Adventures in House Hunting Hell: A Tale From the Archives

Several years ago, Thomas and I embarked on our first house hunting journey. We had decided we had had enough of trying to cram all of our (kids’) junk into 1350 square feet (125 square meters for my non-American audience.) We figured if we didn’t act soon, we might be approached to appear on “Hoarders.” However, rather than get rid of unnecessary belongings, we decided to consider the more reasonable option  – buy a bigger house.

The first house we made an appointment to view was highly promising – 5 bedrooms, remodeled kitchen, pool, palm tree out front: the California dream. As we drove to the house to meet the realtor, I felt the excitement brewing inside me. Finally, we’d have space for all of our stuff, the kids could have their own rooms, I could float on a raft in the pool after putting up the Christmas tree – the day dreams were endless.

As we toured our dream house, we found a few things were slightly different than expected. The bedrooms were a little on the small side, except for the large downstairs bedroom which had apparently been “upgraded” into a bonus room. That was ok, though, since half of the garage had been converted to the fifth bedroom. It would have been helpful to see this garage/bedroom, however, this part of the home would have to be bought sight unseen; the occupant was taking a nap and could not be disturbed.

While I was wondering if the garage inhabitant was included in the price of the house, Thomas was being attacked by swarming gnats next to the pool. A quick look over the backyard wall revealed the source of the infestation – a massive storm drain. The owner, for her part, made a valiant attempt to convince us that in all her time living there she’d never been seen these kamikaze gnats. I have a feeling those gnats and their cousins in the front yard would be offended by that statement. Actually, the gnats weren’t the only backyard surprise. While some sellers entice prospective buyers with the scent of freshly baked cookies in the kitchen, we were treated to the smell of freshly laid dog poop. We decided to keep looking.

It turns out all was not lost. A few days later we found another home that looked like a good match: four bedrooms, new flooring, big backyard and no storm drain. As we pulled up, we noticed the extra-wide driveway.  This would be perfect for Thomas, whose true dream is to park a broken down RV in the driveway and use it as a “man-cave.” He came up with this idea after realizing that no room at home is safe from the girls and their Barbies. Now that I think about it, maybe we can both move into the RV and let the girls have the house.

Unfortunately our RV fantasy was not meant to be. All the pavement in the front and backyard of the house was severely cracked, meaning the RV would probably sink underground with the next earthquake. On the other hand, a subterranean bunker could be useful I suppose. As we entered the property, the realtor explained to us that investors who were flipping this foreclosure had put in brand new flooring.  These investors were definitely family minded – the carpet was a familiar color that can only be described as “Already Dirty – Gray”. This was a good trick to help the prospective buyer’s budget. After all, if your new carpet already looked like the kids had roughed it up, then there was no point in ever cleaning it, right? That’s how you stay ahead of the game.

The garage offered its own dilemma; not only was there room for only one appliance (leaving us to debate whether the washer or the dryer was more important) but the smell of gas was overpowering. It was so strong that I quickly ushered everyone out for fear any escaping remnants of our Cajun dinner might torpedo us to outer space.  The gnats were starting to look better.  Yet, before I could pitch the benefits of gnats and garage-living to Thomas, common sense slowly took over.  It looked like we would need to forget the RV for now. Thomas would just have to put up a tent in the garden.  Besides I had just gone through a labor-intensive move at work… from the coat closet I was squatting in to a full-sized office down the hall. I would need to recover before I could start thinking about packing boxes again.

EPILOGUE: Two years later we found the strength to once again attempt to find a house. This time, with a bit of patience, nail biting, anti-depressants, alcohol and good luck we did eventually find a gnat-free house without a gas leak or random dude living in the garage. More on that story to come later…

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Computer Compassion

copypaste

A few years ago my mom sat me down to ask me a question. Given her serious tone and the fact that uncomfortable conversations in my family often start with “a question”, frantic thoughts began racing through my mind. Had she discovered I’d tried smoking? Oh wait, that already happened….high school flashback. No, from her voice, I could tell it was certainly something graver.

After a few seconds it hit me. My palms got clammy as I realized my cover was blown. Somehow she had figured out the dark secret I’d been hiding from my family, my neighbors and all the PTA moms: I’m a negligent parent and, gulp, I sometimes forget to send the kids to school without breakfast or jackets or, on really negligent days, both.

I was about to break out into tears and several mea culpas about my pathetic parenting when my mom jumped in with her question, and to my relief, I realized the conversation was taking a far different..though probably equally disturbing… turn. She wanted to know about technology.

You see, as my mom explained, she had been chatting with her friend Diane  who, according to my mom, is “really good with computers.” What came next left me speechless.

Apparently Diane had told her it was possible to do something called “copying” and “pasting”. Fascinated by this possibility, my mother wanted to know if I knew what this was and if so, if could teach her how to work this magic.

This was the last thing I expected. As my mind raced to determine the appropriate response, I’m pretty sure this was the look on my face.

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Clearly I was in a quandary. I was torn between laughing at how impressed she was by this advancement in modern technology and crying at the realization of how hard her life must have been through this point without the ability to copy and paste.

Luckily I managed to reign in my emotions and did neither. Instead, composing myself, I took the road of compassion and answered her question seriously. After all, I’m no spring chicken myself and will certainly have to ask Elizabeth and Corinne these same kinds of questions. When these moments happen, I would prefer they show similar restraint.

In fact, I think these moments are closer than I’d care to admit. This is based on the fact that I’ve already started losing my mind and, as recent studies have shown, failing to grasp technological concepts closely follows the loss of one’s mind. (This is not to say my mom is nuts…she reads my posts and I still want Christmas presents, so I am definitely, absolutely, positively not saying this.)

My decent into insanity became evident a few months ago when I tried opening my office door at work with my car remote. This was particularly disturbing since my office door doesn’t even have a lock. A few weeks later I tried to use the remote control for my garage door at home to enter the parking structure at work.

I would like to openly blame my children on a daily basis for driving me over the edge, but have come to the conclusion that if I do this, they will conveniently not teach me how to copy and paste. I’m safe as long as they don’t read my blog.

Birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter

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In honor of the holiday season and with Christmas just around the corner, it seems appropriate to share the story of the birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter.

Instead of getting depressed reading your friends’ holiday letters about their awesome vacations in tropical lands or their toddler’s uncanny ability to speak 5 languages fluently, you can feel good about your life as I regale you with stories of how my plumbing backed up and spilled sewage and toilet paper onto our front lawn. (Refer to blog post #2 “Plumbing and 3D”)

So, gather around a warm fire (unless you’re in California, in which case, don’t start a fire; we’re in a drought and you don’t want to burn down the whole block right before Christmas) and get in the holiday spirit as you enter the world of my crappy life…

“Opening Remarks” – My First Blog Post

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Disclaimer

This blog[1] was my cousin Wayne’s idea. If you find it as ridiculous and nonsensical as I do, then I’ll give you his contact information and you can complain to him directly. Wayne is a writer/director/producer, so if you are indignant enough in your complaint, you might land yourself free tickets to his dinner theater (which is excellent, by the way). In fact, maybe if I complain, he’ll send me free tickets. I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Background

In all fairness, I suppose I can’t completely blame my cousin. After all, he was just trying to help me find a more suitable forum for my middle-age ramblings[2]. You see about 10 years ago I had taken to expressing myself (that is, dumping on everyone) through an annual Christmas letter. After all, it was cheaper than therapy. However, as I got older (better said, as my kids got older), my life became increasingly more dramatic – which meant I needed more cheap therapy – which meant longer, crappier Christmas letters. Unfortunately, like with many things, holiday letters have a point of diminishing marginal utility. Statistical testing has shown this point to be about 4 pages. In other words, if you send people holiday letters longer than 4 pages in length, they will find more utility in using it to line their cat’s litter box than in reading it.

I knew I had reached this point when I stopped receiving Christmas cards from people with cats. The true enlightenment came however when I started getting requests to provide my letter in an audio format. This request came exclusively from people who had no cats or litter boxes to line, which meant that they were forced to read it and more than likely would need to take a day off work to get through the whole thing.

I try to be accommodating and took this request seriously. After careful consideration, though, I was forced to admit that an audio version was out of my league. Although I had joined Toastmasters over a year ago, I was doubtful that I could get through a 12 page letter without peppering every pause with at least one “uh”, “um” and, the real signature of failure, “you know”.

The logical solution was to simply send out mid-year update letters. This worked for awhile, but it proved not to be a viable long-term solution. This year the jig was up. It was clear to anyone who read my June update letter that an update to the update letter would be forthcoming. This was mainly due to the fact that we had purchased a house that everyone started affectionately referring to as “The Money Pit”. In Italy they have a saying about the city of Naples[3] which can also be applied to our money pit: “le storie non finiscono mai” which translates to “the stories are never ending.” How many updates to updates can you do before physics steps in and you go back in time? Luckily, right when I found myself on the edge of the swirling black hole of update letters, my cousin entered with his blog idea.

Birth of the Blog

Wayne was a child computer genius. In elementary school he could do pretty much anything with his Tandem computer, and I secretly suspect he may have invented hacking. Consequently, he has automatic credibility regarding anything computer-related, including blogs. In all honesty, it didn’t take much convincing. I was almost immediately on board, since being a blogger clearly meant I could quit my job compiling boring statistical information into PowerPoints and instead could drop my kids off at school and hang out at Starbucks drinking vanilla lattes all day.

Whether or not anyone actually reads this will be seen, but at least trees and everyone in my address book can breathe a sigh of relief.

[1] For disclosure purposes, this may not actually meet the definition of a blog, since I don’t actually know what a blog is. Using the term “blog” makes me feel cool, so I’m going to stick with it.

[2] Yes, I’ve already started to ramble in my 40’s. I’m certain my kids will catch on by the time they’re in high school and start making plans to move abroad…permanently.

[3] On second thought this may not actually be an official Italian saying. Well, in any case, I can personally confirm that at least one Italian has said this. His name was Carlo. Sorry Carlo, I don’t remember your whole name or I’d give you more credit. After all, that was 20 years ago.

Corporate Dream Careers

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In Elizabeth’s elementary school yearbook, the pictures of the graduating sixth graders are complemented by a blurb stating each child’s anticipated profession.  Some common ones are movie star, football player and astronaut. While certainly great dreams, these aren’t necessariy the most realstic goals, statistically speaking. I fear that when these children compare their yearbook blurbs to their actual jobs in 30 years, there may be some disappointment.

To avoid this outcome, there should be a better understanding of all the dream-worthy, yet realistic, jobs out there that kids can aspire to. Elizabeth is only in 5th grade, but to help her and her friends understand the true breadth of fascinating professions before it’s time to commit to their dream jobs in 6th grade, I’ve put together the following descriptions of some positions found in the corporate world:

Facilities Manager

This is a multi-faceted position. First, you are in charge of the physical assets of the company. In hopes of getting promoted, you will spend hours tinkering with the broken photocopier before giving up and calling the professional repairman.

You are also responsible for figuring out how to save space by reducing employee cubicles to the size of a hamster cage. To minimize employee frustration, make sure the now smaller cubes are each outfitted with a hanging water bottle and salt lick. Put an exercise wheel by the printer to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Lastly, you coordinate entire office moves. As long as you act important, no one will question you on why it took a week to move the coffee machines to the new location and another whole week to move the coffee.

Career Tip: Instill fear among co-workers by holding a clipboard and walking around with people in suits. If you speak in a low voice and point animatedly to various cubicles as you mumble words like “headcount” and “bottom line”, everyone you pass will start boxing up their belongings as they wait for the call from Human Resources.

Call Center Representative

This is the ideal job for those who both love to talk and have a sadistic streak. You are the first point of contact and a stringent gatekeeper. You will enjoy further frustrating already annoyed callers by insisting they don’t need to speak with a supervisor, even though you’ve tried unsuccessfully for an hour to resolve their problem. For added pleasure, put callers on hold every time they threaten you with legal action.

Career Tip:  Increase your performance bonus by changing your voice and posing as the supervisor you finally agreed to transfer the caller to.

Accounts Payable Clerk

This position requires a high attention to detail with little tolerance for error. Your daily mission is to review and process department bills and employee expense reports for payment. As protector of the company’s coffers, you take your job seriously and are careful to reject business trip reimbursements of tips to hotel valets and bellmen without a paper receipt.

Career Tip: Wield your power by routing invoices that don’t meet your high standards to a holding queue. For added fun, don’t  mention this to the person who needs the invoice paid and act surprised when he/she questions you in a state of panic.

IT Manager

This is a job which requires strong technical and no people skills. You are saddled with budget cuts but rather than admit this, you assert haughtily that you can resolve every problem, even finding the coffee that Facilities lost in the move.

Career Tip: Stay ahead of the game by pretending to be extremely busy and hiding behind voice mail, so you can never be held accountable for these untruths. While you will be well compensated for your technical savvy, if you get hit by a bus, no one will send you flowers…though this might be because Accounts Payable won’t reimburse sympathy gifts.

IT Support

This is an entry-level position with a steep learning curve. Although you will be hired for your many degrees in computer science, when you hit the real world you’ll receive no training on how to deal with end users in a live production environment.

Career Tip: Be sure to figure out ahead of time who you can blame when you accidentally remove users’ access and delete their files.

Marketing Director

This is a job for high energy, goal-oriented individuals who don’t let rules stand in the way of a good idea. You’re tasked with coming up with creative strategies to get new customers. To do this, you do your best to alienate the legal and compliance experts who have to sign off on your wacky ideas, by acting like you know how to do their job better than they do.

Career Tip: Make everything a “marketing emergency” so no one will have time to realize how bad your idea really is.

The Office Dodo Bird is Not Extinct

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When I visit one of my company’s other locations, the only available desks in my department’s allocated territory are located in dimly lit cubicles around the corner and down at the end of the hall, in an area I affectionately refer to as the Dungeon. In keeping with its name, the Dungeon is devoid of plant life or natural light, is decorated in a drab gray / dirty beige color-scheme that is best described as “office camouflage” and, until recently, had no telephone connectivity for visitors.

When I first found myself relegated to the Dungeon, having been displaced from the office I usually occupied by more important people, I did not immediately notice anything odd. Like any other morning, I settled in with my cup of coffee and began reading through e-mails, which usually consisted of a mix of industry news and internal communications from IT explaining why the data I had requested was impossible to provide.

As I moved on to the next phase of my morning, deciding on whether to throttle IT or proceed to a less controversial task like writing a report, I noticed a strange sound emanating from the other side of the cubicle wall. Click, click, click, BZZZZ, click, click, click, BZZZZ. As quickly as it had started, it ended. I looked around to see if any of my adjacent Dungeon-mates had noticed; they were busily typing away, unaware of anything out of the ordinary. Concluding it must be nothing, I went back to drafting my strategy to prevail over my IT archnemesis (which was much more fun than report writing).

Approximately half an hour later, just as I was taking off my office avenger mask and moving on to less sinister duties, I heard it again…click, click, click, BZZZZ, click, click, click, BZZZZ. What in the world was that? The mysteriousness of it was going to drive me insane. I nudged my colleague Brenda. Sure enough, this time she had heard it as well and was equally puzzled.

I decided it was time to gather some intelligence. I rose from my chair and walked slowly over to the nearby photocopier, stealthily surveying the area from which the sound had originated. What I saw stopped me dead in my tracks, for it was more stupefying than anything I had imagined…it was an artifact from decades long gone; something I had heard tales of but never actually observed in the corporate wild.

My mouth went dry. Could it be true? I adjusted my glasses for a better look. Yes, indeed; to my left, on the other side of the cubicle wall from where I had been sitting was the office equivalent of the dodo bird:  a 10-key adding machine, complete with paper roll.  I watched in amazement as the lady seated in front of the adding machine tore off the paper containing her latest calculations and attached it to a file. Frozen in place by the scene before me, my mind debated if it would be more appropriate to contact Ebay or an archeologist.

When the shock subsided and I had gathered my wits, it became clear to me that the nickname Dungeon was more appropriate than I had imagined. While I was able to leave the office at night and go sit in traffic, these poor employees hadn’t been set free in years. This explained why, when I visited this location, they were always there when I arrived in the morning and were still sitting in the same spots when I left in the evening. With that kind of confinement, of course they had no idea that Excel had been invented. It seemed that the humane thing to do would be to enlighten them, but before I could act, an even deeper truth rocked me. I realized that by living in a time capsule free of the burdens of modern technology, this group didn’t have to continually devise creative schemes to outwit IT. Obviously it was I not them who needed to be enlightened.

As I snuck back to my seat on the other side of the wall, I felt newly invigorated. There was a solution to my data issues after all. The next day I started searching the internet for an adding machine of my own.

adding machine