camping as my own maid

It’s a strange existence, this staging.

No shoes in the house. Slippers by the door. Have to run out to the garage? Slippers off, shoes on, then shoes off, slippers back on.

For contractors, a big sheet thrown down as dropcloth, since contractors always leave a trail of mess and never clean up properly. As a species, they simply do not care, and therefore, this must be managed, since persuading them to leave at gunpoint would be illegal and counterproductive.

Counterproductive has a new definition: “Anything that could possibly delay selling this house.” All activities that will accelerate the sale are productive. All activities that could slow things down are counterproductive, and all counterproductive activities are categorically forbidden. By anyone, at any time, for any reason short of a femoral artery bleed. (If it’s a wrist, take it out to the cul-de-sac; you won’t bleed out that fast, and blood is hell to clean up.)

Park with truck blocking driveway, so contractors cannot enter it. Why? Because I have oil stain lifter down, to soak up the oil that previous contractors’ trucks leaked on the concrete, and they would a) carelessly drive and walk directly through the drying stain lifter, b) leak new oil onto it, and c) not understand why that should bother anyone. No one, period; yes, that includes you, and also you and you; no, don’t care, you will just have to carry your crap a little farther, cry me a river, boo hooo hoooo.

A cloth on the kitchen counter, to be used when opening the refrigerator door to the sparkling clean refrigerator. Microwave, range, toaster, coffee maker, tea maker absolutely off limits. We wouldn’t want the buyers to think we enjoy coffee in the morning.

My poor parrot Alex relocated to the unfinished area downstairs, with a cloth over his freshly scrubbed cage, and a sign pleading as politely as possible that he be left alone, and yes, that means your children should not get just a little peek to find out what kind of bird he is, and no, I simply do not give a damn how curious they are, and yes, if an eager buyer defies this, I hope their kids grow up to terrorize them into a pilled-out zombie state with their antics. I will go down there daily for some reading time in the evening, just to spend time with him, in a concrete-walled space with the cloth off, just so he can have some company, sitting on a piano stool and reading by a bare fluorescent bulb. Because if all this is anyone’s fault, doing, or problem, it is not Alex’s, and he is my pal.

Firearms carefully unloaded, covered with cloth, and parked deep and high up in the unfinished space among air filters, paint cans, and other stuff that hopefully will not fascinate anyone enough to boost a child up for some unsupervised play time.

Personal care stuff like toothbrushes, mouthpiece, etc. stuffed in a drawer after use. Anything very personal stuffed all the way back, so that eager buyers’ children will not decide they are toys.

Brand new towels, about which I do not care, purchased for unused bathrooms purely for appearance. I may actually burn them later just for satisfaction, wasteful as that would be, so stupid do I consider the concept of bathroom display towels not intended for use.

Using only one of the three bathrooms, chosen because it has the only sensibly designed toilet and is easiest to clean (tub and counter and sink all white), which happens to be downstairs. Gotta pee? Do it before the trip downstairs makes you bladder-desperate.

Cleaning all three toilets daily, with wipedowns after any use.

Hang bath towel and floor towel in boiler room to dry after bathing, leaving only the stupid, color-coordinated display towels in their pristine states in the spots where a sane person would just hang the towel to air-dry.

Anything actually utilized to enjoy life, except for office equipment, positioned on a tray that can be put on a shelf or inside a drawer. Remote, nail clippers, etc., go away in seconds, lest a potential buyer be disgusted by any evidence that a fellow human being has any comfort or fun.

All wife’s beautiful and evocative artwork removed, to be replaced with properly vapid garbage that cannot possibly offend anyone, trigger a phobia, or hint at any aspect of who we are as people. Books chosen for display purposes only, making sure that none of them could possibly cause severe moral umbrage, or worst of all, any sense that we actually read.

Daily vacuuming of any carpet that gets any form of authentic usage.

Daily walkthrough of entire home, to see if any gremlins, elves, leprechauns, bees, spiders, or anything else have snuck in when I wasn’t looking and found some creative way to screw something up. Inspect visible pipes and potential water areas.

Daily walkaround of yard to pick up whatever trash blew in (the RV parking area collects a daily count averaging two Walmart bags, receipts, and/or cigarette cellophane scraps), inspect grass for another mow (every three days), and see if the gremlins and so forth caused anything to fall over, shift, or any other depredations, vandalism, etc have occurred. Or worse yet, any new contractors have snuck in and found some creative way to ruin two things while fixing one, not understanding why anyone might be less than joyous about this.

Have gas? Go outside. Shut door behind you, please.

And for gods’ sake, wait for me, so I can lock it behind me and never have to enter this sterilized, overpriced, soulless, accursed house again in all my days. If it weren’t for the cost, I’d just go rent a monthly motel room. Right now.

For this odd period, the imprecation ‘go to hell!’ is equivalent to ‘come visit me!’

Guerrilla tactics in foreign language learning

Doubt anyone’s going to be too shocked if I say this: I love language and languages. Because of this, and a natural aptitude, I’ve studied a lot of languages. I speak none fluently but English, but enough of enough of them that I am rarely at a complete loss.

The state of foreign language instruction in our K-12 education system is lamentable. I believe this because of the large number of camera-like young minds who, having taken two years of Whateverish, can barely speak two sentences after they graduate. It was true of my generation and I’ve been hearing it from every graduating generation since. So often I hear: “I want to learn a foreign language.”

Okay. If you mean it, I’m on your side. If you are ready to put your time and energy there, I will tell you all the dirty tricks I know and use.

First, assess your basic aptitudes. If you don’t really grasp even your native grammar at all–which is to say that you cannot tell a noun from a verb from an adjective, consider ‘conjugation’ a method for prison inmates to see their spouses, and think of ‘declension’ as what’s likely to happen in your fifties and sixties, look those things up. You do not need to become a grammarian, but you do need to absorb what the basic terms mean, because they aren’t going away.

Another aptitude to consider is your ability to mimic sounds. Our palates form in early youth to our native languages, so you will probably never pass for a native speaker in any language you learn in adulthood. Doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter how good or bad a mimic you are; it just matters that you assess yourself and accept it. I know people who will never, ever be able to make certain foreign sounds not found in English. You have heard people with forty years’ residence in your country who probably will never manage to utter certain English sounds. Doesn’t matter. All that matters: if you aren’t a natural at this, don’t let that be your downer. You will simply have a profound accent, so be at peace with it. Even if you can never make a perfect rolled Spanish rr (I have a rough time with that one in flowing speech myself), anyone trying to understand you, will. Anyone trying not to, will not. That’s why it doesn’t matter.

To get an idea of difficulty relative to you, see what family it’s in. It works like this: the languages in a family have much in common. If it’s in a language family in which you’ve never studied a single language, there will be more concepts to learn. Be prepared.

If I hear one more person assign a language an absolute difficulty level, I may start using all the curse words I’ve picked up (including the ghastly phrase in Hungarian my friends taught me). Language difficulty is relative to what you already know. Examples:

Swedish was so easy for me that I still don’t think native English speakers deserve foreign language credit for learning it. One can see where it broke away from the common hybrid ancestor that pathed out into English. In learning terms, this means a native English speaker will immediately understand some words and concepts that the tongues have in common. Thus, for a native speaker of English, Swedish is very easy. For a native Korean speaker, it might not be as hard as English, but it wouldn’t be a walk in the park. German is in the same family, and is harder for me than Swedish, but I could not speak for our Korean friend because I am not equipped to judge the difficulty from any beginning perspective other than my own. Neither is much of anyone.

Hebrew was a bit of a challenge, because I had no background in it and spoke no Semitic languages. These past few months, I’ve been studying Arabic. In essence, on vocabulary and some grammatical concepts, Hebrew lets me cheat. Since I know how to say ‘hour’ in Hebrew, and the Arabic word sounds pretty similar, I will pick it up. Same for the concept of a dual number; Hebrew speakers are used to this, but someone new to Semitic languages has to wrap his or her head around a grammatical number besides singular and plural.

Because I speak Spanish and French, Italian is very accessible to me, and if I set out to learn it, I’d have a tremendous leg up over anyone who had never studied a Romance language. Is Italian easy? That depends on what you bring with you. It would be easier for me than for a native speaker of Russian with no background in Romance languages, I think, but harder for me than for a native Spanish speaker.

Is Irish difficult? It sure was for me, because it was my first Goidelic language (and only three exist). But having learned some Irish, Scots would be much easier. In fact, I can pick out a good many words in Scots, since it is so similar. In Welsh, which is in the other branch of Celtic languages? I have no idea, but it could not possibly be easier for me than Scots. If I already spoke another Brythonic language, for example Cornish, I’d have a leg up in Welsh.

Never let the difficulty of a language (relative to you) intimidate you. That just means it’ll take longer, and require you to get someone to explain some concepts. You can find that information, I’m sure.

Where to start: at least one class in the basics. Best would be a community college class, but if that is impractical, look for a community ed class run through the local school district. Failing that (or in addition), get Rosetta Stone or some other tool. I haven’t used many of them, but any would be better than nothing. The key is to get yourself to a basic sense of the grammar, so you can begin screwing the language up on your own.

Alphabet. If it has an alphabet you don’t know, learn it. However, even if you know the basic alphabet, not all letters are pronounced the same across tongues. Embrace its alphabet. Without this, you can only learn audially, which will stunt the process. Someone once asked my wife if I were also bi-literate in Spanish; I found the question shocking. I’d never considered the possibility one could fail to learn to read as one learned to speak. You shouldn’t even dream of just reading, or just speaking, unless it’s a dead language, for example Gothic or Ugaritic, that can’t be practiced aloud with hardly anyone. Learn the writing system. If it’s got symbols rather than an alphabet, you are better off knowing only five symbols well than none at all.

Your next resource: get to know a friendly native speaker. That is defined as someone who a) will answer your questions, and b) will not be offended when you say something stupid, tactless, or otherwise unintended in his or her native language. Don’t ask him or her the swear words; some people take real offense to that, as they consider it presenting the worst of a language they love. Anyway, this person is your resource. S/he is your source of pronunciation to imitate, encouragement, and so on. S/he may not actually know the grammar precisely, having grown up with it; whatever.

Do bear in mind that a native speaker’s willingness to correct you (or not) may have a cultural foundation. Most native Spanish speakers will praise your Spanish even if it’s lousy, because in many Hispanic cultures, to speak poorly is embarrassing. It might be hard to get them to nitpick you; most tend to think it is more important to help you save face. A German will not only volunteer the corrections most of the time, but will help you repeat them over and over until your articulation is flawless. By their lights, both are being kind and helpful. The Mexican would rather slit her wrists than (as she sees it) embarrass you; the German can not imagine someone not wanting to say it perfectly, and will coach you to do so. Each is showing the best possible manners by the standards of his or her culture, and you will just have to adjust and work with it. You’ll have to figure out what each culture’s weak spot is. For example, it took me a long time to realize that even though most French speakers were delighted to help me pronounce the language correctly, few native French speakers have any ability to slow their speech, which makes it very difficult for non-native speakers. They aren’t trying to make it tough on you; it’s just hard for them. Since you are the newcomer, it is you who adjusts and accepts.

Now arrange to like some music. Yeah. Find some music that you like, with lyrics in the language you’re trying to learn. Look however hard you have to, but it has to be something you enjoy. Once you’ve heard it a number of times, start looking up the lyrics and finding out what they mean. We tend to remember lyrics, so you’ll have some vocabulary and grammar from that without really doing any work. It is also something you can do while driving to the leather bar, waiting at the DMV, or smoking dope–no extra effort needed.

Think of your favorite short book. Ideally, it would be one whose original is in the language you want to learn, but doesn’t have to be. It’s the book you’ve read over and over for years, and can remember passages by heart. It is probably popular enough to be available in translation. Get the translation and start reading it. Feed words you do not understand to an online translator. You already know what to expect it to say, so the cues are already in your mind. If you really want to work at this, read it aloud. This you probably can’t do at the leather bar or DMV, but could do while smoking dope.

If you know of a book in that language that you want to read, but can’t get in English, you have a perfect motivator to start feeding it to a translation website para by para. You’ll absorb a lot. Get it in e-book version, or something from which you can copy and paste.

Speaking of smoking dope: or light drinking, if you indulge (I myself am a light drinker, don’t like weed; not that I advocate either, but I condemn neither), feel free to do so while reading or listening. A relaxed mind absorbs this stuff better. If you find that the relaxant trips your beer-thirty trigger and gets in the way of absorbing, of course, use common sense.

Grab a newspaper or magazine in the language. If it’s Spanish, many American cities have little weekly or monthly Spanish-language newsletters. Try to read it, looking up any word that really has you stuck. A magazine is best, because there are usually lots of pictures that will give you cues and context, but whatever medium you can find. Not only will you see the world as its speakers might see it, but you’ll pick up a metric crapton of vocabulary (this is equal to two English craptons). Just labor through the article so that you get the gist.

If you get cable or satellite TV, or otherwise have access to foreign movies, watch some. Subtitles aren’t necessary; I would recommend some with, some without. All the visual cues are there for you: if the French woman says in annoyance, “Elle me fait chier,” you may not get that this literally means “she causes me to shit,” but you will see that it was said in irritation, and will probably have an idea about whom she was talking. Through watching Mundos Perdidos on HITN, I picked up a lot of Spanish environmental terms without any effort at all, including great stuff like ‘manglar’ (mangrove swamp), ‘alimentación’ (nourishment), and ‘la caza’ (the hunt). In fact, half the time I was reading a book in English, just listening to the background vocals and peering up at the screen now and then.

Laugh at yourself. You are doing it wrong if you are afraid to embarrass yourself. Now and then it’s okay to make a funny mistake on purpose; it breaks the ice. A very nice young Mexican lady who spoke no English was helping me to recite the Spanish alphabet. The letter J, jota, in Spanish is pronounced ‘HO-ta.’ However, joto is Spanish slang for ‘gay.’ (I think it’s only pejorative if you mean it that way. I learned it from a Mexican who was speaking of a brother he loved very much.) When I got to J, I blurted “HO-toe.” She didn’t correct me, but she laughed.

Jokes don’t always translate, but when it’s safe, give it a try. I was explaining to a Spanish-speaking waitress that Deb spoke a little but was embarrassed to try, whereas I had no shame. To describe myself as ‘shameless,’ I used a cultural code word: sinvergüenza. In Spanish, that means “having no moral scruples of any kind,” and would be a terrible insult if I said it of anyone but myself. She knew I knew what I’d said, and what I meant in English, and in context it was comical. Have some fun.

All exposure is helpful. Reading, listening, speaking, writing; if you are doing anything involving the language, you’re making progress whether you feel like it or not.

You will never be perfect. Neither are they. Do we speak perfect English at all times? I do not, and the English language is my line of work. As I often tell people who keep apologizing to me for grammar or spelling, I’m off work; to get me to pick on your English, I get paid for that. Being understood, and understanding, are more attainable goals. Learning any language is like golfing: good days and bad days, good shots and bad shots, gradual improvement through regular application and self-examination.

Not that you shouldn’t strive for perfection, but if perfectionism becomes the excuse to beat yourself up, or be afraid to try, it’s a hindrance rather than a help.

Buena suerte, bonne chance/merde alors, etc.

It sometimes hurts to negotiate

“It never hurts to negotiate.”

A woman just said that to me about an antique dining chair, which needed new cane or other seating material, I was advertising for $10. And I think most people believe it. It goes on the list of “stupid things people have repeated so long and so often that they assume them to be true.”

To me, negotiation is for when the seller is not offering fair value. Suppose someone’s trying to sell some hummels (fine, long as they are sold to anyone but us; good god, but those things are useless). They are worth maybe $170. Someone lists them for $199. Fair enough: offer $150, end up paying $170-175, perfectly reasonable. Another example: car dealers are never offering fair value, because car dealers simply do not do that, ever. But when the seller is offering more than fair value, it can be counterproductive.

I knew that $20 would have been plenty fair for an antique chair frame that would be worth rather more with a little effort. I listed it for $10. Our conversation went:

“Will you take $5?”

“No. When I’m offering something that cheap, and someone tries to give me half of that cheap, I’d sooner throw it away than go along.” My face was smiling, but my brain was irritated.

She backpedaled a bit. “It’s okay, I have no problem paying $10. You know, it never hurts to negotiate.”

Still smiling: “Actually, sometimes it does.” She paid me, took the chair and left. It wasn’t about the $5 difference; it was about how ridiculous it is to dicker with someone at that level.

Most people don’t agree with me about that, which is yet another reason to have confidence in my viewpoint. Plus, it has worked for me many times in life.

Let’s take a couple more examples. I recently bought some collectibles from a fellow. His advertised price was more than fair; in fact, it was an excellent bargain. I could have negotiated, but it would have been stupid. I’d have conveyed to him that he always had to build in some bargaining room when dealing with me, and if we did future business, I’d have paid for it eventually. Or, since what he was asking was a great price, I could just pay it.

We went on to do more business, and for me, the second deal was the big test. If he tried to deliver less value for the price on the second go, then I’d have known it was time to negotiate–if the value was no longer fair. As it was, he was so delighted, the values kept getting better and better, and he kept throwing in other stuff that I would definitely want but he hadn’t promised. I ended up with ridiculous bargains and all our transactions were most cordial. If I’d put him on notice that he had to fight for every dollar when already offering fair value, I would have gotten only what was promised, and I’d have had to pay a lot more.

Here’s another. My wife and I are about to close on a home in Aloverton (unincorporated Washington County between Beaverton and Aloha, Oregon). The sellers wanted $282K. It so happened that my wife got to meet the sellers when she was looking at the home, and they hit it off very well. Our agent advised us that the value was excellent and likely to draw several offers within the day. She suggested a full price offer, more if we really wanted it.

Well, it was about at the ceiling of what we could afford and finance, but I gambled a bit on the seller’s class and relationship to my wife. Had they wanted maximum dollar, they’d have listed it $10K higher, and probably gotten it. It was evident, relative to the market, that they just wanted it sold. So I told our agent: “Let’s offer them a little over full price, just so that if they get more than one of those, we at least are in the club.” She agreed, and we offered $282,500.

The sellers countered with an acceptance subject to a few small conditions (all easy to accept), and conveyed to us that they would like to accept our offer, citing the relationship with Deb and the good feeling that obtained, but could we please respond quickly so that if the answer were “no,” that they could accept one of the other offers. I asked our agent if she thought the other offers were above full price. She said that if she had to guess, one had probably been about $284K and one perhaps as high as $287K. Of course, we jumped on it.

Then came the home inspection phase, an area where we had already had to bust a home purchase deal due to a dishonest homebrew maintenance seller. This house came back with about $1300 in legit repairs, an abnormally small amount on a house selling for $282,500: less than 0.5% of the value. Considering that our home inspector is an absolute stickler who views his work as educating the client about even the fussiest little issues, if he couldn’t find even 1% of the value, it was obvious the place was in fantastic shape. Even so, by reflex, our agent began preparing an addendum to ask the sellers for $1300. She actually didn’t consult us before she started to prepare this, though that’s not bad behavior on her part; as all such agreements say in bold capital letters, “time is of the essence in this agreement.” She was simply being alacritous, if a bit habitual. Considering what a lazy horse’s ass the listing agent had been by comparison, I wasn’t going to grouse on her over an error in the direction of timeliness. We did, however, need to have a meeting of the minds.

Our agent called me to let me know she had prepared the addendum for our signatures. “L,” I said, “we need to get on the same page. See it from the sellers’ viewpoint. We think it very likely they went out of their way to sell the house to us for anywhere from $2-5K less than someone else might have paid them, all for the sake of wanting us to have it. In their mind, in effect, they have already given us a $4-5K discount. They have been splendid throughout this whole deal, although I have no idea what would move them to use such an atrocious listing agent; maybe they are too unwilling to believe the worst of anyone. So here they are, having already given up $4-5K in their minds, and now–now that they are in contract, have declined the other offers, and would have to start all over again if they reject the addendum–the recipients of that value want another $1300? This will signal to them that we think it never hurts to negotiate. Well, it can.”

“I never thought of that,” she said.

I wasn’t done. (I was not angry, just making my points; it was a cordial-toned conversation.) “What’s worse, it has no teeth. Suppose we ask for that, and they say ‘forget it.’ Would we then bust the deal for $1300 in fairly straightforward repairs?”

“I can’t see you doing that.”

“You’re right. We wouldn’t, which means that we’d just be twisting their arms for a small gain. So if we do as you are suggesting, we will change the entire character of the transaction, and worse yet, we will be doing so at the point where we have less to lose than they do. It would be a tremendous inconvenience for them if the sale failed now, so they’d be almost forced to take it–but they’d be on notice that they’d misjudged our business style and approach to life. Or, given their conduct so far, they might simply refuse, preferring to endure the inconvenience rather than have their arms twisted over a trivial matter. I think we should believe our home inspector, waive the contingency without dickering, and move this whole thing forward.”

“Wow. This is very rare, but I see your point. If you’d like to waive it, that makes sense.”

We waived it. The sellers responded by offering us any furniture in the house. Any or all. While we didn’t expect any such thing, it confirmed that we’d read our people rightly.

On top of that, they’d previously offered us a desk and the bookshelves, made by the husband’s own hand before he became more frail. We had to come up with something, though, lest we seem to spurn their generosity, so we accepted the barstools. Not high value in resale, probably spendy to buy ourselves, and least likely to match wherever they were living.

We also learned, along the way, that the listing agent was not keeping his clients apprised of matters that would directly concern them such as the progress of our financing and appraisal process. If I were them, I’d have been nervous as hell about the possibility that either might blow up. So we took steps, quietly, to make sure the sellers knew immediately when each step had finished, including the point at which all was approved and we were all clear to close.

I find it a bit tragic that I, buying this house sight unseen, will never get to meet the sellers. They seem like the sort of people I’d want as neighbors.

And it would very much have hurt to negotiate.

A treatise on Boise: what I will and will not miss

This is a time when I am mostly unable to do a lot of blogging, but as I enter my final couple of months in Boise, I find myself reflective, and desiring to do the same sort of reflection I did when we left Washington for Idaho. Thus, the positive first:

I will miss:

  • The potato skins at Goodwood Barbecue. I’ve never even tried their barbecue. Once I had the skins, the rest of their menu officially no longer mattered to me.
  • The easy friendliness of the average Boisean.
  • The good people we met here, which was most of the total people we met here.
  • Basque food ranging from bar food to cloth-napkin restaurants.
  • A healthy distrust of our precious government.
  • Traffic insignificant by comparison to larger cities.
  • Surprisingly cool museums for a town its size.
  • A superb library.
  • The ‘Idaho stop.’ In Idaho, bicycles treat stop signs as yield signs, and red lights as stop signs, and it works very well. Since that’s what cyclists are going to do anyway, for the most part, making it legal is one less thing for the police to ticket people over.
  • Idaho characters. While characters can be obnoxious, Idaho tends to embrace them, and at heart, most are good folks.
  • Division I-A college football and a passionate fanbase for a team I at least can bear.
  • The Idaho Potato Drop at New Year’s. It’s hilarious, and best of all, it’s owning it.
  • The tremendous and diverse natural beauty of a state that I can’t believe anyone would willingly pollute.
  • A large number of ways to experience that outdoors, with plentiful hiking, fishing, camping, skiing, boating, hunting, and other ways to get out from behind a computer screen and live.
  • A high incidence of volunteerism and generosity.
  • The state liquor stores have a lot better selection than the Washington ones ever did.

I won’t miss:

  • Predatory law enforcement that has revenue generation as its obvious primary purpose, and thus is morally little better than when the Federales stop you in Mexico and you have to bribe them.
  • The perpetually flat coke at Goodwood Barbecue. How hard can it be to fix a pop machine?
  • Zoomtards. You don’t know what that means? Suppose there are two lanes before and after the light on your side, but anyone can see that the right lane will have to merge after the light. A zoomtard is a person who zooms past just to get ahead, rather than merge in at the safe and obvious place, and in Boise there seems to be one in every situation where it’s possible for one to exist.
  • Coal rollers. These are the jackasses who find it amusing to show their hatred for environmentalism by using their diesel trucks to produce a noxious cloud of ugly smoke when a Prius (or whatever fuel-economic vehicle) is behind them.
  • Deep ignorance and corruption entrenched in state government. It’s not your imagination; they really, truly, authentically are that ignorant and corrupt.
  • Lousy schools that produce subpar education.
  • ‘Inversion.’ Since smog is for Californians, Boise is not supposed to have smog. However, it does, but it’s only a problem when an inversion traps it. Thus, people complain about ‘the inversion’ when the real problem is the smog, which is a naughty word. I find the euphemism more annoying than the air quality issues.
  • The idea that a potato mogul could be Very Important. Nothing against J.R. Simplot, but we don’t have to talk about his family name like they’re the House of Windsor.
  • Must surely be the world capital of pawnshops, payday/title loan places, and other vampiric business that, if it were up to me, I would crush without compensation or remorse.
  • Political incontinence. You can’t meet five random people in Idaho without one of them trying to work up a political hatefest. Politics, like defaecation, are bearable when done in the proper venue designed for the purpose. The random person who can’t shut up about politics while people are trying to do civilized things, I rank right down there with someone who gets up from the restaurant table and takes a dump in the aisle.
  • ‘Murrica f*** yeah': the macho mentality that in my opinion has caused so many of our national defects.
  • What must surely the the world’s largest concentration of native English-speaking call centers on earth, mostly so employers can take advantage of Idaho’s serious wealth disparity, rudimentary social services, and of course low minimum wage.
  • Having both a state sales tax and a state income tax.
  • The general halfassedness with which so much is done, from road maintenance to customer service.
  • Dogwhistle racism. As in eastern Washington, ‘rough area’ is code for ‘has Hispanics.’
  • Denial about racism. Here’s the denial standpoint: “in Idaho, racism was Brought From Outside by A Bunch of Neo-Nazis who Do Not Represent Idaho.” That is not 100% true, as comforting as moderate Idahoans may find it to be. A fairer statement: racism has long had a significant presence in Idaho, and while most Idahoans rejected the more extreme versions, there was a hefty minority who looked at the racists and more or less thought: “Well, they’re pretty nutty, but they’re right on at least some things.” And that’s fertile recruiting ground.

Dealing with Liam

I’m going to try and convey something in as balanced a way as I can.

Imagine someone had a child, but not quite a normal child. Let’s name him Liam, since everyone else is.

Imagine Liam, aged about four, did the following:

  • Went about nude most times, urinating and defecating in full view–outdoors if possible, indoors if necessary.
  • Considered it fairly normal to step in his own feces.
  • Cleansed his posterior regions with his bare left hand, without washing afterward.
  • If not restrained, would leap on all adults, wiping his left hand on them with vigor.
  • Made a significant mess while eating or drinking.
  • Was prone to vomit what he ate or drank, with minimal preamble.
  • Stank, and left his odor on everyone and everything he touched, which was everywhere he could arrange.
  • Had a primitive enough understanding of sex that he attempted it with all other children, no matter how public the setting.
  • Had breath that could–if he got close enough–make an adult physically ill.
  • Consumed vomit and feces at times.
  • Carried a small spiked club in his right hand, knew how to use it, and threatened its use when frightened.
  • Demanded constant attention and companionship, acting out when he didn’t get it.
  • Could and would, without apology or thought, pump out astonishing clouds of intestinal gas.
  • At the slightest sense of excitement, began to yell full throat.
  • Spat upon people as a form of affection.
  • Destroyed random pieces of valuable property and considered it a fun game.
  • Was immune to physical discipline, as a child, by anyone but his parents, who would be moved to violence should anyone smack Liam.
  • Would not learn much from being smacked anyway, even if smacking a child weren’t on the ‘stuff we don’t do’ list.

Now, suppose that Liam’s parents:

  • Adored him, thought he was the cutest thing, and did not know what they would do without Liam.
  • Talked baby talk to him, quite frequently, whether he understood it or not, in the middle of otherwise normal conversations with other adults.
  • Considered Liam an excellent judge of character, and disliked anyone who recoiled from him.
  • Told those who recoiled from Liam: “He just wants to love you.”
  • Let him frolic at random in public, heedless of his effect on random strangers.
  • Knew that Liam would never hurt anyone, ever–even when threatening someone with the spiked club.
  • Could not grasp why some people did not adore and embrace their wonderful Liam as they did.
  • Expected these people to adjust their inner feelings and desires to correct this failure to adore and embrace.
  • Carried out almost missionary-like efforts to teach them how they could learn to enjoy Liam, invalidating the true inner feelings of Liam’s non-enthusiasts.
  • Were incapable of grasping, on any level, the reality that the best thing for Liam was that he and anyone who did not enjoy him should not be caused to mingle without urgent need.
  • Without knowing or caring how many Liam-like children an individual had helped or been kind to in the past (in spite of the ick factor), condemned that individual simply for trying to avoid Liam and his smells and secretions.

Liam is a typical dog. The above is how this particular dog-phobe experiences him. Thus:

  • I grasp that you love your dog, and perhaps all dogs.
  • I grasp that s/he is a family member. I do not understand it, but I do not expect you to justify the logic. I accept it without debate, partly because I know it’s how you feel, and partly because I hope you will not reiterate it to me one more time. You do not need to. It is understood, not questioned.
  • I grasp that, to you, your dog is not dangerous, but is loving.
  • I grasp that you find failure to love dogs inconceivable.
  • I grasp that you think your dog is the special exception whose pure love and goodness can convert me.
  • I grasp that you think the cure is for me to change.
  • I grasp that you wish to help me change, so that I too can adore dogs.

Thing is:

  • I do not want to change how I feel.
  • It has gotten more pronounced over my lifetime.
  • I do not ask you to change how you feel, either.
  • The #1 thing that made it worse was uncomprehending dog owners who pushed dogs on me, or treated me unkindly, as if somehow my standpoint were fundamentally wrong and bad.
  • If that had never happened, so many times, who knows what might have happened to my perspective. But it did, over and over, adding conditioning and accumulated frustration to a fundamental aversion. It was cumulative.
  • Yes, my wife has dogs. I treat them humanely and endure them in my home. If you are absorbing this, you probably grasp that this is a supreme manifestation of my adoration for her.
  • I do not want your dog to suffer. If someone were harming your dog for no reason, I would stop them. If your dog got loose, and wandered onto my property, and I recognized it as your dog, I would make sure it was safe, and you got it back safe and sound.
  • I do not blame your dog for being a dog.
  • I am only trying to put distance between me and the dog.
  • I accept that this is not 100% possible.
  • When it is not possible, I try very hard to maintain.
  • Considering how I feel, that requires enormous discipline on my part.
  • If I am visibly uncomfortable, I would be grateful for your understanding and patience.
  • If I can maintain when I feel like most people would feel if someone threw a used diaper at them, I hope that you look on the positive side and see me as trying very, very hard to meet the situation more than halfway.
  • I accept that my aversion does not constitute urgency or requirement on your part.
  • I would value your kindness and understanding.
  • If I can humanely avoid your dog, and you can accept that I wish to without deciding to hate me, then we have a good understanding.

That’s all I want: the right to back away, to gently detour the dog with a foot, to avoid the feeling of being grossed out. And not to be judged a bad person, or someone in need of dog immersion therapy, which is the attitude that got me to this stage.

One dog owner once told me she felt very sorry for me, because there was a wondrous love and joy I’d never know. Fair enough, from her perspective. I love Stilton cheese, but if the fact that it smells like slippers worn too often with bare feet revolts you, also fair enough. I won’t pressure you to eat it.

After all, it smells like slippers worn too often with bare feet.

Recent read: Irreverent Insider Guide: Portland, Oregon, by Steven McCall

Until Fred Armisen moved to the Pearl District and made a show about the place, the national consciousness didn’t much register Portland, and by extension Oregon. Maybe as Seattle/Washington’s younger sister, the one without a football or baseball team. If the nation heard about Oregon, it was in context of legalizing something that would be allowed in Alabama only under the fixed bayonets of an army of occupation, and even then, they’d fight a guerrilla war against it.

Well, for better or worse, now they know. Or so they might think.

They could always buy a travel guide, of course. But one should know that some big-name travel guides are assembled to target the itches visitors seek to scratch, often by ‘lancers who don’t know the place that well. Travel guides must also cover a very broad spectrum, requiring some fishing around to find what you want.

You aren’t going to read a 400-page book for a weeklong visit to Portland, are you? Well, you might. But what if a 48-pager could cover the most important parts from a native’s level of knowledge? You might get the 400-pager, but you’ll read the 48-pager.

I know Steve McCall, which is why I can vouch for this book. Steve lived half a century in Portland. His travel writing at Epinions was some of the funniest stuff there. He’s a wine connoisseur who will enjoy your rednecky cheese bread. He knows what’s overrated, what’s pretentious, and what’s excellent. The only reason he’s not a professional tour guide in Portland is because he has other priorities at the moment, but there would be none better. It only takes him forty-eight pages to address the hipster/granola/lumberjack/pothead/etc. stereotypes, tell you where it’s worth your money to eat, suggest places worth exploring, and double your fun in his hometown. For less than the price of a decent coffee in Portland, in less than one hour, and with wit.

There is something so very Portland about that.

In everything I do, I try like hell to find a high density of information. I follow the home inspector around the property, taking notes. If I can’t find out CenturyLink’s catchment area in Portland, I finally cheat and call a guy in marketing whose number I’m not supposed to have or call, briefly explain that I cheated, ask my question, thank him, and get out of his hair. I like Rick Steves because his travel guides really get to the point. They say more in a para than some guides say in a page.

The same is true of Irreverent Insider Guide: Portland, Oregon, only more so.

Real estate protip: identify stupidity early, and back away

Deb and I are in the process of looking for a hovel, hut, or well-appointed army tent in the Portland area. Those cost $250K and up.

San Franciscans can laugh all they want, because I’m laughing at the idea that anyone anywhere thinks any dwelling is worth $750K unless one is so rich one doesn’t care what houses cost, or is an investor. So there.

We made an offer on a house in a Portland suburb, and we saw what we should have realized was a combination of listing agent stupidity/apathy and seller loopiness. The way this works is that the seller either accepts the offer or counters with another. In this case, the seller came back with a weird counter offering two options: raise the price and get a credit at closing, or accept our price but refuse to perform repairs. Well, you don’t want the seller to do the repairs anyway. Better to just negotiate a price reduction and hire the repairs done right than have the seller pick the lowest bid that will satisfy the obligation. However, the counter was too weird, so we rejected it and just reiterated our original offer. They accepted, and quickly.

We should have seen that goofy counter as the first serious trouble sign, and not gotten too hyped up. That’s the message of this blog post.

Then the fun began. First, our highly capable agent began to worm details out of her inept counterpart. The gist: she wasn’t paying her clients much attention, her clients were cash-poor with the wife pregnant and them needing a new place, and the seller fancied himself a Master of Home Repair/Improvement Space and Time. We hired the necessary inspections and awaited the results.

Sadly, the seller had neglected the roof for years. Portland is a very wet climate where all conscientious homeowners must look very carefully at roofs, the weather side of houses, and drainage. The seller had done a remarkably poor job caulking the weather siding, had permitted a lot of moss to grow on the roof, and was unaware (or did not disclose) that he had water and rodent turds in his crawl space. There were other issues, with added potential for mistakes on his part that might be behind walls or bathtubs or sinks he had installed without benefit of professional guidance.

After estimating that it would cost us $12K to bring the property up to basic standards of good weather resistance, we sent the seller two offers: either fix a list of problems himself, or give us $6K off the price and we’d handle the repairs on our own. Lenders won’t lend on worn-out roofs, so we were sure he would just sign the one with the discount. If he wasn’t very careful (or if his agent was a moron), the evil word ‘roof’ would become part of his necessary disclosures should he choose to sell. We sent selected inspection pages to show the problems.

Incredibly, he put into writing that he rejected both our offers (thus making the one with ‘roof’ part of the record, because he acknowledged that one’s existence) and reiterated his price. His agent over-revealed, complaining that he had so little equity he couldn’t lower his proceeds. (However, he did have a very nice boat in his garage, and had wanted a long closing date, because he and his wife had a big vacation planned.)

I cyberstalked him a bit and found out that he worked in accounts payable. Accounts defaultable is more like it.

The more I thought about it, the worse I felt about the place. Who knew what troubles lurked? I had visions of having to pay tens of thousands to rip off an entire mold-filled house side. Plus, he was being a general pill. He had under-disclosed the condition (a polite way to say that he lied), and was now being an ass when caught in his under-disclosure. Deb and I talked it over and decided to trigger the inspection contingency. Back to the search.

Fortunately, the guy will get his just rewards. Now he must disclose the conditions. If he refuses, his agent will dump him. If she doesn’t, she could be in major trouble. In any case, he has to hope for a sucker to come along, a sucker of such magnitude that said sucker will box him/herself into accepting a home with enormous potential downside. He needs a first-time home buyer represented by a lamentable agent. And even then, when the roof is inspected, he’ll have to either fork out himself or convince a buyer to do that–before closing. In the end, if he’s that strapped, he’ll have to keep the house, because he evidently can’t afford to fix it and won’t compensate a buyer for doing so.

And that’s hoping that after the sale, no one happens to send his buyer a copy of the previous inspection report, proving that the seller knew of the problems and failed to disclose.

I really, really don’t like dishonesty in business transactions. Maneuvering is fine; negotiating is expected; compromise is necessary. Lying is punishable.

Blogging freelance writing and life in general.


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