Saturday, March 26, 2011

Singing The Refi Blues

One of the most humiliating experiences I have had lately occurred this past summer when I made the decision to take advantage of the historically low interest rates.  As you may know, I am not a fan of anything that requires me to do even the simplest mathematical calculations, but I have People.  Said People advised me to refinance...blah, blah, blah…fixed rate… blah, blah, blah…lower monthly payments…blah, blah, Excuse Me?  Lower monthly payments? 

So, potentially, I would have more available cash for the things that make me happy; that make my life meaningful and complete?  Like Stein Mart fashions, Sona MedSpa procedures, Key West excursions, Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Heath Bar Crunch, Skinny Girl Margarita, etc?  All of a sudden I was listening attentively.  My financial People, okay, Julie, scribbled a few numbers and pronounced that I could probably free up about $100 per month to invest in my future.  Now Julie, I-can-dig-up-enough-cash-in-the-bottom-of-my-Vera Bradley Clutch-to-buy-a-small-Caribbean-village, you’ve known me for how long? Invest in my future? Please!  How can I even think about my future when I am in desperate need of these adorable mustard-colored patent leather wedges I saw last week?  Needless to say, I decided to check into this “refi” business. 

Being duly diligent, ‘cause Julie said I should, I contacted three different banks.  All the loan officers were very professional and courteous, but they all talked a little too much about financial matters…blah, blah, blah….mortgage equity, blah, blah, etc.  However, I did remove the pencils out of my nostrils and switched the telephone off speaker mode when one of them starting blabbing about a “cash out” concept.  It seems that, depending on the amount equity you have in your home, you can actually borrow extra money to make home improvements.  Home improvements…like additional closet space? More room to house my wears?  A place where my Ann Taylor slacks and Jones New York blouses could freely roam and graze in the pastures of closet vastness?  Oh how happy they would be…and so would my son Wesley, who was currently sacrificing one third of his wardrobe to the Vera Wang dress gods.

Granted, this refinancing process began very well.  Miracle of miracles, my credit score was really high….the first time I have ever been measured by a number and liked it! Apparently, my lifelong obsession with not disappointing anyone, including the faceless masses at Chase and CitiBank, had paid off.  By my warped calculations, I deduced (math word!) that I had been paying on the house for four years and had lived frugally, relatively speaking.  Well, not really, but God and NeNe and Bill had been really good to me. I had been making a mortgage payment of $600 per month for 48 months.  So, $600 times 48 is $28,800.  Wow, close to $30,000 built up; fashion pastures, here I come!

I made my appointment with the loan officer a la carte after gathering all the requested pertinent documentation, and entered the bank with my near “excellent” credit score, a low debt-to-income ratio, and a sense of entitlement.  Hey, they needed me, I thought, I am going for a 3.5%, and take no more than a 4.0%.  I mean, look at all of the stimulus money I, as the taxpayer, had given these morons.  Geez.  They owe me.  So, strutted in, shook the loan officer’s hand firmly, and sat my cocky ass in front of her over-priced oak desk.  Little did I know I was about to be brought to my knees by the ghostly presence of the Fiscal Grim Reaper.   

“So, do you have your last two banking statements?” she asked.  What a pretty lady—so sophisticated.  Of course, I thought, and handed them over with a smile.  “Where is page 7?” she asked.  My, that dress may be a knock-off.  “What?” I said.  “Page 7 of 7?  Where is it?,” she queried.  “Oh, that page didn’t have anything on it…just an advertisement for a free ham if I charged up the bank’s MasterCard.”  She just sat in silence for several moments, then looked at me over her glasses.  Wow, I hadn’t noticed that wart on the side of her nose.  “I need the complete statement.  The entire document.”  Her hair is kinda messed up, stringy, snake-like, even. “But you have it!” I cried.  “No…I… don’t…I have pages 1 through 6 of 7.  I need PAGE SEVEN OF SEVEN,” she spewed.  Don’t look into her eyes…don’t look into her eyes, lest ye be turned to stone!  “But, I threw it away!” I bawled.  I am certain that her head swiveled 360 degrees as mine hit the shellacked surface of her desk.  And things rolled down hill from there. 

Despite my stupor, I managed to make a list of everything I needed for our next visit, including the original page where my name was written in the Book of Life.  A PDF copy could be substituted if sent electronically directly from Heaven along with a certified, verified list of all of my aliases for cross-referencing.  As I was leaving, I caught a glimpse of the Refi-Underling I had met first.  She walked me to the door, put her arm around my shoulder, and whispered, “I know all these requests seem unbelievable, but everything has to be perfect for the,” she looked nervously from the window to the door and lowered her voice even more.  “The, the… Underwriter.”  At that moment, I could have sworn I heard Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor playing through the bank’s sound system.  

I ran from the FDIC-insured institution, clothes disheveled and mascara running; cursing the liquidity shortfall in the United States banking system that triggered the scrutiny which now plagued me.  For the next month or so, the All-Powerful Underwriter became a source of intense pain and frustration. Not to mention, a serious threat to my wounded self-esteem.  I couldn’t chose my own appraiser because “The Underwriter” wouldn’t allow it.  I had to explain all deposits into my checking account, as well as how I paid for my child’s after school care, in writing, because “The Underwriter” needed verification.  I had to bring my mother into the bank to swear the $3,000.00 she was giving me for closing was a gift (even though I was giving it back to her when I got my tax refund check), because “The Underwriter” demanded it.

The end result was this:  I received my refinancing at 4.3%, barely escaping the dreaded PMI and had NO money for my ubercloset addition. “The Underwriter’s” appraisal came in $10,000.00 below what I actually paid for my domicile, and my tax refund vanished.  Thus far, the brief therapy sessions for economic-related post-traumatic stress symptoms have eaten up my extra $100 dollars a month. And last week at a Chamber Coffee, I found out the elusive “Underwriter” is actually a paid employee of the bank.  Go figure.  Apparently, it is all a deranged math version of good cop/bad cop designed to make the loan seekers submit to their demands.

So, my Donna Karans and Liz Claibornes are still spooning in my closet, and my Ralph Laurens still remain hostages in my son’s repository. But, life goes on. The therapy is working, the embarrassment is subsiding and I even managed to scrape up enough change for my mustard wedges. Of course, I have to wear them every day because there is no place for them to live, other than my feet! Oh well, live and learn and buy new shoes…because looking good is an investment in your future!    

A. Ballerina

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Baby, I Was Born This Way

My name is Angie.
And I am a Consummate Consumer.

I own it.  I embrace it.
Baby, I was born this way.

I am infamously hailed the premiere professional Domestic Purchasing Specialist, but that wasn’t always the case.  The road that led me to this title was a long and sometimes treacherous one.  My story is about overcoming the odds, sacrifice, listening to that inner voice, and never giving up on my dream. Here is the story of my ascent from the family farm to the peak of Kili-Mall-jaro.

I grew up in a now foreign land that my cousin Beth affectionately dubbed “Hooterville,” where I was deprived of the simplest shopping opportunities that others enjoyed.  Throughout my childhood, there existed inside my core a retail void I could not fill.  It wasn’t until many years later, through valid experiential testing, that I learned my condition was biological.  During my formative years, the closest country store, an arduous ten miles away and a full day’s travel on foot, did not satisfy the lusty procurement hormone my spend-gene released.  Hoop cheese, cow feed, and Pointer overalls just wasn’t enough of a selection.  I always left Olson’s Mercantile with a bolt of fabric and cabbage seeds, feeling empty.  Wasn’t there more?

 Why, yes.  Yes there was. 

Upon release from Little Penitentiary on the Prairie, I moved away to a college located in the heart of Shopportunity.  Commerce freedom…the sights, sounds, and smells of the big city trade. Shopping centers, plazas, mezzanines, complexes, emporiums, and marts abounded.  I quickly adjusted to these surroundings that nurtured my internal Shopeteer, and it was magical.    
I rapidly moved through the first levels of shopping forums—shopping centers and malls. I mastered the art of lay aways and credit cards.  I could quickly calculate complex percentage off formulas.  Amazingly enough, my math headaches remained at bay during shopping-related computation.  I was in training, rigorously perfecting my skills daily for the Retail Olympics, held at the final forum…Mac Daddy Malls. 

Only available in metropolitan areas, these colossal purchasing arenas were challenging and dangerous, the perfect complements to my passion. Places where all my training for risk-taking retail would be put to the test…. And I excelled in my element.

I learned that preparation was vital, and like any Shoplete, I created an emergency backpack stocked with supplies in case I found myself in the vicinity of the Super Mall.  In fact, I still have my kit neatly stowed in the trunk of my VW.  It contains all the necessities for a successful mega mall outing:  Special K protein bars (in case I inadvertently stray into an artificial labyrinth of flora, fauna, and fountains and experience weakness), bandages (for shopping injuries, such being trampled by a Power Walker, and I speak from experience), water (hydration is imperative), flip flops (in case I break a heel, or need speed that my 3” peep-toed pumps just can’t deliver), nitroglycerin tablets (to be administered upon the onset of sale-induced chest pain), ammonia inhalants (in case some Shop Zombie wanders in front of me, suffers syncope, splays out, and blocks my path), ibuprofen (for those little aches and pains), hair ties (in case profuse sweating causes my hair to fall and obstruct my vision or I experience Shopper’s Hair after trying on numerous pullover shirts), and incontinence pads (for loss of bladder control when I spy a much desired item or unbelievable deal or for the dreaded Shopping Pee leakage I experience when I don’t want to stop shopping to take a potty break.)

Mega mall shopping requires focus, intense concentration.  It is not a team sport, although it is not uncommon to encounter groups of aisle salmon, heading against the obvious stream of traffic. Fortunately, I carry a laser pointer, perfect for safely guiding the spawning school out of my path.  Yes, the urban shopping jungle is a dynamic place.  To stay on top of the game, I must constantly hone my skills for securing the Gold.

Recently, I experienced an epiphany after watching an episode of Pitbulls and Parolees, Survivorman, or Say Yes to The Dress….I can not recall which.  Whatever the impetus, I am now opening a school for aspiring shopletes, as a way to give back to the community that has nurtured me.  It is time for me to light a path for neo-phyte shoppers that they, too, may reach their full retail potential.

Shoplete Serenity Prayer

Grant me the serenity to accept when the price of merchandise cannot be changed; the courage to negotiate charges which may apply, and the wisdom to recognize the knockoff from the name brand.

A. Ballerina

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Math: The Naked Truth

My son required assistance with his homework last week, and thus began our journey to the edge of numerical sanity.  Math…you would think I would have known better, given my propensity for math headaches.  It’s third grade, I erroneously thought.  Surely the edicts of addition and subtraction I learned eons ago are still applicable. After all, Archimedes, the Father of Mathematics, lived 300 years before Christ, and we still use his stuff. 

Upon reviewing the GEOMETRY worksheet, my intense hatred toward this absurd, seemingly pointless subject quickly reared its ugly head, not the mention the utter shock and outrage with the PREMATURE INTRODUCTION of this particular strain of arithmetical virus.  Geometry…in third grade…Holy Algorithm, Batman!

My animosity was apparent to Wesley during the tutorial, and I use that term loosely.  He became aggravated when I gave him my dubious and uncertain responses to his repeated homework query “Is this answer right?”  I wanted to say, “Who the hell cares if that is an obtuse or acute angle?  Is the answer going to bring about world peace?  End the massive consumption of energy and resources? Bring a conclusion to racism, sexism, hatred of homosexuals, anti-Semitism? Stop the global unequal distribution of financial resources? or Make liposuction affordable?...At my kitchen table?...Tonight? I think not.”

Yeah, I know on some level that it’s good that we have nerdy people who reap pleasure from mastering jagillion-page equations.  I mean that’s probably how we got to the moon in 1969 and why we now can breeze effortlessly through grocery store check out lines with our bar-coded condiments.  But, these inventive techies, most of whom lack any inkling of social proficiency, are well-scholared ADULTS.  Does my third grader really have to know the applications of the Pythagorean Theorem? What purpose does it serve for him to mechanically spew out the names of triangles?  (There are three, by the way, and they are NOT bandage, Bermuda, and love, as I originally thought.)   I am grateful that due to the mastery of algebra, jumbo jets don’t fall out of the sky, but let’s be realistic; I don’t want a nine-year-old designing an airliner that I board for any flight, domestic or international. 

Meanwhile, back at my kitchen table…a dull ache had begun at the base of my skull.  I knew we would have to clear this geometric hurdle to advance to the fourth grade, and I had to turn to the World Wide Web for the decisiveness my now frustrated child required.  Upon my announcement that I would consult the endless electronic pit of knowledge, my son cried out, “Ugggh!”  And thrust his head on the table’s surface.  Drama…I can’t imagine where he gets that inclination.  In Wesley’s defense, however, I tend to become attention deficient when I plug in.  One tidbit of information points, or links, to another, and I just follow the virtual bread crumbs to wherever they lead…it’s very Zen like.  Example:  I start searching for patient reviews and coupons for the new Sona MedSpa radio frequency treatment for cellulite, and two-hours later, I am reading some conspiracy theory document on the connections between Lucifer, the Masons, and the Statue of Liberty.  Anyway, Wesley is well familiar with my proclivity to wander in a super-stimulated haze both online and in Stein Mart, and wanted to get his assignment completed before .  I could appreciate his predicament, but my quest for the scalene triangle had become just too Google-licious to pass up.

Several hours later…Wesley went to bed and I had learned some cool facts about Archimedes.  Archimedes discovered a method for determining the volume of an object with an irregular shape while taking a bath.  He was trying to figure out if King Hiero II had been duped by a goldsmith who may have mixed silver in his gold crown.   For whatever reason, Archimedes took this crown with him to the tub.  Element density, blah, blah, blah.  Water is incompressible, blah, blah, blah.  Crown was tainted.  Blah, blah, blah.  He was so excited about his discovery that forgot to toga-up and took to the streets butt naked yelling "Eureka!"

Poor Wesley.  The next morning, we rushed through the assignment, and I wrote a note to his teacher explaining that we ran short of time because it was our turn to volunteer at the local soup kitchen.  Yes, I lied.  Sue me.  I am not the one pushing the world to in utero pre calculus tutelage.  Weigh that on your moral scale.

All this math hullabaloo did get me thinking, though.  If there is going to be such an elementary school math emphasis; hell, why start there?  Let’s have a “My Baby can do Trig” or “Hooked on Polynomials” program.  Dr. Seuss could get on the bandwagon, and create a math-focused book series for preschoolers.  “Hop on Plot,” “Green Eggs and Pi,” “Don’t Fidget with my Digit,” and “Norton Needs a Numerator” could skyrocket to record sales.  Of course the more meaningful books, “If I Ran the Financial Analysis Division” and “Oh, the Congruent Parts You’ll Bisect” would top the charts.

I am in the throws of a full-blown math headache, now.  And the guilt from my documented lie has just added to the intensity.  I don’t know whether to take to bed, or run out of the house naked.  I guess it’s simply a sine of the times…

A. Ballerina

Sunday, March 6, 2011

WARNING: Doing The Best I Can!

Last week, I was busted…by the principal while dropping my son off in front of his school…at ...Oh Happy Day.  Although, in my defense, I would like to point out that my infraction was executed for the express purpose of furthering my child’s education….and perhaps, motivated in part, by my ego. 

Here’s the skinny…In order to avoid the shame of Wesley arriving late for his tutoring session, I decided to break the rules. Rather than wasting precious seconds snaking my way through the bowels of the elementary school’s rear hallways, I decided to I let him out at the main entrance. Wesley’s classroom is on the far end of the main building, on the opposite side of the “official” drop off zone.  Besides, once you do arrive at the designated “drop off zone,” more valuable time is wasted as the New Vision Welcome Wagon-ers open the car doors and assault the students with their cheery “good mornings.” Then, the uber-prepared parents take their annoyingly sweet time exiting the zone, politely allowing THE BUSES to cut in front of them.  The entire “official” drop-off would have taken at least five additional minutes. Unacceptable, when you consider the hallowed nature of instructional time, in the context of third grade EOG tests. When you are battling for your right to ascend to fourth grade, each minute of tutoring is akin to those ticking seconds before defibrillation begins on a patient experiencing cardiac arrest.  Oh, yeah…and that particular morning my hair was also dripping wet and I was wallowing in fashion ensemble limbo, i.e., sporting sleepwear. 

With my metaphoric back was against the wall, I made a hasty decision….neigh, a parenting decision….to choosing the educational success of my child (okay, and my dignity) over the directives detailed in the student handbook.  Given that this was not our first early morning rodeo, Wesley has trained well for Operation Emergency Unload (OEU).  Typically, Wes is like a miniature Green Beret on a reconnaissance mission; in one fluid move, my precious child unclasps his seat belt, dons his backpack, and poises his hand on the car door handle.  He can accurately predict the precise moment when it is safe to open the door as the vehicle comes to my infamous rolling stop.  Whatever! Call the damned Department of Social Services, ye who never run late. Jeesh!  “Have a good day, Mom,” he says, and with lightening speed, enters the school.  I glimpse the gray blur of his backpack as the glass door closes, and I am pulling my Bug onto the street headed home to continue getting ready for work….okay, to begin getting ready for work. Whatever.  Mission Accomplished. I don’t usually even tap the brake pedal.  Sweet. The entire assignment takes less than 45 seconds…typically.

However, on this particular day, Mr. Baez, our principal who graduated from VMI, was standing on the steps as the front door closed.  Stunned, it took me a few seconds to realize what was happening…an unanticipated glitch in the exercise. Oops…Giant OOPS! With my window pane retreating into the slot, Mr. Baez enumerated, in detail, the morning drop-off protocol, by rote.  Amazingly, I was speechless. I couldn’t even collect my wits quickly enough to get my Grinch on and think up a lie.  Numb, all I could do was point to my sopping wet head, brandished with headband, and purse my lips indignantly. “My HAIR,” I said, with the “Duh Huh” clearly implied.  He cocked his head sideways, in confusion.  I jump in….“I realize this is not the appropriate drop-off location, but look at me.  My hair is awful.  I have no make up on.  I can’t be seen like this!”  Then, it was his turn to be speechless.  Finally, he said, “you look fine.” 

Pathetically, I am ashamed to admit that for a nano-second I was comforted by his kind words.  But, alas, I caught a glimpse of myself in the rear view and quickly realized that he has lobbed a compliment, purely out of mercy.  The raw facts were reflected in the side mirror.  Trust me, when you have achieved 44 years of age, there are universal ethical principles which transcend the rules that maintain social order. For example, under no circumstance can you be seen with no make up, much less with your wet hair pulled back from the face! This is not appropriate for family members or loved ones…and certainly not for perky, twenty-something first grade teachers doubling as Morning Greeters! I promptly ended the conversation by apologizing for any action on my part that could have potentially jeopardized student safety.  I subtly refrained from pointing out that I had single-handedly saved the vision of several of his faculty members, and neglected to share my sincere hope that he would be able to stumble back to his office, given that he had most probably suffered a horrible, albeit temporary, optic impairment.

Honestly, I think that once you reach 40, you should automatically be issued a placard by the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles. It would be hooked onto your rear view mirror for the purpose of avoiding such awkward incidents as the one I described above. This notice would alert people to the erratic traffic movements and parking faux pas indigenous to egotistical forty-somethings who arrive somewhere ill-prepared. Fashioned after the handicap license plate (which, of course, would continue to take precedence and offer the best parking spots), my placard would read F#*k  It! I am Doing the Best I Can and would serve as a warning to the general public during times of bad hair, no make-up and unshaven legs in July. It could also be used for having had no shower, overdue manicures, Spanx-less-ness, wearing navy slingbacks with a black skirt, or upon discovering that an earring has been inadvertently left out of an earlobe. 

Emblazoned with the international symbol of bitchiness and repugnance, a witch silhouette, the F#*k It placard would allow women such amenities as driving while wearing a cucumber, pore-tightening mask, driving while hunched over a fast-food bag, and/or bolting into parking spaces at Target parking in front of waiting vehicles signaling for the same space. It would allow Moms to throw moldy Goldfish crackers out the window while en route to any destination, lay down on the horn in front of the church to summon their offspring from Vacation Bible School, and, of course, allow for dropping off said offspring anywhere in the vicinity of their instructional facility.

But the placard’s perks would not be limited to use in vehicles. In fact, you should be able to grab that sucker off the rear view mirror, and mobilize its power in the office, at various sporting events or at family gatherings. Provided that the placard is clearly displayed, you could feel free to say exactly what was on your mind in a variety of setting.

I was fantasizing about the potential power of the F#*k It endorsement when I picked up Wesley from school that same afternoon.  Heroically, I faced the principal…although if I had not been driving the same Bug, I am not sure he would have recognized me behind my shield Paul Mitchell’s Freeze and Shine Hair Spray and my mask of Cover Girl Cream to Powder Foundation. As it happened, he opened my car door for Wesley and obviously still struggling with some depth perception issues, he smiled and waved in my direction.  Mistakenly I had assumed that Wes was ensconced inside the building during the morning tete-a-tete until he boldly declared, “Mom! You got busted by Mr. Baez! OOOH!”  WTH? Where did proper parental respect go?  After my “rules must be followed, parents are fallible, and Mom made a mistake” diatribe, Wesley says, “Mom, why didn’t you just tell him you were dropping me off for tutoring?  He would have been okay with that.”  Wow, I guess that extra instruction is really starting to show promise…for us both, it seems!    

A. Ballerina

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

World Wide Worriment

What’s up with all of these “urgent” cyber tasks for which I am suddenly responsible?  Obviously, I am like the frog in simulated soup that is heated slowly…I suddenly realized today that the demands of life at Technology Central are boiling me alive!  Throughout the course of the average day, I receive approximately 50 emails (business), 20 emails (personal), 30 instant messages, and 15 Facebook notifications.  Does the madness end?  NO, not even on Sunday…I reminisce about the days, only a year or so ago, when I could actually play Spider Solitaire at work…without beeps and dings interrupting my game…when I could leisurely vacuum and mop my floors at home without alarms and bells…when having five friends--in person--meant I was loved and popular, instead of the 300 avataristic acquaintances to whom I feel pressured to send virtual birthday wishes…that is like almost one a day! (My math…just roll with it).  

Anyway, for Lent, I am seriously considering ditching the Internet.  What could possibly happen…I mean, the pioneers did without the Information Highway.  Of course, there was that pesky and treacherous Oregon Trail to traverse.  They lived in sod dwellings with dirt floors, had to kill wild game for food and cook it on an open fire, dealt with lawlessness on a day-to-day basis, and more than likely had scurvy, but what the hell?  Every generation has its demons.  They didn’t have to respond to the ever-growing red exclamation points that now dot my inbox messages.

So what are the worst things that could happen by giving up the Internet for 40 days?   Let’s see…I would definitely be unemployed, disowned by family and friends, involuntarily committed, and perhaps erroneously labeled a “recluse.”   Of course, the possibility of being smote down by God for using time devoted to Christ’s suffering for my own selfish whim for cyber-silence would certainly be a major con.  Maybe one day?  That’s more like it…or eight hours…perhaps...Yeah, whatever.   

A. Ballerina