Watching TV in Montgomery

First, there’s the Central Time thing.  On one hand, it means staying up for the Daily Show without losing sleep.  On the other hand, who wants to sit down and watch TV at 8 pm?

Next, there’s HBO-deprivation.  The apartment came with basic cable, so I have no idea how Big Love ended (don’t spoil it!).  Instead  I have one TV in the living room with a full array of local programming, and another TV in the bedroom that seems to have an entirely different line-up.

And what a line-up.  Religious programming at any time of the day or night on at least three different channels.  I’m not objecting — it’s certainly better than most reality TV — I’m just not used to hitting the Praise Hour or Worship Tonight right between CBS and NBC.  And then there’s the “educational programming” that features old Hollywood westerns from the 1930s that you’ve never heard of — who ever realized how much dreck they cranked out? 

But best of all are the nightly reruns of Andy Griffith.  Aunt Bea, Barney Fife, their girlfriends, Floyd the barber, and all the others. Mr. NYer is disturbed by the Andy Griffith show–he wonders what happened to Opie’s mom.  I have explained, that, like  so many 1950s and 1960s TV families (Bachelor Father for one), she died.  He can’t believe that, pointing out that Andy Griffith never mentions her and never visits her grave.  He wonders whether she was a drug addict, banished from Mayberry.

Then there are the sophisticated local commercials.  Like Bud’s Best Cookies:  “We’re not a bakery.  We’re a cookie factory.”  And, ,bewilderingly, a series of PSA’s featuring Smokey telling us that only we can prevent “wild fires.”  Smokey looks awkward, and we wonder what happened to forest fires. 

Of course, most of what’s on is the same as what’s on in NY.  There’s the familiar HGTV, food network, and news shows.  Local news is local news everywhere, but at least the news celebrities here have less forced–and inappropriate–cheerfulness. 

But within a week we should have HBO, high-speed Internet that’s not dependent on tethering my Blackberry to my laptop, and perhaps even a home phone.   After another round of unnecessary drama, we closed on the house yesterday.  Next week, we’re home.

More weekend pix

Monument in Selma cemetery

Flowering shrub with Spanish Moss

A mason's wife

Baby’s grave with sleeping sheep

Historic marker at Pettus Bridge

Pettus Bridge from below

Old Cemetery Selma

Pictures from the Weekends

Wetumpka warehouse

Old Warehouse in Wetumpka

Wetumpka bridge and church steeple

Coosa River flooding in Wetumpka

Duck in Wetumpka Park

Sign for park safety

Old roadside sign

Spanish moss at Holy Ground Battlefield Park

More moss

Edmund Pettus Bridget

Unrestored downtown Selma building

Metal stairs Selma building

Iron Stairs

Upclose view of stairs

Land Bank Office
One of the businesses in downtown Wetumpka

The Ill-equipped Weekend

We knew, moving to Alabama, that making it work meant embracing novelty.  Not just the obvious, either.  We talked about this, how we should break out of our rut and seize the opportunity to live differently. New circumstances would mean new choices.

So, without the grinding 2-to-3 hour daily commute, Lifelongnewyorker vowed to do more in the evenings.  Take walks, go to the gym, read.

With Mr. NYer home during the week and able to take care of all the household chores, we’d devote weekends to recreation.

Turns out, it’s not that easy to change one’s old ways.  It takes conscious work, and we’re a bit distracted lately by a series of items both minor and not-so-minor.

This weekend, for instance, was forecast to be beautiful.  According to our plan (see above), we should have been off, exploring and having fun. Obstacles of all sorts littered our path.

First, it’s hard to get into the “let’s just set off and have fun” frame-of-mind when you’re anxious about getting the mortgage, buying the house, getting settled.  Not being able to predict how that situation is going to turn out turns out to be unsettling.  Being in Limbo, you might say “What the hey — let’s live it up.  Soon enough we’ll have our hands full with house stuff.”  But we felt more morose than merry.

Then, recall too,  loyal readers, that we are living in furnished rental housing and all our belongings are in storage.  When we put them in storage, we thought we’d be closing on our home by mid-March.  So we’re not exactly equipped for lots of fun.

Having all your stuff in storage presents dilemmas.   There is a tennis court in our complex.  Our tennis rackets are in storage.

Thinking about this weekend, Mr. NYer suggested hiking. My hiking boots?  In storage.

I suggested spending the weekend at the Gulf Coast beaches.  Bathing suits?  In a box somewhere.  Bikes?  In storage.

When I packed months ago, I had the foresight to take a few pairs of shorts and short-sleeved t-shirts, although I didn’t take spring shoes, skirts, dresses or anything else.  Mr. NYer, with only jeans and a single pair of trousers, resorted to a trip to Costco.  In search of a size 30 waist, he didn’t have many options.  The knee-length khakis he found are quite sporty.

Then there’s the problem of coming up with things to do.  During the workday (which, in the absence of a long commute, I have expanded to be about 10 hours long), I am too busy to get online and do research.  Our apartment is not equipped with wifi, so Mr. NYer must go to the local Panera Bread when he needs to go online.  Not conducive to leisurely research on Alabama tourism.

Last week, we drove in the rain, to Wetumpka.  I’d read that it was a charming town, with its very own meteor crater.  The drive brought us past some pretty unlovely scenery — big box stores, then run-down rural houses with five generations of cars in the yards.  Finally we wound up in Wetumpka and were underwhelmed.  Mr. NYer described it as “pretty depressing.”

That has left us leery of just setting out for a drive.

Then, finally, there’s the problem of Lifelongnewyorker’s toe.  A few years ago, arthritis in her right big toe created problems, and pain, with walking.  Over the course of two years she had a series of cortisone shots and finally surgery to restore the joint.  This helped considerably. In fact, that’s the only reason she and Mr. NYer were able to hike in Utah last fall.  The left foot showed signs of following suit, although in a more conventional way:  this toe has the bone spurs plus a bunion.  She went to her NY doctor in the fall and he advised her to wait a little bit for the first cortisone shot.  But he added, “You’ll know when you need it.”

Well, I need it now.  Even if I had my hiking boots, I wouldn’t be able to walk a lot.  In fact, I haven’t been to the gym partly because of the toe.  The kind of flexing that happens with normal walking, climbing stairs, etc. is just not possible these days. Good news is that I’ve found an orthopedist who specializes in feet and ankles and he will see me Wednesday.  I am hoping he doesn’t recommend surgery right away. The cortisone shot isn’t fun, but it’s better than The Boot.

So with all these impediments, we didn’t go hiking this weekend, or to the beach, or very far afield.  We went to Selma instead, along Rte 80,  the Selma-to-Montgomery National Historic Trail.  This was the road taken by the voting rights marchers in 1965, and was also the site of the encampments in which many African Americans lived over the next few years after being evicted from their tenant farms (in retaliation for registering to vote).

The road and scenery were more attractive than the road to Wetumpka, with rolling hills, and occasional glimpses of the nearby Alabama River.  We drove through Lowndesboro, a town settled in the 1820s that still has many historic churches and homes.  Our attempt to visit the Lowndes County Interpretive Center, one of several museums devoted to the March, was foiled by water problems.  A sign on the door notified us that, because of a lack of water and restrooms, the Center was closed and would reopen Monday, as soon as the problem was fixed.

We traveled further west, to Holy Ground Battlefield state park,  where we took a short hike on a nature trail that abutted the Alabama river.  Despite the picnic area and boat launch, the park was sad.  Perhaps because it was once the home of many Creeks, and the site of a decisive battle in which they were defeated by superior forces.  Those who were left were later forced west in the Trail of Tears.

In Selma, we crossed the Edmund Pettus Bridge and drove to the National Voting Rights Museum.  Only to discover that it had been moved.  But Selma is a lovely town, with lots of historic buildings and a commitment to preservation.  We walked a bit and took a driving tour and then stopped to stroll around the old cemetery.  As always, I was struck by the stark reality of child mortality in the 19th century, as grave after grave after grave from the same families gave sad witness to the fact.

From Selma, we drove to Cahawba, a “ghost town” that was the site of the state’s first capital.  As far as ghost towns go, we’ve seen better.  Back in the 1830s and 4os, many of the homes were moved 10 miles by  ox cart and relocated in Selma.  Pretty impressive.  Others were taken apart by brick scavengers, so there isn’t much in the way of ruins.  But there was one fascinating factoid:  two of the prominent families who settled the town were the Crocherons and the Perines.

They were from Staten Island.

I wonder how quickly they adjusted.

Extending the Stay in Limbo

Today we got the news: no mortgage; go back to square one. 

The problem’s not our credit.  New rules require appraisals to assemble a dizzying array of comps to prove the home’s value.  There must be a certain number, within a certain distance, within the last three months, and of the same kind of house. 

In other words, to get a mortgage in the downturn, your appraisal needs to cite many similar recent sales.  If it doesn’t, and people can’t get mortgages, houses will not be sold.   No sales means no comps.  Which means no mortgages.

See “vicious circle.”

Hope is not lost, but it is definitely postponed.  We have to find another lender and re-apply, and get another appraisal.  And hope for the best.  One thing’s certain:  we’re not going to be in our new house this month.

Living in Limbo

These days, Lifelongnewyorker finds herself remembering when she was 10 months pregnant and convinced that the Abandoned One would never abandon her.

He eventually did decamp from the womb, but only after his mother (Lifelongnewyorker) stopped believing it would happen.  She languished, languidly, on a chaise lounge in the warm June days, reading novels and pulling herself up from the chair only to answer the phone. (The Abandoned One predated cell phones).  The phone rang,  every 15 minutes, and merely by saying hello Lifelongnewyorker satisfied the caller’s curiosity.  “Oh, you’re still there,” one of my friends or relatives would say. 

“Yes,” I answered.  At which point we’d exhausted the conversation, and I would haul my enormous body and unyielding child back out to the waiting chair.

Why the memory?  Because Lifelongnewyorker is waiting once again, this time for a closing date, and has begun to feel as if she will never again sleep in her own bed or be reunited with her earthly goods.  Mr. NYer visits them from time to time–they’re in a storage facility just south of town, where he is now on a first-name basis with the manager, Dair.  Today he rescued our toolbox so he could affix the new Alabama license plate (singular, rear plate only) to the back of my Honda.  

The other car will wait, possibly for an eternity, until we ransom the boxes that hold our files and find the title.  Meanwhile, it proudly displays New York plates.  On both ends.

Spring has arrived in Montgomery; at least judging by the forsynthia, the trees, and the daffodils. Fortunately, the temperatures are cooler than normal.  This is good, since all of Lifelongnewyorker’s spring clothes and sandals are with Dair.

Since tomorrow is St. Patrick’s Day, Lifelongnewyorker thought about baking some Irish soda bread, using the Dynamo’s family recipe, to bring to work.  Alas, the baking pans, and the recipe, are also in Dair’s hands.

The new house is ready.  We are–or were– ready, too.  We chose mirrors for the bathroom, and lights.  We purchased insurance.  We know the model of washer, dryer and refrigerator we intend to buy.  But, fearful of jinxing the deal further, we haven’t ordered them.  

Lifelongnewyorker has entered that fugue state where she no longer believes that anything will ever change.  We will be sleeping on this appallingly bad mattress in this sterile apartment forever.  Music will never play from our stereo.  We will forever wonder what happened on the season finale of Big Love.

The obstacle is the mortgage.  Ever since we put our Staten Island home on the market, every realtor we’ve encountered has muttered darkly about appraisals, and grimly warned us of the huge hurdles lying in our path.  New rules, we were told, were coming in effect after January 1.  Banks needed two appraisals.  From independent sources who had never met each other, the realtor, the banker or the buyer, and whose contact with fellow humans was limited to one interaction per day.  If the appraisal wasn’t solid, the loan wouldn’t go through.  Banks want no risk.

We breathed a sigh of relief when the appraisal for our Staten Island house was accepted and our buyers’ received their mortgage.  Since we were taking the proceeds from that sale and plunking them into the new house as a down-payment, we figured the appraisal was less important since the bank’s risk was no where near the house value.   And, to top it off, I’d checked our credit rating.  You can just call us “super prime.”  Which is what happens after a lifetime of wrapping coins. 

In other words, we’re about as low-risk as borrowers can get.  But the underwriters balked at the appraisal, which not only came in above the selling price, but which thoroughly and exhaustively examined the comps, one of which is the house that shares a wall with ours.  They wanted to know, “Weren’t there more recent comps?”

Well, no, not in this market.  And if it’s this hard for us to get a mortgage, there never will be.  No wonder we’re having a hard time crawling out of the Great Recession.

We’re in daily contact with Steve and Bill and Richard, our mortgage guy, realtor and builder, respectively.  Like us, they have a stake in the closing, too.  We’re told the appraiser got the underwriter’s questions, answered them, and provided more comps.  We suspect the paperwork is in the hands of a faceless corporate bureaucrat whose responsibility ends at checking off the appraisal boxes and has no idea about the down payment, the prime creditworthiness of the borrowers, or just how incredibly cute, and desperate, we are.

Meanwhile, we’re thinking of asking Dair for our own set of keys.

Settling in?

Mr.  NYer has been in Alabama for almost two weeks now.  We’ve quickly resumed some aspects of familiar life.  Lifelongnewyorker loves coming home to home-cooked meals; on the other hand, it’s amazing how quickly the family routine has diminished the sense of novelty.

But not entirely.

The first day he was here, Mr. NYer examined the stock of food I’d  stowed in the pantry and decided on a simple meal of pasta with clam sauce. After all, I’d bought a box of spaghetti and a can of Progresso.  What I failed to do was check whether I had a pot big enough to cook pasta in.  In short order, Mr. NYer discovered just how insufficiently equipped the kitchen was, a realization that had eluded me in my burnt pizza and frozen dinners time alone.

After four nights in hotels and two solid days in the car, the cats took to the apartment like frogs to a swamp.  They explored the heights atop the refrigerator and the cabinets, spelunked the depths under the beds, and marveled at the miracle of the glass-top dining table.

All three–the two cats plus Mr. NYer–were on their own for four days while I traveled to San Antonio for a weekend conference.  Like the last time, it was an easy drive to the airport, and no line at security.  Which left plenty of leisure for the blue-shirted Homeland Security personnel to notice the Swiss Army knife in my bag.  In NY, it would have been tossed.  Here in Montgomery, they offered suggestions.  Had I checked baggage into which it could be packed?  No, I didn’t.  Well, then, they offered, did I drive here?  There was a good half-hour before the plane left–why not put it in my car.  So I asked my colleague to take charge of my bags and walked out to the car, threw the knife in the trunk, and headed back to security.  Where I realized that my boarding pass was in the bag with my co-worker.  “No problem,” the Homeland Security guy said, “I’ll go get him–what does he look like?”

I described him, and my bags, and waited for what seemed like a long time given the fact that this airport has but six gates, and only two of them are used at any one time.  But eventually Thom arrived with my bag and boarding pass and I passed through.  “Did they have trouble finding you?” I asked.

“No, not really,” he answered.  “They found me in the men’s room at the urinal.”

Try that next time you’re flying out of Newark.

We’ve had time to notice a few other things about life here in the South.  For one thing, it’s spring.  The first tree to bloom, the saucer magnolia, burst forth with glorious purple and white flowers.  The yellow Bermuda grass is greening up, and the temperature today climbed close to 70 degrees.

Thunderstorms follow a different pattern, too.  In the northeast they break out in late afternoon and early evening, typically during hot weather.  Here thunder storms roll in during the night and sit over the city for three or four hours.  It’s kind of nice to sleep to.  Yesterday, though, brought a threat of severe weather, which in this area means tornados.  There’s  about a 210 degree view of the sky from the office window, and yesterday’s black, blue and purple panorama impressed.  Watching TV at home last night I saw little maps pop up in the corner of the screen showing where the tornado threat loomed.  The only problem?  You had to know the shape of the counties, and I haven’t a clue yet. 

And that’s the key to the odd dislocation one feels.  Not knowing the lay of the land, literally.  In New York, I could glance at a map and find where I was and recognize the shapes for fifty or a hundred miles in all directions.  Here, they throw a partial map of Alabama on the screen, and color code the counties by degrees of danger, and I don’t know if I’m in the yellow shapes or the red, in which case I should probably be seeking shelter somewhere.

The landscape is shifting in other ways too.   In recent years we’ve divided our labor so that Mr. NYer has taken on more of the household duties, but now the contrast between what we each do and how we spend our days is quite stark.  I leave for work around 7:30 and return 10 or 11 hours later.  How exactly has he spent his day?  He has errands to be sure, and he’s getting to the gym, but just how many chores and how much exercise can one do?  A seismic shift is happening in our lives, but it’s less about moving a thousand miles away and much more about the new roles that are emerging.