The Final Round of Our Columnist Contest Is Here!

We’ve heard from talented voices around the community, all deserving of a chance to vie for a spot in our pages. Our readers have spoken, and the five columnists below represent the best of the best, decided by you! As always, thanks to all who have participated and made this Columnist Contest really special – your support allows our paper to thrive.

Now begins the Final Round of the contest. The finalists will be numbered 1—5. Voting for the Final Round will be the same as before. It begins Wednesday, May 16, and ends Tuesday, May 22, at 10 a.m. The new columnist of The Tolucan Times will be announced in our Wednesday, May 23, edition.

There are three ways you can vote for your favorite: by email, info@tolucantimes.com; by phone, (818) 762-2171; and on Facebook, www.facebook.com/TolucanTimes (be sure to “Like” us while you’re there). When voting, just notify which number (1—5) you think deserves a spot in our pages. If by email, put your choice in the subject line.

At last, the Final Round – it’s still your turn!

1: The Great Communicator

By J.P. Reynolds

My friend, Peter, was going to sit in on a communications class I was teaching at UCLA. The plan was for him to swing by my place ay 6 p.m. and we’d drive over together. At 5:45 p.m. I went down to my building’s entryway to wait for him. Minutes later, he appeared with Tony, his ten-year-old son. Peter’s wife was running late and decided to pick up Tony from my place. Since she didn’t know the building, Peter waited outside, leaving me with Tony.

I was distracted and nervous about being late. Suddenly, Tony asked, “So, you know my dad through Eddie?” I smiled. He was so polite and grown-up. Yes, it was through a mutual friend that I’d gotten to know his dad and so began our conversation.

I was impressed with Tony’s confidence. He asked questions, listened, smiled, focused on me, and even laughed at my humor. Not once did he check his cell phone!

Heck, I thought I’d dump his dad and take him to class — he could demonstrate the fine (and imperiled) art of conversation.

I’m not surprised Tony was poised as his folks are in the Biz. Still, though, I’ve been wondering why a ten-year-old was happy to engage me in conversation while so many of my clients and students tell me that they don’t like talking with people?

I think conversation is a dying art. Okay, so “dying” may be a tad melodramatic, but people seem reluctant to talk with people.

I often hear clients say, “I go to work to work and I don’t want to have to talk with people.” I’ve even had a client who was a psychologist and she didn’t like talking with people!

The reality, though, is that people only like to work with and for people they like and trust. The way we get to like people is by getting to know them and the best way we get to know people is by talking with them.

You don’t have to become drinking buddies with your co-workers and you don’t have to become their therapist, especially since that’s probably not in your job description. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t engage them in conversation, in pleasant chitchat where the stranger becomes less strange. When common ground is found, a general sense of liking and the beginnings of mutual trust are formed.

When I consider my closest relationships, my most exciting business experiences, I realize that many of them began from a chance conversation with a stranger.

Tony reminded me that every encounter is an opportunity to connect. All I had to do was stop looking at my watch, stop worrying, and let a ten-year old lead the way!

2: Tales from the Heart

By Wendy Hauptman

Performance Anxiety

It’s late Saturday night, the kids are asleep, and I am trying to seduce my husband into performing one of my secret guilty pleasures. He is Rarely in the mood. I am Always in the mood. I run my fingers through his thinning brown hair: a romantic effort to coerce him into playing the game. I walk slowly, feeling his eyes upon my shifting behind. He knows I am headed toward the video cabinet. I pull out the secret stash. As soon as he spots “the box” he knows that it’s over. I excitedly bring him ten pounds worth of coupons!

As I scramble through my chronologically organized Coupon File, I lick my right index finger and hold my breath. I have learned that a little tongue speeds up the process. I am nearly breathless by the time I find the $2 Stayfree coupon, which will make the entire purchase free (equivalent to hitting the jackpot for a household full of women).

Flash to early Sunday. Since Walgreens limits the Free Maxi-Pads to two per person, I have enlisted my adoring husband. Fortunately, Walgreens has a table of specials (including the Stayfree). He picks up two, and I do the same. We meet back at the register to confer. He will go first.

He presents his products and coupons to the underpaid cashier, who looks impressed by the effort. The deafening beeps (a couponer’s worse nightmare) begin. “Sir, the weekly special does not include Wings,” she says authoritatively. “Well it was on the Walgreens Specials table,” my adoring husband explains. I am two people behind, and know full well that my adoring husband hasn’t the slightest clue what “Wings” are.

It is all unfolding slowly now. The register’s help light goes on. The underpaid employee pulls out the loud speaker. “Code Blue on Register One!” she yells. “Man with Stayfree Maxi-Pads with Wings claims it’s on special!” she announces to the entire store. Now all of the people in line behind my adoring husband are staring. He lowers his head. He is filled with performance anxiety. He does not wish to disappoint me.

I hear an urgent announcement coming from the back of the store, “Send man with Maxi-Pads with Wings to the cosmetic counter.” My adoring husband grabs the two boxes of Stayfree Maxi-Pads with Wings and holds them close. His posture crumples. Head bowed, he takes slow steps down the “walk of shame.”

My heart beats faster, it is ready to explode. I want to rush him and yell out, “There is no reason for your performance anxiety!” I realize just how much I love him. It takes a real man to use coupons for Maxi-Pads with Wings!

3: Heads Will Roll

By Mary Jean Tucker

Early one morning Tiny woke up to her dog “Big Al” whining and scratching at the front door. It was unusual and out of character for him and naturally she was concerned so she rolled out of bed. She said out loud, “What’s up boy, do you hear something?” As if he was going to answer her she just stood there and stared at him. Obviously she wasn’t completely awake yet.

She opened the door; still hazy and rubbing the schmutz from her eyes she noticed an over stuffed garbage bag sitting on her porch and it had what looked to be human hair poking through the red ties at the opening. Her eyes sprung open and suddenly she was wide-awake. She screeched, “What the hell?” She took a closer look and clearly it was hair and by the shape of the bag she could tell it was connected to a head. “Well this isn’t something you see every day.” With a smirk on her face she looked around to see if perhaps someone was playing a joke on her, but who? Who would do this? If not a joke, could it be a sign? “That’s it! It’s that shady no good son of a … Chuck the mechanic? Did he know I wanted to torch his business? What is he trying to tell me?” She quickly went back inside the house and shut the door.

Her heart was racing. “I need a smoke!” She paced back and forth scratching her head and puffing away. She says, “Maybe I should call the fuzz.” Then suddenly through the thick cloud of cigarette smoke she heard a voice — it was Spade Cooley. “You don’t need the police, Tiny; you can handle this on your own.” “But Spade, how should I handle this; what should I do?” She heard a fading evil laugh and right then she knew exactly what to do. She wanted to have another gander so like a bull in a china shop she stampeded over to the bag. “Dummy heads” she said under her morning breath that smelled of last night’s cheap whiskey and Marlboro Reds. As if that wasn’t weird enough — and unlike her hair — the plot thickens: There was a sealed box next to the bag. She gasped and yelled out, “What’s in the box, what’s in the box?”

With fear nipping at her heels she opened it anyway and to her shock and astonishment there laid a goldfish. “What?” Well I’ll tell you this … if that lousy good for nothing nudnik Chuck thinks he’s going to get one over on Tiny, he’s got another thing coming….

4: Frank Talk

By Frank Sheftel

This week’s Frank Talk takes a vacation from local issues and comes to you all the way from Tel Aviv to Toluca Lake. I’m writing my column while sitting on the beach in Israel. It’s my first time in the Middle East. I’m here with my parents. It all began innocently enough when at my mothers 80th birthday last October at Marie Callender’s in Toluca Lake (they tore it down, but that’s for another column) I toasted my mother and mentioned how nice it was to see her and my dad still enjoying a life together and still traveling the world. I said I was concerned about their trip in May to Israel because at their age traveling alone such a far distance was worrisome for my sister and I but we knew their spirit of adventure wasn’t about to ground them. Well the next day when my father called to invite me to go on the trip with them I was surprised. “Consider it the Bar Mitzvah trip you never had,” he told me. “You can keep an eye on us and we’ll keep an eye on you and it’ll be an adventure — our treat”. Well, how could I say no to an offer like that? Fast forward to today and here we are in Tel Aviv. The trip of a lifetime!

My parents have been here many times before. They are taking great pride and joy introducing me to our many relatives on both sides that I have never met. I will admit I was nervous about spending three weeks traveling with my folks. Would we get along or kill each other before we got home? Well, so far so good. We are having a wonderful time, and I am cherishing every moment. It’s a little hard for them physically to get around. Walking any distance is tiring, but they grin and bear it very well. Overhearing my dad lament that this is probably the last time they would see these relatives brought a lump to my throat. I feel like they are passing the torch along to me making sure I know my roots and relatives near and far. Sharing this time with my parents is giving me memories that will last forever. From the start of the trip when the limo never came for us (thanks Randall Allen for the last minute ride to the airport) to the plane full of Chasidic Rabbis that prayed standing in the isles all the way from NY to Tel Aviv despite pleas from the attendants to take their seats (actually I was somewhat comforted cause surely God wouldn’t crash a plane full of praying Rabbis) this trip is already giving us great stories to tell our friends, relatives, and now readers back home. Next week Frank Talk will report from Tiberias to Toluca Lake. Our family adventure continues.

5: Don’t Allow Health Insurance Companies to Make Medical Decisions

By Mark S Vass

We’ve all experienced the frustration of our doctor’s inability to get medical treatment approved through our health insurance company. This is attributed to medically uneducated representatives playing doctor at our nation’s insurance carriers.

When our doctor prescribes specialized medical equipment, medications, rehabilitation, etc., it’s our insurance company’s responsibility to approve his “written request of necessity” (order).

More often than not, those who have the power to allow and disallow medical necessities at our insurance companies have no further medical training than you or I. All they have in front of them is a standards policy and procedures manual. They have no reasons for why, or how — just follow the book. This isn’t their fault. It’s just the way the company operates — how much does it cost today! Is this fair? No. Did you or I ask to get sick? No.

Common sense tells us that if a post-surgical patient’s rehabilitation (maybe $2,500) is denied, there’s a good chance that another surgery costing well over $35,000 may again be necessary. All this because the original post-op rehab order wasn’t granted. I’ve dealt with this for over a decade. Just because this is the norm, it shouldn’t be accepted as normal.

The following is an invaluable way of helping yourself through this.

Your first step is to write a letter. Don’t waste your time writing to your insurance agent, or the agent who interfaces with your employer. You need to contact an internal area within your insurance company that most people aren’t aware of — the Issue Coordination Department. Before mailing your letter, ensure that you have all documentation such as copies of orders, letters from doctors, etc. Mail everything certified for proof of receipt.

Below the heading of your letter, list your member number, policy number, and group number. In the body, outline the facts. What happened to force you to write this? What’s been denied? Below your signature, carbon copy your primary doctor, your employer’s personnel department, and most importantly, your State Board of Insurance. Mail your package to everyone!

Our Board of Insurance is located in Los Angeles (www.insurance.ca.gov). Insurance boards have one main goal: To investigate the failure of providing acceptable service to the insured that isn’t consistent with public health and welfare.

Over the past fourteen years, my doctors have written tons of orders for surgeries, medicine, and equipment that my insurance company initially refused. Not after I did what I’m telling you.

Dealing with the medical community for any reason while paying skyrocketing premiums is frustrating enough without having to deal with red tape. You alone have the final responsibility for the quality of your healthcare.

Until next time, good luck and good health.