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.