Monday, December 03, 2007

Finding a Girl's Best Friend

What happened today is an amazing story. I still can't believe it happened.

This morning I was talking to a woman named Val at work when I told her I liked her earrings. I'm always admiring her jewelry. She said, "You aren't going to believe what I did." She dejectedly went on to tell me that she'd lost her diamond earrings at a pub Thursday night on Old Stone Street - probably one of the first pubs ever built in Manhattan. These were earrings from her boyfriend Dave, so they had sentimental value.

It had taken her a while to figure out where she'd lost the earrings, but by Saturday she knew. At Ulysses pub (right near my apartment) on Thursday, she'd put her purse on the floor next to one of those tall bar tables where she sat with some folks from work. (I'd been invited but didn't make it that night.)

At work on Thursday, she'd removed her diamond earrings and put them in a zipper pocket in her handbag. Usually she closes the zipper. But later that night, when she left the bar, her purse had tipped over on the floor. She picked it up and noticed that an item had fallen out of the zipper pocket inside the purse. She grabbed that up--without even thinking about the diamonds--and headed home.

I said, "Did you call the restaurant?" Yes, she'd called them on Saturday, but it was too late. The diamonds were gone, she was convinced. I could tell she'd already given up. But my reaction was automatically one of, "Why are you here and not over there looking for them?!" (I know I would be!) She thought about it for a second then said, "Well, they aren't open now." I suggested we go. So she and I decided we'd walk over to Ulysses for lunch and search for her earrings.

At 11:30 we headed over, walking in a door directly next to the table where she'd sat Thursday night. It was a tad dark in there. She pointed to the floor where he purse had been and started to move the table and chairs away from the window. Meanwhile I made a beeline for a spot under the table against the wall. There was a very old (and very hot) black metal radiator against the wall beneath the window.

Within seconds, I'd reached under the radiator into a crevice beyond the edge of the floor (burning my finger) and pulled out one diamond earring covered in link and hair and other ikky stuff. From the look of it, it had been swept into the crevice where it was resting on a 1-1/2"-wide ledge just beneath the radiator.

Val and I couldn't believe it! Within less than a minute of walking in the door we'd found the first earring. I thought I saw the other earring in another crevice that I couldn't reach, so the the nice server guy brought us a pen and a flashlight. False alarm. It was one of dozens of pieces of broken glass we came across.

Together Val and I looked and looked for the other earring, trying not to burn our skin on the boiling hot radiator. The crevice along the radiator was about 5 feet long and difficult to access because of the overhanging radiator (that I practically singed my hair on!). We searched the whole thing more than once. No earring. We looked behind bus trays on the floor and in every crevice of the old hard wood floor in that area of the bar. No earring.

Then I had an idea. I said, "I just live a couple blocks away, why don't I get my hand vacuum and a put a fresh bag in it? If they let us, we can just vacuum out the whole crevice and then check the bag for the earring." She was game, so we asked the staff if we could do that. The nice male server who'd given us the flashlight asked the manager, who told him it wasn't a problem. The cute server smiled at me, "We don't mind if you clean out our radiator!"

So I walked back to my apartment and grabbed up my hand-held Oreck vac--you know, the one you see on TV lifting a bowling ball. Val called me on my BlackBerry while I was pulling attachments off the shelf of my walk-in closet and asked if I had a flashlight - the other had burned out. I walked back to Ulysses with flashlight, vacuum, and bag. We plugged it in and started vacuuming along the crevice.

Just then the 20-something manager came over and told us we had to stop because the lunch crowd was coming in. Val said to him, "But we asked permission!" And there was no one in the bar area. But he kept saying, "Sorry, ladies, but you can come back between 3:00 and 5:00 to look."

Grumbling, we stopped our search and sat down in the restaurant area for lunch. We weren't very happy with the young manager who told us to quit right after giving us permission to vacuum. "Jerk," Val stated matter-of-factly.

Let me tell you, that guy will not have a successful marriage if he doesn't understand that you do not stop a woman from looking for her lost diamond when she knows she's so close to finding it! Jerk. The female staff members, on the other hand, were quite supportive of our ridiculous efforts.

We ate our delicious burgers and walked back to work. We dumped out what little stuff was in the small vacuum bag, but no earring. We really didn't expect it to be there.

Around 3:10PM I went over to Val's cubicle and asked her if she wanted to go back. A little while later we grabbed up our supplies, including long wooden coffee stirrers and plastic utensils to aid in digging through the gross stuff under the radiator (which included 5-year-old french fries). We headed over to Ulysses in the gale-force winds.

The jerk was no longer there, so we were free to vacuum all we wanted. We were pros at this now. The flashlight was a big help. We vacuumed the entire crevice. But even then I didn't feel like we'd found the other earring, and I told Val I had a bad feeling about it. She said she had the same feeling. I unplugged the vacuum and wrapped up the cord. She went back to the floor for one more look, and I went outside to look on the sidewalk and curb. I knew the diamond earrings had been swept with a broom because of the location of the one we'd found in proximity to where Val's purse had been on the floor. I thought maybe the other earring got swept right out the nearby door and onto the sidewalk.

Nope. No earring. We were packing up to leave when I looked down at the bottom of the doorframe where I saw a crevice. I got down with the flashlight and looked closer. I could swear I saw a gold post and a setting - but it wasn't an ordinary gold post, so I didn't think it was Val's. Nonetheless, I took a coffee stirrer and popped it out. But it went flying behind me--whatever it was--and neither of us could find it. I could still sense something in that crevice. So, as a last-ditch effort, I plugged the vacuum back in and vacuumed every bit of detritus out of that tiny crevice.

Finally we left after giving the bartender Val's contact info. We took the vacuum back to the office but neither of us was confident we'd vacuumed up the earring. When I set the vacuum down on a circular table by my cube and popped out the hose, some dirt and lint and a match fell out onto the table from the opening. I grabbed a paper towel and put it under the opening. I was going to just clean out the opening before opening up the vacuum and removing the bag.

With a coffee stirrer, I dug some of the stuff out of the circular opening and let it fall to the paper towel. By this time, a few of the guys on our team had come over to see what the heck we were doing with a vacuum cleaner! (Crazy women.) Almost instantly, I saw something shiny fall out onto the paper towel and I pulled it out through all the lint and dirt. It was a sole diamond! No setting - just a diamond that looked identical in size and shape to its partner.

Unable to believe it was real, I put the shiney gem in my hand at the same time I turned and screamed, "Val, it's your diamond!!" Without even looking she responded in the negative - something like, "No it's not. It can't be mine." I guess she'd convinced herself we wouldn't find it.

I was like, "Yes it is!! Look!" and I handed it to her. She took out the earring we'd found and compared them - jumping up and down in glee. We'd done the impossible. Two lost earrings that had fallen onto a dark barroom floor far, far from home four whole days ago had somehow miraculously made their way back to their owner long after being swept away and probably stepped on. Both of us were astounded. We were practically jumping up and down.

By this time everyone on the floor was looking at us wanting to know what was so great. Val and I just could not believe what had happened. I realized that, since the diamond practically fell out of the opening on its own, it had to be the last thing we'd vacuumed up in the pub. Not only that, but it very easily could've fallen out of the hose on the way back because it hadn't even made its way into the bag - it was stuck in some lint in the opening where the hose attaches! We could have lost it twice and never even known it.

Wow. That just made my day. I have such bad luck. For weeks I've felt that I brought that bad luck to my team. One of my team's guys got robbed at gunpoint in his hotel room week before last during his vacation in India. Another was taken to the hospital after a severe asthma attack and put on a breathing machine. (Fortunately, he was OK.) Several of us were sick over the past month, passing around the same cold and dropping like flies. Another guy's fish tank leaked about 50 gallons of water onto his floor today. Another's sewer backed up last week, and he had to stay home and fix it. It's been just one thing after another, and I blame myself and my own rotten luck.

But after this thing today, I was in disbelief. Could it be possible my luck is changing? Or was it an unrelated incident? When I left work, I immediately went out and bought 5 Mega Millions lottery tickets in the plaza shops down in the basement of our building. As I was heading up the concrete stairs outside the building, I tripped on my own pants leg and fell onto my right hand, jamming a finger.

That answers that question!

But, man, what are the odds of finding two lost diamonds? I guess perseverance pays off! I'm still stunned. And Val is one happy girl. I guess this makes us BFF. :)

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Holiday Time (and First Snow) in New York

When I first looked out of my third-floor window this morning around 8:45, the streets and sidewalks were white. The weatherman had been correct. This is an early snow for New York.

So I stayed in all day, doing some school work and cooking, and also enjoying "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Johnny Depp is so entertaining playing the sneaky yet slightly effiminate Jack Sparrow, who has "no moral center," according to the female lead.

By 5:00PM I was stir-crazy. I just can't sit in a chair that long. So I bumped Baby off my lap--what a great day she had taking advantage of record lap time!--and donned my heavy winter wear before stepping out into the 34-degree evening. I walked around, but there was not much snow left - just enough to make a few snow balls to throw at pilings. The sidewalks were slushy and icy in some spots, but all in all, it wasn't bad out.

When I came home I finally wrapped up the second of two math classes that I am enrolled in this semester. What a relief. It's been quite stressful, to say the least, trying to sell a house and car, find a NY apartment, pack, move, unpack, start a new (hectic!) job, and do school work. How do I end up in these situations?! Anyway, I am officially now just three itsy bitsy credit hours shy of a bachelor's degree in Mathematics that I started working on in 1981 when I was just 17 and could barely drive a car with a stick shift. Man it's been a long time.

All I need is one 3-credit upper level math course, and I'm done. It's hard to believe that it's been 26 years in the making. Three universities later, and I'm still not done. That is the price I pay for living my adult life like a free-spirited gypsy. (No regrets!) All I need to do is find an online course that fits the bill, and I can finish up. So far, no luck doing that--which means I might have to enroll in a local university to sign up for just one course. That might be a tough sell. We'll see if I finish by the time I'm 50.

There wasn't enough snow worthy of photographing today, so I'll share with you instead some photos I took on Thanksgiving Day and some others that I took on my midtown walk yesterday in freezing temperatures. Happy Holidays, all!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Baby and the Vet

There is one drawback to having an all-black cat for a pet - it is difficult to photograph the furry black creature. They're hard to see in the picture unless you use a flash, which makes their fur appear silver. So I don't have many good pictures of Baby just yet. Maybe my next apartment will be brighter.

I took Baby to the vet Thursday just to get that relationship started and have her checked out. The vet assistant fell in love with her cute looks.

Turns out she only weighs 8 pounds! That's half what my Martin weighed. No wonder she feels like a feather when I pick her up.

The only bad news is that I need to take her in to get her teeth cleaned. She has significant tarter build-up on her back teeth. In fact, the vet said she probably isn't two years old, as I was told by the folks at the shelter where I got her. Based on the tarter build-up, it appears that Baby is closer to three or four years old.

Martin never had his teeth cleaned -he never needed it. Some cats are just lucky that way. You wouldn't believe how expensive the procedure is. Typically it costs about $500 here in NYC. (And I thought the $300 quote I'd gotten in Maryland was steep. Yikes!) The cost is high because the cat has to be anesthetized for the procedure. But the vet agreed to provide a lower quote to have it done on Baby - $357. Now that my tenant has defaulted on the lease on my Maryland townhouse, I think I'll wait till after I get my first bonus in January to have Baby's teeth cleaned. :)

Baby spends a huge chunk of her time sleeping - and it's something that usually happens in my lap if I'm home. I have never seen a lap cat like her before. Every single time I sit down in my easy chair in the living room, she comes running to jump up onto my lap and snuggle. This habit of hers is really cutting down on the amount of exercise I get! Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely sit still for more than 10 minutes (unless eating is involved), but now I am sitting longer in an effort to avoid disturbing my sleeping beauty.

Talk about one spoiled kitty! My goodness.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Back in the City

It's good to be back in NY. I've been here just a little over five weeks now, and it's been quite a roller coaster getting moved into my downtown apartment and working my new very hectic job.

Let me tell you, the stuff you see on TV about the high stress, fast pace, and long hours of Wall Street - all true. Trust me! Everyone that I've met at the firm (of every level) has told me to forget about ever feeling "caught up" or "competent" at my job. There's too much to learn, too many people to meet, and too much ongoing change. Not to mention, it's the most complicated IT environment imaginable. Keeping it operating is a challenge for both sides of the IT house - UNIX and Windows. My side is the latter. Fortunately I'm only responsible for all the Windows-based server and client computers in the Americas. (Ha!) I report up to a woman in London who is responsible for Windows ops worldwide.

Last week I took a tour of some of the trading floors in the fixed income division -what we call "fid." I was in awe for the entire hour and a half that I spent in the midtown building with one of the services managers who keeps the trading PCs up and running. The trading floors were at least as wide as half a football field. By the time I was done chatting with him and one of just two guys who support one of the huge floors, I momentarily felt like my job is a cakewalk.

The technology is cutting edge. Some of the traders have eight flat-screen monitors mounted in two rows of four above their desks. They have special phone panels called "turrets," each with a built-in speaker for listening to market announcements. They have multiple keyboards for punching in orders, and sometimes they'll have a phone in each ear at the same time. You can walk down one aisle of trading desks, and the room temperature jumps about 25 degrees.

I was surprised to see that there seemed to be as many female brokers as there were male brokers on the floor containing Foreign Exchange. High finance isn't the man's world it used to be. At one of the desks, each trader could speak eight languages. The business is fascinating, and is is even more interesting to hear some of the stories about overzealous traders.

One guy, who was known for having a short fuse, had been in the middle of trading when something went wrong on his PC; he flagged down Steve, the floor support guy, to help. He'd just set a tall latte on the desk near his keyboard. Steve, (who is just about the nicest guy you could meet), accidentally knocked the coffee cup over into the trader's lap, soaking his pants! The guy jumped up and screamed at Steve in a horrendous rant that was witnessed by the whole floor. Steve went out and actually bought the guy a new pair of pants! As the manager is telling me this story, I'm feeling nothing but utter sympathy for Steve. In the end, the trader called Steve at home on a Saturday to apologize for his outrageous outburst on the floor.

There are other stories, like the trader who punched his flat screen monitor, and another who threw a stapler at the monitor. Then there is the support guy who threw his hands up after 7 years, said "I can't do this anymore," and walked out. (I'm thinking, He lasted seven years? I wouldn't last seven weeks.) I'm sure I'll hear more good stories as I meet service managers in other divisions of the firm.

Since I arrived in NYC on October 5th, it's been almost all work and no play. I did have a visitor from Washington state a couple weeks ago - a former co-worker from my Microsoft days in Redmond. Funny, she had "Serendipity" on her NY to-do list, just like I do. Several years ago Oprah had raved about this $20 frozen hot chocolate concoction at Serendipity. That's how it made its way to my to-do list, but I never made it there when I lived here. There was also a John Cusak movie of the same name that featured the small upper east side restaurant.

So my friend Lisa and I ventured over there on a Saturday night but the line spilled out the door and onto the sidewalk. The wait was two hours. So we walked away to find someplace else to eat. Just around the corner, we stopped and at a restaurant called 360 (it's across from Bloomingdale's). Man it was good! I had a steak salad. Lisa, being a big "Sex and the City" fan, ordered a Cosmopolitan.

By the way, she went on and on about how nice the people are in NY and how easy it is to strike up a conversation with anyone in public. Some guy she'd met earlier at a train station sent her a text message asking her out for a drink. It was Thursday evening and we were on Broadway in Times Square. She looked up from her phone and said to me, "That never would've happened in Seattle!"

After dinner Saturday we walked up Central Park South and decided to take a carriage ride. Twenty minutes for 40 bucks! But our European driver was cute and sweet, so we enjoyed it. We gave him another $10 for taking some photos of us. Plus the weather was very summer-like for mid-October, which made it all that much more enjoyable.

Besides that, I've shopped at Century 21 at least six or seven times already. That's one drawback of living within walking distance of the World Trade Center - it's too easy to spend money at Century 21! As for living downtown, I feel a bit out of sorts here. I do miss midtown, where all the action is. This is good for now, though, because my commute is only two minutes (or three minutes if I don't catch the Walk signal on Water Street). That gives me more time to relax and recuperate from the stressful move. After all, I have to do it again in 7-1/2 months when my lease is up. Ugh.

I'm looking forward to the coming month. Today while walking home from Fulton Street Market where they were setting up the famous singing Christmas tree, I saw guys up on ladders in a park on Williams street. They were wrapping trees with strands of white lights. I smiled in anticipation of the city all lit up for the magical New York holiday season.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Kitty v2.0

It wasn't until I was nearly done signing all the adoption papers at the NY Animal Control Center up on East 110th Street yesterday when I realized that I was adopting a solid black cat on Halloween.

After a a long, packed subway ride uptown and a 30-minute wait at the NYACC this evening, I picked up my new baby and brought her home in Martin's old carry bag.

It didn't take Baby long to settle in. After checking out every room in our "huge" 1,200-square foot apartment, she went straight for the catnip-filled mouse toy on the floor - the same toy that used to be Martin's favorite.

Then she discovered the catnip-coated scratch pad under my desk and spent quite a bit of time there, rolling over and over, rubbing her body on the catnip - just like Miss Madison used to do.

Baby is quite the character. She already sniffed out and found the cabinet where I store the catnip! And she's very sweet. I've had a hard time getting a photo of her face because she moves too quickly (and my Sony Cybershot reacts too slowly - one thing I miss about 35mm SLR photography). But I'll get more shots eventually.

The shelter thinks she is a Tiffany mix. After Googling the Tiffany breed, which I'd never heard of, it appears she might very well be part Tiffany. She looks a lot like a Maine Coon. Interestingly, the two breeds have similar temperament and characteristics, so it's hard to tell what she really is. Either way, I love her. She already seems happy to be in a new home.

Baby is such a pretty girl. She had been dropped off at the shelter by a family that had received her as a gift but only kept her a couple months. I guess they were moving and couldn't take Baby with them. So the poor thing is on her fourth residence in just a few months - if you include her three days at the shelter. Fortunately, she seems quite adaptable - just like my Martin used to be.

I miss Martin so much. Every night I say good night to him right before going to sleep. And, even though I have a new sweetie to take care of, there will always be a special place in my heart for Martin. He was my boy.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

In Loving Memory of Martin

October 16, 2007

I lost my closest companion today. Martin became ill sometime last week, starting about three days after we moved to New York. His eating slowed down over the course of the week until he stopped eating entirely by Sunday. On Monday he was diagnosed with inoperable pancreatic cancer. This afternoon he went to sleep for good.

We left Maryland on 10/4, spent the night in NJ, and moved back to NYC the next day. Martin, who is Mr. Adaptable, took the move fairly well in the end and seemed to be relaxing despite the chaos.

Here are the last photos I took of him, which was on the day of the move-in here in NY, one week ago Friday. He seemed pretty content to have his things about him (as opposed to being in a new place that also has strange furniture - like you would find in temporary housing, which we were not subjected to on this move, thank goodness).

Martin was my 'baby.' I loved him like a child. To this day I thank my old friend Tom for letting me adopt Martin from him not long after he rescued Martin at a shelter. I had fallen in love with this aloof cat while pet-sitting for Tom and felt I couldn't live without him, so Tom kindly gave him up.

I'm still too torn up tonight to talk about it further but felt a tribute must be made before I put my head down on my pillow this evening in an effort to try to get some rest after two brutally painful and tearful days.

Funny, earlier tonight I could've sworn I heard the bell on his collar as if he were ten feet away. Maybe he popped back in to say good-bye on his way out of this world.

Here's to my Martin - the best boy in the whole wide world (as he was frequently told). May his spirit live on.

Good night my sweet baby, rest in peace.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

How to Spot a Scammer on Craigslist

Many people today use online advertising to sell houses, personal items, clothes, and stuff that they have lying around or tucked away in their attic. I use Craigslist almost religiously. I've sold homes, cars, furniture, DVD players, books, maps, plants, yardwork supplies, appliances--you name it. It's also how I found both of my NY apartments (no broker fee!) and my "Spamalot" tickets, among other things. And the best thing is, it's free! Lots of people use Craigslist all over the world. I'd give anything to meet Craig and thank him for all his help.

For home sales, I did give a try, but that was a big mistake - for my $600 all I got was spamming and scamming and no buyer. Over the course of 11 months, the ForSaleByOwner ad only brought in two legitimate inquiries - and neither resulted in a purchase. So I don't recommend it. gave me the same lousy result. I did try the Batlimore Sun online ad, but guess what - not one single response from that one.

Anyway, when you use online advertising, you're always at risk of falling prey to the many scam artists that are lurking on Craigslist and other sites. After you've seen enough liars inquiring about your FSBO item, you learn to recognize the scammers pretty quickly. And I hope that this blog entry will also help you do that. Please feel free to use the Comments section to add scammer tip-offs that I might miss here.

Ok, for starters the email address of the scammer is always a freebie - from Hotmail, Yahoo, or Gmail. Those are the most common. And look at the email address. It's usually a funny name (or a "real-looking" name like Kevin Smith) followed by a 2- or 3-digit number or a handful of meaningless letters. This is so that they can continue to create new email addresses by simply incrementing the number or changing consonants. Obviously, they do this a lot, hence the large numbers.

The name that appears in the Reply-to field is frequently all lower-case (and many times is "Jimmy" or "Jim" or "James.") An uncanny number of them refer to themselves as "Reverend" this or that. How ironic is that? These are people who are lurking on Craigslist to steal from unsuspecting people, and they use Christian labels? I'm still waiting for Sister Mary Covenant to contact me about my home.

Here are just a few fake email addresses I've seen in my Inbox over the past year:

jimmy cole []
Hugh reksten []
lisa hepner []
Edward Smith []
geovanni james []
Johnson Billson []
Lisa mary []

Anyway, you get the picture--the name and/or email address is frequently a dead giveway.

The next thing is, scammers love to type in ALL CAPS. Most of us know that this is considered yelling, and typing in all caps is something to avoid online. Many times the subject line will be in all caps and/or have many exclamation points insisting that you get back to them immediately. A lot of scammers also type out the body of the message in all lower case letters with relatively little punctuation. (These thieves are in a hurry!)

But the subject line, nine times out of ten, is the biggest giveaway of all. Some subject lines I've seen that are commonly used by scammers (cutting and pasting these from actual scam emails I've received):

Get back to me!!!!!!!!!!!!
Get back to me!!!!!!!!!
thanks for your email
Got interest in your placing-----

Another giveaway is bad grammar and rotten spelling. Either these guys really are foreigners who failed ESL class, or they want you to think they are (somehow that is supposed to invoke your sympathy?)

And 75% of these idiots claim to be "out of the country" or they want to buy your FSBO item as a gift and have their shipper pick it up. For the guys in Costa Rica and France, they generally tell you that they have an agent who will handle the deal in your home country, and that they are sending you a cashier's check for a large sum of money. Whenever that is the case, they will also tell you that you need to pay their agent out of these funds. (And that's how they steal your money - they send you a bad check and you send their agent a good check. Bye-bye funds!)

Several of them like to send you a list of questions like this - almost always the same:

Thank you for your mail,Indeed I believe first to secure the property through a deposit before any arrangement is to be made because of some other interested party.I am impressed with the property ,I should love to call you to discuss with you but am on a field assignment in Costa Rica and would like to know the followings about your property:-

1. Your last price
2. How many owners?
3. Insurance certificate if any?
4. When did you buy the property and why do you want to sell it?
5. The property and the ownership is on whose name?
Finally,I would like to know your last price ,if your price is ok then I can arrange for a deposit while my agent will call you to arrange for the property inspection and other necessary renovation if any will be taken care of by her.

I awaits your earliest reply

I think the guy in the example above offered to send me a ludicrously high $40,000 down payment on my property to purchase it sight unseen. My god, it was his grammar that made me cringe, though.

Here's another really common one:

Thanks for your mail,meanwhile I believe first tosecure the property through a deposit before anyarrangement is to be made.I am impressed with theproperty,I should love to call you to discuss with youbut am on a field assignment in France and would liketo know the followings about your property:-
1. Your bottom price
2. Is the property originally painted?
3. What major repairs has been done?
4. How the property has been maintained.
5. Any records available?
6. How many owners?
7. Insurance certificate if any?
8. When did you buy the property and why do you want tosell it?
9. Are you a US citizen?
10.The property and the ownership is on whose name?
However,I would like to know your last price(non-negotiable)from that of the net price for onwardtransaction,if your price is ok then I can arrange fora deposit while my agent will call you to arrangefor the house inspection and other necessaryrenovation if any will be taken care of by him.Do getback to me immediately as I have limited time toconclude this this transaction Till I hear from you have a wonderful day.
Lisa Mary.

Scammers almost always don't read your ad, so they ask questions for which the answers are already clearly outlined in your ad. They also love to ask why you are selling it. In a follow-up email, just when they think they've hooked you, they'll ask for your name, address, phone, etc.

Here's another (note the ALL CAPS):


This one, that came today, is my all-time favorite, however. Note the tag line that "Jimmy" is using:

Hello Seller,
Am interested in the sales of the furniture placed in craigslist site but am sending it as a gift to my cousin doing wedding in next 3 weeks as wedding gift and i love it so much.immediately you accept my payment , i will send my shipper to come over to do the pick up from your house but you have to send me your full information include your name, address, state, city, state, zip code and phone number to send the payment through via fedex to delievered my payment to your house .I Await your reply back immediately..

So I replied to Jimmy's email saying, "You spelled advice wrong." Usually when I do that, they know I'm on to them and they don't reply back. (They just go out and create a new email address and move on to their next victim.) But this guy actually replied back:


Jimmy didn't stop yelling long enough for me to continue my fun with him, and I moved on. Here's one that came as just a list and nothing else. . .

1. Your bottom price
2. Is the property originally painted?
3. What major repairs has been done?
4. How the property has been maintained.
5. Any records available?
6. How many owners?
7. Insurance certificate if any?
8. When did you buy the property and why do you want tosell it?
9. Are you a US citizen?

Some of them make it easy on themselves and use a very general question that they can use to respond to multiple ads such as (again, note the frequent misspellings):

Is Your Item Still Availabe?

And a short but sweet one (keep an eye out for phrases like "keen interest" and "secure the property" and "get back to me"). . .

I have a keen interest in buying the above said. Kindly update me asap why you want to sell it and its present conditions.
Hope to hearing from you asap.


i will like to know if your house is still on for sale. get back to me.

Ok, so you get the idea about what kind of phrasing to look out for. It's funny, once you get one of these, and then a second one, after that you know almost instantly what's really going on. You too can become a scam-detector.

What I usually do is forward the scam email to either the email provider's abuse alias or to the classifed web site's abuse alias. Generally, using an alias of either "spam" or "abuse" will get you to the right person. For example:

Et cetera. I encourage you to use these abuse aliases to report spam and scam artists. It's a shame that whenever we get a good thing going (like Craigslist!), some bonehead has to ruin it for the rest of us. But we can help if we keep shutting these bozos down; it certainly doesn't take any time and can't hurt (unless Yahoo pulls one of its "You didn't include the header" stunts, in which case I don't always waste my time correcting them and re-sending the header).

If I think of anything else to add, I'll come back. Meanwhile, send in your comments remarking on scams you've seen in your email Inbox in response to your FSBO ad online.


Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Airline Etiquette

I flew from Baltimore to Atlanta this weekend to visit family. It's bad enough that I'm a toddler-magnet on every flight, but each time I attempt airline travel I am bombarded with airport etiquette violations.

I like rules. Rules are what makes a society function well together. I am not in the minority here; if I was, we would not have standard systems of government in most of our modern societies. Condominium complexes would not have homeowners associations. Citys and localities would not have laws. Traffic cops would be unemployed.

Anyway, it's really not that hard to understand the unwritten societal rules of operating in a large, moving crowd. Getting along with others in an airport or on a plane is basically just a matter of common courtesy. Violating the norm for behavior with no regard to inconveniencing those around you is a breach etiquette. And yet, there's a willing participant on every corner.

Granted, there might be a variety of views on airline etiquette, but for the most part, I'm betting that my thoughts as I present them here aren't too far from generally accepted behaviors (as viewed by the majority of frequent flyers).

For starters, people who stop and stand in the middle of the concourse to chat ought to be taken out behind the barn and shot. The concourse is like a sidewalk - it's for walking to and from gates, not for family gatherings or cell phone conversations. According to Wikipedia, the word concourse derives from English, French, and Latin, "concursus" and "concurrere," meaning "to run together." Hear that? Running together - not stopping and chatting with friends and family and blocking the path of those running together. If you want to stop and do some standing around, kindly remove your rear end from the concourse and do your standing elsewhere, away from the moving crowd.

Note that the concourse rule also applies to moving sidewalks, which fall under the same category as the escalator rule. The escalator rule is another one that I see violated everywhere - malls, office buildings, and airports alike. Basic escalator etiquette amounts to this: Stand to the right; walk to the left. When you are on the escalator, pretend you are driving a car and passing to the left. If you want to stand on the escalator, that's fine. Just do it on the right and keep your luggage with you.

Then there are the people who hold up the security line by not having their boarding pass and ID out and ready for the TSA guard to verify. (These are the same people in front of you at Safeway who wait until their entire cartful of groceries has been scanned before swiping their card.) There are usually signs, monitors, and announcements telling you how to prepare for the security check long before you get there. Pay attention. This weekend I discovered (from reading a sign at the security checkpoint) that there's a new rule about shoes. To speed up the line, shoes now go directly on the conveyor belt, not in a bin. Despite this fact being posted everywhere (and a TSA agent shouting it to the crowd), people were still putting their shoes in a bin.

And put your liquids in the quart-size sealable bag prior to getting in the security line, please. If you need to stop and take care of these chores, step aside and let folks behind you (who are prepared) move ahead.

Children. That's a whole other ballgame. It's the parents' responsibility to keep their kids in line when they are at the airport and on the plane. I am notoriously subjected to having a 4-year-old sit behind me on the plane and kick my seat or play with the seatback pocket the entire way. Once I turned around and said to the mother/child, "Please stop kicking my seat." The mother's response was, "She's trying." This is a classic example of a parent letting its kid run wild with no regard to the rest of the population. Either you're going to let your kid kick the seat or you're not. There is no "trying" about it.

Oh, and if you're going to bring a portable DVD player or other electronic device to entertain your children on the plane, either bring headphones, or don't bring the device. I once suffered a cross-country trip where a child played videos at a normal listening volume in the row behind me--loud enough that I could hear the bleep-bleep and giggly voices through my ear plugs--the entire trip. His parents were sitting next to him and acted as if there were no annoying sounds coming from their presence on the plane. Once again, these parents had no regard for those around them. I will never understand that type of parent as long as I live.

It's not just kids that can be annoying on an airplane. In fact, nine times out of ten it's a loud-mouthed adult breaking the peace. On a recent flight this woman in the row in front of mine was talking at her fiance about the multitude of details about their upcoming wedding so loudly (and extensively) that another woman in my row would lean over and look at me as if to say, "Am I the only one hearing this?" Not a chance. Everyone was looking at each other as if to say, "Can someone shut her up?" (The poor husband-to-be never got a word in. He may as well take himself behind the barn and end it all now. . . .)

That brings me to one of my biggest pet peeves at the airport: Loud cellphone conversations and ringers in the waiting area. You're sitting peacefully in your chair outside the gate, reading quietly when the guy two seats down from you answers his cell phone and begins carrying on a lengthy conversation--whether personal or work-related--using what we adults call his "outside voice." This happens every single time I am waiting for my flight. And it's rarely just one person anymore - it's several. I carry ear plugs for this reason. People don't seem to realize that they are yelling on their cell phones and that their loud, musical ringers are annoying. These people, too, should be taken out behind the barn and shot.

The Atlanta airport has smoking rooms - maybe all airports should consider installing cell phone rooms too. Thanks to the advent and popularity of mobile phones, there is just no peace and quiet in this world anymore. I was watering my yard twice this summer when I saw the strangest thing--a 10-year-old boy coming down the street on his skateboard, a cell phone glued to his ear.

What is this world coming to that we can no longer go five minutes without yakking on the phone? Not me, man. I hate the phone. I avoid it as much as I can. (That will change with my new job, no doubt.)

So, besides the people who use a chair in the waiting room for their bags (leaving some poor soul standing), the ones who carry oversized bags on the plane that don't fit in the overhead compartment, those that hog the whole arm rest, the people who don't put their luggage in the overhead compartment wheels-first, those who don't step aside during boarding to let others get to their seats, and the ones who keep their feet out in the aisle for you to trip over on your way to the bathroom, that's my summary of common airport etiquette violations--the same ones I can usually count on happening every time I fly.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Susie and the City" to Return!

Within two weeks I'll be back in New York. This wondrous realization prompted me to pop my Sinatra CDs in the player. Thank god I hadn't packed them yet. In the past couple weeks I managed to pack most of my belongings, stack them up in a storage unit, sell some furniture, give a bunch of stuff to charity, and still leave the house in a "lived-in" condition for showings.

I can't get out of Maryland and away from my crazy neighbors (on both sides of my townhouse) fast enough. Things have only gone from bad to worse here.

I'm desperately trying to find temporary furnished housing in Manhattan. Let me tell you, this is no easy chore. For two solid weeks I was assured that I had a studio sublet in Battery Park. The tenant kept telling me not to worry, that the apartment was definitely mine and that I could move into it in September before my job starts on October 1. She kept telling me via email that she was taking care of minor details with the building owner and that I had nothing to worry about. Her response time to emails and voice mails was snail-like, so I was in fact worried.

Last week I emailed her and told her I had started to look for a different place since she hadn't fully committed to me yet. I guess that is when she finally got serious about talking to the building people. Come to find out that she'd never actually checked with the building before posting her ad on Craigslist, and sublets aren't allowed. I just about died. And she was so nonchalant about it - despite practically ruining my life.

This was after 11pm one night. The next morning the professional figure skater who'd been telling me all month that she was going to buy my townhouse finally told me she wasn't going to make me an offer after all. And I had to drag that information out of her. She'd been stringing me along all month (just like the girl with the phantom sublet), despite not being able to afford anything near the price range of the townhouses where I live.

Double whammy.

Things continued to escalate that day and included a fight with my neighbor about her multiple covenants violations that were ruining our property values and quality of life here in the overpriced community where we live. That morning she'd paid a bunch of day laborers to put up this ugly chicken wire fence around her grass out in front of her unit - all in a vain effort to keep a ficticious dog out that was allegedly killing every square inch of her [diseased] grass.

Not only was this so-called fence--(consisting of wooden stakes and chicken wire held on with plastic cable ties)--completely against our HOA rules, but it was an eye-sore, and the idiots who installed it made a mess of my driveway. I just couldn't believe these horrible neighbors would go this far, especially after illegally cementing in their entire 30' long back yard last spring and installing a full-size basketball court for me to have to listen to and look at - something completely prohibited by our by-laws. This ugly chicken wire thing was too much.

So that day it really seemed like my life was completely falling apart. . . nothing new here in the state of Maryland, which has been unkind to me since I set foot here. But let's put that behind us and fast forward to New York!

I can't wait to get back to living amongst wonderful New Yorkers - those abrupt yet genuine folks who would do anything to help a stranger or neighbor.

Yesterday, after losing yet another wonderful sublet (this one was on Wall Street) because I couldn't physically get to it fast enough, tomorrow I am taking the train up to NY to look at some other places that are up for grabs. I have my whole day mapped out - two units downtown (John Street and then Pearl Street), followed by one on the Upper West Side (Central Park West and 97th), then back down to the East Village and Gramercy Park for two more.

As soon as I find the right place, I'll nab it on the spot (if they'll have me), and cancel the rest of my appointments. (Time for purse shopping on Canal Street, per chance?) I have high hopes for this studio on John Street - what they call a "Jr. 1BR." It's a studio apartment that has an "alcove" (as opposed to an enlcosed room) for the bed. It has an outdoor terrace (for Martin) and is on the 17th floor. It's walking distance to work (probably about 2/3 mile), and it is in a luxury doorman building like I used to live in at the Gershwin. It really would be perfect for the short term.

So, despite having lots of friends and families praying that I sell this townhouse, it hasn't quite happened yet. Maybe God has something better in mind for me - although I can't see how listing it with a realtor and paying over $25K in commissions can be considered "better" than selling it by owner and not losing nearly as much as I'm gonna lose when it lists. We'll see what happens. Wish me luck - I'm really gonna need it this week!

(And thank you for your prayers - please don't stop!)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Not Again!

Poor, poor Martin. Yesterday he saw me packing boxes in the garage. So he knows. He knows that familiar screech of packing tape all too well.

To Martin the sounds of assembling boxes can mean only one thing: the world as he knows it is about to be completely dismantled and relocated. I feel badly for him - especially since we'll be moving from 2280 square feet into a space that's probably going to be around 500 square feet.

My poor baby. Last night he never even came to bed. He hasn't snubbed my pillow since Miss Madison was here over a year ago. He only does that when he's either mad at me or just stressed out.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that we are moving to Manhattan! Woo-hoo! A dream come true. Ever since we set foot in Maryland 19 months ago I've wanted to go back to NY. Yesterday I accepted a wonderful job opportunity at a Wall Street brokerage firm that I'm very well acquainted with, and I plan to start in about a month. That means I have a million logistical details to work out.

I have to list the townhouse, sell the car, sell some furniture, find temporary (furnished) housing until the townhouse sells, move stuff into storage now, move stuff into temp housing, and later move all my furniture up to NY after closing on the townhouse and finding a permanent apartment. Yikes!

Earlier tonight I was drinking a glass of milk when it hit me: Over the past year I got used to drinking organic milk. But I probably won't be able to afford organic milk in Manhattan. I'm guessing it sells for around six bucks a gallon. Just a guess. And I'm going to have to stock up on thirteen-dollar bags of kitty litter here because they'll be ten bucks more up there. At least this time I'll actually be earning enough money to afford the rent. :)

I also need to stock up on non-perishables at Costco before I go. Dang - I'm going to miss Costco! But believe me, that's about all I'll miss, besides the few close friends I've made here.

For now, I just can't get there quick enough. (But don't tell Martin. I don't want to sleep alone again tonight!)

So that's my good news (and Martin's bad news). Back to packing!

Monday, August 27, 2007

Partly Cloudy over Missy's House

My friend Missy and her family took a vacation to the beach last week. It's something they do every couple years. When she called me tonight and described their numerous vacation mishaps, I told her she never should've invited me over for that Maryland crab dinner at her house a couple weeks ago - my bad luck must be contagious.

I should let her tell the story - she had me in stitches when she described the "comedy of errors" they endured at Sunset Beach. I can't possibly do it justice, but here's how their family vacation went.

Missy's youngest daughter, 8-year-old Natalie, was riding a bike during vacation when she got her foot caught in the spokes and tore up her leg so badly that she is still on crutches today. She literally ripped the skin off part of her leg. That fiasco handled, Missy tried to soak up some rays on the beach. While there, she got a visit from her husband who said he was taking their 14-year-old son Derek to the emergency room. He'd cut himself on some coral (or barnacles). Derek ended up with stitches on his arm and eight staples on his leg! Staples - ick! The staples were so uncomfortable that he had to get a local beforehand. And I suspect that Derek hates needles as much as I do. I cringed when Missy told me about that.

Meanwhile, their other daughter, 12-year-old Kendall, has been confined to a bubble as a preventative measure. She's still alive and has yet to require an ER visit.

So they left early to come home, thinking they could leave my bad luck at edge of the Atlantic. Not so!

Today Missy had her first day at her new teaching job, and I asked her how it went. She told me it was chaos. Basically she spent her whole day helping kids find their school buses. Huh? Mysteriously, this morning it was discovered that all the school buses had flat tires. A teenage prank, no less. So on opening day of school the buses were running two hours behind, wreaking havoc on families everywhere. I was laughing so hard. I thought, That's the perfect prank - let all the air out of the school bus tires on opening day! She said it is presumed that the perpetrators got the idea from an MTV show.

To top that off, her husband's car stalled and her computer at home is down.

So I told her it was a mistake to have me over to their house. Even Missy admitted it had already occurred to her that it was as if my little black cloud had moved over to her house. My thoughts exactly.

I'd sure like to see that little cloud move on to someone who deserves it, for a change - like that contractor who completed my 10-day deck/fence/patio job in three months last summer, or the doctor who botched my Lasik surgery in February, or the woman at Howard County Recycling who hung up on me this morning when I called for the sixth time to complain about them leaving my recycling bin on the baby grass I am trying to nurture, or the idiots at that sent three defective computers in a row this spring then put me through hell trying to get my rightful refund (which took two months). . . .

Oh, never mind. The blogger server doesn't have enough TB of disk space to store such a list.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

What Ever Happened to Being a Good Neighbor?

It's bad enough that I am now stuck in suburbia, but why did I have to end up next door to the worst possible neighbors? The Rednecks. I keep asking myself "Why me?" but no one is answering. I guess I should just give up on trying to figure out why my luck stinks.

So the woman who lives on one side of me is about 55 years old. Let's call her Kitty. She still dresses like a 22-year-old--not to mentions drinks and smokes like one too. I mean, when was the last time you saw a 55-year-old woman's belly ring? It's just inappropriate. Anyway, she started dating this beer-bellied redneck right around the time we both moved into these townhomes. Let's call him Bubba. What Bubba didn't know was that Kitty was lying to him about her age, claiming that she was 10 years younger than she is. She also was cheating on him, dating another man at the same time.

I can't stand Bubba. He is one of those big, fat, mooching losers who don't work and treat women like crap. He's also a know-it-all. I could be out doing something in my yard, like watering my plants, and he'll come over and tell me I'm doing it wrong. Not to mention, he was always parking his car illegally, on the curb in front of the house, instead of in the driveway or garage, as our HOA rules state. Kitty owns two cars - one being a snazzy BMW convertible, and the other a van. Despite living in Maryland, Bubba still licenses his vehicle in West Virginia because it's cheaper that way, or so Kitty told me.

These two are perpetual law-breakers. For one thing, they are always pawning their garbage off on someone else. Kitty would be taking her garbage out and putting it in her car when she'd announce to me, "I'm taking this over the to dumpster where my Ex lives." Prior to that, when we still had construction dumpters nearby, she'd dump her garbage illegally in those. My neighbors on the right did the same every single week for months last year, despite all the signs saying that the dumpster is someone else's property and is not for homeowner use.

Eventually, the dumpster went away, and Kitty had to find someone else to dump her garbage on. (Don't ask my why she can't just put it out by the curb like everyone else.)

On more than one occasion, she or Bubba put their garbage bags out on my lawn instead of in front of their own house. (Note: I said on my lawn, not at the curb.) The county limits the number of bags you can put out at the curb to four per week. One time several months ago I had three bags out. Bubba or Kitty went and dumped two of their bags with mine, leaving them under the limit and me over the limit. I went out and put their damn bags back on their curb. This was after I'd sent her an email asking nicely that she put her garbage in front of her house, not mine. But these people don't care. (Note: They certainly don't recycle, either.)

Not long after we moved in, Kitty complained to me repeatedly about a neighbor parking her car across from our townhouses, making it harder to get in and out of our very narrow driveways. (Meanwhile, she and Bubba continue to park directly in front of the mailboxes, in front of my house, in front of their house, everywhere but where they should be parking.) Then these two rang my doorbell one day last summer, HOA documents in hand. Bubba showed me the page where it states that there is no on-street parking in our community. He turned around, pointed to the neighbor's Merceds parked across the street from Kitty's house and said, "She's not allowed to do that!"

However, directly across from that car was Kitty's van, also parked illegally AND on the wrong side, blocking the mailboxes and reducing the road to one lane.

It was from that exchange I deduced that the Rednecks don't think the rules apply to them - but the rules certainly must apply to everyone else.

Kitty's not too bright either. She likes to blab about her illegal activities. She told me about how Bubba cheats on his license tags and on his taxes (I mean to say, doesn't pay taxes). One day she also complained to me that she wasn't feeling well and how she'd gotten a prescription in her son's name to use for herself.

Ok, so we've got insurance fraud, tax evasion, ongoing (and multiple) HOA rules violations, and illegal dumping going on next door. But it doesn't stop there.

I have never liked the way Bubba treats Kitty. He is always yelling at her, telling her what to do and how to do it, like she's a six-year-old. She just stands there and takes it, following his orders. It makes me sick. Last year Kitty would complain to me about him all the time. He was lazy. He was living with her but not paying any rent. He'd taken $15,000 from her but was not paying her back. He had promised to put up a fence and build a deck for her, but she couldn't get him to do that. She was sick of his cat pooping outside in the back yard (Bubba wouldn't clean it up).

Then one day this past spring, Kitty asked me to come over and replace her locks. Bubba had beat her up--(no surprise there)--and she was done with him. He was in jail. I was relieved she'd finally gotten rid of the loser, and I did go over that Saturday and change her dead-bolts for her.

A week later, Kitty rang my doorbell. "You're gonna hate me. Bubba's back." Sure enough, she'd taken him back. She told me, "I know, I know. My kids hate him; my best friend hates him; everybody hates him. But we talked for like six hours and worked everything out." I told her, "You know it's going to happen again." But there was nothing else I could say.

A couple weeks later I was out gardening when I came around to the front of the building and there were three cop cars out front, blocking our driveways. Bubba, shirtless, was loading some stuff into the back of his SUV, and a cop was taking Polaroids of his fat gut. I didn't see any marks on him. Bubba sees me and chirps "Hey Sue!" like nothing is going on. (My name is not Sue, and I hate being called Sue.) I didn't know where Kitty was. I finally figured out she was in the back of the patrol car, gesturing wildly at me. The policeman on the sidewalk wouldn't let me talk to her, so I went on inside.

Next I did what any neighbor would do: I watched the scene unfold out my front window. Kitty was out of the car and standing behind the patrol car when they cuffed her--right in front of her own home in broad daylight. How humiliating. I drove away a bit later, on my way to the gym. I rolled down my right window to speak to one of the officers after he unblocked my driveway for me. I said, "He beats her, you know." He nodded in empathy and asked me for my phone number - said that Kitty had asked him to get it so she could call me from jail.

I fully expected her to call me and ask to be bailed out. I counted the cash I had in the house, anticipating having to spend it on this worthless cause. When she finally did call it was 9:30 at night. Someone had already bailed her out. She told me what had happened. They'd had another fight and Bubba wouldn't let her have her phone charger back. She reached out to grab it from him and scratched his chest with her fingernail. So Bubba called 911 and said she assaulted him.

I knew what was going on - Bubba wanted was avenging her for having him arrested last time he beat her up. On the phone I told Kitty, "Well so now he's gone for good. That's good. You can get on with your life. Just forget about the money he owes you. You're better off this way." Blah, blah, blah.

Wrong. Next morning Bubba's car was back in her driveway. Her excuse? She wanted to sweet-talk him into dropping the charges against her.

And so the saga continues. Bubba finally built a fence. It took three months; they didn't get architectural approval from the HOA board first as required, and the stupid fence doesn't match everyone else's. Big surprise there.

Kitty told me that the only reason he finally put up the fence was for his cat. At the time, he had a 14-year-old indoor cat with diabetes. This cat was pretty fat and didn't look well. One day this summer I was outside tending to my garden when the cat came over and peed right on the mulch next to an azalea in my garden - Bubba and Kitty were both standing right there and said nothing. (My Martin is forbidden from crossing any property lines when he's outside with me.)

A few days later I was outside talking to Kitty. I told her I'd just received notice that I was getting laid off and really needed the $350 she owed me for her half of the fence I put up between our properties (um, over a year ago). She said she didn't have it just then. I told her my last paycheck would be coming the first week of July, so I'd appreciate the money by then. She then proceeded to bitch about Bubba's cat. She'd devised a plan to get rid of it. She was going to tell Bubba that the cat must've run away. In reality, she and her best friend planned to take this cat far away and dump it in a field somewhere.

She also told me that the cat needs an insulin shot every day. I knew that if she did what she was threatening to do to the poor cat, it would be dead within a week. I honestly didn't think she'd do it. I thought killing people's pets was something only done by serial killers during their formative years.

Three days later I'm pulling into my garage after work when my neighbor on the other side walks up and asks, "Have you seen Bubba's cat?" I told him no. "Well, Bubba's been out here crying because his cat's missing."

Sure enough, she'd done it. So we can now add cruelty to animals to the Rednecks' rap sheet. Animal cruelty is just something I can't tolerate. These two can beat each other up until someone gets killed, for all I care. But to harm a defenseless, sick, old cat is just unconscionable.

Bubba never found out what happened to his cat. He never mentioned it to me. (Thank god, or I would've been forced into a position where I'd have to lie.)

Meanwhile, I did ask Kitty again for the money that she promised me (in April 2006) she would pay me. She got all mad at me and told me, "I don't have it, Sue." So I asked her nicely if she knew when she'd have it. This really flustered her and she started getting miffy. (It really was a simple question.) Her answer was, "I need to see the bill," followed by, "Your flowers are growing on my property."

Ok, she was being irrational. I can't even explain it here, but I have always taken care of the grass in front of my house that is between her driveway and mine. It's not technically anyone's yard, really, but I take care of it. My other neighbors follow the same unwritten rule - we take care of whatever is in front of each of our units where there are no official property lines. Kitty's yard is nothing but weeds and brown dirt that the rest of us are sick of looking it. So her accusation about my flowers encroaching on "her" property was just a way of justifying (in her feeble mind) not paying me the money she owes me.

I did dig up the bill and took it over to her. She was in the back yard with Bubba when I called to her through the fence. But she didn't want to see the bill - told me "Now's not a good time." I gave up.

I know I'll never see that money. We had a verbal agreement about splitting the money that i paid for the fence, but such matters requiring minimal integrity do not concern this type of person.

And the final part of this story follows. (Mind you, this is only one household of unneighborly folks I have to live near. There are other horrors besides the Redneck household of lunatics.)

I've been struggling to keep my grass and other landscaping alive two summers (and two droughts) in a row. With the blazing, relentless heat here, it's not easy - it requires attention on a daily basis.

The area between the sidewalk and the road in front of each townhouse is owned by the county but was sodded by the builder at construction time. I do my best to nourish that grass, trim it, and keep it up. But this summer it was a struggle. A lot of it had turned brown. So I went out and dug up the dead grass by hand, put down fresh grass seed, covered it with a dark humus, and started watering it like crazy - mornings and evenings.

(I'm quite sure Bubba would tell me that August is no time to plant grass seed, but my house is for sale, so it had to be done.) Two days ago I noticed fresh baby blades of bright green grass coming up. I felt like the proud mother. Yay!

This morning, out the front window, I saw Kitty's van parked illegally, partly on her grass and partly on my curb. Later the van was gone when I went out to water everything before going to the gym and was talking to my neighbor Patty when I noticed the blatant tire tracks across my fresh baby grass and humus. There were dirty tire tracks along the curb in front of my driveway and Kitty's driveway too. I was livid. I said to Patty, "I can't believe Kitty drove over my new grass!" She just shook her head because she's sick of uncaring neighbors too. I said, "This is exactly why I have to leave here!" She understood.

So I got two green plant stakes and drove one into each corner of that strip of land where my new grass was growing, adjacent to the curb. I tied bright yellow plastic tape to each. This should keep Kitty and Bubba off my grass. I went to the gym. Not two hours later, I returned home. The stake closest to my driveway was intact. The other (closest to Kitty's driveway) was gone. Her van was back, parked in the same spot. I looked around and found the stake with yellow tape in front of her garage where she'd tossed it. I picked it up. It was half the stake it used to be. She'd mowed it right down with absolutely no regret! She said nothing to me about it - didn't even bother to return the stake.

See, I'm telling you. I paid a half a million for this place expecting to live with a decent class of people. Nope. Doesn't work that way. I have learned that there are rednecks at all income levels. They don't take care of their property, they don't give a crap about what they do to their neighbors, and they don't care about anyone but themselves.

And I'm the one who has to live next door to them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

99.999% Downtime - Guaranteed!

I don't normally do this, but I have to share this Web site with my readers. My brother Dave sent this link to me, along with this sentiment: "Some people have too much time on their hands." Here it is, for my fellow geeks:

Oh, and do click the Tech Support tab and fill in the form.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

An Affordable Place to Stay in New York

I took the Amtrak to Penn Station early Tuesday morning for a quick two-day visit to what I call The City. The idea was to do some job-related networking, see some old friends, and buy some Coach bags. I am happy to say I was quite successful in all of those quests. Not to mention, my expectations were exceeded when I landed a Gucci watch for 10 bucks on Canal Street.

Being unemployed, I had to cut corners on this trip wherever possible. A train ticket from Baltimore is always cheaper than air fare (unless you take the Acela Express, of course). And the train is a much faster and more pleasant trip than doing the whole stressful airport thing.

There was no staying at the Hilton for me this time, either. I tried out a place called Riverside Tower Hotel on the upper west side. It's in a great location - 80th and Riverside Drive, which puts it exactly three blocks from the 1 train at 79th. You can go one stop (to 72nd) and hop on the 2/3 express train to get anywhere on the west side of Manhattan in a jiffy.

With prices starting at $104, Riverside Tower is probably the only hotel in Manhattan where you can sleep for under $150 a night. Even the $150-a-night hotels are usually flea bags. This place wasn't. At least, there were no bugs - with the exception of one flying insect that I locked in the bathroom for my second night there.

Granted, it is a pre-war building, and the plumbing looked historic, but everything worked fine and the place was pretty clean. The only thing you have to get used to is the small size. As I went up in the old, small elevator after checking in, I said to myself, "Remember, it's going to be small."

Nonetheless, when I opened the unpainted door to my room on the 8th floor, I busted out laughing and had to call my sister-in-law Judy immediately on my cell to tell her just how small "small" is in this hotel.

I had reserved a "suite" but didn't realize until after my trip that what I'd gotten in error was just a "single." Fortunately I was only charged for the single, which is about $121 a night (after massive tax is tacked on). So the error saved me about 35 bucks.
When I entered my room I saw a small twin bed shoved against the left wall. No headboard. The bed took up nearly half of the main room, which was carpeted in bright red. To the right of the bed, not four feet away, was an old floor lamp and a windowed wall with a small A/C unit.

There was a small TV across from the end of the bed on top of a three-drawer dresser, a phone sitting on a phone book, and a closet about 4' wide. On a shelf above the dresser was a mini-fridge and an unplugged microwave (with no outlet in sight). The bathroom was a hoot. The sink was miniature, as were the soaps. The front of the toilet was so close to the wall that an average-height person would have to turn their knees to the left in order to sit down. The entire bathroom probably measured 4' x 6'. In fact, I estimate that the hotel room was just under 125 square feet in total.

But it was clean enough (and, believe it or not), quiet enough to sleep in. Unfortunately, I can't sleep in a twin bed. With my cubital tunnel syndrome, my folded arms fall asleep. So I didn't get much sleep while I was in New York this week. But who sleeps when they go to NY??

I gotta say, even though the maintenace guy was having a bad day because he was waiting forever for an empty elevator that he could get into with his steam cleaner, the front desk staff was friendly throughout my stay there. That reminds me, the elevators are so small that you can fit either one person and their luggage or two people sans luggage. And when you are on your floor and press the down button, the elevator stops for you even if it is going up. My advice: if the elevator comes, just get on it no matter which direction it's headed.

Also, the owner (or manager?) Don is quite responsive over email if you have questions about your stay at Riverside Tower.

So, if you need an inexpensive hotel in NY in a good location, this is the place. Just try to avoid getting the "single" room. Their web site shows the exact layout of each floor. I recommend you try a suite. Looking at the floorplan, the double isn't any bigger than the single, so I wouldn't recommend that room either. Plus, if you get a suite on the Riverside Drive side, you can have a nice view of the Hudson.

Just know ahead of time that there is no bedside table, no alarm clock, no cable TV, no Internet access (except apparently Wi-fi in the lobby area), no bath soap (just tiny hand soaps), and no shampoo, conditioner, or hair dryer. It's just a place to sleep and shower.

Zabar's is right around the corner where you can go to buy groceries and beverages to stock your little fridge. Across from Zabar's is an H&H Bagel, too. You're also close to lots of shopping on Broadway - there's a Filene's Basement on your way to the subway. And Riverside Park is a great place to walk (something I didn't have time for this trip).

And that concludes my unofficial review of the Riverside Tower Hotel in NY. If any of my readers out there have stayed in hotels in NY, please post any recommendations you might have (for or against) in the comments section.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Before and After

Missy and Chris
July, 1981
Ocean Isle, NC

Missy and Chris
July, 2007
Baltimore, MD

Best Friends Reunion 2007

Friday, July 13th, 2007

The events of July 10 and 11 were surreal. On Tuesday morning, my friend Missy showed up at my home at 7:13AM. That was the first time I'd seen her since July, 1981. As she put it later, "It's like we blinked and here we are."

We drove to BWI airport to pick up Chris, who was due to arrive about 45 minutes later.

At the airport, we checked the arrivals board and then went our separate ways. I waited outside of the security area for Chris to show up while Missy waited by AirTran baggage carousel #13 downstairs.

As soon as Chris got off the plane, I snapped a (blurry) photo and we hugged. As we walked downstairs we were both saying we couldn't wait to see Missy later in the day. Chris had no idea that Missy had come with me. As we got closer to baggage, I could see Missy sitting on a bench facing away from us. I was talking and laughing loudly to make sure she heard us. Chris started to head toward the carousel on the side Missy was facing, and I said, "Let's go this way instead." I saw her ogling the back of Missy's head.

On the bench, just opposite Missy's back, I suggested we sit. Again, Chris was looking at the back of Missy's head. (Later, we came to find out she was thinking, "I'll bet that's how Missy's hair looks now.") She just wouldn't turn away, even though I tried to divert her attention. Missy had a line about a moped all set to say to Chris, but she never got a chance. She gave up and turned around. Chris screamed (of course) and they hugged for a long, long time. When they parted, both were in tears. Surprise!

Chris had the infamous Chris Book with her and pulled it out right there in the airport--she didn't trust checking this priceless work of literature in her baggage. (See post for an explanation of The Chris Book.)

After everyone stopped crying and Chris retrieved her luggage, we went back to my house and got caught up on our lives. On the way out of airport parking I stopped to pay the attendant. Chris leaned over me in the car and proclaimed loudly to the attendant, "We haven't seen each other in 26 years!!!" I've never seen a parking attendant smile as big as this guy did. She probably made his day.

Missy was the only one of the three of us who had led a fairly normal life after high school - she graduated from college, dated a guy she met in college, went to work as a Science teacher, got married, had three kids, and now spends her spare time making props and costumes for her daughters' dance troups, going to little league games and dance recitals, and taking a family vacation to Sunset Beach every other year.

Chris and I both led much more spastic lives. (Missy was like, "How does someone stay married for only 10 months??") But we won't go into all the sordid details here. :) Let's just say that both Chris and Missy hadn't changed a bit in my eyes, and I'm very happy to say that both are quite content with their lives. Each has had a wonderful family of their own and a happy marriage for the past 18-22 years, and that is the best news of all.

We stayed up late that night talking. All three of us had been up since long before dawn that day, so we were exhausted. Plus it was a pretty emotional day, which made us even more tired.

On Wednesday Missy had to leave around lunchtime for a job interview, so Chris and I decided to go into Baltimore's Inner Harbor. (She got the job - yay!) Missy's husband had taken the day off work and was also at the harbor with the kids and their cousins. We still hadn't met her family yet.
Chris and I went to the aquarium, which was awesome. I especially loved the dolphin show, entitled "Play!" I could easily go back and see that again. It's amazing what those animals can do - and they were having fun doing it. Dolphins are so playful - they are such a joy to observe.

After that we got a hold of Missy and decided we'd have dinner at the Cheesecake Factory downtown instead of the one in Columbia near my house. Missy mentioned that the rest of her family was still at the harbor, in the Science Center.

Chris and I had to walk back to the car first and move it from 2-hour parking. As we headed around the harbor, we had planned on stopping in at the gift shop at the Science Center to see if Missy's family was still there, although we figured they were probably long gone by then. As we were walking across the red brick pavement along the harbor, a man and five children passed us on our left. I looked over at the man and thought it might be Missy's husband, Rich (who went by "Simon" in college - don't ask). It was tough to tell if it was him because he had sunglasses on, and I'd only seen a photo of him. I told Chris I thought that was him. She was like, "No way, man." But I didn't want to miss the chance in case it was him, so I took the risk of calling to him: "Simon?" He kept walking. I stopped, turned back and yelled more firmly, "Simon!" but the man kept walking. His son Derek heard me, though, and called, "Dad!"

It was Missy's husband! Sure enough, we'd bumped into Missy's family. What a small world! It was a hoot. Rich wanted to take our picture, but his camera battery had died, so he offered to take one with my camera. So before Missy even knew it, we were photographed with her family.

When Missy met up with us at the restaurant, we were telling her about how cool the dolphin show was at the aquarium. I pulled out my camera and offered to show her a really neat photo from the show - what I showed her was the photo of Chris and I standing there with her kids! She died laughing. Chris asked our waitress to take our picture (after, of course, animatedly exclaiming, "We haven't seen each other in 26 years!!!"), and that photo came out just great - so good that I posted it at the top of this blog entry.

We were all full of cheesecake and dinner, so we just strolled around the mall there at Inner Harbor. The moment I laid eyes on a photo booth I screamed, "Oh my god - we have to do this!!" The last time we'd been in a photo booth was 1980 - it was when we were at the beach together. Man those things have shrunk. The seat was only big enough for two (small) people, so Chris had to sit on my lap. Then the camera looked like it was pointed up too high as the machine told us to maneuver ourselves into an oval outline that we just couldn't reach from our seated positions. Not to mention, the image we were looking at was backwards, so if you thought you needed to move your head left to fit in the picture, you really needed to move it to the right.

So the whole thing was a struggle. Every time the machine would count down to snap the next shot, we weren't ready, and that made us laugh. The problem was, we couldn't stop laughing. Missy grabbed my head and tried to push it into the correct position, but I kept moving it the wrong way based on the mirror image on the screen in front of us. We laughed so hard that our stomachs (already hurting from the cheesecake) were in severe pain. When we tumbled out of there, tears in our eyes from laughing so hard, this small girl was staring up at us wondering what was wrong with these old women. We just couldn't stop laughing. It was hysterical - so much fun that we got back in and did it again.

One neat store, called "Fire and Ice," had tons of glass items and some gorgeous jewelry. Chris walked up to the lady behind the counter and screamed, "We haven't seen each other in 26 years!!!" She proceeded to tell this kindly woman that Missy hadn't changed a bit and, "Oh my god, I have photos - want to see them?!" Next thing you know, Chris pulled a stack of very old photos out of her purse and this poor woman was being forced to look at our "before" photos. (I honestly think it was probably the most fun she had all day.)

We spent the rest of the evening on the big sectional sofa at Missy's house, the whole family watching videos of her two daughters (Natalie and Kendall) dancing. It was really fun. Missy's family is obviously a close-knit bunch. They laugh a lot together. And her teenage son Derek never complained once about watching the videos. In fact, he enjoyed it with the rest of us.

With so much love in that house, it was hard to leave. But it was after 11pm and we were still going on little sleep, so Chris and I went home to my place. The next morning I drove her to BWI and hugged her for a long time before letting her go check in at ticketing. We both cried.

What a wonderful reunion that was. A good friend is a forever friend, they say. And it's true. I've made a lot of friends over the years, but there are few that are as special as these two. And I know in my heart that they'll always be there for me. One of the things Missy and I wrote in The Chris Book in 1980 was that we'd always be friends--a promise we've officially kept.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Lasik and the Life of the Unemployed

Well, my one-week post-lay-off vacation is over. I'm actually unemployed. Soon I'll be shopping at the Homeless Depot that my [employed] friend Ed referred me to. Very funny, Eddie!

When my dad asked me why I was only "kinda" on vacation last week, I had to explain to him that on real vacations you can spend money. On unemployed vacations the only luxury you can afford is relaxation (that is, if you can get the job-hunting worries out of your mind long enough to relax). So basically I did yard work, got caught up on chores, went to the gym, took walks, washed the car, increased my contacts ten-fold (I got caught up with dozens of old colleagues online!), and looked at job postings.

Then today I drove to Rockville to see another TLC Lasik surgeon regarding my botched Lasik eye surgery of February 2nd. This guy is both a doctor and the Director, whom I was sent to by a TLC Vice President--finally, after all these months of blurred vision. This Director is the first doctor at TLC who actually showed tremendous concern and a willingness to diagnose and determine a correction for the problem that TLC created.

Sure enough, my left eye has a de-centered ablation. The Director confirmed that for me today. This means that the laser machine was off-center when the laser surgery was performed. The odds of this happening with today's Lasik procedures are virtually nil. It was much more common 15 years ago with the older methods of corrective surgery.

The Director was honest with me, he doesn't understand how this could have happened--not to mention, why it only happened in one eye, and why none of the other patients that day suffered the same outcome.

So it's a big mystery. I'm a medical mystery. It's just one thing after another. But this Director-doctor has a brain and a willingness to investigate. I was impressed with his genuine concern and effort. A number of tests were performed on me today, and this guy spent more time with me in one visit than all the other TLC doctors have spent with me combined (since February).

It's possible that they can temporarily correct my left eye with a hard contact lens - which will feel strange, but if it helps me to see, I'll get used to the discomfort. The right eye needs further correction, but it's not as bad as the left. As to whether the left can be surgically corrected, that remains to be seen. We shall see.

Now, back to the job search. . . .