Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fire Update

Insurance adjuster: "there are some elements with this building contract
I don't like. Can't talk now. later"

Building contractor: "WHY did you show the contract to the insurance
adjuster!?! They should have no problem with it! We've done business

Someone is going to die. Soon.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fire Update

There is no news, which in this case is not necessarily good news.

The builders are reported to have accepted the contract. However, they're
not returning my phone calls and emails, and they have not (as of Friday)
sent me the contract by mail. So for the life of me, I don't know.

I've thought of going to their office and standing in the doorway, yelling.
But it's a two-hour trip to get there, and there's no guarantee the right
people will be in the office. I am unusually patient, but this is getting

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Rebuilding

Well, part of the problem is that for the last two weeks, the insurance
agent, the insurance company adjuster, and the private adjuster have all
been on vacation. Not one of them told me they were leaving, but for the
first time I understand their earlier desire to have everything underway by
the end of August.

I haven't seen the contract, and I'll be going over it to see if a comma has
been misplaced. Before that happens, I'll see about the materials -- my
ceilings were lath and plaster, and all my doors were solid. I intend to be
very hands on during the building process.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Red Tape

Laydeeeeez and Gentlemen! In this hand, I hold two bright red slips of
paper, indicating that a Consolidated Edison Emergency Crew turned off the
electricity and gas service to my house at 3:18AM on May 9, a few minutes
after the fire department left.

In THIS hand, I hold a brand new ConEd utility bill, indicating that my
house used $63 worth of electricity and $46 worth of gas in the billing
period from 05/17/06 to 06/16/06.

Stay tuned for further tales of ass reaming.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Rebuilding

I scanned the contract and sent it to my brother-in-law to look over. He,
on his own initiative (and his own dime, bless him), showed it to his
lawyer. The lawyer agreed that with the exception of the "owner will
irrevocably transfer all insurance proceeds to the builder" section, it's
not a bad contract. The lawyer added some penalties for work delays, some
requirements to follow New York city and state labor laws, and to get all
permits. Nothing that I find too unreasonable. Now we have to see if the
builder agrees.

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Rebuilding

The fundamental point -- and it's a shame the world has to be like this --
is "How can I make a contractor afraid of me?" Perhaps we can be nice and
replace the word "afraid" with "respect", but it all ends up in the same
place: how can I arrange things so a contractor won't even think of
doing me an injustice?

I'm seriously asking.

Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Rebuilding

"Owner hereby irrevocably assigns to Contractor any and all payments made
by Insurer in settlement of the Loss, and shall promptly execute all
documents required to enable Contractor to recieve said proceeds. Owner
specifically authorizes Contractor to execute and endorse Owner's name on
any and all documents required for the release directly to Contractor of
all proceds and advances paid by Insurer regarding the Loss"

Folks, if your house burns down just walk away and spend the rest of your
days roaming the Earth. Anything is better than dealing with this shit.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Posessions

A question from a friend: Is there anything you're secretly (or not so secretly) glad to have lost in that little house fire incident?

Lots of things. I've always been a bit of a magpie, storing everything with the rationale that I might need it someday. I never devoted the time or effort to clean it all out, and even if I had, the end result might have been the same: "I can't throw this away-- I might need it someday." So, in a way, this fire was a blessing because it did my cleaning for me. I've never denied that sometimes I need a push (or a disaster) to get started.

The loss of stuff can be broken into four categories:
A) Irreplaceable stuff I never looked at/used: It's a shame, but it's gone.
B) Replaceable stuff I never looked at/used: Who cares?
C) Irreplaceable stuff I frequently looked at/used: Losing this stuff hurts.
D) Replaceable stuff I frequently looked at/used: It can be replaced, so who cares?

Take for example my 700 videotapes. Some of these are homemade tapes, camcorder tapes, or extremely rare movies that are no longer available (or extremely difficult to find). I miss those. But am I really upset that I lost my copy of the Tribbles episode of Star Trek? Not in the least.

Same thing with my 2000 books. Some of those books are irreplaceable: an 1883 edition of Leaves of Grass, for instance. But my copy of Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat? No problem to replace.

The other thing is that not everything that can be replaced must be replaced. Do I need a copy of Thomas L. Friedman's The World is Flat? Probably not. Do I need a copy of the Tribbles episode of Star Trek? Not in the least. So, as I've known from about the week after the incident, this fire really might be a great gift.

Little fire incident?

Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Housing

My house has two bedrooms. One. Two.

So that I might live somewhere while my house gets rebuilt, the insurance company tried to find me an apartment. They're supposed to find me the equivalent of my burned out house, in size and amenities. They failed.

I went out searching and I found a one bedroom apartment for $1450/month, a good New York price.

The insurance company approved it. I need a place to live, they said, and the package was reasonable.

But it took them so long to approve it that I lost the apartment. However, at least I know they'll go for $1450/month, right?

So I found another apartment, a three bedroom duplex, for $1450/month. It has park and river views. It has north, south, east, and west views. This is known as a score.

The insurance company rejected it.

They'll pay for a place that's lesser or equal, but they won't pay for a place that is better than my original house. Even at the same price.

It's the Puritan ethic that remains alive in the hearts of insurance companies.

Can't pay for frivolity. Even if it costs the same.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Posessions

Those of you fortunate enough to have spent any time in my house might remember "The Money Jar" -- a giant glass carboy, about the size of a water cooler bottle, filled with change. When I got home, I'd empty my pocket change (except the pennies) into the jar; before I left to go out, I'd grab a handful of change from the jar. Once, my brother and I estimated from the weight that it contained between $500 and $700 in change.

It got up and walked away. I went to my house today and searched for it -- and it's not there. Did the firemen steal it? I sure hope not. Did the demolition crew steal it? Most likely. And of course, loose cash in the house is the one thing not covered by insurance.

A loss due to fire is annoying, but ultimately impersonal. I mean, you can't get angry at the fire itself. This, however, is pure theft, and it is infuriating.

And to think that I told the demolition crew that they were doing a good job.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Housing

I lost the apartment, because the insurance adjusters can't get their act together.

I am angry enough to kill the next person I come across.

Fire Update - Subhed Housing

The private adjusters negotiated an agreement in which I will rent this apartment for 12 months, and in which I will pay the $2500 broker's fee. I asked if I would get reimbursed for the broker's fee. They said that don't know. I asked if I would be responsible for breaking the lease if my house is repaired in less than 12 months. They said they don't know.

I asked them to find out or else I will not sign the paper. They said that they really need to get me into a stable living situation. I said if I'm not happy with this agreement, we start again from scratch.

I am this close to telling them to go fuck themselves -- I'm going to hit the road and they can pay $100 a night for me to drive around the country, looking for the American Dream.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Housing

Well, I found an apartment. I visited it, and it's nice enough. I handed everything over to the adjusters to handle all the details. Key detail: will the renter accept a 9 month lease?

The private adjuster I hired is also ... a contractor! Imagine that! He asked me to stop by his office today so we can talk about "the next step". The next step includes hiring an architect because, as I understand his explanation, only architects can hire contractors when a house needs to be rebuilt. The private adjuster drew up papers that gave him the go-ahead to get started with the renovation work on the house. I didn't sign the papers. Instead, I told him I wanted to have some other contractors bid on the project as well. He told me that other contractors might not have the skill required for the job --this is _fire_ reconstruction, you know, and that's a rather specialized talent.

I told him I wanted to have some other contractors bid on the project as well. He told me that other contractors would not be willing to put their own money up front for the reconstruction -- they'd force me to close my claim with the insurance company so that I could get my settlement. "And then what heppens when they open the wall and discover more damage? Your claim is settled! You're shit outta luck, scuse my French. The insurance adjuster is gonna say that to your face. In fact, Fred, the adjuster we're dealing with -- I know him. He'll laugh at you first, _then_ he'll tell you too bad."

I told him I wanted to have some other contractors bid on the project as well. He said that was a good idea. In fact, he encourages all his customers to get second bids.

So things are moving along, maybe. I have an apartment. Maybe.

I do have a copy of the policy, which I picked up from the mail today. I'm currently at a library computer, but when I get back to where I'm staying I can open it and read it at leisure.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Housing

Since all the apartment realtors in the area want a minimum of a 12 month lease, I can't really use them for temporary housing. A friend of mine who is an insurance broker (and who is helping clandestinely) suggested looking at corporate housing; the temporary apartments that companies rent for their employees when they have to stay in another city for a long time. Those places are willing to rent month-to-month, but they charge something like twice as much as a standard rental.

The other problem is that I live in the Bronx, which, among its other faults, happens to have fewer than the national average of corporate housing units. It's silly for me to live in New Jersey if I want to keep tabs on my house, and it makes no sense for me to live in Manhattan with a car, so I've been looking in my childhood stomping grounds of Westchester County.

And that's a big mistake. Moving from the Bronx to Westchester counts as a step up, as far as the insurance company is concerned. They'll help me find a suitable place to live, but they're not willing to pay for an upgrade. So we're at an impasse.

Meanwhile, the insurance company sent me information about a lovely two bedroom apartment on a particular block in the South Bronx. I forwarded them a clip from a Village Voice article which indicated that very same block was a notoriously violent drug zone.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Housing

The insurance company housing locator people found me an apartment on 197th street and Valentine Avenue in the Bronx.  This is what the Village Voice has to say about that:

"That same year, on the crooked four-block-long stretch of Valentine Avenue from Kingsbridge Road to 198th Street, the NYPD set up road blocks and floodlights as part of its Model Block Initiative, which sought to purge dealers from the area, and organize residents to keep them out. Despite a temporary respite for residents, dealers simply moved off the block for awhile, then moved back. Community organizing under police auspices collapsed beneath constant intimidation from drug crews."

This is what they call "equivalent" housing?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Fire Update - Subhed Laundry

For the first time in more than 10 years. I'm living without a washer/dryer in the house. This is how I did laundry today:

1) Put dirty clothes in laundry bag. I haven't separated whites from coloreds in years, and I see no reason to institute an apartheid policy now.

2) Search the apartment for the towels, which absolutely have to be washed.

3) Empty the laundry bag on the floor. The towels have been in there all along.

4) Put dirtier clothes back in laundry bag.

5) Lug laundry bag down four flights of stairs. Enter laundromat.

6) Look in bag for detergent. Realize that the detergent is still upstairs. Lug laundry bag up four flights of stairs.

7) Return to laundromat with clothes and detergent. Search pocket for quarters. Wallet is upstairs. Lug laundry bag , etc..

8) Get change from Russian lady who owns laundromat. A lifetime of Soviet indoctrination can keep hidden the sullen look on her face.

9) Read instructions on washing machine. Read instructions on washing machine. Read instructions on washing machine a third time.

10) Ask sullen Russian lady how to operate washing machine. Russian women become unsullen, actually helpful. Russian woman believes I am newly divorced, separated, widowed, or mildly retarded.

11) Follow washing machine instructions by rote, like Rainman. Use detergent.

12) Climb four flights of stairs, return detergent.

13) Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

14) Shift clothes to dryer. Dryer instructions are simpler - "Put clothes in dryer." Eight minutes per quarter dollar.

15) Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait.

16) Remove clothes from dryer, fold.

17) Lug clothes up four flights of stairs.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Fire Update

I received an advance from the insurance company. It's a relatively small amount of money to help me to buy emergency tuff, things I need right now to live. My personal adjuster suggested that I open a new savings account and use it to hold all the insurance money, simply as a way to keep better track of it. I thought that was an excellent idea and went to my local Chase branch, check in hand.

I suppose that anyone who shows up in my bank in a button down shirt gets treated deferentially. When I said I wanted to open a new account I was immediately shown to the office of the president of the bank, an elderly man for whom the words "dapper" and "spry" wrestled for prominence. He had thin grey hair, a dark blue suit, and the first name Patrick. He greeted me warmly and asked for my social security number. He entered it into the computer faster than I could type, and I watched as his face fell. I don't know why, but I kind of expected his face to fall. Why should this go easily?

"You're on NDS," he said, as a means of not explaining what the problem was. "I'm sorry, but I can't do this. I'm going to have to pass you to one of our other bankers. She can help you." He called in a middle aged woman in a floral print dress, who brought me to her cubicle.

"What's the problem," I asked when we were seated.

"You're on NDS," she said.

"So I've heard. What does that mean?"

"You're a legacy account." Yes, that was right. I opened my account with Chemical bank in 1986. In the bank merger mania of the early 1990s, Chemical bought out Manufacturer's Hanover, and then merged with Chase. The upper echelon of the company directors were all from Chemical, but they agreed that the new company would use Chase's name. And, apparently, computer systems. She pressed a series of keys and her screen changed to an old fashioned text entry screen.

I decided to get technical. "You mean to say that twelve years after the merger," I said, "you've still got the legacy accounts behind a 3270 interface?" Without thinking she nodded and said "They keep promising to change, but they never do." Then she realized what I had said and gave me a puzzled look -- how does this guy know about 3270 interfaces?

At that moment the phone in the next cubicle rang, playing the theme from ABCs Wild World of Sports. A rotund man in a blue shirt with white collar picked up and bellowed "HELLO!"

"We're going to have to open your new account under NDS," the woman explained. "I haven't done that in years."

"All I want is to be able to transfer money from the new account into my current checking account, via Chase Online," I said.

"You can access your NDS account from Chase Online?" the woman asked in amazement. "I didn't know that." Great. What was I dealing with?

"HOLD IT, HOLD IT, MA'AM," the man in the next cubicle bellowed.

"Ok," the woman said. "We have to do this the old fashioned way. I need you to fill out this application." Chase prides itself on letting you open an account completely on line, but I guess that doesn't apply to the NDS untermenschen.


"He's having a bad day," the woman whispered to me, as she entered data into her 3270 interface. "Every day."

Filling out a bank application is like taking stock of your life. Every question is an accusation. You're HOW old? You make HOW much money? Do you swear under penalty of perjury that you are this much of a loser?


The woman scanned my application. "You're a writer? My daughter's a writer. She writes poetry. She's only 12, but the thoughts that come out of her head, I don't know where they come from." I wanted to reassure her that I don't know where the thoughts in my head come from either, but then realized that such a revelation might not be so comforting.


"Ok," the woman said calmly, as if that outburst was in the customer service manual. "You're all set." From the next cubicle we heard the sounds of stubby fingers punching touch-tone numbers. "Your account should be available before noon tomorrow, and it'll have this check as the initial balance."


"One piece of advice," the woman hinted. "Because you're on NDS, you can't get high yield savings. If you want, we can completely shut down your accounts and re-open them on the new system. Your interest rate will go up if you do that."

"Thanks," I said, "but my house just burned down. I don't need any more confusion. Maybe later in the year."

"THE FUCKIN GUY CAN"T MAKE SOUP HE'S SO FUCKIN DUMB!" The phone in the next cubicle slammed into the cradle.

Patrick the bank president appeared at the next cubicle. "Jerome," he said quietly. Jerome, not Jerry. The guy in the blue shirt was in for it now. "Come into my office." The theme from ABC's Wide World of Sports rang through my head.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fire Update

I found a great apartment!

The insurance company won't let me have it! More precisely, they refuse to answer any questions about it.

I email them: "What about that apartment I've found?"

They reply: "We've got a great apartment for you in someone's basement."

I email them: "What about that apartment I've found?"

They reply "The place we've found is in a really vibrant neighborhood."

I email them: "What about that apartment I've found?"

They reply: "We're going to be out of the office tomorrow! See you on Tuesday!"

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Mini Fire Update

I now have five library cards to my name.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Fire Update

Whenever one of their clients has been burned out of their home, as I have, my nameless insurance company hires an executive housing service -- the kind of place that finds apartments for people like junior programmers when they have to spend several weeks working in the branch office in a distant city. In the case of fire refugees, the company is supposed to find a dwelling of equal or greater quality than the person's pre-existing home. In reality, it doesn't always work like that.

Part of the problem is that the housing search company is based in Massachusetts, and people from outside don't always understand the subtlties of life in the Bronx. Either they still follow the old 1980s belief that the entire Bronx, from Woodlawn to Mott Haven, is a fetid swamp of wreched humanity and therefore it doesn't matter were the animals live; or they heard some vague reports that claim that the South Bronx is coming back, so the whole place must be a Garden of Eden. More likely, they were just told to find the cheapest housing.

Of course, the cheapest housing is in the worst neighborhoods. And though the Bronx may indeed be experiencing a renaissance, its worst neighborhoods are still cesspools of crime that no one would willingly move into. Those are the places in which they want me to live.

So I had to tell them no. Imperiously. It was a bluff, since I'm still living on the good graces of friends who are letting me crash at their place, and I have a feeling the good graces are fast running out. But I can't let the insurance company let me cut corners now -- not when the damage valuation on the house still has to be negotiated. I've got to be a demanding prick in my every dealing with the insurance company. It's not something that comes naturally to me.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Fire Update

The events of this week have been a series of monumental cock-ups on all sides.

The insurance inventory adjuster was supposed to come to the house to make a list of everything I owned that had been ruined by the fire, by water, or by smoke. Immediately after that, a demolition crew was to take out all the interior sheetrock / wallboard that might have been ruined by water, to prevent the mold from taking hold. That's all well and good.

The inventory guy was supposed to come out last Thursday, two days after the fire. Then he cancelled and said he would be there Friday. Then he cancelled and said he would be there Saturday. Then he cancelled and made plans for the 18th, yesterday. All his delays prevented the demolition crew from working on the wet walls until last Monday -- by that time the walls were a fungal petrie dish. The demolition guys had no choice but to place all of my remaining posessions in giant heavy duty contractor's trash bags. To those of you who know how much I hate people going through my 'stuff", you can imagine how otherworldly this was for me.

On Thursday (yesterday), I finally met with the inventory guy, from 10:30 AM to 5PM. Our routine consisted of him sitting on bare, smoky rafters of the house while I emptied out a contractor bag, scoped through the contents of my life, reported its combined value to him, and repacked the bag. Over and over, for 53 bags. It was one of the most humbling experiences I've ever had.

He told me I was going to have problems with the insurance company. He said that he had been doing houseold inventories for eleven years, and he had never seen a place with 2000 books, as I had. I told him that I was a writer and a reader, that I needed a lot of books for my research, and that - most importantly - he had seen every one of those books as I unwrapped them in front of him. He aggreed to all of my points, but said that the insurance company still wouldn't believe it. He also watched as I counted through 730 video tapes, 314 CDs, 113 LPs, and 30 DVDs. He had no problem with those items, but 2000 books -- that's unnatural.

This is turning into one of those major life transformations I seem to go through every seven years.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Living room
A few minutes after midnight on May 9, 2006, my house caught fire. This is the aftermath.