From Sunday's TIMES and NEWS-STAR
Former Times sportswriter Jim McLain died a little more than three years ago, something I’d forgotten about until I saw him the other day in Shreveport.
It is not often you get to talk to your friends, in person, after they die. But Mr. McLain, a reporter for nearly 40 years and a member of the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame since 1995 when he was presented the Distinguished Service Award, is nothing if not durable. Even after he’d died, he’d gone about his business, pro that he is.
Turns out that, according to Jim, the only really good part about being dead and not knowing about it is the being, as he describes it, “blissfully unaware.” But once he found out he was dead, well, it was a bit of a different ballgame.
“I might not have known I was dead for several more weeks if I hadn’t gotten a call from my doctor’s office,” he said.
The woman was pleasant when he answered but confused when, after she asked his name, he identified himself as the proposed deceased. The doctor’s secretary even asked to speak to his wife, who verified she’d been cooking and washing clothes all week for the same 80-year-old she’d been married to for half a century.
Mrs. McLain had done that work for nothing, according to the government. A recent Medicare claim filed on behalf of Mr. McLain had bounced back with the notation that, according to the latest records, he was dead.
Sorry. But there you have it. Who said life, or death, was fair?
Jim suggested refiling the claim. Probably a typing error had occurred, he reasoned. But the following Wednesday after the mail arrived, he heard his wife yelling through the shower door, something about the Caddo Parish Registrar of Voters removing him – well, removing his corpse – from the voter rolls. “Hate to say it,” she said, “but it looks like this time, you really are dead.”
Thought No. 1 for Mr. Jim: “Wasted shower.” Thought No. 2: “The government has lost me and if I’m to be found, I have to send out my own search party.” Thought No. 3: “Why am I still hungry?”
He called his local Social Security Administration, hoping to avoid the fiscal pinch of missed checks and the like since, as the Medicare episode had taught him – and as the mutual funds people who wanted to settle his estate would soon tell him – the money gets sort of shut off or redirected once you start showing up dead. This happens to an estimated 14,000 people a year; if the Social Security Administration accidentally kills you, or lists you as dead, it’s good to let them know they have fumbled. You want to get off their Death Master File. You want to be, in the parlance of the agency, “resurrected” or “un-dead.” It’s not too much to ask, and in simplest terms, this is generally what is advised for you to do: go into the Social Security office with proper ID, the forms listing you as deceased, and prove that you have not “got dead.”
Turns out that in Jim’s case, an out-of-state funeral home had turned in his social Security number, obviously by mistake. The problem was quickly solved, a real shot in the arm to Jim but also for his loyal wife, who wasn’t doing all that cooking and cleaning for nothing after all.
Though he never found out how he died, Jim did find out when: March 12. “I have circled the 12th of March on every calendar since,” he said. “The Feds attempted to eliminate me once. They could try again.”
In the spare time that he’s been alive since retiring, Jim has written “Double Team Trap,” a Cold War spy thriller available online. If you pick up a copy he’s sure to sign it for you – if you can get to him before the government does.