Closing the book

I keep records. They’re not the vinyl kind. Those I might be able to sell on eBay. Oh, if only I had that Michael Jackson album I got as a gift when I was a kid. It would probably be in mint condition – possibly never touched by a needle.

No, these are the boring kind of records – not that Michael Jackson was a…

No, I just can’t do it. It’s just too easy. It’s a corn dog dipped in corn syrup with popcorn. (Maybe that’s a little too corny.)

… Thriller for me.

Ack! Someone stop me before I hurt someone.

Think filing cabinets and a slightly anal personality when it comes to documents. Nowadays I scan most incoming documents, but for some things I keep the paper. One example is our cars. We (I) keep sales contracts, transfers of title… all of the good stuff you get when you buy a car. Then we (I) add to it as we go. We (I) keep documents and records for maintenance and repairs, neatly organized by date.

No, that was not an excuse for Cheryl to laugh at me.

You better stop reading before I ratchet up the real excitement. If you’re pregnant or suffer from a heart condition, we strongly recommend you get off this post at your earliest convenience..

When we sell a car or trade it in, we close the book on it. We pull the paper on file, pack it up, and archive it (a box in the garage).

None of this is important to the post though. Consider it a test of your patience. Only those who prove themselves worthy will get the meat and potatoes of the post (which none of us eat regularly).

We’re cutting expenses. Long or short time readers know we’ve hit a bump in the budget the size of a small redwood. (You medium folks are out of luck. You really should consider committing one way or the other.)

To that end, we dumped one of our cars – the one we had to finance after our (paid off) Honda CR-V was totaled by an uninsured driver. We piddled away most of our own insurance money on trivial stuff like medical care. We didn’t (re: couldn’t) put anything down so we were making the highest possible payments.

Normally I’m a buyer. I like to get a car, drive it till it won’t drive no more, and only then get another. This way I figure I get the most bang for my long term buck. However, saving money in another three years does us little good if we go broke in less than one.

Plan A isn’t going so well. In fact, it isn’t going anywhere at all. Our modest home has been for sale almost a year. In that time we’ve had less than a dozen visits from potential buyers.

So it’s on to Plan B. If we were smart, we would have implemented Plan B concurrent with Plan A. Alas, I’m a poor planner. Plan B is to slash monthly expenses everywhere possible. So now we have a lease instead of a car loan. Now our house is off the market and we’re extending the mortgage payments out until we’re around 70. Now we’re cutting most of the fun out of our budget.

We’ve been closing the book on a number of things lately, besides our barely used car.

Fortunately, not all of the fun stuff in life has to fit in a budget.

– – –

On a related note, is there anyone out there in the market for a perfectly good kidney? It might have a few stray cancerous blood cells floating around, but otherwise it’s solid. Maintenance records are available upon request… lots of records, in fact.

The first showing?

I elected to stay home from work today, but I find myself around the corner at a coffee shop. It’s nine-thirty a.m., do you know where you realtor is? Actually, mine’s off the hook this morning – someone else was supposed to be showing the house.

But I’m sitting here, monitoring my email, waiting for that message that’s supposed to come when someone has activated the lock box at the house. I’m freakishly tired. By that I mean Jesus, the holy roller himself, could sit down beside me and ask (rhetorically) how church has been, and I’m not sure I’d be capable of a surprised or emotional response.

“Well, do you mind if I call you JC? To be honest it hasn’t been doing much for me lately. What about you? How are doing? Did you catch any Rays games this year? What does JC do when he wants to let his hair down, so to speak?”

I’m not keen on the idea of being in the house when it’s being shown, but I’m not going to sit in a coffee shop all day either, even if there’s a high likelihood someone showing the house later would come across the sleeping owner, dead to the world. I’m only sitting up now because I’m being propped up by a proper cup of coffee – in all its caffeinated glory. (Amen!)

Please don’t tell my doctor.

My patience is drawing thin. My head longs for its pillow. My sinuses plead for medication.

To hell with it. I’m going home.

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For sale, but for how long?

It’s another surprisingly dry, cool day in west-central Florida. I’m sitting out on the front porch admiring the newly installed lock box on our front door. Now any properly equipped realtor can get into our house.

Cool or creepy?

An electronic key activates the box, which drops the keys out of the bottom and fires off an email alerting us someone has shown the house.

I think it’s pretty slick.

By the way, if you know anyone who’s interested in a charming three bedroom, two bath house in Florida that’s close to some of the country’s best beaches (but not in a hurricane evacuation zone) call Andy Park at: 727-424-2639.

Tell him the Kauffmans told you about the Sourwood property, and you wanted to get a look before this hot property was grabbed by someone else.


For Sale

You’ve heard a picture is worth a thousand words, but have you ever considered words can have infinite meaning? It’s the beauty of language; this thing our gray matter dreamed up to communicate. It’s so complex it’s a wonder we can keep it straight, and it explains why so many of us have trouble capturing its intricacies in print.

Just the words “for sale” can mean several things to different people, depending on context, inflection, or tone. They can explain one’s principles or one’s property, their meaning completely different. They can conjure countless stories from your imagination: like the broken dreams of a sign in a small, abandoned shop downtown, or the excitement of a brighter future posted in the yard of a modest home.

To me, they mean giving up. I knew the words were inevitable for months, but my heart didn’t truly accept them until last weekend. We agreed to call a realtor and put our home up for sale.

Funny word, “accept,” or maybe just the wrong one. I feel anything but accepting. I feel resigned. I feel broken.

I feel crushed by responsibility.

Don’t try this at home kids, I’m a professional. I’m of course referring to self-pity.

If I was more ambitious we’d have more income. If I wasn’t sick we wouldn’t have so many expenses. If I was more disciplined we wouldn’t have quite as much crap we really don’t need.

Whatever the reason, we find ourselves in the same boat many others do, maybe even you.

For years our income sat still like a naughty child in time out. Expenses went up. A lot. A few of those expenses were discretionary, like my recent vacation, but many were not. Every year we went through the budget, cutting chunks here and there in order to tread water. Every year it got harder to find big chunks. This year they’ve been scattered, small, and most importantly: not enough.

So this weekend we met with the realtor. We signed some papers and sprinkled them with a few initials.

A sign goes up in the yard next week.

Everywhere I look inside I see other signs, the ones that spawn memories.

I’d sooner clip off a little toe than sell, but it’s the right move – the smart move. We have the plans drawn for the addition that will become our new home, after (if) we get our price.

Now I wonder, emotions torn.

How long?

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I was an amateur plumber

I was tired of sinks and drains backing up. I was ready to replace two inefficient faucets that started to leak. I wasn’t ready to pay a plumber two bills for a twenty dollar faucet and a quick clog job on two partially blocked drains. So I went to Home Depot.

I didn’t find what I wanted.

So I went to Lowes. I picked up a couple faucets and a drain snake/auger. I would’ve picked up a stronger stomach too, but they were on back order. The faucets went in without too much trouble, but the shower drain was more of a challenge. It wasn’t a technical challenge. It was a holding my cookies as I pulled the goo out of the drain kind of challenge. I was completely unprepared for its makeup and consistency. If you don’t think you can stomach a description, please read no further.

I was expecting soupy. You know, something having a relatively high water content. Instead, it was more like a renewable resource for road repair. It was thick, black and greasy, held together by a matted matrix of hair. I was expecting the hair, but black tar? Then there was the smell. Should I tell you about the smell? Could I tell you about the smell? Could I possibly put it into words? It kind of smelled the way I’d imagine a sewer would smell – if I’d ever smelled a sewer. Crawling around in a sewer is one experience I’ve thus far been denied.

Poor me.

This was worse. It was like I’d bathed in it, the smell surrounding me in a swirl of moldy, rotting filth.

Whatever the remains of our seemingly harmless showers became, it took ten minutes to wash off my hands. Two applications of Tilex and scrubbing would not remove it completely from the shower floor. When I say it was a God awful mess, I mean it like no other mess I’ve encountered, and remember – I have two kids.

This weekend I’m going to clear out the sink in the kids’ bathroom.

Pray for me.

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No, I should really know better.

When Cheryl and I moved here from Orlando we lived with her parents until we could find a place for ourselves. For almost as long as we’ve had a place of our own, Cheryl has been keeping an eye out for a place we could share with her parents.

Every time she’s proposed a place my answer was very simple.


I’ve never wavered. Every time I’ve lived with someone besides my immediate family, I’ve never quite felt comfortable. Even when I’ve paid a share of the rent, part of me felt like an intruder. Roommates in college was one thing. I knew it would end some day. It was temporary housing.

Multigenerational housing – with the in-laws – is an entirely different proposition. There’s no end. I could feel like a guest in my own home for the foreseeable future. Just the thought depresses me, and there are no immediate plans to do so.

Well, there are now. Nothing’s set in stone, but it’s more than a one way conversation now.

Financial circumstances have slowly deteriorated. (And yet we still talk about buying computers.) There have been no pay raises in five or more years. This year we’re looking at furloughs, a 3 percent pay cut, or both. My department is talking about the possibility of layoffs for the first time in forty years. In the past they’ve been good at reading the tea leaves, holding back on hiring so position cuts could be absorbed by vacancies. Not this year. Ever since JEB! was first elected ten years ago (more or less), we’ve been asked to find 10 percent of our budget to cut every year. This year they’ve asked us to find 15. We haven’t always seen the full extent of those cuts, once the dust has settled after legislative sessions, but it hasn’t been pleasant. It seems they’ve finally caught up. Mind you, even when I have seen a raise (I can’t remember when), it’s been the 1.5 percent variety. There were a couple exceptions: promotions, and that one year I was lucky enough to get one of a handful of performance raises (they’ve offered them twice in my almost fifteen years – to about 2 percent of our agency).

Don’t get me wrong. I know I shouldn’t complain about my job, especially not in this economy, but for other reasons as well. As it happens, I love my job. I knew exactly what I was getting when I took a government job. It has it’s benefits, both financial (health insurance), and social (relatively liberal leave policies). Plus, I work with great people… my second family.

It’s just that in the mean time expenses have exploded – especially the medical variety.

To top it off, Cheryl worries there will be a day I won’t be able to work anymore. I don’t share her worry, but I sympathize with it. We’re better off than many, with money in savings, the beginnings of a retirement account, and money put away for at least one of the kids to go to college (thanks to the Florida Pre-Paid Program). Yet it feels like we’re living life without a net, like we’re one setback from financial catastrophe.

In other words, we’re living the new American dream: stagnant or decreasing wages, ballooning expenses, and the constant threat of job loss always hanging over our heads.

You know what they say about never. This is why I’m starting to think multi-generational housing isn’t such a bad idea, consolidating and reducing our expenses to give my family more financial security – both for my immediate family and my in-laws. But it’s not any less depressing.

I’ve lived in our house, this house, as long as I’ve lived anywhere. It’s been a true home, in every sense of the word. It’s the only home my kids have known. It’s where I learned I could be handy if I really needed to be. It’s where I’ve spent days like today: a cool, quiet, cloudless day on the front porch listening to breezes blow through our giant oak, sipping at a cup of green tea as I write.

Now I wonder if we should give it up… if we have to give it up.

Then there are my dark thoughts, when I wonder if we would be here if I was more ambitious.

When Cheryl and I first started dating in college, there was often wonder in her eyes. There were times I’d help her with homework, even though I’d never taken the class, or a class like it, and she’d look at me as if I’d just made her textbook disappear. Though it was nothing more than an ability to read (her books), she thought I could do anything. It’s hard to describe what it meant to me at the time. It was a lifeline for the kid who thought he was capable of nothing. And yet, it still made me feel a bit uncomfortable, the weight of expectations feeling heavy on my shoulders.

My aim in life has always been simple: to be happy. I eschew the spotlight. I set a course for a relatively simple life a long time ago – a life not without hard work, just one not consumed by it. Now I wonder if this place we find ourselves in, thinking of leaving our home, the tears in my daughter’s eyes when the subject comes up, the image in my head of that last day when the house is empty and we look around as we close the door on a chapter in our lives… if it’s my fault.


To the mattresses

Has a plunger ever given you blisters?

This evening I exercised my power to make (if not officially declare) war, as chief executive of the Kauffman House, and commander-in-chief of the household tools. We’ve been involved in the occasional skirmish for years, but this evening our toilet struck a surprise, vicious blow, leaving me little choice but to fully engage the enemy. Armed with a plunger, resolve, and a really bad temper, I fought long and hard. I put up a good fight, but in was in vain. While the enemy’s blood covered the field of battle, it won this time.

My hands may be raw and my back may be killing me, but it hasn’t won the war.

It’s the last old style, high flow, inefficient toilet in the house… but not for long.



It’s an IKEA world

Note: the opinions expressed or implied in this post do not necessarily reflect those of the author, or the individuals described herein. The events are dead on though.

IKEA came to town six months ago. A month after it opened, we drove over the bridge to see if reality recognized hype in the mirror. We got a sense of the hype and a smidge of the reality, but we never got out of the car. The Tampa police closed the parking lot (it was full). People were parking along the side of the highway. Folks were leaving their cars a mile or so away, moving in groups through vacant lots surrounding the store like flocks of migratory birds. There was a queue out front, promising entry at some unspecified time in the future, business hours permitting.

We didn’t stop. I’m not that interested in furniture, Swedes or no Swedes.

Weeks later, I read an article where an IKEA spokesperson described their wares as stuff to keep around for a little while, then replace. Maybe his statement was taken out of context. Maybe something was lost in translation.

Maybe you take the statement as a given – for everything you buy. I don’t. When I buy something, I’m not thinking about what will replace it. I buy for keeps, though it occasionally blemishes the marital bliss.

It sounded to me like the IKEA dude was cynically describing planned obsolescence as a feature, even a virtue – and not just for IKEA. You may not know this about me, but I don’t take disappointment well. I had this idea in my head of a progressive, quirky, enviromentally conscious, European company that sold above average, inexpensive, sturdy stuff for the home. Or to put it more succinctly: the perfect fit for Chateau Kauffman. I lost my enthusiasm in a black hole. (Don’t you just hate losing stuff in a black hole?

Fast forward to this weekend. The TV in our living room was nearing the end of its long march towards uselessness. We’d had an HD model in our family room since my cancer days. It was a splurge for those weeks I thought I’d be confined to the house, carrying around my chemo pump. If only we’d known I was going to spend that time in the hospital instead.

But I’ve digressed to cancer talk once again.

Since the Hi-Definition Purchase of 2007, we’ve become video snobs. No merely mortal TV was going to cut it anymore, and that’s where the trouble started. (If you don’t count the aborted trip to IKEA, or countless anecdotes not directly related to this post.) You see, we had (have, if you have a truck and can bring your own brawn) a great piece of furniture for our old TV. It was oak. It was beatiful. It was perfect for a TV with a 4:3 aspect ratio. Was it suited for the 16:9 ratio on the HD beauties? Not so much. We could’ve put one in there – just a really small one. You feel me on this one, right? It would have been like trying to fit a wide rectangular peg into a not so wide, rectangular hole. (Who says I have a problem with imagery?)

Remember, we are newly minted TV snobs. Going smaller would be regressing. How could we face our friends in the face of such obvious failure? No, at worst you tread water, but really you want to go bigger. Always bigger.

So out went the old, and Cheryl went to IKEA.

I got a call from Cheryl last Thursday, asking if I had any qualms with her going to IKEA with a friend of hers. Setting aside my philosophical, epic struggle with IKEA (which is surprisingly one sided), I said sure.

You know what’s coming, right?

After spending the day at the Tampa IKEA Spa, Resort and Shops, she came home with a mother lode of boxes. Big boxes. The kind of boxes you’d expect an unassembled, downtown entertainment complex to come in.

I was in a pissy mood when she got back. I made an unfortunate, under the breath comment about her purchase. I don’t remember what it was (she doesn’t either), but it apparently wasn’t slathered with sugar, spice, or anything nice. The PG version: it didn’t sit well with Cheryl’s dander.

“You know, most guys would be pretty excited about getting a new TV,” she said.

Yeah, but you didn’t come home with a TV. You came home with enough raw materials to build an addition to the house… and expectations.

See how I used the italics there? That was me thinking rather than speaking. It’s not often, but every now and then the filter between my brain and my mouth works.

Well, a funny thing happened the next day. I actually set out to put the damn thing together.

It turns out I am a guy (sometimes), and I did kinda want a new TV. It took me all day but I got it done. The next day I even built some cabinets and hung them on the wall above it.

Then Cheryl went out and bought a TV.

Afterwards I asked Cheryl if she was surprised I’d put it all together and set things up in one weekend. I really got quite a bit done (for me): the construction, moving the old HD to the living room, rearranging the decor to match the new feel of the new furniture, rerouting all the wires to (and from) the TV, computer, stereo, Wii, cable box, Xbox, and UPS, reprogramming remotes, and getting the new (bigger) set settled in the man cave… but I didn’t mean it as a rhetorical question.

“Yes,” she simply replied.

Sometimes you can say an awful lot with just one word.

Sometime I’ll have to tell you how the old TV came to be broken.


Saving money in the wrong places

There are some lines I won’t cross on this blog.

Don’t you laugh. I’ll find you.

I’m not going to elaborate, not that it’ll be necessary. I think your imagination will fill in capably.

I’ve decided not to save money on toilet paper anymore.

I say that now, but just you wait. A few years from now I’ll be reposting this entry, complaining about how rough it is out there.

What customer?

“What about our shareholders Bob? Who’s looking out for them?”
– The Incredibles

You know me. I love insurance. I love it so much I bought a bunch of it. We’re like that ice cream place that brags about all the flavors they’ve got. It’s a good thing too, because it’s coming in handy after Cheryl’s accident.

I know what you’re thinking, or I think I do. Well, maybe it’s just a hunch. Yeah, better call it a guess. I’ve been off my game lately. I’ll bet you’re a little suspicious, waiting for the switch to go with my bait. (My, what terrible bait you have.) I’m predictable that way.

The customer relationship is a little off in the insurance business. You’re only right as long as you’re not trying to get something for your money, besides a monthly/annual statement… or… brace yourself: a renewal notice. They’re down with the statement gig. Aren’t statements grand? I love statements. I love the way they file, so smooth with delightfully heavy paper that just….

Sorry. I should really keep that to myself.

Something happens to you when you need more than reassurance from insurance. You’re not really a customer any more. The industry term often used is leech, or rube; depending on the context, or wether they’re trying to be civil.

When you have more than one policy, even if you don’t think they’re related (or overlap), you become something else again: screwed. Company A wants company B to pay, due to Y coverage. Company B says they won’t pay because you don’t have any more Y coverage. You thought all along that company A would pay something – why else would you have X coverage? So you go back to company A, explaining that you don’t have any more Y coverage. They say “prove it.” You say, “I’m already responsible for the deaths of a thousand trees proving things to you people. Don’t you ever stop?”

They laugh.

You almost feel guilty for thinking bad thoughts.


And so it goes.

Sick of me writing like I flunked junior high English? (It was a D – and only that one time.) Here’s the deal. We have two insurance companies (more than that really, but stay with me): one for auto and one for short term disability. Neither one wants to pay for short term disability, despite there being no dispute Cheryl is ‘short term disabled.’ How fracked up is that? Sure, I can see auto’s beef. They’re only gonna let us get so fat on their dime. But come on disability… you don’t cover disability? Your policies are printed on some great paper, but it’s not that good.

I know one thing. You probably knew it already, but I’m slow. You’re foolish if you think anyone but shareholders are the real customer. Everyone else is just a prop in the show, or so it seems.

It’s not easy being a prop. How did we get here? Is it something we did, or didn’t do? Are there insurance companies* out there fighting on the side of good, who aren’t trying to bring down the dreams of freedom loving people everywhere?

*Although I’m in no mood for fairness, I must admit my health insurance company was fantastic when I was sick last year. Sanity and fairness can be a real downer sometimes. It will return in 3… 2… 1…