Monday, September 29, 2008

The Man Who Bought the MotW (and other stories)

What did I promise to write about tonight? Ah, yes:

Tomorrow: my entry for the Ellipsis Monday Photo Shoot, the man who bought the Museum, and St. Michael's ride.

Okay, the first part of that is done. Time to do the second and third parts. And I should probably say something about today's news, given that I spent almost five hours this afternoon following Twitter links to all the stories breaking on NPR and TPM and elsewhere.

The Man Who Bought the Museum of the Weird a liar. At the very least.

The way home.

When the dogs and I got home from the dog park just before dusk yesterday, my neighbor across the street came out and waved me over. We crossed the street, and there was much barking and carrying on as my dogs and hers exchanged credentials.

Once that subsided, M. asked me whether we were moving out. What an odd question! I said no, we aren't. Then she explained why she'd asked:

It seems that there was a man on a bicycle in the neighborhood yesterday, "going up the street and knocking on windows," she said. My next door neighbor, D., came out to talk to the guy. Bicycle Man claimed that he "picked up" our house "in a foreclosure deal," and had come over to see it! D. subsequently asked M. whether we were moving, as far as she knew. She told him that she didn't think so, because we "just got two new dogs," and because I had mentioned no such thing in a recent conversation with her.

Now, understand, I've been out of work for three weeks, and money is very tight. But our mortgage is up to date, and always has been. I just checked, and the September payment went through as usual. We're not delinquent, let alone in foreclosure.

The man was lying.

We're a little freaked out about this. More than a little, really. I can't imagine what sort of scam Bicycle Man was pulling, unless he was trying to establish with the neighbors that our house is his house now, and that they shouldn't call the police if he shows up with a van and starts packing all our valuables into it. Pepper and Cayenne are good watch dogs (especially Pepper), but that doesn't help if they're at the dog park with me. D. and M. have an informal neighborhood watch going, but M. has cancer and could be off getting a radiation treatment or something the next time this guy turns up.

John went around and locked all the doors and gates last night, to the point where I had to unlock the laundry room inner door so the dogs could get out into the yard. I told a friend at Safeway about the incident last night, and the customers behind me said I needed to tell the police. So I called today. The officer asked why D. didn't call the police at the time, and I explained that he didn't know for sure that anything was wrong. She told me to call back if the guy came around again. Right, fine. But only if I know he's there. I haven't even seen the man!

Tonight, Miko's Corner photographed as Fairyland.

So today I was cooped up all day at the computer, unwilling to leave the house unguarded. I didn't take the dogs to the park until after John got home, and John was late. We arrived in full dark. Miko's Corner is only lit at the edges, which lent a surreal quality to the visit.

An experiment in not using flash.

My theory, such as it is: Bicycle Man was probably looking in windows of various houses, "casing the joint," looking for stuff to steal. Tucson has been badly hit in the mortgage meltdown, and foreclosed homes are common enough to give his cover story a bit of plausibility. If I were D., though, I'd have been highly suspicious. Anyway, when confronted by D., Bicycle Man probably thought our house was a likely target, because John is a little behind on mowing the lawn so it sorta kinda looked the part.

Fortunately, there are only a few windows accessible from the front of the house, and they're heavily curtained against the sun and prying eyes. The back is fenced, so nobody can see into the bedrooms, the den or my office. Even if he could make out anything through the curtains, Bicycle Man cannot possibly have seen anything but a few unremarkable exhibits at the Museum of the Weird - a few couches, a shelving unit, cheap bookcases, no-name art and some lamps. With any luck, the combination of nosy neighbors, barking dogs and the lack of anything visibly worth stealing should protect us.

But I'm not counting on it.

UPDATE: John and I have talked about this further in response to Paul and Kiva's comments below. I am going to talk to my neighbors this afternoon, but will not leave the house unguarded until John has done some further work tomorrow morning on the locks and otherwise securing the house.

St. Michael Goes For a Ride

Pre-Mass prep. That gold banner is awkward to carry.

Sunday was Michaelmas, the annual patronal feast day at St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church. Choir directior and organist Jane Haman composed new music for the occasion. When I turned up before Mass, there was some question what, if anything, I would do as an acolyte. There were enough torch (candle) bearers, and Alex turned up right behind me to act as crucifer. Jo was already suited up as verger. But I ended up carrying the big gold banner on a pole. It's not heavy, but it's exceedingly awkward - it's almost as wide as the church's center aisle, and you can't see past it at all. As slowly as I walked, I kept bumping into the thurifer (incense bearer) whenever she had to stop for one reason or another. Fortunately, I didn't cause a fire.

There is an icon of St. Michael the Archangel that normally resides on a table behind the altar at the very front of the church. To be honest, it's about the least attractive, evocative or even realistic depiction of him I've ever seen, but that's not important right now. On Michaelmas this year, the statue was carried on a litter (or portable shrine) up the aisle by four parishioners and placed in front of the altar. The icon was surrounded by votive candles in red jars.

After Mass, we processed out of the church...

Fifth and Wilmot. That's the former First Magnus
building on the left, where I worked from 2005-2007.

...and all the way out to the street. There I was with this huge awkward banner half-furled in one hand, my camera in the other, about 50 feet from the old Crosswalk of Death at Fifth and Wilmot.

We went out to the sign, a new one with movable lettering which replaced the painted one that the city zoning people objected to on specious grounds. Father Smith said a prayer for the cuty, and we said the Lord's Prayer, and that was it.

And St. Michael? He didn't say much. Not that I heard, anyway.

The Botched Bailout and the Blame Game

As noted earlier, I spent the entire afternoon reading about the bailout package, McCain's alleged role in getting the deal, its failure to pass and the subsequent scramble to place blame. I wrote a rather good comment about all this for the NPR site, which just started allowing comments from registered users only. Either the site was overloaded by the day's news, or there were glitches in the user registration process, or my script blocker messed me up, or a combination thereof. My comment was lost in the ether. When will I learn to copy text before I hit "post?"

Here's my take on it all, probably less cleverly stated because I'm tired now. I shouldn't laugh at the comedy of errors that unfolded today, because the situation is a disaster for the world economy, the country and my personal chances of getting a job. But it was hard not to laugh at the absurdity that kept building with each new link from Twitter. McCain's taking credit - no he's not - yes he is. But wait! It didn't pass! Why not? Because (or so it was claimed) Nancy Pelosi mentioned in a speech that the Bush White House presided over the the buildup to this financial disaster. How dare she! Therefore only 30-something percent of Republicans voted for the bill, while about 60% of Democrats did. Clearly it's Obama's fault! Him and those Democrats! (Say what?) McCain says so, and in the very next sentence, says that now is not the time to place blame!

So what do we have? A shambles. After a week of work on turning a bailout package that everyone hated intensely into one that people hated somewhat less and could actually vote for, conservative Republicans bailed on it because they still hated it too much. Rather that admit this, they blamed their defection on a Democrat's speech, thus making themselves look like venal idiots who would rather see the country go down in flames than let the Speaker of the House blame the economy on a President that they no longer like very much, either, and on themselves and their peers. Barney Frank had a good time ragging on them for their alleged hurt feelings, and justifiably so.

Meanwhile, some liberal Democrats (including Gabrielle Giffords) didn't vote for the thing either, because they had major reservations about the bill as it stands. Um, what's your alternative?

So the bill is dead, at least for the moment, everyone is blaming everyone but themselves, and the Dow drops 777 points. So what do they do, these fine men and women who dropped the ball at the last moment with disastrous results? Why, they went home for Rosh Hashanah, of course! I can understand that for the Congress members who are actually Jewish, and maybe everyone needs a little break after working through the weekend, a chance to rethink. But it doesn't send the message that Congress is really committed to staving off further disaster.

More important, where will they go from here? Nearly everyone agrees it's a terrible bill, even as amended. But they're profound disagreement on how to fix it, whether it can be fixed, and even whether it's needed. Some people would just as soon skip the whole thing, on the theory that it's using taxpayer money to bail out the rich. Let the Dow go down! Let the irresponsible banks fail, and irresponsible borrowers lose their homes! Except that's not where it all ends. Responsible people who did their best to invest wisely now see their retirement nest eggs being sucked dry. Homeowners who did nothing wrong now have homes worth some unknown but rapidly falling amount of money, and will be "upside down" on their mortgages. Companies will have trouble getting credit, and will lay off more employees. Cities that rely on property taxes will see a big cut in revenue. And the whole mess adds up to a huge problem that no grandstanding or earmark-defying is ever going to fix.

Get this done, Congress. Tweak this bill enough that you can hold your nose and vote for it, or start over and get a genuine consensus on something that will work better to rescue the economy, protect homeowners, provide for decent oversight, avoid rewarding the guilty, and keep taxpayers from getting ripped off. Barack Obama laid out the principles of what needs to be in there, and John McCain belatedly called for most of the same stuff. Put something together, tweak it as best you can and pass it. Now.



Paul said...

Make sure you tell your neighbours as well. They should call the cops if they see this man again. Not just if they see him near your place. Not just if they see him doing something suspicious. If they see him at all they should immediately call the police. This guy is definitely up to no good.

Kiva said...

There were guys on bicycles in our area trying to "return" a dog. They'd knock on the windows and doors of a house to see if any one was home. If anyone answered, they'd pull out a scruffy little dog that they carried in the basket of one of the bikes and ask if it was the house owners. Not only did they find out who was gone during the day, they also got some idea of the layout of the homes from the people who opened the doors to talk with them. It was right after this incident that a rash of burglaries took place. Coincidence?

Karen Funk Blocher said...

OMG, Kiva, that explains it perfectly! Paul, I'm going to talk to my neighbors with that very request before I leave the house this afternoon. Thanks, you two!