Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Lesson One From The Loan Department: You Are Not A Slip And Slide.

I work on a loan program that helps people finance a variety of energy efficient home improvements, including heating systems, at a low interest rate. Most people probably put stuff like this on a credit card at a mid-to-upper-teens interest rate or take out a home improvement loan at 9% or more. Our loans are 3% max, so it rocks pretty hard. We also help people figure out what rebates they may be eligible for, etc. Free money AND low interest? Neat.

There is, of course, a catch, that being that you need to fill out the correct forms.

When did this become startling? If you want someone to pay $500 of one of your bills, and they told you, "okay, but you have to fill out this here paper," wouldn't that seem like a kind of easy way to get someone to pay $500 for you, and therefore...wouldn't you just fill out the goddamn form? I've had people call in and be all "well I didn't think you actually NEEDED this form...god, what a pain, my contractor has to sign it? Shee-it. Can't you just give it to me anyway?" Why, because you're cute? Because you have a wicked smoker's cough, and that makes me doubt that you are THAT much of a Brad Pitt clone that I should fork over $500 on your say so.

But even better is something called a heat sizing. This is something that's required for both the loan program and one of the utilities' rebates. I'll say it up front - it's kind of a pain. You have to measure walls and ceilings and windows and all kinds of stuff, and then you need to calculate the hourly BTU output that the heating system needs to get out in order to effectively heat the house. Most contractors just look at what heating system is there and get one the same size, or measure the baseboard, multiply accordingly, and call it a day. The reason it's important is because a too small system - obviously - won't heat your house, and a too big system will be continually kicking on and off, which totally takes out your efficiency ratings. Clearly, both are bad.

Oh. My. God. Do people not want to do these heat sizings. And it's understandable when it's the contractor complaining...if you didn't do it when you were out there to quote the job, then you have to go back there and do it, and it's a lot of work, and it sucks. Fine. What I REALLY don't get is when the customers want to DO THE SIZING THEMSELVES. The thing that cracks me up is that they always trying to be all smooth about it, to wit:

Me: you need an intake form, your proposal and a heat sizing calculation for your home.
Client: What's a heat sizing?
Me: It's an accounting of the space your heating system needs to heat. The contractor measures things like the walls and baseboard and produces a profile of your home. Your contractor either will have done it when he quoted the job, or they'll need to swing by and get one done for you.
Client: So they need to measure the walls, right?
Me: Well, that amongst other things, and there are a few more steps to complete the calculation. Like I said, your contractor should be able to provide the calculation for you.
Client: Well what else do they need to measure?
Me: It's not just measurements, sir, they need to perform a series of calculations based on those measurements.
Client: So what does he need to calculate?
Me: *pause, while breathing deeply through my nose and clenching the chair arm*
Client: So I can tell him, I mean.
Me: Sir, if he has any questions, you can direct him to this number.

Note to my customers...YOU ARE NOT THAT SLICK. Okay? You're not. I know you're trying to figure out how to do it yourself so you don't have to call your contractor, which you're resisting for some weird reason. I KNOW. You are the FIFTH PERSON THIS WEEK who has tried to play this game. AND IT IS WEDNESDAY. I am not faxing you the form to do the sizing, I'm not walking you through it, I'm not HAVING it.

When was this okay? Did someone pass a law saying all rules were to be followed as you feel necessary? Because I could TOTALLY ditch some of the rules of my life, and if we're allowed to do that then great.

Le sigh.

Monday, September 11, 2006

American Girl

Every year on September 11th, and usually several times in between, I read an article from my favorite online author, Sarah Bunting, who goes by "Sars". She writes columns on her website, Tomato Nation, and if you're reading this blog, I've probably sent you at least one of her articles. I even print them out for the technophobic New Jersey Grandparent Contingent. It's funny how you come to things. Someone who was far away from me five years ago sent me her article about September 11th because, as they said, they didn't know what else to do except show me that other people were going through all this, too. About a year later, the SecGen turned me on to Television Without Pity, which Sars also runs. Eventually, on a day when I'd run out of TWoP recaps to read, I found my way to Tomato Nation, from whence the article my friend had sent me over a year before came.

The article I read, every year, without fail, is Thou Art With Us, Sars' account of her day in New York when the towers came down. Every year she writes something, and it's always exactly what I feel about the anniversary, but Thou Art haunts me, and makes me cry. It's so different from what I experienced, and so much the same. It's the side events - Sars mentions seeing the hairdresser and waving, like any other day, cheering for rescuers when they crossed her path as she drove home. I remember the people who sat outside along Ward Circle and cheered on the emergency vehicles as they went past. I remember getting my hair cut because when they called to see if I wanted to move my hair appointment. I didn't know what else to say but yes, so I got my hair cut, and it came out crooked because both the stylist and I had been watching CNN in the mirror, half-turning to read the ticker. I paid $43.28. I remember what the sky looked like, both looking up and looking towards the Pentagon from the roof of the dorms. I remember what the night sky looked like, too, when I couldn't sleep, so I wandered the streets around campus. The weather was perfect, absolutely perfect.

It was perfect the next day, too, when there was a bomb threat and I had to call my mom and tell her. I remember the Metro station supervisor letting me through the gate even though I didn't have any money and the credit card Metrocard machine wasn't working. I went to work, of all things. I wound up giving water and bandages and idle talk to the rescuers down at the Pentagon, the people who had been there for more than a day. I remember what we talked about - the DC sports teams, a couple UMD Terps comments, hometowns, kids, jobs. One guy told me about how he and his wife were leaving the next day for Nova Scotia. They eloped and never got around to the honeymoon, so that was the plan. I have a hard time thinking that plan got followed through on, since I had to fight to keep him there long enough to get a full bottle of water into him and a bandage on his gashed arm before he went right back into the smoke and darkness.

Every year, I read that article and I find more things in it. I find the same thing with my memory of 2001. There's more I can remember, more I can appreciate, more to cry over. Spinnaker, G-Man, Beastie, Janice, Dropkick and the Holy Man came down to DC 11 days later in the Holy Man's gigantic Excursion. I remember it like it was yesterday. I don't like the way the media and the regular people are treating this anniversary, with the fame- and honor-whoring...believe it or not, not everyone's story needs airtime. I nearly slugged someone in Philadelphia over their attempt to shove themselves into the light of glory for no goddamn reason. I just...I wish we could learn. I wish I could feel like we were safer. I wish we WERE safer. I wish I could be proud of Bush again, be optimistic about Bush again. And sometimes, because I wish all of those things, I wish it was still September 11th, 2001, when we were all helping as best we could, and everyone was ready to make things better.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Putting the "Random" in "Random House." Or the "Effing Stupid," Depending On How You Look At It.

Apparently I'm the only person who watches the commercials on TV promising to get you money for anything that's happened to you at any time that you exited your home and thinks "Eeeee, that Barry Feinstein really has the pig eyes working. I hope he doesn't try and eat my soul," instead of mentally reviewing every foray beyond the front door for potential lawsuit fodder. When did that happen? I always watch those commercials and laugh, and I have special love for the ones that scroll their specialties behind the Aggressively Arm-Folding Lawyer (and/or actor...yeah, you, Captain Kirk.) where they start out strong with personal injury, wrongful termination, and libel and then by the end of the 30 second commercial, they've lost steam and are listing things like dog bites and "the icy patch from the Muppet Christmas Special You Watched When You Were A Kid." Oh, lawyers.

Maybe I'm an elitist snot (...okay, fair point) but if I went through the living hell that law school so often is, and someone came to me telling me that they slipped on ice in a New England WalMart parking lot and wanted to sue WalMart for all they were worth, I would be inclined to tell them to go screw and stop wasting my time. It's the suing over accidents, over things like ICE, over things that are just so insignificant and so firmly in the "shit happens" category that really gets to me. No one has accidents anymore. Let me tell you a story about a winter at my house. We live in New England, and we have bluestone stairs (this is at my parents'), which means that the second you see snow, you get out there, you shovel, and you encrust the steps with salt, because the bluestone ices up really fast. My mom and I were going somewhere one day, and even though the steps were cleared, she managed to step on an ice patch and went down like a sack of lead. Scariest. Moment. Ever. We got her inside and a few days later were enjoying the amazing Circus Side Show Freak Quality bruise she'd earned. It sucked REALLY hard, but Mom didn't immediately file suit against the people who put the bluestone down. She sucked it up and dropped trou for everyone who wanted to experience the amazing sight of a full-butt-cheek-AND-most-of-a-thigh bruise. But some people WOULD sue, and that really...concerns me. Don't they have something better to do? I mean, ANYTHING? Start a stamp collection, for chrissakes.

When I heard that people were actually SUING James Frey and Random House for being a lying liar who lies and a publisher who aided and abetted a lying liar who lies, I laughed and listened to the story and then sort of packed it away into the "small talk" file, assuming that a judge would tell them to screw.

Oh, what a fool am I.

Apparently, if you rip the cover off of your paperback, and a certain page out of your hardcover copy of A Million Little Pieces and mail it to Random House, they will pay you a little over twenty bucks. Are you KIDDING with this? I guess I'm glad I don't have to read about this stupid lawsuit eating taxpayer dollars, but I wish Random House would tell the people to go screw.

Look, I read A Million Pieces and I didn't take it at face value. I figured it was a life embellished. But more than that, when I heard that he'd made large sections of it up, I didn't freak out. My life didn't crumble. But most importantly, the message of the book - "haul your ass up already and make your life better" - didn't diminish for me. The Harry Potter books don't teach kids any less about loyalty, friendship, etc., because they are fictional. I thought it was a cool story by a decent writer who was very evocative, and that he used a funky but effective presentation style. I don't understand what the hell is worth suing over, but I AM sure that if you are this emotionally wounded by some dude WHO YOU DON'T KNOW making up some stuff in a book, you really need to find some kind of alternative meaning for your life.

The fact that people would sue over this crap irritates the bejesus out of me. While I think its dumb and sucky for Random House to cave like that, I can see how they didn't really have the option. Since judges and juries don't seem to demand personal responsibility any more, much less have the sack to tell people that sometimes bad things happen and it isn't anyone's fault, I guess that settling like this is really just the least taxpayer-dollar-sucking of two crappy options.

Doesn't this just make you feel gross?

Thursday, September 7, 2006

Haute Couture

A couture gown costs around $60,000 to $100,000, and can easily be more, depending on the house and what it being made.

There are maybe 10 women, tops, in the world, who buy couture gowns.

I will never own a couture gown. Even if I somehow came into a spare $125,000 to cover the expense of the gown, time spent in Paris having it made, etc., I think I would feel like I was spending my money foolishly, what with the whole being able to buy, you know three or four new luxury cars outright. But hooboy, would I like to own just one couture gown. Le sigh.