Namo amitabha Buddhaya, y'all.
This here's a religious establishment. Act respectable.

Monday, December 31, 2012

Adventures in Moving

"It was only possible for me to do it," he said, "because it was necessary. I either had to write the book or be reduced to despair; it was the only means of saving me from nothingness, chaos and suicide ... And while writing it, there was no need for me to think at all of any other reader but myself, or at the most, here and there another close war comrade, and I certainly never thought then about the survivors, but always about those who fell in the war. While writing it, I was as if delirious or crazy, surrounded by three or four people with mutilated bodies — that is how the book was produced."

--Herman Hesse, The Journey To The East

Okay, it's not that bad.  Yes, there are boxes all over my house, in various stages of full or being filled, with cute little number tags on them and colored dots denoting them as being from this room or that room.  Yes, my laundry room in particular looks like a tornado hit it, ripped out roughly half the contents and messily deposited a bunch of them in my living room.  Yes, it's New Years frick'n Eve and rather than tripping the light fantastic at some fabulous party somewhere on Dallas's West End or Preston Hollow, I'm, uh, sorting stuff.  But it's not the end of the world.  For one thing, I didn't trip the light fantastic in Preston Hollow even when I knew somebody who lived there, and for another thing, I don't think I ever knew anyone who lived there.  (Sally was one zip code digit away from qualifying. Sorry, Sally.)  For a third thing, I think I'm going to be out of here by some time in March, and it would behoove me to, you know, be packed sometime before then.  But, for the record, I HATE PACKING.  I'd rather be dragged naked through flaming walls of rabid rattlesnakes.  

Fortunately, Joan and I are pretty good at this.  Back in San Diego we had it practically down to a science.  I think we moved at least three times before the Big Move to Texas, which was accomplished in under twenty-eight days (albeit with the help of professionals and a much better housing market).  There was the Move Across the Landing, for which we hardly packed at all and just grabbed stuff as it looked grabbable. There was the Move from the Crummy Apartment on the Other Side of the Landing to the Swank Two-Bedroom Two-Bath Overlooking Balboa Park, which took place on Valentines Day, in the pouring rain, on the day that the gutter at the crummy apartment building decided to give up the ghost and fall onto the sidewalk outside our front door.  Which meant, of course, that every time we went in or out we had to jump over this sluice of water, like Indiana Jones swinging on vines or something, and while Joan managed the last trip with a screaming (wet) cat in a carrier, I was sitting on the floor in the new place, waiting for the phone guy, wrapped in a blanket because I couldn't figure out how to turn on the frick'n heater. 

Then there was the Move to the Newly Purchased Condo, about which I've blissfully forgotten nearly everything except that it took place during the Year of No Holidays.  We helped our friend Beth move out of her apartment Halloween night, I forget what happened for Thanksgiving but it didn't get celebrated either, and then we moved into the condo over Christmas break, so it's not like either of us felt like hauling in a tree after all that.  Then on New Years Eve we were broke, having put all our money into the condo, so we weren't out tripping the light fantastic at some fabulous party in La Jolla or--well, you get the idea. 

And in 2004, we moved to Texas.  Two women, two cats, three movers, fifty-five boxes of books, and something like five thousand dollars (I think).  One of the movers stuck his foot through our ceiling, which was bad because we technically didn't own the condo anymore at that point.  We ended up having to write a blank check and a letter of apology to the new owners before we booked out of the state as fast as possible at the end of the day.  Drove through the night and made it as far as Phoenix by about 3 in the morning.  For all we know, the process servers are still trying to find us.  We're just glad no one got hurt.  

So.  We have a storage unit.  We are filling boxes with stuff and placing them in the storage unit.  As soon as we've stripped this place to its bare bones (which will hopefully not take too much longer), and done some minor repairs with the help of a nice carpenter and my next pay check, the house goes "live" on the market.  And then--

Well, then we have to find a place to live.  A daunting task indeed for the faint of heart and hairless of chest.  

Monday, December 24, 2012

Bon Voyage

I hate it when the situation deteriorates before I even finish the blog post.

Because I had one, right, and it was a good one.  I was going to call it "And This Just Keeps Getting Better And Better," and it was going to be all about the further adventures of Ernie in the dark realm known as The Crawlspace.  Simply replacing all of the water pipes, you see, was not going to do the job.  Nor was the final bill from ServPro (which still hasn't shown up; they said it would be $250 just to come out to the house, but absolutely not a thing more than that except "We'll bill your insurance company," which they can do all day long, but our insurance company isn't gonna pay them).  No, we needed Ernie to locate the main sewer pipe and announce to us that We Had Another Problem.  We needed him to run a little camera down said sewer pipe so we could see what the problem was.  (I got the honor; Joan was at work.)  Uponst seeing said problem, I was going to have apoplexy, or something, and upon hearing how much the problem was going to be to fix, I was going to have apoplexy again.  Or maybe a stroke.  But forget all that. Just never mind, sweep it all back under the rug (or into the Crawlspace), and we'll just start from right this very moment.

We're selling the house.

Yes, Problem and all.  The Problem is going to set our price back a ways, and it's not worth what we paid for it back in '04 when we first ambled into Texas, and the odds of us getting any kind of profit out of it are just about zero, but that's okay.  We're fine with it.  We never set out to be real-estate magnates; we were just looking for a place to live.  And now that our place to live is looking like a used car that's requiring half again of its value every year just to keep it running, it's time to find another place to live. (It's not really that bad.  But it is a headache that I don't want.  Nor does Joan.  So:) Condo, subdivided house, apartment, whatever.

So we called up the realtor that helped us buy this place a little less than eight years ago,  Her name is Sondra Patton and that is her real name.  If you are ever of a mind to buy or sell property in the DFW area, most particularly Lakewood, you could do a lot worse than giving Ms. Patton a call.  In addition to being really smart, knowledgeable and honest, she's also very nice.  And, she can put up with, uh, me.  I was not the easiest person to put up with during the Great House Hunt of 2004, no matter what anybody says.  She came over with reams of paperwork and we started signing stuff.  The listing goes "live" on January 1.  Despite the ho-hum state of the Dallas house market, she thinks it'll sell pretty fast.  So we have to find a place to live in a hurry.

After our vacation, that is.  We're on an imaginary cruise on the S.S. Flamingo, with ports of call in Dallas, Fort Worth, Corsicana, Waxahatchie and maybe Austin.  It's the last cruise for this ship before she's decommissioned, so it's become kind of historical.  Ahoy, mateys, it's time for "It's a Wonderful Life," being broadcast on the widescreen on the Lido Deck.  Merry Christmas, everybody.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Mud, Sweat and Piers (and Beams)

It's a good thing I've been putting off writing the Christmas letter, because honestly, we just hadn't had near enough disasters yet.  I mean, I know there was the transmission repair, and the roof repair, and the water heater thing, and the washing machine thing, and Joan's emergency oral surgery, and then the--the thing I can't remember; actually there may be more than one thing I can't remember.  I mean it all ran together this year.  So, anyway, I was about to write the Christmas letter and I was going to use the oral surgery as kind of the topper, the thing, the "hey, how do you like them apples," and then, out of nowhere, we started to hear this weird little hissing sound.

It started out kind of soft, so soft we might have been imagining it.  It sounded a lot like the hose was on in the back yard, but it wasn't; I checked several times.  Then it got a little louder, and it started to sound like a gas leak, only it couldn't be a gas leak because we'd smell it, wouldn't we?  I mean, natural gas smells like rotten eggs that have been sitting around in a sea of farts for three or four days.  Hard to ignore that kind of smell.

So if it wasn't natural gas, it had to be water, right?  But where was it?  No puddles of water anywhere in the house.  No soft spots on the walls, no water oozing up through the floorboards.  No idea.  But it was getting louder.  Call Ernie, the plumber.  Like, immediately.

Ernie showed up an hour early, like he always does, startling heck out of Joan who wasn't quite awake yet.  He went through the house, listening to everything, looking at everything, wanting to see everything that was hooked up to water.  He agreed with us that nothing was running.  He said he would have to go under the house.

Under the house.  Oh God, I hate those words.  I picture swarms of gigantic six-leggers waiting to pounce on innocent people like me.  Even rats and snakes and spiders aren't as scary as the prospect of giant bugs.  But I didn't have to go down there.  Ernie had to go down there.  Luckily, Ernie is not a very big guy, because the trap door that goes under the house is not very big.  As it is, the door was underneath sheets and towels and a big plastic bin that was full of more sheets and towels.  But, we got it all out of the way and opened the trap door. And then Ernie said, "You guys got a lake down there." 

Yep.  It's the Night of the Broken Pipe. 

Ernie couldn't do anything until we got rid of the water, so we shut the water off and called ServPro.  They showed up, ran gigantic blue anaconda snakes through the house and sucked out the water-and plenty of mud, too, and some stuff that made a creepy rattling sound that I decided I really didn't want to know about.  (Rat bones?  Giant six-leggers?)  Insurance might or might not pay for this, oh joy, oh rapture.

Oh, and when I say insurance might or might not pay for this, I mean the suctioning-out of the water.  Not the repair of the actual pipe.  Since it didn't break inside the house and damage anything, we're S.O.L. on insurance coverage.  Not that I'm complaining; I do have flood insurance, but I don't wanna actually use it.  And I'm kinda fond of my laminate flooring and stuff.  So, yeah, fine that we have a pier-and-beam foundation, and not a slab, and that the water stayed in the crawl space with the rat bones and the six-leggers.

Ernie was back the next day with a backhoe and several shovels.  I got to miss this part because I was at work, but I was here today when the actual digging-up of the old pipe happened.  Turned out, our old pipe was in such crummy shape that the only thing to do was to replace it all.  If they just patched the leak, the water would have gone down the pipe and found another weak spot and we'd be back in this same quandary a week from now.  How much does it cost to replace an entire small house worth of pipe, you ask. Uh, about three thousand seven hundred sixty dollars and fifty-eight cents.  I have the number tattooed on my brain. 

Mind you, while all this has been going on, we haven't had any water at the house.  That's been all kinds of fun.  Filling the commode from five-gallon buckets purchased at Home Depot, brushing our teeth with bottled water bought in flats from Kroger.  We took showers at the gym.  Yes, I know normal people would go stay at a hotel.  But, we are not normal people, and see above re: three thousand seven hundred sixty dollars and fifty-eight cents.  Merry Christmas to you, too.

So, anyway, if you were thinking of sending us anything for the upcoming Christian holiday, money would be great.  As it is, I think we can pay Ernie but I'm not at all sure about ServPro.  I got a Christmas bonus at work last week.  It was a really nice one.  It's gone.  As for the rest--well, it's good to have friends.

In fact, it's so good to have friends that we're going to sell this house and move in with them, because it doesn't seem like we can't afford to maintain it anymore.  The house, that is.  Stay tuned.   

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Paper Chasing

I hate to tell you guys this, but I never went to law school. (!)  I know, right?  You'd think, in this modern day and age, I'd have somehow coughed up the $90 grand (or taken out the student loans) and run the Paper Chase along with my 1,128,729 closest friends.  But no.  I went to paralegal school, which is like Law School Lite.  It only takes a little less than a year instead of three, it's a lot cheaper, and they actually teach you stuff instead of playing hide the ball, which is, I gather, what they do in law school.  (If you're a lawyer, and your paralegal can't find the ball, you are in serious trouble.  Luckily, I'm so good at finding the ball that even my cat, who knocks hers under the door to the HVAC quite frequently, meows for me to come get it for her.)

There's a guy in my office who desperately wants to go to law school.  He's actually been, but that was more than 10 years ago.  He was accepted to Fairly Prestigious Institution and waitlisted for Really Prestigious Institution, which isn't a choice I'd want either.  He wound up going to Fairly Prestigious Institution and lasted two semesters.  Would it have gone better at Really Prestigious Institution?  It's hard to say. He wants to go back and finish, but he's having trouble getting his LSAT score (that's Law School Admission Test for you non-legal people) up high enough.  Having not-finished law school once, he's being treated like damaged goods--never mind that the goods are ten years older now and he's been a paralegal the whole time.  Honestly, you want good prep for law school?  Work as a paralegal for a while.  There just ain't a better way to see how it all fits together.

Somehow, this has spurred me into an existential crisis.  Not that I want to go to law school; no, I like what I do and I'm not in any hurry to do anything else.  I like getting to go home at 5:30.  Well, okay, more like quarter to six most nights, but still.  Something about this whole conversation made me wonder what would have happened if I'd gone to law school right after college, as was the plan (it wasn't my plan, but that's another story).  Where would I be today, and what would I be doing?

Surprisingly, the answer my brain comes up with is broke and dead. 

Or maybe that's not so surprising.  The lawyer who talked me out of going to law school (isn't that kind of like a monsignor talking an altar boy out of joining the priesthood?) told me I was far too interested in truth and justice to be an effective attorney.  (He did say that.  He really said that.)  "You know what you'd do," he went on.  "You'd take all those battered-women cases, and the people who got fired from their jobs for unjust reasons, and the women who can't get apartments because they have a kid with Down's.  People who will never pay you and lawsuits that you'll never win.  Or worse, you'll become a prosecutor, and you'll be fifty years old and still living with roommates because you can't afford your own place."

Well, okay, he said something like that.  I have a good ear for dialogue, but it gets rusty over a twenty-three year time span.  Still, you have to admit he was a pretty good judge of character.  Most of that does sound like what I'd do.  The "dead" part is a little harder to follow, but I crashed and burned pretty hard in 1999 and again in 2001, and I can't imagine I would've somehow not crashed and burned if I'd have been an attorney when all that was going on.  (Although, I might have had better health insurance.  Maybe.)  I have a high-stress occupation as it is; if I were an attorney, it'd be even higher stress, and, well, yeah.  I might very well be dead, having driven my Lincoln into the San Diego Bay over a motion denied or a restraining order that didn't do a damn bit of good.

Roland, the bad guy in Mindbender, says to Our Heroine at one point, "Surely you cannot mean to be a librarian for the rest of your life."  (Yep, I've got a gun-toting action hero librarian.  You tell me why it's not published yet.)  She gets understandably annoyed and asks what's wrong with that, exactly.  He tells her she has much greater potential, and as Linus of Peanuts would say, there's no heavier burden than a great potential.  He is, of course, messing with her head, but the question is genuine and every now and then I have some stupid conversation with somebody that makes me ask it again.  Surely you cannot mean to be a paralegal for the rest of your life.  (No, only until about age 70, and then I thought I'd do some skydiving.)  In all seriousness, though, what if I'm supposed to be doing something else?  What if I'm floating around on a vast sea of untapped potential, in the paralegal lifeboat that I've somehow become deluded into thinking is a luxury yacht?  Well, okay, I'm a practical person here, so let's say a 38-foot ocean-going small vessel with plenty of foul-weather gear.  In short, what if I'm doing it all wrong, and ruining my life?

On the other hand, I am not a great believer in the ruinability of life.  I am, after all, 43 years old, and I've had my share of ruin-your-life level tragedies. I've flunked out of music school, ditched not  just a boyfriend but an entire gender, survived the suicide of someone I was crazy about, changed religions, changed political affiliations, changed hair lengths, changed favorite sports, got fat, went to Central America, had and lost a literary agent and watched a friend get her labia pierced.  I have also, just incidentally, worked in a library, and before I got lured into the sordid world of things legal I was pretty sure I wanted to do that for the rest of my life, too.

But that darn sea of untapped potential.  I dunno.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Gambling in Dallas II

"Your winnings, Sir."--Police Officer
"Thank you." - Louie

Well, I thought this was a fairly easy one-off topic that I could explain and move on, but apparently 'tis not so.  Just when the lottery drawing was over and I thought it was safe to get back in the (some other) pool, the gambling-at-work thing reared its ugly head again.  I've become privy to some Inside Information about the looming Office Christmas Bash.  I should say Holiday Bash because more than half the office doesn't celebrate Christmas, but never mind.  The party's going to be "themed" this year.  What theme, you ask.  Need you ask?  A casino theme, of course.

(That sound you heard was lots of Buddhists pounding their heads against walls.  I spose some of them could have been Babtists, too.)

Look, people, there aren't too many things in Buddhism that are absolute no-nos.  We only have five precepts, not ten commandments, and to be honest they're more like highly intelligent suggestions as opposed to mandates. The five things we're not supposed to do are killing, stealing, being sexually irresponsible (which has as many interpretations as there are human beings, but I just interpret it as, don't have sex with someone you don't love, and make sure they want to have sex with you, too), "false speech" (aka, lying) and drinking alcohol, which has been expanded in modern times to include other addictive substances.

Where does gambling fit in here, you ask. Well, a couple of places. Officially, it fits under No. 5, since gambling is an addictive behavior.  However, there's also shades of it in No. 2 (irresponsibility with money, e.g., stealing). A couple of the many "long form" variations on the precepts mention gambling specifically.  The Sigalovada Sutra also mentions gambling  as one of the six actions that "dissipate virtue." If you really wanna read a dissertation on Precept No. 5 and why it covers gambling, go here and just keep scrolling down until your scroller gets sore. When the smoke clears and the dust settles, though, it still basically amounts to "Don't bet on the horses."

Now, the casino-theme party is probably not what Buddha had in mind at all.  It's just for fun.  No actual money is going to change hands, but if you scrolled down until your scroller got sore, you'll know that it's the act of placing the bet, not the eventual outcome, that's the problem. And so this Buddhist is wondering what in hell to do about this development; bail right after dinner (that is, eat and run) or just not show up at all.

Because, honestly, showing up at this thing and just not gambling is Not An Option.  To a degree, one can hang out with friends at a bar and not drink; one just keeps one's cup full of something that's not alcoholic, like iced tea or diet Coke.  One keeps one's voice at the same level as everyone else's (have you ever noticed how LOUD people get when they drink?) until one gets tired, and then one makes an excuse and leaves.  But a casino theme party is a little different.  You can't really walk around with chips in your hands and not play.  Sooner or later people are going to notice, and they're going to ask you what's up, and you're going to be explaining yourself over and over again and I am  just Not Up For That after the whole lottery thing.  I'm just not.  Can't do it.  Sorry.

So again, the question becomes which is ruder, eating and running or just not showing up at all.  It's kind of a command performance, so I'm leaning toward eating and running.  I doubt anybody will miss me once the craps tables roll out.  However, I'm open for your votes. I am not above getting a sudden cold the night of some important event that I'm Just Not Up For.  Just because I haven't done it in like 20 years doesn't mean I don't remember how.

Yes, I realize that violates Precept No. 4.  So sue me.