My name is John Pfeiffer and this past Tuesday, August 17th, we lost my father, Bruce R. Pfeiffer Jr. very suddenly, at the age of 72.
While his chronic health issues these past several years have given me time to prepare to some degree emotionally for this eventuality, my family—all living check-to-check on one form of disability or another—have been fundamentally incapable of preparing for it financially, and have been completely blindsided by this tragedy. I'll get back to that, but first I want to tell you the story of my father and dear friend. (At least, the parts of it I know; one of the many regrets I've been grappling with.)
Born May 15th, 1949, in San Mateo, California, Bruce grew up in Oakland and after high school went on to graduate from the U.S. Naval Training Center in San Diego. Navy life didn't really suit him however, and he was quickly discharged in 1969. His life until that point had shaped him into a hippie intellectual whose raison d'être was to imagine incredible things and then find a way to achieve them. To this end, he spent the 1970s undertaking a wide range of creative pursuits and interesting experiences. In true hippie fashion, he met his wife Debbie when he picked her up hitchhiking, and they got married on Dec. 23rd, 1979.
The death of his sister Jan was the catalyst for him uprooting from his bohemian life in San Francisco and moving to Grover's Mill, New Jersey. There he would work at his mother and stepfather's art gallery and advertising firm; Grover's Mill Graphics, where he was an early adopter of desktop computer technology in graphic design.
In 1981 he and Debbie started a family, having a son, John. (Hey, that's me!) And in 1983, a daughter, Erin. Things started to take a turn in 1986 when Debbie began to suffer from schizophrenia. Bruce's relationship with Grover's Mill Graphics, which he was trying to rescue from its decline, also took a turn and he left the company. As he often remarked on the matter "They were supposed to give me the business, and instead they 'gave me the business.'" (You have no idea how much he seemed to relish telling people that.)
After a few years, the family moved to the cozy little borough of Bloomsbury, New Jersey, where the children would spend much of their childhood. Debbie's increasingly frequent hospitalizations and eventual move to Vermont to be closer to her family left Bruce to raise the children the best he could on his own, through some very hard times.
In the winter of 1996-97, they moved to Vermont at the urging of Debbie's family. I wish I could tell you—dear reader—that things started to improve at this point...but instead this began a chain of profound misfortunes which haunt us to this day, and which I will not detail here, for everyone's sake.
Everything since then felt like a game of catch-up, and things had only really started to improve these past ten or so years, where he and I—while barely making ends meet—had been working together to achieve the decades-old dream of what he called "Tangible Imagination" which could be described as "having the tools necessary to execute any idea regardless of medium, in a very short timeframe." (Or as he would pitch it "Let me be the Polaroid back for your brain." though I don't expect many people to fully understand what that means anymore.)
A few years ago, my mother and sister moved into the apartment across the hall, and so here we all were again, one big, happy, dysfunctional-yet-severely-interdependent family.
Which leads me to the point of all this...
The primary concern is the cost of my father's cremation and other final expenses; there is no life insurance policy or prepaid arrangements, and the cost of that alone is already a month's income for any one of us. (Who already need to pay bills with what little income we have.) Beyond that, there's the fact that, without him, things are going to be a mess going forward, especially for me, whom he split living expenses with. I don't know when or if I'm ever going to be okay again, but while I'm figuring that out, it'd be good to be able to keep the lights and air conditioning on, which I'm not sure I can do. When I said we were "barely making ends meet" I mean he and I rarely have more than $10 in the bank at the end of the month, and sometimes still fail to pay all the bills. Now, my household income is about to be cut in half, and aside from rent, none of the bills are going to change much, if any. (The rent will never exceed 1/3rd of my income, thanks to our housing voucher.)
And although I'm the only one being put in such a precarious position, we're all enduring a similar hell of having been just barely hanging on before this happened... My sister found herself yelling at a Verizon CSR about them turning her phone off after being only 12 days past due, when she's the single point of contact for all the arrangements.
What we're talking about:
- [ACHIEVED!] At minimum, we're trying to cover the cost of cremation and other final expenses, due by Sep. 15th. (Thank you, everybody! Just need to go to the funeral home.)
- [ACHIEVED?] Additional funds will be used to pay past due bills. (This has been covered and/or taken care of, unless any of the utilities haven't been completely honest with me.)
- [RESOLVED!] Well, the bank locked me out of my dad's account, with my September SSI benefits in it. So now I can't pay rent. It's a real mess and the bank is being very uncooperative. (The bank actually rejected the deposit, it just took the longest 6 business days of my life to show up in the new account!)
- [NEW!] We're going to need to come up with money for the move, assuming we have somewhere to move to...worst case, we at least get everything moved into storage, if at all possible.
- Anything beyond what is strictly needed will act as a buffer to shield us from nasty surprises while we all figure things out, and eventually be put towards solving our long-term housing problem. (See below.)
And I, in particular, have a lot to figure out in a very short length of time. I suffer from agoraphobia and social phobia; I can't really function in or interact with the outside world in a PrOpEr HUmAn wAy and I don't even have my own bank account, because I've never had any ID, because we keep trying and failing to get a copy of my birth certificate, because reasons. (Edit: And not having my own bank account certainly worked out well, huh?) (Edit2: My sister requested a copy of my birth certificate, and it only took like a week to arrive! ...of course now the DMV is closed for COVID, and initial ID requests have to be made in person... It's always something, isn't it?)
As a whole, I think we're probably going to continue our years-long search for a home which suits all our needs and qualifies for Section 8. Though, for the moment, maintaining our current situation while we work through this is the priority. (Edit: Pretty much immediately after I wrote this, our landlord told us he's selling the building and we have to be out Nov/Dec. Am I cursed?) (Edit2: And then a couple weeks later, we got 30 days notice. So, eff us, I guess??)
I have a lot more to say about my dad, if anybody is interested, but right now I'm under time constraints, so I need to put a bow on this.
[NEW] Our housing problem. We're now faced with the looming threat of homelessness because we have 30 days to vacate our apartments and there's literally nowhere to go. If you know of someone in Vermont (or New Jersey!) who has a 3+ bedroom rental available starting in October or November, maybe ask them to give us a heads up before it goes on the market? What HUD is willing to pay isn't fantastic, but that rent is guaranteed by the Federal government and arrives like clockwork! One could certainly do worse for tenants.