Boxing Days

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[Peering out the window]
Phoebe: Hey. It looks like Ugly Naked Guy is moving.
Ross: Ironically, most of the boxes are labeled "clothes."

—Friends, "The One Where Everybody Finds Out" (2/11/99)

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This weekend was our last big push to get stuff packed. There’s still a bunch of stuff out and about the house but we’re about done, for the most part. I’ll be dismantling this computer on Tuesday night, so if I post later this week, it’s because I punched a hole in the firewall at work. (I’ve been pondering just paying for a proxy server.) The movers come on Wednesday and anything that’s still here afterwards I’m sure we can handle. The renters get to move in on Sunday, assuming they have their first month’s rent in their hands. 

That’s going to leave me Thursday and Friday nights, and Saturday to finish getting the house in shape. The funny thing is that we’re doing a bunch of projects that we’ve put off, so now the new people can enjoy them.

For instance, we finally put in the new bathtub a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, we discovered today that it has a small leak—I think it’s in the overflow—so that will have to be taken care of.

Also on the agenda: Putting baseboard molding in the living room. I just never got to it and then I didn’t want to move all the furniture around. So there’s molding on exactly one wall of the room right now. There’s also a repair that I have to make to the heating duct for the living room, and I have to replace the dryer vent. That’s not an old project, though: we discovered that problem very recently.

Then, I guess, on Saturday we’ll also take the time to rent one of those extractor carpet shampooers and clean all the carpets. Busy!

Contradiction in Terms

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Chandler: I’m gonna be moving out, so you are gonna be in charge of paying the rent.
Joey: Right! And when is that deal?
Chandler: First of the month.
Joey: And that’s every month?
Chandler: No, just the months you actually want to live here.

Friends, "The One on the Last Night: (11/4/99)

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Another reason to hate Countrywide Home Loans.

I refinanced the Morrell Park house in January so that we’d have money for a down payment on the new place, whenever we found one. I had a new account number but hadn’t gotten a bill yet, so I simply set up the automatic payments to continue, with the new account number. I did it the same way, with slightly more than half the monthly payment every two weeks. In any given four-week period, Countrywide would be getting about $70 MORE than I owed each month.

My first payment was due on March 1. By the time that date rolled around, they’d actually gotten three payments. Shortly after that they got a fourth. This past weekend I get a pre-recorded call: "Please call Countrywide at blahdeblah." I call the number and of course, it’s the weekend so nobody’s there.

Yesterday I make the call again and they tell me that the March payment hasn’t been received. Wait a minute, I said. You guys got money at the end of January, two in February and two since then. I should be half a payment ahead, not behind at all.

That’s not the way it works, they say. When a partial payment comes in then they count it as a "partial" and put the whole thing towards principal because they basically can’t figure out what else to do with it.

Ultimately, what they do is take the four payments and convert them into two separate payments for February and for March, and the leftover $130-something goes to principal. Now, how can I continue my pattern of payment, which is much more stable for me financially, without going through this again?

"Well, we can put you on a payment plan," the rep says, and puts me on hold to transfer me to another department.

So the other department picks up a couple of minutes later and the payment plan looks like a great idea, except that the way it works is that they’d take the money directly out of my account (as opposed to my sending the payments to them), and I’d have to pay $4 per transaction to do it this way. That would add up to $104 per year that COULD be going to something more useful, like about 35 large Polish sausages from Polock Johnny’s. More, if you buy them by the box. Anyway.

I immediately object to this, because I have Internet banking and I’m already paying out automatically and not paying extra for the privilege. But if I continue doing it this way then I’m going to run into this trouble every month. "Is there something I can do to avoid that?" No. "Perhaps if I put something in writing?"

"You could do that," she conceded, "but there are so many accounts that we can’t count on people following the directions."

This is exactly what you like to hear, that you’re just one in the faceless crowd. What’s more, this basically boils down to the idea that even if I put it in writing, there’s nobody at the receiving end who’s smart enough to put a flag of some kind on my account that this is my intent in paying in this fashion. I realize finally that I’m wasting my time and ask for a supervisor.

Another couple of minutes’ wait. By now I’m on the phone for forty-five minutes. The supervisor comes on and I go through the entire story and he completely understands, he totally understands, he’s very sympathetic, he realizes exactly what I’m talking about, but basically indicates that they’re unwilling to deal with it any other way than the way that costs an extra hundred bucks a year. (I’d paraphrased something he’d said using the word "unwilling" and he gave me an unequivocal "yes" to that.)

So I’m back to monthly payments (still putting in the extra seventy bucks) but I’m totally bailing on Countrywide come next summer. I’d say they’ve pissed me off for the last time but I’m sure they have some other card up their sleeve somewhere. Fuckwits.

Erin Go Bragh-less

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Rufus T. Firefly: Now that you’re Secretary of War, what kind of an army do you think we ought to have?
Chicolini: Well, I tell you what I think, I think we should have a standing army.
Rufus T. Firefly: Why should we have a standing army?
Chicolini: Because then we save money on chairs.

Duck Soup (1933)

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So the plan was to go to New York today and see Daughter in a play. Which meant that if I was going to do the corned-beef-and-cabbage thing, I’d probably do it on Friday.

Then came all the sleet and the ice and the Goddamn, What a Mess. I called Daughter and told her that it wouldn’t be likely that I’d come up because of the weather. By that point there’d already been something like two hours of the sleet and it was clearly starting to create trouble. Later on, I talked to her mother and she said that it was even worse up there. She completely agreed with the decision to stay down here. So I, thinking that we can do the Irish meal on Saturday, got something else together for dinner instead.

This morning we decided to put a few boxes in the car and take care of two things: 1) Drop the boxes off at the new place, and 2) buy a new washer and dryer for the house. We knew which model and everything, and we were going to buy them at Boscov’s. So at about 11:30 we headed up to White Marsh and talked to the salesman there. He pretty much confirmed our choice as being good for us, and set up the sale and the delivery.

We then went to the Fuddrucker’s in the mall for lunch. You kind of have to love a place whose name sounds like a vaguely obscene Mad Magazine Fold-In. While we were there, GF asked me if I wanted to wander around Ikea for awhile. Well, when don’t I?

Into Ikea and the first thing we see is a big tent outside the building. There’s a sign outside about getting into summer, and what the hell: we go into the tent. But of course, it’s about eighteen degrees even inside the tent. The poor girl stationed in there better be getting hazardous duty pay. As it was, she was wrapped in a blanket and huddled near a small space heater.

Inside the store, we’re looking around and getting some ideas for the new place, including this furniture series. We make some mental notes and start to head out. On the way out, GF suggests looking at the "As-Is" (scratch ‘n’ dent) section, which we usually do. So we wander over there and, as we’re looking over furniture, GF says, "Isn’t that the same sofa we were looking at upstairs?"

Now, it’s hard to tell, because you basically buy a frame and then a separate set of slipcovers. And what I’m looking at is a frame. I find a tag and confirm that it is, indeed, the Ektorp sofa. It’s in the As-Is area because of a tear in the fabric.

Let’s see: the fabric has a tear in it that, once repaired, will never show because it’ll be under a slipcover? This might be a pretty good deal. Further wandering located another piece in the series, a chair. The chair was on this Island of Misfit Toys because the packaging was missing. A few queries of a salesman reveals that if we buy these two pieces and then go get the matching slipcovers, we’ll save about $300 altogether on them.

We’d just saved about $200 buying this washer and dryer as a set and now we’re saving $300 on the furniture. I spent $1600 today over the course of TWO purchases. I’m going broke saving all this money. If I save any more, I’m going to be bankrupt. The problem we had, though, was getting the furniture home. Ikea does not hold the As-Is for any time at all. So GF called her dad and begged him to bring his pick-up truck down from Monkton.

He showed up pretty quickly (about 45 minutes later), considering. We got the sofa on the truck and he and I took it down to the house. Since we hadn’t been there since GF did the final walk-through on Thursday, the steps were about an inch of slushy ice. Fortunately her dad had a crowbar in the truck. We broke that stuff up and then hauled the sofa inside. Then back to Ikea to get the chair.

By the time we’d gotten the chair (and the car, with the boxes—remember the boxes?) back to the house, it was 5:30. And it’s still a half-hour to get back home. GF wanted to put the slipcovers on the furniture, and then she and her father shot the breeze for awhile. We got home at almost 8:00

Corned Beef? Not so much. Reheated leftovers, and I dared anyone to complain about it.   

Big Debt, Just Like That

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Loan broker: So, you found your dream house. And right now you’re asking First Boise Savings & Loan to give you a mortgage.
Arlo Pear: As you can see, I’ve had the same job for 15 years.
Loan broker: Well, that’s very nice, but it’s not enough. I mean, Al Capone had the same job for 30 years.
Monica Pear: But we’ve never had any problem with credit.
Loan broker: Oh, don’t get me wrong. I trust you. We trust all our customers. Why, this bank was *built* on trust. Here. Sign here…Uh, you gotta get closer. This pen is chained down, you know.

Moving (1988)

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So at around noon, GF calls me up on my cell. She’s doing another walk-through on the house, since it’s been several weeks since the first one. As it turns out, the house’s owners are there, cleaning up and turning up the heat to welcome us. She has a few questions about things we couldn’t figure out (there’s a heater in the basement, for instance, that’s connected to the main system but doesn’t work the same way), which she gets answered, but then she learns another detail: the closing is at 3:30, not 4:00.

Uh-oh.

She calls me up and lets me know this, and all can say is that I’ll do my best.

1:30: I get to North Avenue and pick up a couple of folders that were being audited. I go to the area where the interviews are taking place. Someone on the panel notices me and looks all confused. "Aren’t you at 2:30?" It’s 1:45. I say yes and tell her that I had to pick up some stuff and I was just going to sit around here and work, if that’s OK. Instead she offers to just take me right away, since the 2:00 appointment isn’t there yet.

Great!

The interview panel was just as I described below, and I knew four out of the five panelists, although everyone played it pretty cool. I was actually wound up enough that I nearly blew one question ("identify four changes in the most recent version of IDEA") and had to come back to it, but overall I thought I did OK. Later on, talking to my boss, who spoke to one of the panelists, I learned that I’m actually one of the strongest candidates, and that I was the only one (so far, there are a few more interviews to go) who nailed the writing sample. Everyone else took the wrong tack.  The writing prompt described some parent complaints and directed you to compose a memo that would outline how to handle it. The key was not to assume that the school had screwed up, but rather that you needed to find out what, if anything, had gone wrong. Apparently everyone else wrote these detailed, punitive memos. So if all goes well, then they’ll probably more me up at the end of the school year.

And! I’m out by 2:30. Off to Columbia I go!

The settlement goes pretty much as expected; the (now-)former owners are really nice people and it made me feel that much worse that they had to wait a few extra weeks to sell their house. They took down our email addresses just in case there’s some detail about the house they forgot to tell us about. You know, "ya gotta jiggle the handle on the upstairs toilet" kind of stuff.

So. Sign here, here, here, here, here, here, initial here and here, sign here, here, here, here, here, here and here and suddenly I feel like I’m channelling Ron Butterfield. (You either get that or you don’t.) Congratulations! You’re a couple hundred thousand dollars in debt!

So we have almost exactly two weeks to finish packing up and move everything up to the new place, since I’ve got the people renting this place moving in on April 1st. Perhaps the next Baltimore Blogger Happy Hour will be my housewarming party. 

Confluence of Events

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Josh: What’s this?
Scotty Brennen: Pay day.
Josh: [Opens up the envelope and looks at his check] A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY SEVEN DOLLARS?
Scotty: Yeah. They really screw you don’t they?

Big (1988)

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Riding a roller coaster.

You know how they do that bit where they start to climb the hill, they whack! to a brief stop and then start the climb…click, click, click…and you’re all "OK, here we go" click click click and the tension mounts as you get higher click click click and if you’re in the front you actually start to crest the top of the hill click click click and then all of a sudden the cars let go of the chain and you

PLUNGE!

and now you’re moving at some terrific breakneck speed hereandthere upanddown sidetoside and ohmygod you can’t catch your breath and then before you know it?

Ride’s over. Move along.

This is going to be my day Thursday. It’ll start off slow. I have to go to a school to monitor a new person and make sure she has a handle on her job. Then I have to head to my home school to work on some data entry stuff. All the time I have to keep an eye on what’s happening later that day, because at 2:30 I have a job interview at the North Avenue Headquarters.

Job interviews at this level in the Baltimore City Public School System are kind of weird. You face an interview panel. They give you five questions plus an "icebreaker" question, and they score the quality of your answers. (They don’t score the icebreaker.) For this particular position (Educational Specialist), they also had me compose a memo which I have to submit for grading. Candidates have to average a certain minimum score.

The questions are posed by each  member of the panel; each person has their own question. In addition, the questions are printed on index cards in front of you, so you can refer back. Once the question is asked, they give you nothing. Everything’s up to you to answer correctly. So it’s kind of like being interviewed by Mount Rushmore. At some point in the distant past, someone decided that this was the fairest way to do it because everyone got the same questions, in the same order, and had the same rubric for scoring. The whole thing is supposed to take about a half hour. Unfortunately, when I get nervous I tend to babble, so I may run longer. On the other hand…

…at 4:00 I have to be in Columbia. We’re finally closing on the new house. This morning I went to the bank to get the settlement check. This is probably the largest check I’ve ever had to deal with, beating the previous winner by about $12,000.

So I have roughly an hour to go from the job interview to the house closing. That’s assuming that my interview starts on time and ends on time. Could there be two more stressful things going on in anyone’s life so close together?

I figure by 7:00 or so I’ll be just a little intoxicated. On the other hand, I’m nursing a toothache and I’ve been popping Tylenol until I can get seen by the dentist, so maybe alcohol isn’t such a great idea. Maybe I’ll just take plain aspirin tomorrow and bleed out all night. Heh.

This weekend Daughter is in a play at school, as in actually up on the stage instead of doing the usual Tech Nerd routine (like father, like daughter). The play is My Favorite Year. I remember some of the movie being pretty good, but I also remember the stage play being not so successful. So we’re driving up to Long Island. And, of course, we’re bringing back a bunch of REAL bagels (take that, Geisha). Also, a couple of bottles of Gold’s horseradish, which I can’t find around here. Gotta see if the supermarkets are making pinwheels yet, which are amazing on the grill. And a few other sundry items.

Fair Warning

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President Josiah "Jed" Bartlet: Why did you leave the White House?
Deborah Fiderer: Well Mr. President, if you wanna talk about getting screwed with your pants on…
President Bartlet: Charlie!
Deborah Fiderer: …I guess I got pretty well doinked.

—The West Wing, "Posse Comitatus" (5/22/02)

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Many school districts offer ways of taking care of teachers’ income during the summer. Some school districts simply pay their teachers year-round, giving you twenty-six checks. Some districts will pay you for only ten months, but the last check of the year (at the beginning of the summer) will be much larger, basically trusting you to be able to budget your expenses until the first check comes a couple of weeks into the new school year.

Baltimore City Schools offers neither of these. If you work for ten months, you get paid for ten months. Period. A teacher’s pay gets broken down into 20-1/2 pay periods. So the last check isn’t bigger; in fact it’s not even the same. It’s smaller than all the others you’ve gotten. And the income stops until sometime after the school year begins.

So as a result of all this, back in August I was late with a payment on my house. Knew all about it, wasn’t much I could do at the time. So I compensated by changing my payment pattern. Instead of paying the whole thing at once each month, I sent a half-payment to Countrywide every two weeks. In fact, I paid more than half every two weeks, hoping I could nibble into the backlog of money owed. Between that and the third check in December, I figured I’d have the whole thing made up by the end of the (calendar) year.

This, as it turns out, was not the case. Now, let me tell you why.

When you pay more on a mortgage (or any large loan, it appears) than you’re expected to, the overage goes "to the back end" of the loan; that is, it gets applied to the principal. It doesn’t matter if you’ve got a late payment that needs to be rectified. The only way that they’ll apply it to the late payment is if you let them know in writing that this is your wish. As it happens, I was absent on that day when I wasn’t enrolled in business school, so my record on the account had me for what they call a "rolling 30", meaning that after August I was in a constant state of being 30 days late: The August payment came in September, the September came in October, and so forth. And all the extra money went to the back end, until I refinanced the house in February. (This also explains why I got a few hundred dollars less than I expected from the refinance. They took their late payment at that point.)

This, it seems, is what killed my mortgage back on February 23rd. The screwed-up part of all this is that my new mortgage was going to be with Countrywide, the same people who are holding my old mortgage. They could easily have looked at the payments themselves rather than the credit report with its half-dozen "rolling 30s" and seen what was up. Naïveté, not malice or laziness or anything else, did us in.

And we wound up going back to the bank that had us in the first place, with the incredibly high interest rate and god help them if they give us any "I told you so" crap. Our new closing date is March 15, assuming nothing else bizarre happens.

I’m thinking we wait a year or so and refinance both mortgages with another bank entirely.

Gone Missing

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Stephen Colbert: The cereal once known as "Sugar Pops", then as "Corn Pops", has changed its name once again to "Pops". They already took out the sugar. Now they’ve taken out the corn. What the hell is left? Now, I’ve always been suspicious of this particular cereal. It comes in that foil bag as if we needed extra shielding from some sort of radio active output. Plus it has no mascot. I just don’t trust a kids’ cereal that can’t even get a cartoon animal to endorse it.

The Colbert Report (3/22/06)

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It’s been a busy week for several reasons. One of them involved getting homeowner’s insurance on the new house. There was a problem because the house still has the old-style glass fuses instead of circuit breakers. So some companies, including the one that insures my current home, won’t even go near it. Others will insure you, but their rates won’t be "as competitive".

The next electrical obstacle involved the amount of service that the house has. Nobody semed to know, and the inspection report, while noting the fuses, said nothing about the level of service. It turns out that older houses had about 60 amps’ worth of service put in them. So we had to find out for sure because absolutely nobody will initiate a policy on a house with less than 100 amps. Fortunately we had the walk-through scheduled on Wednesday. The fuse box was the first place I went. There was lots of juice, and GF got on the phone to the insurance company. We’d talked to the mortgage company, and they said that everything was good, all they needed was the insurance information. Thursday evening we went to the insurance agent in Glen Burnie and dropped off a check. The agent has a long-term relationship with GF, so they’d already sent the information to the mortgage company. Everything was in place for a closing on Monday the 26th.

On Friday morning, our real estate agent got a message on her voicemail: "We can’t service the loan. Call if you have any questions."

Um, yeah. We have a couple of questions. Such as, What the hell happened between Thursday and Friday?

GF talked to at least one person and our agent talked to another. I got through to nobody, having only one phone number to deal with and getting only voice mail. So we’re still not clear on why the mortgage company bailed out on the last possible day (and a Friday, no les), leaving three real estate agents, everyone in my house, and an elderly couple living in North Carolina in a sudden lurch on a Friday afternoon

So we’re not closing on the house Monday. Whether we can get a mortgage on this place, and/or whether these people will allow an extension so that we can try with another lender, remains to be seen. But it’s been a lot of work and stress and expense (about $2000) that appears to be coming to absolutely nothing.

Feeling Boxed In

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Nora Charles: Are you packing?
Nick Charles: Yes dear, I’m putting away this liquor.

After the Thin Man (1936)

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Many of the things that are involved with buying a house and moving seem to go hand-in-hand with what Mark Bryan refers to as "Yellow Jeep Syndrome": buy a yellow Jeep and suddenly you’re seeing them everywhere. It’s not that everybody’s buying yellow Jeeps now; it’s just that you’ve tuned in to noticing them.

So it is with moving. Suddenly I’ve noticed the fourteen bazillion spam emails I’m getting related to mortgages, moving vans are everywhere, real estate ads are ubiquitous. And boxes. There are cardboard boxes all over the place! Which is fine; I’ve been grabbing them when I can.

At work, we go through a lot of paper, so I can get ahold of a couple of paper boxes each week. GF’s father works in a supermarket, so he’s been snagging the cases that formerly held cereal and paper products. GF’s mom works at Goucher College so she’s able to snare a few as well. Ain’t nothing but a family thing. 

We needed to make our lives a little bit productive during the snow days, so GF and I spent some time packing the non-essentials. And to help me maintain my sanity, I’ve started numbering the boxes. We expect to close before the end of the month, and once that’s done we should be moving a few boxes at a time until the Big Day comes and the truck takes all the large stuff, along with whatever remains. 

I mentioned here awhile back (I’d link but I can’t find the post) that I’ve moved many times in my adult life, and every time I move, I wind up leaving behind some piece of myself. This is what I’m going through now: am I really going to need this in the new place, or can I afford to throw it out/give it away?

Packing to move can be a very introspective process, and one I’m not always willing to go through. When I was packing my cookbooks, GF asked me if I’d weeded them out. In fact, I hadn’t, because I knew that I’d spend too much time poring over each one and deciding whether I had it because of a certain curiosity value (e.g. the Fannie Farmer cookbook from the 1930s that I have, or another one I own which is dedicated to cooking on a boat), or because it has a certain sentimental value (such as a homemade one from a town near where I grew up and I have no idea where it came from). Other books are easier to weed through.

But sometimes it’s tough having to decide what piece of your past is worth discarding. 

Just Like That!

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Jimmy Fallon: As a gesture of gratitude, Kirsten Dunst bought a house for her parents, and as a gesture of gratitude to my parents, I finally moved out of their house.

Saturday Night Live, "Weekend Update"

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GF and I had a pretty busy weekend. She had doctor’s appointments to deal with because of her car crash on Wednesday, plus she was helping her mother to buy a car. In between all that, she and I were looking at houses. We actually found one up in Parkville that we liked, so we made arrangements to meet with our agent today to put a bid together.

See, here’s the thing: we’ve both owned houses, but neither of us have had to deal with a conventional mortgage before. And it didn’t help that our agent was a relative novice. She kept having to get bailed out by someone else in the office. But overall things went well and we put something together. We bid more than we really wanted to because we got word that another offer was going to be submitted, so we arranged a sort of personal compromise between the asking price and what we wanted to bid, plus we asked for partial help on the closing costs. (They were offering $5000 on the asking price; we asked for $2500 on our lower-than-that bid.) In my head, that looks like everyone’s conceding something. The perfect compromise is when nobody’s happy, right?

I went out this evening for a little while and when I returned, GF told me that she’d already heard back from the agent. Our bid was accepted! The other one was higher, we’re told, but was somehow more complex. I’m not sure why but OK.

So we’ll be closing on the new place in a few weeks, which is pretty scary and exciting at the same time. In the meantime, we’re not bailing out on Morrell Park entirely. I’m keeping this house and already have a likely renter lined up. And, as a property owner in this part of town, I’m still literally invested in this neighborhood and want to see it succeed. So I’ll still be pretty active, if not as visible, around here.