Saturday, September 1, 2012

Once in a blue moon…black helicopters and missing money

When I was growing up I thought the phrase “once in a blue moon” meant something very special and very rare. Now I understand that not only is the moon NOT blue, but that a blue moon occurs, on average, every 2.7 years. It can even happen twice in a single calendar year.

Still, the occasion of a blue moon seems an appropriate time to reflect on a couple of things that happened this past week, both of them surprising and rare.

First, I experienced black helicopters. Okay, not the silent stealth helicopters that figure in conspiracy theory. These were fairly loud, quite visible, and announced in advance: U.S. Special Operations Command would be carrying out urban training exercises all week in St. Paul and Minneapolis, using Black Hawk and Hughes 500 helicopters as part of the maneuvers.

Still, sitting outdoors at a minor league baseball game, it can be jarring when three military helicopters in perfect formation to come flying over the stadium from beyond the right field line before moving off toward downtown Minneapolis. Six more sets followed, alternating in groups of three and four. It was an odd sensation. They looked serious, loaded, ready for business. Some people seemed to react, as I did, with a little chill. It reminded me a bit of walking out my front door in Milwaukee in 1968 to see a National Guard tank rolling down the middle of the street. There had been rioting, the Guard was there to keep the peace, and I had not felt comforted. Seeing the Black Hawks overhead this week, I thought for just a second what could happen now, if society broke into open fighting or if an occupying force, foreign or domestic, moved in.

It was only a momentary chill, and quite clearly not everyone shared it. Many were simply surprised, and some smiled and waved as each helicopter went over. I could understand the impulse, because today in America we are very much into saluting and thanking our armed forces. But these special ops teams were not out for a sight-seeing tour. They were in serious training, and somehow it seemed wrong, or at least odd, to wave.

I learned from comments on a web site that the helicopters spent a lot of time in downtown Minneapolis and Saint Paul, buzzing the tall buildings and landing on rooftops. Reactions ranged from “Cool!” to “What’s happening—I’m scared!”

I think it’s fair to say this will happen only once in a blue moon.

My second rare and surprising experience: I got back some “unclaimed assets.” Have you seen the long lists of names in the newspapers, where the state says these people have money coming to them? I gave up checking them because I never saw my name there, and really, why would it be?

A few weeks ago my brother Allen, who works for the State of Minnesota, told me he saw my name, with an old address, on, the website that Minnesota now uses in place of the names-in-a-newspaper system. Sure enough, it was my name and my address, and it said I was owed “More than $100.” The party owing me money was an insurance company with whom I’d had my first life insurance policy. When I saw that, something clicked. I’d seen a notice about policyholders being owed money in a distribution of assets, but I had dismissed it.

All I had to do now was enter some contact information plus, ahem, my Social Security number. That gave me pause. I began checking the authenticity of the site. I could find no complaints online, no mention of scams. In fact, reputable financial writers referred to this service as useful, and recommended checking one’s own name as well as older relatives who might have a forgotten old savings account or a distribution that couldn’t reach them because a company that owed them money only had an old address. Wait, that sounded familiar.

So I filled in the online form, which was submitted to the Minnesota Department of Commerce, and I said to my husband, “Wonder whether I’ll ever hear from them.”

This week I got a check from the state. For nearly $800.

That, too, will probably only happen once in a blue moon. But I am encouraged by the fact that blue moons aren't as scarce as I once thought.


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