Thursday, November 21, 2013
by Susan Cameron
Unpredictable, that's what life is. We do the best we can with our plans and projections, but there we are -- driving along on our usual route on an ordinary day, when an incoming meteor blasts through the clouds, a hurtling fireball screaming through a previously untroubled sky, and it explodes and sends shock waves that shatter our windows and send us reeling. We like to imagine we're in control, but -- meteors happen.
How about the friends who blow hot and cold, or the spouse who does the same? A career that rolls along, predictable as the tides, until a tsunami of layoffs comes crashing onto the beach? The shadow on the X-ray? The money invested with Bernie Madoff? The Enron pension?
I read the news, check the bank balances, get the latest news on my stock holdings, go three times a year to www.annualcreditreport.com, fix all the problems that I can see or anticipate; but despite all my proactivity, there isn't one damn thing I can do about life's meteors.
Posted by Susie C. at 10:27 PM
Monday, November 11, 2013
by Liz Zuercher
I broke my biggest fattest rule when the Webers first walked into the Bella Vista sales office: Never get personally involved with a customer.
I want my buyers to feel like I’m their friend. But, even though I really care about them, I keep a professional distance, because after they move into their new house, our paths will rarely cross again. If we do run into each other, we will have a sincerely cordial conversation where they will fill me in on their lives – how old the kids are, if they have a new job or a new dog or a new baby. They will ask me where I’m working now and if I’ve gotten married yet, since most of them wanted to fix me up with their good friend Bill or Jack or Dave or Paul. I’ll say no I’m not married yet and I’m working at the new neighborhood up the road a ways. Then we’ll say it’s been great seeing you – and we’ll really mean it – and we’ll go our separate ways. That’s the way I like it. Close, but not too close. Professional. No one gets hurt that way.
But when the Webers came in the front door, the rule went out the window. Yes, they were physically beautiful – young, blond, tanned like Barbie and Ken – but the beauty ran deep in both of them. Somehow you could tell right away that they were good people. They radiated love, happiness and sincerity. I know, they sound too sugary sweet, like one-dimensional Disney characters, but I couldn’t see anything not to like about them.
As beautiful as John and Kristen were, their daughter, Missy, was the one who stole my heart. John held Missy, her head resting on his shoulder, her fine blond hair damp against her forehead. She rubbed sleep out of her eyes and kept quiet while I talked to her parents. I felt Missy’s eyes on me. Then she reached over and touched the single carved sterling silver bead of my necklace and said, “Ball.”
That gentle touch of her warm fingers sent a shock of regret through my whole body. It took me back over twenty-five years to the baby boy I’d given up for adoption. It had seemed like the right thing to do. I had no husband, no boyfriend, and no way to raise a baby. I thought I had plenty of time for babies later, when the situation was better. But that time still hadn’t come, and my doctor had just said my childbearing years were almost gone. My insides ached. I held back the tears that threatened to betray my feelings to these perfect strangers, and I put one of my best salesgirl smiles in place.
“Yes. It’s a silver ball,” I said to Missy, not taking her hand away from the necklace.
“Pwetty,” she said, moving her tiny hand to my cheek, stroking it softly.
“I’m sorry,” John said, taking Missy’s hand in his own and kissing it.
“No problem” I said, even though I knew right then I had a big problem. I was already well on my way to breaking that big fat rule of mine. I was head over heels in love with Missy Weber and her parents, and I would never be able to keep a professional distance from them.
Most of the time when I meet a couple like the Webers who seem to have the world on a string, something turns out to be wrong with them. They’re beautiful on the outside, but ugly on the inside. They make unreasonable demands or they are flakes who can’t do anything in a timely manner or they lie about their income. The ones you fall for as customers can also break your heart when they can’t qualify for a loan or when they decide to buy somewhere else after you’ve invested weeks of your life with them or they can’t make a decision to save their souls. There are so many ways the patina of a perfect buyer can be tarnished, that I tend to be wary of the ones who seem too good to be true. I’ve found I need to protect myself that way.
But John and Kristin Weber turned out to be kind and decisive and cooperative and honest and just plain fun. Even though my years of experience still fanned a little inner flame of wariness, I gave in to them and believed they were the real thing, a family I wished were my own.
They got on the priority list right after the grand opening, but unlike the hordes of greedy investors, they didn’t want just any home as long as it was in Phase 1. They got on the list early so they could work their way to the top by the time Phase 3 was released and have a good shot at buying Lot 52, the Plan 4 on a big pie shaped lot - the one on a cul de sac with the ocean and hillside views. They wanted the big yard for Missy and their golden retriever, Riley. They wanted the biggest house for all the children they were going to have. And they wanted the ocean and hillside views for themselves to enjoy when the children were grown and gone and they had time to sit on the deck together and watch the sunset. They were the exception in those days. They weren’t looking for a quick profit in two years. They were looking for a home, a place to raise their family, to create memories, to grow old together. Such a breath of fresh air.
They sold their townhome early and moved into an apartment, so they’d have their down payment money ready. That was another way they were different from most of the customers then. Instead of financing their home to the hilt, they were putting 20% down. So responsible, so solid. The only blemish I could find with the Webers was Kristen’s low credit score, but it wasn’t because she had been reckless with her money. She’d had some serious medical issues before she and John married, and even with insurance, the bills were more than she could handle. But John’s credit was excellent and his job even better, so he was able to qualify for the mortgage by himself. Everything was on track.
Every weekend while their house was being built, John, Kristen and Missy came to see me in the sales office. We’d jump in the golf cart and drive down to their lot and stand at the edge of the wide back yard and stare out at the ocean. I was always holding Missy, because she always reached for me when the cart stopped in front of their new home. I began to feel like I was part of the Weber family, like I would be spending time with them for years to come, long after I’d closed all the escrows in Bella Vista and moved on to another community. When Kristen got pregnant, they came to tell me, Missy sporting a “Big Sister” tee shirt, so excited about the baby on the way. When Kristen miscarried, she called me to cry with me, to warn me not to say anything about the baby to Missy.
I had to call John right after the miscarriage to confirm his loan arrangements. When he said he had changed lenders and he was financing 100% instead of 80%, something inside me flip-flopped.
“I thought you were putting 20% down,” I said.
“We were,” he said. “But I changed my mind.”
Something about the way he said that – “I changed my mind” – raised a red flag. Had steadfast, reasonable John been bitten by the investment bug? Did Kristen know?
“Are you sure?” I said. It wasn’t my place to advise him about this, but I wanted to scream a warning at the top of my lungs.
“Yep,” he said, an excitement in his voice that scared me. “Let’s do this!”
I’ll always remember how I felt when I hung up the phone – like someone had just told me my child was sick and no one knew the cure. Helpless. But hanging on to a slim hope that somehow it would all work out anyway. When I look back at everything that happened, I go to this one moment. I should have said something to change his mind. I should have protected my family.
Monday, October 14, 2013
by Liz Zuercher
Since it's been a few months since my last Love Street post, I'll take this opportunity to catch up and introduce three more residents of Love Street - Emily Wilson, Marla Winterberg and Mitchell Roberts.
Since it's been a few months since my last Love Street post, I'll take this opportunity to catch up and introduce three more residents of Love Street - Emily Wilson, Marla Winterberg and Mitchell Roberts.
Emily Wilson pulled out of her garage slowly, looking all around for children who might be playing in the cul de sac. She’d chosen her lot because the yard was small and the floor plan was the one she liked. Being on a cul de sac hadn’t been a consideration, though she had thought it might make for a quieter location without much traffic. She’d been wrong about that. The kids at this end of the street all played in the cul de sac as if it were a grassy park, and the parents limited their supervision to putting up an orange Children-at-Play sign in the shape of a stick figure in mid-stride.
Across the street Jessie and Chad Grissom had spread out an assortment of large gaudy primary-colored plastic toys that were never put away at night. The kids had built forts in the dirt and threw rocks around regularly, so that it looked like a giant sandbox from the front door to the street. They hadn’t mowed the grass parkway strip since they moved in and weeds had overtaken the little patch of grass in front of their house.
If that weren’t bad enough, Emily had the neighbor from hell next door. Eddie Petrocelli had plunked that outrageous alligator in front of his house the day he moved in, and while it had been mildly amusing when Emily thought it was there for a day while Eddie unpacked, the longer it remained, the angrier she became. She had asked Eddie politely to move it to the back yard, but he had laughed in her face.
“Don’t you think he’s kinda cute?” Eddie had said.
“No,” she’d said.
“Tough,” Eddie replied, turning his back on her.
To add insult to injury, Eddie had turned his entire garage into a gym, with weights and a treadmill and stepper and elliptical machine. He’d put mirrors along one wall of the garage and that rubber sport court stuff on the floor. Then he’d put in a sound system and a flat screen TV so he could entertain himself while he exercised. If he could have kept to himself while he used his gym that would have been okay, but he turned the volume up on the surround sound and the hard rock beat rumbled through her house at all hours. When she’d tried to ask him to turn down the sound, he’d said “Sure, Em,” and cranked up the volume. What a jerk.
She couldn’t imagine that other neighbors weren’t annoyed with him, too, so she’d asked Dan across the street about it one day when they were putting out their trashcans at the same time. Dan had said a group of the neighbors decided he would approach Eddie about the alligator and see what could be done. They’d tackle the matter of the music once they saw how it went with the alligator. So far Emily hadn’t seen any results and wondered if Dan had gathered his courage yet.
All this was on Emily’s mind as she backed out of her driveway, glanced over toward Eddie’s house and saw the new plastic critters that had joined the alligator overnight. And the tacky little fence. And the picnic table. Good grief. What next?
She was beginning to regret her move to Bella Vista. In some respects it had been good for her. She was tucked away in a place her ex-husband would never look for her, a place he’d never expect she’d want to be. In truth, she didn’t want to be here, but it was so far from the kind of surroundings she was used to that it made it the perfect hiding place. And she needed to be hidden. She’d changed her name, changed her job and moved to escape him. As long as she kept a low profile and had an extensive security system in her home, she hoped she’d be safe. She hadn’t made friends in the neighborhood on purpose, not wanting anyone to know too much about her. She’d just as soon they wonder who in the world lived in that house. But Eddie Petrocelli was making it difficult for Emily to keep to herself. He was threatening her sanctuary and she was afraid she was going to have to come out of her shell and join forces with the neighbors.
Across the street from Emily’s house, Marla Winterberg sat on her sheltered front balcony in her favorite redwood Adirondack chair with the green and white striped cushions and watched the comings and goings on the street. She liked this place because she could see everything and everyone on the whole street, but no one could see her in the shadows of the Tuscan style stucco arches.
Her attention had been drawn to Eddie’s house across the street when Emily’s car had stopped midway out of the driveway. Marla watched as Emily got out of the car and with hands on her hips stood looking at her neighbor’s yard. That’s what made Marla notice the new assortment of critters that had come to accompany the alligator in Eddie’s yard. And there was a new little fence and a wooden picnic table. Cute, she thought. Who would have thought such a macho guy would like all those little animals.
Eddie must have put those out there in the dead of night, because Marla knew they hadn’t been there at ten o’clock last night when she and Edgar took their two little Shih-Tzus, Punkin and Pie, out for a walk before bedtime. Punkin especially liked the alligator as a place to relieve herself, which she had done last night right there on the alligator’s foot, so Marla would have noticed if all that other stuff had been there then. Punkin would have a field day with all this new stuff.
Marla wasn’t sure what all the fuss was about with the alligator. It was just a silly little joke, she was sure, but people were getting tired of seeing it and had started to talk in groups at the mailbox in the evening or on Wednesdays when they put out the trash. She wondered if anyone had whispered about the ceramic frog she had at the front door. It was so cute. When someone came close to it, it would say, “Ribid, ribid”. It made Marla smile. Willis thought it was stupid, but she liked it and didn’t care what Willis said.
Eddie reminded Marla of her son, George, who lived all the way across the country in New York City. Eddie was bigger than George and had a darker complexion, but she figured they were about the same age and they both had a certain bravado about them, a swagger that she found appealing. Willis, of course, had never had swagger, and Marla wasn’t sure where their son came by his. Maybe from Marla’s father. Now there was a man’s man. He certainly had swagger.
Anyway, after Emily got back in her car and drove off, Eddie came out of the house and walked to the curb. He turned and looked back at his house, nodding his head. He looked from side to side, then up to the little Juliet balcony above the garage and went back in the house. Pretty soon Marla saw the Juliet balcony door open and Eddie set out a stepladder and mounted a video camera on the light fixture beside the door, pointing it down to his yard. When he had it where he wanted it, he took the ladder inside and came back with a full-sized painted carousel horse, which he positioned on the tiny balcony with its front legs resting on the railing as if it were ready to jump onto the driveway. Eddie went back inside and closed the door behind him.
Marla sat and watched a little more, wondering what Eddie had up his sleeve next. After a while he came out the front door again, stood by the alligator and waved his arms up at the camera. He went back inside, then appeared on the Juliet balcony once more, adjusting the camera. After several trial runs with the camera placement, Eddie must have gotten it where he wanted it, because he didn’t appear again until the garage door opened, the music started up and Marla could watch Eddie working out in his gym. She liked when Eddie worked out. She liked watching him move to the music, flexing his muscles as he hefted the weights. She liked the heavy bass of the music. She felt the beat of it in her chest.
At the other end of the street, Mitchell Roberts stood out on the deck off his master bedroom, coffee cup in hand, looking out at the dry hills. He liked to start and end his workday on this deck. This was why he’d bought this house in the first place, other than the investment value. As a single man in his forties with no plans to marry, he didn’t need this much house. What he did need was a place that was quiet and secluded, but part of a larger community at the same time. He’d thrown a lot of money at it, but he had a lot of money that needed spending. It was best to spend it on things that were easily visible. To his surprise, he was beginning to take pride in the house.
He felt a waft of dry air against his cheek and it made him shiver a little bit. He was afraid of one thing in this location. He was afraid of fire. When he bought the house, the hills were a riot of green and yellow and he never imagined it being anything but full of life. He’d watched the deer play on the meadow across the way and he’d seen the coyotes lope by at dawn and dusk in their search for food. Then he moved in and the summer heat came. The vegetation died and the hills turned from green and yellow to brown. Now the landscape was gray and tinder dry, and he worried that the smallest spark would set off an inferno that would engulf his neighborhood and destroy his beautiful quiet home. He’d taken extra precautions, from special sprinklers to fortifying the eaves to installing a pool and a special fire hose that could suck water from the pool if necessary. He was ready to take a stand if need be.
It felt like the Santa Ana winds might be kicking up, and that scared Mitchell most of all. A power line could blow down and a spark could start a fire. A carelessly tossed cigarette butt could be fanned into an inferno, with sparks blowing across hills and houses to neighborhoods far from the flash point. The exhaust of a motorcycle illegally riding the hiking trails could…well this could drive him crazy, he thought. He’d done what he could to protect his property.
He leaned against the railing and watched as a young boy with a camouflage hat sneaked across behind the neighbor’s fence, stopped at the top of the hill then started running headlong down the hill. About halfway down, the boy tripped on something and catapulted head over heels down the rest of the hill. Mitchell thought the boy might be hurt, but he jumped up and pumped his fist in the air. Mitchell grimaced as he watched the kid tug at his pants then aim a stream of urine at a nearby bush. Apparently, the coyotes and mountain lions weren’t the only wildlife in these hills. People should watch their children more closely, he thought, as he downed the last of his coffee and went off to work.
Tuesday, October 1, 2013
Scientology Strikes Again
by Nancy Grossman-Samuel
The Church of Scientology sent me a Parishioner Statement on Saturday. It has a balance due for training of $1.50.
I’m not sure what I’ve been trained on unless it’s how to not answer a call from a number that I don’t know. I did take classes from them way back in the 70s, but since then, and up until about three years or so ago, our relationship has been mercifully silent. Then they started to call and no matter how many times I tell them I am not interested, they try to talk me into believing that I am missing out.
I dutifully throw out every piece of mail I get from them whether it is a mass mailing or a personal letter, but I opened up this invoice because I thought – “What the hell??? An invoice for WHAT?!?!?…” and then realized they had to do something to get a response from me – so I put a nice handwritten note on the invoice and am mailing it back. My “nice” note, which really IS nice says “Have no idea what this is for, so I assume it has something to do with the enclosed video – so please accept it back with my complements, Nancy.”
After a call years ago, a young woman named Brittany sent me a video that I was told I really MUST watch about how the materials of the church had been changed illegally and how the things I was taught were so very wrong and how I had been treated was also wrong, but now everything was right. Briefly, the way they “lost” me was that I got badgered, after taking a class with them, to join the Sea Organization – the main brainwashing branch of the church. I had just finished giving a rousing speech after having graduated from one of their self-directed classes – everyone got to get up and talk after they graduated – and because it was such a wonderful talk (I am assuming), they decided I had great skill as a future Scientology brainwasher!
It took them 3 hours of talking and cajoling but I signed the papers. What was I thinking? Obviously, I was NOT thinking.
I went up north to “say goodbye” to my friends and family – or at least that is how it felt, and through a series of events decided NOT to go back to Scientology at all. Surprisingly, but thankfully, they never called or wrote to find out what happened to me, and for about 5 years I could not even drive by the building where I’d taken the classes.
Back to the video – I watched about 45 minutes of it and decided that I couldn't care less and it wasn't at all compelling or interesting to me. I called Brittany back and told her as much. After what was probably a very nice and civil conversation I think she asked if she could call in the future, and moron me said “yes.”
I now wonder If I’d just said “FUCK NO AND DON’T YOU EVER CALL ME AGAIN!!!” if I would have been relieved of this monkey on my back!
Along with the video I included a letter that says:
“Please stop sending me mail and calling me. I appreciate that you think pursuing the teachings of Scientology is a wonderful option for me. Please trust me enough to tell you that I am not interested, and know that the more you send me mail and call me, the more badgered I feel, the more resentful and angry I feel, and the less I want ANYTHING to do with Scientology.
If I knew how, or if it were worth my time to find out how to do it, I would just block your phone numbers, but it’s easier just not to answer any calls from phone numbers I do not know, or that actually say The Church of Scientology.
I really don’t know how I can be any clearer. If I choose at some point in the future to pursue Scientological learnings, I know where to find you.
Thank you in advance for respecting my wishes and taking me off your mailing lists and phone call lists.
Nancy Grossman Samuel
P.S. The latest person who has been calling is Phil (note: I don’t want to get sued, so I’m not including his whole name here). Please include him in this communication. “
The interesting thing about Phil is that he called me after I told Brittany to back off. He called because he figured that Brittany had not been clear enough in her communication to make me understand what she was saying. Did he really think that that was a great opening comment?!?!? My initial reaction was “Please tell Brittany that I will never call her again and that she had better never call me again.” He tried to convince me of the wonder and fabulousness of Scientology and getting him off the phone was like trying to pull off a blood sucking creature. I assumed he would not call me back, but alas, he has, but I have not answered. He sounds almost desperate in his messages. I wonder if they are whipping these people for not getting me back into the fold. If I somehow disappear some day, don't rule out kidnapping! These people are like ants. They show like an army of ants with their calls and letters, and unfortunately I have yet to find a P&M Pest Control for Scientologists. Perhaps I need to learn how to be effectively rude.
What really worries me is how bent out of shape I feel when I get these calls and letters. I don’t know why I can’t just laugh it off as I throw away the letters and not answer the calls. What worries me is what it might mean that I am so reactive. Does it mean that I SHOULD go back and take classes? What if they’re right? What if there is something there for me? Am I really that insecure that I think maybe my answer lies within their unsavory walls?
I’d better get myself a life that really does feel fulfilling and wonderful and do it quickly before I do something really stupid.