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Tag: income

Adventures in househunting, Craigslist style

Where I’d like to live and what I can afford are two different realms, two very different realms — a fact I bring up not because I’m the first person to experience that phenomenon, but because it is one of the reasons Ace and I are having difficulty settling down, even temporarily.

All I want is a small cabin or cottage — they being much more romantic than something called a house — away from the hubbub, with heat and electricity, perhaps on the water, with a view of said water, and maybe a porch, possibly a fireplace, and washer and dryer, either near a park or with a big backyard that Ace can romp in, for, say $700 a month.

I’m not set on that. I’d also settle for a huge artist’s loft, utilities included, under $800 a month, where I could spread out and tape notes to the walls and write brilliantly when I’m not at the neighboring dog park, or enjoying the downtown skyline of (insert city here) from my deck, or taking part in the thriving social scene and cultural activities within easy walking distance.

Am I asking too much?

Of course I am.

For those of you who haven’t been following the recent adventures of me and my dog Ace,  allow me to summarize. Eight months ago, we hit the road to see some America — freeloading off friends and strangers, staying at cheap motels, spending a week on a boat, a month in a camper, a few nights in the car and in my tent. Part of the reason was to find ourselves, and find home. Part of it was to see if we could be vagabonds, roaming the country for the same amount we’d previously spent on rent and utilities at our rowhouse in Baltimore.

The trip gave me a deeper appreciation of my dog and my country; a better understanding of its faults (the country’s, Ace has none); and it confirmed my suspicion that most of the great places to live, scenic-beauty wise, have been co-opted by the rich. It also instilled in me — if it wasn’t already there — a thriftiness that, while mandated by my economic situation, borders on obsession.

I just can’t stand spending money on overpriced things, like gas, fancy restaurants, hotels, electricity and rent.

Arriving back in Baltimore, still unsure where home was, we were lucky enough to land in an empty house near the Inner Harbor that’s awaiting its new tenants — three soldiers returning from Afghanistan, expected to be back at end of February. It more than meets my needs and my budget, as it’s a friend’s house that’s costing me nothing. I, essentially, am squatting, with permission. But the clock is ticking.

So everyday, I visit Craigslist, most often “housing, sublets and temporary,” looking for a place to live for March, maybe April and May, maybe longer. I’m not limiting myself to the Baltimore area. I’ve also searched, on the Internet, the Eastern Shore, North Carolina, Delaware, Philadelphia and, on really cold days, Arizona.

My options are limited because I’m hesitant to sign up for a year’s lease and, of course, by my  dog — but also by my cheapness. I will probably move to wherever I find the best deal.

For awhile, I thought I’d found it, in Wilmington, N.C. — a pet-friendly, two-bedroom home overlooking the woods on a quiet cul-de-sac close to Wrightsville Beach. At $695 a month.

I emailed about what sort of pet fees and restrictions might apply, and got a speedy response. The house was still available, and they allowed all dogs — except for for Rottweilers, Akitas, chows and pit bulls.

Ace — as some of you may know, and in answer to the question many of you have asked — is  a mix of Rottweiler, Akita, chow and pit bull.

The next day I found affordable paradise again —  a “cottage” in Ellicott City, Md., one that, from the pictures, looked just like what I was looking for. It was secluded, wooded, with two bedrooms and a porch, for only $700.

Again my inquiry was quickly answered:

“Thanks for your email and interest in renting my house..I am Banke Jur, the owner of the house you are making inquiry of. Actually I resided in the house with my family, my wife and my only daughter before and presently we have moved out due to my transfer from my work now in Warsaw,Poland. Presently my house is still available for rent for $700USD (rent already includes utilities). More so Now, i’m currently in the (West African) for an international Christian follower’s crusade …

“Await your urgent reply … please we are giving you all this based on trust and again i will want you to stick to your words, you know that we have not seen yet and only putting everything into Gods hands, so please do not let us down in this our property and God bless you more as you do this …

“The house is available for rent at the moment so you are free to move in as soon as you wish to. A Deposit of $500 (which happens to be the security deposit) is required before moving in. Arrangements on how to get the keys and other necessary documents delivered to you.”

Problem was, the same house was listed at $1,650 on a dozen other rental websites, including the Re/Max website, its official listing agency.

My findings thus far? What appears to be a dandy deal is often a sleazy scam. What appears too good to be true, generally is. And what I can afford seems to be a “sleeping room,” a roomate situation, or in a neighborhood that, while the house has been “rehabbed,” the neighbors, unfortunately, have not.

Searching Craigslist has given me some new pet peeves: ads that don’t include a price, address, or even neighborhood; ads for places that proclaim dog-friendliness, but limit that to dogs under 25 pounds; ads proclaiming dog-friendliness that turn out to charge an extra $100 a month for it (Correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t “friendliness” you have to pay for generally called prostitution?); ads repeated so often as to make you scream; ads pretending to be offering a property that just funnel you into some other website, sucking up your time.

Not to mention they get no editing. There was one house whose owner boasted it was “recently remolded.” Apparently the original mold wasn’t good enough.

Another ad on Baltimore’s Craigslist offered free rent for 2 months — on a farm, with pets and horses allowed —  in exchange for “painting services that equal 40 hours/week.”  I could do that. What I could not do, though, was pay the $3000 cash deposit they asked for.

I also came across this “bachelor or bachelorette pad” at $875 a month, which features a built in bar, stripper pole, and, at least in the photos, what appear to be tools of restraint. I exercised some and didn’t seek more information.

There are plenty of ads for roomates. But at 57, I just can’t see moving in with a roomate, or two, or three. I thought some about this one in Canton, a shared rowhouse, for under $700 — three female roomates looking for a fourth of any gender. There were already some “mellow dogs” living there, according to the ad. Ace and I both fit into that category. While it did set me to humming the theme from “Three’s Company,” I didn’t make an inquiry — mainly because, as much as I’d try to be Jack Tripper, I’d come across as the token old coot. I am, come to think of it, a lot like Don Knotts/Mr. Furley on the inside, masked beneath the cool/sleepy exterior of Norman Fell/Mr. Roper. (Not that I actually watched that show.)

What all this is telling me is that humans, at least those on Craigslist, are not to be automatically trusted — that maybe newspaper classified ads, because people had to pay for them, were at least a bit more reliable, not to mention spam free.

It’s telling me too that that there should be a blacklist of landlords and insurers that unfairly blacklist entire breeds.

And, when I read between the lines, it’s telling me that maybe we’re not meant to settle down. Ace, I’m mostly convinced, wants to. Part of me does, too. But another part is saying that, if I invest in anything, it should be a home with wheels.

Maybe we should continue traveling the country, this time in an RV, Ace and me, perhaps with another zany sidekick — not Fran Drescher — simultaneously filming it for use as either reality show or sitcom.

You better hope I find a home, or you might have to watch it.

The road to financial insecurity

I found 1975 again — right where I left it.

For this story, you need to go back to the year you entered the real world, the working world, the man-up (or woman-up), you’re-on-your-own-now world.

For me, it was at age 21 — like many I was able to forestall my entry into it with college — but, during my senior year, I started looking for a job in journalism. After more rejection than I care to remember, I finally got an offer — to be a reporter for the Arizona Daily Star in Tucson.

There was a three-month probationary period and, self confidence never having been my strong suit, I decided — here in what appeared to me, as an easterner, a lonely and alien land of dust and cacti — to live somewhere I wouldn’t have to sign a year-long lease.

That’s how I ended up at the Howdy Manor.

It was old even then, as were all the other little motels that lined Benson Highway — a once major thoroughfare that, when the Interstate came, saw its clientele turn from tourists to transients.

The 1940s and 1950s vintage motels, with rare exception, had lost their charm — places like the Eagle’s Nest, on whose sign pigeons now  squat.

The Howdy Manor wasn’t nearly as hospitable as its name sounded, but it had a kitchenette, and it was close to the newspaper, and the price was right, given my $160 a week starting salary — $5 a night, if you signed up for a full week.

At first, it was a depressing little place, full of people I didn’t think I wanted to meet. And given my shift, I didn’t. I worked 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., spending most of that time at the Tucson Police Department, waiting for crimes to occur. (Now there’s no waiting). The captain was Linda Ronstadt’s brother, and the desk sergeant was a big man with a mustache man who always greeted me the same way when I came in: “How’s your hammer hangin’?”

I was always a little intimidated by the question, and try as I might to come up with an appropriate answer — “Oh, it’s hangin’,” or “quite well, thank you” — I never did.

In the wee hours of the morning, I’d get back to Howdy Manor, lock my door, turn on the TV — I’m pretty sure it was black and white — and heat up something on the stove to eat while I watched Perry Mason reruns, until falling asleep. Around noon, I would wake up, eat, shower and it would be time for work again.

My stay at the Howdy Manor — I can’t remember now if it was for only one month or all three, before I moved into a modern, boring apartment — came during one of only two two-year periods in my life that I didn’t have a dog. I probably could have used one. I was, except for work, leading the insular life I’m prone to slip into.

That, though maybe I didn’t realize it at the time, was why I got into journalism — to force myself into the world, to force myself to meet people, to force myself to learn new things. It was one of the best decisions I ever made, despite the fact that the industry’s hammer hasn’t been hanging to well for more than a decade now.

The point is, the time came, there at the Howdy Manor, that I got tired of being in my room, that I ventured out and met its other denizens — or at least those who weren’t bigger recluses than me. And I found them — just as I found the people I’d encounter on the job, which took me, in siren-chasing pursuit, to neighborhoods of every ilk — fascinating.

That is probably when, rather than ignoring and evading oddballs, I started seeking them. That’s when I began to realize that the common man isn’t really common at all, and I’d much rather rub elbows with him than schmoozers in suits.

So, as another leg of my six-month journey with my dog across America came to a close, I decided I needed to visit the Howdy Manor, or at least where it once stood, before my planned month-long layover in Phoenix. 

To my surprise, when I looked it up on the Internet, it seemed to still exist — mostly in newspaper crime reports, some of which provided the address.

But when I hit Benson Highway earlier this week, I couldn’t find the Howdy Manor, or the address. Eventually, I realized the relevant portion of the highway, rather than having disappeared, is still there; it’s just a matter of making a couple of turns after it seemingly comes to a stop. I found the proper block and drove slowly down it — passing the Lariat, the Western, the Bucking Bronc and several other motels and trailer parks with cowboy names. But not, as far as I could see, the Howdy Manor.

The block looked a little more faded, a little more battered — but pretty much otherwise exactly as it did when I left it. It could still be 1975 there.

I was headed back up the block when I spotted my former home. One side of its sign is blown out, so it’s visible only to the westbound traveler.

Today’s Howdy Manor appears even more down at the heels than it was when I — fearful and uncertain, young and naive — became a resident. It’s a little more worn and torn, and the plywood cowboy who I recall stood waving his hat in welcome is gone now, replaced by a sandwich board sign, supported by cinderblocks.

I pulled over, and was immediately approached by a young woman who asked me what was wrong. “Nothing,” I answered, I’m just looking. I used to live here. Thirty-five years ago. It was five dollars a night.”

It’s now $99 a week, she pointed out, and $20 a night. That’s what her brother pays. She pointed me in direction of manager, and I knocked on the door.

A girl with blue hair and multiple face piercings opened it, and called her mother. When she came to the door, I told her I used to live there, 35 years ago, and that it was only $5 a night. She was unmoved and unimpressed.

“Do you want a room?”

“No,” I answered, “but could you give me the name of the owner? I’d like to talk to him”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“To learn more about the history of the place,” I answered.

“Why would you want to do that?”

“So I can write about it.”

“Why would you want to do that?”

“Because I’m a writer.”

Our conversation seemed to be going in circles, so I thanked her, excused myself and got back in the car, leaving a trail of dust in my wake as I pulled out.

Back on Benson Highway, I thought back to the old days, and compared them to my current ones. Back then, I managed to make it through my probationary period, to learn the ropes, and to fall in love with the desert and Tucson. After three years there, I spent 30 more in a newspaper career that wasn’t entirely undistinguished.

When I left the business, I wrote a book, and continued to write my own website, making about enough in the latter pursuit to afford the modern-day Howdy Manor, if I paid by the week.

In some ways, I’m even more insecure than I was when I moved into my motel room with a kitchenette in Tucson 35 years ago. I have no real job, no health insurance, no boss, no salary — not even a salaryette.

But, two years after departing the newspaper industry, I continue — stupidly, maybe — doing the thing I love and know how to do: seek out stories and write them. I continue to occupy, like some kind of squatter, my former occupation.

Why?

Because I’m a writer, dammit.

And that, good sir, is how my hammer hangs.

St. Bernard: The imperishable parish

If you don’t think dogs are being hurt by the BP oil spill, perhaps you need a lesson in the trickle down – or, in this case, ooze down – theory of disaster economics.

And there may be no better place to learn it than St. Bernard Parish, southeast of New Orleans, a community that was struggling to survive to begin with, left underwater by Hurricane Katrina and, with more than half of its families owing their incomes to fishing, is now feeling the rippling ramifications of the oil spill.

They evacuated during the hurricane, came back and have been rebuilding ever since. Now, the oil rig explosion and subsequent contamination of the gulf means a loss of work and more sacrificing.

Right down to the family dog.

This one statistic pretty much sums it up: The St. Bernard Parish animal shelter took in 60 dogs in May 2009; this May it saw 288 come in, many of them surrendered by owners who, having at least temporarily lost their livelihoods to the oil spill, said they could no longer afford to provide care for their dogs.

That sad-eyed girl above, named Abby, arrived at the shelter a week ago, surrendered by a family that subsisted on harvesting seafood from the gulf – only a few pockets of which are still open to shrimping, crabbing, and oyster harvesting.

While some fisherman have turned to working on the cleanup, “they’re not making nowhere near what they were making before,” said Shannon Asevedo, a St. Bernard Parish animal control officer.

Another occupant of the shelter, Sasha, was owned by a BP employee who turned her over to his mother-in-law because he was being called upon to travel so much. When Sasha had ten pups last month, it was more than she could handle. Now all 11 are at the shelter, where the BP employee’s ex-wife works as a volunteer – partly so she can see her former dog. Due to financial and legal problems, she’s unable to care for Sasha as well.

“Our intakes have probably doubled if not tripled since the oil spill,” Asevedo said. “They may not all be related to it. Most people just say they can’t afford to take care of them anymore. It’s a shame. More are here because their parents can’t take care of them. At the same time, adoption rates are down, too. So where do they go?”

St. Bernard Parish Animal Services Director Beth Brewster says the shelter attempts to place all dogs in adoptive homes, ships some to rescue groups and tries to put down only those deemed aggressive.

Interestingly, the shelter sees a large number of large dogs and pit bulls. Families returning to rebuild after Katrina often bought large dogs and left them at their homes at night to protect against the theft of construction materials.

Brewster, in the job for two years now, said the parish’s previous shelter, with a capacity of 26 dogs, “was a dump.” The parish opened its new facility this January, with financial help from the Humane Society of the United States and FEMA.

The old shelter had reopened shortly after Katrina, but went nearly two years without electricity or running water. It strung together hoses to bring in water, and used extension cords to supply electricity. It, unlike the new facility, had no air conditioning, which took a toll on dogs and humans alike.

The shelter was so shoddy that the shelter bought an old school bus and would load it with adoptable dogs, parking in front of the Home Depot and trying to find them homes.

Now they have a gleaming new shelter, and a new air-conditioned mobile unit. But they also have more dogs than even their new and expanded capacity can handle, with more and more dogs being surrendered for economic reasons.

“This is not a wealthy community to begin with,” Brewster said. “Most of these people grew up on the water and more than half make their living on it.”

Recognizing the parish’s problems, the Humane Society of the United States has sent a shipment of dog food to the area, to be distributed to pet owners facing hardships associated with the gulf oil spill. The food is also being distributed in Plaquemines Parish.

“The Humane Society of the United States was saddened to hear that animals inland from the shoreline are also suffering from this disaster,” said Julia Breaux, the organization’s Louisiana director.

St. Bernard Parish, as you’ve probably guessed, is not named after the dog breed, but after the actual saint — Saint Bernard, who devoted himself to the conversion of the people of the Alps and is known as the patron saint of mountaineering.

But the determined people of the parish may have more in common with the dog breed, which is named after St. Bernard’s Pass in the Alps (which is named after the Saint). The dogs were brought to a famous hospice there in the 1600s, where they developed their reputation for mountain rescues and where, it is said, rugged and adverse conditions honed their strong instinct for survival.

Bo Obama’s value placed at $1,600

You can’t put a pricetag on the family dog, but in the case of Bo Obama it’s $1,600.

The value of Bo — a gift to the president from the late Sen. Ted Kennedy — was listed on annual financial disclosure forms the White House released Monday, according to the Associated Press.

Dollar-wise, the Portuguese water dog, was a mere drip compared to the president’s other income, including royalties from his books, “Dreams From My Father” and “Audacity of Hope,” which brought in between $1 million and $5 million each.

In addition to his $400,000 annual salary, Obama  listed a number investments which, including those held jointly with his wife, were worth between $2.2 million and $7.5 million in 2009. His Nobel Peace Prize carried a $1.4 million award, but the president donated that to charity.

(Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

One in five prefer pet as their Valentine

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So, with only three days left to Valentine’s Day, your honey still hasn’t firmed up the plans?

Could be he, or she, is planning to spend it with the pooch.

Rather than spending Valentine’s Day with their human partner, a fifth of adults would prefer to be with their pet, Reuters reports, based on a global poll conducted in conjunction with the market research company, Ipsos.

The survey of 24,000 people in 23 countries found, globally, 21 percent of adults would rather spend February 14 with their pet than their spouse or partner.

Interestingly, Turkish people were most inclined to want to spend the day with the dog (49 percent), while the French were least likely (10 percent).

The survey found that age and income were even bigger factors than country of residence, with younger, less affluent people more likely to choose their pet as their Valentine’s Day companion. About  25 percent of people aged under 35 opted for their pet over their partner, compared to 18 percent of those aged 35-54 and 14 percent of people aged 55 and over. Men and women were evenly split over the question.

About 1,000 individuals per country took part in the poll, with Turkey showing the largest numbers by far of owners who preferred their pet’s company on Valentine’s Day.  Next came India with 41 percent, Japan with 30 percent, China with 29 percent, the United States with 27 percent and Australia with 25 percent.

The nations where residents were the least likely to want to spend the day with a pet over their spouse or partner were France at 10 percent, Mexico at 11 percent, the Netherlands at 12 percent and Hungary at 12 percent.