Sunday, April 30, 2006

Escape-Artist Kitty

(Yes!  I got the checks.  Finally.)

My cat is an indoor kitty.  Lately, she's been crowding the door when I come in, as if she wants to go outside.  Once or twice, she's run out the door and I've had to pick her up and put her back in.

When I first got her, I bought her a kitty leash.  Cat leashes are different than dog leashes -- they're sorta like those harnesses you put in itty bitty dogs -- where it goes not just around the neck but also around the front paws.  You also don't WALK a cat like a dog -- you just put the harness on them and let them explore.  So.  I'd bought the leash for Jasmine.  I'd put her in it and taken her for a little explore once or twice.  She'd been really interested in it, but ultimately, made a choice not to go outside.  By about the third time I'd put the harness on her, I walked her outside and she turned right around and came back in.  Indoor kitty since then.

But with these recent attempts at going outside, I thought I'd try the leash again.  Tried it a couple weeks ago.  Made the huge mistake of putting it on her without holding the other end.  And once I got it on her, she tore around the house, flopping herself every which way, shouting the kitty equivalent of "get it off me!  get it off me!"  Finally had to drag her out from under the bed just to get the harness off.  I did nothing more towards getting her outside.

Decided to try again today.  She's a bigger cat than she was before, and I thought maybe she hated the leash so much because it was too tight.  So I loosed up some of the straps on the harness.  And, real gentle and casual-like, I put her in it.  (THIS time, I had the other end tied round my wrist when I started.)  She didn't roll around trying to get out of it, although she did try to bite me when I was reaching around to do the little clip.  The harness was pretty loose, so I had to tighten it a bit while it was on her.  That accomplished, we were ready to go outside for a wander.

I picked her up and carried her toward the door.  I picked up my keys.  I opened the door.  I still had the leash on my wrist, so all I had to do was plop her down on the other side of the door and we'd successfully be taking our first outdoor walk in about a year and a half!

I set her down.  She turned around and FLEW back into the house.  In fact, she flew back into the house so fast, she sent her ENTIRE body through both sections of the harness.  She stopped at the far end of the hallway, staring at me in front of the open door, with an empty leash in my hand -- the harness still gently swaying from the velocity of cat flying right through it.

I believe she's an indoor cat.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

So. About those checks

You know, the ones that were supposed to arrive at my office via FedEx by 5:00 p.m. today?  Yeah, those checks.

5:00 p.m. today -- no FedEx.  Now, our mail sorting at the office is sometimes a little slow, so I think that maybe I'll get them tomorrow morning.

Except, when I got home today, I was greeted by a cute little FedEx door tag.  Saying that they'd tried to deliver a package to me today around noon.  And couldn't, because I wasn't there.  And they couldn't leave it.  And they CAN'T leave it (whether I sign or not), because it is marked "Unsuitable for release."  They'll be back again tomorrow to try to deliver it.

Of course, I won't be here.  Nor will I be here on Friday, when they'll try for the third time, and then return my checks to the sender.  This would be why the bank was supposed to FedEx the checks to my office.  Where I am during the day and therefore available to pick up sensitive shipments that are unsuitable for leaving at my damn door.  I was quite explicit about this when talking to the nice Customer Serivce Lady at the bank.  She even verified my office address.  All I can think of is that when she placed the order with the check company, she was so focused on getting the branch address right on the checks that she left out the little detail about sending them someplace where I could actually receive them.

New message left on her machine.  Something about how I could've gotten checks with an LA branch on them much faster if I'd just walked into an LA branch and opened a new account already.  I was careful to point on that I appreciate all the effort she has put into this and that my frustration is not at her but at the situation -- and yet, I've been trying to get non-San Francisco checks for a month now, and I'm at the end of my patience. 

Let's see what happens tomorrow.  Unless, by some miracle, FedEx shows up at my door before I leave for work in the morning, we are apparently about to commence the sixth order for checks.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Banking Saga

Yeah, I thought I'd wait until this was over to post about it, but I'm afraid it will never be over.

Here's a little background fact you need to know.  Banks have special offices for customers that give them big piles of money.  I do not give my bank big piles of money, but ... back in 1992, I worked for a law firm that apparently gave a bank a big enough pile of money that the firm was entitled to bank in the special office.  And since I worked for the firm, I got an account through the special office too.

I quit the law firm in 1994.  I did not keep this secret from the bank.  Indeed, I started Direct Deposit with my new employer into the very same bank account.  But the bank didn't care, and they just kept me with the account in their special office.  It isn't like I gave them any extra WORK to do or anything.  I'm pretty much a low maintainance sort of bank client.

So, a month or so ago, I was running low on checks.  As per usual -- which is to say, as I've done it over the last decade -- I renewed my checks by calling the automated phone line and asking the automated voice to send me another box of checks.

The automated line kicked me to a live human being.  He was confused because none of my data was there.  Like, he didn't know what check number to start the new box with or anything.  Weird, but ok.

Shortly thereafter, I receive a box of checks.  They're not my normal style of check.  They're the bank's standard checks.  And they say my account is out of the Special Bank Branch in San Francisco.

This is odd.  My account has been out of the Special Bank Branch in Los Angeles since 1992.  I do not live anywhere near San Francisco.  (Well, except in the whole "same State" sort of sense.)  I call the automated line.  I ask to speak to a live human being.  I tell him what's up.  He agrees that this is odd.  He offers to reorder the checks for me.  With the right style and all.  And out of the office in Los Angeles.

Shortly thereafter, I receive a letter.  The letter tells me that it has come to the bank's attention that I amno longer affiliated with the law firm that entitled me to Special Bank privileges.  (It has "come to their attention"?  Geez, what do they do, review these accounts every dozen years whether they need it or not?)  So, I will no longer have my account at the Special Bank branch, and my account will be transferred to a branch in San Francisco -- please call this number if I have any problem with that.

Yeah, I have a problem with that.  I'm not in San Francisco.  Somewhere in the "kick me out of the Special Bank" process, someone decided to move me to the San Francisco Special Bank (the checks are now explained) before moving me out to the San Francisco regular bank.

.... and let me take a moment here to point out to you, as I pointed out to the poor soul on the wrong end of the "please call this number" number, that I'd thought they kicked me out of the Special Bank years ago.  Hell, when I was buying my condo, and they contacted my bank to verify my account, it came back with a Regular Bank office, not a Special Bank office.  In Los freakin' Angeles, I might add....

Around now the second box of checks arrive.  They're the right style (as if this matters) but still have me in San Francisco.

I call the nice lady who is supposed to handle the transition and tell her that it would be nice if I am transitioned to a branch in L.A.  She agrees that this would be nice, and promises me a nice regular LA branch office.  I also tell her that I've had the misfortune to attempt to reorder checks during this transition, and that I'd really like checks with that LA branch office printed on them.  In fact, my voice edges up into crazy-land when I mention this, because, by now I have completely run out of checks.  And, y'know, I have bills and stuff.

She's nice and apologetic and says that she'll reorder the checks at no charge to me, of course.  (Of course.  Charge me for them and I'm looking for a new bank.  Sheesh.)  And she'll put a rush on the order and send them to me 2-day express, no charge to me.  (Of course.)  But with printing and all, it can take up to 5 working days.  Fine, good, fine.

Five days pass.  No checks.

Five more days.  Still no checks.

I call her back.  I have now officially had more contact with Special Bank employees during this "transition" out of the Special Bank than I've had in the 12 years I've supposedly had an account there.

She checks on the order.  She expresses surprise, in that there's nothing there in the system about the order.  (This can't be a good sign.)  She promises to re-re-order the checks.  At no charge to me (of course).  And she'll overnight them.  At no charge to me.  (Of course.)  I am thanked for my (rapidly diminishing) patience.  She's not positive when the order will go in, so the checks will either come to my home on Saturday, or my office on Monday.

Hey, that's today.

The daily FedEx delivery arrives.  I'm checkless.

I call her back.  ("Hi!  It's [My name here]."  Silence.  "Your favorite former Special Bank client."  Silence again.  "Who had the misfortune to be reordering checks when this happened."  Recognition.  "Oh, hi!  Do you have the checks yet?")

No, I don't have the checks yet.  She checks the system.  Still nothing.  She gets on the horn to the check people.  (Now?  We're just about to put in my fifth order for checks and now is the first time they pick up the telephone?)  She's actually on the phone with them for a good long time, and ultimately calls me back to say (are you ready?) that the check people said they can't change the branch designation on the checks, and they'll just have the same branch designation they've always had.

I offer to fax her copies from the two boxes of checks I've received in which my branch designation has magically moved 600 miles to the north.  You know, as evidence that they're damn well capable of changing the branch designation.

She says she'll talk with the check people some more and get back to me.

More time passes.  She is, again, on the phone with them for a very long time.  She callsback.  She thanks me for calling this to their attention as this problem has never occurred before and they certainly have to look out for it in future Special Bank/Regular Bank transitions.  (Oh wow.  I'm ground-breaking.)  She says that she spoke with someone at the check company who seems to think they are, in fact, capable of changing the branch designation on my checks.  New checks to arrive with an LA branch on them by 5:00 p.m. on Wednesday.  At no charge to me. 

(Of course.)

Friday, April 7, 2006

This week's homework: The Gift

I haven't done a weekend assignment in so long, but this one made me want to come back into the fold.

For this week's homework, Scalzi asks:

Weekend Assignment #106: Suggest a really cool birthday gift for my wife. By which I mean -- if you're a woman, what would you want for a birthday gift, and if you're a man, what would you get for your significant other?

Now, here are the ground rules:

1. Money is not necessarily an object, but, come on, be reasonable.
2. Don't suggest anything that Krissy couldn't unwrap in public.
3. Your gift idea doen't actually have to be something you can buy -- if you want to suggest something intangible, go ahead.

For my answer, I really must point out that John is asking the wrong question of the wrong people.  He shouldn't be asking us because we don't know Krissy.  Similarly, he's a bit off in looking for a gifts "for women," as it were.  The point is, the best gifts are personal ones, where you really put your mind to what it is that the giftee actually likes, rather than aiming for some generic thing that "all women" like.  John, you know Krissy isn't like all women, that's why you married her.  So apply your observational skills to the woman you decided to spend your life with, and figure out what would make her eyes light up.  You know if she's a "day at the spa" type or a "day at the track" type.  You know whether she'd like a day to herself, or a day with the family.  You know whether she's a jewelry-wearer, or prefers to go through life unadorned.  Think, man; you can do it.

Still, I'm not one to completely ignore a self-described "pathetic cry for help," so here are some ideas to get you started.

- Is this a "special" birthday?  (ending in "5" or "0") -- if so, decide whether the occasion calls for a nostalgic look back (perhaps a collection of music from when she was in High School), poking fun at her age (nothing says "Happy 40th" quite like a gift certificate for a mammogram), or an overpriced indulgence (a designer item she would never splurge on for herself).

- If she does seem to have everything, don't get her a thing.  Do that "hunt down an old friend on the internet" thing for her.  Start up a 'blog for her.  Think of a cause that's close to her heart and make a donation in her honor. 

- I have never actually used this website (so can't vouch for them), but, I've been waiting for a chance to try them out-- If it sounds like it might suit, check out  They sell historical stock certificates.  Which doesn't sound impressive by itself, but consider -- $40 buys you a real stock certificate from each of the four Railroads in Monopoly.  Or maybe the scandal set including Enron and WorldCom is more her style.  They've got a lot of stuff there, and if Krissy has a historical interest in pretty much anything, you can probably find something there that fits into it.

Best of luck, and happy birthday to Krissy.

Kosher Wine

Ah, Passover is coming up.  My mission, for our family Seder, is to pick up the wine.

Not just any wine.  Kosher for Passover wine.

I stopped at BevMo on my way home today.  (That's "Beverages and More" to the uninitiated.)  I remember last year, asking a BevMo employee to direct me toward the Passover wines when I had been standing right in front of a display of Passover wines.  Not wanting to fall for this again, I checked every display closely, and wandered every aisle.  No dice.  Sure that I must be standing right in front of them again, I asked an employee if they had any Passover wines.

They do.  (But I was not standing in front of them.)

He takes me down an aisle and points to -- I am not making this up -- the bottom shelf, where some Manischewitz Concord Grape is collecting dust behind some boxes.

There has to be something else.  (There is.  Manischewitz Blackberry.)

How to explain Manischewitz Concord Grape.  Think syrup, a little on the runny side, with eleven-percent alcohol.  I grew up not really understanding the whole concept of social drinking (much less drinking to excess) as I'd thought this is what "wine" actually tasted like.  Thick and sweet.  Blech.

Now, in recent years, other wineries have put out Kosher for Passover wines that--while not the sort of thing snooty wine connoisseurs would drink--are actually passable.  The challenge here was to find them, as BevMo had clearly decided to store Passover wines in with the normal stuff, rather than in their own little section.

Somewhere from the depths of memory, I eked out the name "Baron Herzog" as putting out a Passover white zin, and I hunted them down right next to the Berringer white zin.  Hooray!  I got two bottles!

And a bottle of the Manischewitz.  In case anyone wants to kick it old school.

The Most Wonderful Time ... Part Two

Like I said, I use TurboTax to do my taxes.  I generally do my taxes all in one sitting, but I don't print them for filing immediately.  This because I like to wait a few days to see if I forgot anything.

Not like I expect myself to forget something.  I assume everything I've done is perfectly correct.  But I like to give my taxes a day or two to steep, just to see if anything comes up.

Example.  Got the mail today -- perfectly innocent act.  In which I found my car registration.  Oh, right, I'd written the check for the renewal sometime back in March.  Nice to know they'd gotten around to sending me the new registration. 

But then I thought, "Hmm, if I just paid the registration, shouldn't there be two registration bills in my tax documents folder?"  Because, I mean, there'd be the one I paid in 2006 and the one I paid in 2005.  (Of course, only the 2005 one is the one I need for my taxes right now.)  And there was only one.  "Aw hell," I thought, "Did I deduct this year's vehicle license fee rather than last year's?"

I did indeed.

Which then raised the question, what the heck was last year's vehicle license fee? 

Normally, I'd just dig through my files and look for the last year's registration renewal bill.  Excepting I don't have a registration bill for last year, because I bought the damn car last year (Yes!  Hybrid deduction!) and the registration was paid as part of the purchase contract.  I dug up the purchase contract, but it, of course, does not set forth which portion of the registration amount was the (deductible) vehicle license fee and which part was for other (non-deductible) registration expenses.

I go to the internet -- my first choice research tool.  I go to the California DMV website.  (It scares me that I know this URL without looking it up.)  Click my way through to the "answers" section for "How do I know how much my VLF is for last year?"  Tells me this number is printed on my registration card.  Even has a sample.  They're right.  I look on this year's registration card (the one I just got in the mail today) and it has the VLF amount right on it.  Armed with this knowledge, I go down to the garage, to check the current registration card (in my glove compartment) to find the VLF amount.

It's not there.

The car's there.  The glove box is there.  The registration is there.  VLF?  Not there.

Now I'm really annoyed.  I return to the website and it says I could try their VLF calculator.  I have very little faith that this is going to work, but I click the link.

It is not, in fact, a VLF calculator.  It is a VLF looker-upper.  I give it my license and VIN number -- it tells me how much VLF was paid on that car that can be deducted for tax year 2005.  Woo-hoo!  It is, in fact, about $30 more than the amount I paid this year, and mistakenly used as my deduction.

I reopen TurboTax and correct the mistake. 

TurboTax recalculates my taxes.

The result is exactly the same.  In fact (for reasons which I have no chance of ever understanding) my state taxes have now gone up a buck.


Thursday, April 6, 2006

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

I did my taxes last night.

More precisely, I had TurboTax do my taxes last night.

Doing my taxes on TurboTax is generally a very simple procedure.  This because I am insanely anal about saving all my tax documents throughout the year.  So, before I sat down with TurboTax, I just pulled my "tax file" and sorted through the docs -- W-2?  Check.  1099s?  Check.  Thing from my mortgage lender?  Check.  Property tax bill, vehicle license fee, receipts for charitable donations?  Check, check, check.

I noticed that I sold some stock last year.  I'm not a huge investor and I apparently sold some stock back in March.  I don't even remember this, but I'll take my documents' word for it.  In order to deal with the capital gain (or loss -- at this point, I don't even know which it was) I'll need to know how much I paid for the stock.

No problem.  I'll just pull up my online broker account and find out how much I paid.

The online access (got my password right on the first guess!  yay me!) doesn't have the information.  (What?!)  Seems that their records only go back two years, and this purchase was way before that.  And as for data that I had put in (I know I put it in -- I put everything in there when I first got online access), well, since I didn't hold that stock anymore, the account had conveniently deleted the purchase information.  And when I asked it to access the all-important "gains and losses" statement, it said I didn't have any for 2005.  ("But I did!" I whine at it.  It is not impressed.)

No problem.  (Sigh.)  I have the original information.  Downstairs.  In a box in the garage.  Where I keep ALL my old documents.  (Reference that bit about being insanely anal about this sort of thing.)  I'll just go down to my storage locker and find the right box and scare up the document. 

I'll just need my key for the lock.

It isn't on my keyring.  No problem.  It'll be in the "secret place where I hide all my keys."  I go right to the secret key hiding place and it isn't there.  (Lots of keys are, though.  Like, for my old car, and the house I grew up in.)  I check all my purses.  Everywhere I can think of. 

I investigate the storage locker.  In the absence of a key, I suppose I can take the door off the hinges.  But that is messy and time-consuming and not the elegant solution I'm looking for.  My neighbor offers to help with the hinge-removal, but I figure I'll make one last sweep of my condo.

Last place I saw the keys was on my dresser.  Did they end up thrown in a dresser drawer by mistake?  No.  Did they fall behind the dresser?  I see something back there but can't make out what it is.  I get a flashlight and get on my hands and knees and check under the dresser.

So that's where the cat's been hiding things.  Three pens, a roll of film, a luggage lock, my phone's belt-clip, and about 8 of them little furry mice she bats around.  I check under the couch in the other room and find more mice, pens, a document I can't identify and ... something red.  Still no keys.

But now I'm on a roll, checking behind things.  There's a big pile of folders on my wall shelves and the pile is so big it has fallen over.  I straighten up the pile and check under it to find... my keys!

Back to the storage locker.  Even better news than finding my keys -- the box in which the key document was stored was not the box that "exploded" when we had the flood down there.  Since I don't know the exact date I'm looking for, it takes a bit of time -- but I find the right document in about 15 minutes.


It only took about an hour to do my taxes.  Three hours to find the damn document.