So the permanent modification finally arrived on Monday April 23. They wanted it back, signed and notarized, by Saturday April 28. I did this. The following Monday (April 30) I received a letter saying they hadn't received it and I was jeopardizing the entire thing. Idiots. I called them up. The mysterious Nicole Nesby, that ethereal will o' the wisp, never at her desk... I speak to someone else. Of course the paper work has arrived-the letters have merely crossed in the mail. But apparently now Fannie Mae has a month to reject the whole thing is they feel like it, so I have to keep calling every week searching in vain for NIcole Nesby, or whoever I get.
The mod will not solve all the problems- yes, it brings the payment down to a manageable $1494, but I will still be paying off nearly $550,000 on a house that probably is worth $275,000. Not to mention the title is still clouded by the Mortgage Electronic Registration System . But it's a start.
THanks so much to everyone who sent money or wrote letters or came to the benefit or donated to the auction. I never could have gotten this far without you! You are all awesome!
Having now made the final payment on the temporary modification, and having made sure that GMAC had cashed the check, I called them today to inquire about the permanent modification. I was told it's "under review" and to call once a week to ask about progress. When I asked when I could expect an answer, she said it would be anywhere from two to eight weeks. I asked why it said there would be a decision within twenty days on the letter that came with the temporary mod, and she said that was the best case scenario. I didn't even bother to ask why the letter didn't just say twenty to fifty six days- it's to fool you into believing they will act on it in a timely manner, when you know damn well they won't. They've actually had three months to review it already.
Either way, I can almost guarantee what will happen- whether at twenty, fifty six, or somewhere in between, they will magically discover that all the paperwork I submitted is now more than ninety days old, and therefore useless. It will all have to be re-submitted. Then it will take at least thirty days to review it, eventually leading to denial of the permanent mod, a bill for all the arrears, and eventual foreclosure. Even in the best case scenario- if they offer me a permanent mod, I fully expect it to be a piece of crap (somehow the modified payment has risen from $1500 to $2500, or the difference between the modified payment and the contractual (original) payment has all been added on to the end of the loan as a balloon payment, or I can only buy overpriced homeowner's insurance from some subsidiary of GMAC, or I still have to pay all the arrears up front in order to get the mod- I'm sure they'll think of something.)
It seems like every other week there's another lawsuit against the servicers or the banks, and every time I think, "Surely, surely this will be the lawsuit that finally splits the whole thing wide open. The whole fucking criminal enterprise will finally, finally collapse, and there's no amount of duct tape or AG settlements that can stop it. We'll finally see banksters in orange jumpsuits doing the perp walk- thousands of them. Finally there will be justice."
Instead the story disappears a couple of days later, the mainstream media never picks up on it, and the looting continues.
By Popular Demand!!!! Well, okay, by request of my friend Doug, steward of this very fine Airplane/Pagoda bungalow, who has been having raccoon problems.
Raccoons are very intelligent animals and they also have hands. If they had access to power tools, we would be in very serious trouble. Fortunately they don't watch TV, and thus have yet to be seduced by The New Yankee Workshop (which I always thought should be called The Joy of Power Tools). They have adapted easily to urban areas, living in dense shrubbery, ivy, storm drains, and so forth. They will happily use your pet door to enter your kitchen and avail themselves of whatever they can find, and they also will climb into your compost bin. I used to have a whole family- one would climb in and start throwing out various stuff that seemed edible, and then they'd all proceed to have a little raccoon picnic right there. This was all at bungalow #2, the first place where raccoons became a real issue.
So this was bungalow #2, The Walter Chowen House, not a bungalow at all, but a lovely Prairie Style house designed by George T. Plowman and John Hudson Thomas in 1908. I've had a soft spot for prairie houses ever since. See the lovely square (hollow) columns holding up the porch? Raccoons had dug under the siding at ground level, climbed up the inside of the columns (they were open at the bottom, and taken up residence in the ceiling of the first floor porch. (It's hard to tell from the angle of the photo, but there's a skirting of roof between the railing of the sleeping porch upstairs and the ceiling of the porch below, so there's actually about two vertical feet of space inside.) Because they were using it as a residence, they were also using it as a bathroom.
But we didn't know that. We just knew that the house smelled, even after all the pet stained carpet had been ripped out and the floors refinished. And we heard noises at night- making us wonder if the house was haunted. They were also mysterious stains on the porch ceiling, but we thought those were water from a roof leak or something. Eventually, by some lucky chance, my husband was on his way to the basement when we heard a huge crash coming from there- he raced down the stairs and was just in time to see a raccoon tail disappear into the room underneath the porch. So the problem had been identified. We had someone come and trap the raccoons.
It also dawned on us that if raccoons had been in the porch that might be where the smell was coming from. So we proceeded to de-construct the porch ceiling, which luckily was board-and-batten. You really haven't lived till you've pried off a board and had a whole bunch of raccoon turds fall on your head- truly one of life's more special experiences... At the end of the clean-up we had a pile of raccoon turds about 18 inches high and three feet in diameter. We then proceeded to scrub everything as best we could, followed by spraying all of the interior framing that we could reach with every kind of deodorizing product we could get our hands on. All to no avail- the porch still reeked. Eventually we used the same trick we used when cat pee had gotten into the subfloor at bungalow #1- we coated everything with shellac to seal in the odor (just another of shellac's many fine uses). Of course there were a few dim recesses we just couldn't reach, but we got most of it. Still, probably 99% of the odor was gone. We also blocked off the bottom of the pillars underneath the porch, so that if raccoons got back in, they wouldn't be able to climb up. Then, in a fit of raccoon paranoia, we put padlocks on every opening that went into the basement or the crawlspace, and prayed the little critters hadn't discovered bolt cutters.
Still, on a warm day, if the breeze was just right, you would get just a tiny whiff of Eau de Turd.
Here at the bunga-mansion, raccoons have been less of a problem. They don't get in the compost, probably because the restaurant dumpsters down the hill offer much better pickings. We did have one attack a police dog in the backyard (a long story which I shall have to save for later). The biggest raccoon problem is reserved for residents of the front bedroom.
As you can see in the photo, the front bedroom (the stuccoed part) is surrounded by roof, all of which comes right up to the window sills. Raccoons do get on the roof (and they shit on the roof, which is really annoying- as if it wasn't trouble enough cleaning the damn cat box). And because the bedroom has more window than wall space, frankly, generally tenants have had their desk in front of the windows. Nothing like looking up from your computer late at night and finding a raccoon staring at you from two feet away! I used to hear shrieks on occasion. I always have to tell the tenants to only open the top sash for ventilation on hot nights. It's not that the raccoons couldn't still get in, but they might possibly make enough noise to wake them up before they actually succeed.
So how do you get rid of them? Don't have raccoon lures: compost, fish ponds, chicken coops, cat or dog food left outside. (Okay, I keep reading that as chicken co-ops- what would a chicken co-op be like? Would there be endless meetings spent trying to come to Consensus?) Other than that, they don't like bright lights and loud noise. Of course, aiming motion-detector lights at your roof and playing heavy metal or talk radio full blast won't make you popular with the neighbors. Won't be fun for you either. You could try to make it difficult for them to get up there, but then bungalows tend to have many protuberances, making them easy to climb. Certainly keeping trees and shrubbery trimmed away from the roof is a good idea in any case. If you know WHERE they're getting up, you may have a better chance of somehow blocking that route.
Or maybe you can train them to use a cat box. But I doubt it.
I haven't posted since "When Life Hands You Lemons" because life has just handed me some. No, not handed- more like backed up a giant truck full of lemons and dumped them on me. At the beginning of March I was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic lung cancer, which has spread to my liver and my spine.
Before you even ask, no, I have never smoked in my life, either cigarettes or marijuana. Why did they not discover it sooner? Because the symptoms are vague, there's no specific test for it, and even though it's one of the most common cancers there is, very little money goes to research, either because of the stigma attached to it (you must have brought it on yourself by smoking) or because the Susan G. Komen Foundation has sucked up all the available money to make yet more pink teddy bears. Also because the doctors at Kaiser are idiots who refused to take my concerns about the pain in my low back very seriously until an MRI actually showed cancer. Even then, they were looking for lymphoma, which made sense because that's what I had twelve years ago, and I had relapsed into an indolent (slow-growing) lymphoma in 2006. And in their defense, though there hasn't been much that's defensible, why would you look for lung cancer in a woman with no history of smoking?
Because I want this blog to remain my little island of sanity in a world that has gone completely upside-down, I have started a separate blog to keep those who are interested aware of what is going on, so that this blog can remain a Cancer-Free Zone. The new blog is by invitation only. If you'd like an invitation, please send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include enough info that I can figure out who you are ( for those of you I may not know personally- fans, Facebook friends, etc.). As for Restoration Comedy, I intend to keep writing here, about windows and linoleum and my continuing struggles with GMAC. Just like I wrote Bungalow Bathrooms twelve years ago while undergoing chemo for my first bout of lymphoma- it gives me an illusion of control in a world gone completely mad.
Thanks for your support- I hope you will still keep reading Restoration Comedy.
I have been collecting letters to send to the Public Relations office at GMAC- I don't know if they give a damn about bad PR at this point but one should leave no stone unturned (or no stern un-toned- that is a joke for the benefit of some of my old friends...). People signed letters at the benefit and also at the Arts and Crafts Conference, but I thought that those who were not at either of those places might also like to have the opportunity. Now, clearly one could compose a letter of their own, but who has time for that? That's why online petitions were invented. I would certainly encourage anyone so inclined to write their own letter, but for everybody else, I am providing a lovely pre-fab form letter, because the banks SO like to send form letters, I thought we could return the favor. So copy and paste at will, add your own comments as desired, and mail off to the lovely Susan Fitzpatrick (which reminds me of another really bad joke...) ASAP.
February 17, 2012
Re: loan # 0601691236; 2708 Sunset Avenue, Oakland, CA94601
1100 Virginia Drive
Fort Washington, PA 19034
Dear Ms. Fitzpatrick,
Modify Jane Powell’s mortgage now!
Jane deserves a permanent modification of her mortgage currently serviced by GMAC. Her historic home in Oakland requires a good steward to return the home to its former glory. A responsible hard working individual who is burdened with a serious disease, Jane should not lose her home to the high cost of her combined medical and mortgage costs.
As a nationally known author on the subject of restoring homes like the one she currently owns, modifying Jane’s mortgage would send a clear public message that GMAC is not just another heartless mortgage company. I, along with many others, am aware that she has spent years trying to work out a reasonable modification with GMAC, and to this point no agreement has been reached.
Step up today and permanently modify her mortgage to terms that will benefit both sides.
Throw them back and scream, “I don’t want any effing lemons!” If life has handed you a whole bushel of lemons, you could make enough lemonade for a lifetime, assuming you had somewhere to store it, because lemonade uses a lot of water, a lot of sugar, and hardly any lemon juice. In fact, most things lemon, whether lemon curd, lemon meringue pie, lemon sorbet, lemon bars, or lemon drops, use hardly any lemon. (One exception is this recipe for Meyer Lemon Panna Cotta (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/03/14/FD811C81OH.DTL
), which uses an entire cup
of Meyer lemon juice. And is really good to boot) Like lemons, the setbacks, bad breaks, and awful life experiences that this cliché refers to can be useful in small quantities- they build character, develop empathy, help you discover strength in the face of adversity. But a whole bushel of lemons just dissolves your mental health in acid.
I am a notorious curmudgeon, at least, that’s what my colleagues in Artistic License (www.artisticlicense.org
) tell me. Whenever we are introducing ourselves at a meeting, after I say I am a writer and restoration consultant, someone will always add, “and notorious curmudgeon.” Pollyanna I am not. (Even as a child, I thought Pollyanna really needed to get a grip.) We curmudgeons prefer to think of it as realism. In case you haven’t noticed, we are living in a kleptocracy, and our democracy has been replaced by corporate fascism. Oh wait, that’s redundant. It’s what Sheldon Wolin calls Inverted Totalitarianism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inverted_totalitarianism). We have the illusion of freedom, because they still allow us to vote, and distract us with reality TV and iPads (and soon, the upcoming war with Iran).
And speaking of kleptocracy, that brings us to possibly my least favorite cliché of all time: “Life Isn’t Fair.” No, it’s not, but that in no way excuses one from doing everything one can to make it fair. And it could be a hell of a lot more fair than it is. Far too often this saying is directed at people who are demanding exactly that, by people who have benefited from things not being fair, the playing field not being level, the rules being tilted in their favor at the expense of others.
Yes, bad things happen to everyone. But some people get way more of the bad things and way less of the good. And some people are positioned to lessen the impact of the bad things more than others- certainly rich people get cancer, but they generally have access to the best doctors and the latest treatments, which greatly increases their chance of surviving it compared to the poor person who has to go to the underfunded county hospital. That could be made more fair if we had single payer health care. But the kleptocracy has prevented that.So don't ever say to me that "life isn't fair." I will hit you.
I am on my way back from the Grove Park Arts and Crafts Conference which takes place in Asheville, North Carolina every February. This year was the twenty-fifth anniversary of the conference. We often joke that the Arts and Crafts Revival has lasted longer than the original movement. When the first conference took place in 1988, the revival was still in its infancy, although the seminal Arts and Crafts exhibition at Princeton in 1972 is believed to have sparked the revival, it was not until The Art That Is Life exhibition in Boston in 1987 that it began to take off nationally.
I bought my first bungalow in 1987. I already knew about the Arts and Crafts Movement. I knew who William Morris was. I knew enough that shortly after buying the bungalow I traveled to Pasadena to visit The Gamble House. I also immediately took out a subscription to Old House Journal, and bought a copy of Rehab Right, a book about how not to mess up your old house, published by the city of Oakland in the 1970s before they became completely enamored of tearing down old buildings in the name of “smart growth” and “density near transit” and the other forms of sheep’s clothing used by rapacious developers and embraced by planners who all claimed to have read Jane Jacobs but apparently hadn’t absorbed much. Ah, I do love a run-on sentence, and the advantage (for me) of a blog is that there is no editor to do away with it. For you the reader that might be viewed as a disadvantage…
Anyway, that was the beginning of my Arts and Crafts adventure. In 1988 I joined the Craftsman Homeowners Club that had been set up by Kitty Turgeon and Robert Rust in East Aurora, home of the Roycrofters. The first Arts and Crafts Conference in Asheville was touted in their newsletter, but since I still had my display job at Macy’s I couldn’t go. The first year I did attend was 1994. By that time the first bungalow had been fixed up and sold, and I was in house #2, an architect-designed Prairie house which I was to lose later that year in a divorce. So the first conference was bittersweet for me.
By that time I knew some of the East Bay Arts and Crafts people, since I was asked to join the committee for the 1993 Arts and Crafts House Tour being put on by Berkeley Architectural Heritage. I freely admit that I guilt-tripped the house selection committee into including my house on the tour, saying it would mean so much to me since I was going to lose it in the divorce. I guess they forgave me because we have all remained friends.
So I went to the conference at least knowing a few people. Nonetheless, I was intimidated. But I was also hooked. Since then the conference has become an important yearly event. I have gone even when ill. I went in the middle of chemotherapy, in spite of everyone advising against it. One year I had food poisoning, and spent most of it in my hotel room. But I keep going back.
When I was first contemplating writing Bungalow Kitchens, one day I had the horrifying thought that if the book was published and successful, I might be asked to speak at Grove Park. Having, as most people do, a terrible fear of public speaking, I nearly gave up on the book right then. (As it turned out, I discovered I actually enjoy public speaking, but that’s topic for another time.) As of now, I’ve spoken there twice, although never about kitchens.
It’s exhausting and intense, but I’ve met such wonderful people there. Contacts made at Grove Park led me to bungalows to photograph for the books, vendors to put in the Resources, and many new friends, who are now old friends. This year both friends and strangers signed letters to GMAC asking them to modify my mortgage- I now have over 100 letters. Arts and Crafts people are absolutely the best.
The benefit succeeded beyond my wildest dreams! We had over 300 people- the line to get in stretched down the driveway. There were people I hadn't seen in twenty years- people I went to high school with, former neighbors, current neighbors, clients, and many people I didn't know, who had seen the story in the SF Chronicle or the Oakland Tribune, or had gotten a forwarded email from somebody, as the whole thing kind of went viral. A good time was had by all. The silent auction was a huge success, and we also had a "Buy It Now" table of less expensive items, and most of those were purchased. I sold quite a few books, including two Linoleum books, which always makes me happy(let's just say the Linoleum book has a very narrow audience...). We're still counting the money, but it was way more than I even thought possible.
I want to thank everyone who came, everyone who donated, everyone who helped out- I have the most awesome, amazing friends that anyone could ask for. One of the hardest things about the whole fraudclosure/mortgage mess is that you feel very alone, even though you know millions of other people are going through the same thing. The banks and the media have tried very hard to demonize homeowners in order to deflect blame from themselves- we are supposed to feel ashamed of our inability to pay our debts. ( see comment on previous blog entry- nothing like kicking people when they're down)
By the way, the attorneys general settlement announced last week- complete bullshit. A get-out-of jail-free card for the banks. No one goes to jail, they get almost total immunity from prosecution, maybe a select few homeowners get help (the settlement doesn't apply to loans owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac, which are the majority of loans). The terms haven't even been announced, so basically they've signed on to a concept, not an actual settlement. Thanks for selling us out, Kamala Harris.
Individual thank-you notes will be going out later- possibly not until I get back from the Arts and Crafts Conference next week. Right now I'm completely exhausted.
The benefit this Sunday is shaping up to be an awesome party. We got a donation of excellent wine, there will be wonderful food, and my friend Terry will be serving up vodka martinis in the "speakeasy" we're setting up behind the fireplace. There were so many silent auction donations we had to start saying no more, and we're going to have a raffle for some of the more amusing items.
The response has been more than I could have hoped for- after the article in the San Francisco Chronicle (http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fc%2Fa%2F2012%2F02%2F02%2FBU0U1MUBK4.DTL&)came out last Thursday, I have been receiving donations every single day. Not only the money, but also the words of encouragement have been very touching. If you are one of the many who sent money, thank you from the bottom of my heart!
I'm keeping this short because the floor in the green bedroom still isn't done, and that's where we're putting the Silent Auction stuff, so I gotta keep sanding! Of course there's always time for linoleum:
Unfortunately it doesn't light up anymore...
Obviously I can and do indulge this passion for tawdriness around my home town, but it’s much more fun to buy tacky souvenirs while traveling. The gift shop full of local crafts and food products is not where you’ll find me- I look for the cheesiest, neon-lit, tasteless T-shirts-in-the-window store I can find. Lately, however, it seems that wherever I go, tasteful souvenirs have taken over. I have to search harder for something appropriately awful, because it can’t just be any old tasteless souvenir, it can’t simply be hideous- it has to be amusingly hideous.
I started with snow globes. Not the nice glass ones on a wooden pedestal, but the cheap plastic ones- clear on the front, blue on the back, with some local landmark molded out of plastic inside, highlighted with badly executed hand painting. It was important that it have the name of the place or the attraction on it, and the more snow inside the better. Bonus points were awarded for offbeat shapes (treasure chests, bottles, the belly of a plastic alligator), or if a perpetual calendar was built into the base. But snow globes had a few problems as a souvenir: sometimes they leaked in the luggage, and if it was an extended trip and more than a few had been purchased, they began to add a little too much weight. And now they have been banned from carry-on luggage by the TSA. The final straw came when snow globe manufacturers switched from actual three-dimensional molded scenes inside the domes, to simply printing the scene on a flat piece of plastic. I demand a little more effort than that. Plus there was a trend toward glitter instead of snow- not that glitter is always wrong- in a snow dome from Las Vegas or Graceland it might be highly appropriate.
Another thing I like to buy is postcards, a popular souvenir for more than a hundred years. It used to be easy to find “Greetings from (name of place)”, the ever-popular jackalope, the fur-bearing trout, and of course, the giant fruits and vegetables on the back of a semi-truck or railroad car. But I always liked postcards with photos of things that weren’t particularly scenic: a freeway interchange, a factory, a shopping mall. One of my prized postcards features a BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit ) train silhouetted against a sunset. These days, perusing a postcard rack for something tacky is discouraging, since they all seem to be filled with beautiful, tasteful photos of the local scenery with nary a jackalope in sight. Occasionally a tacky one still pops up- in Arizona it’s usually possible to find some version of “toppled saguaro squashes car”, and in many places there is some version of a falling-down shack labeled “(name of place) Vacation Home.” Still, the spread of tastefulness can be discouraging.
Then I discovered floating pens, also known as “floaties”, “tilt pens”, or their official name, “floating-action pens.” This is a ballpoint pen in which the top half of the barrel is clear and filled with mineral oil. A background scene is printed inside the barrel, and a piece of plastic film with something else printed on it “floats” in front of the scene, and moves as the barrel is tilted. This allows, for instance, a sailboat to move across a lake, or, in a pen I bought in Mermphis, the disembodied head of Elvis to cross in front of the gates of Graceland. I consider the floating pen to be the perfect souvenir, as they fit easily in a purse or pocket, weigh almost nothing, cost approximately three to four dollars worldwide, plus you can actually use them, while most souvenirs just sit and look decorative. I’ve actually been known, when booking a flight, to take the one with a layover in an airport I haven’t been through before, just in the hope of finding a new pen. Sick, isn’t it? All proper floating pens are made by the Eskesen company of Denmark. Peder Eskesen, a Danish baker, first perfected a way to seal the barrels in 1946. The pen components are made in their factory in St. Merlose, Denmark, then parceled out to be assembled at home by villagers. Their earliest pens tended to feature women or men who appeared to be wearing bathing suits, until the pen was tilted to reveal their nakedness. They eventually branched out, and now it is possible to have custom pens made for yourself or your company, provided you are willing to order the minimum amount of 550 pens. In the last few years, knock-off floating pens made in Hong Kong or Italy, identified by their fat plastic barrels (Eskesen pens are generally narrow), have made inroads into Eskesen’s market share. These pens are garbage and tend to leak, but more and more souvenir outlets seem to be buying them, an unfortunate turn of events. Still, over the last twenty five years, I have managed to amass quite a collection of Eskesen pens. Someone once asked me where I got refills for the pens when the ink ran dry- I had never even considered the question. When one runs dry, I put it away and get out another one. I’m pretty sure I won’t run out of ink in my lifetime.
My most prized floating pens include one from Berkeley Systems, featuring the famous “flying toaster” from their screensaver, and one from Chicken Boy, once a fried chicken delivery service, whose mascot was a man with the head of a chicken, and later the name of a very fine catalog company in Los Angeles, sadly no longer in business.
Now it is true that I have also returned home with such fine tacky souvenirs as jewelry made from lacquered moose turds, jumping and squeaking rubber lobsters, and salt-and-pepper shakers in the shape of Mount St. Helens (they sit on top of each other, and when you lift off the salt the pepper is the shape of the volcano after the eruption). But the piece-de-resistance of my collection is a shrine from Paris. It’s a lavender metallic clamshell outlined with multi-colored Christmas lights. The base contains a drawer. The clamshell contains, not the crucifix or Virgin Mary that would be appropriate to a shrine (though these were available), but instead, a gold plastic Eiffel Tower. I’m unclear what sort of relic of the Eiffel Tower one is supposed to put in the drawer. Still, I consider it the best $13 I ever spent.
It’s not as though it isn’t still possible to find tacky souvenirs. I simply worry about the spread of tastefulness into an area of life where tastefulness isn’t warranted. Therefore, I urge everyone to buy tacky souvenirs wherever you find them, because if you don’t, they may not be reordered.
I am normally a woman of impeccable taste. My 1905 home is decorated in a style befitting its craftsman architecture. I own many objects that are beautiful and well-made. But all this tastefulness has a dark side, as I also harbor a fondness for objects that are surpassingly tacky. I believe my mother is to blame for this. When I was a child, she and her three best friends would get together for their birthdays, and vie with each other for who could come up with the worst gift. The gifts received by my mother that particularly stand out in my memory included a gold painted plaster bust of Charles Lindbergh, a ceramic tree trunk lamp with squirrels hanging on it, and a crocheted Mason jar cover with a ruffle. From these parties also came the rule I still follow regarding the acquisition of tacky objects- they must be cheap. Back in the 1960s the limit was a dollar, eventually raised to five dollars to allow for inflation. Even now, I won’t pay more than twenty bucks, no matter how worthy the item. Another rule is either I or a friend must actually go to the place the souvenir is from- no buying over the internet or picking them up at yard sales.