Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Wing Chairs

I don’t know why I thought it would be a good idea to buy used wing chairs from the funeral home. There they were, displayed on their perfect, compulsively watered front lawn with a sign and a number to call. I think they were asking $75 a piece for them and I ended up getting them both for $140. The seller, a quiet, dignified man explained that they had only been used in the waiting room. No one had spilled anything on them, and the only place they were really worn was on the top. The seller explained that this was where the director would rest his elbow as he stood by during services, etc. This seemed to be accurate, and after I convinced myself that they really hadn’t been in the near vicinity of the dead people, I thought they would fit right in at home and could some day be reupholstered.

But I was never quite, um, comfortable, with those chairs and didn’t have the decorating budget to rehabilitate them. Still, they were useful without doing any harm, and I got along with them until the point when a good friend died and I went to that same funeral home with her brother to make the arrangements for her cremation. The chairs in the waiting room that had replaced mine were soo much nicer. Although my friend who passed away had taken great delight in the back story of the provenance of my chairs, it was hard to feel good about them now. Three and a half years went by and my friend’s daughter decided to have a garage sale. We agreed it was time to offload the creepy wing chairs.

I told Eric about the chair plan at dinner one night and mentioned that I was excited to be getting rid of the bad energy they brought with them. This led to a wider discussion of the topic, including his father’s ashes, which resided in a box in a pretty antique cabinet that he’d brought with him, and was now in the kitchen. We talked about how having them in their place in the kitchen was starting to be bothersome. The door to the cabinet kept popping open. Spontaneously. I would close it firmly and it would happen again. It had started to get a bit spooky.

We talked about the fact that when his father was dying, thirty-five years before, he had asked that his ashes be scattered at the private high school where he had been a football star. When Eric tried to honor his wishes and scatter the ashes it turned out the football field had been paved over and was now the parking lot of the Pak N Save. Step two was thwarted as well. He took a trip across country to scatter the ashes on the football field where Dad had played in college. The field had been converted to astro-turf which just wouldn’t work. A series of adventures ensued including having the maid accidentally remove them from the safe in a cheap hotel room in New York City. The ashes were recovered and seemed to be on their best behavior for the next few decades while they moved from place to place, but now it appeared there’d been enough delay in finding a final resting place.

We agreed that they needed to be relocated, but we had to find a suitable resting place. It appeared that football fields were out and since this man had not liked the beach, despite having lived much of his life in South Florida, a scattering at sea was not a good option. I kept pressing. What else did he like? It turns out he liked golf. All of a sudden that seemed to present a perfect solution. We’d take him to a lovely, little local golf course. Eric, who can be wildly spontaneous, outdid himself that night. He suggested we go right then. We were still sitting at the dinner table and it was 9:30. He grabbed a little trowel and the box of ashes and we started for the front door. We were intercepted by Lana, who immediately sensed something was up. I told her we couldn’t explain but had to go right away because we were on a mission. She said that was creepy. Little did she know. We passed a cop car when we were nearing the course but he was going the other way. What relief. Timing is everything.

The golf course was beautiful even in the dark. We shined a little flashlight around until we found the perfect spot, a sand trap. Eric started a gorgeous, spontaneous eulogy to his father. I cried quietly while he dug a small hole in the sand and poured most of the ashes into the hole. We were almost done, when suddenly there was a car and there were lights. It was the cop. He’d circled back around and now he was walking out to the sand trap while shining his light on us. We both sat down. We had to. If we’d remained standing he would have seen that something was going on. He asked what we were doing and we said talking. Talking? He questioned again. I explained that we had teenagers at home and just needed to get away and talk a little. And sit in a sand trap? You could tell his gut just didn’t buy it, but he didn’t have any evidence to the contrary, and he slowly retreated and then drove away.

We cracked up. We laughed so hard we could hardly stop. It was the most intimate of moments between us and the sadness and the ridiculousness all blurred together. We quickly finished the job and got out of there. Dad must like the golf course because that was years ago and he’s been no trouble. The cabinet door has never opened by itself again.

Monday, December 6, 2010

My Town

I’m in love again. I can really feel it. Sometimes you know you’re supposed to feel a certain way, but you just can’t. Your head knows on some level but your heart can’t access it. And if you can’t actually feel it for long enough, is it really there? The feeling. Why must we live so often in a visceral haze? You probably think this is about my relationship. It’s not. I’ve had relationships that I couldn’t always feel. Not now. I can ALWAYS feel my relationship. Sometimes I don’t like how it makes me feel, but I feel something. No, it’s not even about another person. It’s about my town.

Finding my home was pure happenstance - as it often is. We lost our lease in San Francisco and were struggling to find a new place that would take two Dobermans. A friend told us of a vacant place he’d heard about in Mill Valley. I ventured across the bridge to check it out. Arriving in the rustic downtown, I looked around. Charming stores. Coffee house and bookstore. Yes, I was home. That was thirty-one years ago.

I’ve always loved living here, but lately, my connection has felt a bit abstract. Not today. This morning I took a walk downtown. This cold, November morning with frost on the lawns and vibrant, brilliant red and orange leaves fluttering around, I could feel how much I love my town. I could feel it so strongly I wanted to shout from the icy rooftops, “ I love you, Mill Valley.”

The physical beauty of our downtown is incomparable. Because it’s at the base of a mountain, it’s not a drive-through or drive-by. It’s a destination. There is a stand of Redwoods in the center of town. A creek runs through it. A babbling brook with a delightful flower shop over it. We have culture - a film festival, art exhibits and live entertainment. We have location, location and more location - thirty minutes from the beach and San Francisco. Less than four hours from the ski slopes.

There have been numerous changes downtown and I could sit in my rocker moaning about the good old days. We used to have a pharmacy, a place to buy a hammer or shoes for children. We could complain, but we shouldn’t. It’s still such a delightful cross between sophisticated and simple. We’re so fortunate to have the kind of downtown where you can bank, buy books and groceries. There are great restaurants. You can see a first run movie or attend Mass. We also have at least one spa per capita and a fair number of dog grooming establishments. One place even offers chiropractics for dogs. If you want to buy an eight hundred dollar sweater, Mill Valley is your town. Hand knitted, of course. I do miss the funeral home, though. It was so convenient. It’s been replaced by a Montessori pre-school.

It’s not just that I love my town - it’s also that I’ve made a commitment to it. It’s my community. It’s where I’d like to be living when I die. I did cheat on my town once. When I was separated I got an apartment in Tiburon and stayed there part time. It was attractive and had a water view, so you can imagine the temptation, but it wasn’t home. One time I stepped from the apartment to shake out a rug and the door slammed shut. I was locked out in only a man’s dress shirt - with wet hair. Pulling the shirt down over my butt, I scurried to the manager’s office where there was a sign posted saying they were closed for their annual employee picnic. Help. No phone, no friends, no neighbors with a spare key. Just me. Alone. I accosted a couple painters working on an apartment nearby. Despite our enormous language barrier (why didn’t I study harder in Spanish?), I convinced them to let me make a call. I don’t even want to know what they were thinking. The only person I could reach was Eric who was already in San Francisco. When he rescued me forty-five minutes later I was huddled in the fog and the wind on my doormat. It’s an image that gives him great amusement to this day.

I have so much history in Mill Valley - maybe too much. When I first moved here so long ago I didn’t know a single soul. Now Eric’s convinced there’s not a single soul I don’t know. At night I used to look in the windows of the grand old homes, imagining what sort of people might live there. Now I know. Some talented, successful people, some truly wonderful folks and some real jerks. They’ve all been part of my life here. Some of them I’m proud to call friends.

Mill Valley is where Banana Republic began, long before it was sold to the Gap. A small storefront with a jeep in it - they carried safari-type clothing. Smith & Hawken also started at a downtown location. Now we have the first Tyler Florence store. Tyler would like to offer cooking demonstrations there but the City of Mill Valley won’t allow it. Something about a parking problem. Seems shortsighted and provincial. I’ve NEVER been unable to find a parking spot downtown. You’ve got to love small town politics.

We have our famous folks in Mill Valley. Legends in their own minds. I mentioned Blue Pants Man and Babushka Lady in “ Invention is the Mother of Necessity” (April 20l0). We also have the Greeter who stands by the road all day waving to folks going out to the beach. Currently, our most famous street person is Red Sweatshirt Man. When Charlie Deal was alive he used to make guitars out of toilet seats. The man was an icon. Of something. In days gone by we had The Knitter. I miss him sitting cross-legged under the Redwoods. Knitting.

Of course we have plenty of “real” celebrities like Bob Weir and frequent sightings of Carlos Santana, Robin Williams and Sean Penn. Nobody really pays much attention to them, though I did think it was funny when I went to get my blonde highlights and Sammy Hagar was there getting HIS blonde highlights. Working at Sweetwater,I was surrounded by musicians for years. I ignored everyone equally, without regard to their level of fame.

I also think well known people should be left be left alone as they go about their business. Recently we went to a Chamber Mixer at the Tyler Florence store. Tyler was there giving out samples of his potato soup. It got me in the mood to make potato soup which I hadn’t done for a while. I was wondering about his recipe but couldn’t find it any of his cookbooks. I thought I’d just wing it and went down to the market to purchase supplies. Who do you suppose was in the produce department doing a little shopping? Tyler Florence. I could have asked about the recipe, but I didn’t want to bother him. He ended up practically stalking me around the store. I went to the butcher to order my turkey and he went there, too. Later I went back to the butcher counter because I’d forgotten bacon and who do you think came to the butcher asking for four strips of “good” bacon? It never occurred to me to ask for “good” bacon. Now I know how the real chefs of Mill Valley shop.

We have such an intriguing blend of characters in this town. A recent report in the Police Log shows as much. “Caller reported a male subject with a beard and green clown hat walking around the area. Caller said it seemed odd and she thought he’d been smoking weed. Officers located subject in front of the 2AM Club. Subject was sober and just waving at people. Officers field-identified subject and told him he could only be a clown in Mill Valley, not county areas.” Our clowns are legal and our town has it’s own song. Does your town have a song?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pat's Words

My grandfather, George Partridge, was born November 25, l905 - one hundred and five years ago tomorrow. Even though he's no longer with us, it's always special for me when his birthday falls on Thanksgiving. I love the blessing he used to say before meals which the girls used to call "Pat's words". Happy Thanksgiving.

Father, we thank thee for the night
and for the blessed morning light,
for rest and food and loving care
and all that makes this world so fair.
Help us to do the things we should,
to be to others kind and good.
In all we do and all we say,
to grow more loving every day.


Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Needless Markup

I’m still recovering from the agony and the ecstacy of being a Giants fan. Now I have to try to understand the election? Was there really a Teapocylypse? Is a Blue Dog a bad dog? What about the Congressional Commission? We just had a huge surplus and now there’s a tremendous deficit. I am still proud of my “A” in college statistics and I love a good bar graph or pie chart, but some numbers are higher than I can even visualize. Trillions, billions. What does it all mean?

I understand that, although neither of them won, more people in California voted to legalize marijuana than for Meg Whitman. I voted for Brown with a sense of despair. This state is MESSED UP. I disagree with the premise, that we, as voters, are qualified to run this state by initiative. Unlike Meg Whitman, I always vote. The reason I vote these people into office is so they will make these decisions. I expect them to know more about things than I do. We all know the initiatives are written to trick people. Sadly, it works.

On a local level, our county supervisors have never met a consultant they didn’t want to hire. It’s all about covering their you know what. If they don’t want to take responsibility for the massively expensive policies they’re creating, then they shouldn’t be in office. With the pension bombs exploding left and right we see so clearly how self-serving politicians truly are. Pandering to their district, the lobbyists, the special interests, their sex drive - it’s overwhelming. I had a huge crush on Eliot Spitzer until he turned out to be Client Number 9. I thought he was so sexy in a tough, smart, New York white collar kind of way. Now he’s just another slime ball.

Life is too complicated. Maybe I need to lie down and stop thinking about it all. Oh, look, it’s the Neiman Marcus holiday entertaining catalog. Look at this gorgeous food. I can just order Thanksgiving dinner online. Fabulous. Dinner for eight. They don’t offer Turducken so we’ll just have to be traditional. We’ll start with Brie en Croute ($60.00) and stuffed mushroom caps ($75.00) as an appetizer. Add broccoli and cheese casserole ($78.00), green beans ($70.00), some glorified mashed potatoes ($65.00) and sweet potatoes ($52.00). Put corn bread stuffing ($60.00), turkey (only $65.00), cranberry relish ($45.00) and one pecan and one pumpkin pie ($50.00 each) into the “shopping cart”. Terrific.

Let’s see. Including tax and shipping charges the grand total is over nine hundred dollars. Add some wine and rolls and you are talking about a very pricey meal. AND you still need to do all the set up and clean up. We could order Thanksgiving dinner for eight at our local, independent grocery store for only $l50.00. Seems like a bargain as we once spent that much there for a piece of meat (and a head of garlic) for Christmas dinner. Besides, I love the market and we have to support it or our friend, Cris, whose family owns it, will be mad.

Eric’s been doing a little perusing of Neiman Marcus catalogs, as well. He’ll read anything I leave in the bathroom. He’s had some fun with this one and thought he could do a little of his own online shopping. He was tempted by the Tory Burch family chariot electric tricycle (pictured with purse dogs - no doubt extra) for forty-five hundred, but there’s also the gingerbread playhouse for fifteen grand to consider. He was also charmed by descriptions of a trip to the cultural hub of Marfa, Texas, where a concierge will work with you to create a “one-of-a-kind” experience of three days and four nights. Trips to Hawaii are usually sold as four days, three nights, but whatever. This is Texas and for a starting price of $9,500 per couple, not including transportation, it’s such a deal. The other option is the tequila party for up to seventy-five guests in your home for $l25,000.00. That’s one hundred twenty-five thousand dollars. A celebrity chef and celebrity event planner are also included with the VERY special tequila.

There used to be an expression, “stupid money” meaning people had so much money they could be stupid with it. Really stupid. It’s not so easy since we’ve lost our dots and coms. I still know quite a few people with money. LOTS of money, and none of them are stupid. I don’t know who IS stupid enough to buy some of these catalog items, but apparently there must be someone. Right? Perhaps it’s the people who just closed on a house one town over for 6.3 million cash. Maybe they need a housewarming tequila party and a Tory Burch Tricycle and a gingerbread playhouse. Forget the trip to Marfa. They probably don’t have enough money left and have to stay home.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Note to Readers

It’s been nearly a year since we’ve been using analytics to track readership on Pearls and Lemons. Visitors have logged on from twenty countries and thirty-four states in the U.S. There have been hits in twenty cities in New York State and seventy-one in California. Some found Pearls and Lemons by accident when they were googling Bob Weir (“Party to Benefit Boyle Courts”) and logged right back out again. Many have stayed and become loyal readers. I so appreciate all of you, especially the new readers in London. We’re not viral, but we’re growing. I owe sincere thanks to several people.

Eric insisted I start to write and has been the source of many excellent lines. Fritz (I still think of him as Freddie) suggested I start a blog. I was a blog virgin, even as a reader, so there was a learning curve. Michelle Slatalla gave me some great ideas and Lucy provided technical support. Lana has been far and away my most supportive reader and Allie is a PR whiz. Linda and Janet can be counted on for pre-publishing feedback. It’s their fault I posted “Too Bitchy for a Blog”. I apologize to everyone I made cry at work. With a title like “The Dishwasher”, I know you were expecting something humorous. Stay tuned for “Needless Markup”.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Backhand Fronthand

There are many shots in tennis. Some of them are actually on the court. When my daughter, Allie, was young she took a few lessons. Afterwards, I asked her what they had worked on. She told me they practiced serves, volleys, backhand and "fronthand". Fronthand? It was so cute that I resisted the impulse to correct her. With adults, it’s another matter entirely.

Players, how often do you say you like to be in forehand or backhand positions? Excuse me? I know this is a righty world, but living with a lefty tennis player has shown me the error of your ways. For a lefty, the deuce court is, in fact, the backhand and vice-versa. Lefties do have their advantages and leave it to me to exploit them to MY advantage.

At the club level, players will often fail to notice their opponent is left handed. When I’m playing with my lefty partners I try to keep it a secret for as long as possible. I’ll deny it even if someone asks. We have several other advantages, as well. Nobody has to serve in the sun and there’s that famous twisty junk. The serve can also spin the opposite way - right into the body. Playing mixed with Eric is a lot like playing with my friend, Trish. It’s maddening for their opponents. They’re both fiery, Irish and very tall, with long wingspans. They can judicially apply the special sauce, although Trish becomes offended when I say she puts junk on the ball. She insists she worked hard to learn how to make the ball bounce backwards away from her opponents. I agree just to placate her. I’d recommend a southpaw partner to anyone. You just have to know how to manage them.

There have been some left-handed tennis players who made the sport seem like a WWF smack down. Tantrums on the court were made famous by Jimmy Connors and even more so by “Superbrat” John McEnroe. Uncomfortable, disgusted, we were unable to turn away from these spectacles and even now can view them on Youtube. In the men’s challenger tournament I recently attended there were plenty of primal screams to be heard. Testosterone and frustration can take over. I should know. In the heat of competition I can feel the testosterone myself. It’s somewhat acceptable. The brat attack is not. Racquet throwing, swearing (even in Hindi) and going after the chair ump is not acceptable. Frustration is part of life. Unfairness is part of life. Bad calls are part of life, especially in sports. It’s a question of how you handle it. My daughter’s water polo coach once wisely said that there are bad passes, bad catches and bad calls. Deal with it.

Eric likes to cheer for the lefties, but I’m not always so sure. Capricious and judgmental, I may not be able to pick my favorite based on cuteness or sock style. Sometimes it’s that character thing. If a player is mean and rude, that settles it. I’m not rooting for them. Actually, I’m rooting against them.

I watched the semi-finals of the singles in the tournament with complete disgust. Sitting in the sponsor box, in the front row, I saw and heard such a display of bad attitude that I wanted to knock the players’ heads together and put them both on a time out. This is the challenger circuit, guys. You’re really, really good, but you wouldn’t be anything without the sponsors who deserve a better show, whether you win or lose. Unfortunately, one of the bad boys had to win and faced eighteen year old American, Ryan Harrison, in the finals. Ryan (with me in photo) made a great showing at the U. S. Open and is considered our next, great hope. He’s also the nicest guy - a wonderful role model for the kids all week. Ultimately, he was crushed by the number one brat ( I mean seed) in the finals, despite all of us rooting for him. These guys are right. Sometimes life isn’t fair.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Dishwasher

It was a splendid fall day and we had a little time to kill before the new dishwasher was scheduled to arrive. A local tennis club was hosting a tournament so we went over to watch the matches for a while. It’s a gorgeous club, right on the water. It was our first visit since the place was completely remodeled. The building smacks of East Coast classic with lovely stonework and trellises, yet fits its California locale.

The first matches were Father-Son. The youngest-looking guy out there must have been all of eleven years old. He made up for his small stature and lack of experience by a show of bravado between points. He could really strut his stuff even though he wasn’t the best player around. Apparently, it’s all in the attitude because junior, and his not terribly athletic looking father, took the final prize. They looked so happy to win, as we all do.

The next match was the finals of Father-Daughter. For some reason I started to think about my father and how we never got a chance to play tennis together. I didn’t play until I was forty three and by that time we’d been long estranged and he’s since died. It made me sad when I saw the young girls play with their Dads, one of whom was the club manager and tournament director. His daughter was high school age and really good. She seemed to be carrying him, with great volleys and hard ground strokes. It was sweet. Then everything changed.

There was an urgent call for the club manager over the loudspeaker. Then another. Finally, he dropped his racquet in mid point and rushed off in the direction of the pool. Oh, God, no. Please, please don’t let it be a child in the pool. Please don’t let this great day and this fine location be tainted forever. I started crying quietly, thinking about how when we lost my brother, at seven, we lost our family. Of course it was never the same, yet we couldn’t know what it would have been like the other way. With him. It’s been fifty years and we still miss him and wonder.

I have to say right now that people are not careful enough with their kids. Parents worry about the wrong things like competitive soccer, which private schools will lead to the right college and when to get their child a cell phone. They’re not worrying enough about the distracted driver in the SUV barreling around the next corner, talking on their own cell phone. Parents in our neighborhood let little, tiny children ride behind them on bikes, expecting them to be safe. They’re not. Seven year olds, even very bright ones like my brother, don’t have the judgment to be on roads with cars. With increasing frequency we’ve seen parents, two or three young children trailing like ducklings, ride ahead on dangerous streets. All of this was going through my mind as the sirens approached.

For a while we just sat, but eventually made moves to leave. There was obviously something so wrong. The day wouldn’t be the same. Word came back about a heart attack and I felt tremendous relief. It wasn’t a toddler who slipped under when nobody was watching. It was an older person who had a heart attack. It seemed sad, but somehow more right. Then came a different horror, not one I’d imagined.

It was the Dad who’d just won the match with his son - a man of about fifty. He ordered food at the snack bar and had a massive heart attack on the lawn. Could not be revived. It was probably twenty minutes after they’d won their trophy. Feeling stunned and awkward, we left the pool area and went out through the clubhouse. Sitting in a chair in the office, not yet knowing the resuscitation effort had failed, sat the son, looking so scared. I still wish I hadn’t seen his face. He lost his father after sharing one of the best possible moments. His mother had no idea when they left home that morning that she’d never see her husband alive again. We drove slowly home and the dishwasher was delivered right after we arrived. The dishwasher. So hard to be happy about the new dishwasher.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Genius Bar

Fair warning. If you are an electronic device and you live in our house, you are on notice. You must perform or you will be banished. Just this past week we’ve sent the following outdated, outmoded items to the recycling center: one television, two printers, two DVD players, two VHS players and a fax machine. None of them wanted to leave, but they all had to go. One strike and you’re out of here. We have newer, fancier electronics - ones we understand even less.

The problem is that every purge and purchase begets more issues. So frustrated with our inability to watch DVD’s, we decided to start from scratch. We have two lap tops, both of which don’t hold a charge anymore so they must be plugged in at all times. One won’t accept CD’s any longer. The other works fine for three quarters of the movie and then it begins to skip. The DVD player we had in our living room does the same. Can I tell you how many movies I haven’t seen through to the end? Many, and it’s not because I’m sleeping. Actually, I AM sleeping, usually by about half way through, but Eric stays awake and he’d like to see the ending so he can tell me all about it the next day AND how much I was snoring. When we go to rent a movie I usually defer to him because I can sleep through anything.

We could order movies “On Demand”, but I’d rather not. We give enough money to the cable company. I like walking over to the video store and picking something out. The stoners that work there are so sweet. I don’t want them to be run out of business by Comcast. I especially like going to the actual theater, which we do quite frequently. I never fall asleep there. My idea of a perfect Saturday night date is an early movie, then home for one of Eric’s fabulous omelettes or pasta creations with some wonderful wine. We’ve seen a lot of exceptional films, but “Julie and Julia” was magical. I had just started my blog so I appreciated that part and Eric loved all the cooking. He did his Julia Childs impression for three days and did we ever have an omelette that night.

It’s not just that we have obsolete machines. It’s also that we’re really idiotic about technology. I proposed having a techno geek move in with us for a while until we learn how to use everything we own. My husband pointed out that six months after they leave, we’d have to start over again. So true. My cute iPod Nano went on the fritz so I took it to the Apple store, feigning innocence. Alas, they determined it was suffering from water damage. That would explain the ugly spot on the screen. Time for an upgrade to the new one that’s precisely the size of a postage stamp. Adorable. I was pretty proud of myself when I downloaded all my music and adjusted to the touch screen. I even discovered a whole radio in there. I just couldn’t figure out how to turn it off.

I stopped into the Mac store for some help. The place was swarmed. It sounded like a cocktail party. I know a lot of people are hurting, but clearly some still have money. I’m trying to remember why we sold our Apple stock a few years ago. Big mistake. Anyway, even the people selling the super-cute new Nanos don’t know how to turn it off. It goes on stand-by which is fine until it bumps something in my purse and then plays until the battery dies. It took some internet research and six genius bar geniuses to find someone who knew that disconnecting the ear buds turned it off. Problem solved.

The DVD player issue wasn’t quite so streamlined. I ditched the skipping one and found two others in the house that were potential candidates for the living room. I assigned the task of hooking it up to my darling, who shall remain nameless at this juncture. Mr. Tech Wizard reported back that we didn’t have the correct type to go with our cable box. Screw that. Let’s just dump these and go buy a brand new one that will work. Several hours on Sunday were spent (Allie, where are you when we need you?) not getting it to work.

The following day I decided to attempt the job myself. Not to rat anybody out, but in five minutes I figured out it has nothing to do with the cable box. The DVD players we’d gotten rid of were perfectly usable. In ten minutes I had sound, but no picture. Then I had picture but no sound. With Eric’s help we had sound and picture in thirty minutes. We can now watch DVD’s - IF I keep Eric from touching any of the remote controls. Our test movie was “Monty Python” which seemed very appropriate. We’re like the guys riding the pretend horses. We’re pretending to understand the world we live in. We just don’t.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Car Facts

We shared a car for a year and a half, also known as eighteen long months. More accurately, the last six months were long. It wasn’t to make a statement, although it did. It wasn’t to go green, although we did. It wasn’t to make me end up feeling as though I had less freedom than the average American teenager, although it did. It was that it took that long to get over the trauma of the bug.

The “new” Beetle could not have been classified as a lemon. It was much more evil and insidious. The car was demented, haunted. We ended up really hating it. When we saw people driving their cute, little Beetles around with the adorable daisies on the dashboard, we hated them. Our Beetle was broken.

There was always a problem with the electrical system. When Allie plugged in her iPod it winked out yet again. The window opening mechanism broke five times. The sunroof, which was installed aftermarket, leaked. No one would work on it. Finally, we found matching, black duct tape to seal the leak. The lock on the trunk broke so it could not be opened. The latch on the glove box broke which caused the door to pop open, which caused the battery to be drained by the light. We tried to use the duct tape to keep it closed. Even the duct tape didn’t hold. Finally, Eric got his drill and screwed the damn thing shut. The interior smelled like mildew and dog and dirty feet. It smelled like mildew because the sunroof leaked. It smelled like dog because of the dog. I don’t know why it smelled like dirty feet. Perhaps because of the tennis bag.

Unfortunately, and I happen to know from personal experience, Beetles, like Audis, are very close to the ground. When I took the Beetle to look at property Eric warned me about steep driveways. Oops. I guess that one was a little too steep. I called him at work to tell him that I’d crunched the front of the car - the grille was cracked and one fog light was dangling. He was very nice about it which I appreciated.

We limped along with the Beetle until it refused to hold a charge. It wasn’t solved by replacing the battery. It was some sort of electrical issue, of course. We bought a battery trickle feed machine and kept the car in the driveway plugged into the machine until we needed to go somewhere. Talk about shanty Irish. The trickle feed came in handy later when our driveway became the orphanage for the city dwelling twenty somethings, whose exotic vacations lasted so long their batteries inevitably died. After a while we stopped using the Beetle and didn’t want to invest anymore time, money or effort into it. One day I suggested selling the bug and Eric readily agreed.

I used the same philosophy in the Craig’s list ad that I learned in real estate. Disclose everything. A long time ago another agent told me that if you point out how bad a property is, people will want it. If you tell them it’s falling down and made of egg cartons they will buy it assuming it’s properly priced. If you try to make a house seem better than it is, buyers will pick it apart mercilessly. They may purchase it, but then feel a little disgruntled down the road. Read: lawsuit.
I started my ad out by saying: “Broken Beetle For Sale”. I finished by saying only mechanics need apply. A mechanic bought it so he could fix it up for his wife. The poor woman. He paid less than $2,000 dollars. He was happy - not as happy as we were to get rid of it, but I felt a little bad for the wife.

Fast forward to the day last spring when we decided it was time to purchase another vehicle. What to buy? We got intrigued by Mini Coopers. So cute. The first one we looked at was a red chili pepper. It drove great and was clean as can be but there was something fishy with the ownership. There was no registration sticker and vague mentions of the lien holder. Never mind. A month or two later we looked at another Mini. This baby was bad news. The suspension was clapped - the whole car rattled. Oddly enough, it didn’t have a license plate. The supposed owner mumbled some story about how it had never been mailed by the dealer. Next.

I could feel an impulse buy mounting. The one-car situation was making me crazy and by this time Allie was home for the summer needing transportation to work. We cobbled together an arrangement with Lana so we had four people in two different domiciles sharing two cars, all with different schedules. Talk about coordination. The pressure was on. I like Lana’s little Honda a lot so I went to the Honda dealer and, against Eric’s advice, bought the first car I saw. It was a l990 Prelude with over a hundred thousand miles. When I went back with Lana to pick it up they thought I was buying the car for her. I explained that she had a brand new Honda she’d bought there with Cash for Clunkers a while back. This car was our second car. The guys at the dealership didn’t really get it. Who could blame them?

Excited to have new wheels, I grabbed Allie and we hit the road for a test drive. When we got to the wine country, which is about an hour away, I turned off the engine. Allie pointed out that the car smelled like the old Jeep did when it was burning oil. The interior smelled like cigarette smoke. I knew I’d made a huge mistake. What a piece of crap. Somewhere, in the flurry of all the papers I’d signed, I remembered something about a two day return policy that I’d purchased on the Prelude. I called the dealer and told him I was having seconds thoughts. I suggested he hold my check. Disgruntled about losing a sale, he tried to argue with me. I told him I’d get back to him. The next day Lucy came over and we went for a spin. There was a strange sound. She begged me to take it back. Just as we passed a gorgeous Honda with a “For Sale” sign, my phone rang. It was the salesman from the dealership. He got a little testy about whether I was planning to return the Prelude. The answer was yes. I had just seen my new car.

I’d had buyer’s remorse with the Lexus, but Eric wouldn’t let me back out of that deal. It’s an excellent vehicle despite the fact that I don’t really like driving it. We’ve heard the Lexus described as being as exciting as sitting in a tub of library paste reading a Jane Austen novel. It’s an old lady/old man car. We bought it from the heirs of an old woman who had died. It was a great deal and practically new, but I still think it smells like Depends when you use the seat cooler.

Thank God, returning the Prelude was simple. Because I had called so soon and they hadn’t processed my check, the finance guy was nice enough to waive the $500 restocking fee. Buying the Civic was not so simple. We met the “owner” on Saturday morning of July 4th weekend. I recognized him from the community. His kids played sports on the same teams as mine. He owns a thriving company. We took the car for a little drive and decided it was exactly what I wanted. Very high end model, practically new, with all the bells and whistles like leather and GPS. During the negotiations the “owner” explained that it was actually his son’s car and his son was living in New York City.

We went back and forth a bit on price. The guy was arrogant as hell. He kept telling me how things would be done - where and when to meet. I agreed and he left town without calling me to change the arrangements. Really irritated, I called him and we rescheduled for Tuesday morning after the holiday weekend. I’d spent only fifteen minutes looking at the car, but ten phone calls making arrangements to get it. Tuesday morning arrived and surprise, surprise, Mr. Wonderful was running late. And guess what? He couldn’t find the title. Of course he couldn’t. Why should he be any different from the other two people trying to sell cars they didn’t really own? What is with these people? I can’t imagine trying to sell a car that doesn’t belong to me.

After a bit of due diligence on the DMV website, the “owner” was convinced he had all the paperwork he needed to complete the transaction. I met him at the bank with the cashier’s check. He turned over the paperwork and a single key to the car. Great. One key - just like my last two cars. He told me he would look around at home and get it to me. Happy to be away from him, I went to get in my new car. It was delivered dirty with a fair amount of dog hair. Annoyed, I went straight to the car wash.

Buyer’s remorse bubbled up but I smacked it down. The car was fine. All I had to do was go register it. It only took three hours and cost me eighteen hundred dollars, including $l8.00 to replace the lost title. After I forked over the money, they told me the “owner” hadn’t signed a mandatory form and the process was incomplete. By this time I was getting really cranky. I’d missed my lunch and my recently broken toe was throbbing. I called my favorite man in the world and told him we needed to talk. I may have been a bit grumpy about the dirty car and the fact that I’d failed to notice when we were negotiating price that the year’s registration was only days from expiring. I told him I wanted to be reimbursed for the $l8.00. His exact words were, “I’m not going to argue over eighteen dollars, but I don’t know that I’m going to pay you.”

The signed forms came back to me a few days later. No check for eighteen bucks. What a jerk. I calmed down about it until I heard a strange sound which turned out to be the rear brakes needing to be replaced. I also needed four new tires. I don’t mind spending the $750 bucks on tires and brakes. I’ve got a good car. I do mind the eighteen dollars.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Macy's Bill

It’s been thirty years since I first opened a charge account at Macy’s. I remember taking Lucy to the store (now closed) on Fourth Street in San Rafael. She’d graduated from diapers and we went to pick out some “big girl pants”. Over the years I’ve bought furniture, accessaries, cosmetics, Christmas and birthday gifts as well as lots of clothing. Apparently, Macy’s doesn’t value our relationship the way I think they should.

Due to recent travels I got a little behind on the bills, one of which was my Macy’s account. It was due on September 6th. The balance was $l08.03 and the minimum payment due was $5.00. Despite the fact that the 6th was Labor Day, a holiday, I started to get harassing calls about my bill from a company in Mason, Ohio on Thursday, the 9th. The first call came in at 8:34 a.m. on Thursday, September 9th. I spoke to them and apologized for being late and said I’d send the full payment due immediately, which I did.

Evidently, that wasn’t quite good enough. There were five calls from the same number
(5l3-754-984l) on Friday, the l0th, none of which I answered. They called at 8:36 and ll:22 a.m. There were also calls at l2:39, 3:45 and 6:30 p.m. On Saturday we came home from being gone overnight and there were twelve missed calls, five of which were from Mason, Ohio. When the phone rang again at 4:02 p.m. Eric answered. He ended up in a protracted discussion with the representative associated with Macy’s and explained that the harassing phone calls must stop. He reiterated that I had made a payment. The woman explained that SHE hadn’t called before so she didn’t know I’d made a payment and, by the way, what was the amount of the payment? Finally, Eric couldn’t deal with her persistence and hung up. At 6:43 p.m. they called again.

Ariana Huffington is right. America IS now a third world country. The economy has gotten so bad that it makes financial sense for a company like Macy’s to hire a collection agency to go after customers with a vengeance. Even customers, like us, who are two days late with a five dollar payment. Even cutomers, like us, who both have credit scores in the 700's. Even at the risk of alienating good, longtime customers. Ironically, I still owe them another two hundred dollars after that last payment. While on vacation we went to the largest store in the world - the Macy’s on 34th Street in Manhattan and bought a bracelet for me as a souvenir of our trip. It’s gonna take a miracle on 34th Street to keep me as a customer.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


We recently took a small nibble, a nosh, you might say, from the Big Apple. It was my first trip back in four or five years and Eric hadn’t been there for decades. I’ve been telling him how much New York City has changed for the better. Every hour we spent there proved it. The weather could not have been more perfect for us. Summer swelter had been followed by heavy rains for several days. We got late summer in all it’s glory - blue sky, puffy, white clouds and visibility for miles.

The Manhattan of my childhood was filthy and pretty scary. We sometimes stayed in the city with an aunt and I remember the window sills being covered with soot. Our feet got black from walking around. The streets felt dangerous. Stories of muggings abounded. The mode was survival. New York today is clean and can be immensely livable. People are polite and helpful to strangers. Over the years I’ve been impressed by how considerate Manhattanites, especially the men, have been when I traveled with young children. People would go out of their way to hold doors and help me with the stroller. We never had to stand on the subway.

My friend, Sally, once commented that folks on the West coast are friendly, but not polite. The opposite seems to be true for those who live on the East coast. Over the years I’ve found this to be the case. A Californian will think nothing of telling a stranger something exceedingly personal - perhaps about their cleanse or high colonic. That same person will also let a door slam in your face. Eric and I took a subway along Central Park because I wanted to rent a rowboat on the lake. By mistake, we took the express rather than the local. We had planned to get off at 72nd street, but all of a sudden we were flying by 96th. A woman on the train overheard our discussion and explained exactly how to get off at l25th and go back down to the park. Another woman, an older lady, repeated the directions and followed us until we went down the correct stairwell. She probably didn’t want us to get lost in Harlem, but it was very sweet regardless.

Such a contrast with a recent experience in San Francisco. I went in to have lunch but didn’t have enough quarters for the parking meter. Each quarter covers just about the time it takes to insert the quarter into the meter. I looked around for somewhere to get change. There was a Pack ‘N Ship with about twelve customers in line. I asked if anyone had change for a dollar. Without exception, each person in line said no without checking. No eye contact. Nobody was willing to help me out by exchanging one dollar for four quarters. Disgusted, I was back on the street asking a passerby. He wanted to know why I wanted the change. Why should he care? When I said I needed it for the meter he gave it to me. If you happen to see my car in San Francisco, and it seems to be riding a little low, it’s because it’s filled with quarters.

Transportation in New York is very easy. You walk for hundreds of blocks. When you develop shin splints and your feet feel like they’re going to fall off, hop on a subway. If you’re going a short distance, hail a cab. When Lucy was about to start kindergarten we were visiting New York. My friend, Cathi, took her shopping for some school clothes. At some point Cathi flagged a passing cab. It was like magic. The child was ruined. For the longest time, no matter where we were, when she didn’t feel like walking anymore, Lucy suggested we get a cab. We could be hiking in the woods and she thought we should get a taxi when she was tired.

There is always so much action on the streets and so many types. New Yorkers are famously blase and it takes a lot for them to stop and look at something. At one point we saw news crews, helicopters and emergency vehicles on 5th Avenue, by the Empire State Building. Crowds gathered, trying to figure out what was happening, everyone looking up. Sadly, we found out later that the seventeen year old daughter of the Thai ambassador had fallen out a window to her death.

People watching in New York City is the best. We hadn’t been on the street for more than ten minutes when we passed a French restaurant. The proprietor was out front greeting some friends with big hugs. Eric stepped right up and the owner gave him a bear hug. Eric so bonded with the man he thought we should eat dinner there, but I wouldn’t have it. Tourists taking horse and carriage rides through the park, VIP’s going in and out of limos, locals walking home from work, visitors speaking foreign languages - you’ve got it all.

New York is so much fun, but it ain’t cheap. It costs to breathe. Waiters are so smooth at up charging you don’t even realize when you’ve ordered a six dollar water. I loved our hotel and it was fairly reasonable, but I had to laugh at the bottled water on the bedside table with the price tag. You drink it, you bought it. You can get a classic martini at the oyster bar at the Plaza for nineteen bucks. It will kick your butt, and for that price, it should. Having cocktails in hotel bars follows the same tenets as real estate. It’s all about the location. You are not just buying a martini (or a house). You’re paying for an experience.

On the way home on the plane I reflected on the differences in experience between San Francisco and New York. My best theory is that the large cities in California are full of residents who came from somewhere else. They are the cream who floated to the top. Maybe people feel better than those who stayed. We ate lunch at the diner in the small town where I used to live and I’m pretty sure those people didn’t rise to the top. It was a little like a scene from “Deliverance”. However, when all the big frogs from the small towns get together, there’s a lot of croaking. These thoughts were rattling around in my head when, in a repeat of my migration of the seventies, we had a stopover in Los Angeles.

The only place to eat in the Virgin America wing at LAX is Burger King. I’ve never had the “pleasure” of eating at Burger King. In the future I will choose starvation. Hoping the lumps in our stomachs would settle, we went to the passenger cattle car. I mean holding area. While Eric went off to stretch his legs I was accosted by a rude, foul-mouthed woman who claimed I was sitting in her seat. The only discernible evidence of her presence was an empty coffee cup and a plastic package of headphones. Nasty woman asked, with a sneer, that I move the tennis bag since I’ve taken her seat. No problem. I moved the bag. I asked her to please move over one seat so I could sit with my husband. She meanly suggested that I move so she could sit in “her” seat. I made a comment about her rudeness and she told me I should go f**k myself. I grabbed our stuff and left.

After hearing of the interchange, Eric went to talk to her. It didn’t go any better with him. By the time their conversation was over she told him to go have his wife expletive his expletive. I don’t even want to know what he said back to her. We slunk away, realizing she had us beat. Crazy and maybe dangerous, we were no match for her sub-human style of communication. After ten days of nothing but courteous encounters with strangers in four different states, including New Jersey, this was an eye opener. It’s not like there was a scarcity of seats in the waiting area. What gives? Is this what we’re learning from classless television shows like “Jersey Shore” and “Real Housewives”? Los Angeles? San Francisco? I’ll take my chances in Harlem.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Cause and Effect

We’ve had some recent excitement at our house. There was a gas leak and Pacific Gas & Electric had trucks out front late into the night. At one point I woke up and could hear them still drilling into the street to stop the leak. I could definitely smell gas. Expressions like “Shelter in Place” and “Evacuation” crept into my sleepy thoughts. We awoke to a bright, sunny morning and no large trucks were blocking the driveway. I told Eric I’d had thoughts of being forced to flee from the gas in our bathrobes, carrying our finch, Coco Chanel, in his huge cage. We laughed at the image, but then I realized Coco was not singing his usual morning songs. I went downstairs to get second cups of coffee and checked on him.

Coco was in severe distress. He was slipping off the top of his house and dangling between it and the side of the cage. His little heart was pumping wildly and he slumped forward closing his eyes. I called for Eric with such fear that I woke Allie up. There was still a lingering gas odor. Eric had the presence of mind to take Coco’s cage upstairs and put it by an open window. He perked up and let out a couple little cheeps. His heart rate seemed slower and he opened his tiny eyes. Oh, thank god, Coco was starting to revive in the fresh air. Breathe. Exhale.

Order restored, we let ourselves think about the gas and PG&E and how thankful we were that they repaired the gas line, but became disgruntled that so much gas was released in the process. There had to have been a mistake and if there was, why weren’t we notified so we could be safe? We decided to call PG & E and inform them that they had almost killed our precious bird. Before that plan could come to fruition we checked on the little guy again.

Coco was NOT fine. We realized he was stuck to the top of his house because his ankle band had a twig jammed into it and he couldn’t move. Commence Operation ROF (rescue our finch) number two. Since the bird is less afraid of me, Eric determined I should put my hand in the cage and gently slide him off the twig. A finch is not a parakeet. They’re so tiny and you can’t just hold them. I thought we should get help. I wanted to take him to Wild Care, the bird rescue professionals so they could give a mini tranquilizer dart and unhook the poor little guy. Eric scoffed at that idea and insisted that we do the rescue.

Wearing white cotton gloves, I reached in and tried to put my hand around him. Panicking and fluttering like crazy, he bit the glove and would not unclench. I freaked out, so afraid that I’d hurt him and snap his leg off. It may have to do with the time I was trimming the fur on Lucy’s bunny, Flopsy, and cut her tail. Talk about sickening. We rushed her to the vet where they applied special bone healing glue. I couldn’t stomach the bird rescue, so Eric took over, once Coco unclenched the glove and I could get my hand out of the cage. Somehow, Eric freed him with tweezers and Coco could fly once again.

No longer a victim of gas poisoning, our erstwhile canary in a coal mine had created his own fate. He hasn’t been this naughty since he escaped when I cleaned his cage and it took me six hours (and Lana’s help AND the purchase of a fish net) to catch him. How can a little creature get into so much mischief? In fifteen years my other finches never did anything but eat, cheep, sleep and keel over. Not Coco. He has to keep things exciting. The drama prompted some introspection on cause and effect. What are the chances that the bird would be stuck at the same time as the leak? We were so sure he’d been gassed but it was utterly unrelated to his condition. What else are we assuming that may be untrue?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Invention is the Mother of Necessity

Tall, decaf mocha, no fat, no whip, one forty. The older woman with two small children in line in front of me spat out her order. Really? That’s all you want to specify? Why have I never thought to tell them precisely what temperature I’d like my drink to be? Is one forty hot or not so hot? How come I don’t know this? Forget the temperature issue for a moment. What is a mocha with no fat, no whip and no caffeine? It reminds me of the anecdote in an old Herb Caen column. Someone goes into a coffee house and orders a non fat, decaf latte. The cashier yells to the barista, “One why bother.”

Is necessity the mother of invention, or is it now the other way around? That’s my question. This if you build it they will come mind set is the new norm. We have so many choices that it’s almost paralyzing. Are they really choices? We are sold so many products we do not need. Do we want them or did the choice come first and then the need? Early adopters, we’re scanning the horizon for the new and shiny. Out with the Kindle, in with Apple’s iPad and when the next generation is created, we’ll have to buy that as well.

We could probably get it at Costco, but big box shopping is not for me. I’d rather pay more. Yes, you save on essentials, but how do you calculate the cost of the impulse buying? Besides, who really needs a year’s supply of toilet paper? I’d rather run out on Christmas Day like we usually do. Then you get to call one of the kids and get your revenge by making them bring some. I tried warehouse shopping a time or two in the last century. I bought some office supplies and got a package of pens so large that I STILL have some of them. Of course, you can never find one when you want it.

Is there any way to escape the jackhammer of advertising that has crept into seemingly every aspect of daily life? Our quality of life is being eroded one commercial at a time. We went to a movie and paid over ten bucks a ticket. Our viewing “pleasure” included watching numerous previews (which are ads) as well as actual commercials. Why are we even subjected to television commercials at all? When we were kids we just plugged in the T.V. and turned it on. It was free. We did not pay for it, so it seemed reasonable that there would be commercials to bring in revenue. We pay for televison programming now. We pay a lot for something called “cable”. Revenue is being generated on a grand scale. Other than our mortgage, the cable bill with bundled telephone service, is our largest monthly bill. We don’t even have all the options. Feeding all the channels into every television would be an up charge.

Television itself is way too complicated now. One night Eric came home from a walk in the neighborhood and announced that Blue Pants Man had a flat screen and we are the only people left in the universe who don’t have one. Blue Pants Man is actually now Tan Pants Man and he has some sort of lifestyle (or disability) that allows him to spend his days walking around the neighborhood carrying a walker three inches from the ground. He just carries it. Never sets it down. Blue Pants Man lives in the same house as Babushka Lady who also spends much of her time out walking, occasionally hissing at and spitting on people. The tiny crone with the wizened face and nasty whiskers and Blue Pants Man HAVE A FLAT SCREEN. Exclamation point.

Shocked by this revelation, I catapulted into action. After a little research online I thought I had a grasp of the situation. The next rainy Sunday (aren’t they all this year) we barged over to Best Buy after way too much coffee. I was ready for my own impulse buy. We would get ourselves a flat screen and be like everyone else. We could even host a decent Oscar party. The salesman began to explain the various options. I got a little confused. Trying to decide on pixels and mega pixels gave me a headache. When he started talking about Blu-ray I felt I was being duped into buying a system that would soon be obsolete and this irritated me. It was also a lot of money to spend on a television. The need for a nap overcame the need to buy a flat screen and we were so out of there. I don’t need to make all these decisions about buying electronics. I can use up that part of my brain just by ordering a coffee.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fit for Tennis

One has to be extraordinarily fit for tennis. The diet, the conditioning- the months of training. No detail is too insignificant to matter when you need to be tops on the tour. The clothing is as important as anything. Timing the meals, snacks, hydration and trips to the rest room are critical. The angle of the sun and the direction of the wind must be factored in. It all matters when you are a world class tournament...spectator.

After the eight hour drive to Palm Springs as our warm up, we decided to relax rather than deal with the weekend hordes at the tournament. We bought our tickets for the Monday matches and were lucky enough to have a chance to watch Novak Djokovic go through his paces at a private club. Truthfully, he looked a little shaky to our trained, professional spectator eyes. Then we practiced forking over the cash when Eric ordered a nine dollar smoothie. My iced tea was a bargain at three bucks with refills. This is a key spectator skill you get to hone to perfection at big tournaments.

There is so much planning, effort and preparation that goes into proper tennis viewing. How to look cute AND be comfortable in the hot sun while watching hours of matches is always a challenge. The linen skirt route is good, but it has to be long enough to prevent sticking to the hot metal bench. Short shorts or skirts are just the worst. This year the crowd seemed so much better dressed. There were some very elegant looking women and dapper gentlemen.

Why do so many of the audience members attend the tournament in tennis attire - even the older crowd? Do they think they will get called to fill in if Nadal or Clijsters don’t show up? No problem. I can take their place. I’m all dressed for it. Or do they think people will mistake them for a pro? A friend observed that you wouldn’t wear a swim suit to a swim meet. Why would you wear a tennis oufit to a tennis match?

The center stadium is the only venue where we had real seats, so fatigue set in after watching hours of matches. The experts bring along their own portable chairs with backs. This year the popular chair looked a bit like a lead apron with straps. As silly as it seems to drag that thing around, it’s incredibly practical. We took little breaks by changing courts and wandered over to the practice courts where we got to see hot players hitting topless. The men, that is. The women wore tiny shorts and little jog bras so it was equal opportunity viewing pleasure. Sometimes we went to the main stadium so we could lean back for a while even when the better match was on an outside court.

Proper breathing is critical. You can exhaust yourself by holding your breath during the exciting rallies. You’re so close you can feel it. It’s very tiring to root for a certain player the whole time. Also, it’s amazing how arbitrary choosing a favorite can be. There is the need to make snap judgments about athletes we’ve never seen by analyzing their body language, attitudes and outfits. Eric went crazy for Chinese player, Jie Zheng. We watched her and her partner, Chang, defeat number one seeds Huber and Black in an amazing match. These two were the fiercest players we’ve ever seen at the net. Two days later Zheng played Caroline Wozniacki in singles. I was rooting for Wozniacki and Eric was pulling for Zheng, calling her the real deal. It was a battle, but my girl was even more real a deal in singles, and won in three. Watching her really drained me.

Nutrition and hydration are very important aspects of tournament play. The desert is just as dry as the name implies. Maybe even more so. We simply could not get enough water even though we were conscientious about it. You can bring your own food or you can take your chances on tournament food. We were pretty good the first couple days and made healthy choices. By day three it was hot dogs and coke. When we were both reaching for the Rolaids, Eric quipped that they might as well embed antacids right into the hot dogs. It would be far more efficient.

By the middle of the week we’d had enough of real time viewing. We needed to regain our strength so we skipped the tourney and watched it on television in the evenings. Playing tennis every morning, swimming and maybe taking a bike ride, we slowly rebuilt the energy we’d expended at the tournament. We had expensive cocktails pool side at a couple trendy hotels and did a little hiking. It wasn’t easy, but for the last several days, we were finally able to recover from the rigors of professional tennis.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Thawing Out

So many friends reached out to me after my first pathetic post on the frozen shoulder. I really appreciated all the support and suggestions. Who knew this nasty malady is so common? I’d never heard of it before. Progress has been slow but measurable. I started seeing the physical therapist who helped Eric after his accident. Of course, we’re paying for it privately, but I’m worth it, aren’t I? Jeff Smith is a tennis player and former dancer who practices a combination of Feldenkrais and weight training and is just a genius at getting hurt parts of the body to move again.

I’ve got a lot of atrophy and my friend says I still look like John McCain when I raise my left arm, but the range of motion is returning ever so slowly. It no longer hurts to start the lawn mower by pulling on the cord. Since mowing the lawn is one of my favorite ways to relax, this is very good. Sleeping is a bit better. I can now go four or five hours before the tossing and turning and trying to get comfortable begins. Ironically, after seeing two general practitioners, one orthopedist, two physical therapists, getting a set of x-rays, an MRI and an injection of cortisone, it may be that time is the real cure. The doctor said to give it a year and it’s been five months. Fortunately, I’m one hundred percent cured of injury envy. It’s not as fun as it looks to be the patient and it’s beyond boring to talk about. We can all go back to complaining about the weather.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Frozen Shoulder in Winter

Following the philosophy that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all, has caused me to be virtually mute. I’ve got an injury that is extremely painful and it’s making me cranky and cynical. Oh, that’s right. I already was cranky and cynical. Now I’ve just lost the governor. On my better days I spin it as observant, sensitive and maybe a little prescient. Now I’ve had so many months of pain and interrupted sleep I think we’ve crossed into grouchy territory. Fair warning here. Further reading may cause unpleasant side effects.

I’ve never been hurt before. I’ve had two C-sections, leg surgery, ear surgery and a tonsillectomy after which I hemorrhaged and nearly bled to death. In every instance I healed in less than half the time it’s taken me to get an affirmative diagnosis on this condition. Other than a bike accident in fourth grade, which caused a mild concussion, I have been injury free. No broken bones or tears or sprains or strains. Until now, I’ve been extremely lucky as well as cautious. Visiting an orthopedist and getting an MRI were both new experiences for me. After being mis-diagnosed with tendinitis and a muscle tear, I finally found the right doctor who told me I have Adhesive Capsulitis - also known as frozen shoulder.

You know the television commercial where the woman says that she nearly cried when they told her that her house had termites? When I went online and read about my condition I nearly cried and then I really cried. It’s got some strange manifestations. The worst of these are taking up to three YEARS to heal and being so painful at night that chronic loss of sleep can become a secondary condition. I’m here to tell you, folks, we’re there. The bright side is that it’s my left shoulder and I’m a rightie so tennis is fine. The scary part is that I cannot lift my left arm high enough to shave my armpit.

I tend to imagine worst-case scenarios for myself, but overall, I’ve really been quite healthy. During the rare times I’ve been out of commission as a wife or a mother it’s been met with skepticism. In labor with Allie, about five centimeters dilated, I took a bath to relax before leaving for the hospital. Lucy came in to pester me and then wanted to know why I was so grouchy. I can’t recall my exact thought at the time but I was probably wondering why I was having another child.

I was also accused of being dramatic when I came down with bacterial pneumonia and the kids wanted to know why wouldn’t I get off the couch and make them sandwiches. The doctor had me on three different antibiotics to cover all the bases but the kid’s jut wanted their snacks. The healthy, able-bodied - old enough to get their own food kids. They really didn’t understand that pneumonia could be deadly. Just think of poor Jim Henson. I forgive them now because they’ve been incredibly sweet and kind about my shoulder.

Husbands seem to be better at milking these situations without looking like they are. Somehow they are just more entitled. When the girls were about ten, six and two I encouraged their father to get a vasectomy. He rebutted my campaign with various well thought out arguments. One of the reasons he gave me for resisting is that if I were to die and he were to remarry he’d want the option to have more children with the new wife. WHAT? The wants and needs of the erstwhile widower and his possible future wife trumped my needs and me? He was saying this to a woman who’d given birth to three kids. After my shock subsided I continued to drip, like water on a stone, and he finally caved but boy did I pay for it.

The surgery was scheduled on a Friday morning shortly before Christmas. My stepmother, who can be a little high maintenance, was visiting. We gave her our bedroom and slept on the pull out in the living room. It just so happened to be the weekend we needed to get the tree and put it up. Supervision from the couch abounded but no help was forthcoming from that quarter. The doctor had advised the patient to remain immobile for forty-eight hours and the patient was not about to take any chances with his precious parts. Not only did he stay on the couch the entire weekend, we were also to run and fetch bags of ice for his you know what. Monday morning he was fine and went off to work, as usual.

With Eric it’s been a little different. Since he had a bad accident and follow up surgeries, he needed a tremendous amount of care. He was a good patient and I was happy to oblige. The hard part was hearing about the accident. Men, in particular, have a morbid fascination with the details of a motorcycle accident and for a while I would have to just remove myself when the conversation went that way. My nerves started to fray after the complications from the later abdominal surgery but I really became undone when the plantar fascia ruptured. More long conversations about the malady making me feel a bit left out since I was the healthy one.

Now I’m NOT the healthy one and there seems to be no protracted discussion of it. I’ll mention what’s wrong and people seem to quickly move to another topic. I have no experience with this. Am I doing it incorrectly? Maybe I need some props, although I’ve gone through the sling and ace bandage. It’s not so much that I want to talk about it. It’s that I feel so bad and want to get better.

It’s a bit like when Lucy was six weeks old. She’d been waking up every hour or so throughout the night since birth and I was just about to go crazy from lack of sleep. Now, every time I fall asleep I wake up a couple hours later because my shoulder hurts. I can’t get comfortable. I’ve tried multiple combinations of sleep aids and pain relievers. Ambien works best to keep me asleep but it’s not a great choice long term. Maybe I’ll just have to deal with the consequences when the pain gets better. Rehab in the wine country sounds appealing.

I love my doctor and am starting physical therapy. I love that my doctor recognizes that the PT paid for by my insurance company is woefully inadequate. When we discussed the options he asked me if I’m incredibly wealthy. Um, no. If I were, he’d have some great suggestions for me. He realizes I need help. I can’t just be given some exercises to do at home. It hurts too much to do them on my own. He’ll go to bat for me with the insurance company if they don’t give me what I need. That’s promising. Now, if it will just stop raining for more than one day at a time and Eric’s persistent, hacking cough will subside, we may be getting somewhere.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Now And Then

I spent a little time away from real estate in 2009. I felt fortunate that none of my clients needed to sell at such a low point in the market - thus locking in their losses in value. There wasn’t that much to do. It seemed silly to run around looking at property when I had no buyers. I put my toe in the short sale, foreclosure market and pulled it right back out again. It’s ugly out there.

When I started in real estate in the late nineties it was all anyone wanted to talk about. Every cocktail party, school event and athletic competition was a command performance. You needed to know the details of every sale in town. How many offers, how much above asking? How much had the sellers profited? Wide eyed with greed, homeowners tracked the market like sharks in a feeding frenzy. In those days I had five buyers at one time who all wanted to find a livable house in our town for less than three quarters of a million dollars. So did all the other agents. There were very few and not nearly enough for the demand.

I have had several clients who were relocating from other, less expensive areas. That first trip out, showing homes in their stated price range, is a shock to the system. Sticker shock. Expectations go down and price ranges go up and I get to use the expression that I save for these occasions. You’re not just buying a house. You’re buying a lifestyle. It’s not bullshit. It’s true. We have great weather, fantastic recreational opportunities and a short commute to the city. Unfortunately, you have to decide whether you want to live in a flood, mud slide or wildfire zone. There are very few homes here that don’t fit one of those descriptions.

Since I’ve jumped back in with a listing and buyers and meetings and broker tours and open houses, I’ve noticed something. People are a LOT nicer now. Listing agents will actually acknowledge you when you enter a house they’re holding open. I’m with a different, very user-friendly company and the other agents make a point of introducing themselves to me. It’s quite a change from the glory days when properties sold themselves and the imperious agent would hand out the Seller Wish List with instructions. Offers Tuesday at five, by fax only. If you were lucky you were given a lovely document called Multiple Invitation to Resubmit - meaning you (and all the other buyers) were getting a chance to make your offer better and be considered again.

It was so frustrating for buyers to be shopping for something and not know what it cost. The price wasn’t the price. It was just a starting point for the negotiations and the negotiations were not tilted toward the buyer. You stood an excellent chance if you were willing to bid one hundred thousand over asking and waive all contingencies. You’d have to show properties to buyers that were considerably below their price because it was assumed that the price would be bid up out of their pre-approved range. I even made an offer one time that said the buyers would pay ten thousand dollars more than any other legitimate offer. It too, was turned down because the listing agent felt it wasn’t a “real price.”

One wonderful buyer had a great thought on the subject. He said that buying a house was like trying to find a dress that both of you could wear, but they weren’t all gathered in one place. You had to go all over town to try them on. At one point he and his wife were so frustrated by the process that they started fighting in French at one of the many houses I showed them. I left for a little while until they’d calmed down. Ironically, on the day that they finally found the house they would buy, he was wearing a dress. A kilt.

For a long time listing agents could get away with murder. The market was doing all their work for them. They only had to do the bare minimum. There are some really good agents out there, but there are so many lazy, bad ones. Sometimes an agent wouldn’t even bother to respond to an offer. A written purchase contract with all the anguish over price, terms, conditions, and loan pre-approval that it implies. Not even a call to say they’d taken another offer. I once found out my buyers didn’t get the house because the day after we presented the offer I saw the status was changed on the computer.

There is a local agent who was representing a gay couple. My buyers were in contract on the house and we were going through negotiations about repair items. The men, who had been incredible contributors to the community, were selling the house because one of them was dying of cancer and they needed to simplify their lives. Their agent said something to me like. “Oh you know how it is with these old fags, just sitting there counting their money and taking it ...” Excuse me? Fortunately this paragon of fiduciary duty had a business partner (a gay man, mind you) and I only dealt with him for the remainder of the transaction. And yes, this wonderful woman is still doing business in our town.

Lately I’ve been thinking about a family I represented in 2002. They had rented their condo in a low income area for fourteen years when it went on the market. The guy was a painter and the contractor he worked for was a client of mine who called and asked if I could help out. Somehow, we put a deal together and they were able to buy their place. They didn’t speak English and everything had to be translated, but I knew I liked them and I was happy to be part of the process. It was the American dream. I’ve often wondered how they fared in this economy and now I know. They didn’t. I looked their property up on the tax records and their place was sold by the bank in December for less than half what they paid for it. They just couldn’t hang on.

The sad thing about today’s market is that much of the action is in the low end, short sale and foreclosure niche. The prices have gotten so low now that properties are selling for half of what they were purchased for and there is another feeding frenzy. It’s depressing to look at homes that people have abandoned or been forced from, but if you can stomach it there are some real deals. And multiple offers and properties going for over asking AND agents who can’t be bothered to respond to an offer. It’s common to see a remark in the description warning that the property probably won’t qualify for any type of loan. Cash has always been King, but now it’s Queen and Jack too and not just on the low end. One of our local movie stars is getting divorced and just sold his house for eight million. Cash. It must have been a little disappointing because he was asking ten.