Sunday, August 23, 2009

(a note on the previous post)

Regarding Shermer: it's the town I hate, Mum, not your house! Yes, we'll be there for Christmas! Sheesh.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

You Can't Go Home Again (and why would you want to?)

Kate and I used to joke about "taking the geographical route" out of a problem. In other words, just leave. And while it seems awfully cowardly, sometimes it really is the best option. Sometimes it's best to fly instead of fight.

Take, for instance, the town where I was born and raised. Let's call it...Shermer. No, it's not a fictional town in Illinois, but it's both a bit of a stage set (cardboard castles, you see) and the kind of place where John Hughes storylines actually happened. I'm sure I've noted it before on here, but the high school I attended was the kind of place where the Saabs and Audis in the parking lot most certainly did not belong to the teachers, where conspicuous consumption was a competitive sport, where teenage boys were as cruel and cold as James Spader's "Stef" in Pretty In Pink.

Anyway, I hate Shermer. I really do. It was a great place to be a kid in the 70s, wonderfully green and safe, a town where you could ride your bike for miles with your friends, exploring and playing elaborate pretend games for hours, returning home for dinner tired and content. But as a teenager, Shermer sucked. I suppose if you're the right kind of miserable adolescent, it doesn't matter where you are, it's all going to suck. But I do believe that Shermer, at least East Shermer (considered the rich end of town) where I was, was an especially crap corner of the globe.

I dreamed of getting out of there when I was young. The summer some friends of mine got to live at a cottage and get summer jobs in a fun lakeside town 3 hours away, I nearly died of envy. But I just never knew how to make an escape happen, so I bided my time until university when I could legitimately leave the dreaded Shermer. And, of course, wouldn't you know it, by the time I hit university, I was in my first serious relationship with a very nice young man...who lived in Shermer. So I spent all four years of university shuttling back and forth between school and my bloody hometown. And then after graduation when I had no money and fewer prospects (art history degree AND I graduated into a recession), the logical choice was to move back home, where, because of jobs and such, I ended staying throughout my 20s.

During that 5 year period between graduating from university and finally moving away from that benighted place, I just dealt with it. I had to! Not only was I living there but I was also working for a community arts organization where the fact that I was born and raised in Shermer was often to my advantage. I was so rooted in the blasted town it would have been impossible to fight it. If I'm honest with myself, I will admit that at that point, I'd likely convinced myself that it would be okay if I never got out.

And then! And then I had the opportunity to work for another arts organization in another city. Not too far away in terms of physical distance, unfortunately, but worlds away in every other way. Shermer's a bedroom community, the Hammer's a city in its own right, with a long history, diverse population, fascinating terrain (7 waterfalls in this city!), great art gallery, a university, and several massive steelworks that light up the night sky (Blake's "dark, satanic mills" comes to mind every time I look at them), and most importantly, NO ONE FROM SHERMER EVER MOVES HERE.

Except me, of course. Within months of taking the job I'd decided that the 20 minute commute was far too much time spent on the road and I moved out of Shermer and into the lovely Hammer. And I began to breathe. And unclench the muscles I'd unknowingly kept in rictus since entering adolescence in Shermer. Life became an entirely different thing than I'd known before. And then I bought my house and life was so sweet it was almost unbearable. And then I met my husband and I pretty much believed I was living the earthly version of heaven. And all of it happened after I left that bloody town. Choosing flight over fight was the only possible route to becoming the adult version of me.

And how do I know this? I know this because whenever I have to spend time in Shermer, all those muscles clench up and I suddenly revert to some miserable ghost, this person I used to be and am not now. It's like I'm Sybil and just being there brings out some alternate personality. Invariably, visits to Shermer -- specifically visits where any significant amount of time is spent NOT at my parents' house -- will render me mute and I drive home in a melancholic funk that dissipates completely about 10 minutes after I get home to the Hammer.

Yet, I keep having to go back. Over the past year or so there's been a number of reunionesque events, official and otherwise, and I keep attending them even though they make me wretched. The problem is that there's a number of people from my past who I actually enjoy the idea of knowing again, so I'm always torn between my desire to see them again and the pure loathing for the venue of choice which is always in bloody Shermer, a geographical location practically designed to bring out the worst in me.

Hopefully the destructive, magnetic pull of the dreaded Shermer will take a few months' hiatus and I can just enjoy my self here in our little cottage in the Hammer, with the husband and the dog and the cat and our books and our lives together. Of course, the Christmas season and its attendant visiting is coming, but with the 300 bottles of wine in this house, hopefully I'll be able to deal with that.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bon Appetit!

Haven't written much lately because there really hasn't been that much going on, at least nothing positive (having to euthanize your cat and the subsequent bizarre antics of your remaining pets does not a fun blog entry make) that was typeworthy.

In fact, I was beginning to despair of ever having anything to say again. To paraphrase the Julie Powell character in the movie "Julie & Julia" (I don't think this line was in the book), blogging is "all about me, me, me!". And, frankly, I'm just not that interesting. Or, at least the stuff I can write about sans pseudonym isn't that interesting.

BUT, while I've got you, on the subject of Julie & Julia, it's a charming little movie and well worth the exhorbitant price of admission. Nice balance between the two stories, some deliciously over the top acting (there's a scene featuring Child and her sister and you'd think they were Muppets the characterization's so ridiculously animated), interesting chemistry between Tucci and Streep and lovely set decoration. The set for Julie and Eric's apartment had so many elements and bits and pieces that the husband and I own, it almost looked like home. If our home was eclectic and clean, instead of eclectic and on the verge of being condemned for mess.

(On that subject, we got to the movie theatre too early so walked over to the bookstore for a browse before the flick. I picked up an astrology book on a sale table and it opened to a section about Taurus (me) and Cancer (him) and the first sentence was, "Taurus and Cancer will have the tidiest house on the block", a sentence that makes liars out of both of our birth certificates.)

Back to J&J for a minute (honestly, it's such a sweet way to spend 90 minutes, and what is modern cinema but escapism?), all that butter and cream completely reawakened my desire to cook, a desire that had all but left me for most of the summer. It's been such a busy season, between the husband's schedule and my own it feels like we've barely been home long enough to open the fridge much less cook properly. But now, with the crazy tomato jungle beginning to bear ripe fruit (take your eyes off your tomato plants for just a week and they go crazy, toppling their stakes and cages and running rampant all over the driveway) and the peppers not far behind, the prospect of generous tomato salads, fresh sauce and soups makes my mouth water just thinking about it.

So back to the kitchen we go. Some friends and I are going to get together to put up some jars of tomatoes (and peaches in my case), hopefully starting a new annual tradition. My mother's given me a jar of sourdough starter that I've got to begin using in earnest so that the starter remains invigorated. There's a bunch of peaches on my countertop right now that are begging to be made into a pie. Autumn's coming and it's time to fatten up for winter.


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Yo, Noah!

We returned home from vacation last week to discover that our part of the city had suffered a flash flood of Biblical proportions while we were away, so sudden and overwhelming that it flooded and closed the expressway a few blocks from our house. It’s shocking to come home to a house that smells like a mouldy beets in a large cat box, but what can you do? So, we got out the camera and began snapping pictures of our wet basement and sodden belongings, and called the insurance company. Why, I don’t know, other than that’s what you’re supposed to do when you own a home and it gets damaged.

If you’ve ever wondered why our insurance premiums are so high and we get so little for it, I’ll tell you why. It’s because insurance companies waste a lot of money and time and extend those costs to you, the consumer. Listen to this:

I called our insurance and explained the situation but since I was calling after hours, I wasn’t speaking with an insurance agent of any sort, merely a very pleasant operator who couldn’t do anything more than take down my information and tell me not to touch anything and that an adjuster would call the next day and that they’d be sending out a damage restoration contractor soon after. Okay, fine.

Over 2,000 homes in the area were affected, many severely (houses condemned as floodwaters wash out foundation walls, etc), so I was trying to be patient while also creeped out by the amount of wet crap just sitting there, rotting, while I was at work the next day. When I really hadn’t heard anything, I called them. Again, I didn’t talk to an actual insurance adjuster, just a very nice operator who sympathized and told me to just follow the process through and wait for the adjuster to call and the restoration guy to come over. Okay, fine. At this point, I was hoping to find a copy of our policy so that I could read it for myself but that was proving impossible in the oversized hamster nest we call a home office.

However, other than giving me a craving for crawfish etouffe and blackened catfish, I figured living over a swamp was less than optimal for us and decided to begin the clean up a.s.a.p. Fans and dehumidifiers were set up and several loads of laundry were done to save the clothing that had gotten soaked in the flood, and a box of TSP was purchased to help sanitize hard surfaces that had gotten soaked by stormwater (and possibly sewage) that came up the floor drain.

By the time the insurance-company-hired- damage-restoration guy was able to come over on Friday (four days after the first call to the insurance company), the basement was actually looking pretty good. Yes, we’d lost boxes of personal, sentimental papers. Yes, we’d lost about 4 cases of wine. Yes, there were books and cds and dvds and our huge magazine collection (we’re hopeless packrats and great lovers of all things magazine) that were irreparably sodden and destined for the recycle bin and/or landfill (boo!), and yes ,the subfloor was going to have to come out. But, all things considered, it wasn’t bad. The fans and dehumidifiers were doing a great job and the house didn’t smell like beets/cat box any more. I was feeling pretty upbeat and lucky about the whole thing.

So you can imagine my surprise when restoration dude (who, I cannot stress enough, was sent to us by our insurance company) told me that anything that had been touched by stormwater (which likely was about 10 inches in depth during the flooding) would have to be destroyed and that he’d have two guys in to start the job within 30 minutes.


In seconds, I went from feeling like a survivor to feeling like a victim. Was the flooding really that serious? Was my home in danger? Was water, at that very moment, threatening the very underpinnings of our home? Were they really going to start demolition that fast? And, more importantly, was this all going to be covered by insurance???

I was assured it was. All of it.

And then I snapped back to my senses and began to question the whole thing. So, restoration dude was going to demolish my entire basement and throw everything out? Oh, hell no. There was something wrong with this picture. Yes, I agreed the subfloors would need to go, absolutely, because they’d probably trapped water beneath them. But what little drywall there is in the basement wasn’t displaying a whole hell of a lot of capillary action water damage and might need, at best, a few inches removed, not a whole two feet or more. And what about the few precious (to me) pieces of furniture that were being temporarily stored down there? I’m not throwing out a Danish modern loveseat from the 60s when all it needs is a little refinishing on the feet. It seemed like a whole hell of a lot of overkill to me.

And, more importantly, I had a feeling this wasn’t going to be covered by insurance. Although no adjuster had actually called to discuss our policy with us during the week, a cursory look at their website indicated that unless you had specifically purchased a special policy to cover water coming up your sewer drain, you weren’t covered. And no one had ever tried to sell me a specific policy to cover water coming up my sewer drain. In fact, I hadn’t known such a thing existed.

So, in the time it took for restoration dude to leave and his crew to arrive, I called the insurance company again. When I finally got through to an actual person, I was told that no, we don’t have sewer back up insurance so none of this demolition would be covered.

Are you $#%@ kidding me?

What makes me crazy about this story is not that we don’t have coverage because chances are we’d never have been able to get it in the first place, as this sort of flooding has been known to happen in our area before. What makes me crazy is this:

  1. That the insurance company could have saved itself and me AND THE OVERWORKED RESTORATION CREWS a lot of time if they’d just had an adjuster call us and say No, You Don’t Have Coverage For This Type Of Damage, Sorry. Then we would have really gotten into the clean up immediately, instead of only doing the minimum in order to keep things in place for the adjuster to see.

  2. That the insurance company sent the restoration guy over without checking to see if we were covered by this also means that, had I not been outraged by the waste (see point #3, below) and questioned the process, his crew would have gone ahead and demolished everything and we would have been on the hook for the bill. Without knowing ahead of time how much this kind of work would cost us! Who buys any service without knowing how much it will cost ahead of time?

  3. That the restoration company was ready to just destroy everything in our basement (I’m presuming this would have included our fully functioning washer, dryer and furnace as they were also touched by storm water) and toss it all, and then invoice their total cost to the insurance company. This makes no sense, given the limited damage we (luckily) suffered. What a waste of money to destroy salvageable items! Yes, there were many basements that were completely decimated by water that rose up to 5 feet in depth, and then stood there a long time before draining – BUT OURS WASN’T ONE OF THEM!

All of this is a huge waste of time and money that eventually trickles down to us, the consumers. We bear the brunt by having to pay increasing premiums for insurance, because the insurers are incurring larger costs by not paying attention to the details. And it’s bred a weird attitude in people, a weird “What does it matter, let insurance pay for it” culture that denies the very fact that in the end we all still pay for it through increased premiums and decreased coverage.

So, take this tale as a warning, gentle reader, or just a reminder to take care of yourself and your belongings by:
a) Finding and reading your home insurance policy, and purchasing extra insurance while you still can
b) Keep valuables of any sort in waterproof containers (or, profit from our loss by purchasing Rubbermaid stock)
c) Never trusting a story that seems too good to be true (What? You’re going to rip out this subfloor that I’ve been planning to remove myself and rebuild it all for me, and insurance will cover it? Hot dog!)

Now, where did I put that crowbar? I’ve got some anger issues to deal with and luckily, there’s some subfloor that needs some attention.


PS For those who were wondering, the archive of homemade naughty snaps ( found during renovations did, in fact, survive the flood. Of course. THOSE were above high water, while my husband's early columns and various other bits were not. Sigh.