Selling our Car

February 28, 2009

 

We have been planning to consolidate from two vehicles to one vehicle. We bought a 2000 Ford Ranger and traded in my wife’s 1992 Ford Ranger. Earlier I told about an irritating experience with a young woman from Chile who supposedly had a truck for sale. She wasted a lot of our time, but did not cost us any money.

Eventually, we ended up buying a new used truck from a dealer about a hundred miles away tho contacted us via Craig’s List. The good news is that the truck evidently is fundamentally in good shape. We had it checked by an outstanding garage. The bad news is that it is costing us about $1,500 more than it should have because non-fatal maintenance had been neglected. The outstanding garage was well-supported and rewarded last month.

We were taken for a ride by the dealer. This is embarrassing. I have been plotting revenge and restitution, but the prospects don’t look good. I don’t know if I will tell the story in detail. The reluctance is a) we are embarrassed and furious and b) I don’t know how much effort I want to put into telling a complicated story that embarrasses and infuriates me. David Rochester probably would. Should I use David as a role model?

We still have my 1998 Chevy Prizm for sale. It is dinged. I burns oil. It starts reliably and runs well. It has almost 200,000 miles on it. There is nothing serious wrong with it that I know of, but it might croak after a week or last for a couple of years. I will tell the buyer this.

I was going to place an ad for it on Craig’s list. I saw an ad seeking such a car (Corolla/Prizm). A Prizm is a Corolla sold as a Chevrolet but built by Toyota. We saved a thousand dollars by buying a Corolla with a Prizm label on it. (It’s like buying house brand aspirin instead of Bayer’s aspirin.)

I have been exchanging email with the person who wants to buy a Corolla or Prizm. We are selling it cheaper than others being advertised. He is going to meet me at the dock by the terminal on the mainland tomorrow, Sunday.

I told him all the good parts and bad parts about the car including that it may last a long time or it may not. I told him I want to be paid in cash. What I know about him is that

a) He needs a cheap car pretty soon. He wants a Corolla or a Prizm about the year of ours. He said that he is 58 years old and physically impaired, so he can’t beat me up. I guess meaning he won’t steal the car from me and refuse to pay me and leave me in a battered heap on the ferry parking lot. As there are usually Highway Patrol cars and police dogs around the ferry parking lot, I probably am safe in this regard.

b) He seems unwilling or unable to communicate by phone. I infer that he s living with somebody else and probably needs a cheap car of his own, perhaps to travel somewhere else. I once had a dying car that I offered for sale for $200. A man with a crippled arm who needed a cheap car with an automatic transmission so he could drive to California with one arm bought it from me. I said, “I don’t know if it will make it to California.”

He said, “Drive me to an ATM machine and I will get $200 out and pay you and take my chances.”

I have no idea if he made it.

c) I described myself so he can recognize me at the ferry terminal. He described himself. “I am an old white man. My stepson will be with me. He is a young black man. We will be easy to spot.”

We are supposed to meet at the ferry terminal on the mainland on Sunday at 3 pm.

Life is dangerous and uncertain, for both of us. Perhaps his young black stepson will beat me up and steal the car. (Perhaps he reads my blog and will beat me up for ndulging in racist stereotypes, of course.)

When I get there I will see if the state patrol officer will let me pet his bomb-sniffing police dog in the hope that the purchaser and his young step son will be intimidated. However, at least one of the bomb-sniffing dogs is a cocker spaniel. As “police dogs” go, this is not very intimidating. It would be just my luck to get a “wuss” police dog.

On the other hand, the old white man who buys the car from me (if he does), may travel a mile from the terminal and then my former car will emit a big cloud of blue smoke and expire on the spot, leaving him stranded.

As I said. Life is dangerous and uncertain. Be careful out there.

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RG Coming to Visit

February 28, 2009

Random Granddaughter is coming to visit on the island today. Although she is now a five-year-old genius and probably capable of swindling me into signing over the deed to our house to her, she is not yet allowed to catch a bus to the ferry terminal by herself and take the ferry to the island by herself. At least she is not supposed to.

It’s certainly in the realm of possibility that she might show up on our porch and ring the doorbell, and tell us that she has run away from her mommies. When my daughter was four, she told us she was “running away to grandma.” It took the wind out of her sales when my wife and I laughed and offered to help her pack. At five, RG may be capable of it. Although with five grandmas to choose from, we probably would not be at the top of the list. On the other hand, running away to Oregon grandma would probably involve taking a Greyhound bus, and running away to Virginia Grandmas would involve catching an airline flight across the country.

For that matter, RG might still want to bring Bunny and Special Dolly with her. Bunny in particular is a dangerous and aggressive character; I am not sure Homeland Security would let him on the plane with her.

Anyway, RG will bring her mommies with her and spend the night. We will celebrate Grandma’s 62nd birthday. Grandma doesn’t trust anyone else (even her daughter) to make her chocolate birthday cake properly, so she spent last night making herself a birthday cake she will serve tonight.

 

Recently, the Friendly Neighbors invited us to go with them to a Valentine’s Day concert at their church. The singer is a professional musician who recently joined a moderately well-known musical group founded in the 1950s. His music could be described as a mixture of pop, folk-rock, and light rock from the 50s and 60s. The musician’s wife (a successful writer of children’s books as well as a decent singer herself) joined him in a couple of songs. A couple members of the congregation (reasonably good musicians themselves) also joined him in a couple of songs. The performer played piano and guitar. The median age of the audience was around our age (mid-60s). My wife and I had a good time with the other old fogies, just as some of today’s rappers will some day sit around with other old hip hoppers and quietly beam at favorite lyrics insulting “ho’s” from the first decade of this century.

However, that is not my story today. The Friendly Neighbors, and in fact, the entire church congregation, were all abuzz about a “surprise Valentine’s wedding” held at the church service that day.

I don’t have every detail of the story, but it runs something like this. B, a member of the church, is a man of part-Navajo descent (though not much in touch with his heritage) about 40 years old and unmarried. About ten years ago he joined their church, suffering from alcoholism and other problems. His participation in the church helped him overcome his problems and today he is the sales manager of a large auto dealership. (As my wife and I have been seeking a newer used truck as we consolidate down to one vehicle, we had some contact B in his sales manager persona; not entirely successful but reasonably described as “no harm-no foul.” It’s part of a larger, rather irritating experience involving our vehicle purchase I won’t discuss right now.)

B has been seeking a wife in Russia, apparently using one of those lonely-heart services that match up lonely American men with attractive poverty-stricken Russian women seeking a better life by marrying an American man. This somehow involved a trip to Israel. I don’t know the whole story. Also, apparently a few years ago, B had married a Ukrainian woman but it didn’t work out. Romance is a difficult and dangerous business, but ever-optimistic, B was willing to try again, this time with M, a Russian woman.

B brought his Russian prospect to the United States and they became engaged. The wedding was set for late March. However, B apparently has a taste for the dramatic-romantic, and launched a plot to have a surprise early St. Valentine’s Day wedding (actually at the Sunday after St. Valentine’s Day, but close enough, don’t you think)?

 

As the Friendly Neighbor told us the story at dinner before we went to the concert, I asked, “You mean she got married without a wedding dress?”

“No,” said the Friendly Neighbor. “He told M that it is an American custom for the bride to wear her wedding dress a month before the wedding for good luck.” Deceived by this amiable instant legend, M wore her wedding dress to church that Sunday.

B had also clued in the rest of the congregation on his plan. He had already secretly brought her relatives to the United States, and scattered them in edges of the people listening to the sermon where M could not see them from where she sat.

The minister and the rest of the congregation were in on the plot. The Friendly Neighbor has a Navajo basket which he brought to the wedding; a friend brought an eagle feather.

In the midst of the regular church service, apparently B said something to the effect of, “Surprise!” “We are getting married, right now, right here!” Everyone then launched into the wedding. The minister, apparently an eclectic and flexible sort of cleric, worked some sort of Navajo rituals involving the basket and the eagle feather into the ceremony.

The wedding had occurred earlier that day. (My wife and I had not been there.) That evening, at the Valentine’s Day concert, the congregation were still buzzing about the surprise wedding. Apparently a scheme such as this represents pretty exciting hi-jinks for the members of this church. Everyone chuckled and muttered about it in a combination of lively delight and grave concern whether or not it will all work out for B this time.


The Friendly Neighbors have been incredibly helpful to us in many ways. When we first started scoping out the lot we eventually bought, we found them living on lot #1 in a trailer. They had just retired and were having their well dug, but had not yet built their house. When their well came up with good water, that gave us confidence that our $10,000 investment in putting in a well would not be a dry hole fiasco. (This can happen; it happened to one of Mrs. Random’s nephews in the high desert of California; now his marriage is over as well; having become another dry hole, so to speak.)

The Friendly Neighbors are serious Christians and are frequently inviting us to participate in activities at their church. My wife and I became atheists before we were married; in fact, I don’t remember ever not being an atheist. (My wife, raised as a desultory Christian Scientist, swore off the stuff a few years before she met me.) We are not likely to become religious believers, but just as some dogs and cats live together in harmony; we don’t regard Christians and atheists as inevitable foes.

While it’s clear the friendly neighbors hope we will find their church so inviting and rewarding that we will be drawn in, they approach the matter with a light-handed manner that does not offend or irritate us. We take each invitation on its own merits, and are quite willing to participate in an activity that interests us or we find worthwhile.

For example, some of the men in the congregation chain-saw and split some logs every Wednesday morning and then deliver it to elderly people and people in financial distress. They call it their “wood ministry.” I recently started participating with the group and help out with the activity every Wednesday morning. At 65, I am the babe of the group; all the other men are serious Christians in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. Despite their age, all the men are quite dynamic and active, and chuck enough wood in a few hours to make a woodchuck scurry back into its burrow in shame. After a few hours of work we gather at the church where the church ladies provide us with coffee and cookies and we chat in an amiable session of elderly male bonding.

(Next: the surprise wedding.)

The following story will take several parts to tell. This is part 1.

My wife and I have been married for 43 years, though we are about 80% incompatible. My wife became pregnant on our honeymoon, as quaint as that sounds today. Not all adult children get along with their parents, but our daughter still speaks with us and visits us of her own accord, so we probably were not too awful parents.

My wife and I are both introverts. A danger as we get older is that we will become isolated on our five acres in the woods on a large island and not have enough human contact to keep us emotionally healthy, or we will get into trouble and not have anyone to help us.

Our “neighborhood” consists of four five-acre lots. At the moment, two of our lots are occupied.

The people I call the Friendly Neighbors live on lot #1.

Lot #2 is owned by Joe and Melinda, who married in their forties (though Melinda had been married before and has an adult son). They work on the mainland. At the moment, they are having a small home built, more of a vacation home than a permanent home.

We live on lot #3. We chose it because it had a permit for a “standard septic,” which saved us quite a bit of money, though even after the savings, it cost us quite a bit of money to put in a septic system.

Lot #4 is owned by a young couple with a five-year-old son. They live on the mainland, also, and probably will not move to their lot for a number of years.

My wife and I are both volunteering as a way to keep ourselves connected to others and to give us something useful to do besides kill each other, which is a possibility now that we have to be in each others’ company most of the day.

Next: the Friendly Neighbors slyly draw us into their church.

I picked up the ringing phone and said, “Hello.”

“Hello, Grandpa,” a little voice said.

“Is this a five-year-old Granddaughter?” I asked. “Because I don’t speak to four-year-old granddaughters any more.”

“Yes,” Random Granddaughter answered.

“Let me get Grandma on the phone,” I said.

“How was your birthday party?” Grandma asked, after she had picked up the other extension.

“Good,” RG answered. RG’s sperm donor/dad and his partner and family had arrived to celebrate RG’s birthday with her two mommies. RG doesn’t realize she lives in a science fiction family of my future; for her this is her family in her now. I can’t imagine what RG’s future will be like. Well, I did a little bit, but it was a paltry effort.

Grandma sent RG some “glitter paints” as a birthday present. RG, a smart child, picked a family with five grandmas and four grandpas, just to make sure doesn’t lack for presents.

RG once again visited the zoo; compensating for her disappointing trip with Grandpa not that long ago. Mommies took RG to the zoo during her birthday week. RG now has her own bank with slots for spending, saving, and sharing. They money in the three slots now probably exceeds the money in CitiBank, Bank of America, and your bank, whatever it is.

“Do you want to spend some of your spending money at the zoo store?” Mommy (my daughter’s partner and RG’s birth mother) asked her.

“Yes,” said RG. RG and her mommies entered the zoo store. RG contemplated the stuffed animals.

After a while, RG decided to buy a pink pony. RG will be the first fire chief with a pink pony riding beside her in the fire truck.

Maddoff Workout at the Gym

February 14, 2009

A few weeks ago as I was in the locker room of the gym where I work out, putting on my exercise clothes, a man of about 60 years of age with a bushy white mustache came out of the shower room. As he bore a striking resemblance to photographs of Mark Twain, I will refer to him as “MT.”

Another man, I will call X, already in the locker room, obviously an old friend, greeted MT, in a matter that struck me as celebratory, (Perhaps they were planning to get together to celebrate some significant date important to both of them.)

However, MT was clearly not in a mood to celebrate. He began to explain to X that he had just discovered that he had lost his life savings to Bernard Maddoff.

Soon everyone in the crowded locker room was listening to MT’s unhappy tale with rapt and horrified fascination. He related his harrowing yarn with rueful humor and a sad, wry expression on his face. I could envision the great humorist Samuel Clemens telling his tale of losing a fortune investing in an attempt to invent a typesetting machine with with the same bitter amusement and bemused expression.

 
MT related how after working his entire life as a carpenter and a contractor, he had paid off his house entirely and saved over a million dollars toward his retirement. As his back and neck were damaged from a lifetime of hard manual labor, MT was looking forward to a comfortable retirement without having to endure any more hours of painful physical strain on his weakened frame.

 
MT put all his retirement money in a fund sponsored by Bernard Maddoff. His reasons for doing so were similar to the reasons we have heard from many other people: Maddoff’s vast experience as a successful investor, immense reputation as an innovator of investing technology, and his long involvement with many impressive Jewish charities all gave MT considerable confidence in Maddoff as an investor. (I inferred that MT may also be Jewish, as are quite a few of Maddoff’s other victims)

As with so many other people, Maddoff’s sterling reputation led MT to invested all his liquid resources in Maddoff’s fund. It was obvious that MT was financially literate and had some experience with investing. Familiarity with investing of a characteristic of many of the people who lost fortunes investing in Maddoff.

MT took a bit of a consolation in comparing his situation to others in our community. “I know at least six other people on our end of the island who also lost all their money by investing in Maddoff,” he told us. “One person has already filed for bankruptcy. At least I own my house free and clear.”

However, even this consolation was quite limited. “I went to the bank and tried to borrow some money on the equity in my house. They turned me down as I have no source of income to repay them.” Unspoken but in the air was our knowledge of our nation’s financial crisis, based around the collapse of the real estate market and the freezing of the credit mechanisms of our economy.

“I am 60 years old and my neck and back are ruined from a lifetime of physical labor. I was looking forward to a comfortable retirement. Now I have to go back to work. I’ve been earning some money as a painter, but even that work is hard for me to carry on for more than an hour or two.”

Someone in the locker room had a suggestion. He had heard that there was a large demand for house inspectors because so many homes are being foreclosed and need to be evaluated by those taking possession. “I can do that kind of work,” said MT, though he sounded doubtful about there being such a convenient option available to him if he had to work. “I should look into it.”

It’s one thing to read about this calamity in the news or listen to it on a broadcast. It’s striking and poignant to hear about it first hand and look into the eyes of someone experiencing it.

Social Occasion Part 2

February 4, 2009

Speaking of International Relations (as David just did), one of the impossible tasks of modern life is to arrange a social event by email. It takes about 57 emails before schedules can be reconciled. I was trying to arrange a date and time when Mama and Mommy and Random Granddaughter and Mary and S and F can all have an international social occasion at the mommies’ house.The date Mary set doesn’t work for S and F. We arranged a week later.

I thought, dinner. The mommies said, how about brunch at 10 am? S and F said, we have an appointment and can not arrive until eleven. I said, how about 11 am? Mary said, that would be fine; I sleep late on weekends. The mommies said, that would be late because RG must take her nap by 1 pm. I said, I am making an executive decision, we will meet at 10:30 am.

Then the mommies asked, what about food preferences? T(hey have had guests who wouldn’t eat this or that.) I will email the guests today and ask what they like to eat and what they don’t like to eat. They are very polite people so they probably will tell us they eat everything. Nobody eats everything. RG hardly eats anything. (She will be the first five year old to suffer from anorexia.)

Mrs. Random is concerned I am taking advantage of the mommies to be my diplomatic social hostesses (which of course, I am), and said, we [Grandma and Grandpa] should pay for the food. The mommies said, don’t worry about it. Of course, Mrs. Random, in her Martha Stewart alter, is fretting about it.

Now RG is on deadline to learn Quechua and Romanian in three weeks. And the mommies said, RG may get bored with all the adults around and wander off and do something else in the middle of the social occasion (and perhaps provoke an international incident).

At the last minute, somebody will probably not be able to make it. I will sulk because all my careful scheming has come to naught.

Then there’s Bunny, the killer rabbit masquerading as RG’s favorite stuffed animal. He may decide to wreak revenge on me (for my bunicide in the woods) in the middle of the social occasion, ruining the mommies’ best tablecloth with bloodstains.

This is the first week I don’t have to go to work. I have a list of 10,000 things I need to do. Mrs. Random has a list of 10,0020 things I have to do. The 20 have to come before any of mine. Perhaps her 10,000 things come before my 10,000 things.

I had two favorite volunteers. Actually there are about a dozen favorite volunteers, but don’t tell the others, they might be jealous.

 

One of my favorites is Mary from Peru. I don’t know if John from Peru whose father named him John instead Juan because he like American movies (just as Mary’s father named her Mary because he likes American movies, has taken a class from Mary. We will have to live in suspense for a while.

 

In my last class a volunteer named Edwin showed up. Edwin is also from Peru. He assured me that Edwin is a Hispanic name and that not all Peruvians give their children Anglo names because they like American movies. Perhaps it is time for American parents to start watching Peruvian movies and using them as an inspiration for naming children yet to be conceived. I will put Edwin and Mary in touch because why not?

 

My other favorite volunteer is S from Romania. She is very cute, but I didn’t pay too much attention to that because a) I have been married to Mrs. Random for 43 years and she is also very cute and b) S has been married to F from Romania. Although I have not met F yet, I am sure he considers S very cute.

 

F works for Microsoft, so I am sure he is very intelligent. F & S went from Romania to Canada. In Canada S worked as a technical writer. F got an H1-A Visa because Microsoft wanted to hire him. S did not. Many of the volunteers I work with are wives of people who work for big companies such as Microsoft and Boeing. Many of these couple come from countries such as India, Bulgaria, and Romania. In  many cases the wife has as much education and talent as the husband. In almost every case I knew, the husband had a H1-A Visa and the wife did not. As the highly intelligent wives were often bored and restless, many of them became volunteers for the library. If this phenomenon is an example of rampant sexism, I don’t know, but if it waddles like a sexist pig, and quacks like a sexist pig…

I am uneasy at times about using names. There are so many Mary’s around, who will notice another? But I am not sure about S & F, so I am sticking to initials.

 

S was a very talented volunteer and a very good teacher. She is also very intelligent and hard-working. She applied for several jobs. In each case the choice came down to S from Romania and an American candidate. It was always easier to hire the American candidate rather than the Romanian woman who would need to be sponsored for an H1-A Visa.

S was a very good volunteer. She said she learned a lot about teaching from me, so my vanity was tickled. She was very patient and kind with beginning students. Like one of my daughter’s best friends who is Finnish, she has a bit of an accent, but her English on the whole is better than many Americans. I forget how many languages she speaks.

Like Mary, S is very hard working and disciplined. She is also very intelligent. Sometimes I had technical questions about matters over my head and asked her for help. She always came through.

 

She decided to go back to school to get a graduate degree so she would have a better chance to get a job. I have not been much in touch with her since she went to graduate school, but I did learn that she had graduated and gotten a job.

 

When I Mary asked if she could meet RG and the mommies, I thought of inviting S (and her husband, if he wanted to come) to join us.

 

[to be continued]