I’ve been driving my brother’s car to work a lot recently (to maximize painting time/energy at home), and I seem to have a tradition now of saying “good morning” to two guys who are always sitting on the front steps of the southernmost house on the block across from mine. Wednesday the older of the two asked me what that “thing” was on top of the car. I showed him how the strange-looking arm stands straight up to secure a bicycle in place. Next time you think we all live in the same culture, consider that there are old guys on front steps in Baltimore who don’t know what a car-top bike rack is.

On Tuesday I had located a three-bedroom house in Missoula that (1) we could sort of afford and (2) allows pets. I contacted someone A. knows in town, who had volunteered to check places out for us, and he said he would take a look. Meanwhile, I tried to glean as much as I could from Google Maps. When you look a place up on Google Maps, the little arrow is never on an actual house, but out in the middle of the street, and not always definitely directly in front of a particular house, either. So it took a little detective work to figure out which house was potentially “mine.” First I called the Missoula Department of Public Works to ask which side of that street was odd and which even; the house, with its odd-numbered address, turned out to be on the south side of the street, but this still wasn’t enough information. I studied the photos of the house displayed on the rental web site. Most of these were interior shots but there was one useful one: a photo of the front of the house that showed a bulbous-shaped fir tree. I could also tell the house was a long rectangle, with the approximate proportions of a dollar bill. Back on Google Maps, only one house matched this shape and had a large, round tree in the front yard. I promptly set about convincing myself to love it. Sure, it was on a major thoroughfare, but it was set back from the road, with a screen of trees in the front yard. Sure, there was a small apartment complex next door, but that, too, was set off by a hedgerow or maybe even a fence. Meanwhile, the yard was large (I purposely didn’t think about the mowing), as was the house itself: 1,700 feet of living space, plus a basement.

Plus it allows pets, so I figured we just had to take it.

On Wednesday, our Missoula contact, Carey, checked in. He hadn’t set up an appointment to see the house yet but had driven by the place on Tuesday night and had run into the tenant. The tenant had seen him turning around in the driveway and rushed over, apparently eager to talk to anyone who might be considering taking the place. As it turned out, he hates the house and has no other reason to move. The apartments next door are full of college students, who are extremely loud. The apartments’ dumpsters are always a mess, and the house is downwind of them, not to mention the animals that frequently raid the dumpsters and end up leaving half-gnawed, maggot-riddled pieces of meat on the house’s back patio (so much for that fence/hedgerow). The house gets too hot (I get the impression that houses in Missoula often don’t have air conditioning because the weather is so mild, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a house whose design/location just isn’t ideal for the climate), and the gas station that is catty-cornered to the property – in addition to prominently displaying the kind of magazines that come in plastic bags – is the kind of place that does a lot of walk-up trade in single cans of beer and lottery tickets. The tenant also expressed some disdain for the management company, although Carey didn’t go into specifics.

“Well, forget that one,” I said. I told Carey never mind about setting up a viewing appointment.

Now what? The attraction of this particular management company is simply the volume of rentals they offer. Having once applied (and paid the application fee), a large company like this would let me have my pick of the largest possible number of rentals, something I figured I would need since so few rentals in Missoula seem to allow pets. [FN 1] Now, the only rental of the type we’re looking for that allows pets was out, and the company itself had been maligned by someone who should know. What to do?

I checked some other listings. The next-largest management company – at least judging by their web site – had just posted a bunch of new rentals. No luck on the three-bedroom houses, but many of the new two-bedroom ones allowed pets. A couple of the places didn’t look too bad. Excited, I called the company to see about applying.

“Well, that place is vacant, so you can go by and take a look,” the grandmotherly woman who answered said. I explained that I was house-hunting from Baltimore and that I’d be sending a friend to do that.

“That creates a problem,” the woman said. “We won’t rent to you until you take a look at the place in person.”

“Ummm…. so you’re saying you don’t want to do business with me,” I said.

“I’m sorry you feel that way, but we’ve had problems where people renting sight unseen find that the place wasn’t what they needed. We want you to go see if, like, the refrigerator and the lighting meet your needs.”

Maybe you should try renting to grownups, I thought.

“I don’t understand,” I said. “I would have signed a lease, so, if I didn’t like it, wouldn’t that be just too bad for me? I mean, my friend will have looked at the place, I understand I’m gambling by renting long distance before seeing it, but I also understand that’s just the way this has to work. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Show up, move into a hotel, hope that you’ll have a suitable listing before too many $65-dollar nights roll by, and move from there? I can’t do that. My movers need an address to drop my stuff off within six days of picking my stuff up.”

“I’m sorry, we just won’t do it,” she said.

“Well, I guess I won’t be renting from you.” I hung up without waiting for a reply.

In despair, I turned to the classified ads in the Missoulian, the local paper. These are much less user friendly than the rental-company ads, as they often don’t include an address and never show pictures. Also, with people paying by the word, the descriptions tend to be on the concise side. But as I scrolled through, I saw one or two possibilities. And, certainly, the ratio of pet-allowing landlords seemed larger. One place seemed promising (four bedrooms, although only one bath, fenced yard) and didn’t look like it was in too awful a spot, at least from the satellite’s-eye view of Google Maps. I called the owner, who said it was still available. I explained my situation, and he told me to have my friend stop by the house. Cats were fine, he said. He was just worried about dogs.

“It’s open,” he said. “The applications are on the kitchen counter.”

I called Carey, interrupting him at lunch.

“That’s okay, though,” Carey said. “We’re going to get you a house out here if it kills us.”

I thanked him and described the next prospect. He said that the general neighborhood was a good one – “it’s the new hot neighborhood,” he said, whatever that means, other than high prices – and promised to take a look later in the day. Then he would fax me the application.

Suddenly, things on the rental front were looking up again.

Now on to the home-improvement front. I called Elmer at noon to confirm that he and his brother were still coming at 4 p.m., to do the tub-surround job. (He had said he would call at 11 a.m. to confirm. He never calls when he says he’s going to, though, and Wednesday was no exception.) Yes, still on. I left work around 3:40 p.m. to be home in time to meet the crew. While I waited, I started with the painting in the sun room. I’m starting to think I’ve been wasting my time trying to do a “cover-up” level of work on this job – frankly, it looks like crap to me. But the part that I would need to do over is relatively small, so I guess I’ll get all of the painting in the house done and then have the manager over to see what she thinks. If I have to redo that one part, it shouldn’t take too terribly long.

Anyway, I painted and waited and painted. Finally, about 5:20 p.m., Elmer called to say that they wouldn’t be able to do the job that night after all. His brother was being kept late at his day job, as a plumber, in Silver Spring, but would stop by later that evening to take measurements, at least. We went back and forth negotiating a day to actually do the work and settled on Friday evening. I thought this would be a nice, relaxing way to wind down after a busy work week.

When Marvin, Elmer’s brother, arrived, he explained that the job isn’t as simple as Elmer might have thought. Apparently, our tub is a “custom order,” meaning it’s not a standard size. (It’s tiny, really, from the sound of it, which is I guess why it looks to me more like a large salad bowl than like something I can really fit into, sitting down.) So Home Depot is unlikely to have the right size of insert on hand and it would have to be ordered specially. This can take up to ten business days. That puts us in the beginning of move week. He told me he would check at Home Depot later that night and let me know. If the tub insert isn’t available, maybe we could do tile, he said, and – while warning me that it would be expensive – quoted me a rough estimate that was $200 less than what Elmer had quoted me for the insert.

And, of course, he never did call back. I’ll call him during the day today, but I am starting to panic a little about getting this done. I think it may be worth just going and asking Home Depot to do it; they have a stable of contractors and can no doubt do something like this in a pretty timely manner.

But who are these people? Why don’t people just do what they say they are going to do? If they can’t do it, why don’t they just say so? What is so hard about that?

To deal with my feelings of frustration and anger, I sanded and painted the dining-room and kitchen windows. The thinner and paint fumes wafted soothingly through the room, and soon I was able to see something other than the color red….

At the end of the evening, just before turning in, I switched on the television. I was just in time to see the Armorall commercial in which all of the runty suburban men are basically salivating at the sight of cars that are glistening from Armorall treatments, including one man, standing in his garage, who is so unable to take his eyes off of his sports car in the driveway that, as the garage door goes down, he assumes a pushup position on the ground to keep the car in sight a little longer. Or was it the missionary position?

Meanwhile, on So You Think You Can Dance, a panting dance team was being congratulated by the host, who explained to the viewers what number to call in if we wanted to vote for this particular couple. “Phone lines will be open for at least two hours after the show,” she said, which sounded kind of fishy to me. Shouldn’t it really be a more definite, set amount of time? I mean, for appearances and all? How will the voting have any legitimacy with this loosey-goosey approach? That’s no way to run an election.



FN 1: I rethought the whole prospect of lying about Zuzu after doing some research with the woman who will be managing our rental property. “What happens if a tenant lies about having a pet?” I asked her, casually. “The way our leases are written, if a tenant brings in a pet without written permission then the lease could be voided due to a breach in terms. Sixty day notice can be given and damages sued for in court.” “Okay, good to know,” I told her. “That’s the way to do it: don’t take any guff from these scum.” Inwardly, I immediately decided that I didn’t want to be in the position of having lied about having a pet to get a rental. I take a sort of “fail-safe” approach, when it comes to all the bad things I can imagine happening. There are people who like to think positively, i.e., think that things will always turn out okay (another word for these people is “fools”), but I prefer to have my bases covered for when they do not, in fact, turn out okay. Leaving myself open to having my lease voided is not what I like to think of as “having my bases covered.”


Okay, I guess I can’t give this up after all. It’s easier when I remember it’s not really writing, just a compulsion. It’s good to be back at the dining room table at dawn, clad in khaki shorts and sipping coffee, rhythmically pushing buttons on this device, and seeing something like the inside of my head taking shape on the screen in front of me. Speaking of that coffee, as I’ve mentioned I’ve been off of some of my routines these days. This morning marked the first full morning-exercise/etc. routine in a few days. Usually when I get back from the gym, I feed Zuzu and start the coffee. One of these is easier to forget than the other, mainly because the coffee maker doesn’t hurl itself at my ankles making piteous whining noises (Note to self: possible idea for invention), and, indeed, this morning I forgot to start the coffee before heading up to my shower. This meant that I had to do so after coming downstairs from my shower. While it started brewing, I drank another glass of water, then selected a coffee cup (emblazoned with “Barcomi’s Kaffeeroesterei & Deli: A Cup of Culture, Berlin”) and grabbed the pot to pour a cup while the rest finished brewing. I was startled to see a stream of coffee continue to pour down onto the machine’s burner – startled, because, last time I checked, this was one of those machines that cuts off its flow when the pot is removed. I checked again and even fiddled briefly with the little lever that the pot displaces when it is on the burner, and that presumably is what is supposed to shut off the flow. But even manually pulling it forward did nothing.

This is yet more evidence in my continuously building case for the argument that Coffee Makers are Crap, Especially The “Nice” Ones. I’ve watched my parents go through machine after machine over the years, and always, within a few months after purchase of some sleek number with various nice features, guests have to be told things like “use the little screwdriver by the sink to turn it on, the button’s broken.” My current machine is the first one I’ve had that falls into the “nice” category, and, while there are things I like about it, it just seems bizarre that the “pour while brewing” feature would break so soon. I compare all of this to the coffee machine I bought in the summer of 1999, when I first moved to Baltimore, for about $45. It was made by Mr. Coffee, and the guy seems to know what he’s doing. That machine was also a “pour while brewing” machine, plus it turned itself off after two hours. (The current machine also turns itself off, but after – I think – 17 minutes, which is, admittedly, about as long as you want to apply heat to coffee.) The point is, it was a cheaper machine than the current one – and it worked just fine without the slightest bit of maintenance or even descaling for seven years.

Wait. Is that really a point? Am I really writing about coffee machines?

Some catch-up: The plumbers cancelled for last Saturday but swear up and down that they will come this Saturday. Tonight, the infamous Elmer is scheduled to come replace the tub surround. He claims he can do it in one evening, but I’m not counting on having a useable shower tomorrow morning. I can always rinse off with the hose in the backyard. I’ve started working on repainting the inside of the sunroom, although when I say “repainting” what I really mean is “doing the absolute minimum so that there is no peeling paint visible when the lead inspector comes.” It’s honestly a disheartening task because of how half-assedly I’m proceeding (voids created by once-rotted wood crumbling away? fill with caulk and ignore!), but I think it will accomplish what I need it to accomplish. Once I get the sunroom done, I need to hunt out and cover all spots in the house where any paint is chipped (this should be pretty simple, if time-consuming) and then add a layer of paint to the wood trim-work around the windows (fortunately the windows themselves are replacement, as wooden window frames are a massive liability when it comes to passing a lead inspection) just to be on the safe side. Supposedly the lead inspector just looks for chipped paint (if he sees it, you fail outright) and then swabs the windowsills for lead dust. So if you cover up any chips and clean the sill, you should be all right. There was some talk of leaving this particular task until A.’s parents come up to help on the weekend of the 28th, but it occurred to me that I’m really going to want to have the lead inspection done sometime in the week before that, at the latest, to allow for the possibility of failing and retaking it. They shouldn’t worry, though: I’ll no doubt have plenty else to accomplish when they are here. And over the weekend, I sold the bedroom set and the extra living room furniture, and determined that a neighbor is interested in A.’s old childhood desk for his daughter. (He can just have it.) So there is a little more breathing room in house, plus it now occurs to me how much nicer the dining room would have looked without a freaking couch in it all this time. Why was there always crap all over the dining room couch? Because there was a dining room couch.

Work is work is work. I’ve lined up some more freelance work, which is always good for the stress levels. (Lining it up, I mean.)

Oh and we might have found a house that allows pets but I don’t want to jinx it.

Did I just jinx it?

Looks like…

…this site is suffering from a bit of a post drought. That’s the way it’ll be for a little while, I’m afraid.


When I got back from Arizona, almost two weeks ago, I took stock of what work I can possibly accomplish before my final day on the job, July 31st. I wrote up a list and sent it off to my boss, who said it looked about right.

This means that, for the first time in my tenure with this company, I have a to-do list that actually diminishes as each day passes, with nothing new tacked on to the end. (Well, there are some incidental things that have and will come up, but no new projects.) By the end of the day Friday, I was done with half of this list. I have precisely two more large tasks to accomplish before I leave, in both cases reading through and marking up reports. Along the way, I’ll have to contribute various small items to the massive reference binder my company must prepare each summer, ahead of a fiscal planning conference we put on for a certain mayoral blue-ribbon panel.

So the end is in sight.

After work I walked to Dizzy’s, the first time I’ve been there in over a month. (All other things being equal, I’d be there every Friday, or such has been the tradition, lo this year and a half.) Of the regulars, Greg and I were the only attendees, though Erin joined us briefly on a break from nannying. (What? Is a bar not a normal place for a nanny to kill some time before tucking in the kids?)

And at home I watched a little television and read a David Sedaris article in the latest New Yorker.

Last couple of days

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This diary isn’t the only routine I’m off of. No packing and no exercise the last couple of days, just work, thinking about work, thinking about packing, trying not to think about exercising, trying not to think about this diary. The craziness and pressures of what’s going on were starting to weigh on me, and I guess I just needed a break. Plus there’s this freelance project I’ve got to try to squeeze in sometime before noon on Sunday, when I’ll need to present my findings to the client, in person. All of my obligations start to feel overwhelming at points like this, but I just keep telling myself that the picture will look very different after this weekend, when I’ll be free of non-move-related obligations and can refocus for the final stretch.

The house will look very different after this weekend, too, as that’s when the plumbers are coming to work on this bathroom hot-water situation and will likely damage at least the dining room ceiling and possibly the dining room wall in the process. I’ve finally nailed down the bathroom contractor who will be replacing the tub surround: he says he’ll do the work next Wednesday. It will be a relief to have that work done, as that will be the last performed by outsiders. Then I can just work on the few small jobs on my list and do the touch-up painting necessary to pass the lead inspection.

Speaking of working too much, and I believe we were, I spent part of Independence Day at work, trying to catch up on the second of those two projects I’ve mentioned that involve so much work in Filemaker databases. In the late afternoon, I walked to a friend’s house in Remington, where a holiday BBQ was scheduled. This is a somewhat distant acquaintance I’ve known since Living Classroom days, when he was the facilities manager on the organization’s waterfront campus. (He says he was the “groundskeeper Willie” of the campus.) He’s since left and now works as a contractor; his soon-to-be wife is in public health at Johns Hopkins. It always takes me a second to realize that I, too, am essentially in public health myself, but once I did, we all had plenty to talk about. Plus another two guests at the party were biologists and one of them had done field work similar to what A. is doing, so the conversation just rolled right along.

With work the next day, I wanted to get to bed early and left the party around eight thirty. It didn’t start raining until I was almost home; before that, there was a cool, damp breeze as I walked through the empty streets, the sound of amateur fireworks rolling in from near and far across the city, Baltimore, a city that bears up well under gray skies and gets a positive twinkle in her eye when the sea winds come in off of the bay. I sat up for a little while watching television once I was home. In between downbursts, the neighborhood guys were setting off some pretty major-sounding fireworks of their own, including bottle rockets (or whatever you call the kind of fireworks that actually shoots up into the air). I was glad for the rain, because who knows where some of these burning fragments were landing. I’ve heard of some Baltimore homeowners needing to stay up on their roofs all night with a garden hose, although thankfully the neighborhood efforts didn’t seem that high powered.

At work on Thursday I plugged along with my Filemaker adventures. We also recently switched to OS X at work (yes, you read that right: we switched this week to the operating system that Apple first introduced in 2001 – up until which point all I can say is It’s Been An Adventure), and I’m literally the only person in the building with any experience using it, so I’ve been the stand-in tech support guy as everyone tries to figure out how to check their mail and what that bouncing thing is down at the bottom of the screen. Official company policy is to hate OS X (insert grumpy Scottish voice muttering about how OS 9 “was God’s own operating system” and ranting against the “frou-frou gewgaws” of the OS X display), but everyone seems to be enjoying using computers that actually work, features of the operating system aside. We could all agree that we don’t care for the “genie effect” when you minimize programs (which effect you can just turn off, by the way), for the sake of argument, but the real point is that these computers actually show you web pages the way they are supposed to look and, when you try to download a PDF, it simply happens, immediately. Before, you had to stare at your blank screen for five minutes wondering if it was working or frozen up. So initial reviews are good.

As I worked, more fireworks were going off in the ruined blocks south of Calvert.

In the evening, an evening in which I consciously Accomplished Nothing, I turned on the TV for a little while but couldn’t settle on anything. The choices were Big Brother 8, where contestants were sitting on some sort of spinning mushroom-shaped structures, apparently trying not to vomit, although they were coated in some unpleasant-looking substance, so maybe they already had; Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?, where the children seem to be at pains not to make the adults feel bad about themselves, and sort of cavort and dance with a well-trained expression of delight on their faces whether they get a question right or not (they certainly don’t seem allowed to think of themselves as Smarter Than a Grownup, although clearly some of them are); and… Actually, I forget what else was on.

I went to bed and drifted off to the sound of explosions.

What the —

I’m probably the last person on earth to clue into this, but I was reading coverage of the commutation (just keep polishing that legacy, George) and was struck by a bizarre fact from the It’s A Small World Department.

In the furor over Bush’s decision, one of the things various parties are at pains to accomplish is to prove that Bush’s commutation is more/less evil than Clinton’s last-minute pardons, most notably the pardon of “fugitive financier” Marc Rich.

The article referred back to hearings held in the first minutes of the Bush administration, looking into Rich’s and others’ pardons.

At those hearings, way back in 2001, a man who had worked as Rich’s lawyer defended the pardon, saying prosecutors had “misconstrued the facts and the law.”

That lawyer’s name?

Scooter Libby.