Monday, September 30, 2013

A resolution of sorts

An update on my housing situation: I'm moved into the new place, although the loan still...STILL...isn't closed. So my status has been elevated from "homeless" to "squatter".
We were set to close on Friday but the seller said she wasn't available due to having company in town and they had plans. This caused me... discomfort. I snapped and I informed all parties concerned that I would not spend one more night, let alone an entire weekend, in the hotel. And if that meant the deal was dead, so be it. It was a total bluff since between losing all the money I've already spent plus having nowhere to go, I really didn't have the option of killing the deal. Still, I'd been in a hotel for the better part of a month with my pet cats in a shelter during that same time. While all of us were safe and sound, the idea of having to sustain that less-than-favorable status quo because the seller wanted to take her friends and family to Busch Gardens and Outback Steakhouse instead of signing some paperwork wasn't something I could tolerate. A deal was worked out where I was able to move into the house, after agreeing not to burn it down or sue anybody if I fell in the shower and broke my leg of course. I went and got the cats and here we all are now. It's unfortunate that nothing seems to get done when I'm being patient and compliant, that it takes anger and yelling and threats to move things along but that's what we are.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Snack attack

There are lots of ways to get your hands on food with the intent of getting that food into your mouth, especially here in America. None are as cold and dark as getting it from a coin-operated vending machine, though. What we all think of as a convenience is actually a study of how much we hate each other and, on some levels, ourselves. There is a lot of fairly aggressive contempt going back and forth when you buy something from a vending machine. Let's take a look...

  • You get what you pay for - When you go to the vending machine it's because you're looking for something to eat and you either only have or don't want to spend more than about a dollar. The chances of getting something actually good for you with even a little nutritional value are not good under this kind of budgetary constraint.
  • You're dealing with a machine - In most cases, we as humans feed each other. Whether we're cooking for our family, being waited on by a server in a restaurant, or patronizing a grocer at the supermarket, there's almost always some sort of human element in effect when we eat. Not so with a vending machine. Sure, some person puts the stuff inside but that's not the same thing. The same guy who empties the coins is also cramming snacks into the coils so there will be more coins next time. Guess which element he cares about more? (hint: people throw away food all the time; when does anybody ever intentionally throw away even the smallest amount of money?) I'm sure at the end of the day the vending machine guy doesn't consider what he does as "feeding people".
  • Take this - So you show up, decide what you want and start cramming in your coins (because, again, it's cheap) into the slot. "Here, machine. Take my little metal discs that represent fractions of a whole dollar", you say as you force them inside of it. Sometimes, for whatever reason, a coin won't take. Then what do you do? You jam it in there even more forcefully, sometimes over and over, until it takes it. Then you push two buttons and a coil starts to rotate, dispensing your item. Hopefully.
  • All sales final - Because the person stocking the machine doesn't really care about you, anonymous vending machine customer, they invest a lot more care in getting the coins out of the machine than they do in putting the food into it. As a result, sometimes things get stuck. Or worse, the revolving dispenser coil rotates to a completely empty slot, yielding nothing.
  • Better than nothing - If you pushed the wrong buttons for some reason, too bad. You're getting what you asked for, even if it's not what you wanted to ask for. In this and the above instance,the machine doesn't care. Nor should it; because fuck you, it did its job and also, fuck you. 
  • Complain at your own risk - You can register your displeasure by shaking the machine until it gives you what you want. Just keep in mind that the machine reserves the right to kill you.
  • Best case scenario - Let's say you pushed the right button and the machine is going to give you what you requested. Your reward arrives when your chunks of orange salt or congealed chocolate goo or whatever it is drops with a thunk into a metal bin at the bottom, only because the machine is not built to sneer at you and throw it on the floor. This is the almost exactly the same thing, though.
It's sad, but what choice do you have when you're broke, hate yourself and didn't bring anything for lunch?

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The simple case for good triumphing over evil

I think I'm a pretty simple person and I've never claimed to have a clear understanding of all the factors that go into complex dilemmas, such as the one at the heart of all of mankind's existential angst, the battle between good and evil. That doesn't stop me from thinking about it and coming up with my own conclusions. For me, it breaks down along these lines:

Puppies are the best example I can think of to demonstrate pure goodness. They're motivated by their desires to play, eat and sleep. That's it. There is nothing even slightly malicious about them or what they do. They're also fluffy and adorable. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have these guys:
Nazis, neo or otherwise, are just the worst. They exist to be stupid and hateful and that's all. They're also ugly and decidedly not fluffy. The ugliest, least fluffy puppy ever born is 10 times more adorable and fluffy than Adolph Hitler ever was, even as a baby. That's besides the point though, and should not be factored into this forensic analysis. Still...
Awww, who couldn't love you??
Awww, why couldn't time travel exist so somebody could go back and choke you out?

Now here's why puppies (Good) will always eventually triumph over Nazis (Evil).
Puppies are organic. They're the natural result of the procreation of their species. They've been around for thousands of years and barring an unforeseeable global catastrophe, they'll be here forever. Unless a comet hits the planet or dogs lose interest in having sex (with each other), we will always have puppies.
However, somebody had to come up with the idea of Nazis. There's nothing natural about them. Some guy had to sit down and organize a bunch of shitty thoughts out of his damaged mind into a relatively coherent philosophy. Then he had to go out and find enough people with similarly flawed mindsets to get behind it and turn it into a movement. Somebody had to come up with a logo and sew uniforms and find a place to have meetings, not to mention the printing and distribution of propaganda. That's a lot of work by a lot of people getting together and forcing things to happen. That's not nature. Think of it this way:
Every time any two dogs get together, it usually yields between four to six new adorable puppies. But I would guess that Nazis have to yell at hundreds of a very specific type of people to yield one potential Nazi recruit.
The ongoing propagation of Nazis is simply unsustainable.
I hope that helps you sleep better tonight. I know it helps me.

Monday, September 23, 2013

This is perfect; perfectly awful

I know sometimes.. okay, maybe a lot of times... it seems like I'm just boiling over with sheer, unbridled hatred, but that's honestly not the case. More often than not, I'm complaining about things that are, at most, a pain in the ass. Relatively minor inconveniences that really don't matter much that I try to exaggerate for (hopefully comic) effect. But if there's one thing I can say that I truly, truly hate, it's a lack of courtesy fueled by an inflated sense of entitlement. I'm talking about those people who equate freedom with being able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, with absolutely no consideration for how it might impact someone else.
A perfect example of this occurred last Wednesday while I was sitting in a Panera Bread. That's when I Tweeted this photo:
"This woman simply does not care if you trip and kill yourself"
In case you can't quite tell, this woman is on her laptop which is plugged into the wall with a cord that she stretched over a chair and across an aisle into an outlet on the wall. Here's a shot of the cord:
After the Tweet, a friend of mine asked, "did you say something to her?". I didn't see the point after stepping carefully over the cord and she smirked at me and said, "sorry!" in that pinched, smarmy, "I'm trying to be cute" way that never, ever is. This wasn't someone who had carelessly created a dangerous situation accidentally and unintentionally by not thinking about it, the kind of mistake to which all of us are prone. This was someone who wanted to sit there and plug her computer into that outlet and while I'm sure I hope she didn't want anyone to hurt themselves, well, that wasn't really her problem, was it? In other words, she's an aggressively inconsiderate asshole, someone who will go out of their way to create a trip hazard in the middle of a crowded restaurant simply because that's something she wants to do. Why should the health and safety of other people infringe upon that? It flat-out pisses me off because it's not even senseless, it's totally thought-out. She had to have considered the possible consequences and simply chose to ignore them. Who does that? More importantly, why do we need them walking around and using up our water and oxygen when life is already hard and so many of us just want to get through it without losing our minds and in as few pieces as possible?
If I may invoke a scenario that people often use when they talk about the abuse of freedom, I'm pretty sure nobody who stormed the beach at Normandy did so with the idea that they were risking their lives and fighting for one citizen's right to make another plunge face-first into a sourdough bread bowl full of hot broccoli and cheese soup because they didn't want to waste their laptop battery while reading their email (whatever most of those things are, since they weren't invented until well after World War II was over).
I wish I had thought of tripping over it on my way out in a way that would bend the shit out of the prongs on the cord, rendering it useless. "Sorry!"

Friday, September 20, 2013

Yet another snag

Are you as sick of reading about this buying-a-house thing as I am of writing/thinking about it? Yeah, I doubt it. Sorry, but that simply isn't possible. But since this is all that's going on in my life, it's all I have to write about.

The latest SNAFU, and boy, is that acronym apt in this case, was Wednesday. My realtor Lori and I thought there was a chance we'd do the deal late Tuesday. When that didn't happen, we figured a slam dunk for Wednesday. Nope. I called the loan officer myself late that afternoon. No answer, so I left a message.
"Hi. This is Clark Brooks. Please call me back, as I would like firm answers to what is happening with my loan as well as what your company policy is in regard to dealing with customers in general."
He didn't return my call, so I tried again a half hour later.
"Hi. It's Clark Brooks again. Just to be clear, that wasn't the only phone call I plan to make. Since sitting back and trusting that somebody was doing something on my behalf has yielded exactly zero positive results, I'm abandoning that approach. So yeah, I'm now one of those customers. Please call me back so I don't have to call you again."
Fifteen minutes later, I called and he answered.
"Oh hey! I was just getting ready to call you!"
"Yeah, okay. Can you just give me a straight answer on what's happening?"
"Well, the underwriter is reviewing the termite inspection. After that, everything should be all set."
"How is that possible? The termite inspection was last Friday."
"The underwriter didn't get it until yesterday. Late yesterday."
"All right. One, that isn't my fault. Two, why does it take an entire day to process one document?"
"These things take time."
"I'm living in a hotel! You know who lives in hotels? Rock stars like Mick Jagger. Do you think I have Mick Jagger money? You've spent the last two months burrowing deep into my financial records' colon. You know I don't have Mick Jagger money."
I heard him chuckle.
"Is that funny to you? That's perfect. That's just perfect."
"I wasn't laughing at your situation. I thought you were making a joke..."
"You know how the banking industry has been taking a beating in terms of public opinion for the last few years? This is why; your blatant disregard for your customers. It borders on contempt. I'm bleeding money while you guys fart around with a termite inspection that's probably going to be out of date by the time this closes, at this rate, and you find humor in that! That brings you joy! How absolutely perfect."
He muttered something about trying to get me some extra money at closing for the inconvenience. I said, "just get it to closing, please" and hung up. At some point, I also told him that going forward, I would be extremely diligent about watching how my account was handled, in terms of posting payments and whatever other dealings I had with them. Because we're not partners, we're adversaries. I don't care what they think about me but they are not to be trusted. Not to paint with too broad of a brush, but bankers, especially loan processors, are baby-raping nazi pricks who should get a painful rectal venereal disease. In the eyeball.

I'm somewhat encouraged that I'm not the only one this happens to. I hate feeding my paranoia with validation. Below is a letter my friend wrote (I've anonymous-ed) when the bankers processing her mortgage became suspicious because she was moving out of a big house in a rural area to a small condo in downtown Tampa:

To Whom it May Concern:
The purpose of this letter is to inform you in detail of the numerous reasons why we feel it is in everyone’s best interest that we sell our 4 bedroom/2 bath home in Ruskin, Florida, in exchange for an 700 square foot, 1 bedroom condo in Downtown Tampa. You may find a move of this nature to be suspicious. You would not be alone, as many of my friends, our neighbors, and even my mother has questioned the sanity of such a move. In order to demonstrate the validity of such a decision, please consider the following:
• Ruskin is 33.2 miles from our studio. Downtown Tampa is 1.5.
• It costs us $1,000 in gas every year to travel, and requires 2 automobiles. Living in Downtown Tampa will cost an estimated $300 a year, and will require 1 automobile.
• The closest coffee shop from our current home is 10.7 miles away. The closest coffee shop from the condo is downstairs and to the left.
• We have a dog that loves to get out and romp around. The dog park across the street from the condo building in Tampa is huge and beautifully landscaped, and patronized by intellectual and engaging urban dwellers. The dog park down the street from our current home has some dirt, a guy named Roger, and a defecating duck that always seems to loiter around suspiciously.
• Our current home has 3 unused bedrooms as we have no children – and will never have children. It requires extensive time and resources to maintain – time and resources that prohibit us from traveling often. A 1 bedroom condo will allow us to travel freely without worrying who will cut the grass, while conveniently also offering a legitimate reason to tell our in-laws to get a hotel room when they visit.
These are just the highlights. I guarantee you that if I were to list out our entire grievances with living in an oversized home in the armpit of Hillsborough County, it would take more than a one page letter. Or you could just take the word of the NY Times that this is, in fact, a great decision and approve our loan: I hope this letter adequately addressed your concerns. Please let me move now.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

I hate this picture

I hate this picture.
It's a huge waste of time to hate an object. As dumb and pointless as it is to hate people, it's at least twice as dumb to hate things. Because when you hate people, whether it's a single individual person or a whole group of individula persons, there's a possibility of inflicting some kind of emotional and/or psychological damage. That's not a good thing but at least you're accomplishing aomething. Things are immune to all of that because they lack the ability to care. Still, I hate this picture.
This whole buying-a-house thing is still not resolved and I'm living in a hotel room where this picture is the only decoration in the place. I've been spending virtually all of my time by myself locked up in that room, waiting for a call that doesn't come. The hotel is nice and the room itself is perfectly fine, but it has started to feel like a jail cell. When I'm there, the tv is on but I'm not really able to pay attention to what's on. I brought books but can't summon the level of concentration neccesary to be able to read them. Instead, I find myself listening to the same dozen thoughts, all tied to my current anxieties (How much longer is this going to last? What if it never ends? How am I going to pay for this? I miss my cats! etc.), cycling through my head. It's like having a radio that only gets one station that only plays ten different songs; after a while, you start thinking, "well, this is all the music there is". That's what happens when you're stuck. You lose perspective. Being aware of that isn't the cure for it either; it's very difficult to force yourself to adapt a different viewpoint. Pointing out an inability to see the forest for the trees is not going to help anyone whose face has been stapled to a tree.
What I'm saying is I know my persepctive is skewed and I'm pretty sure I've started going a little nuts. And through it all, I find myself staring at this one picture.
Man, I hate this picture.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Louisville Sluggers and Old Lace

Last Thursday, I went to Inkwood Books (Tampa's best independent bookstore) to talk about my book. A RELEVANT ASIDE: The management at Inkwood is to be commended for their support of local independent authors. It's great to not only walk into a real live bookstore and see something you wrote on the shelves but their SelfPub Club gives writers like me a forum to promote ourselves. I couldn't be more appreciative.
Anywho, I was on the way there and stopped at a nearby Wendy's for a quick bite and to get my talking points organized in my head. I wanted to talk about how I write observations on things that happen around me and how I try to find the inherent absurdity that exists in the ugly, dumb, mean, cruel, arbitrarily disheartening crap we all have to deal with.
Now, we all profile other people. We may not do it with malice and hatred in our hearts but we all have our prejudices. Whether it's subconsciously or otherwise, these prejudices influence our comfort levels around other people. This was how I came to sit near the two sweet little old (white) ladies in the picture. Not that I was necessarily afraid of the two black guys sitting together or the three rowdy teenagers with multiple parts of their heads pierced; I just felt more comfortable sitting near the ladies that looked like my mom. Until I overheard their table conversation, and I swear to God this is true...
"You know you can't kill someone with a single blow from a softball bat."
"Of course you can. If it was an aluminum bat."
"I'm assuming it would be an aluminum bat. But I'm thinking the first blow would only crack his skull, maybe send him into convulsions."
"You're probably right. That's why it always takes 16 or 17 times, to finish them off."
I finished my baked potato and got the hell out of there. I probably should have thanked them for giving me a perfect illustration of what I planned to talk about but I didn't want to interrupt.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Not so fast, would-be homeowner boy

Long story short, I didn't close on Wednesday, or yesterday (Thursday), for that matter. Hopefully, I am doing that as you're reading this. That's the tentative plan, anyway.
It's remarkable how much I am a person who is defined by setbacks like this. I don't mean catastrophic occurrences like disease and death and dismemberment. I know I'm fortunate to have side-stepped anything in that regard so far. I mean in areas where a normal person should be able to follow steps from A to B to C and end up at D. I simply can't seem to do that without detouring into E, J, M and Y. It took me longer than normal to learn to tie my shoes and ride a bike. I almost missed my deployment to Germany while I was in the army because my paperwork got jacked up. The book took almost a year longer to get published than I wanted. Now, apparently, I can't just buy a house and move into it. Sure, sometimes that's funny and gives me stuff to write about. But I don't need to take the scenic route every time, do I? And sure, it was interesting to learn that my employer had me under the wrong social security number for the last two years for some reason, but I could have done without that step and the messes it has caused.
I hate to sound like I'm complaining. Like I said, in light of how things could always be worse, this stuff just boils down to pains in the ass. And I'm really NOT complaining, just more like remarking with amazement. I am the sum total of a seemingly endless series of mistakes, accidents and screw-ups.
Still, if I may whine just a little, I'd really like to go home soon, so I can stop staring at this for hours every night:

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

"I'm not dead"

My ex-neighbor at the apartment complex I just left was an older German man that I called Horst. We were friendly in the way that neighbors who share a common staircase should be friendly but we weren't really close. Just small talk on the way up or down those stairs, That kind of thing, We got along just fine.

Relevant to this story, I'm embarrassed by my stuff. I own a lot of toys and sports memorabilia and assorted silly things that I like but can't justify owning beyond my own personal preferences. Not that I need to justify that to anyone but  I'm a little self-conscious about things I shouldn't be. In seven years, I had company over very few times. It's just one of my delightful hang-ups. Because of this, I made up a story for the benefit of the movers who came over last weekend, two guys I was paying to do a job who don't know me and I would never see again and who could probably care less. These are the people to whom it was very important to present a cool front. What I told them was it was my brother's apartment. He just died and on behalf of my family, I flew into town with the task to taking care of his stuff. I made up a brother and faked my own death through him for the purpose of proving to guys who see people in terms of cardboard boxes that I wasn't some pathetic nerd.
"Yeah, I have no idea what half this crap even is. Be very careful with that one."
Over the course of the afternoon, they made several trips up and downstairs. I stayed in the apartment, directing. At one point, I heard Horst come out of his apartment and he spoke to one of the movers.
HORST: "Moving some things out, eh?"
MOVER: "Yep. Moving everything out."
HORST: "Where is the owner?"
MOVER: "He died."
ME (to myself): "Uh-oh."
I hid inside and Horst went on his way. About an hour later, the movers finished up and left. I hung back a few minutes to make sure they got everything. When I left, I got to the top of the stairs and saw Horst halfway up.

HORST: "You're alive!"
ME: "Um. Yep."
HORST: "Those men, they said you were dead."
ME: "What? They did? I'm not dead. That's nutty, huh?"

Horst looked concerned. "They took your things. Is everything okay?", he asked. I told him, "Oh yeah. Everything is fine. I'm just moving out, that's all. Those guys are working for me today." "Moving out?", he asked. "But why?" He seemed troubled. He had no idea I wanted out. I put a hand gently on his shoulder and said, "Because, Horst", I said. "Because this place sucks balls." He still looked confused and said, "My name is not Horst."
I'm going to miss him.

Monday, September 09, 2013

Honey, I'm (almost) home!

First off, I'm almost entirely 100% back and more than 100% glad to be so. I've missed this. I'm not planning on going away again any time soon. So sit back and relax. New and (hopefully) fun stuff to follow! Today, just to tie up loose ends and get back into the swing of things, I'll answer questions for those who have them. The beauty of this is, if you don't have any questions you don't have to read any more! Hurray! Go on and enjoy your day. Hopefully, it's lovely outside. If you want to stick around, here we go...

WHY WAS I GONE and WHERE WAS I? Okay, for those who care or feel they need to know, the reason I was away is because I'm buying a house and moving into it. Things deteriorated quickly between me and the management company at my apartment complex and a mutual decision was reached for me to get the eff out. I have military benefits that allow me access to VA loans and it's kind of stupid to spend money on rent and it was time to do something so I did. This required a quick turnaround and Lori, my realtor, jumped through some serious hoops on my behalf, for which I am extremely appreciative. She was able to help me find a place, work out a deal and get it closed in just over a month. However, I had to be out of the apartment on August 31 and I'm not scheduled to close until Wednesday, September 11th. This resulted in moving all my crap into the house (a generous and unusual concession by the seller negotiated by Lori, for which I am also grateful), while boarding my cats and sleeping in a cheap hotel for over a week. Between having a ton of stuff to do (I've also worked full-time throughout) and crappy wifi at the hotel, I just couldn't be around like usual. More to come but now at least you have an answer to the question of my absence. Most importantly, for the first time in a very long time, I feel like I will have a home soon. Part of that, believe it or not, is writing this blog. So yeah, pretty good.

WHY DIDN'T I JUST KEEP WRITING AND KEEP UP WITH EVERYTHING? Didn't you read what I just wrote? Or were you outside, enjoying the lovely day and decided to come back? That's fine but don't make a habit of it; going in and out like that plays havoc with the A/C, you know. Like I said,  the wifi at the hotel where I'm staying stinks. It's simply been a matter of not being able to get on line.

WHY DIDN'T I SAY SOMETHING? There are a lot of wonderful, kind people out there. I know some of them. You might be one of them. A lot of those wonderful, kind people are crazy. You might be one of them. Of the very, very, very few people I told (less than five of 'em), every single one of them offered me a place to crash or at least assistance in finding a place. However, I'm not good at accepting help or being cared for/about. Another example why it's a good thing I don't have children is that if they ever put me in a nursing home, I would be an awful patient and ultimately a huge waste of money for the kiddos. Before you say anything, I'm aware that's not good or anything to be proud of. Still, for better or worse (in this case, admittedly worse), it's how I'm wired. It's probably a combination of my upbringing and a million little incidents over the years that make me like this. At any rate, offers of assistance make me uncomfortable. Not because of any misconceptions about weakness really but because I feel like I'm imposing. Even when people insist otherwise, I know that stepping outside of their normal routine to accommodate me is not anybody's favorite thing to do. Also, let me be totally honest about it, I just didn't want any help. But wonderful, kind people are persistent and offers of assistance quickly turn into INSISTENCE. When that happens, it becomes extremely difficult to decline gracefully without it turning into a whole awkward, impolite thing.
WIFE: "You can stay in the baby's room. It's not like we're using it. Hope you don't mind pictures of adorable baby bunnies and ducklings painted on the wall. Ha ha!"
ME: "Baby's room? I didn't know you guys ever had kids."
HUSBAND: "(Softly, eyes cast downward) We didn't."

Eww. Between that and sleeping in the bed somebody's grandmother died in and their weird-smelling food and their in-jokes and unspoken expectations of me pitching in with some of the household chores and their fights. Oh God, the fights...
HUSBAND: "Here we go. You're going to bring this up again? Now??"
WIFE: "I'm going to bring it up until you decide to do something about it!"
ME: "Should I leave? I didn't want to be here in the first place. It would be very easy for me to leave."
HUSBAND: "No, stay. She's just dying to share with someone else about how I'm the worst person in the world who never does anything right!"
ME: "(Very quietly) Oh goody."
I was trying to limit that kind of activity to a manageable level (none) and the best way to do that was not to say anything.
Anyway, I think that brings us up to date. If you have any other questions, ask.