The Slow Descent Into Madness: Phase 2

Well, I’ve done it. I’ve almost completely lost my mind. I’ve, at the very least, confirmed my pathway to madness.

Today, I met with a realtor.

I may have mused to you before about how I should probably buy some real estate some time in the near future, seeing as how the interest rates are stupidly low and the housing prices are lower than they’ve been since I had mall bangs. And I need to secure my financial future and make a solid investment that will supplement my paltry 401(k) and IRA, which have suffered, if not losses, then anemic growth in the four years since I opened said IRA. I have no illusions about home ownership vis-a-vis that of my parents’ generation: I fully expect that mine will not be a generation that profits nearly as much from its dealings in land and structure. No, unless you’re Mark Zuckerberg (who’s a few years behind me), mine is the generation whose screwedness in all things financial resembles a small monument in size. The baby boomers sucked everything up and dumped a bunch of debt and market shenanigans in our laps and now we’ll never retire, have Social Security or reap the reward of living in the wealthiest nation with the best opportunities of a once-in-a-lifetime global growth and trade boom at its zenith.

But congrats to those of you who will. I don’t begrudge you that one bit. Unless you’re responsible for my generation’s impending destitution. In which case: This is a stickup.

Alright, so anyway, since market volatility has the world freaked out and the low interest rates have my mattress doing a better job of generating appreciable savings APY than my banks (and lately there ain’t been much appreciation going on… hey-oh!)  it still seems as though real estate is the last best hope of creating some growth in the old portfolio.

So why is it crazy for me to start looking?

Well, I don’t really know what my job will be in a month/season/year.

You see, I don’t particularly like where I work right now, and it’s only getting tougher. And this isn’t about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, here. This isn’t about self-actualization. This is about the company and management treating people really, really poorly, among other, more corporately colossal clusterf—s of legal and financial weight. As regular readers may recall, I’ve been looking for a job. There is the possibility of returning to my old job, but I don’t know that the odds are tremendous because I think they want to promote someone from within, pay him less than I’d need and then hire to fill his spot on the cheap. And I’m constantly worried about losing the job I have. And I don’t want to get stuck in it, either.

But there comes a time in every woman’s life when she has to be a grownup, and those anti-anxiety meds I’ve been on for two weeks are kicking in, so I’m feeling a little adventurous. Or at least less like I’m going to die from hyperactive nervousness.

Market instability, professional uncertainty, mild mental illness. This is a great combination for homebuying, no?

I’ve been surfing the market via the Google Machine for a few years now, trying to note trends in prices and areas that spark my interest. I also have the advantage of having parents who have bought ten properties and sold seven in their lives. They kind of know the game and they like it when I ask them things. Then again, if I had done what my father wanted me to do four years ago, I’d have bought on an interest-only loan and would now probably be using my hands to paddle down a creek that smells not unlike feces.

So there’s that to consider.

In my searchings, I have found several houses I really liked, and the market is finally coming around to my way of thinking vis-a-vis how much money (and will to live) it wants to suck from me. I’m lucky that I know my city pretty darn well, so I can look at a zip code or a main road and know whether it’s a good, bad or borderline area. The other day I found a listing that I adored. It was a borderline area. My voice teacher lives four blocks away in a good part; a couple blocks east of the house gets dodgy. With gentrification, it has the potential to be a moneymaker in a shorter time than other places. The asking price was great and the seller was willing to bring as much as $17,000 to the table to unload the property. That part made me fairly sure there’s a body walled up in there somewhere, but I’d be silly not to be interested in the house. After all, it had three bedrooms, inlaid and hardwood floors, a good kitchen, good bathrooms and a full finished basement. Plus an attached garage, over which I nearly passed out with excitement, because having an attached garage in most parts of my city is like having your own unicorn. And I’ve always wanted a unicorn.

Being the curious and safety-conscious person that I am, I drove by the house semi-slowly yesterday after my voice lesson. There’s a school directly across the street, which is good for safety and maybe not so good for noise. The house looked, from my brief observation, well cared-for and tidy outside. I went back last night after work to see what goes on after 11pm. All was quiet. A woman was outside walking her dog. Wow, I thought. Exactly what I’d like to be able to do. Today I went back by again. And you know what I saw that I missed the first two times somehow?

Two boarded-up houses, three and four doors down.

Respectively.

Oh well.

But I met with the realtor, Hottie McHousehunter, to get the ball rolling on my education, at the very least. He apparently “specializes” in first-time homebuying, including finance options and ways of getting around mortgage insurance if you can’t do 20% down. I might, but then I’d be broke, so it’s not a bad thing to investigate. He walked me through the basics of the process like I’m a five-year-old, which is exactly what I need. And I was relieved to realize that I do kind of know some stuff, although I was disappointed to confirm that, as it has every day of my life since I’m in fourth grade, my brain shuts down and my vision gets all swimmy when people talk to me about finance and number-examples.

But that shouldn’t be a problem at all.

At least if I don’t like the house I’m looking at, I’ll still like something I see. Hottie McHousehunter is going to be nice to work with.

Like It’s Not Bad Enough On A Date

I got stood up.

For an interview.

Swear.

And the funny part is, I didn’t even want the job. This woman calls me up, randomly, and I am not kidding when I tell you it took three tries before I could even get her to adequately describe what she does. I had not applied for the job for which she wanted to interview me; she had seen my resume’ floating around the interwebz and cold-called me. I’m open to that – you never know. But once I could get her to tell me something that made sense, it became clearer that this jobshewas calling “marketing and account management” was, in point of fact, supplemental insurance sales.

And there is nothing wrong with selling insurance. My grandfather, may he rest, sold insurance. People need insurance. But I’m not good at sales and I’m not interested the insurance industry.

I got the impression that she was just looking for a warm body to do the job. She said she wanted to spend 30 minutes talking with me and going over the compensation package. If they want to go over that in the first 30 minutes of meeting you, they’re going to offer you the job with only the slight chance of withholding if you’ve got several facial piercings. Plus, she didn’t want to talk to me about anything in detail on the phone. Which tells me she just needs to get me in the door.

Or her phones are bugged.

Or she thinks her phones are bugged.

But I figure an interview is an interview, and you never know who will pass your name on to someone else. She was located not far from my old neighborhood, and I was due up there for a 3pm haircut and a 6pm dinner/comedy club outing the next day, so I figured I’d squeeze her 30-minute pitch in at 5pm. She told me she would email me with the exact address of her office.

I didn’t get the email by the end of the day, but I assumed I’d hear from her the next day – the day of the interview. When my morning email check did not yield that message, I called her office. Her recording explained she was in a brief meeting. I left a voicemail and asked that she call or email me with the office’s address. By 2:30pm, nothing. So I set out for the haircut with a change of clothes so that I could change into the interview clothes after the haircut, then change back into the dinner/club clothes after the interview. Change of shoes, change of jewelry, the whole nine yards.

4:30pm, my hair is cut and styled. The interview is in 30 minutes. And I have still not heard from this woman.

I go to Target to kill time.

That’s bad.

A hundred dollars later, still no word from this woman, and I decide it isn’t happening. At least, not today. Clearly she had either not gotten or ignored my message, or she was in the hospital in traction with terrible injuries due to a car accident on the way back from her meeting. At 5:30, I call and leave another message, politely and professionally expressing confusion and the old “perhaps I was mistaken – I understood we were meeting today at 5? If it’s my fault I certainly apologize.”

I go to dinner, I go to the comedy club, it’s open mic night, some of the comedians are less funny than a dead guy farting (wait – that actually would be a little funny – change that to a dead guy not even farting), but in general we all have a good time.

Fast-forward two business days and a weekend in-between: on Monday I got a call from her. She left a voicemail saying, “Can you just give me a call back so I can explain?” And then she gave me her phone number again.

Seriously, lady?

Let’s review.

You called me out of nowhere and it took three tries before you could tell me what you do. I asked repeatedly for the name of your office or company and got no answer the first few times until you finally said you were independent. Yet you kept using the word “we.” I Googled – you’re legit, but there’s still no locatable office listing. You neglect to send me the agreed-upon email, you ignore phone calls, you completely miss and ignore an appointment for which you don’t even attempt to make proper amends for days… and your voicemail lacks the courtesy of so much as an apology?

I’m sorry. I know there are so many people looking for work that employers can afford to be ignorant ass-hats, but if you can’t show basic professionalism and respect, I’m not interested. Again.

Also? You owe me $107 for the time-killing trip to Target.

Shrinkapy

Okay, so… first of all, all the people in my shrinkapist’s waiting room are crazy.

Well, no. That’s not first of all. First of all is the fact that my shrinkapist’s office is above a meth clinic. That’s first of all. Administrator on the phone: “Now, when you get here, don’t go in the door that faces the street. That’s the meth clinic. It will totally weird you out.”

Noted.

When I arrived, of course, I couldn’t remember exactly which door I was supposed to avoid going through. I eventually gleaned the correct answer from the various context clues standing outside smoking, and the acronym SHARP on the door, which I knew stood for something something Addictions Recovery Program, and which I also found ironic since I don’t think recovering drug addicts on meth should be around sharps. But then again, some days, neither should I.

I know this brings up all sorts of questions, but I’m not going to deal with those right now.

So, now we walk into the waiting room. (Royal “we.”)  And holy insanity, Batman. The place was packed. Had to be 20 people. I found myself thinking, “Good God… this many people living in my immediate area and available for appointment at this particular time have mental health issues? That is not a good sign.” I casually glanced around, pretending not to be freaked out by the high population of the room (high like number, not high like the folks in the meth clinic… Ba-dum-bum). One question sprung to mind that immediately assimilated the place to prison: “What are you in for?” There was a guy with actual bugged-out eyes googling at me while I was signing in. There was a woman falling asleep in a chair, but not the tired kind of asleep… you know, the crazy kind of asleep. Like the people who fall asleep at the bus stop on a Saturday at 2:30pm but don’t work overnights and may or may not actually be waiting for a bus. That kind of crazy asleep. There was a guy who had taken his glasses off and now held his phone three inches from his face while he manipulated its touch screen. And then there was the very tall, very solidly constructed individual who upon his arrival began continually declaring loudly at no one in particular that he had left his wallet on the bus and his whole day was messed up now (which, in fairness to him, is probably not inaccurate). This 6’8″, athletic looking, definitely 40ish dude actually stomped his foot. The whole floor shook. No kidding. Stomped his foot, declared loudly, occasionally hollered.

I’m guessing he’s in for anger management issues. Could be wrong. Maybe he has mommy problems. Maybe he needs his binky. I don’t know. But it was rapidly becoming clear that I was the sanest person up in this piece.

This was already a very different experience from the one other therapist I’ve had in life. That was lovely. That was a waiting room that might have contained one other person when I walked in. Said waiting room was quiet rather than operating at an apparently routine din. My therapist’s actual office featured a comfy leather loveseat, a wingback chair in soft upholstery, his own leather wingback chair and his swivel office chair. His desk was against the wall and the loveseat was directly on the opposite side of the room, so by definition he never sat at his desk during sessions. There was wallpaper and artwork and bookshelves and pillows. The tissues were soft, fluffy Kleenex. It was darling. It was an architectural hug.

That’s what my old insurance company, United Healthcare PPO, buys you.

Here’s what my current insurance, Value Options, buys you (the name may be a dead giveaway):

My new therapist brought me back to his office and it was four cheapo office chairs like the ones in the waiting room, a cheapo desk that may or may not have been a fake wood plank across two filing cabinets, his office chair, no art, no decor at all really, no couch and no sense of humanity. It was cold and sterile and blank. And the tissues were generic brand.

I’m going to cry in this room, and for the record? I don’t appreciate its lack of empathy or warmth of any kind.

He took me through all the paperwork, including an Advanced Directive for Mental Health, which lets one stipulate who will make decisions if one’s mental health deteriorates to such an extreme that one can no longer make decisions for oneself… which is a troubling bit of paperwork to receive in the office of a person who is supposed to help, and which made me think once more about the folks in the waiting room, but I digress. He asked me a bunch of questions and seemed not to be even a teensy bit judgey when I said that I do have a drink each day, even though I watched him write “daily” in the little box requiring an answer to the “do you drink alcohol” question with the partial expectation that it turn red and softly glow when he was done. (I mean a lot of people come home from work and have a drink. It doesn’t mean they have a problem. It means they have a tough job. Get off me. Have you not seen Mad Men?)

He seems cool though.

Then he took me to see the doc. See, in case you missed a previous post, shrinkapist is my term for the “team” that is treating me as of today: a psychiatrist who is mostly for med management, and an LCSW (licensed clinical social worker) for the part where he’s paid to listen to me drone on and on about my little issues that make me have anxiety and/or panic attacks and generally contribute to my feelings of being less than.

In other words: First World Problems.

The doc is maybe a little younger than me (it begins…), pretty and super nice. And she didn’t waste a second saying, “So, it says here it’s been two years since your last relationship…? What’s up with that?” Cue the awkward brief explanation about the ten-year-long not-officially-a-Relationship-relationship I’ve had with Jack vs. the Actual Relationship I had with the guy two years ago, while incorporating the fact that my professional schedule makes dating well nigh impossible. All of which makes my eyes teary and my mouth twitchy, because another chapter of the Jack Thing unfolded just two days ago and is still delightfully raw. She made a bit of a sad face at me about it, which made me feel pathetic, but she was kind enough to keep her eyes focused on her paperwork in the moments after that while I composed myself.

She wrote me the two prescriptions I expected: Lexapro , an SSRI (selective seratonin reuptake inhibitor) to treat the anxiety at a chemical level, and clonazepam (generic for Klonopin) to handle the anxiety/panic attacks as needed. I’ll need the second one less – if at all – once the first one is fully fired up in my system. Our conversation was perfectly suitable in length, and she explained that, based on my history, my previous treatment and my symptoms, she believes I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. (I would prefer that it be less generalized, but whaddaya gonna do?) Then I was back to the waiting room to schedule standing appointments with the LCSW. (I haven’t decided what to call him yet. He kind of reminds me of Ali Velshi from CNN. But I’m a nerd, so I’m probably the only person who thinks that. Or who knows who Ali Velshi is.) The waiting room was much emptier and calmer now. Finished with everything, I walked back past the meth clinic and to my car.

Shrinkapy at a clinic. Here we go.

angelo bruno

At the Risk of Offending the Mafia…

My scintillating Friday night is none of your business, except that I watched two hours worth of shows about mobsters on whatever cable channel it was on. Damn, I love a good mobster story. What sucked me in was that the first episode featured a (highly truncated) version of the events that unfolded in Philadelphia between the ’70s and early ’90s. Being from there and having lived there during a lot of the really messy mayhem, I couldn’t help but indulge myself. It’s part of my cultural lore.

Have I ever told you that my dad kind of knew a guy? I mean not really. He was acquainted with a guy who was not in the mob, but rather was a business associate of a mob boss by the name of Angelo Bruno, aka “The Gentle Don.” Bruno only killed people if he really, really had to. Anyway, so my dad knew this associate guy very casually, but did once watch him peel $3,000 in cash out of a wad and hand it to a bar manager to get him to shut up already about a charity event they were having. Dad didn’t know what the deal was – he was a teenager at the time. And now said associate is dead. Courtesy of the mob. Naturally.

The show I was watching detailed all the connections between who had who whacked over what, including the associate my dad knew. It had all the old news footage of the crime scenes where the bodies were found… even the footage from right after Phil “the Chickenman” Testa got blown up, as referenced in the very beginning of Bruce Springsteen’s “Atlantic City.” Oh, you ain’t know that was historical? It is, Jack. Springsteen is talking very pointedly about all the rigamarole surrounding the casinos in AC vis-a-vis the Local 54 and the Local 30 unions. Everything dies, baby. That’s a fact. (Take a look at Atlantic City these days if you want evidence. Sheesh, what a hole.)

Nobody was as bad as Nicodemo “Little Nicky” Scarfo. Nobody called him that to his face, either, if they wanted to keep their own. Little Nicky had a height problem and a problem with having the problem, know what I’m sayin’? And he had a lot of other problems, too. (The Riccobene War wasn’t set in Malta, folks.) He’d been in and out of prison a few times,  still running the Philly operation from the inside. But the feds finally nailed Little Nicky for good in 1989 after an associate turned. Scarfo was convicted in the hits on seven other mobsters. This guy killed people if they looked at him funny, so his body count was a lot higher, but along with charges in racketeering, loan sharking, drugs and extortion, Scarfo will be in an Atlanta prison until at least 2033, at which time he’ll be 104.

After that episode came another that detailed the murderous career of a man known as Joe “Mad Dog” Sullivan, the only guy to ever escape from Attica. They actually interviewed this guy. Sat down and talked to him all casual-like. And let me say, he looks really good for a 70-year-old inmate, recovering drug addict and alcoholic who made his first kill at the age of 13 and was in and out of prison his whole life since. And he doesn’t look crazy or mean. He looks haunted. Which he apparently was. He says the anger that made him a mad dog started when he was 13 and his father died. I’m sure there was a screw or two loose before that, something that set up the dominoes, but he got mad and his mom got poor and abusive and drunk a lot, and he just never made good of his life. Mad Dog is the guy who eventually killed (among others) Antonio “Tony Bananas” Camponigro… the guy who’d had the Gentle Don whacked because he wanted to be Boss. That hit wasn’t sanctioned by the Big Bosses in New York, see. So a month later they set up Tony Bananas. When Mad Dog shot him who knows how many times, and he was good and dead, the bosses stuffed him with cash. A message. This is what happens when you get greedy.

Is that hilarious or what?

No, really. Think about it. The mafia is all about greed. Greed and power. That’s the whole idea. Everything else is circumstantial, a byproduct. So when a bunch of guys go after another guy because he got greedy? That’s just delicious, bloody irony right there.

If you think I’m sick for finding all of this so fascinating, ask yourself if you’ve ever seen any of the following movies on purpose:

The Godfather – I, II or III
Goodfellas
On the Waterfront
The Boondock Saints – I or II
A Bronx Tale
Carlito’s Way
The Departed (alternatively pronounced “Da Dee-pah-ded.”)
Bugsy
The Untouchables
Scarface
Once Upon A Time In America

Or the hit HBO series The Sopranos.

Eh-heh. See?

The Mafia functions on greed, power and loyalty. Do someone a solid and they’ll have your back. Do something even a little wrong and they’ll shoot you in it. And not subtly, either. Deeze guys. Brazen. Broad daylight hits. Openly hostile shakedowns. Calling cards. Messages in crime scenes. Totally transparent stuff that practically screams The mob did it. And we eat it up.

Gangs these days are just the modern incarnations of mob families. Slightly different motives, maybe. More desperation. Less patience. Not hittin’ the big time like the Gambinos or the Genoveses. But still based on loyalty. Still based on turf. Still about the money.

Still with the crazy nicknames, only fewer guys whose middle name is “The.”

Why don’t we find them quite so charming?

As usually happens when I dig in to some good true crime mob fare, the whole thing left me a little depressed in the end. My hometown is an ugly place, and its history is gory. The development of Penn’s Landing? Mob deal. It’s everywhere. The Philly guys didn’t live in opulent houses. Their houses looked like mine. In the end, the charm is tarnished. The glamour fades. The promise becomes pathos. Loyal associates turn. The feds catch up.

Everything dies, baby. That’s a fact.

thunderstorm

Donnerwetter

I’m on my couch, listening to the rain beat down hard outside. I am thinking of my grandmother.

My grandmother loved storms. Donnerwetter, she called it – one of her occasional shifts back to the German she grew up speaking at home as a first-generation American. She loved to sit out on the back porch on an old chaise covered in brightly-colored ’60s flowery vinyl and watch the lightning. She’d open the front door to smell the rain, though I’m sure that made my cost-conscious grandfather crazy during the summer (when storms were best) while the window unit air conditioner hummed behind the solid wood door.

I remember, as a child, sleeping in the back bedroom of their old duplex in Philadelphia during visits, worrying that lightning would strike the window unit in the bedroom I was in. Even as a kid, I was a worrier. It stood to reason, to me, that a window air conditioner would serve as an attraction for the blue-bright streaks of light that arced through the sky. I was not afraid of storms, and I was not afraid of lightning. I was only afraid of the lightning hitting the air conditioner, and the fire I imagined would start after that.

Well, that, and the really creepy shadow cast by the Infant of Prague statue that stood atop the highboy dresser in the glow of the nightlight below. It’s probably bad to hate a statue of Jesus. Oh well.

When I was little, my mother used to gather Sisters 1 and 2 and me and we’d all watch any storm that came through. Sometimes it was on my parents’ bed. Sometimes it was on our back porch. I think she did it to make sure we weren’t afraid of that particular power in nature, and I’m glad, because to this day, I’ll stand out on my balcony in a fierce squall to watch it happen. When I lived in the midwest, I rarely feared the systems that frequently threatened tornadoes. After a long enough time living there, I learned to know what color the sky had to be before a twister could ever approach, and when it turned that color I simply went inside and into the basement. (My father sometimes shot baskets at the hoop in the driveway, for which we all thought he was crazy, but I now believe he was keeping watch.) When I was in college, I was the one who watched the TV weather reports to spot the bow echoes that could give rise to the fearsome whirls while my roommate, a lifelong midwesterner, locked herself in the bathroom.

I’ve been thinking a lot about my grandparents lately, all four of them, all gone now. I’ve had several dreams about my grandfather who passed away in February. He’s been scattered between the nightmares I mentioned in my last post, looking strong and well and ten years younger. He doesn’t seem to want to tell me anything, or visit, or convey any significance. He just shows up in little vignettes, and when I remember I’ve dreamed about him, I smile.

About an hour ago, I blew out a candle that had reached its bottom. In the heavy air, the scent of the wax lingered longer than usual. It reminded me of holidays with my other grandparents.

I miss them all. I’m glad of the little things that remind me of them in our day-to-day lives. And I sleep better when it rains.