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At home, and in harmony with all the wild things

When I bought my house a mile east of U.S. 19 in Hudson in 1993, I thought it was in a fairly not-in-the-wild area. But from what keeps showing up in my back yard, I'm beginning to wonder.

I expected the squirrels and birds, even the friendly raccoons, armadillos and, eventually, black racer snakes. They come with the territory.

Then, late one night, a monster wild boar rampaged through my neighborhood and tore up my Floratam, which isn't quite as friendly. Sometime later, a beautiful family of red foxes began cavorting in the middle of my yard midday, and, later, a cute little wild pig with tiny little tusks arrived to gobble up all the figs that dropped from my tree.

Then on Wednesday, around 10 a.m., I opened my back window shade to see a grayish black, 40- to 45-pound coyote eyeing me and my cat, Snickers, from about 10 feet behind my lanai. I scrambled for a camera and finally got some long shots as he loped through the drainage retention area behind my house.

My neighbor, Joe Pugh, continued to calmly rake his lawn as the coyote sashayed right by him. He told me that he'd seen a couple more, lighter in color and smaller, in recent weeks, indicating there might be a family of coyotes living nearby.

I welcome all these critters (except the wild boar that tore up my lawn and was subsequently captured by a wildlife rescuer), especially the snakes and coyotes that eat the voles burrowing around my house.

The few reports of coyotes attacking humans came from California, but, except for a toddler attacked in 1981, there have been no fatalities reported. In truth, a neighborhood dog is much more likely to inflict harm than a coyote. Even so, people walking small dogs in dark places at night should be wary, as coyotes are carnivores and might like a tasty morsel for their midnight snack.

I love to think about those wild critters roaming and crawling around outside my doors as I sleep or suddenly appearing around a corner as I work in my yard.

It's just so Florida.

• • •

I'm unsure whether I should tell this story, but I'm so amazed? disturbed? confounded? by it, I simply have to share.

The problem started in February, when I received a letter from the Social Security Administration advising me of my new retirement benefit amount.

The problem was that it was about $336 less than a notice I received in January told me it would be.

I quickly figured out what had happened: The person or machine who figured out my benefit had deducted the Part B Medicare premium and the federal withholding tax on the gross payment, then deducted it a second time from the net amount from the first calculation.

In other words, SSA was double dipping on me.

So on Feb. 26, I telephoned the 800 number, where a very courteous representative said she could clearly see where and when the mistake had happened and would send a "high priority" message to my payment center in Kansas City, Mo., to correct it.

The same promise was made to me by other very courteous representatives as the mistake continued in March, April and May, by which time I was behind about $1,350.

When the same mistake showed no sign of being corrected in June, I decided to call in the cavalry and telephoned my congressman, Gus Bilirakis. I got an appointment with his office manager/case processor, James Grenelle, the next day, June 5.

When I got home from my vacation in early July, a letter dated June 27 from the SSA was waiting for me. The entire matter had been cleared up, I would be receiving a lump sum for the shortage, and my future payments would be what they are supposed to be.

In other words, it took the congressman's office just 22 days to correct a mistake that I had spent 122 days on my own trying to get corrected.

Now I don't know exactly how to feel.

I'm extremely grateful to Congressman Bilirakis' office for straightening this out.

But I'm dismayed it took an act of a congressman to get it corrected.

Most of all, I worry about the people in similar situations whose only income is Social Security.

For me, the shortage was an annoyance; for them, it could be groceries and the electric bill.

At home, and in harmony with all the wild things 07/24/09 [Last modified: Friday, July 24, 2009 8:29pm]

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