Archive for February, 2011

Book review: The Sensualists, The Shadow of Desire, The Dive From Clausen’s Pier

February 23, 2011

It’s winter, a traditionally slow time for me, as a dog groomer.  Nothing on daytime TV, so I am reading a lot.  I generally tend to stick to nonfiction, as there is so much I do not know.  Since I come across a lot of books, I have been reading more fiction.  More and more, if a book doesn’t grab me in the first few pages, I’ll discard it and start another.  I had mixed feelings about all  3 of these.

I  picked them up because they all have female characters I wanted to see if I could relate to.

The Dive From Clausen’s Pier , by Ann Packer,became  an immediate best seller when it was published in 2002.  Told in the first person, it is about  a young woman, Carrie Bell, who has been engaged to be married to her high school sweetheart, but now they are out of college, and she has matured.  She is beginning to feel that the relationship has run its course, and  is thinking about breaking up with Mike when the horrible accident occurs.  There are other complications—the most notable, to me , is that she has not been confiding in her friends.  It’s the same high school crowd.  She just kept living, maturing, and becoming unsettled.  There are a few contrivances in the story line, but  so what—it’s a story.  I found the book compelling, exquisitely written.   Packer has  deftly drawn her characters, done her research, and created a great conflict.  I would recommend it to anyone who wanted a good read.  The point of the story is that you don’t really know what you  would do if someone close to you has a life altering crisis.  Packer  captures this truthfully.  My ambivalence?  Carrie, at a certain point, had a choice to make about her own economic and creative development, and  discards the notion to go back to  her ‘crowd’.  But that is a quibble.  Packer  really develops the story and her  characters.

The Shadow of Desire by Rebecca Stowe, I found less compelling, yet I kept reading because it was so believable.  Writing teacher Ginger makes the annual  Christmas trip back to Michigan to be with parents and a brother she has a strained relationship with.  Seems she has nothing in common with these people, but she wants to  love them because  they are really all she has.  Her mother is an alcoholic, and it is clear her brother has mental issues for understandable reasons.  Her father  appears to be the most patient, loving soul, to the point of  cluelessness.   The book takes place over about a 2 week period, more or less.  I had a hard time relating to Ginger, an adjunct or lecturer  at a college with  some minor publishing success.   However, I related to her strained relationship with her mother.    My mother and I had a similar relationship.  My mother was not an alcoholic, but she  had a prescription drug dependency that I am sure affected  all her relationships.

The Sensualists, was written by Ben Hecht, the screen writer most well known for the movie, The Front Page.  I looked him up on Wikipedia,  and learned he wrote the screenplays for  Some Like it Hot,Gone With the Wind, and Casino Royale—among so many other classic movies.  This was the reason I decided to  read this book, published in 1959.   He’s screenwritten  some of my favorite movies!  It is sort of a murder ‘mystery’, and there is a lot of dialogue, but it is filled with cliches  and babble.  I guess  it might have been a bit shocking in 1959, but now, it seems trite.

Hecht imagines what might have been a plausible scenario in the  1950s, but  is no longer the case.  His lead character, Ann Lawrence, shockingly discovers her husband of  8 years has been cheating on her with a ‘torch singer’ whose estranged-sort-of husband winds up murdered.  Hecht did not know women.  He was also a brazen sexist, imagining a male fantasy without turning it into pornography.    His characters are very  cliche’d.   The dialogue is contrived and tedious.  The ending is  lame.  That’s the best adjective I can use to describe it.  Possibly the title is  an irony.  All the characters are self-indulgent, and actually characters of themselves.  I had trouble relating to them.

What hooks most people  about a story is either relating to the characters or  finding  how the story unfolds compelling.  The Dive at Claussen’s Pier and The Shadow of Desire are both still in print, and I imagine  you can also get The Sensualists on  But let me make a plug for your neighborhood book sellers, including the ones who sell used books.  A Kindle may seem nifty, but it is hard to page through a Kindle.  There is nothing  so enriching as discovering a good book.

I knew some day I’d laugh about this….

February 10, 2011

I remember driving to work the morning Lehman Brothers collapsed.  We knew that  the  risky mortgages  were messing up the economy.  It had been a subject of the  presidential campaign, and had been going on for years before.  I remember  discussing it in a grad school course in 1990.  The speculation was unsustainable—a giant pyramid scheme.  But when the  government let Lehman Brothers go, and  saved AIG, well, everything was up for grabs. And I was thinking, as I listened to the radio in the car, “How soon will it be before this affects me?”

2 weeks.  It was getting to be the slow season for dog grooming, but it just dropped off immediately.  Boom.  I lucked out  on getting some work, but property taxes were killing me.

I decided to try to refinance.  My mortgage rate was 5.25%.   If I could cut it a point, I would lower the payment from $1516 to about $1209—& it would be that low even if I borrowed $12,000 to fix up my kitchen.  That would make the house worth something…because it had gone from a high value of  $599,900 to $348,000.  Shocking.

2 mortgage brokers  guaranteed that they would be able to get me a deal within 2 weeks, so I wasted about 3 hours with each guy, allowing to  copy over 100 pages of tax returns (being self-employed can be very complicated), and…nothing.  I can’t believe these guys made a living at what they do, because I was honest from the start:  I was not employed—though I did show income.

I called my mortgage company. They  would have been happy to refinance me —-for $7,000.  What a joke.

Ok, I’m stuck,  & then one of my tenants dies.  The other one can not afford the apartment & does not want a new roommate.  He is going to move out, but wants to stay until April 1.

These had been good tenants, or so I thought. They paid the rent on time every month & rarely complained.  However, when I went  down to actually  inventory what I had to do to rerent the  space, I  learned they were more than  sloppy.  They had trashed the kitchen, including the stove, and every wall in the place…and….had wires going everywhere.  It was a fire hazard.

I had to rewire the house.  I won’t go into the sickening details of this. Anyone who has had to do infrastructure repairs  on his home knows that good references  are a dime a dozen. The first guy, Pete Bohlen,  told me he was on dialysis, but he also said that each flat would take no longer than 2 weeks.   After 6 weeks ( He just dragged things on & on) he stopped showing up, but I had the first floor mostly done, & he had put in new boxes.  My  fuse boxes, done just 20 years before, were not up to code.

I called another company, Brilliant Electric, and another $8000, things are pretty much ok.

Because I liked the product lines, I went to Lowe’s (after getting several bids) for the  kitchen flat remodeling.  I should have gone with a small contractor. It would have cost the same, & every little thing would not have been subcontracted.  That took much more time than it should have.

I ran into plumbing problems.   I had to move 2 radiators.  I had tons of replastering, and then, since I had holes in my ceiling, anyways, I decided to insulate the ceiling.  I was bleeding money.

It was difficult to rent out the flat, as it looked so bad while it was being worked on, but I finally did, and they have generally been good (but they are students, so who knows how long they will stay?)

Meanwhile, I see my  escrow account (for taxes and insurance) has over $10,000 in it.  Aren’t they supposed refund  the surplus to me?

At the end of September, I started  pricing homeowners insurance again, and about that time  my company raise the price over $300. Why?  They claimed it would sot that much to rebuild the house if it burned.  I told them that if it burned, I’d take the money & move elsewhere.  Nobody is going to rebuild this house—& the plot is worth more than the house!  Well, I found a company that has LOWERED their rates by $300!  That’s a $600 savings when you come right down to it.

So I called the mortgage company, told them I was switching, and what about that  wad of cash in escrow?

The  big banks are not ‘1 stop shops’. They had to switch me to another department, and yes!  they sere sending me a check for $8,000!  And—wait, there’s more!  They are lowering my monthly payment to $1216!  $300 less per month!

Wow!  Am I dreaming?  No.  They decided to pay the  house insurance early to the old company, so  I had to get the money back.  & this also lowered the amount in escrow, so they did not lower my payment $300.  My escrow was too low because of them!

I got the check back from the old insurance company ($1300) & endorsed it to my escrow account.

It sat on someones desk for about 3 weeks, & then they sent me a letter  telling me they were sending me back the enclosed check because it was not made out to THEN—but there was no check!  So I had to call them & ask where the check was (they said they sent it back to Old insurance company. Old insurance company says they did not get it, & would stop payment & issue me a new check.

2 weeks go by. No check from old insurance, Another phone call. They sent  a new check to—the mortgage company!

Why? Whatever, they call the  mortgage company with me on the line, & mortgage company says they got the check, but they don’t know what they did with it (I am not making this up).  So  old insurance company, again, stops payment on the check, & says they’ll send me a new check.  It arrived yesterday, & my mortgage payment is….$1216.

Are we living happily ever after?  No, we are not.  Due to the mortgage company keeping a bunch of idiots on their payroll, &, due to their  mistakes,  and—-due to their anticipating that my property taxes will go up this year because they  seem unrealistically low (never mind that  I have lived in the house over 10 years and the building is owner occupied, which lowered the taxes about 20%), they have again raised my payment to $1441.  Yes—it’s $75 lower.  Ok, I won’t whine.