It's not about the house.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Tramp's Story, Part IV: Share the Wine

con't from previous post...

“Okay,” Henry went on (yes, yes, we’re three days in and still on that preliminary phone call). “Here’s what you can expect to happen. You’re going to get a FedEx package sometime in the next ten days with the workup of the loan – if it doesn’t arrive by the 12th, you call me. There will be a few forms in there it’ll tell you to sign and send back – don’t send them. Wait until you hear from somebody. It has generally been taking 60 days.

“Your new loan number will be ######. If anybody contacts you to discuss this process, ask them to verify that number. If they don’t have it, hang up on them right away and call me. And remember, you do not need an appraisal. Sometimes people get confused. If someone calls to schedule an appraisal, tell them you refuse to do it, and—

“I know! Call you?”

“Yes,” Henry chuckled his deep, island chuckle, “you call me. Call me for anything, at any time, always. Now, sometime around the first of December you’ll get a phone call from the person handling your loan. At that point – would you like to put your husband’s name on the deed?”

“Oh! Yes!” He’s not on it yet for lots of reasons, not least because we weren’t yet married at the time. Now that we are, though, we’ve been meaning to do this for a while. It will be a whole lot easier on him when I finally freak out and throw myself under a bus

“All right,” sweet, soothing Henry said. “When that person calls you in December [he might not have said ‘that person.’ He might have said a job title or even a name. But I was having a hard enough time writing down things like ‘do NOT mail forms’ and ‘Johnny’s name on title’ to think about who ‘that person’ might be], you tell them you want to do that, and they can set it up. In the meantime, if you have any questions or need anything at all, you have my number and email address. I’m in Orange County – California – so we’re three hours behind you.”

“Orange County, huh? Actually, that reminds me: I do have a question.”


“Why was your very first question what county Weymouth’s in?”

What can I say? I’m all about the details.

“Oh, that was just to make sure you were really you, and not somebody trying to get a [sch]mortgage in your name.”

Ah. I see. It’s a good thing I happened to guess it, then. Because it’s not like that information’s publicly available or anything.

As soon as I hung up I told Johnny what happened, then proceeded to call everyone I know. Well, not everyone – I don’t want all of you people I know out there start to feeling bad you didn’t get a phone call. What I meant to say is that I called my dad and Dr. One Friend. But the responses I got from the two of them pretty well covered it.

Dad said “That’s great! But is it too good to be true?” And Dr. One Friend said “That’s great! But – what exactly does ‘[schm]e[schm]inance’ mean?”

Ha! Right?

Took me three days to come up with an explanation.

Really, really to be really, really continued…

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Tramp's Story, Part III: A Rose is a Rose is a What Now?

con't from previous post

Just when I was deciding whether this Henry person might be my new best friend, he said “Are you sure you don’t want to discuss this with your husband or anything?"

There was a time I would have bristled at that question. When I would have heard it as “Sweetheart, you are obviously not qualified to make this decision because you are a girl.”  But I'm much older now. I've learned from more than my share of life's mistakes. I've realized that if I squeal and let the Big Strong Man kill the Little Hairy Spider (or vice versa), that doesn't mean he won't still hear me roar. I also know the sorry truth is that I am not qualified to make this decision – which isn't due to my X chromosomes, as far as I know, but to some other wonky aspect of my DNA.

I am an idiot. Financially, at least. I go through life like a tourist: holding out fistfuls of pretty-colored currency and trusting random strangers to take their pick. That's how I wound up with my first schmortgage, more or less, and just look at the bollix that turned out to be. This time, though, I was determined to do it right. So I slapped a muzzle on my inner Steinem and assured her Henry just meant that was this was not something to be taken lightly. He just meant that, since there did happen to be another member of my household, the two of us might want to take some time and hash it out.


Well, Johnny would likely have opinions. That could only serve to complicate things, after all.

“All right, then, we’ll get you started. 4.375%, fixed for 30, no appraisal, no income verification, no penalty for early payment – in case you win the lottery, which I sincerely hope you do. Plus you’ll get to skip a payment when it’s finalized, so you and your husband can take a nice vacation." We could. Or we could heat our house! "And it looks right now as if you'll be getting $1600 back from the balance on your escrow account.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa, hang on a second...

“Why doesn’t this email I just got from you say ‘Henry’ on it?”

“Oh, does it still say ‘Aroutyun’?”



You bet your ‘Hm,’ there, Henry! Or, should I say, Aroutyun? Now I’m confused. The fast-talking Countrywide I dealt with last time at least let me call him “Kevin McGoff” the whole time he was shoving my first schmortgage up my ass. Your accent is lovely, Henroutyun, and while I certainly understand an immigrant taking a name that’s easier on the natives, don't you think you should pick one and stick with it? This is two-names stuff comes across a little shady.

Then again, my own grandfather abandoned the name on his Albanian birth certificate at age 14, when Dmitri became Mitchell at Ellis Island, and Dimi became Jimmy to his friends. So what the hell right do I have to judge?

I still didn’t quite grok why the $1600 escrow balance would be mine to keep, though. Don't I still have to pay insurance and property tax and stuff? Ah, well. For now I could afford to take Henroutyun’s word for that part, because apparently I’d have plenty of time to suss it out...

“It will probably take about 90 days to be final, so—”

“Which payment do I skip? November?”

“No! No, you’ll skip one when it’s all finished and closed. In the meantime, you must not even be late with a single payment, or the whole thing will fall apart. The only reason I can give this to you in the first place is because you don’t have any payments late so far. You’re very lucky.”

“Well..." I said. I don’t know how much ‘luck’ had to do with that, Henroutyun.

“Not lucky! I know! Very responsible! What I mean is, you’re very lucky with the timing, with this rate. Even if you do live there for thirty years, I promise you will never refinance this house again. You will never get a better deal than this.”

“I can imagine. But then, the only reason I let myself be fast-talked into an adjustable in the first place was that I thought we’d never see 5% again.” That, and I really did think we’d be out of here by now.

“If we did adjustable today,” said Henroutyun, “I could give you 3%.”


“But you don’t want to do that!”

“No, no. I don’t. I was just saying: Really!?”

“Even if you did want to, I wouldn’t do it. I was just making small talk while I have a quick look through your file.”

God bless you, sir. Just for that, I’ll call you Henry again from now on.

So we went through some small details – my SS#, marital status, clearing up the fact that I do, in fact, live in the house now, and they can disregard the address and telephone number of our old apartment -- stuff like that. He asked me how much I earned and I told him, honestly. Actually, I told him a lower number than the truth, because I left out the healthy bonus my Lady usually gives me at the end of every year (I figured that, even though I’ve never not gotten it, it’s still really more of a gift than salary and therefore not a guarantee, so I’d be both more polite and better off to not assume).

It didn’t phase him. A $189,000 schmortgage on a $20,000 salary didn’t phase him. And here you thought they weren’t doing that anymore.

Hey, though, you know what? Whatever. At least I am better off now than I was before, and isn't that the American dream? That is to say, I will be. If this schmeschminance actually comes through. And if it doesn't, or if I wind up plastered to the rolling-snowball anyway, I can still blame it on Kevin McGoff.

That bleedin' Countrywide.

Tune in next time for the exciting continuation. There’s a FedEx package! And forms!

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Tramp's Story, Part II: Oh, Henry!

The voice on the line was deep and accented – Caribbean, maybe, or Pacific Island – and the first thing it asked me was what county I was in.

“Country?” I asked, already getting annoyed. Couldn't they have headsed him up on at least that fairly major detail?

"No, Ma'am," the voice went on, calm as a tropical breeze. "County."

I put the beer down. What is this, a civics quiz?

I can never keep this answer straight. When I was growing up I lived in Worcester County, which was easy to remember because Worcester was the giant nearby city where I went to school. But now... Weymouth is twelve miles south of Boston, see, and therefore (obviously) Boston is twelve miles north -- but Boston's Suffolk County; and Weymouth's Norfolk. This makes no sense -- which really makes it quintessential Beantown logic, considering that East Boston is actually north and South Boston is actually east and the South End (which is not the same as South Boston by any stretch) is smack dab in the middle of the Hub -- but I still tend to get the county names confused. 

“Um... Norfolk?” I guessed.

“Okay. My name is Henry. What can I help you with today?”

So does that mean I guessed right? Is this how the process is going to work? Like Who Wants to be a Millionaire? You keep asking questions and as long as I keep getting them right I keep playing, until – ta da! – I'm all schmeschminanced? If so, could we maybe play it like Cash Cab instead, where you get easier questions, three wrong answers, and a chance to double your money at the end?

“Well, Henry,” I said. “I honestly don’t think you can help me with anything [despite my brush with civic success I was still feeling a little cocky with the hopelessness of it all], but the Nice Lady told me that it never hurts to ask.”

I explained everything to him -- in more grotesque detail than I'd given the Lady, but maybe a little less than I've given to you here. I'm really not a skillful liar, see -- the "undocumented" process nearly killed me last time -- so for this go 'round I determined to 'fess up to everything and let the schmortgage chips fall where they may. The worst that could happen (in fact, the most likely thing to happen) was that I’d hang up fifteen minutes later exactly where I’d been before I made the call. Unless -- they couldn’t take away my active schmortgage, could they? Shit!

Well, it was too late. I’d spilled it. And here is what ol' Henry had to say.

“It looks like you’ve been a good customer so far. Never had a late payment or anything. So, sure. I can take care of this for you. We’ll do a non-income based loan, with no appraisal of the property, fixed for 30 years at 4.75%.”

Four? Point seven five? You mean my interest rate – my payments – would go down? And I say "would" because you and I both know that there’s no way any of this is really going to happen, but anyway: Four point seven five?

“Oh, yes. Or I could give you 4.375%, also fixed for 30 – which would bring your monthly payments down another $40. But only if you think you’re going to be there for a while.”

Huh? I mean, what kind of idiot choice is that? Who cares how long we're going to be here? Even if it's just one more month, I would like (der) the one with lower payments, please!

“Hang on,” Henry said, “let me explain. The closing costs on the lower rate are $3,500 higher. But if you’re going to be there for – wait a minute, let me do the math... Thirty-five hundred divided by forty dollars a month is 87.5 ... divided by 12 months is... Okay, it’s worth it if you think you’re going to be there for at least seven years. Otherwise, $3,500 is a lot of money and you might want to think about it and call me back.”

Well, chop me off and call me stumpy, don’t that shit just beat all. A schmortgage guy, explaining things, and giving a girl time to think. Kee-rist, I’m getting all verklempt just thinking about it. But, um, oh:

“Closing costs? I forgot about them. We don’t have—”

“They’re added on top and rolled into the loan. It won’t cost you anything out of pocket no matter what you choose. But it’s still real money, so you ought to think about it anyway.”

Yeah, I probably ought to. But I shan't.

“Give me the lower one.”

I still had no delusions of financial grandeur -- I knew I wouldn't actually get it or anything -- but this was starting to be a pleasant conversation, so I thought I might as well try on the princess dress and prance around.

“The lower rate?” asked Henry. “Or the lower closing costs?”

Oh, Henry, listen to you. You're like an Antioch college freshman, doggedly asking a girl's permission every tiny step along the way. I’m telling you, your mama would be proud.

“The lower rate. Please.”

I don’t know if we’ll still be here in seven years or not. That's not the plan, but the plan was for us to be out of here in less than ten and look how well that worked out. What I do know is that at this point forty bucks is forty bucks, and it will come in handy every month no matter what bad-in-the-long-term plan it might have come from. If we are here for seven years it will be worth it; and if not, well, $3,500 was never going to save our asses, anyway. Besides: who knows? Maybe we’ll be such billionaires by then that a measly couple thou will feel like pocket change.

Hey, man, it could happen. I'd give it even odds with this schmeschminance, anyway.

To be continued… again… I swear to god…

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Tramp's Story

I’ve been hesitant to mention this because I’m scared to jinx it. I was told I’d have an answer in two days, and as I type these words there are eight or nine hours left before that's up. But it will probably take me at least that long to pinch this post out, so I might as well go ahead and plunge in. I'll just keep dragging it out if I have to, until the fateful final phone call comes. I'm good at dragging things out, don't you think? So here goes -- but, for extra-special jinx-protection, I hope you won’t mind if I speak in code:

I’m schmeschminancing my schmortgage. At least, I schmink I schmam.

See, I’m one of those idiots you've read about who overpaid for a house she could only tenuously afford, lied about her income on the loan papers to get it, and was fast-talked by a shady broker into an adjustable rate. Yep. I’m a regular housing-bubble hat trick, that's for sure. But you can’t blame the big KAPOW on me, oh no you can't. I'm still making monthly payments like a good girl, yes I am. Because my loan hasn’t adjusted yet, and since we had the foresight to buy this crumbling shitpile instead of an actual house (what I meant when I said "I overpaid" was "I shouldn't have paid anything at all") our monthlies don't bleed us quite as hard as some.

So, last year or so, when the news cycle was all aflutter with bailouts and homeowner assistance programs that were supposed to turn bad loans into good ones, I perked up for a second before tuning it all out. Honestly, I tune out the news a lot. It's so depressing. But this time I had a reason. I'd blipped in long enough to realize we wouldn’t qualify for any help. We had been stupid, yes, but apparently not quite stupid enough.

We only paid $245K for the AssVac, for example, a not-astronomical number we could just about afford. Put 20% down, too, just like in the olden days. And she's still worth $238K on paper, thanks to the buckets of sweat-soaked money we've flung at her since moving in. Our interest rate is fixed at 5% for ten years -- instead of a piddly, stupid, one or two -- and when it does adjust (in 2014) it will only go to market rate plus one percent. Plus, like I said, we've always paid our schmortgage bills on time. Not just on time, for that matter: I have a habit of sending checks almost a whole month in advance.

In an alternate universe, those would all be good things. Not as good as having gotten a fixed-rate mortgage in the first place, but darn close. But when everything's gone all topsy-turvy they help the hardest cases first, which means you had to be in arrears or underwater just to get a place in line. Plus there was that whole underwritten-by-Fannie-Mae-in-the-first-place requirement, which we didn't have. And presumably a little thing called income, too, which ditto.

Ever since our schmortgage-chicken's retarded cousins all came home to roost and started laying rotten eggs, Johnny hasn’t had a lick of work. We’ve been raiding our retirement funds for a year now just to keep on sending in those monthly checks. We made the decision to do it because (A) we couldn’t rent for cheaper, so there isn’t any sense trying to sell, and (B) as much as we hate Townville (a.k.a. Southie With Trees) here, the AssVac herself has (kind of sort of maybe) started to (yack, yack) grow on us a little bit (who said that? What?). If we were going to have to sell our stock to pay a landlord anyway, we might as well avoid the move and do our best to see the old girl through.

Schmeschimnancing sure would have been nice, though. The rate we have for five more years is low enough that in the short term our payments would probably go up, but it would have at least gotten that adjustable-rate-monkey off our backs. Ah, well.

So anyway, that brings us to about three weeks ago. And then...

Remember how I said I pay my schmortgage in advance? I mailed my November 1st payment, for example, on October 2. I started doing it the day we closed -- that first month's payment was included with the closing, but I went ahead and sent it anyway. Because I haven’t always been the best at paying bills on time, and one of the few things I knew about owning a house before I did it was that schmortgage bills are not like paying rent. If you’re late, you don’t just get a reminder phone call from some pain in the ass you can yell back at because your toilet's overflowing or your front door doesn’t close. No. If you forget to pay your schmortage you get a black mark next to your name in the Big Book for all time. And if you accumulate too many marks, they take your house and send you back to the Old Country. So I got in the habit of mailing checks in early, just to give myself a 28-day leeway to forget.

It never happened, though. Not really. Once it got lost in the mail (honest to god, I'm not just saying that; I mailed that fucking thing, I did, I know) and I called and yelled at a customer service rep until I cried. That Countrywide was no help whatsoever, but I managed to stop payment on the check and send another one in time. (Two years later, when we re-did the kitchen, that lost-in-the-mail envelope turned up behind a bookcase -- so maybe I didn't mail the fucking thing. What d'you know?)

But last month I almost missed it. We were trying to put off raiding our retirement again as long as possible, and we thought we could afford to wait because Johnny had actually lined up a job. The carpenter on the job was dicking around, though, wasting time, and the carpenter has to finish before the painter can get in. Weeks went by while the schmortgage check sat – forlornly written, sealed, and stamped – waiting in my office to be mailed. Finally, on the 16th, I broke down. But it takes ten days to get a check mailed from Fidelity. And then I had to wait till Monday before I could get it in the bank. So I didn’t mail October’s payment until September 28th.

On October 2nd, I got a notice reminding me I had a payment due. I was pretty sure they’d crossed in the mail, but my check hadn't been cashed yet, so I called because I wanted to be sure. Yes indeedy, the Very Nice Customer Service Rep assured me, they certainly had received my payment and everything was set -- but, since she had me on the telephone anyway, would I like to talk to someone about possibly scheschminancing and bringing my monthly payments down?

Now, say what you will about Bank of America. I don’t know what they’ve got going on with Merill Lynch, and I don’t care. What I do know is that ever since Countrywide went under and BoA bought our stank-ass loan, I have felt much more like I’m in an actual business relationship and much less like I’m standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon, tossing fluttery fistfuls of cash into the void. And I appreciate that feeling. The new one, I mean. I didn’t realize how much I'd missed it when it wasn’t there.

Still, though, this latest offer was a little much.

“Oh, no!” I said. “I mean, I’d love to, but -- I don’t think your schmeschminance folks would want to talk to me. My husband’s been out of work a while, see, and we just don’t make enough these days to get approved for any sort of loan.”

“It never hurts to try,” the Nice BoA Lady replied. “Would you like me to go ahead and patch you through?”

"Oh, sure, what the hell," I said, reaching into the refrigerator for a beer. "There's no way it's going to happen, I assure you. But the conversation ought to be good for a laugh."

To be continued tomorrow – really, I mean it this time. I’ve actually already posted it on a time-delay. I just think the whole story is too long to expect you to read it all at once and besides, it’s a rainy weekend. What the hell else am I going to do?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Snowden's Secret

Oh, you want to know how my mother’s doing. Sorry. I forgot you can’t just share bad news and drop it like a speeding ticket, or else you run the risk of caring cyber-strangers starting to fret. And you can only take advantage of caring cyber-strangers for so long. So, before I lose my cyber-privileges, here goes:

Mom’s home from the hospital and she’s not dying. Not unless she gets hit by a bus, at any rate. Which isn’t likely, considering the dearth of bus routes running through her bedroom these days. Although of course there’s always the porcelain one down the hall…

The short version is this: being bedridden and appetite-suppressed for long enough can make a person averse to getting out of bed or eating food. And if you think that’s not funny, well, there are lots of things not even funnier. Like the fact that Mom hasn’t been out of bed since early June.

Here’s the long version: The Lyme disease is finally cleared up – you might not know she had that, but she did – and when she finally finished the course of kill-‘em-all-and-let-god-sort-‘em-out antibiotics that finally cured it, her liver pulled the rip cord on its fall. Which is to say: it’s not actively failing anymore, but it’s not exactly pulling down straight A’s. In fact, it’s going to need all the tutoring and legacy-help it can get just to be a gentleman’s-C-student from now on.

The doctors say a transplant’s not an option, for two reasons: A. in the overall weak state she’s in there’s just no chance she’d make it off the table, and B. if she eats and moves around and gets her strength back enough to survive a transplant, she won’t be sick enough to need the transplant after all.

What I take away from that is: C. my own liver is standing down till further notice, so it’s okay if I go ahead and have a beer. And: D. just to avoid confusion for anyone out there who’d like to join me: I’ll be calling Mom “Yossarian” from this point on.

Yossarian needs to eat – the equivalent of six nutrition-drinks a day, the doctor said, plus as much healthy food as she can hammer down. But Yossarian can’t stomach any of it. The doctor says if she’d just eat she’d feel like eating (which gives me flashbacks to all the times Johnny’s tried to get into the union through the years), and if it makes her sick she’s under orders to wipe her mouth and turn around and try again.

So that’s where you find us. She's still not eating near what she’s supposed to – and she's still not out of bed at all – but she says she’s trying. Which is hard for the rest of us to understand. I mean, if somebody told me I’d never get out of bed again unless I could suck down a lump of dog shit, you can bet your ass I’d be holding my nose and making like Divine. All she has to do is drink a milkshake...

I don't know.

Oh: Chuck (TFT) is not dead, either, as it turns out.

But that’s a story for another time…

P.S. Yossarian doesn’t get on the computer anymore at this point, either, so I haven’t considered the possibility that she might read what I have to say. If she does, though, and if it makes her angry, then I hereby swear that if she comes here and kicks my ass, I’ll take it down.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

A Large, Friendly Dog in a Very Small Room

I've mentioned Chuck (TFT)'s brown bread, have I not? How the slow transmission leak he had for a few months has turned into a roaring case of Motor City's Revenge? Well, it did. And this is it, folks. The Big One we've been waiting for. You hear that, Francine? He's coming to join you, honey...

(That's not the best link to give you to explain Francine, but a search turned up the shocking discovery that I've never really written about her here. Hm. We'll have to rectify that someday. But for now...)

Since Monday, then (which is really not too long in the grand scheme of things), I've been busing and hoofing and otherwise prioritizing all the to-do in my life. Drinking Budweiser, for example, because you can carry 18 of them home from the packy in one hand.

I've also been taking the dog for actual walks. I'd more or less stopped doing this, because we both loved going to the you-know-place so much -- but the you-know-place is almost two miles down the road (I may have said it was one mile before; I may have lied. The point is) you can't walk there, and play there, and walk back, and have any time left in your day to write. And let me tell you, that dog is a bear if he doesn't bang out his daily thousand words. He really is a diligent dog, after all.

So we've been walking in the neighborhood, and it's... you know. Lots of crossing and re-crossing of streets to avoid unfriendly dogs. This is part of why we stopped it in the first place. The Old English Sheepdogs who try to come over the fence. The German Shepherds who bark largely from the back of theirs. The trio of Dachshunds who get all I'll-bite-your-kneecaps if you laugh at their yippy 'tudes. Charlie is a friendly dog at most times, but you'd be well advised to avoid pissing him off. And the best way to piss him off (other than trying to hump him in his you-know-place and not stop when he asks you nicely) is to be a dog and refuse to sniff hello. If you're not sniffing, he figures, you must be a Bad Guy -- and before you know it I'm flying a 90-pound-dog-shaped kite up in the air.

The other day, after taking an unscientific Facebook poll about its couthness and deciding it was cool, I decided to take him to the cemetery near my house. The Old North. It's an old one (hence the name, der) -- Abigail Adams's folks are buried there; other stones date back almost 400 years -- so I was pretty sure we wouldn't run into any living relatives who might bristle at the idea of a Shetland pony pooping on Deargrandmother's remains (he really is a very big dog, after all).

The Old North really is almost a mile from my house, and if you'd seen us on our way you would've thought I never walked a dog before. It was my first time with a new leash, see, and it was the extend-a-kind -- which I'd asked my Dad to send along precisely for occasions such as this. I can't very well let him off-leash in the graveyard, I figured, but I could let him extend-a-ways and give the place a thoroughgoing sniff.

As I said, though, I had a hard time getting used to the device. Charlie was in the middle of the road before I realized you're supposed to keep your thumb down on the big black button all the time, and we had one foot in the graveyard before I found the small button that makes it so you don't. But I did figure it out. Eventually.

The Old North is built on a series of small hills -- wooded, now, though I doubt they were when it was consecrated -- with the newer graves spread out on the flat land around the edge. I kept Charlie on a short leash through the new part, and when the road curved sharply up and to the left it seemed safe to give him a little head.

Not -- jeez, people! Gross! Not like that! I meant "give him a little" as in "let him have his." Jeez! It's a horse thing -- and not a Catherine the Great horse thing, either. Jeez.

Anyway, I let him have his head, and at first he just went out before me on the road. But when he realized he was more or less free he set off to explore -- sniffing under bushes, drooling over headstones, peeing on trees -- wondering if this might be a whole new you-know place after all. Not thirty seconds in, though, I saw something out of the corner of my eye that gave me pause: a man, middle-aged and maybe a little rough-looking, running for the wooded corner in a crouch.

Junkie, I thought. And maybe you'll think I'm overreacting, but this town is gross. It might seem all idyllic and Olde Newe Englande, but really it's just South Boston with trees. Just yesterday, in fact, Johnny asked a friend to run him to the package store so he could haul home an economy-sized case of Bud for the weekend, and when they ran back in for cigarettes somebody stole the 36-pack from the car. Nice. So, although it hadn't occurred to me before I set out for it, it's not hard to imagine junkies in the wooded corners of Old North. The real-life guy that Johnny Depp played in the movie Blow was born here, after all.

Thinking all this, I found myself very glad to have a Giant Black Bear by my side. He really is a fierce-looking dog, after all. Although, of course, if it weren't for the Bear I wouldn't be here...

Ah, la vie. Elle est tres magnifique, il n'est pas vrai?

But wait! Rough-looking dude's not a junkie! He's gone rushing to the corner in a crouch to catch his dog! I don't know if he let the beast off-leash on purpose and is only catching him because I came along, or if the bugger somehow managed to get away, but I suspect the answer's A. This is still Townville, after all. And if you're paying attention, how can a dog possibly just "get away"?

Still, though, like I said: life is always easier if Charlie gets a chance to sniff hello. He is a very sociable dog, after all. So as we approached one another I chose not to rein him in. I was still on the roadway, Junkie Dog and Man were practically in the woods, and as Charlie rapidly crossed over the three or four graves between us, I called out to Junkie Man "Is he okay?"

"He's not that friendly, actually."


How do you work this button thing again?

I hit something that jerked Charlie to a stop, which sent Junkie Dog into paroxysms of rage, and Charlie went all monkey-see on his ass -- leaping and barking and bristling the I'm-gonna-git-you-squirrel hairs on his withers ("withers" would be "between the shoulder blades," for all you non-Russian Empresses-y types). Thankfully the Junkie pair kept right on moving -- which really was the smartest thing to do -- except for the small fact that Charlie just kept right on moving, too. And soon he'd wrapped his Brand New Extend-a-Leash around Somebody's Grave. From which position he kept right on monkey-doing, in an attempt to launch himself into the air.

You know what a thin nylon rope does when you jump it up and down a few times along the weather-beaten edge of a 400-year-old piece of slate?

It snaps.

And now I see how how a dog can possibly just "get away"...

I wasn't worried about what Charlie'd do -- I knew that, for all his swagger, he'd just doofus up to the new guy and say hello. He really is a friendly dog, after all. But Junkie Dude had said his Junkie Dog was not nice, and what that meant I had no way to know. So, despite the fact that he was officially off-leash on consecrated ground, I put on my where's-the-stick voice to say "I'm gonna get you, Charlie!," and I lunged.

What fun!

We're off the leash! And playing tag! This is a brand-new you-know-place! And what's over here? A pinecone!? Oh my god!

He's really not a very smart dog, after all.

But thankfully Junkie Dog was just as easily distracted, and in a minute both he and Junkie Man had moved along. When they had, I donned my on-your-bed voice, gave the order, and Charlie hung his head and quit the game and sat right down. I grabbed the two-foot length of nylon that was still hanging from his collar, explained that we had to go now even though the fun had barely started -- and, since this was all the leash we had, he wasn't going to be able to sniff things on the way.

"O-kay," he sighed. And then he brightened.

"But when we get there, I still get to poop?"

He really is a very good dog, after all.

Friday, October 9, 2009

But Wait!

Reports of my demise may have been marginally overspoken...

Tune in tomorrow...

Thursday, October 8, 2009

And Now the Cat's Puking in the Corner

So last week my cat threw up on my down comforter. My white, king-sized, Ralph Lauren down comforter that was a hand-me-down from My Lady.

Kitty's not the first one to throw up on the comforter. The first one to throw up on the comforter was Football Buddy. She was two. We'd just finished construction on the Bedroom From Hell when Johnny's mother died and he went home to bury her (well, he didn't bury her, but "went home to burn her body and toss her ashes in the woods" sounds downright criminal). While he was there, my sister and brother-in-law came to help me set up the bedroom so it would be ready upon his return, and as soon as the bed was made Football Buddy ran straight over to it and yuked up blueberry bagel. It was hysterical. You know I'm telling that story at her wedding.

This isn't the first time the cat yacked on it, either. This isn't even the first time kitty hurled on it this week. But it was particularly lavish, it was brown, I was running out of still-white corners, and it wasn't getting any warmer in the nighttime around here.

Just for the record, I have never spewed on the down comforter. Not the Ralph Lauren one, anyway.

There's a dry cleaner I walk by every morning (or I used to), about halfway between where I park my car (back when I used to) and the T. They have a sign in the window saying they clean down comforters, so last ... Wednesday, I think it was? ... I brought it in. They said it wouldn't be ready until Tuesday, so I hauled off and punched 'em in the nose.

No. No, I didn't. That was just a little private joke there for my friend Marie. She lived in Allston in the eighties, see, and---

Never mind.

I'm generally uncomfortable requesting favors (though I know some of you are reading this and thinking whaaaa???) and besides, haven't I had enough to deal with lately? On a cosmic level, I hardly think it would be wise to ask someone to take me to the cleaners. So when Chuck (TFT) bought the farm on Monday, I already knew I'd be fetching the down comforter myself.

I took the bus to the train and walked the mile from the station. If I'd thought ahead I'd've realized that the mile back with a king-sized down comforter under my arm would be uncomfortable, considering it was 80 degrees outside and I was dressed for 60. But oh well. The whole reason I was dressed for 60 was that I'm not thinking ahead. With my new zen attitude, remember, I'm only thinking about Now. And by the time Ahead was Now it didn't matter anyway.

Because what's happening Now is that the girl behind the counter's asking if I can come back for the down comforter tomorrow. And Now I'm explaining about the car and the bus and the train and the mile-long walk. And Now the girl's getting the manager, and Now he's explaining to me that my comforter was Very Messy (yes, you are a Cleaner), lots of stains (yes, I pointed them out to you and apologized, but once again: that is Your Job), he has to bleach it (bleach? Is that the Ancient Chinese Secret? Shit, I could have bleached it -- and it wouldn't have cost a week or $35, either), and he had to wait until someone brought in another one to balance the machine.

And Now I'm thinking about how on M*A*S*H, when there was just one wounded body, they'd put a dummy on the other stretcher to balance the helicopter. And Now I'm wondering if the manager would fit in the machine.

And Now he's asking me if I can please come back tomorrow, and Now I'm allowing as how I really have no choice. And Now, because I'm having a very hard time not thinking ahead to how I have to do this all again, I'm pointing out that he could have saved us both an awful lot of trouble if he'd called. And Now he's staring blankly at my chin, wishing I'd stop bugging him and go away.

And Now I do.

And Now, for the record and for the FTC, I would like to publicly state that I have received no goods or services in exchange for writing about the dry cleaners between the car park and the T. This is not a compensated endorsement -- in fact, it should not be considered an endorsement at all. But it's not an admonition, either. I can hardly risk a public insult, after all, considering that they're still in possession of my down.

Because oh, yeah, if that Manager thought I was bus/train/walking back the next day at his convenience, then I've got a little Ancient Chinese Secret of my own:


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

And Right Now I Am Writing a Blog

Oh, hell. I put this up last night and took it down because it isn't narky-snarky like I try to be. But it's what I'm living now, and I've come to realize that if I'm to post at all it's this or nothing. I'm going to try to write through it, to find my narky-snarky voice inside it, somehow -- and I will. I know I will. In the meantime, though, it just might be a train wreck. But train wrecks are fun, aren't they? And anyone who says they're not a rubbernecker is a lie. So let's make a deal: you promise to slap me upside the head if I get mawkish, and I promise to cheat toward the camera if I bleed.

It was the pile of sawdust under Chuck (TFT) that convinced me to eat the fucking strawberry.

I was out in Worcester for yet another meeting with Mom’s liver doctor. These things are starting to get old, but I wasn’t really worried about this one. At her last appointment (which I wasn’t at, and which was with her GP and not the liver doc, but still) the news was that she’s not sick enough to qualify for a transplant – either from me or from some random dead guy. So never mind that she doesn’t eat or drink or really even move: if she’s not that sick, then (I’m extrapolating now, but I think my logic’s sound) she isn’t dying. And not to be all me-me-me or anything, but it also means I won't be trying to finish my Really Big Project while I'm on a morphine drip. Although -- hoo, boy, talk about rubbernecking! That one would probably be worth the ride.

Anyway, so I pulled into the garage 45 minutes early and sat there listening to the end of an interview with Rosanne Cash on NPR. At first I worried poor old Rosie'd bought the farm, what with Terry Gross’s side job as the Crypt Keeper and all. But she’s alive. She just has a new album coming out. Golly, but I love that woman’s voice. And good old Terry did make sure to send me off into the bowels of the GI clinic at UMASS Memorial with Rosanne’s version of “Motherless Children” ringing in my ears, just so I wouldn’t think she’d gotten soft.

Well, I’ll give you motherless children, Terry. I thought I damn near was one when Dad finally pushed Mom’s wheelchair through the door. She looked like a fetus. All curled up against herself, protecting her soft core. She was trying not to hurl, is what she was doing, and for the entire hour they made us wait past the appointed time, she won. But as soon as they put us in the room and shut the door, she let it fly.

youuuuuu… hhhh…youuuuuuu…hhhh…youuuuu…hhhh…

“This is not good,” the Liver Doctor said.

No, Doc, it isn’t.

“How long has this been going on?”

Well, Doc, since a little before we first told you about it? Back in June?

“Do you think she ought to be admitted?”

Yes, Doc, please.


youuuuuu… hhhh…youuuuuuu…hhhh…youuuuu…what

“We can’t admit you against your will. Will you allow it?”

youuu… hh…fine

Oh, thank god. Because, Mom, if you're in the hospital maybe they can get you to eat and drink things, and if you eat and drink things maybe you’ll get stronger, and if you get stronger maybe you can move again. Plus once you’ve been re-admitted your insurance plan reboots, which means you can go back to rehab, which means you can get physical therapy, which means maybe you can even walk and talk like in the old days. Wouldn’t that be great? To be strong enough to pat your dog again? Strong enough to possibly receive the better half of my hopefully-not-yet-too-booze-or-bile-damaged gut? And then go back to Maine? And tend your garden?

“Let’s take one thing at a time,” said Liver Doctor.

Okay, Mister Liver Doctor. Fine.

It took a few more minutes to hit me on a conscious level, but right there, for the first time, I understood the existential genius of that neuvo-Zen, live-for-the-now idea. It isn't about yoga teachers smoothing chakras and getting the ultimate enjoyment from their morning chai. It's about keeping your head down and inching yourself through the worst circles of hell as painlessly as possible and, if you're lucky, coming out the other side.


The Now to Live For: getting Mom admitted.

After that, the next will be whatever it is. But that is next. And this is now.

Right now we have to wait right here till there’s a bed. Which can take hours. Even days. The last time we did this, Mom was in the emergency room from Friday night till Sunday evening. So Mom's Now for right now is to wait. And mine, as selfish as I hope it doesn’t sound, is to go home. Dad says he’ll wait here with her, and what good would I be doing, anyway?

I hugged both of them, twice, and then I left.

I stopped on my way out and bought a large, black coffee for the road. They really do make the best cup of coffee in that little lobby shop.

I used the one bar I had left on my cell phone to call Johnny and tell him I had not left Worcester yet. I was still on with him when I stepped up to Chuck (TFT) and saw the sawdust. Which I was positive had not been down there when I left.

It was quite pretty, actually. Cedar, I think. In a sort of paisley pattern. Or paisley shape, I should say. Just one blob. And reddish-yellow. Not yet soaked in whatever viscous liquid had at long last become emancipated from my car.

Although that "whatever"'s disingenuous. I knew it was transmission juice. I knew.

But right Now I had a job to do, and that job was to go home. The car was finally dying – well, let's be real here and admit the car was dead. This was at long last the morbid moment I’ve been waiting for, and there was nothing left that could be done for poor old Chuck. But if I had any hope of being any use to anybody in the short term, then I still had a mess of duties left to do. And the #1 one, at this moment, was: Get Home. So I turned the key in the ignition, and I put poor old Chuck (TFT) in gear.

He moved.

So I kept driving.

The big blue ox kept right on breathing till I got off the expressway at Neponset Circle, which is just about five miles from my home. In fact, it's possible that if I hadn’t taken that detour at Route 140 in Marlboro for that Angus 1/3-pounder, we might have even made it all the way.

But you know what?

That Angus burger tasted pretty sweet.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

There Are Worse Things Than Staring at the Water

Sorry I never finished the traffic-ticket story. On top of regular-old work and stuff I'm writing two other Very Big Things and going to nine thousand doctors appointments and also -- oh, this'll be fun! -- getting all four of my wisdom teeth yanked out.

So, to keep myself (and everyone else around here) marginally sane, I've also been doing an awful lot of this:

Epileptics, beware. I'm not exactly steady with the camera.

That's the off-leash you-know place a mile from my house. Shhh. We have to call it the you-know place or things get very barky around here. Sometimes we just call it Dog Shit Mountain. Here's what it looks like from the front gate, standing still.

Oh, speaking of which, Dr. One Friend had to say good bye to One Dog yesterday.

Bye, Zuni.
In your short life you saw more of this beautiful country
than most people ever will.

I'll be back in the swing of things soon enough, and when I am I'll tell you all about Johnny's taint and my teeth, our stupid furnace company and our fabulous new refinance, the cop Johnny called about the tree guy in our backyard and the junkie he's seen hovering around, plus the gallons of grape pie filling and all the other kitchen nightmares. But in the meantime, all of those things happened just this week, and I'm exhausted. It's raining, and it's cold, and I'm going back to bed with this dude for a while.


Oh yeah, P.S.: I didn't get the traffic ticket. The cop called me "Sir," and I think he was so embarrassed afterwards that he just didn't have the nerve. So now I'm not just old but manly. Plus he identified himself as undercover, gang squad, so I'm a little nervous I might also be a Crip.