Monday, March 25, 2013

There's a Spring

While working on the application for the refinance on the house, I was asked a lot of questions. Some were easy to answer. Others were tricky and a few made me think back.

One of the more interesting points brought up is I made less money last year than I did the year before. The bank wanted to know why and I had to think about it.

Here's what I came up with:

First off, I fell in love and really kind of blossomed.

In 2012, I took more time off from my weekend job to do things I liked. I went to roller derby. I took time off to be with my very awesome girlfriend. I didn't take every single extra job that came along at the radio station when someone got sick, went on vacation or left town. I didn't work every holiday that came along and I used my vacation time at the newspaper for something other than a resource that could be converted into extra cash by working at the radio station.

I did that so many times because I needed the money. I needed to make a car payment, make rent, buy groceries, whatever...

It wasn't just that I didn't need to work more, I just didn't want to.

Second, I stopped worrying about whether  "Mountain Stage" would be around for another year or not.

My relationship with the show is different than it used to be. Things changed a couple of years ago and I just don't go out and review their shows like I used to. It's barely worth the hassle. It's easier and better for everyone involved to just check in every now and again, just to see how things are, than do show after show after show.

My paychecks reflect that opinion, I think. I don't go to nearly as many shows. I pulled back on other shows, too, but I see a lot less "Mountain Stage" than I used to. 

I guess I'm thinking about that because I was at the show over the weekend --not for the show itself, but for the preparation leading up to the actual performance. I lingered backstage while the crew went about their business. I stayed out of the way of guests, the members of the band and the crew. 

I tried to be inconspicuous, get my little job done and be on my way. I stayed only as long as necessary, but I remembered when hanging around like that used to be fun. It was amazing to be on the fringe of that community, to feel like I might sort of be part of it.

That was a long time ago.

At least, two years, if you look at my W-2s.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Book Burning

I'd never been to a County School Board meeting, which is kind of surprising.

Growing up, my teacher parents went to them all the time. I remembered these meetings fondly; actually, the hour or so before the big show. Mom and Dad would have a couple of friends over, break out a cheeseball and drink a glass or two of relatively shitty white wine.

I might have sneaked a nip or two when nobody was looking.

Anyway, my folks would go to the meeting, leave us with sitter, and then go get pissed off at whatever the board was doing.

School boards, I came to believe, were mostly evil things, made up of chest-thumping autocrats, who slouched miserably toward boisterous incompetence. They made a lot of noise, aggravated everyone and tended to accidentally get things done. They were the third tier of politicians, the C students, the people not likable or smart enough to get elected to the town council or county commission, but willing to put up with a shit job in exchange for a petty fiefdom.

I still feel like I'm right.

An early highlight of the evening was watching one board member glower and berrate an administrator over the choice for a vice principal at a vo tech school. The member thought to do the job you needed to find a nurse, a welder, a computer programmer who had the state required masters degree in Education administration and had also completed their leadership program.

It seemed a bit on the unlikely side, like trying to find a master gardener qualified to fly the space shuttle to do a cooking show.

He went on a loopy rant about how the current vo tech programs in the state were lacking, how they weren't nearly as wonderful as what they were back in the day --though he offered little evidence of that fact. His sole anecdote seemed to be that in days past, the schools were willing to whore their students out to do construction projects for free (for experience, I suppose), which encouraged business --as slave labor tends to.

Somewhat shaken, the little man the board member bitched at, tried to explain that their schools were exemplary schools, certified by the state to be about as good as it's going to get.

He would not be mollifed, though the other four BOE members voted him down. Probably someone should have taken up the issue that he was acting like an asshole.

The big item for the night was an update on the board of education no longer being required by law to support the local library. After several years of struggle, the board won a court case that dissolved a law they helped to craft some 50 years ago, back when the board of education thought having a sustainable library was important, back when they were willing to do more than just flap their gums.

There were several impassioned speeches. A few people came out to say, "Please, don't kill my library." The meeting room was full. Not much got accomplished, except some hearts got broken.

The ruling doesn't prevent the board from providing money for the library. In fact, the BOE is one of three places the library is supposed to go to for funding and other school boards do so voluntarily. However, the noises the local board are making don't much sound like they intend to continue to fund voluntarily. Mostly, it's "We'd love to help, but we're broke."

And they are.

Even before the state supreme court ruling, the board of education was in financial trouble. They were coming up on a three million dollar deficit brought on by a mixture of bad luck and bad planning on their part. Being unshackled from the library for the BOE was like a parent being told they were no longer responsible for feeding and clothing one of their small children, which was convenient because Mom and Dad didn't do so hot playing the market.

When the board ceases providing funds to the public library in a few months, the results will be devastating. It will close six branches and kill off the roving bookmobile. Hours will be reduced at the remaining locations, services will suffer and dozens of people will lose their jobs. The community at-large will become much poorer.

And I believe this with my whole heart.

If the court ruling had gone the other way, the board of education would be facing serious cuts. They'd have had to cut programs throughout the school system, spread the load. School extras, undoubtedly, would have been hit; athletics, for sure. The BOE would have been forced to cancel contracts and probably lay off some staff.

It would have hurt, but the damage could have been spread out and they probably wouldn't be talking about buying new concrete bleachers or discussing whether the new vice principal at the vo tech was qualified to act as the principal's hatchet man and enforcer because she'd never spent time grinding metal in a machine shop.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rambling Man

I get a little disappointed by what happened to the local blogosphere. People moved on. They gave it up. They went and got lost in Facebook (myself, included), which is an easy thing to do.Only a few people hung in there and most of them are bloggers I don't read.

It's funny to get nostalgic about something that started around a decade ago and only existed for only a few years.This blog, of course, started in 2005, following the cancellation of my first blog through the newspaper.

My editor at the time, Doug, filled my head with ideas that blogging was the way of the future. It was the chance to reach a huge audience, become a tastemaker, an influential voice in the new electronic media. He assured me the world was hungry for fresh voices with a wry spin that connected the broader universe to the smaller local regions.

Doug says a lot of the same things about Twitter now. He probably said them about Facebook, LinkedIn and even Youtube and while I think he means what he says, I don't think he's right anymore. Even if he is, I don't think I care.

Anyway, the first blog didn't catch on. I could argue it wasn't promoted by the paper, which would be true, but nobody knew anything about me. They had no reason to invest their time in reading anything I wrote. The only thing I had going for me was I was still kind of on the fringe of media with my work with Graffiti and those three or four other basically alt-media outlets I did stuff for. It was a kind of street cred, though not much.

The first blog just wasn't very good and when Doug told me he wanted to cancel me in favor of starting a food blog (where I accidentally learned the secret identities of local blogging legends, Raging Red and Hippie Killer), I just went with it and started something on my own.

It's been hit or miss, I know. I deleted a massive number of posts, good posts some have said, because I hurt the feelings of my then wife and I really hadn't intended to do that. She told me I didn't have to do that, but I felt bad.

I dumped a bunch of posts a bit later after a legal squabble with someone else. I lost the battle in that case, but really won the war. It's impossible to explain, unfortunately --per the mediation agreement.

The blog has been good to me and I like that a few people got to know me as a writer more for the shit I wrote here than for the umpteenth music interview I did. There's more of me here than almost anywhere else and that's probably always going to be that way. The newspaper has zero interest in giving me a column and yes, the subject has been broached occasionally, but I'm not old enough, mature enough or considered interesting or bland enough to give them what they want.

I have no idea. I ask every now and again and they keep shooting me down.

What I miss about the blogosphere were the different voices. I liked the diversity. It was a way to get to know people and largely, the people I read were decent people with something to say, a thought or experience to share.

I can still find most of the same people on Facebook, if I want, but they don't say the same things. They're not as brave. In a couple of cases, I barely recognize who they are now versus who I thought I knew --which is funny. Most everybody ran around under pen names and assumed identities (I was one of the exceptions, though occasionally I signed on comments as Emo McSourpuss, a name given to me by another blogger for my often sour contributions to political discussions), but I thought the bloggers were being pretty real. I thought they spoke from their hearts (sort of). Elsewhere, using their real names, surrounded by high school friends and co-workers, most people I think pull their punches and leave a lot out.

I miss the old neighborhood. I do. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

In God we trust, all others pay cash.

You know, for a house I didn't especially want in the first place, it's been a hell of an ordeal to get the thing put in my name. I agreed to do that during the divorce: take the house on when I could. For the last year, that really didn't seem viable. Closing costs run about $3500.

Do I have $3500?

No, I do not have $3500.

According to my latest bank statement, I have about $13 until payday. I have a few bucks in savings: enough to buy an OK television or have a fair weekend in Dollywood, but nowhere near enough to clear a refinance.
Of course, that was until I heard about an FHA streamline, which is supposed to be a magic bullet for people like me. Put together as a way for people to lower their interest rate with little or no money for closing costs, it can also be used to modify an existing mortgage --in this case, amend who owns the property in question.
After several months of periodically bringing up this with the guy who wrote the first mortgage and being mostly blown off, he finally decided it was in the bank's best interests or his best interests or someone's best interests to go ahead and start that up.

Honestly, I got no traction until I said, "Either you can help me or I'll just find somebody else who's willing to try."

Finally, he said, "I can get you $700 a month with no money for closing."

That was his first offer.

Then a thousand to two thousand dollar closing cost fee appeared. Then it disappeared. Then returned as around a thousand dollars, but a monthly of $675.

I have no clue what it will be tomorrow.

The whole process gets crazier and crazier all the time, which in my mind explains why the banking industry tanked a few years ago. They're all fucking high on something.

Currently, I'm halfway approved, but there's a list of things the underwriter's need, which today includes documents from a consumer creditor counseling service I used for about five years and dropped seven or eight years ago. It was kind of a scam, actually. The company was supposed to be able to clear up my debts, but that's not really how that played out. They paid themselves very well and every month put a little  money on my debts.

The only thing they managed to do was keep people from calling my house, bitching about how much I owed them.

I got a loan from my mom that turned into a gift to just pay off my creditors. After that, I very pointedly left the counseling program, talked to a nice man who seemed to think that was just swell, what I was doing. It was and I was glad to be out from under those people.

Why the bank thinks I need permission from these people now to streamline my mortgage in order to remove my ex-wife's name from it sounds insane. I'm about ten minutes from just telling them to go fuck themselves and just put the house on the market.

Selling the place would solve getting my ex's name off the mortgage.

I've been thinking about that more and more lately. I like living here, mostly. I like feeling like something is mine. I like having a garden and like not having to worry about the damned neighbors hearing me if I snore or laugh at the stupid television, but I don't like feeling like the place owns me.

I'm not sure I'm cut out to be middle class and a homeowner. I'm not even sure if I'm cut out to be a local anymore.