Monday, June 28, 2010



The landlord has approved the tenants we found for them! They have been sent a lease and banking details and as soon as they have paid their deposit, we are off the hook for the lease on this house of horrors come 1 September!

One stress down, 9,999,999 to go!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Dare I hope... is over??

For the last nine months my life has been hell. I have careened from one disaster, heartbreak, disappointment and misfortune to another, all without a break in sight. But all of a sudden, in the last seven days, things seem to be turning around.

My beautiful house in Cape Town has been empty for six months. We have lowered the price and turned down two absolutely insulting offers and have started to consider renting it (at a loss) just to have some income from it. We refuse to sell it at a giveaway price, but we can’t afford for it to sit there, empty, sucking money in the form of mortgage payments and garden upkeep.

Our rental house is a disaster in itself. Not only is it substantially smaller than our house in Cape Town (despite being advertised as bigger) we have battled hordes of mosquitoes, stinging wasps, arrogant cock roaches, swarms of flies, horrid rats, and the house being overrun by biting spiders…plus 8 water cut offs, countless power failures, a hot water heater periodically overflowing and sending water cascading down the chandelier in the stairwell and making a cataract of the stairs (not to mention pouring out the eaves and cooking the plants in the flower bed below), repeated failures of the driveway security gate, a brush fire right behind the house, two garbage strikes and a landlord who doesn’t give a sh!t as long as his rent is paid. We want out of this house so bad be can taste it, and the keys to the house we have purchased should be in our hands no later than 1 September. But, true to his self-serving nature, our landlord has little interest in allowing us to terminate our lease early…have you ever wondered about people who are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces??

This guy…I’ll call him Dave…did not call out exterminators for 3 months, despite my being eaten alive by the bugs. When we found a rat, however, that was the final straw. We sent him a letter threatening to break our lease if he didn’t get someone out to control the vermin and that seemed to motivate him. When the thermostat on the hot water heater went bad and overflowed water half a dozen or so times in the matter of a few days, he refused to return our calls after his father came out and looked at it (while the tank was not actively overflowing) and said it was ok. Um…we pay the water bill here, and for the electricity to heat that 200 litres of scalding water that is making steamed hydrangeas in the front yard…but, Mr. Penny-wise and Pound-foolish Dave couldn’t seem to see that although it was our money pouring out the eaves, it was his ceiling and rafters that were getting soaked and risking dry rot.

So finally, we find a house and get our move-in date. We tell Dave we will find him a replacement tenant to take over the house when we move out. Mr. Dave, without a second’s though, knee-jerks to “Your lease is until the end of December.”

We are experienced landlords…we’ve had rental property for five years…Dave is not. What part of “replacement tenants” does he not understand? What part of “nobody house hunts over Christmas, Dave…if we don’t start looking for a tenant now, you’re gonna have an empty house and no rental income starting 1 January” has not registered in his brain?”

The man does not do subtle. I finally had to write him a letter, carefully couched in terms a 10 year old could understand, explaining why it would be to his advantage to 1) allow us to move out in September, 2) advertise and show the house for him (he lives 1000 miles away) and 3) screen the prospective tenants and send him the details on the good ones so he can check their credit and references and interview them by phone. I cannot believe someone had to explain to him that it is easier for him for us to show the house since we are actually living in it (and we have lots of experience with this). I cannot believe he had to be told that a 12 month lease with new tenants (at a higher rent!), beginning 1 September is better than making us stay on for four months and leave him with an empty house in the middle of the holiday season.

Well, it worked. He reluctantly agreed for us to advertise and show the house and refer tenants to him, and so last Friday I put two ads up on the internet. Within a hour I had a hit and the couple turned out to be perfect! Talk about luck! They are even willing to pay a higher rent than we are currently paying, they love the house, and eagerly sent in their documentation for credit and reference checks. It’s been a week. The landlord’s wife “forgot” to set up the interview between the tenant and her father-in-law who lives in town here. They have told me the prospective tenants are acceptable “in principle” but I have to wonder just what they want…they’ll pay more rent, they have excellent credit, she liked them on the phone interview…why do they seem to want to hold us to a lease that now disadvantages us both?

But, the good news is, there are more people eager to see this house and we got ideal tenants instantly, instead the extended periods of malaise we have experienced in the property markets recently.

So, next, one of our tenants calls from Cape Town and wants to break her lease. Hubby tells her “No. You must pay until the end of your lease or find us an acceptable tenant as a replacement.” The very next day I get an email from a woman wanting to rent the cottage, responding to an old, old ad she found on the internet!

My poor, beautiful house in Cape Town languishes. We have had half a dozen agents showing it. Finally we cancelled them all and went with a guy who is the 7th highest booking salesman in his international real estate firm…and he’s having no luck. Everybody says it needs maintenance (it doesn’t) or the garden is too big (so why are they viewing a place advertised with a 1400sq m garden?) or it is too expensive (it is worth R2.1M and we are listing at under R1.8…there’s R100K worth of imported French oak floors!!)

So, today my friend Sally’s newsletter goes out…we have put an ad in her newsletter. In the course of three hours we get an email from the agent saying he has shown the house to a couple who love it, and I get two calls from people who saw the ad in the newspaper and are eager to see the house! So from six months of disinterest to three interested parties in a single day!

My foot isn’t fully healed, but I am able to cook now (it was agony to stand in one place, like you have to do to chop veggies and work at the stove…I just couldn’t do it without making my foot worse), and even get around without my cane, unless we are going to walk a lot. I am still wearing the hideous arch-support Nikes (why can’t they make sleek, elegant, feminine athletic shoes? Why do they have to look like something one of the Transformers might wear??) but the last two nights I got a decent night’s sleep without taking pain meds at bedtime. It is still swollen and tender, but obviously on the mend.

So, with all these positive events coming together in a mere seven day period, dare I hope my curse has been broken and my life will resume its relatively quiet, sedate, satisfying pace?

Or is this just the lull before the storm?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010


What would you do?

The back story:
It is the early 1960s, a time before “sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” ruled American youth, a time when the word “hippy” referred to your figure rather than your politics, and nice girls didn’t “do it,”—and if they did, it was a secret…and if they got pregnant, it was an even bigger secret that involved a long visit to a “sick aunt” in another state and hush-hush adoptions.

You are in your late 30s and have custody of your 17 year old daughter, Dana, who has recently graduated from high school. You and her father have been divorced for seven years and you have both remarried. You (Georgia) and your husband (Frank) own three apartment buildings, four houses, a small chain of figure salons and a small chain of laundromats. The three of you live in one of the one-bedroom apartments and you work outside the home as a bookkeeper. Your daughter has just announced to you that she is pregnant by her high school boyfriend, who is also 17. What would you do?

Scenario 1: your daughter tells you she intends to keep her baby, even if she remains unmarried.

What I would do if I was Georgia: I would counsel Dana as to the difficulty of her decision. If she remained unmoved, then I would rent her an apartment in my building and give her a job at one of the laundries so that she could earn a living and start on the road to independence. I would help her furnish her apartment, get set up with welfare so she would have medical coverage for her pregnancy and birth. I would tutor her on such things as budgeting and take her to flea markets and second hand shops to help her get things for the baby.

What actually happened: Georgia arranged for an abortion (illegal in the US at this time) in Mexico; Dana discovered the plan and refused to go, threatening to turn Georgia in to the authorities (and tell her father) if she was forced. Georgia then told Dana she could live at home during her pregnancy only if she agreed to give the baby up for adoption; if Dana was insistent on keeping the baby, Georgia had made arrangements for Dana to go to an institution for unwed mothers.

What would you do?

Scenario 2: the father of your daughter’s child has refused to take responsibility. In a time before DNA testing, this was not an uncommon situation. Your daughter, however, has been proposed to by a young man in the military, a young man who is not the child’s father and who did not meet your daughter until after she became pregnant. Because she is 17, however, she needs your permission to marry.

What I would do if I was Georgia: I would counsel her as to the likelihood of teen marriages ending in failure. I would also, however, counsel her on the social stigma of being illegitimate…something for which her innocent child would have to suffer. If she decided to accept his proposal, I would sign my consent, but ask them to continue living in the apartment next door so I would be available to help her once the baby came.

What actually happened: Georgia refused to give permission for Dana to marry. By this time, Dana is out of her house and living with her father and stepmother, but Georgia stubbornly retains custody. When asked why she would not give permission for Dana to marry, her response is “She made her bed, now she has to lie in it!” Dana eventually gets permission to marry from a judge who recognizes the value to the unborn child of being born legitimately.

What would you do?

Scenario 3: Her husband has gone AWOL from the military and Dana does not know where he is. The baby is 18 months old and Dana is pregnant with her second child. The military cuts off her support. With no income, no job, a toddler and another child on the way, Dana is desperate and decides to move in with her inlaws, in another state. She has just enough money for a train ticket…5 days and 4 nights on a train, heavily pregnant, and with a toddler in tow.

What I would do if I was Georgia: I would offer Dana to return to work at the laundry and provide a playyard for my grandchild so that she could bring the child to work with her. I would give her time off with pay when she has the second baby, and make arrangements for her to be able to bring the new baby to work with her when she is recovered from the birth and able to get on her feet again. If she is adamant about going to her inlaws, I would make sure she had money for food and incidentals, and drive her to the station (airfare was beyond the reach of the average middle class family back then).

What actually happened: Georgia told Dana, when she called, “You made your bed, you lay in it.” Dana made her own way to the train station and travelled for 5 days and 4 nights to the other side of the country and no one was there to greet her. She waiting at the train station, broke, pregnant, hungry, and with a hungry, tired toddler for several hours before her mother-in-law begrudgingly picked her up.

What would you do?

Scenario 4: Dana’s husband has been dishonourably discharged from the military for desertion. He comes to his mother’s house, collects Dana and the children, and moves them into a dilapidated slum. He has difficulty finding work because of his DD, and when he does find work, his belligerent attitude gets him fired. He develops a fondness for drink and often drinks half or more of his paycheck before he even gets home, making it difficult for Dana to even buy enough food for herself and the children. She leaves him and takes the bus across country, back to her home town, and arrives with two little kids, a couple of suitcases, and not even enough money to rent a cheap motel room for their first night back in town. She calls you…

What I would do if I was Georgia: Jump in the car and go collect her and the kids from the bus station. Move them into whatever empty apartment (they are furnished apartments) I have at the moment, and make plans to put her to work in the laundry until she is able to get herself together and find a better paying job.

What actually happened: Georgia hung up on Dana after saying something like “It’s your problem, you deal with it.” Georgia called her grandfather collect and begged to borrow $50 until she could get a job and get settled. After hearing what Georgia had done, grandfather wired the $50 by Western Union. Dana took the first job she could find: cocktail waitressing in a go-go bar where she later started dancing because it paid almost double what the waitressing jobs paid. When the club went topless several months later, Dana had the choice of going topless or losing her job. With two small children and no one but herself to take care of them, she couldn’t afford to lose the job...

What would you do?

~ * ~

Sometimes when we look at someone and we judge them, we might have a different attitude if we knew their back story. Dana wanted to go to college, but scholarships for girls were few and far between in the days before Women’s Lib, and her parents had made no provision for paying for more education. Even with an infant, Dana could have gone to college and become a teacher (her dream at that time) if her family had been supportive and provided her some assistance. As it was, Dana was thrown on her own meagre resources and, young and fairly naïve, she was betrayed by the man she married and trusted, and left to fend for herself and her babies.

I often feel great compassion for young women in desperate circumstances for I know it is unlikely they freely chose their situations, that they may well be living the results of a series of “lesser of the evils” choices. Blaming them, haranguing them, harshly judging them does nothing to improve their situations nor the circumstances of their innocent children. Each road to ruin is a different path, each one as unique as the person whose life is in shambles around her. And until we know each person’s story, until we see what alternatives were available to the choices that were made, we cannot fairly judge.

Better to take a position of compassion, to remember that few choose lives of desperation if alternatives are available, and to be thankful that our own options were not so limited that our choices had to be made between which forms of desperation our lives would take.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

How stupid are you?

OK, let’s just be out front with it…what is wrong with being gay? And what is wrong with gay people getting married? I pride myself on being a reasonably intelligent, rational, logical human being but I gotta tell ya, folks, this is something I just don't get it!

A friend of mine has just announced to the world that she proposed to her girlfriend, and her proposal was accepted. Everybody is over the moon…they just set a date and congratulations are flying thick and fast. It’s a champagne and confetti moment for us all…and yet, apparently my friend’s family is taking the news like she was announcing a funeral, not a wedding! They cannot be happy that their daughter is happy, that she has found someone to love and who loves her in return? Someone with whom she wants to spend the rest of her life? Someone who will care for her when she is sick, celebrate with her when she is happy, and just generally share her life and give it depth and meaning, colour and texture, and a rhythm to carry her through the rest of her days? What kind of parents are not ecstatic when their 35-year-old never-wed daughter finally finds “The One” and wants to settle down and make a life for herself with her beloved? I don’t get it.

In South Africa, gay marriage is legal, but much of the rest of the world lags behind in enfranchising all of their citizens in this regard. But despite the government having enfranchised us all, unfortunately not all of our citizens are so generous of spirit. It is somewhat more understandable in a place like America where homophobic hysteria is shared by government and citizen alike, but in a place sufficiently enlightened to recognize that equality under the law includes marriage, I find it rather sad that the faceless monolith that is government has more compassion and enlightenment than those whom we would expect to accept and embrace my friend and share her joy: her own family.

So what is wrong with being gay? The “it’s unnatural” argument no longer flies since intelligent vertebrates from bonobo chimps to dolphins have been observed engaging in what we would call “homosexual behaviour.” Somehow I doubt that the dolphins or the chimps (our nearest genetic relatives, BTW) find anything sinister in enjoying a sexual experience with members of either sex. I suspect they might find such concepts as marriage and monogamous, opposite-sex-only sexual relationships to be unnatural, truth be told.

You cannot argue that same-sex relationships are “against god” and expect to be taken seriously outside of the particular group with whom you share such a belief. Not only are there multiple gods worshipped on this planet, the interpretations of the pronouncements of those gods are almost as legion as our own numbers. The secular world may recognize and respect the existence of gods, their followers and their beliefs, but in no way is it beholden to them. The very act of a government adopting the tenets of one faith disenfranchises all those who do not share that faith, and with the exception of a theocracy, few governments can survive such an act: consider what would happen to America if the religious right got its way and the US government adopted a religious posture…but it adopted something other than Christianity as its touchstone. Whatever you believe your god(s) think about homosexuality, the rest of us are not beholden to it, and you simply cannot disenfranchise an entire class of people from the benefits and protections of law simply because of your personal belief. If you could, then I would have the same right to disenfranchise homophobes from certain protections of the law…say, the freedom of speech and the right to worship as they please. It is no less fair and makes no less sense.

What about the notion that some people “choose to be gay.” Well, aside from the complete ridiculousness of the whole idea…when, after all, did you “choose” to reject gayness and choose to be straight? (if you actually did, then I have some disconcerting news for you)…so what? So what if people do choose to be gay? What is wrong with that and why should people make choices about their lives according to your beliefs/attitudes/notions? You don’t have the right to tell me what job to choose, what car to choose, what colour to dye my hair, what politics to support, how many children to have, which god to worship…why on earth should you be able to dictate my choices regarding my sexuality? As long as some other person’s choice of partner is adult and consenting, what business is it of yours? (And yes, “other person” includes members of your family!) Suppose a bunch of people came to you with the demand that you give up your spouse because s/he belonged to the “wrong” religion or race or political party…wouldn’t you consider that intrusive and outrageous and completely beyond the pale? I imagine gay people have similar reactions when people of a different orientation make a similar demand. Your choice in partners is none of my business…and the choices that other people make for their partners are none of yours. So, even if people “choose” to be gay, so what?

I have heard it said that allowing gay people to marry harms the institution of marriage. Unfortunately, nobody ever seems to explain that silly notion and I, who can usually come up with good arguments for anything (I know the value of understanding the position of the opposition) am simply blank on the subject. In an era in which large numbers of people cohabit before marriage…indeed, some cohabit serially without marrying while others simply cohabit in what would once have been called a “common law marriage”... it seems peculiar that a group of people clamouring for the right to marry would be perceived as potentially destroying the institution. An objective view of the present social mores might indicate that heterosexual couples are chipping away at the institution with their willingness to forego certain legal benefits of marriage in exchange for the freedom to simply walk away from the relationship without being put through the meat grinder of divorce. By the same token, homosexual couples look more like the saviours of the institution rather than its destroyers, championing marriage in a time when their heterosexual brethren are abstaining from or abandoning it.

What is destructive about two people who marry, establish a home together and join “the system” rather than live outside it? In addition to demonstrating the desirability of marriage, gay couples gain the legal protections marriage offers without taking one thing away from heterosexual couples, from the government or the society. Indeed, their very insistence on being enfranchised points up the benefits of marriage that numerous heterosexual couples may be overlooking. What happens if an unmarried woman (straight or gay) falls desperately ill and her long-term partner and her parents are at odds over treatment options? The partner may know what she wants, but has no standing in the face of her parents, her legal next-of-kin. And suppose she dies—intestate—leaving a sizeable estate? Inheritance laws do not include unmarried partners: a spouse of just two days has more rights than a partner of twenty years. By demanding the right to marry, gay people champion the institution by demonstrating its desirability and protest their being excluded from participating in a favourable enterprise that the rest of us can freely enter at will.

I have heard a few people opine that the fundamental purpose of marriage is for the production and protection of children. This makes me laugh…loudly. First of all, given modern technology, there is no reason gay couples cannot have children if they so desire. But more importantly, this is a ridiculous definition of marriage that, if taken to heart, disenfranchises a lot more than gay couples. Infertile couples…when the infertility is confirmed as being irredeemable, should they be forced to divorce? Older couples…should my grandmother have been denied the right to marry in her 70s, after a 52 year marriage to my grandfather and subsequent widowhood? Couples who do not want children: should they be denied marriage because their love for and commitment to each other is simply not sufficient to warrant the white veil and pastel tux? Without even going into how poorly marriage protects children in a society in which 50% or more of marriages end in divorce, even if there are no other viable reasons for marriage than the production of children, gay people are perfectly capable of doing that. The “reason” just doesn’t fly.

Frankly, I cannot find a single reason…well, valid reason…to deny gay people the right to wed. And I think people who object not only to gay marriage, but homosexuality, are being exceedingly selfish in their views, attempting to force their sensibilities onto people who simply do not share them. The bottom line is that, once I am an adult, nobody has the right to dictate the choices I make in my life and nobody has the power to change who attracts me.

If I am to be true to myself, I must be myself, and in my case I was attracted to a man who, not too many years ago, I would have been prohibited by law from marrying for no other reason than his skin colour. My family would have been horrified (and possibly even hoped it was a phase I would grow out of) and they might even have boycotted my wedding. The multitude of objections that would have been offered then are echoed today in the arguments against gay marriage, but they are just as specious today as they were in the days of miscegenation and apartheid.

And they hurt. It hurts your child, your sibling, your grandchild, that your prejudices and beliefs mean more to you than their happiness. Is the happiness of your family member important to you? Will you rejoice that she has found the love of her life…or be a killjoy because the partner was not who…or what…you wanted? How selfish can you be, to spoil her happiness because she…an adult…doesn’t put your happiness ahead of her own in falling in love with the person with whom she intends to spend the rest of her days? Shame on you!

This whole issue about rights for gay people is just stupid…not because gay people do not deserve full enfranchisement but because there simply is no valid excuse to deny them. How stupid are you?