Saturday, June 14, 2014

Talkin' to a communist - haven't done that in a while!

Friday night, I spoke with a self-described communist.

I have done considerably more than flirt with communism, socialism and anarchism.  I often describe myself as an anarcho-syndicalist, tho' I suspect that is much less true than when I was in college and had these kinds of conversations quite frequently.  See, nowadays, I don't let ideological purity get in the way of the practical nuts and bolts of human society.

My fall-out with communism occurred, for instance, when I noticed that every attempt at a communist government had collapsed into a cult-of-personality military dictatorship and never really left it in a way that could be described as communist.  Mostly, they stay military dictatorships, or become regular capitalist democracies.

So the socialist lacuna between the people's revolution and the withering of the state became troubling for me.  It seemed to me that on one side you had the worker's revolution and on the other side, across a bottomless pit, you had this wonderful utopia but no one knew how to build the bridge attaching the two.  So the primary question became, for me, "How do we fill the chasm or build the bridge?"

I have considered the question, off and on, for years . . . and no solution is forthcoming.  No one seems to know.  The practical nuts and bolts of building a better society don't seem to be very interesting to most people - the utopian fantasy seems to move them.

(Of course, this is just as true of radical capitalism.  Anarcho-capitalist fantasies are splendid but to get there we're just supposed to trust that megacorporations are going to let their power go to fit the ideology of Miltonian economics?  Preposterous.  Just as preposterous as imagining a communist dictatorship will cede its power to some ideal stateless society.  The reality of power and control make this nearly impossible to imagine.)

Which as both a writer and a sausage maker is unsatisfying.  Books are great, but they aren't the creative frenzy that, well, artists sell as the artistic process.  There's a lot of stuff that isn't obsessed dudes at typewriters spilling their heart and soul.  There's a lot of research and then a lot of editing.  The finished product is the result of a lot of hard work.

The same with sausage.  We all love sausage, but to get there requires pushing meat through a grinder.  It's sticky, messy, cold work.  The end results are great, but there are practical issues in sausage making that need to be performed before you sink your teeth into its utopian pleasures.

Finishing a big project is best accomplished with a solid, concrete plan.  If you don't have that plan, you'll end up with a shoddy product (the USSR), nothing at all (any failed revolution the world over) or you'll never start (dreamy eyed middle-class communists).  Without that concrete plan, don't expect most people to get worked up over your ideology.  Don't expect the revolution to happen if you don't know what that even means.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Miami: Day to Day

In addition to the big problems I've talked about, there are innumerable smaller ones that are similar to problems every place has but generally increased in rate of occurrence and intensity.  This will be the last one because I have exorcised my demons with it, I think.  I suspect everyone knows, by now, that I don't particularly like living in Miami.

Traffic is a big problem we have in Miami. Everywhere else I've lived with Adrienne, I have done almost all of the driving.  Adrienne generally preferred in Santa Cruz and Maine to take public transportation to work - she doesn't like to drive.  I do.  So I do most of the driving, sometimes even when it's not good for me.  For years, I drove every mile of every long distance trip we did, even when it made me sick.  When we drove from Maine to California, I did get sick at one point, literally vomiting, because I didn't relinquish the wheel.  (Nowadays, I drive for two hours and Adrienne for one - I generally start and finish, so I definitely do the lion's share, which is cool, but the breaks have totally stopped white line fever and motion sickness.)

Here in Miami, driving makes me so crazy that it makes Adrienne crazy.  Here, she would rather drive in the crazy than listen to me being crazy in Miami traffic.  I want to emphasize, here, that I learned to drive in Las Vegas traffic.  It isn't that I'm unused to dealing with densely packed roads.  It's that Miami traffic is noticeably worse than even other densely populated tourist destinations.

Which isn't to say it isn't crazy for her, either.  It is.  And she's on the road an hour and a half every day!

How is it crazy?  Well, I have never seen so many people so willing to cut people off.  Using your turn signal is generally consented to be a sign of weakness and usually provokes someone into cutting you off.  This insanity means that when a road narrows, no one cedes any ground at all, making Miami's already heavy traffic worse as numerous bottlenecks are created by jerks trying to get to the front of the line.

People in Miami also don't know how to use turn lanes.  They'll turn into them so their trunk is out in traffic.  This is nigh constant.

People in Miami also just . . . stop.  They'll stop their cars anywhere to do whatever business they have to do.

At every major street corner in town, there is a beggar or some dude with fruit, weaving in and out of traffic, trying to get paid.  This slows down the traffic, too, as people have to avoid them or they stop to buy things.

They won't get out of the way of emergency vehicles!

Cyclists are contemptuous of their lives and the lives of others.  About 90% of cyclists in Miami, at any given time, are doing something stupid.  Not illegal, though that, too, but bafflingly stupid - like driving down the wrong side of a busy road at night with neither a helmet nor a light.

Adrienne was involved in a crash that nearly totaled our car.  No one was hurt, but it was clearly unpleasant and dangerous.  Our rear bumper is also a mess because it has been hit at least three times while in parking lots.  Every so often, we'll come out and there will be more paint chipped off because of a low speed parking lot collision.  Of course, no one leaves a note or anything.

Those are fairly specific things.  More generally, Miami drivers are unsafe and selfish.  It is reflected in the danger of the roads.  Miami averages more than twice the average in traffic, bicycle and pedestrian fatalities than the national average - bearing in mind that most Americans are primarily city drivers, too, that Miami is about twice as dangerous as other big American cities.  It is, without doubt, one of the least safe places in America to drive, as reflected in almost every survey of bad traffic.

The city is also very car centered - moreso because even if you live in a place where you can theoretically walk to places, those places are likely to be terrible.

For instance, when we first got to Miami there was the Walgreens of the Damned where the workers were incredibly toxic - flagrantly rude and only grudgingly doing the basic elements of their jobs.  Most other shops nearby weren't any better, either.  We then lived close to an ice cream shop that we went into once because of the bad service.  You know that it's got to be bad if Adrienne and I are avoiding an ice cream place in Miami because of the lousy service.

Where we live, now, we are essentially across the street from a local market.  I've been in there twice, Adrienne has been in there once.  While pretending to be a store, it is really just a place where alcoholics and tweakers can buy beer.  Both times I went into the store to get a bottle of soda.  Both times, that bottle of soda was so old it was flat.  Not so old that it tasted a bit off - the soda was literally without carbonation.

The service is incredibly rude, too.  To buy anything, you have to reach across a freezer unit and counter to put your items in front of the cashier, who will not bag them nor hand them back to you.  Both times I was there, the cashier was incredibly sullen while he did this, like I was interrupting his day because I wanted to buy some pop.

More recently, the joint has expanded into the pawn shop business, to give you an indication of how classy it is.  Bringing together tweakers, beer and pawn shopping!  All the better to buy your meth, I suppose.

I went to another local market, but . . . it turned out to be a few bottles of South American sodas and a counter where people bought wings and fries.  Seriously, it was a weird place that seemed to do a lot of business but didn't really have anything in it if you weren't looking for too sweet sodas and congestive heart failure.

The problems with service don't end there, either.  Here at the house, we can't really get pizza delivered.  There is about a fifty percent chance of any given pizza we order actually arriving.  For a while, we were experimenting with delivery places but stopped due to the high rate of them either not delivering our order at all or there being some kind of serious problem with our order.  There are two places that we will order from because they have the normal kinds of problems, which is like magic in Miami.

I think that the problems with service are a piece with the bad driving.  People in Miami are pretty consistently self-centered assholes.  They drive like assholes and when they get to work, they keep on being assholes.  Regardless, it creates a culture of incompetence and rudeness that is pervasive.  If you look back to the big problems I've mentioned, almost all of them are grounded in people here in Miami either being rude or incompetent.

Unfortunately, this extends to city services, too.  We have a real problem that trash collection doesn't happen reliably.  It is supposed to happen every Tuesday, you can put out your big pieces of junk like ruined furniture or whatever and a truck is supposed to come by to pick it up.  The truck doesn't.  The only time I've seen it come is when I've complained.

Worse, it effects law enforcement - though I think this is made worse because of the culture of corruption that pervades all Miami government.

One of the big problems we have with where we live, now, is noisy neighbors.  They are rude.  People will blare music at all hours of the day so loud that I can hear it over the TV, inside.  It is unacceptable and also against the law.  If you are making noise that can be heard 100 feet from its source, that is prima facie evidence of guilt and punishable with a fine up to $1200.  I checked.

Most of the time when we call to report a noise problem, nothing happens.  I would say we have to average two calls to get someone down to take care of the problem.  Both Adrienne and I have been told that noise complaints can't be filed unless it is after 10pm.  That is untrue.  The 10pm thing refers to businesses, not residences, and is another example of that lazy, incompetent thing - you've got operators convincing people it's pointless to call the cops.  Which is probably why none of our neighbors who are actually close to the loud assholes do anything - how many times do you have to be told by a police operator that there is no violation before you give up?

About a month after I complained to my city council person, most of the noise issues stopped.  I have no idea if they were related, but it's possible that they did something and didn't tell us.  On the other hand, our city council person couldn't sit on the council for a year because she was still working off the sentence from her previous corruption charge - which means that after being convicted of fraud, she somehow managed to get re-elected.  That's very Miami, too.

My face-to-face interactions with Miami's "finest" are limited to one - but it is also telling, I think.

I was down at the airport, trying to pick up Adrienne.  This was at the Miami International Airport, and the cops there are Miami cops.  Anyway, I had stopped at a cutout to text Adrienne and a policeman came along and told me to move.  I was annoyed, but complied, and as I was leaving, the sonofabitch insulted me, calling me stupid.  I flipped him off and drove away.  I parked and was crossing the street to get into the airport because Adrienne's flight was slightly delayed.

The same cop came up to me and started an argument.  I was just walking along and he decided to take time out of his day to cross over and start a fight.  He insulted me, again.  I asked for his name so I could report him.  He was wearing neither a name tag or any identification at all, other his cop vest!  There was no way I could specifically identify the officer!  This stunned me.

He refused to give it to me, insulting me, again.  I responded in kind and we got into a shouting argument in front of MIA.  A crowd formed, including other cops.  I asked the other cops to give me the name of the jerk verbally abusing me.  They looked away and didn't do anything.  Neither did any of them come over to try to control the situation.  They let him keep shouting at me and I kept shouting back, trying to get his name and number so I could report him.

Eventually, I just walked away and he didn't follow me.

I could go in this vein for a while.  The specifics of bad service, dangerous and idiotic traffic and rude people are too numerous to really list, though.  Almost every time Adrienne and I leave, for any reason, something bad happens.  Mostly, its little things - getting cut off in traffic, having to deal with a sullen jerk doing their job badly, stuff like that.  Sometimes, it's something noteworthy, like getting into a screaming fight with a cop or having our car totaled.

Adrienne gets it worse than I do!  She has to drive to work.  For an hour and a half, every day, she has to sit in that fucked up traffic, surrounded by awful, mean-spirited and selfish drivers.  I can't imagine.

I think I've made my point, though.  In addition to the big things that people in Miami fuck up, way too many of them also fuck up the little things.  Which isn't to say that everyone in Miami is a fuck up.  Of course not!  But in any undertaking that involves more than a couple of people, you're probably going to have whatever it is you're doing stymied because of some lazy, rude and incompetent jerk.  My stories about house buying and selling are riddled with these sorts of people, of course, that person who just wouldn't do their job long past the point when doing it would have been easier than not doing it.  (Which is one of the things that stuns me - that so many people continue to fuck up long after they are sparing themselves any effort in doing so!)

The effects have been to limit the extent that Adrienne and I do anything.  For me, considering I work from home, this means an almost perfect isolation, save for Adrienne and my online friends.  Whole months have passed with me talking face-to-face to no one other than my wife.  Adrienne has become very protective of her unstructured time at home, often hostile to the idea of going anywhere after she's within our walls - after spending all day dealing with FIU bureaucracy, her boss who has fully adopted the Miami-eque management style and after a long drive in traffic, I don't blame her.  It can be a trick to get us to leave the house, though, most days.

I think this is going to be the last post, though.  My strength to complain wanes.  I framed a post asking why Miami is this way, but I don't really care enough to write it.  I had intended to write a post about the good things in Miami, but I have lost interest in doing so - and the good things do not even remotely make up for the bad ones, anyway.  There are some pretty buildings.  So what?

When the higher angels of my conscience are in charge, I can see why people like Miami.  If you're terrified of winter, there is none of that, here.  (Though there is none of it most of the South and Southwest, too, I should point out.  The West Coast is also almost entirely winterless.)  There are a lot of things to do.  (But not more than in any other big city.)  Many people have their families here, of course, though I do not and don't know why families don't leave, en masse, for better climes.

But then I think of the objective things.  The muggy, wet summers - with the added bonus of the occasional hurricane and annual tropical storm or two!  Is a little snow really so bad compared to that?

How about corruption?  Except for, like, Chicago, maybe, Miami has more corruption than any other American city.  Go ahead and google "Miami corruption".  It is a matter of public record!

Traffic?  You're more than twice as likely to die in Miami - in a car, on a bike, or on foot - than you are in the rest of the country.  Not to mention that commute times are awful!

Crime?  You're more than twice as likely to be robbed or killed in Miami than the national average, and three times as likely to be beat up!  And when you go to the cops, you'll find a legal system mired in corruption and incompetence - objectively so, publicly so.  Go to your city government about it?  Good luck, they're just as corrupt as the cops.

These are objective things that make me wonder why the people who live here are so adamant about living here.  In much better places, most of the people have been honest about the flaws and willing to leave.  Santa Cruz is a great place to live, but almost no one clutched onto the city with death grips like I've seen in Miami.

People will go, "Well, Miami has a lot of Latinos and they're close to their families."  Er, Santa Cruz is in CALIFORNIA.  You may have heard, but California is mostly Latino - moreso than Florida.  Miami and LA have about the same percentage of Latinos, after all.   So, no, not that.

But for some reason people cling to this rotten barnacle of a town where everything they say they want can be gotten in other, better places - try San Diego.  Try San Francisco.  Try Seattle or Tucson or Austin or New Orleans.  All of these places are exciting, have good weather and are just much, much better places to live!

Thinking that way exhausts me, though.  I don't know why people stay in Miami and, ultimately, I don't care.  Lots of people do things that confuse me and I accept that this is just another one.  I am happy to leave Miami with my soul, marriage and checkbook intact.  I gladly cede Miami to the Miamians.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Chael Sonnen fails another piss test

Chael Sonnen got pulled from UFC 175 because he pissed hot in a random drug test.  It gets funny, here.  Chael's initial opponent, Wanderlei Silva, was pulled from the event because he left town rather than give a piss test - and then Chael publicly mocked Silva's flight, calling him a cheating drug user.  Funny stuff.

It comes from comedy into farce because this isn't the first time Sonnen has failed a drug test.  After Sonnen's first loss to Anderson Silva, Sonnen was popped in a drug test and suspended by the California State Athletic Commission.  The hearings were a riot as Sonnen claimed to have never gone through puberty, you had the quack doctor, crocodile tears, you name it - it was like a soap opera.

The big lie he told, though, was that he told the Nevada State Athletic Commission that he was using testosterone replacement.  He never told them that - or at least he was never able to produce any documents saying he did, and the then director of the NSAC testified that Sonnen has never gotten any medical use exemptions for testosterone replacement.

Around the same time, he got a suspended sentence for real estate fraud - he was taking kickbacks.  The guy is a real charmer.  A real honest character.

In a spiral of weirdness, UFC president Dana White condemned both Sonnen and the NSAC.  Sonnen for breaking the rules but the majority of his hectoring was over the NSAC providing no guidelines for athletes coming off of testosterone replacement that had been approved in previous years.

I'm sure that one baffles the NSAC because there is a standard in place for that kind of thing - you don't apply for a license to fight until you're clean.  Lots of people use lots of drugs that are forbidden in the context of an athletic contest.  Painkillers given to soothe an injury are illegal to use in competition - so you don't apply to fight until that stuff is out of your system.  AND you report your use of it to the commission when the time comes, which Sonnen also failed to do.

Unlike many other athletes who are two time drug cheats, Sonnen will not be fired from the UFC.  Dana White likes the guy too much, and he's a big draw, as well.  Somehow, after losing a title shot to Anderson Silva - again - he managed to talk his way into a championship fight at higher weight class!  Dana White said he was sending a message to the people who said they needed a full training camp to fight Jon Jones, the best mixed martial artist now fighting . . . even though Dan Henderson, who was a legitimate contender, was trying to book the fight.

Chael Sonnen is a real life lesson, though.  The message is clear - if you're a good-looking white Republican man, you can lie, cheat and steal and be rewarded for it.

Miami: Buying a House and Then Selling It

During the first two months post, I hinted at some of the problems we had buying a house.  It took us longer than two months to buy a house - we moved into our current place almost a year after moving out of our place in Santa Cruz.  It took us, more or less, a year to buy a house.

It wasn't that there weren't places, either.  There were.  Prices vary quite a bit from neighborhood to neighborhood in ways we did not initially understand, however.  In one neighborhood, say Homestead, in our price range it was legitimate to look for a house with a yard and such.  In another place, say, Cutler Bay, we could afford a townhouse, in others only a small condo . . . and in some neighborhoods, nothing at all.

This, alone, was enough to send us on a merry chase because . . . well, housing practices in Miami are pretty abusive.  Looking for places in Ohio has highlighted the differences, too, even in the ads.  The Ohio houses we have looked at have, almost uniformly, a large number of good, clear, bright pictures.  Most places in Miami are dim and small, often clearly taken with a not particularly good cell phone.

So a house, in Miami, a house that looked good in the pictures, well, when we got there we would find that mushrooms were growing from the ceiling sagging with mold.  One place had been used by squatters and the remnants of their meth use was scattered around.  In another, there was a swimming pool, bright blue in the pictures, that had become a greenish brown pond full of pollywogs.

The good news is that shortly after leaving South Beach, we got a real estate agent who knows his stuff.  I can't sing Albert's praises high enough.  We were also in a studio down in the Design District, at Buena Vista Flats, which was good for what it was.  There was a small but real kitchen, real stove, real oven, real fridge.  The properly was well maintained by the owner-operator of the facility.  The people were mostly great, too.  It was expensive, but all month-to-month stuff in Miami is.

Armed with a talented real estate agent whom we trusted, the biggest problem - outside the condition of the properties, which ranged from okay to awful - was the agents we had to deal with.  When we would go out to look at houses, we would be lucky to be able to get into half of them.  (Recent comparison with Ohio - we tried to look at 11 places and only saw 10 and the real estate agent was really apologetic about not being able to see all 11.)

When we did see places we were interested in, there were always problems.  It was best when the problems manifested themselves early.  So we looked at one place and made a bid based on the comparative market analysis.  Our bid was twenty percent lower than what was asked because that's what the CMA supported.  Our agent talked to the owner and was, in fact, able to convince the owner that the price we gave was a good price . . . at which point he withdrew the house from the market until prices improved.  At least that was over quickly.

We almost managed to buy a place in Cutler Bay - a townhouse.  The problems here seem almost comical.  The owner had done some work to mask the cosmetic damage done by a leaky roof.  And by leaky roof, I mean that there was a foot wide hole in the wood under the ceramic tiles.  Well, we talked the price down to accommodate for having to replace the roof - it was still a pretty good deal.

Here, though, the bank failed us because with a week left in the finance period, they told us we needed to get some papers from the IRS.  Did I mention we had a week left?  The IRS told us it would take between four to six weeks to get the paperwork.  We were days away from closing when we instead had to back out due to the incompetence of the bank.  They'd had months to tell us about that paperwork!  Months!

So, not only did we fail to get the townhouse - which I think would have been better for us, psychologically, though worse for us financially - we spent a thousand dollars getting it appraised and inspected!  That money was totally gone.

Eventually, after looking at many, many duds, we found the place we're in, now.  It has been a cynosure for our time in Miami, certainly, but getting it was a very Miami experience for us.

In particular, we had issues with the title company.  For reasons unknown to us, the seller insisted on using a title company of their choice - which was a little hinky, and our agent said so, but we were pretty desperate.  We expected a fairly straightforward transaction and it should have been.  We had financing, they had a house (well, technically "detached condominium"), what could the hold up be?

Well, in particular, that damn title company.  Part of their duties were getting the house surveyed.  Our financing would fall through without a survey, due to Miami being in the path of so many hurricanes, the lender wanted to know if the place needed flood insurance.  So, a survey needed to be done to determine if we are in a flood plain.

Still, straightforward.  The title company would call up a licensed contractor and they'd come down and survey the house.  It happens all the time in Miami.

After about a week of this failing to occur, I called the title company.  I was assured that the surveyor would be out in a couple of days.  A couple of days passed and no survey.  So, I called again.

I was told, once again, that the surveyor would be by shortly.  I didn't believe this so I asked for the name of the company doing the work so I could confirm the appointment.  I had to threaten the guy with coming down and camping in their office to get the name and number of the company.

Then, figuring there was a really good shot the guy was shining me on, I waited for a couple of hours - thinking that, having heard my resolve, if he hadn't scheduled a survey that he would jump to do so.  Then I called and . . . there was a very helpful woman who confirmed that there was, in fact, no appointment to conduct the survey.  She said that, perhaps, it hasn't gotten through their system.  She called me a couple of hours later and confirmed that, no, no appointment.

Translation - this asshole just flat out lied, repeatedly, about something we absolutely needed to do to buy the house.  Then, when caught in a lie, didn't do anything about it.  Time was getting short and he was failing to do something both required and simple.

I want to emphasize while all of this was going on, I was crazy due to the psych problems I talked about in my previous post.  I was on the wrong medication.  It was making me a zombie with an emotional range between nothing and awful, heavily tilted to the awful.

While this is my story, it clearly intersects with Adrienne's, and she was having a rough time of adjusting to Miami, too.  She was at a new job, returning to physics education research after her time in applied mathematics, which was causing us considerable stress about the future - she would have to slip in research between her admin duties at FIU and she was getting resistance from her boss.  Additionally, any university is a large bureaucracy - at the time, FIU had 45,000 students and now has something like 57,000 - and bureaucracies in Miami seem to be uniformly troubled with bad service and incompetence.  I'm saying this wasn't easy for her, either.

After the business with being lied about the survey, I broke down, to my considerable shame. I passed this ugly business with the title company to Adrienne because I couldn't handle this authority figure (the title company could sink the house deal, after all) who was flat out lying to me and failing to do the basics of his job.

I like to think that I had softened them up, because Adrienne only had to contact them one additional time to get the survey done.

The problems with the title continued after we had the house.  Part of what the title company did was title insurance.  Well, the title search came up clear, but the title company missed that the previous owners had a thousand dollars in unpaid sanitation fees.  The city contacted us, threatened us with a collection agency and the attendant hit to our credit.  The person handling our case - this one guy, Mike - shined Adrienne on about that, too.  He told us, variously, that it was getting done and that the title company didn't have to do it.

After weeks of his lies, Adrienne finally got through to the lawyer who ran the title agency.  We were assured it was all a misunderstanding - which I consider bullshit manipulation, I fully believe that hiring an asshole like Mike was intended to make it so uncomfortable for us to get the insurance we paid for that we would pay the bill ourselves; I believe the lawyer did this intentionally - and it did get done.

I admit this is all a little hazy, because it was around this time that I was diagnosed as being bipolar and was taking valproic acid and then lithium, so I was all over the place.  I was literally suicidal.  I honestly believe the only reason I didn't kill myself is because in addition to making me suicidal, the drug cocktail I was on also stole all of my energy.  I was too mentally and physically exhausted to go through the effort of killing myself with certainty - because I was too mentally wasted to buy a gun, I did not shoot myself, in other words.

Fortunately, that was the last dealing we had with the title company.  Through copious use of recommendations and having learned what businesses it was safe to patronize, after we got the house we didn't need to interact with Miami nearly so much.  Once we had a house, we had a place to hide and we could settle down into a schedule designed to minimize contact with Miami.  So buying the house was a turning point for us.

If we had to do it again?  I don't think we would.  We would have just gotten an apartment and we would live with that.  Sure, it means our place in Ohio will be financed under MUCH better terms than we have in Miami due to the financial sense of buying this house, which will continue to save us money in the future, but the damage that the house search did - from having us stay in studios for a year and the trouble that caused, psychologically, and the treachery of Miami's housing market, which has continuing physical and mental effects - was not worth it.

To be fair, selling the house has been better - or, I think, we are in a better place.  Instead of living in a studio apartment, we have the house, and we own it.  We have had years to learn how to live in Miami without too much trouble.  Adrienne has a job in Ohio and we are moving, regardless of whether the house sells (which, of course, it will).  We are starting out with an agent we trust, which also helps.  We're just in a better spot, all around.

Still . . . it is Miami.  I'm not going to say we got lucky and found a buyer in a couple of weeks.  That happened because we did our research, we knew the value of the house and sold it for its value.  Additionally, I worked to set the presentation of the house to show it in its best light - I provided clear, well-lit pictures showing how cute the house is and they weren't lies, I packed away a lot of stuff to make it appear more open and to allow the buyers to see things clearly.  I made sure everything smelled nice when I showed it to people, and beforehand I practiced what I would say to sell the house.  Additionally, it really is a very, very good deal, given how land prices are likely to continue to soar in this neighborhood as it continues to gentrify due to the expansion of the Wynwood Arts District and Edgewater.  So we got a buyer quickly, I feel, because we worked for it in ways most Miami sellers at this price point simply do not.  We got the sales contract signed at a reasonable price.  It felt win-win to me.

However, like I said, it's still Miami and the buyers and their agent are Miami people.  The first harbinger of incompetence was the inspection.

While the appraiser showed up in a timely fashion, the inspector didn't arrive until the next to last day of the inspection period.  I thought that was odd, but there isn't that much wrong with the house, so whatever.  (There is ALWAYS something wrong with a house, stuff the current owner doesn't even know about, or stuff they live with and barely notice, that will get caught by the inspector.)  The contract was as-is, so we just figured that if there was nothing seriously wrong with the house (there is not) that they would live with the inspection report.

The last day of the inspection period, though, their agent got into a passive-aggressive email discussion with Albert trying to bully him into getting us to lower the price.  He handled this one his own, mostly, because at no point did she make specific requests of us or give an addendum to him - the buyer's agent just kept suggesting that "something needs to be done" about what the inspector found.  Albert agreed that something should be done and the buyers were welcome to do those things when they closed.

The exchange was just weird and incompetent.  We were willing to entertain either doing a little work to fix some problems or lower the price a bit.  All they needed to do was deliver an addendum in the specified time and we would have negotiated.  Instead of that, there was a passive-aggressive email exchange with our agent that went nowhere, because at no time did they make a legitimate request based on the inspection.

Then, the day after the end of the inspection period, we got this letter "to whom it may concern" - not even naming us! - making a number of demands.  And outrageous ones at that.  Things like $300 for replacing a dryer duct.  Every little thing that the inspector had found wrong, they demanded the absolute top dollar that the inspector put on the report.

Except . . . it was too late.  The contract they signed sells the house as-is.  Since they can withdraw during the inspection period, for any reason, and keep their earnest money (the money you have to put up front to show you're serious about buying and not wasting the seller's time) during that time they have some negotiating power.  Sure, they would have to eat the expense of the appraiser and inspector (around a thousand dollars) but they could have cancelled the contract.  After the inspection period?  Well, read the contact, bab-ee!  It says, clearly, that if there is no cancellation or addendum by the end of the inspection period that the buyers have waived all their rights to complain about inspection issues.

So, our agent forwarded the letter, of course.  I wrote him an email saying that we won't do anything because the inspection period is passed and we really hated the hectoring tone of the letter, from the passive-aggressive "to whom it may concern" (when their agent full well knows our names) to the overpriced demands.

Well, they kept at it, kept bugging our agent to have things fixed as per the inspection report.  Eventually, I said to him that we refuse to negotiate outside of the contract, period - that the only things we will accept are proper addendums to the contract issued through regular channels.  That was the end of it, at least insofar as the inspection report went.

Then, on the last day of the finance period (the period of time that the buyers can cancel the contract and keep their earnest money due to failure to secure financing for the house), they send us the appraisal - which they had been sitting on for two and a half weeks, in which the appraised value was lower than the agreed upon terms.  This was incredibly relevant because the bank will not give financing for more than the appraised value of the home.

Because it was a legitimate issue, we agreed to alter the contract to the appraised value.  We are still making a lot of money, so we agreed to the change in order to assist the buyers secure financing.  We are not irrational people!  But it was at the absolute last minute in a way that was totally unnecessary.

(I suspect it was part of the buyer's agent to try to lower the price even more.  I suspect the plan was to get us to agree to fix up a bunch of stuff and/or give credits to lower the cost of the house and then hit us with the appraisal.  Which means she was either trying to scam us or is incompetent, or both, no need to pick just one!)

They also asked for extensions which - with some hesitation - we gave.  Apparently, the buyers had to contact the IRS for paperwork the bank needed and needed more time to insure the IRS could get it to them.  We understood, having lost a place due to similar issues.

Well, the extended finance period was about to come to an end and we had heard nothing.  On the very last day, apparently they got into gear to contact the bank in order to get it done.  We received a letter confirming financing at 3pm on the last day of the extended period.

Except . . . well, the letter we got only has three pages out of five.  It is incomplete.  There is no way for us to know what is on the other two pages.  It is possible - improbable, I know, but possible - that the other pages contain information that voids the contract, such as proof that the buyer has a history of fraud, for instance.  I suspect it doesn't have a lot of legitimacy as proof of financing.

The buyers also threatened to cancel the contract after giving us proof of financing if we didn't extend the finance period.  This was just weird.  They had already given us proof of financing, so they couldn't cancel the contract without losing their earnest money.  We said "no" and it turned out to be a hollow threat, unsurprisingly.

That really should have been it, but there's more!  The buyers haven't gotten mortgage insurance, which they need to get to secure financing for real.  They have had months to get this, to contact the homeowners association to get the documents needed for title insurance.  I can't imagine this is anything other than sheer, unadulterated laziness.

With less than three weeks left before closing, we have no word that they have started a title search (which will come up squeaky clean, fortunately).  It's like they're not taking this seriously, even though if they fuck up now they'll forfeit their earnest money.

I suspect that they'll get everything done at the last minute, but it is just another example of the bullying bullshit and incompetent performance of people in Miami.  This time, it isn't crushing us with depression and anxiety - though there has been some of both - because we're in a better spot, but it reminds us why we want to get the hell out of here.

There are still more to come!  Stay tuned!

PS: Literally as I was posting this, I got an email from my realtor asking me to contact the homeowner's association and management company because the buyer's agent and banker had been unable to get the required insurance information to complete the mortgage insurance.

Mind you, this is their job.  It is up to the buyer to do stuff like get their mortgage insurance.

So I contacted the management company and the HOA board of directors and . . . well, I think that I've got it sorted out, but it's hard to tell because the buyer's agent is so goddamn incompetent!  She has asked for our help and been unclear about who she's spoken to, what she's asked for and other details that will make it easier for me to help her and her clients.

I told Adrienne that all of this is like being in a group project in a class where you're the only person who cares what grade you get.  The vexation is almost constant.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Another bad psychiatrist!

I actually forgot a psychiatrist!  This story is mostly funny but very much a Miami story.

I only saw the woman twice.  It was during that period before we were in the house, here, and I had decided to drive up to Lauderdale to see if things were better, there.  They weren't.

The first time, we did the intake interview.  She kept on with the current medication I was on, no changes.  The next and last time we met, I mentioned how I hated living in Miami.

Said she, "Oh, Miami is great!"

Full stop.  That is simply bad mental health care.  It was not her place to argue with me over my opinion about Miami.  I am allowed to hate it.  I knew, at that moment, I would not be returning.

She went on to say that Miami was great because the Keys were so close, and the Bahamas, plus Tampa Bay is SOOOOO beautiful!

Think about that for a second.  Her list of good things about Miami all involve leaving Miami!  Well, I can certainly get behind that.  I think the best thing about Miami is leaving it, too!

Miami: Medical "Care"

I used scare quotes because Miami medical care is fucking scary.  Of all the reasons we're leaving Miami, this is probably the biggest, objective reason.  While we eventually learned to deal with the realities of Miami in many ways, and you can certainly choose your doctors (y'know, within the confines of your insurance plan), emergency medical care is pretty much whatever is there at the time - and with as many medical problems I've had in Miami, I simply have no faith if I get into an accident or get seriously ill that I'll get care worth having.  I am even less willing to take that risk with Adrienne.

The biggest problems I've had with mental health care.  Not surprising.  HuffPo rates Florida 48 out of 50 and Our Health Policy Matters rates it 47.  Florida clearly occupies the bottom ten percent in both occurrence (the most people with serious mental health issues) and patient care (with a shockingly tiny amount of money being spent).  My experiences bear this out in a really, really big way.

I don't currently have a psychiatrist.  This is not because my mental health issues have disappeared - though I have made considerable progress, I feel - but because all five of my psychiatrists have been incompetent morons.  I decided it was better to go it alone.  I was right.

So, the first psychiatrist I saw decided to take me off the drug combination that I was on in Ohio.  "Too much dopamine" was his entire response as he tapped away at his keyboard, not even looking at me.  I, again, feel the urge to emphasize that I am not using any artistic license.  The man barely looked at me.

At the time, I was a fucking mess.  This was during the first two months and the stresses of dealing with the corrupt, abusive and incompetent house sellers and our crook of a landlord were driving me crazy.  I was seriously depressed, suicidal ideation, I was lashing out at people with considerable emotional cruelty.  I feel bad just thinking about how bad I was and how I acted.

I didn't argue with him because, well, clearly the drugs I had in California weren't doing it for me in Miami.  Perhaps it was too much dopamine.  The psychiatrist gave me and SSRI, over my objections - admitting that due to my mental state I didn't object too loudly.  I had taken SSRIs in the past, and they hit me hard with emotional flattening.  I didn't really feel to bad, but I didn't feel much of anything at all.

These SSRIs also gave me emotional flattening.  Which, to be honest, wasn't bad in the short term.  But then I noticed something else - they were making me stupid.  They crushed my creativity and diminished my intelligence.

This caused me considerable stress.  So I scheduled another appointment but when I arrived, well, I have no idea what happened, really, because no one in the office spoke English.  I considered this a deal breaker.  I have no hostility towards Spanish-speakers, or I don't think I do, but since the doctor wasn't there and the staff couldn't tell me why, I believed that it would be impossible for me to get good service.  So I found another shrink.  Well, I think it is more accurate to say I tried because it didn't happen immediately.

What happened, instead, is I explained my situation to my primary care physician - the best doctor I've had in Miami, a Jamaican woman who I couldn't keep going to because after the first six months being here FIU changed our insurance plan and she wasn't in the new policy - who filled the scripts the previous physician had given me, including the SSRI.  I should have tried to get back on the stuff my Santa Cruz doctor was on, but I was still a giant mess and my ability to aggressively demand things of people was seriously diminished by the emotional flattening and stupid-making of the SSRIs.

During this time, I tried to get a psychiatrist and failed to do so.  The worst was I went to a group practice and the place was awful.  I didn't make it out of the waiting room.  Everyone was being rude in that way Miami has.  One person was singing a song, one was listening to music on his phone, everyone was talking over everyone else, tightly packed together in this tiny office space.  The staff ignored the incredibly unpleasant environment this created for, y'know, mental health patients.

Part of my presentation of anxiety is disliking crowds and noises.  I was in this group of rude assholes making a huge ruckus in the waiting room and realized this was no place for someone who was mentally ill.  I left, barking out that I was cancelling my appointment, went outside and had a bit of a breakdown.  Just sobbing and hands shaking, embarrassed, depressed, planning out suicide options in my head, angry at the crowd, disgusted at myself because I couldn't handle a crowd . . . like I said, I was a mess.

Eventually, we sorted out our housing situation and bought the house we are currently in.  Our current place is a couple of blocks away from a big mental health hospital.  Fine, I thought, I'll go there.  There are lots of doctors and it has the benefit of being within easy walking distance.

There, my shrink and her supervisor talked to said I was bipolar.  They changed my medication to the most common effective medication for treating bipolar, valproic acid.  It made me suicidal.  So they switched me to lithium bicarbonate . . . which has as a side effect yet more mental exhaustion.  I was still on the SSRI at this point, too, and they put me on another antidepressant, busipirone - is another serotonin effecting drug which made me even more mentally exhausted.  I was also put on clonezepam for anxiety, and that's just a straight up relaxant.

This combined to make me a fucking moron with no energy, intellectual or physical.  All the weight I'd lost in Santa Cruz (fifty pounds) I put on and more, too boot.  I can honestly say that this sequence of events has been an utter medical disaster to me from which I have still not recovered.

Anyway, the key point here is that I'm not bipolar.  More on that later, but the key point, here, is that this is a grotesque and inappropriate diagnosis, putting me on powerful drugs that - if you are not bipolar - can really, really fuck you up.  They really, really fucked me up.

The good part during this time is that we had moved into our current place.  The effects of having OUR PLACE was dramatic.  My major malfunction is anxiety - my depression is usually a reaction to anxiety.  Anxiety usually presents when triggered.  My triggers are things like authority figures, being judged, stuff like that.  Getting a house has a whole lot of authority figures who judge you, not to mention I was constantly dealing with idiots and scam artists.  However, when we moved into the house, much of that went away, not to mention the simple quality of our living area dramatically increased.  After ten months, Adrienne and I finally had enough space so we weren't always in the same room, I had a proper kitchen, stuff like that.  But the bipolar diagnosis was bullshit.

Anyway, I never got into it with that physician because I went down one day and got into a silly fucking argument with the office staff.  I came into the office and I was told that I needed to pay a twenty dollar co-pay.  I hadn't had to do that before, I said, and I didn't have the money with me.  I had an appointment today, so could I just pay the whole bill the next day, after I could get some money.

I was lectured on my responsibilities.  It didn't matter that I'd been going there months and hadn't been asked to pay.  And I wasn't trying to duck paying!  I just wanted to go to the appointment I had and I would have been happy to settle the bill next time, or even later that day.

The lack of sympathy over a superficial billing matter - I mean, my insurance was paying the other $120 bucks of the bill, so it wasn't like I was really putting a financial hurt on them by asking to come by the next day - and the hectoring tone of the asshole behind the desk made me walk away.

At that time, my primary care physician was at FIU Faculty Care.  They had just gotten a psychiatrist on the staff, so I went there.  But I was returning to life due to my improved situation.  I had also come to the conclusion that I wasn't bipolar, I had done the research to conclude that an SSRI, a serotonin agonist and a benzodiazepine (all of which had mental exhaustion and weight gain as side effects) weren't a good match for me.

So I went into this doctor's office and I said, very flatly (I still have my notes) that these three drugs weren't doing it for me.  I was mentally tired all of the time, I hated the emotional flattening, that my creativity was for shit and I would, quite frankly, prefer to be unmedicated than continue to suffer the feelings of stupidity and weight gain caused by these drugs.  His response was to increase the dosage of busipirone, one of the problem medications.

Afterward, I sat down by myself and decided to go off all of those drugs all on my own.  If he wasn't going to listen to me, I would act on my own.

I went back and told him I had gone off of those drugs because, as I said, I would prefer to be on nothing at all than to be on drugs that destroyed my emotions and made me stupid.  I also challenged the bipolar diagnosis directly.  I asked, "How do you tell the difference between manic episodes and a fat kid in a rough neighborhood doing stupid things to demonstrate his masculinity in order to avoid being bullied?"  His response was, "That's a good question."

Fuck yeah it's a good question.  I know that it's a good question because I framed it and asked it.  What I wanted was a good ANSWER.  I said to him that I was certain I was not bipolar and wouldn't take any more bipolar medication.

What I got from him was a bunch of tests that he said would help create a proper diagnosis.  What they were, however, is a bunch of tests to prove I'm bipolar.  They were the same fucking tests that got me the goddamn bipolar diagnosis in the first fucking place!  Jesus fucking Christ!

So I fired him, too.  He pushed drugs on me I said I did not want and didn't listen to me.  I have no use for such incompetence.

Since then, I have been on nothing.  It was the right call.  While Miami does make me crazy from time to time, I now have the intellectual and emotional capacity to manage it most days.  Sure, I have bad days - but no worse than when I was on all that crap, but now I have good days, too.  I decided that I would not get psychiatric care in Miami, due to the persistence of incompetence across so many doctors.

My interactions with primary care physicians have been fewer, but still poor.  My current PCP tried to tell me that I shouldn't lift weights to help with weight loss, suggesting I do some kind of magic cardio exercise.  I asked him what exercise I should do since I will not ride in Miami, my knees can't bear running and I have no access to a swimming pool.  He said I would think of something.

Fuck you.

He also suggested that I get bariatric surgery.  I'm not opposed to bariatric surgery as it is clearly the best way to lose and keep off large amounts of weight.  The more I thought about bariatric surgery, though, the more I kept wondering why this was being pushed instead of a drug-based solution, a non-surgical method.

I mean, there are several drugs out there that could help.  He never tested for a thyroid condition, for instance, though there is a very good chance I have one (a lot of extra weight creates hypothyroidism in patients).  And there is a dextroamphetamine-based weight loss pill approved by the FDA.  I'm not even talking experimental or off-brand use, here, but things the FDA and AMA have approved for weight loss.

You might be going, "Chris, amphetamines are dangerous!  Didn't you see Requiem for a Dream?"  I did and it was a good movie, but also sensationalistic.  Weight loss drugs result in a tiny hand full of deaths every year, whereas thousands (!!) die every year under the knife for bariatric surgery.  Not to mention that the side effects of any bariatric surgery are severe and awful - including stuff like severe gastric pain, severe acid reflux, malabsorption of proteins and vitamines, vomiting and explosive diarrhea.  Also, in 1 in 200 cases, death.  Just awful, terrible stuff.  It just seems to me that what we should try first is the less invasive, less side-effect ridden option.  But, no.

My last medical problem that I'll mention was with dentistry.

I had a rotten molar.  I'd lost the matching molar years ago, so it wasn't doing anything except, apparently, rotting.  So I went to a dentist to have it removed.

Well, I was there for, like, three hours, because what they would do is shoot me up with some lidocaine and then walk away while it took effect.  I've been in that situation before and generally after a couple of minutes, they come back.  Lidocaine is a very quick acting but also short lived local painkiller.  I also seem to have some resistance to it, or a lower pain threshold than I imagine.

So, they came back after AN HOUR.  By that time, the lidocaine had numbed me and then worn off so I was feeling everything, again.  They shot me up with lidocaine, again, and then left, again, for another hour.

At that point, I was, like, "It's only a pulled tooth.  It'll hurt for a couple of minutes and then be done.  Then they'll give me some hydrocone for the pain and I can get pleasantly whacked out for the afternoon, no sweat."  I told them to pull the tooth.

Without telling me, they decided to do a surgical extraction.  I didn't realize this until the drill touched the nerve.  You know how in TV shows and movies, torturers will do amateur dentistry as torture?  I can say with some experience now that it is, without a doubt, torture.  I once broke a leg and had to drag myself a hundred feet to get help - that was kiddie stuff compared to the whole drill on a nerve business.

When I choked back an agonized scream, the dentist asked me what was wrong.  I said that I wasn't numb.  She offered to shoot me up with more lidocaine and come back when it had taken effect . . .

Well, I'd been down that road before.  I didn't want to be there for an hour with an open hole in my tooth that had just been attacked by a drill.  So I told them to shoot me up with lidocaine and then keep at it.  Which they did.

It takes about five minutes for lidocaine to effect you.  It was a long five minutes.  Afterward, the counter person said I was brave.  Well, you shouldn't need fucking bravery in a dentist's office.

The actual extraction isn't very good, either.  There are bone spurs in my mouth where the tooth used to be that sometimes get bloody when I eat crispy food, like corn chips, and a couple of times when I have brushed my teeth.  It's not exposed bone, but just barely.  I'm sure that my dentist in Ohio will mention it and maybe there is something that can or should be done.

When I left, I did NOT get a prescription for any painkiller.  I was told to take some ibuprofen.  I did some research and it was probably due to the fact that practice had, at some point in the recent past, been a drug mill for painkillers - so they were acting really cautious about painkillers to avoid being shut down.  It's a big problem in Miami and the subject of crackdowns, legislation, investigative journalism expos, you name it.  We are in the midst of a crackdown, which is the probable reason they were so light on pain medication.

Which hints at the systematic problems that Miami has with medical care.  Doctors in Miami, as a group, give out so many painkillers that they're considered drug dealers.  As I said at the top of this post, the medical issues are among the firmest objective reasons that we have to leave.  This one isn't about how we feel about Miami.  It's more . . . Miami doctors are not safe.  The care here is terrible in many ways, just awful.

The effects of this mismanaged health care have been dramatic.  I look at the first two years I was here and I am still angry, very angry, at the way I was treated by psychiatrists.  I feel that two years of my life has been stolen from me.  The drugs they put me on made me sick and stupid and I still feel less mentally capable than I once did - I still feel a lack of creative energy that stymies my writing.  Not to mention the damage to my physical health - I gained seventy pounds in Miami, and I wasn't light when I arrived.  I have knee trouble that I never had before, as well.  It will take me years to get back to where I was, if I ever can.  Considering this fills me with white hot rage at the years wasted and the damage to my body, all of which I consider avoidable, all of which is a result of the malicious practices of Miami psychiatrists.

I, apparently, still have more of these in me, too.  Miami has troubled me like no other place I've lived, ever been.  I hope people continue to read these!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Miami: the First Two Months

I know this might sound incredible to those who know me, but I haven't dwelled upon how bad Miami has been for Adrienne and me.  Now that Miami is almost behind me, though, I am feeling an urge to write down the problems I've had here.  I am finding that writing this is quite emotional for me, too, but all my best writing is emotional so I'm not surprised.

Initially, I was going to make this one post, but I got done with the first TWO MONTHS and realized that I needed to break it up into several posts (the first two months were busy, don't worry, I won't be writing 18 of these things).  Apparently, I have a great deal to say about Miami.

Adrienne and I determined to buy a house when we moved to Miami.  At the time, we were entertaining visions of never doing a long distance move again and the housing market had bottomed out so it was the right time to buy and we knew it.  There were deals on the market and it was true - our house has doubled in value the two years we have owned it, after all.

As I do, I devised a plan.  The plan was to stay in temporary housing for two months, with the option to stay a third month, in a month-to-month studio apartment rental while we conducted our house hunt.  Our first studio was in Miami Beach - we thought this would be cool.  Miami Beach is supposed to be cool, amirite?  Objectively, I know that it is.  In practice?  Not so much.

The studio itself was awful.  It had only been partially cleaned.  Under the bed I found a thick layer of dust, an abandoned sock, some bodies of dead cockroaches, there were some interesting things behind the toilet, shall we say - the merest surface cleaning had been done.  The "kitchen" was a mini-fridge and a hot plate.  The hot plate was almost incapable of *boiling water* - so, a cheap hot plate.  There was also a small, not particularly good fridge.

The owner of the studio apartment lived in a different state.  There was, theoretically, building staff but when something went wrong - like I had trouble getting on the Internet router - I had to fix the problem myself.  (Fortunately for me, the password of the router was - this is no joke - "password".  No one had set up the router at all.  It would periodically take a shit and need to be reconnected to the ISP, but I could do that from my computer.  I almost changed the password but decided not to because I didn't want to make the experience there worse for everyone who relied on that router.)  The place also stunk to high heaven because the previous tenant was a heavy smoker, apparently . . . which was annoying and more on this later.

When we were in that apartment, I got my trike.  At one point, I took it down to the lobby because I needed a large, clear spot to work on it.  Some jerk who also owned the a unit in the building came in and told me to move.  I asked why.  He said the lobby was for tenants to come down and relax.  I pointed out that I was a tenant and I was relaxing by working on my bike.  This baffled him.  He ordered me to leave.  I told him to fuck off.  He said he would complain to the board.  I told him to fuck off.  We got into a shouting argument, me insisting that as a tenant of the building I had a right to be in the lobby - that there were no rules or regulations about bikes in the building.  It was stupid.  He eventually left.  It was the harbinger for things to come.

While we were there, I decided that since we would be there for years, it might be a good idea to get some friends.  I used the Internet to find people who gamed.  There was a Meetup not too far from us in Miami Beach, run by a dude named Bear . . .

I can't even say this was the strangest thing that happened to me in Miami, but it sort of shows what kind of place it is.

Well, we get there.  The Meetup is badly organized from the onset, with Bear waiting outside of the ice cream shop where we were supposed to meet while the rest of us found each other inside.  Eventually, Bear and his girlfriend wander in and we contact them.  We get at able, order some food.

It is immediately clear to me that Bear is full of shit.  He regaled us with stories about how he has - I do not remember the exact numbers, but they are definitely in this range - he has fifty bachelor's degrees, seven master's degrees and three doctorates.  He spun a yarn of a child genius who had been in universities since he was thirteen, which is where he got such impressive and preposterous academic credentials.

He told stories about how he would tutor hot chicks and charge them in sexual favors.  Yeah, it started to get creepy as well as ridiculous.

Then he mentioned his post-academic career as some sort of secret agent.  I swear I'm not making this up!  I swear I'm not even exaggerating!  He said his intelligence career came to an end when he was hit by a truck and dragged beneath it and lost about a cup of his brain . . . but he had things the government wanted to know "so they brought him back".  Apparently, the US government has the powers to resurrect people.  Who knew?

It wasn't actually Bear's BS that caused me to blow a gasket.  While creepy and ridiculous, it was funny as hell.  When I realized how willing he was to tell tall tales, I encouraged him to do so.  I had determined that this wasn't the social circle for me, hell, no, obviously not, but I was going to milk it for the story value.

Things started to seriously fall apart when one of the other guys at the table mentioned how he was an engineer and women didn't pull their weight in group projects.  Since pretty much everyone who reads this knows me pretty well, you'll know this is when my gasket blew.  I started to get openly hostile and mentioned that my wife, who was next to me, had a Ph.D from an engineering college in a research university.  Which, unlike Bear's bullshit, is actually the truth.  I asked if Adrienne had the same experience with women in those kinds of projects.  Clearly, she did not.

It had a pretty chilling effect, alas.  Bear stopped making outrageous claims, probably intimidated that a real doctor was at the table.  The asshole sexist also shut up, out of a combination of shame and me giving him the I'm about this close to slapping you, you motherfucker look in my eye.

What flamed me out altogether is when Bear's girlfriend said - vis-a-vis the situation in France where women were forbidden from wearing the veil publicly - that "they should go home".

Yeah, one dude sexist, another racist.  Fuck that.

I pointed out that their home was France, that they were French citizens, that Muslims had been in France for thirteen hundred fucking years.  It was like breaking a stone with a watermelon - a messy failure.

So I stood up and said, "Fuck you, you racist motherfuckers, I'm out of here."

Then, again, not joking, Bear asked if I would be attending movie night!  I told him I don't have racists for friends and walked away.

Funny now, horrible then.

Well, the search for friends continued.  Next up, the Secular Humanist Meetup.  I went into detail about it here and here, so I won't repeat myself - but the comments on that post are the real money shot.  Not only was there some big daddy asshole who lectured us about his horrors in a creepy way, making all kinds of terrible false assumptions about people with mental problems - when I wrote about it, some of the assholes came by to attack me.  Keepin' it classy!

We also started to look for a house.  Pretty much everything I'm going to talk about here is awful, but I'll repeat myself and say that looking for a house in Miami is one of the worst things that has ever happened to me.  The agents I initially contacted were all high pressure con men.  The first guy - a good old boy in cowboy boots and Southern drawl - tried to pressure me (Adrienne, blessedly, had no contact with the guy) into buying a house with ROOF problems.  In Miami.  Now, that doesn't automatically invalidate getting a place, of course, but when I said I would need some time to think about it, he called to pressure me and I flatly told him that I'd contact HIM when my decision was made.  The next day, another call, more pressure, and I said, "You're fired.  Never contact me, again."  I would go through, oh, I want to say four agents this way before we finally found Albert Labrada, who is great.  (Unsurprisingly, our FIRST real estate agent in Ohio seems to be really professional and pleasant to work with.)  It was very unpleasant and wasted time - I had expected the process to take about a month and it was clearly stretching out, threatening my plan to get a house in two or three months.

We also got a recommendation from the FIU credit union to get a housing loan.  I forget the name of the institution, but remember most of the events.  The guy was a caricature of Miami missing only the coke spoon around his neck.  He addressed me, ignoring Adrienne, who is the person who was actually getting the financing because people with doctorates earn more than struggling writers.  And the terms he gave us were abusive, just downright abusive, requiring up front fees and shit like that.

Fortunately, around this time, I read a book about buying a house.  The book basically said that this institution, suggested by the FIU credit union, was a scam.  We were referred to a scam by the bank, yeah, that's what that means.

Anyway, I fired the guy in an email.  He called me, I fired him, again, and told him not to contact me through any channels.  Then he called Adrienne to pressure her.  I was enraged but we had trouble thinking what to do.  He didn't call either of us, again, fortunately, though if he had my response would have been to contact the police.

During this time period, I also tried to get a psychiatrist.  I'm including a whole section on medical care, but the short of it is that the doctor changed my medication from stuff that had worked wonderfully in California to stuff that made me tired and, well, depressed.  Great going!  Giving a depressed person drugs that make him depressed!  It would hardly be the worst medical problem I had, here.

This was all during the first two months Adrienne and I were in Miami.  There is more, too, but the little things, like the nearest store was a Walgreens that we took to calling the Walgreens of the Damned due to spiteful and incompetent service.  We would eventually learn there are a lot of places in Miami like that, but at the time we thought it was first the particular store and then the particular neighborhood.  We eventually came to realize it was all of South Florida.  Every shop we went into, for whatever reason, there was a very good chance it would be staffed by hostile, incompetent people.

It has had an extremely chilling effect on the both of us.  The upshot is that we almost never go out.  In Santa Cruz and Maine - both places we had a lot less money than we've had in Miami - we would go out, including to new places, fairly often.  About twice a week!  In Miami?  Most weeks, we don't even go out at all and we almost never go to new places.

This changes when we leave Miami, I should add.  We go to Indiana for the week?  Suddenly we are quite willing, even eager, to go out because it is pleasant, once again.  Funny how that works.  Certainly it was true in Ohio, too, where everywhere we went it felt like people were trying to show off to us - but it was just people doing their jobs in polite, competent fashions.

The last thing that happened at the first studio apartment was we left.  Well, the owner managed to get down to Miami for our leave taking from his shitty pit of a place and wanted to keep our deposit, saying we had trashed the place or something.  I said, "No, that's not going to happen, or I'll sue your ass.  I took pictures of what this place looked like when we got here, the filth, dead bugs, you name it.  Also, you are legally required by Florida law to do a walkthrough two weeks beforehand to tell us what we need to do to get our deposit back, which you didn't do.  Take our deposit and we'll see you in small claims court."  He backed off . . . but when we got our deposit back it was a hundred light because he needed to get rid of the smell.

The smell that was there because of the tenants before us, the heavy smokers, and a couple of months of me washing every surface with ammonia wasn't enough to rid the place of the stink.  We choose not to do anything because it was just a hundred bucks and the hassle wasn't worth it, but it was the first time we would be robbed in Miami.  It would not be the last.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Looking for houses in Xenia, Ohio

Last week, Adrienne and I went to Dayton, Ohio, to look at houses.  Well, more specifically, we went to Xenia, Ohio, which is a small town outside of Dayton, to look at houses.  We saw ten and are in the process of making a bid.  We have a couple of back-ups, too, just in case.  I won't say too much about the house until the bid is at least accepted.

(Unlike many people, apparently, we're not looking for a house to love.  We have a list of specific criteria and when a house met most or all of those criterion, it became a house we would be willing to bid on.  From that body of biddable houses, we simply selected the one we liked the most.  We have a couple of safeties in case things go poorly with our first bid, even.)

The trip was . . . pretty much everything we wanted it to be.  Even though Ohio is in the midst of a heat wave and the highs were only a couple degrees less than in Miami, the relative lack of humidity and the fact the evenings actually got cooler made the weather feel pretty perfect.  I can't remember being uncomfortable because of the weather at any point of the trip.

Additionally, Xenia has almost no traffic . . . and after three years of driving in Miami, little traffic suits us just fine.  Even in the middle of the day and during rush hour, the traffic went smoothly.

Going from Xenia to anywhere else means you drive down very quiet streets with rolling hills, with forests and fields.  The landscape around Xenia is downright charming and pastoral.  For Adrienne and I, this is a very good thing.

Even when we left the fairly rural confines of Xenia and went to Dayton - driving down interstates in "rush hour" traffic with considerable construction going on - it was a simple, straightforward drive without real difficulty (a little slowdown around one exchange).  And leaving town, to get to the interstate needed to go to Indiana, we had to drive through downtown Dayton just after rush hour and, again, no real traffic.  It was pretty awesome.

The biggest pleasure, for me, though, was how everyone was so goddamn friendly.  They smiled and engaged in chit chat.  They weren't sullen zombies robotically performing unpleasant tasks - and doing them poorly, at that.  In other places, I have gone on (and on and on) about the culture of dismal service and work performance in Miami, so it was consistently pleasurable to do transactions in Ohio because things happened in such a snappy, polite way.  The sudden and radical transformation that people undergo when they leave South Florida is profound and inexplicable . . . but real.  So getting out of that is like coming into sunshine after going through a frozen and wet cave for a really long time.  It's like magic.

This attitude seems to extend everywhere.  So, at FIU, there are no department events.  This is a change from UMO and UCSC where a couple of times a year, there'd be a barbecue around the 4th of July and a Christmas party.  At FIU, the department doesn't fraternize.  We were in Ohio for two days, but the department chair at Wright State University set up a cook out.

Our realtor is a great guy, too.  Unlike the array of scam artists, high pressure sales people and incomptent dregs that constituted our foray into real estate in the Miami market - before we met our current realtor - he was competent and friendly.  Not only do I like him, so far he's been good at his job, not only giving us trenchant advice about neighborhoods and houses, but girding himself for war as we prepare to make our bid - including reaching out to the other realtor to gauge the level of actual interest in selling.  (A house being on the market, technically, but the sellers not being willing to sell is quite common.  Apparently, it's hard to part with a house.)

In short, it was a great trip.  We are very much looking forward to moving to Ohio.  It appears that big city life isn't for us, but we're doing something to get out of it, so . . . Xenia, here we come!