to get it over with. We watched the election results on TV and discussed our experiences and thoughts on the matter. I particularly liked Megan Leslie's comments on the results (on CBC), I thought she was spot on. *

The winning candidate in my riding was a Liberal, and I'd heard him at the all-candidates meeting and thought he was good enough. I also thought that the final result—a Liberal minority government—was the best possible result. Someone at the dog park this morning cynically said that although the Conservatives are dead against Proportional Representation, she bet they wished they had it now since they got the majority of the popular vote.

We now have three Green Party members and one of them is here in the Maritimes. That is fabulous news. We are coming for you.

* [Megan said, look at the map, it says it all. It was all done up in colours representing five different political parties and looked like an abstract painting. She said we are a very divided country with lots of regional differences and although we were promised proportional representation and then denied it, we gave it to the politicians anyway. The voters have spoken and they have forced cooperation on the politicians like it or not. Deal with it.]

Friday, October 18, 2019

Who am I

I've been researching what is necessary to change my name. I went looking for my birth certificate, marriage certificate and final divorce decree and could not find them. After a couple of days of hunting I found the divorce decree and then quite by accident found the marriage certificate, but the birth certificate eluded me. I went online to find out how to get a new copy. I was born in Ontario and it turns out that they are so fearful of fraud that they make it exceedingly difficult. Among other things I need a Guarantor, someone of a specific occupation or government position that has known me for two years. And I had to have all sorts of data about my parents on hand, stuff that I know was on the lost certificate so I certainly didn't bother writing it down elsewhere. For a while there I felt stymied. But again, quite by accident, I found the birth certificate tucked into a little folder intended for my SIN card. It is a photostat of the original record of my birth and I think I first got it when I was a teenager so it is quite old and well worn. I probably should get one of those plasticized cards, but at least there's no rush on that now, having found the original.

The other thing I found out is that in order to change my name on my passport I have to buy a brand new one, and that's not cheap. I only renewed my passport a few months ago and it is supposed to last me for 10 years, so at the time I thought it was worth the cost. I couldn't put it off because I was already at the deadline for being able to renew instead of starting a whole new application, which would have required a few extra steps. But now, in order to change my name, I have to do the whole new application anyway. Wish I'd thought about the name change thing a few months ago, I could have saved myself a bit of money. Since I have no immediate plans to travel I'll just put off the passport thing. Everything else is tedious but doable.

Thinking about all this has opened up a whole new line of enquiry, who am I anyway? It's been interesting.

When I was 21 several friends and I rented a house together in downtown Toronto, near Kensington Market. For a while we were putting up draft dodgers who needed a place to stay, until we ran into a couple who were drug-addicted thieves, then we gave it up as not worth it. But before the thieves we had one fellow who was very grateful for our help and gave us ten tabs of acid as a thank you gift. We planned our use of those ten tabs very carefully. Our first trip started in our tiny backyard on a warm summer day.

We each ate one tab and waited on a blanket spread on the grass for whatever was going to happen. At one point someone brought some oranges out and distributed them. I remember breaking mine open and it was the most absorbing experience. At a certain point it seemed like I was inside the orange experiencing all of its orangeness and being in total awe of this little orange globe. Looking around and seeing the grass move in amazing geometric patterns around us. It was quite wonderful. In the midst of all that wonder and beauty I had the thought, "I belong here."

It was no small thought, it was a revelation. Until that moment I was unaware of how much I believed that I didn't belong, I didn't fit in, I wasn't right. That other people knew what they were doing but I did not, I felt I was in constant catch-up mode and all the while trying to hide that fact. I didn't really know what I was doing and didn't really belong here and I was a kind of impostor. Now in a flash I knew that just wasn't true, I absolutely belonged and I was absolutely a rightful part of the whole universe.

That moment has been a touchstone for me ever since. All I have to do is think of oranges and it washes over me. So when I think about who I am, I know I can just invent it, I can be anything. Of course the realistic me sets all sorts of limits on that, but still it is something to keep in mind. I am currently thinking about how much of my life is defined by assumptions, and how many of those assumptions I can let go.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Big Muddy

Today was exciting, not in a good way, but at least it ended well.

I went shopping in the next town over, where all the big box stores and malls are. Picked up a couple of things at a couple of big stores while Hapi waited in the car. When I was done I thought I'd take her for a walk on the trail by the Cornwallis River, a big muddy tidal river that empties into the Minas Basin near my town. The river is serpentine and when the trail came near the river I could see that the tide was coming in. On one side of the river you could see the water flowing outward and on the other side it was flowing inward.

At a certain point the trail is too close to the river, they have had to shore up the trail side of the river with boulders. I stopped there to watch the water before turning back the way we came. Hapi took the opportunity to go into the water and float around for a bit. I took a couple of photos of her there. I called her out of the river to head home and she started coming, but she couldn't get out of the water. The mud was very thick and she was having a tough time getting her footing. A woman walking by on the trail stopped to ask if the dog was okay. I said she was not okay, she couldn't get out of the river.

"Do you want me to call 911?" she asked.

"No," I said, "I'll give her a little longer to try to get out, and I have a phone so I can call if I have to."

The woman watched for a few moments and then continued on. I urged Hapi to get out, all the while looking for another spot along the shore that might be easier. Tried calling her to a spot that looked less steep but she didn't want to go back into the river. A couple of times she almost made it but the rocks below the tideline were covered in a couple of inches of slippery mud and she just couldn't get a grip. She was already tired when she went in and now she was exhausted. She gave up and just stood there in the mud and water shivering and whimpering a bit. I called 911.

The woman who answered took the details and she said she could see exactly where I was from my cell phone signal. I also gave her a description of the spot. She said the police would be along shortly and I should call her back if my dog was able to get out on its own. I waited. In the distance I saw the white police car coming, but he had to stop a couple of times to open gates on the trail. Finally he pulled up and jumped out of the car.

"Does he have a collar? Does he bite?"

"Yes" and "No."

The cop immediately ran down over the boulders to where Hapi was and grabbed her collar and pulled her up. He had to pull her half way up the rocks because she couldn't get her footing, partly because it was steep and slippery and partly because she was exhausted. They both arrived back on the trail wet and muddy.

"Where's your car? I'll drive you there," he said.

If it were just me I would have said I could walk but I didn't think Hapi could.

"Are you sure? She's covered in mud!"

He just looked down at his feet which were caked in mud almost to his knees.

He opened the back door to let her in but she wouldn't go. I went around to the other side and opened the other door and Hapi followed me and tried to get in. I had to lift her in, she really couldn't do it. Now we were all covered in mud.

"Good thing I'm planning to do a laundry," I said.

He said, "Just a moment, I have to call off the Fire Department who are waiting down the road in case I couldn't get her."

He made the call and I told him where I left my car and we drove there. I told him that I was a little embarrassed to call 911 for my dog since she was not a human person.

"Hey! My dog is my person! Next time, you call!" he said.

He then suggested I take Hapi to the Pet Valu store where they have a big tub to wash a dog in for $10.

"Good idea!" I said, "I've been there before but I wouldn't have thought of it."

He dropped us off at my car and took some information, my name and address and age. I'd already given that info to the 911 lady, I guess he just wanted to make sure he had rescued the right dog. I went straight to the Pet Valu and washed off as much of the mud as I could. Hapi wasn't happy but all the store staff came to watch and admire what a beautiful dog she was.

When Hapi finally got out of the river the tide was already in by almost a foot and still coming. I suppose if we had waited long enough it would have floated her up over the mud to where she could get a grip on the rocks, but by that time she would have been half dead of exhaustion and probably still wouldn't have been able to get out. I might have been able to grab her but it was a good 20 minute walk back to the car and she wouldn't have been able to do it. I couldn't get my car onto the trail because of the gates. I probably should have let the woman who stopped earlier call 911 but at the time I thought you weren't supposed to do that for just a dog and I still thought Hapi could get out on her own.

Not exactly what I had planned for the day!

Sunday, October 13, 2019

It's a Wonderful Day (Not)

Dear Diary:

Well, that's what this feels like, almost private although obviously not. Anyway, my house guest just left with her daughter an hour ago.

She was kind of the perfect house guest: good fun, good company and not really needing to be entertained since she had her own agenda here and the use of her daughter's car. She lived in the area for about a year a couple of years ago and met a lot of people that she wanted to catch up with. Her prime reason for being in this province was to spend Thanksgiving with her daughter S who is at school in Halifax, but that left her with lots of time to visit friends in the Valley. For me it was just the right mix of busyness and downtime while she visited with other friends.

Last night S came up from the City to participate in the Valley Thanksgiving Marathon; she stayed here overnight and got up early this morning for the race. Since S was not feeling well she only did 5K (there were options for 5K, 10K, a half-Marathon and a full Marathon) and then after she cleaned up we all went out for breakfast at a local restaurant.

I asked S what she was studying and she said she was working on her Master's in Nutrition. I asked what her thesis topic was and she said it was about senior women and communal meals. That sounded intriguing so she explained to me that it was a chance for her to combine her studies in nutrition with feminist theory. That older women have usually spent a half a lifetime or more caring for and feeding other people but at the ends of their lives are often deeply marginalized and forgotten by society and even their own families (tell me about it!). So she was looking at how senior women come together to care for one another and specifically how they share food. She said it was a very satisfying topic and an easy one to apply feminist ideas to. I was quite admiring. At least there are a few young people who take notice of that sort of thing.

Prior to breakfast I took Hapi for her walk at the Reservoir and met up with my friend P who is 86 and her dog Maddie. I was in a kind of angry mood so I ranted at her about being ignored by my family on this Thanksgiving weekend. They all make the duty-bound calls at Christmas and my birthday, and occasionally show their faces in my province. But the two big family-related holidays of the year are Thanksgiving and Christmas and not once have any of them called me on Thanksgiving. Everyone I know has some family nearby so they are all busy this weekend celebrating. One of my sons told me that he didn't believe in Hallmark holidays so they never call on Mother's Day because that is such a phoney thing to do. Of course, if you are often talking to or spending time with your mother then you have every right to criticize it as a phoney Hallmark holiday.

Anyway, I ranted. P sympathized as she had similar feelings, although she does have family living nearby and they are planning to get together this weekend. Then we saw Teddy. Teddy is a toy poodle belonging to A (93 years old), so we knew she could not be far behind.

P said, "Let's see if she tells us what a wonderful day it is."

That is A's trademark: she always tells you what a wonderful day it is, no matter what. So when she appeared we waited for her to tell us that. Instead she told us about the wonderful opera she had seen the night before at the cinema. She couldn't remember the name of it but she said it was one of the well-known ones and it was absolutely wonderful. P tried to prompt her to comment on the weather or the state of the day but A wasn't biting, she was totally enthralled with the opera. Since we were headed in opposite directions around the ponds we knew we would meet up with her again and by that time she would no doubt remember the name of the opera. Sure enough, we did and it was Turandot.

Then we jokingly told her we were expecting her to tell us what a wonderful day it was and she said, "Well at least it is not raining."

P and I laughed and laughed. First time A has admitted that the day might not be so wonderful. When you're feeling utterly crappy, it's nice to have a good laugh with old friends.

The picture above: I loaned my house guest a set of keys and she promptly lost them. The key fob is made from my dog's fur and some green wool so it has sentimental value, even though it is quite dirty now. We tried to figure out where she might have left them and I started phoning around. Sure enough, someone turned them in and I was able to retrieve them. I took the photo to text to my friend who was then in Halifax, to let her know she was off the hook on that.