Friday, May 29, 2009

we may all be in the same boat now, but the irresponsible people had a lot more fun

The facts are these:

I purchased a property in 2005 that was near the top of my affordability range for three main reasons:
a) It's across the street from dungeon headquarters--saving me hundreds of dollars on gas, rolls of quarters, parking tickets and commute time.

b) It's in an up-and-coming tony area; research predicted a very favorable return in a few years.

c) I had lived with my parents in suburbia for several years while my friends all partied in the city just so I could have enough money for a place of my own.

a) My field of business started to slump, and a hiring freeze shut me out of permanent employment there.

b) It was hard to find another full-time gig, so I rented the place out for only 3/4 of what I had to pay every month.

c) I landed a great job--only to be laid off exactly two months later, on my birthday.

d) H was laid off the very next day. It had to be a sign.

a) I got in on a startup company with a solid client and a lot of potential for success.

b) H moved out here to be with me and I could actually live in the place I owned.

Despite all that:
a) I wasn't making nearly as much money and H had a hard time finding something here, so I put the place on the market.

b) My realtor talked me into making a lot of expensive upgrades, such as stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, etc. to help the place sell more quickly.

c) I had to furnish the place from scratch to make it show-ready.

d) The housing market bubble burst.

Then things really started going downhill at the end of last year:
a) H's industry tanked and he is underemployed.

b) Our big client's investors took a hit in the stock market and it canceled our contract--decimating (literally) our company. I was laid off and apparently the boss is continuing on with our smaller clients by working 24 hours a day with unpaid interns.

c) My industry is imploding I am competing with the best and the brightest in my field for few jobs, and haven't secured anything better than short-term projects.

d) H and I do not have health insurance.

e) But what we do have is a FAT mortgage, which unemployment does not begin to cover, let alone living expenses.

f) Everything I managed to save while living with my parents has drained away.

g) The condo association raised our hefty assessments by 10%.

h) So many people are hassling us to get married, even though we barely have enough cash to purchase enough Betty Crocker for a cupcake tower.

i) My place has been on the market for 13 months, and while we show it at least twice a week, we haven't even had a ridiculously lowball offer since the fall.

j) I am 30 years old and my parents are up at night worrying about my future as though I were still 18. My mom refuses to give up her double shifts despite the detrimental eye strain because they're constantly helping us out. Knowing that they are still trying to take care of me at a time when I should be helping them ease into retirement makes me die a little inside every time I think about it.

k) Sitting at home alone all day, sending resumes into a black hole of no/negative responses makes me feel more worthless by the hour.

l) And then there's Citimortgage. Let me just say that I have been filling out forms and sitting on hold for at least ten hours a week since January. I am convinced they are transferring me around and putting me off (such as making me do a lot of work to get into a programs that apparently do not apply to the unemployed, but not finding out that fact until THE END of the three-month application process). All the while I receive three to four calls a day from their automated machine asking me to call them. And I must repeat my history to every new person I talk to.

Something broke on Wednesday, when I finally got a hold of the Citibank representative assigned to my account, a "Ms. Golden," extension 1809501, who the day before had left me a message that it was imperative I call her by the end of the day, then left the office at about 1 p.m.

Ms. Golden informed me (in a fake-sincere tone) that while I had been "pre-approved" by Heather for the Obama-backed program and Citibank cashed that first discounted check to get it started three weeks ago, I was not actually approved. Oh, and I am now thousands of dollars delinquent on payments that Heather told me would be pushed back to the end of my loan if I made that payment that day (May 10, Mother's Day, when I should have been spending time with my mother instead of being on hold with the damn bank).

Golden said that "this is a very large company and all of these programs are rolled out by the government. These things take weeks to be approved. Some of them are discontinued and new ones are rolled out all the time." Heather had also given me a phone number to the MAU department (no one seems to know what that stands for), which I had been trying to call to determine if I was indeed qualified or not, and was told someone would call me back in week. Golden told me it had been my responsibility to call and find out if I was in fact approved. When I brought up the MAU department, she snapped, "The MAU department does NOT take outside calls. And the MAU department DOES NOT CALL ANYONE."

I lost it. Here was the third time in five months I had been told I was "pre-approved" for a program that turned out to be bogus. Another problem is that the mortgage I was given looks like a second mortgage, but it is actually in first lien position. Most Citibank representatives blow me off when they see "second mortgage" and dismiss my appeal without looking at it carefully enough to see that I only have the one.

I got a little irate. Golden was prattling on about how she was "trying to work with me, help me," but I was at the end of my rope. Everything they've been telling me for months has turned out to be a sham. So I likely did interrupt her. (To be fair, my phone connection was wavering in and out that day, so there was a delay--any of you who talk to me when I'm there know what I'm saying. So when I heard silence I would begin to speak and she'd think I was interrupting her again.) Each time our call was disconnected, it would take upwards of 20 minutes of being transferred around (even though I had her extension) for me to get a hold of her again, if at all.

"Miss," Ms. Golden said, "When you are ready to LISTEN TO ME and stop INTERRUPTING, then you can call me back." Click.

I cried for the rest of the day.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

another beautiful day in this neighborhood

H and I are off to suburbia for the holiday weekend. It's been absolutely gorgeous here in Illinois the past few days. And we have to make the most of it before the weather gets spiked with humidity. Our plan? Hang out in a huge hole in my parents' back yard for the next few days.

If all goes well, there will be a lovely garden plot where the hole is and we will return triumphant to the city to show off our rock-hard muscles--just in time for summer. Let's hope it doesn't rain.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cadiz and H, you are the last team to arrive. I'm sorry to tell you that you have both been eliminated from the Race

Way back in March, Angel07 celebrated her birthday in style--Amazing Race style. She and her man, Mark, did a fantastic job thinking up challenges and putting together a very fun day for all of us.

You long-term readers know how much I love CBS's The Amazing Race. In fact there has been much talk in the comments over the years about getting teams together and how well we'd all do against one another. H and I were so convinced we'd be a perfect team that we even filmed and submitted an application video a few years ago. However when we watch it now, it's easy to see why we never got a call. Regardless, he's great with directions and I'm an excellent driver (I know everyone says that, but my dad's training and years of weaving through traffic at high speed combined with constantly having to turn around has made me quite effective under pressure).

That gorgeous afternoon--60 degrees in Mid-March!--we got to Mark's house about 30 seconds before the final check-in time. Phew! However one half of the Wonder Twins (dressed in matching green-and-white stripedy shirts and black winter vests) kept us waiting anyway; apparently there are a few exits off the highway with the same name and she had taken the wrong one.

We received a
RACE INFO packet containing maps, instructions that explained the CLUES, ROAD BLOCKS (for one team member) and DETOURS (for both team members), and a pen.

The race took place in a suburban area with which H and I had zero familiarity. Other teams knew it well, but we were confident we'd win handily anyway. We rarely miss an episode of the show and know all the pitfalls. This may have worked against us.

Mark gathered us all in his driveway and gave us the first clue which led to the big mailbox in the center of the cul-de-sac. Everybody took off running for that red-and-yellow envelope.

H and I sprinted toward the car, where we got in and opened the clue: "Make your way on FOOT..."

It was a number-to-letter puzzle. Other racers just ran to the park to sit down and figure it out, but H and I were already behind, so we solved it while we ran. Splitting the paper and doing it together was a pretty quick method.

Mark was at the first location, a children's park with picnic tables, a jungle gym and some really confused kids. We whispered the solution in Mark's ear. He gave us our next clue:

All of the envelopes, boxes and clues were clearly marked with TAR colors. These guys were not playing around.

We were the second team to get this 60-piece kids' puzzle. Apparently in our haste, we didn't see the pile of scotch tape dispensers on the other table. Only after we heard other teams using it did we get some, which really helped. But that put us in second-to-last place. On the back of the completed puzzle was the next clue:

We ran back to the car. I am much more out of shape than I thought; H got to the car while I caught my breath and picked me up on our way to Wendy's, where we got our first DETOUR, "Eat it or Play it."

In "Eat it" each team member had to gulp down a small Wendy's Frosty. That was out because H has lactose issues. "Play it" was a simplified game of war, conducted by A07 and the Kind Dentist. We got very lucky and won right away, putting ourselves ahead of several teams who were already there. A07 handed us the next clue:

We took off to the train station. The thing that sucks about scavenger hunts and the like is that the first team to get there wastes a bunch of time determining the exact location while subsequent teams just look for the cars and follow.

No matter, I had Eagle Eye H with me, who found a plastic Easter egg right away.

Luckily ours had keys in it; decoy eggs contained paper clips.

The next clue was in an out-of-the-way-place. Next to the station was the stadium for a local minor-league baseball team. There were several lots, which were pretty much empty, but spot #15 was off to the side. We had learned our lesson about showing other people the way and parked out of sight. There was a yellow-and-red box under a spruce tree that contained the next clue, a ROADBLOCK, and Mark was chilling on a lawn chair behind the tree.

H has definitely seen more American movies than I have, so he did the challenge. But they were tricky questions, such as "Which singer/songwriter composed the music for Princess Bride and Wag the Dog?" another neither of us can remember, and the one H got correct, "Name the actors who played the aliens in Earth Girls Are Easy," even though he hasn't seen the film. Mark gave us the next clue, which ended up being the root of our demise:

"Keep your eyes open for the "light" at the end of the tunnel."

I mentioned that there were several parking lots at the Flyers' stadium, right? Some of them were cordoned off; more specifically the west-end lots were chained off. We headed to the west pell-mell and spent an UNGODLY amount of time driving/walking around lots that happened to be situated near an overpass, under which we could see the sun setting. I guess we overinterpreted the clue and were looking at the outside edge of the lots and near drainage pipes that could have been "tunnels." This took forever because we had to park the car and search on foot.

Unable to find the clue, we drove around again in a panic and almost hit an SUV coming around the corner who probably didn't expect anyone to be there. When we finally stumbled onto the next clue, it was (of course) at the first place we had stopped--and apparently walked right past somehow. A small plastic treasure box sitting at the base of the lightposts in the middle of the parking lot. There were several left, so we knew we were among the first to find it (this clue threw off a bunch of teams). We used the keys from the Easter egg to open it and get the next clue:

We headed back to Mark's house for what would be our final test. We were hot on the heels of the Wonder Twins, who at the last second changed from the left-hand turning lane to the right and took the other direction on the highway back to Mark's place. We continued to the left and went in what was the WRONG direction. This proved to be a big mistake, because traffic was building and we had to go all the way around before nearing the house.

When we did get there, we discovered the Wonder Twins arrived about 15 minutes before us and ultimately took first place. A few other teams had also finished the last challenge--a ROADBLOCK that I would do. However, pp and her boyfriend were still out there, so it wasn't over yet. My task? Match the country with its flag, a challenge often featured on the television program to see if racers could remember where they had been. This proved to be more difficult than I had imagined, especially because the last time I'd looked at an Almanac list of flags was probably in 1998. And there were eight more flags than spaces, some with only slight changes (like two for New Zealand with different-colored stars).

Kind Dentist was holding the answer key and telling us how many we each had wrong. I was hung up on Croatia, Kenya and Egypt. I should have changed them one at a time, strategically. D'Oh! As you can see, I had New Zealand (wrong-colored stars), Poland (the red is on the bottom), Belarus (not even close), England (much different than the U.K. flag) and Croatia (that's actually the Belarus flag) incorrect.

We came in last. It was a humbling moment for H and I, who thought we had this race in the bag. When I asked the Wonder Twin who completed that last challenge, I realized I never had a chance; she had been playing some sort of Facebook flag application game and locked it down in a matter of seconds. Who says Facebook is just a time waster?

Later we heard that two teams bypassed certain challenges altogether and just followed other teams. So technically we came in third to last. But it was a great experience. All that running around, navigating unfamiliar territory, putting our heads and hands together (however four adult hands are too many with a puzzle that small), there were plenty of opportunities to yell, but we kept cool and worked together despite the frustration. Which was comforting. Plus, we were able to redeem ourselves later with a couple rounds of Taboo.

One thing's for sure, though. I will never again look at Amazing Race
contestants with disdain. Luck plays a much bigger part than I thought, and it's way more challenging than it looks on tv.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

back, back from Cali, Cali

I had such a fabulous time in California. The first week, with cc and her family, made me feel as though I had just left the spa without even getting a massage (however we did get pedicures; I even splurged on the little flower design). Cc had such a bounty of delightful things to show me around San Diego, from her neighborhood (big ups to North Park/Hillcrest!) to Balboa Park and the world-famous zoo. Plus there was a lot of hanging out, a little WWE Monday Night Raw with b, shopping, and so much good food--not to mention the margaritas!

The first day I arrived, the temperature was near 90 degrees, so we decided to go to the beach. However I was not prepared for how cold the water was, so I only got in up to my knees. A few days later the temperature was dipping into the 50s. Cc said I saw the full spectrum of year-round SD weather in the span of a week.

We met up with one of H's sisters and her husband for dinner, and while I was the only one without my honey, somehow I was the target of the mariachi serenade. And then there was dessert: If you're in San Diego, be sure to check out Extraordinary Desserts. I've already had at least one dream about their Roasted Coconut Cream Torte, with more to come until I can get back there and have another piece. H's sister mentioned something about a crazy man who shot someone there a few years ago, but I'm telling you, those cakes are totally worth the risk.

At the end of the week, I hopped on the Amtrak to Los Angeles (the train goes by about 20 feet from the ocean in some spots) where H and his sister picked me up. We had a few very relaxing days with his family, during which I got to see a lot of adorable baby photos, spend quality time with his grandparents and have a few more In and Out Burgers--another thing I will probably be thinking about until I can get back there again.

But the main reason we were out in the Golden State was because H's buddy's sister asked him to photograph her wedding. She flew us out there and accommodated my trip to San Diego. During the event, I backed him up with another camera and was so busy I didn't have time to think about how I didn't really know anyone there.

Combined, we took about 2,200 shots that day. This is one of my favorites.