Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Water Water Everywhere ...

The highlight of my day: I flooded the entire front of my housemate's home with toilet water, tried running to the rescue (of what, I'm still not sure) and hit the slippery tile in my Born boots with such force that I plowed into my 6'3", 280-lb. husband, took him to the ground and knocked my head off the floor.

It was the highlight, though, because when the city of Salinas reviews your building plans and tells you that you're going to need to install a sprinkler system on a renovation project that has only a $140,000 total budget, you really can only go up from there.

I'm on vacation this week. I've been told vacation is supposed to be relaxing. For the most part, it has been. It started last Wednesday when my husband drove me to Mineta-San Jose International Airport, kissed me goodbye and sent me to the adult version of craft camp. I spent three-and-a-half days at Ft. Worden, in Port Townsend, WA, at "Artfest," run by the husband-and-wife team of Tracy Vaughn Moore and Teesha Moore. I made stuff. I hung out with women (and a few men) who also made stuff. I ate good Thai food. I nurtured my inner child-or some bullshit like that. Mostly it was fun; I learned a few things, met some great people and created some cool stuff. But I have trouble relaxing. I think I came pretty close though.

Sunday was No. 1 son's birthday. The little hosehead turned 16. I remember when he was cute and little and didn't talk back. Now the mothers of his female classmates refer to him as "delicious" and he wants the keys to my car.

But yesterday, the day of the Great Flood, we also got comments back on our plan submittal for House226. Chuck was reading along and then he came to the Fire Marshal's section, the one that said "you want to build three units, you get to install fire sprinklers." He asked the planning department about sprinklers before we even set down this road, and they said, not needed. (Apparently they were talking about some other plans, plans that exist in another dimension or something like that.) The fire marshal said the Redevelopment Agency told us we would need sprinklers--they most assuredly did not. But here we are and we need sprinklers before we can pull the building permit and get to work.

The fear factor came in yesterday when someone told us a system would run about $50,000. That is a show stopper, a mail-the-keys-to-the-bank show stopper. That would take one-third of a budget that's already up against the wall. We mostly sat around stunned last night, but Chuck reasoned that there are too many people with too much to lose on this deal--our FHA consultant, for one, and our contractor, for another.

The contractor bid, and the consultant approved said bid, without any consideration for sprinklers. The FHA consultant today? Less than helpful. Default is certainly an option, he said. And so is making sure his license is suspended, I thought.

We tried to figure out a way around it. What if we went down to two units? What if we made it a single-family? The city wants multi-unit housing, yeah, but it wants this house painted and fixed up and generally deblighted more, doesn't it? Chuck ate a valium the dentist gave him for an upcoming procedure, and followed that up with a beer. I made meatloaf and tried to be chipper, but then I flushed the toilet and walked away from it, only to find myself covered in toilet water an hour later. I woke up about 6 a.m. today and spent the next few hours panicking.

My husband could build a nuclear reactor out of spare parts in the garage, but this confounded even him. There was a lot of sitting around and holding his head in his hands today, as one unhelpful email after another came in. That's when I decided to visit my new hero, Salinas Fire Marshal Tom Wiley.

After going through the situation with Wiley, and being told the RDA had told us about the sprinklers (uh, no they didn't) I asked him how much we could expect to pay for the sprinkler system. He said $1.25 a square foot installed. Cheaper if we do it ourselves. "It's just orange plastic pipe and couplings."

"You mean, it's not $50,000?" I asked. And that's when he and his cohort, the plan checker on the fire side of things, giggled like teenage girls. "Who told you that? We're in the wrong line of work."

$1.25 per foot comes out to about $5,300. We can work that into the budget. I have to get plans to the various local fire protection companies and see what's what. I also have to get in touch with Cal Water Services Co. to request a bucket test and see if they can go off of our existing meter. I tried doing that today--they're supposedly open until 5 p.m., but the woman who answered the phone today said they closed down at noon today. And she giggled nervously when I asked to know why.

If they can't use our existing meter, it could be pricey, Fire Marshal Wiley said. But it's still doable.

"I wish you would have come and talked to me yesterday," he said. "We're not here to throw up roadblocks."

There is not enough sedation in the world to completely eradicate the suck that was yesterday. Chuck is still pretty grumpy, because we've gotten the royal runaround from everyone but the Fire Marshal. And we failed at the most simple thing, a thing you think we would have learned after our business debacle: always, always get it in writing.

But I'm not giving up on this one without a serious fight.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Citrus Heights

When you're dealing with a project of this scope, and waiting on plan approval from the city so your contractor can pull permits and start working, you take progress anywhere you can get it. Right now, that means working on the overgrown, oversized yard.

And it means meeting Berta:



We were unloading this morning's Home Depot run, the beginning of the guacamole garden: a lemon tree, a lime tree, a Haas avocado tree and (completely unrelated to guacamole) a pomegranate bush. The plan was to plant the lemon and lime trees on one side of the front walkway; when they're large enough, they'll be trained on a trellis over the walkway--it makes harvesting easier, and walking underneath it when the trees are in bloom smells fantastic. The pom bush (and another we'll buy) will go in front of the wheelchair ramp, an enormous concrete structure the previous owner put in so the office building he planned would be accessible. We're leaving it so the side entry and rear apartment also will be handicapped accessible.

But before we could plant anything, we had to deal with the weeds.

It's been raining in Monterey County for what seems to be a month straight and the weeds were out of control. I didn't want to spray them with weed killer and wait for them to die before we could start cleaning up, because the house already looks like crap and I didn't want to add to the blight. So the plan was to chop and wack and deal with murdering them on another day.

I dragged Grumpy the Teenager and his baby brother over to the house around noon. We were getting out of the car when this tiny, oldish Mexican woman wearing a hot pink "Flirt" t-shirt approached.

"Honey," Chuck said, "This is Berta."

(And her cicle! )

Berta lives a few blocks over and was out for her morning walk. She wanted to know if she could help.

I tried to explain to her that I had a couple of guys coming over shortly to do the heavy duty stuff, but she was fairly insistent. And given my Spanish sucks, I ended up asking, "Ok, how much?"

"Not too much," she said. I shrugged and said "ok," and for the next two hours, Berta hand-cicled the weeds from the side yard.

The boys and I were working on the side bed along the wall, where weeds with thick stalks and deep roots had taken hold. Bobby took the shovel away from me to work on the bigger roots and Sam wandered around in a sweaty little haze. Berta came over to help. At one point I turned around and she was gnawing on one of the weed stalks.

She must have caught my look, because she said, "No, it's ok, It's not bad." I asked her if it was sweet and she said, "No, but it has water in it." (D'oh!) I offered her a bottle of water and she took it with a grin. With a little Spanish from me and a little English from her, I learned her son works for the city motor pool, she goes to an Evangelical church, she does some housecleaning on the side and she's interested in renting one of the apartments when they're ready.

The comedy team of George and Tony (Jorge and Antonio to each other, George and Tony to their customers) came over to knock down the big stuff. They were working on a house near my mother-in-law's so I pulled over and asked them to come and take a look at the yard and give me an estimate. They just started doing yards because as George put it, it's hard to find a job right now and he's got kids to feed. They did half the yard today (equivalent to my remaining checking account balance after kids' tuition and tuition deposits for next year) and will come back at the end of the month to do the back half. They asked if they could take a picture of the before and after. ("My girlfriend won't believe we got a job this big," George told me.) Snap away, George, snap away.

Next week we'll do the layout for the actual vegetable gardens and lay out the weed barrier. We're doing raised beds in the front with tomatoes (cherry, paste and some heirloom), eggplants, peppers (sweet and jalapeno), cucumbers, zucchinis and strawberries. I'll take better and more frequent pictures as soon as I figure out where I put the camera charger.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Oh Bank of (Redacted), How Thou Dost Vex Me

Part One

Yesterday was not a banner day in our little quest to make this house a home.

Prospect Mortgage sold our loan to a large bank, which while understandable is still is sort of like having an intermediary sell your soul to Satan. We signed documents that had our first three months of payments built into the loan, meaning we don't start paying the mortgage until June 1 (when we anticipate moving in). But the bank in question thinks we're already three weeks late with our first payment.

I got this news via IM from my husband. I'm at work, trying to arrange interviews for stories, he's at work, where his group is undergoing a massive reorg that has him switching from a much beloved boss to a completely unknown entity.

Him: This is weird, I keep getting phone calls from a 1-800 number.
Me: Give me the number.
Him: 1-800-Yada Yada.

I call it, it's Bank of (Redacted).

Me: It's Bank of (Redacted).
Him: Huh, wonder what they want.

Massive fight ensues. Call them back, I say. You call them back, he says. I don't have the information I need to talk to them, I say. You have as much information as I do, he says. Repeat four or five times.

So I call. They want to know where their first payment is. I explain to them that we're not supposed to pay until June. They say, "As if!" (As an aside, it took me 45 minutes to get through to a live human being. The first time they hung up on me, the second time they transferred me into the void, the third time they hung up on me and the fourth time a woman looked up our account, said "You're late," and then told me to talk to whoever originated the loan.)

This is the point at which I felt like vomiting. What if we were wrong? Are we wrong? Did we sign the wrong papers?

Chuck reached out to the folks at Prospect Mortgage and they responded quickly, saying we were right and that they would fix the problem. I tweet to the bank's Help account that help is what I need and get a call from a very sympathetic Sharon about an hour later.

We don't have a resolution yet, but they're working the problem. Apparently the bank was in the middle of processing the payments and just decided to throw the fear of God into us for grins. Or something like that.

Part Two

Not knowing if we had screwed up on our end and were actually late on a payment and wrong about the documents is minor in the general scheme of things, but it added another element of uncertainty to a situation rife with it. Family-wise, we're split up right now, with Chuck and the boys living at his mom's place, and the dog and I living at our friend Todd's place on the opposite end of town. Someone commented to me today to "enjoy the vacation," but I miss being with the kids and I miss my husband snoring. I joined them for dinner the other night and ended up with hives the next day, probably from spending 90 minutes with the cats.

We're waiting for the city right now to either request changes to the plans, or issue a building permit so we can get started. Once we can get started, we're going to do the basement apartment first, because we can at least all live there while the rest of the house is being worked on. It's such a beautiful day today, and is supposed to be for the rest of the weekend, that we're going to work on the yard this afternoon/evening and tomorrow--lots of weeds to slaughter. Orchard Supply Hardware is having a 20 percent off sale on all living things, so we're going to check on their fruit tree situation and may start planting the lemon trees.

I had a personal day today because I need to renew my driver's license, only to discover that today is a state employee furlough day and the DMV offices are closed. I spent hours at the Cherry Bean Coffeehouse (my third place) making work phone calls and going through paperwork, etc. There was a little excitement--a run-by robbery. Guy came in, asked for a cup of water and then grabbed the bills from the tip jar and left.

He then came back an hour later and hung out long enough to be arrested, sans cash, of course. He had spent it on cigarettes.

Monday, March 8, 2010

A Tautology in Five Parts, Or What Happens When You Let Your 15-year-old Pack His Own Belongings

Me: You packed your goddamned cell phone, Bobby?
Bobby: I didn't know I was packing it.
Husband: He is eligible for an upgrade.
Bobby: Cool, what upgrade can I get?
Me: You can get the kind of upgrade one gets when one packs their goddamn cell phone.