What To Do If Your Neighborhood Is Starting To Resemble A Nearly-Abandoned Exurb Ripe For The Picking By Scrap-Hungry Tweakers

So one Sunday a few weeks back I walked outside to get the paper and noticed that one of the new hyacinths we had just planted was trampled. Of course I immediately jumped to conclusions and figured a neighborhood kid stomped on it while retrieving a ball or otherwise doing whatever it is neighborhood kids "do."

And then I noticed the paint chips.

Well, now that's odd, I thought. Where could the paint chips be coming from? So I turned around toward the house itself and saw it: Somebody stole our downspout.

Hey, wait a sec, you might say, What's a downspout? You know what they are — those pipe thingys that take rainwater from the gutter down to wherever rainwater disappears to (I think the sewer in our case, though I'm not totally sure).

And then once you figure out what a downspout is, the obvious followup is something along the lines of, What would anyone want to steal a downspout for? Good question. Though it seems hardly lucrative, apparently people steal them for scrap.

I guess the other thing is that downspouts are relatively easy to steal — after all, it's not like stealing an oil furnace or a chimney — you just rip the thing off the side of the house.

So I did what any good citizen would do: I called the cops. I reasoned that if this was part of a rash of stolen downspouts, the community needs to know about it. And if our neighborhood resembled a tweaker's savings account, then the community would need to come to terms with it: Hide your scrap metal!

So here's how it went down:

  • 9:26: Called precinct, couldn't figure out who to call so I push "0"
  • 9:28: Message cycles back to original recorded message; I try "1" instead
  • 9:29: Message cycles back to original recorded message; I hang up
  • 9:31: Call 311
  • 9:32: 311 transfers me to a 911 operator, which is exactly what I don't want to do since this is clearly not an emergency
  • 9:35: 911 sends a message saying something along the lines of an officer is assigned to the case and since they're extremely busy, there may be a delay responding to my call
  • 9:51: Cops arrive
  • 10:10: We finish marveling at the strange event with the neighbors and return inside

Which is to say, I guess with all the bad press about the NYPD sweeping crime under the rug or whatnot, I sort of expected some kind of "911 Is A Joke" response, but that totally didn't happen.

What did happen is that a squad car showed up within 15 minutes and two pleasant officers took the complaint. After I looked at the Incident Information Slip and realized there was no complaint number — actually, I seemed to remember the officer circling the blank spot and telling me I needed to call to get it later. I wondered if they would just fill out this slip and let the crime go unreported, so I called today. And . . . there's actually a complaint number. Not sure what this means, but I suppose it means that the crime has become part of the statistics for the neighborhood.

Police Incident Information Slip

Another goal of mine was to make it into the police blotter of one of the local weeklies. As far as I know, this did not happen.

When the cops showed up, several of the neighbors came out to see what was going on. Everyone was surprised that a downspout was allegedly stolen, including the cops, who sort of seemed like they wanted to make sure this was an actual theft before making a report.

Part of me wanted the entire street to have their downspouts stolen. There's something about the idea of a shared experience that somehow lessens the sting. It's stupid of course.

About a week later I was walking to the bagel store on a weekend morning and saw a downspout ignominiously discarded on the side of the road about a block from the house. It had been folded in at least three directions. This made me wonder whether we were victims of weekend vandals, which is obviously not nearly as exciting as scrap metal thieves.

A few weeks after that we saw this flier on the door, which solved an immediate problem — how to replace the missing downspout — but which also seemed a little too . . . perfect — timingwise, at least:

Roofing Company Flier

Now I'm not for a second intimating that this company made our downspout disappear. Not at all. What I will say is that there's not a chance in hell that I'd ever contact this company. Not because I think they did it — not at all! — but because if they did it, there was no way I'd want to use them. I remember reading about this a while back with some car windows on Staten Island, so it was just this company's dumb luck that they handed out a flier to us so soon after the incident.

Then, as Goober pointed out, there was the issue of the wording of the note.

One thing I think companies should never do is focus on the negative. The first thing they say is they're a "complaint free business, without paying anyone off." Dude, that's your open? You have to do a little better than that. Same paragraph: "We are not trying to say we are perfect, but we sure try to be." I appreciate the candor, but as a prospective customer, I'd like to think that you're imperfect with others and not me. Just a little psychology or whatnot.

Paragraph three: They've never gone bankrupt. To paraphrase Chris Rock, You're not supposed to go bankrupt!

Paragraph four: "What we are is real," like this is the Penthouse Letters of gutter repair.

I don't know, they seem like they're trying a little too hard. We're still trying to figure out who to call to fix the thing. I'll let you know if we come across anyone good.

Posted: April 19th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: , , , ,

We Built This City On A Robust Thesaurus

You know how developers like to oversell projects? Sometimes they might have a video piece with a bunch of irony-free copy and pat, stock images. Yes?

Looking back on these can be fun — they're time capsules from a different era. Here's a portion of a promotional film featuring Shea Stadium, for example:

More recent examples show the limits of what stadia and arenas can really do for a municipality. Toledo's Huntington Center merits about 31 seconds worth of excitement, for example:

As time goes on, these promotional videos look fairly ridiculous. And then there's this promotional spot for the Barclays Center, which already looks ridiculous (via):

It sounds like it was written with the thesaurus on the high-treble setting. Some of the highlights:

0:06 "Brooklyn, the word itself resonates — it is a lifestyle it is an attitude." Except that "Brooklyn," the word itself I mean, is a little clunky — especially when it's only two syllables, the last of which you sort of swallow at the end. "Toledo," on the other hand, really does resonate: It's like when Humbert Humbert sang the mellifluousness of "Lo-lee-ta" . . . "To-lee-do: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. To. Lee. Do." Brooklyn? Not so much . . . and like so much of the rest of this video, it sort of ruins it once you call something "a lifestyle" and "an attitude."

0:36 "The transformation of its residential and business areas has prepared this great borough for an even greater future: It has prepared Brooklyn for the Barclays Center." I suppose you could call what happened "a transformation" though I imagine some might object to the euphemism.

0:57 ". . . all to achieve a cultural and environmental synergy." Again with the thesaurus . . .

1:18 ". . . the next great Brooklyn landmark providing all those who visit the opportunity for a truly landmark experience." A "landmark" experience? Now this is just starting to sound like the summer intern's first draft . . .

1:46 "The Barclays Center will be more than just a venue, it will be a destination." See 0:57 and 1:18 above.

2:02 "Brooklynites will be able to stand proud behind its new landmark venue." I know this is just intern gibberish, but the symbol of Brooklynites standing proud behind something is interesting, no? Why not "next"? Or is this a veiled dig at the people who live behind the arena?

2:19 The montage that begins "getting to the Barclays Center couldn't be easier" sort of looks like an Al Qaeda planning session. Creepy.

3:13 "A perfect mix of the now, the then and the next that you will only be able to capture at the Barclays Center." I like the rhetorical balance of "now" "then" and "next" — now if I could only figure out what it could possibly mean, and more importantly, understand why I will only be able to capture it at the Barclays Center . . .

Posted: March 6th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: FW: Link | Tags: , , , , , , ,

Yes, You Need A Lawyer; You Also Need A Very Organized Spouse; And A Finely Tuned Sense Of The Absurd

After agreeing on the price of the house we set out to secure the mortgage. We also knew that there were legal things that we had to look over, so we decided to run it by some people.

When I say "we decided to run it by some people," I mean that I thought it would be OK just to send the real estate binder to a friend who graduated from law school and who once worked as a practicing attorney. Jen of course knew better, and our attorney friend said something along the lines of, "Are you smoking crack?" when we inquired whether this was advisable.

In short, we needed a real estate attorney to shepherd us through the process. And "shepherd" is a good word to use, since we really were like sheep during the process. Truth be told, in the end the real estate attorney's retainer probably worked out to less than minimum wage given the work he put into the transaction.

We had plans to go to Egypt and Jordan at the end of December for two weeks, so we were a little nervous about missing anything. George, the realtor, reassured us that the whole process took time — maybe two or even three months, he said. Without getting into it, he explained that these things take time.

We gave our lawyer power of attorney to execute the contract if it happened while we were away. When I dropped off the document at his office, I joked that this didn't mean that he'd be able to pull the plug in case we were incapacitated; entirely seriously, he said he would never do that. I've noticed a similar lack of humor with doctors; maybe they just don't know who they're dealing with and they're hesitant to be funny; maybe they just don't have a sense of humor.

The contract of sale was executed at the end of January. Our closing was scheduled for the end of February. The mortgage was the other part that had to be finalized. "Finalized" is perhaps a misleading term, since in December the mortgage was very far away from being anywhere near final. The pre-approval didn't take much time at all, but I don't really understand what pre-approvals are for, especially given all the wheel reinvention that followed.

When you get a mortgage, there is an originator who is basically the agent of the bank that gives you the mortgage and then an underwriting department that does all the background work making sure you can pay the mortgage. We sat down with the originator and he took down all our information. We got our loan commitment at the first week of February. Then it went on to the underwriting department.

Now there's a wall set up between the loan originator and the underwriting department where they're not allowed to talk to each other. The only link is an administrative person, a document specialist, who requests documentation on behalf of the underwriters. Which is to say that your experience during the underwriting process is only as good as the document specialist you're working with.

Later in the process — probably around late March — I posited that writing skills were on the decline in the country, and that those who lacked such skills were not necessarily "dumb," per se, but rather symptomatic of a failing educational system. Because, really, when do any of us have to "write" nowadays? Except for a handful of specialists for whom writing is part of their responsibilities, so much of what we do doesn't have anything to do with writing, much less reading, and . . . Michael and Jen both vehemently disagreed. They're probably correct. Or definitely correct.

I say this because there's a special hell in having one of the biggest rites of passage in your life — the purchase of your first home, for example — be dependent on the communication skills of one document specialist.

We'd get these cryptic emails asking for this or that and we'd have to ask each other "What's this or that?" And then we'd Google it and try to figure it out. There was the Real Estate Certification we suddenly needed out of the blue, which turned out to be the same thing as the FHA Amendatory Clause — both or at least one of which we already signed, but underwriting needed it, except that they couldn't just tell us this because there was this middle person who couldn't quite communicate what that thing was. It went on like this during the underwriting process, which lasted almost two months.

Now keep in mind that this was just the mortgage process. We were also right in the middle of the back and forth with the sellers — this after the contract of sale had been finalized. At some points it seemed amazing that any homes ever got sold at all.

Posted: December 14th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: The Cult Of Domesticity | Tags: ,