Last night I received a very exciting email from a documentary filmmaker who asked if I would like to be involved in a video she was making about the Trayvon Martin case and the Zimmerman acquittal. She was moved by the piece I wrote for the Huffington Post. I was very flattered, so of course I said yes. We scheduled a 4:30 Skype appointment. I would read a few lines she selected from the piece and she would record it.
She called at 4:25. We chatted for awhile and hit it off right away. We started the piece and I found out she was not just recording it, but filming me reading the lines. Luckily, I did think to wear a nice shirt and comb my hair but I wasn’t wearing makeup. She said I looked lovely. I hate pictures of myself, never mind a video, but I went along with it. I read the lines, repeating them several times until we got it right. I wondered how my Rhode Island accent sounded. It was hard to look at the little green dot where the camera on my computer is. I flubbed several lines, we did them again. The “seventeen year old son’s assaulter” is as hard to say as “she sells seashells”. The filmmaker said we had enough material for bloopers at the end.
“Maybe I’ll be asked to be in the next Hangover movie. I’ll get to meet Bradley Cooper.”
“Wouldn’t that be nice.” She laughed.
I walked the neighborhood after we finished filming.
Six o’clock Beach Club night. It was a scorcher of a day. I was meeting Rich at the beach next to the mansion. I packed a cooler with ice tea, beer, cheese, cherries, and smoked trout dip. I needed crackers and didn’t want to run into Publix so I pulled into a 7-11 where my only choice was a single sleeve of Ritz crackers. I thought it might be fun to get some Cheez Whiz in a can. I imagined us making swirly circles of orange cheese on our crackers. Rich would hate it and not see the humor in this retro vision I had, but who cares. I wasted some time searching the three small food aisles in the 7-11 to no avail. I finally gave up and just bought the crackers.
As I exited the store, a very well dressed woman was leaving the pawn shop across the street. Signs out front advertised: “Cash for Gold”, “Payday Cash Advance”. Bars covered the windows. She got into her Lexus and drove off. Was she buying or selling something? I had no idea. I decided she was selling, she didn’t look like the kind of woman who would shop in a pawn shop.
When I ran my own bookkeeping business and my kids were young, five and three, an accountant I did some work for had an office on the second floor of a shopping plaza. He had to leave work early, so he told me he’d leave the payroll at the pawn shop below his office. I drove to Seabrook, an interesting town with a nuclear power plant, fireworks shops, and adult book stores on the New Hampshire border next to Massachusetts. As I pulled into the plaza, I didn’t see a pawn shop but I did see a sign for Exotic Dancers just below the window upstairs that had the accountant’s name on it. The windows at the dance shop were covered in black. I couldn’t bring the girls in there so I parked right at the curb in front of the door. I told them to stay in the car and opened the exotic dance door but didn’t go in because I needed to keep an eye on my daughters. A man dressed all in black leather yelled, “Close the door.” Two very tall girls in black leather short shorts (hot pants we used to call them), bustiers, and black leather caps were leaning on the counter. They were also wearing black leather wristbands with silver spikes and heavy makeup.
“I’m here to pick up Phil’s payroll,” I said.
“Phil?” the guy asked.
“The accountant upstairs. I’ve got two kids in the car.” My older daughter, who never could sit still, opened the car door and ran past me into the Exotic Dance shop, looked at the two very tall women and ran back to me, grabbing my leg.
“He must of meant the pawn shop. It’s around the corner. Close the goddamn door.”
I later told Phil about the mishap. He laughed. “It must be your Rhode Island accent. You thought I said porn instead of pawn.” Well yeah, maybe, but he said it, not me. My hearing doesn’t have a Rhode Island accent and he did say it was right below his office.
Now I’m worried what I will sound like on the video I did last night.
It was another windy evening on the beach. A tireless kite surfer spent the entire hour and a half we were there zipping along the water, out to sea, into shore, back out again. After my walk, we decided it was too windy to set up the cheese, slice it, and bring out the dip. My Cheez Whiz idea was suddenly sounding brilliant.
We have a showing at 11:30. A house on the worst street in an up and coming neighborhood we really want to be in. It’s a bike ride from the beach and a walk to our favorite coffee shop in Pineapple Grove. The price is right, the neighborhood is moving in a positive direction. We are trying not to get too excited.
I arrived early to walk the neighborhood, parked the car in front of an auto parts store in a shopping plaza, and crossed the railroad tracks on foot. The streets on either side of the house were nice. The usual suspects have begun to plunder their way into this area, the same developer and architect who have planted their signs up and down the streets east of the tracks are now venturing west. Houses on that side of Federal Highway have gone from $400K to $800K in a matter of a year. The sprinkling of signs in this neighborhood announced the developers are conquering new territory. It looks promising.
I walked back to my car, ready to drive to the house. A woman in her late thirties approached me, her left hand wrapped in an ace bandage. She was wearing jean shorts, a white T-Shirt, her hair pulled back in a ponytail. Her face appeared to have a permanently pained expression.
“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to bother you. I hate to do this,” she said. “My house burned down two weeks ago. We’re living in a motel, our insurance company hasn’t sent the check yet. I have three kids, I can show you pictures.” I waved my hand, dismissing the photos as unnecessary. At that point I could have gotten in my car, driven away.
“I need sixty dollars to pay the motel, I have twenty. I need to feed my kids, keep a roof over their heads. I’ve been walking around for an hour, asking for help. Anything you can spare would be greatly appreciated.”
I could choose to not believe her story, dismiss her as a pan handler, a crack addict, a drunk. Maybe I’m a sucker, but she didn’t seem to be any of those things. I rarely carry cash. I told her this. I looked in my purse. I had a twenty and three ones. I gave her the ones.
“Thank you for your kindness. God bless you.”
I got in my car and watched her walk across the shopping plaza. She was headed towards a convenience store that had large neon signs which read Cigarettes, Budweiser, Corona bottles flanked by a surfboard and a palm tree.
“No, she’s not going to buy cigs or beer is she?” I asked myself. She looked in the store window, turned and crossed the parking lot, then walked along Route One towards town. There are a few motels in that direction.
I’m not sure if her story was true. After all, it’s South Florida, but it’s also anywhere U.S.A. I’ve had my problems with insurance companies not covering things, or canceling my policy after I filed a claim. So I chose to believe her story. It was only three dollars, all I could afford to give her. Times are hard for lots of people.
I drove to the house. The renters were there, apparently they weren’t planning to leave during the showing. It was dark inside, all the curtains drawn. Most of the rooms had dark wood walls but the floors were terrazzo and the rooms were large. White paint fixes everything I reminded myself. A very pretty antique ceiling lamp was in the hall. Three kids were in the large family room watching TV. Their father sat at a computer in the corner. The mother said, “Sorry, we’ve had a busy morning, we just finished breakfast.” It was 11:30. We looked around. She followed us, talking about all the work they’d done to the place, how they made an offer on it nine months ago for fifty thousand more than the bank was now asking, but got turned down. This was a short sale. We were soon to learn a lot more about short sales.
There was a pit bull in the yard. The woman put him in the master bedroom and closed the door. The grass was knee high except for a short path that had been mown. It was a big yard. We could put a pool back here. She apologized. “My husband tried to mow the lawn the other day, but the lawn mower broke.” The grass had been growing a lot longer than a few days. We thanked her and walked out to our cars to discuss the house with our realtor.
It certainly had potential, but there was a lot of work to be done. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. Our old house in New Hampshire flashed before my eyes. We told the realtor we needed until later in the day to think about it. She told us she’d call Chase, the bank that held the mortgage.
Later that day we told her we would offer the asking price, contingent upon inspection with a closing in thirty days. She told us what the broker told her. The bank could give us a closing in thirty days, after they accepted our offer. However, they may not accept the offer until anywhere from forty five days to nine months. During that time, prices would most likely continue to rise in Palm Beach County. They could change the asking price every ninety days, when they reassessed. This is how a short sale works. Our deposit would be tied up during that time.
All of us take chances. You sell your house at a certain time, a year later you could have sold it for a lot more. You buy a house, a year later you could have bought it for a lot less. These days the banks are playing the market, holding onto inventory, jacking up the prices in certain areas. The game is stacked in their favor, they make their own odds. Think about this the next time they ask you and I, the taxpayers, to bail them out.
We decided a short sale was not the way we wanted to go. We decided to expand our search to Lake Worth and Deerfield Beach while continuing to look in Delray, knowing the banks are manipulating things here, but hoping for a lucky break.
If you don’t think politics affect your life, think again. You may have been lucky so far. Your house didn’t burn to the ground, you didn’t lose your job and therefore your health insurance. You never had a child with special needs who requires extra services from the schools. Big money pulls the strings in Washington, on both sides of the aisle. I’m a bleeding heart liberal but have some serious questions for Chris Dodd and Barney Frank about their banking bill and what it did for average Americans. Term limits would help but it’s hard to get elected if that’s your platform. We could use forty eight more senators like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, politicians willing to really take on Wall Street and big banks. Empathy is in short supply. But this is just my opinion, after three days of observing the world around me.
For some reason this song came to mind. Mark Knopfler, an extraordinary storyteller: