Thursday, July 27, 2006

F&L on the Radio

UPDATE: Because time ran out today (those chatty Rollergirls!), I'll be on next Saturday, somewhere between 8 and 10. I know, I know - I'm going to have to set my alarm, too.

Because I know you are all dying to hear the dulcet tones of my voice...

Schroeder over at People Get Ready got in touch with me the other day about putting my post "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" on the radio. In his other life, he djs for WTUL (that'd be Tulane's radio station) and does "Community Gumbo" for them, and he liked that post and wanted to broadcast it.

Somebody wanting me to read something I wrote? No problem, anywhere, anytime. I'm easy like that.

It should be on sometime between 9-10 am this Saturday the 29th, at WTUL, 91.5 on your radio dial. He may even play a Smuteye song, though I don't guarantee it, nor do I guarantee you'll enjoy it if he does.

"But Dale," you say, "I don't live in New Orleans, and I will simply die if I don't hear you."

Not to worry Gentle Reader, for there is a simulcast. Just go to WTUL's website, listen in and don't be left out.

"But Dale," some others protest, "I live on the West Coast and, while I love you more than life itself, that's 7-8 on Saturday morning our time, and I'm only up that early if I've been partying all night."

Never fear, for Schroeder plans on putting the recording on the Community Gumbo blog called, appropriately enough, "Community Gumbo."

So check it out. I'll probably even listen myself, but mostly for the stuff about the Big Easy Rollergirls that's on the show too.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

GMAC Mortgage Comapany is Stupid and Annoying

Lately we’ve been struggling with the mortgage company. We got stuck with GMAC after the mortgage company we made the deal with immediately sold, within a month, our mortgage to them. Okay, fine, not unusual. Our first mortgage payment, by the way, was due September 1st, 2005. Yeah, three days after. Obviously that didn’t happen, and we were told that payments didn’t have to be made for three months, which only meant that in January we owed them everything we hadn’t paid all at once. I’m not sure exactly how that was supposed to be helpful.

After much wrangling, everything got re-negotiated and we had a new payment plan, slightly higher than the old payment plan. We sent payments off to them and then they called us saying we had to re-negotiate again or go into default. Apparently, they rejected one of the payments because they said they didn’t realize it was part of the same payment.

Okay, fine, so we re-negotiate again. Now the payments have really jumped, much higher than our original payment plan in order to get everything we owe them from the last half a year paid off within a year.

Meanwhile, every time I call I have to go through the same routine, changing the address because for some reason they never know the new address, despite the fact that I have told them again and again not to send anything to the house address because there is no mail delivery there. The phone conversations always started the same way, “We mailed you the blah-blah-blah weeks ago.” Then I explain I never got it, ask where they sent it, and give them the new address again.

So we send off our re-re-re-negotiated payment. The money disappears from my account just as it should. A few days later I get a phone call saying we were going into default unless we made the payment. I call and explain how we sent the payments. She asks for the address. Then she asks if anyone is living in the house.

“No, it was wrecked by the hurricane.”

“Well I have no way of knowing that.”

Really? No way? GMAC keeps its employees on a news blackout? The fact that I’ve changed the address a million times didn’t clue you in? Or how about this – how about that the company you work for is holding onto my insurance money?

Now, I understand that GMAC is an unbelievably large corporation, but I still think such a large corporation with billions of dollars and thousands of employees would be able to make some kind of notation on our account indicative of the hurricane damage, not to mention that they’re holding our insurance money.

After I count slowly to ten, I find out they have a record of my portion, by not Dr. A.’s, and I have to make a payment immediately or we will go into default the next day. I mention that this has happened before, and we’re making payments, and could she explain why they won’t take our money. She tells me the payments have to arrive “at the same time.”

“Okay, what does that mean?”

“At the same time, they have to arrive at the same time.”

“We scheduled them for the same day.”

“No, at the same time.”

The conversation pauses here while I bang my head against the wall a few times.

“Okay, so two electronic payments from different accounts on the same day doesn’t count?”


“Okay, so what does count?”

“They have to arrive at the same time.”

I then spend five minutes running through every possibility I can think of, electronic payments, checks, same day arrival, to finally get down to what “at the same time” means – one electronic payment, or one envelope. Apparently, two checks in one envelope is okay, but two checks in two different envelopes is too confusing for GMAC to match them to one account. This would have been useful information for them to pass along to us, say, six months ago.

I point out that one envelope will be difficult given that Dr. A. and I are two different people, with two different checking accounts, living in two different places. She understands, but is adamant – one electronic payment, or one envelope.

Fine, I make a payment over the phone and call Dr. A. Dr. A. checks her account and, sure enough, they took her payment as well. In fact, she over-paid a little to get us closer to the time when we go back to regular payments, so they not only got more than enough money up front and on time, but then asked us for more money which I gave them. Naturally, we call back the next day to get this straightened out.

We ask the woman on the other end of the line (Dr. A. having arranged a three-way call) what happened to our money, and she proceeds to tell us a lot of stuff we know, like we’re in a re-payment plan, none of which answers the question, and finishes with “You received an insurance payment, so you’re capable of paying off what you owe.”

Now, how is it that she knows this, but other people don’t know we got wrecked by a hurricane?

“No,” I say, “actually we don’t have an insurance payment because you’re holding onto that money while we rebuild.”

At this point, she hung up.

To be fair, we could have just been cut off somehow, but that timing sure is something, isn’t it?

So we call back again, get bounced around a little bit, and finally talk to someone who tells us we owe them a little less money next month.


After much questioning, we find out that first, they did indeed get all the payments including the extra one I made, and are in fact capable of matching payments that don’t arrive “at the same time” to one account, and furthermore, already made the recalculations to reduce our payments over the rest of the year by the amount we over-paid this month. Which is awfully sweet of them if you ignore the idea that we arranged the payments that we did because we could afford that each month and not the extra they squeezed out of me.

Plus, since they reported the non-payment to credit companies already, they’ll send us letters saying it was a misunderstanding and not our fault that we can show to people for the next year when they refuse us credit because our credit rating is screwed because GMAC Mortgage Company is stupid and annoying.

I feel this is somewhat akin to getting knocked in the head with a cast iron skillet and bequeathed with a Band-Aid.

It’s enough to make me wish I could just take the house back to the store and return it because it’s broken, but houses don’t come with 30-day guarantees. Not to worry, though, because I won’t give them the satisfaction. There is no hoop they can devise that I can not figure out a way to jump through it, not to mention that I get to bitch about them here, and there’s nothing they can do about that.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Unbearable Heaviness of a Dollar Bill

Okay, so I’m a little behind the news curve on this one, but unfortunately I think we’re going to be stuck with U.S. Rep. “Dollar” Bill Jefferson in the news for some time. Actually, that fact is something I want to write about.

I won’t go into all the details of the bribery scandal here. If you don’t know them, search, uh, anywhere. Actually, Dangerblond gave a pretty good run-down on the whole sordid family and friends way back when, which I think was called “Fuckheads from Fuckland.” The latest juicy bit concerns ousted Council Member and Jefferson protégé Renee Gill-Pratt using an SUV donated to help the city as her personal vehicle. Jefferson arranged to have the vehicles put under her control. A couple of days before she lost her election, she donated the one she had been using to a non-profit, which hired her immediately as soon as she left office, and - ta-da! – she has the SUV again. She, by the way, attributes this lucky coincidence to the largesse of God. Oh, and speaking of Pratt, can I somehow cite her for still having a campaign sign littering the St. Charles neutral ground a block from my apartment? Is there some sort of citizen’s campaign violation fine I can impose as a good New Orleanian? Or how about just plain littering?

Okay, back to Dollar Bill. I do have to say I almost wish the $90,000 had been in his New Orleans freezer instead of his D.C. one, because I have sweet visions of him facing five weeks worth of refrigerator rot and trying to decide if getting the money out would be worth it. $90,000 under pounds and pounds of veggies, chicken, beef, shrimp and oysters all melting together in a small space for over a month in constant 90+ temperatures – what to do, what to do? By the way, if you’re ever faced with this question, the answer is “forget it.” Not only would it be unspeakably disgusting getting it out, but nobody would accept the money because of the stanky stankitty stank. Of course, that never would’ve happened because Dollar Bill has no problem with commandeering military vehicles, including a helicopter, to get a briefcase out of his New Orleans house (the last $10,000?) in the first chaotic days after the flood, vehicles which should have been rescuing people off roofs or at least helping restore order (And isn’t that illegal somehow? Since when do members of Congress have military authority?). Not to mention that said helicopter blew bricks off his house and rained them down on my friend’s car, thereby wrecking one of the few vehicles in New Orleans still unflooded and serviceable.

I was glad to see Dollar Bill removed from his position on the Ways and Means Committee. He argued that he needed to stay because the people of New Orleans need him on the committee these days. Would it help us recover to have influential people on important committees? You bet, but somehow I don’t think people whose own party is trying to oust them really have all that much influence. Another argument he made was that nobody else had ever been removed from a committee before being indicted, to which I was like “Whaaaa?”

Now, I’m all for innocent until proven guilty, but if someone is being investigated for stealing chickens, you don’t leave them in charge of the henhouse. Dollar Bill used his position in Congress and on the W&M Committee to bring in at least one bribe – the way I figure it, he’s suspended. Besides which, they found the marked money in his freezer before Katrina even struck – if he wasn’t in Congress, does anybody believe he wouldn’t have been indicted by now? Charges of racism surrounded Dollar Bill’s removal as well, to which the only real answer is to see what happens next time. Now that the precedent has been set to remove members from positions of power if they are being investigated for abuses of those positions, let’s see them stick to it.

Hooray, by the way, to the Democrats for doing it, even if they did it just to help them in the upcoming elections by way of contrasting themselves to the Republican’s “culture of corruption.” Since Congress usually does the wrong thing for the wrong reasons, I’ll take doing the right thing for the wrong reason any day.

Which brings us to this point – why am I not surprised the only time Republicans come to the defense of one of their Democratic colleagues is the time when it is completely and totally wrong to? House Republicans got all up in arms over the search of Dollar Bill’s office, finally having second thoughts about His Moronic Majesty George II’s abuse of executive power.

Could somebody explain to me why warrantless wiretaps of any old average American are hunky-doory while the warranted search of a Congress member’s office is an offense to truth, justice, mom, apple pie, Superman, and the Constitution?

Unless, that is, members of Congress get to play by different rules from the rest of us, even though I thought we were all created equal and nobody is above the law. And, to misquote a favorite talking point, if the members of Congress have done nothing wrong, then they have nothing to hide.

And as for those Democrats who also bitched and moaned about the search of Dollar Bill’s office (Pelosi, I’m talking to you) – shame on you, too. Again, just like removing him from the committee, part of the uproar was because it had never been done before, as if doing something stupid for hundreds of years is reason to keep doing something stupid.

Anyway, they're all wrong, at least for now. A judge ruled that the search of Dollar Bill’s office does not violate the Speech and Debate Clause of the Constitution. (A Reagan appointee, by the way, before anyone starts in on “activist judges.”) Now, I’m no Constitutional scholar, but I read that clause and it’s pretty clear to me that it’s about protecting members of Congress from harassment over legislation and has nothing to do with criminal investigations, as Dollar Bill and his lawyer claim. In fact, to make that claim would, in the words of Judge Hogan, “have the effect of converting every congressional office into a taxpayer-subsidized sanctuary for crime.”

Dollar Bill is, of course, appealing the decision, which brings me back to my first point, that we’re going to be hearing about this for quite a while. The first appeal goes to a three-judge panel of U.S. District Court, and then the Supreme Court, and you can imagine how long that will take. Until then, the material seized in the search remains sealed, which means the grand jury doesn’t get to see it, which means they have to wait to indict Dollar Bill. What that means is I’m stuck with a worthless representative for the months (years?) it takes for this to work through the court process. Then, finally, there will be an indictment or not, and Dollar Bill will get his day in court. That’s an awfully long time for New Orleans to be stuck with him.

So, William Jefferson, let me appeal to you directly. If you really want to help the people of New Orleans as you keep claiming, don’t appeal. If you’re indicted, then you can give us your “honorable explanation.” If you’re indeed innocent, you can have your old job and position back and we can get on with the process of recovery. If you’re guilty, we can get you out of the way and get someone in who will help us.

Until then, you’re dead weight, an anchor, and we don’t need anything dragging us further under the water.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Shameless Self-Promotion (Mostly, Anyway)

A very short piece – and I mean really short, as in only a page long - of mine will appear in Louisiana in Words, a book coming out from Pelican Publishing in the spring.

Not too long ago Pelican put out a submission call for the book, looking for writers to describe the real Louisiana, minute by minute. The book will collect them together, giving people a snapshot of a day in the life of Louisiana. They specifically asked for some stuff not set in New Orleans and not about the hurricanes, and believe it or not I managed to come up with something, and I recently heard mine got accepted. I have to say I’m quite excited and proud to be in the book, not just to be included but also because of the company I’ll be keeping.

Also accepted was Kelly Wilson, my friend and office-mate from Loyola, as well as John Biguenet, also from Loyola and author of the books The Torturer’s Apprentice and Oyster. There are some other heavy hitters in there, too, like Andrei Codrescu, as well as other friends of mine from New Orleans, Charles Cannon, Joe Longo and Sarah Inman, but the one I’m actually most excited about is Linda Rigamer. See, I gave the call for submissions to my Intro. to Creative Writing class as an assignment and encouraged them to submit; Linda did, and she got accepted, and that’s just really cool. If you want to see the full list of authors, go here.

The book should be out in the spring sometime, at which point I will remind everyone about it again, here and in emails and phone calls and possibly by running around for Mardi Gras wearing nothing but my page like a fig leaf. Here’s hoping the book isn’t pocket-sized.