I saw my friend Muriel the other day, she stopped by The Scrap Exchange with her sister and I was talking to her and she mentioned that it was her birthday AT THE EXACT SAME MOMENT that a Facebook alert popped up on my computer screen telling me that it was Muriel’s birthday. Which was very weird. Especially since I do not have a Facebook account. (I was on someone else’s computer who is Facebook friends with Muriel.)

It was a strange meta Facebook reality convergence moment.

We discussed turning 50 and I shared with her the story of my 50th birthday lunch last year, at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, at which a friend who is 60 told us that the past decade has been the best 10 years of her life. The rest of my friends who were with me at lunch — all of whom were my age or younger — found that statement inspiring.

This morning I was reading through things on my computer and came across a quote I pulled recently when I re-read Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gift from the Sea, which is a book I saw on every bookshelf in the world when I was growing up and which I assumed was schlocky, like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, a book I hated so much it made me angry that I had spent time reading it, but which is actually a great book, beautifully written and insightful and poetic.

Here is the quote:

For is it not possible that middle age can be looked upon as a period of second flowering, second growth, even a kind of second adolescence? It is true that society in general does not help one accept this interpretation of the second half of life. And therefore this period of expanding is often tragically misunderstood. Many people never climb above the plateau of forty-to-fifty. The signs that presage growth, so similar, it seems to me, to those in early adolescence — discontent, restlessness, doubt, despair, longing — are interpreted falsely as signs of decay. In youth one does not as often misinterpret the signs; one accepts them, quite rightly, as growing pains. One takes them seriously, listens to them, follows where they lead. One is afraid. Naturally. Who is not afraid of pure space — that breath-taking empty space of an open door? But despite fear, one goes through to the room beyond.

But in middle age, because of the false assumption that it is a period of decline, one interprets these life signs, paradoxically, as signs of approaching death. Instead of facing them, one runs away; one escapes — into depressions, nervous breakdowns, drink, love affairs, or frantic, thoughtless, fruitless overwork. Anything rather than face them. Anything, rather than stand still and learn from them. One tries to cure the signs of growth, to exorcise them, as if they were devils, when really they might be angels of annunciation.

Angels of annunciation of what? Of a new stage in living when, having shed many of the physical struggles, of worldly ambitions, the material encumbrances of active life, one might be free to fulfill the neglected side of one’s self. One might be free for growth of mind, heart, and talent; free at last for spiritual growth; free of the clamping sunrise shell. Beautiful as it was, it was still a closed world one had to outgrow.

So this is for Muriel, and for everyone else who is about to turn 50, or has recently turned 50, or who is dreading turning 50.

May the next 10 years be the best years of your life.

Things Can Always Get Worse

Friday, May 4, 2018

 

I feel like this should be my motto: Things Can Always Get Worse. (It pairs well with the Currie Rule.)

The place I worked throughout most of the 1990s and a little bit of the 2000s was run by a person who was very good at a few parts of his job but very bad at all the rest. He resembled in many key aspects Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss.

His second-in-command was a woman who was, for lack of a better term, Insane. She lied and manipulated information. She told people she was a CIA agent. (Which may have been true, who knows.) She spoke with a British accent which made her sound very authoritative. She had stout legs and wore low heels and you could hear her coming from across the office, clicking her way through the tiled mail room. Click, click, click. She wore scarves and chunky necklaces. When she said, “Many people have said….”, you knew she was lying. The “many people” was a dead giveaway. (Hmm… who does that sound like?)

Eventually she did something so over the top that she got herself canned. I don’t remember exactly what it was, or maybe I never knew for sure. I have a vague recollection of it involving her trying to get someone else fired, but doing such a bad job lying that it was too much even for the Pointy-Haired Boss.

She was fired during the work week and escorted from the building. She was allowed back on Saturday to clear out her office, along with an escort. I was there that Saturday, working, and I think maybe they were supposed to have been there earlier, or to come in on Sunday, but changed plans but I wasn’t notified. I don’t think I would have gone in on purpose when they were there. I remember it being very tense and wishing I wasn’t there.

There was much rejoicing at our place of work after Insane Person was fired. Ding, dong the witch is dead, the witch is dead, the witch is dead. (She actually had a witch’s hat in her office. I ended up with it. It lives on a hat rack in my garage/studio/office. A friend came to my office once, saw the hat and said, “I always knew you were a witch.”)

We were all thrilled after this turn of events, the source of so much turmoil and so many of our problems was gone. Gone!

They hired someone new to replace her. And the new person was very nice, not evil at all. But she also appeared to be not at all qualified to do her job. Even after months and months to get up to speed, she seemed to have very little grasp of what was important or how things worked. She barely participated in meetings and rarely provided anything of value when it came to analysis or decision-making.

At one point I found myself saying, “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I actually miss Insane Person. At least she knew what was going on.”

This was a great and lasting lesson for me.

I learned that no matter how bad you think things are, they can always get worse. You may solve one problem, and it may even be your biggest problem, but that doesn’t mean all of your problems are gone. You may just end up with a bunch of new problems that you never even thought about before.

This is what I’ve been thinking about lately.

But instead of focusing on the bad things that might happen, I will end on a positive note, with a link to my ’80s friend Howard Jones who tells us that the opposite is true: Things can only get better.

If you say so, Howard. If you say so.

A Story from the Past

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

I wrote a post a little over a year ago that involved several side stories about my friend Sue. I got one private response that said, “More Sue stories please!”

This is for you, you know who you are.

=====

I listen to Fresh Air while I do my work bookkeeping and I was catching up on some work on Sunday and listened to a show that had a review of the recent Tonya Harding movie (I, Tonya). This piece reminded me of one of my favorite Sue stories.

I am confident that this event actually happened, however at this point I can’t figure out the timing. It was definitely around the time of the Olympics, but it was obviously before the kneecapping incident had been exposed. I searched but was not able to find any corroborating video.

Here is the story.

I was at a bar in DC, possibly Sign of the Whale on M Street, waiting for my friend Sue to meet me for a beer. As noted, this was around the time of the 1994 Olympics; figure staking was on TV and the commentator talking heads were discussing the upcoming competition. For inexplicable reasons, they were talking to Jeff Gillooly about his insight. I’m watching this and being confused by the whole thing. Why are they talking to Jeff Gillooly? Why does anyone care what Jeff Gillooly thinks?

Sue shows up and I express my bafflement.

I say they’re talking to Jeff Gillooly about the figure skating. Sue says, “Jeff Gillooly? Why are they talking to Jeff Gillooly??”

Then she gives one of my favorite Sue one-liners of all time.

She says, “Who died and made him Dick Button?”

I do not know why I thought (and continue to think) that was so funny but I did. And I have no idea if anyone else will think this is funny, but every now and then something will make me think of that story and that line continues to crack me up, even now, lo these many years later.

Who died and made him Dick Button.

A Scrap Exchange Story

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

I’m writing this story for my friend Ann, because work is hard right now, our Yelp reviews of our life (a new feature of my life I started last year when I was sick and had to go into work to fix Ann’s computer — “This place sucks! They make you come in to work when you’re sick as a dog! Who wants to work at a place like that?”) all start with “This place sucks!”

So this is a story that has everything I love about The Scrap Exchange in it. To make me remember that The Scrap Exchange is unique and beloved Durham institution, and is also a magical place.

Or at least it used to be. And maybe it sometimes still is.

Here is the story.

In June 2016 I signed up to work at an event in Fairfax, Virginia, to which we were hired to bring our Events by the Truckload program. Every now and then we get hired to do an event in the DC area, and I usually work those, partly because I can sometimes catch up with friends while I’m up there but also because I know that the roads can be very confusing and the traffic can be very terrible and you might make one wrong turn and be stuck for two hours trying to get back to where you were supposed to go. It seems better to have me drive because I am (a) less likely to make a wrong turn in the first place and (b) more likely to be able to recover from it if I do.

This particular event had some evening hours on Friday and we were supposed to get there before 5 p.m. but I know enough about DC traffic to know that you should not aim for 5 p.m. because you will be playing Friday afternoon Beltway traffic roulette and who knows when you will actually get there. You should try to get there by 3 p.m., which should get you there before the mayhem. So that was the plan but I got a bit off schedule in the morning. We were still in the right range but running a bit behind. But we needed to keep it moving.

So we have all of our stuff together and Chellie, the outreach manager, walks to the rented box truck with me, pulls up the rear door and shows me what we have in the truck for the weekend. I quickly look through it to make sure nothing is missing. Barrels of stuff, bags of extra stuff, scissors, tape, postcards, flyers. Looks good.

I load in my cooler, Dana and I settle ourselves into our respective seats, and we drive off to our big adventure.

I drive up the hill to go out the side parking lot driveway, out on to Chapel Hill Road, take a right on Morehead, left on Duke Street. We are stopped at a red light at Duke Street and Chapel Hill Street, by the main police station, about two miles from The Scrap Exchange, and the car next to us rolls down his window and points and says, “Hey, do you know that your back door is open?”

And I’m like Oh, No. We didn’t close the door after we looked to make sure we had everything.

So I pull over and look in back and I’m like yup, stuff fell out. It’s one of the bins with tape, which we need for the weekend, and also my cooler, and probably some other stuff too. We need to go back.

So we retrace our route and I’m expecting to see a trail of detritus strewn along the roads but I don’t see anything at all until we get to the driveway to the parking lot and then I see Scrap Exchange postcards blowing all over the place. I’m like okay well here’s where it happened. But I don’t see bins or my cooler or anything other than the postcards.

I drive down to the parking lot, don’t see anything there. Drive back up, pull over and start picking up postcards and looking for where the bins could have fallen. I can’t figure out what happened, where is our stuff? Obviously this is where the stuff fell out because there are postcards everywhere but there’s nothing else here. What is going on?

As I’m standing there looking perplexed, two guys in a car drive up and say, “We took your stuff back down to the store, we saw it come out of the truck and we picked it up for you and took it inside.”

And I’m like Oh! Okay, thanks!

So we drive down and I walk inside, the outreach manager and our greeter staff person are just finishing up repacking the bins and putting everything back together. They are laughing — Oops! Forgot to close the back door!

Paola says, “That was one of our community service volunteers who brought the bin in, he lives in the neighborhood.” She recognized him from volunteering.

So now I’m now laughing too. This is so Scrap Exchange. Our little neighborhood of helpers. Of course one of our neighbors would see this happen and of course he would know The Scrap Exchange from volunteering and of course he would take the time to pick the stuff up for us and bring it back.

But I’m starting to really worry about timing, we need to get on the road. But I feel bad about all of the postcards blowing all over the street so I tell Chellie and Paola to tell Robert to go clean up the postcards. (Robert is a neighborhood friend who picks up trash and helps us keep our parking lot clean.) They say they’ll have someone take care of it.

So we load the stuff back into the truck, we CLOSE THE ROLL UP DOOR, and drive off.

The rest of the weekend more or less unfolds as planned. We make it to Fairfax, we do the event, people make fun stuff, Sunday night we drive back to Durham. Monday I take the day off to recover.

On Tuesday, I’m in our weekly senior staff meeting and I notice that Ann has a necklace I haven’t seen before. She makes jewelry from all kinds of things you might not think of as jewelry-making material — bottlecaps, rusted metal, etc. She lives on a busy road with a lot of automobile accidents and for a while she had a car crash series of jewelry, she would pull stuff out of the side of the road and turn it into a necklace or earrings. Tail lights, reflectors, pieces of bumper. Stuff like that.

So I see her necklace and I tell her I like it. She reaches up and puts her hand across it like a QVC commercial and says, “Oh, thanks. It made it from stuff I pulled out of the street when I was picking up the postcards that fell out of the back of the truck.”

And I’m like okay now this truly a classic Scrap story:

—Stuff falls out of truck.
—Someone who knows us sees it fall out, picks it up, and brings it back to the store.
—Someone tells me the door is open before I get on the highway and drive off into oblivion.
—The guy who brought the stuff back to the store sees me looking for it and tells me where my stuff is.
—Ann cleans up the street and makes a necklace out of the trash she picks up.

The end.

All that, as my friend Ann likes to say.

All that.

Giving Thanks

Friday, November 24, 2017

Here are some things I am thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day, November 23, 2017.

I am thankful for Roger the auto mechanic & tow truck driver at Brown’s Towing and Auto Repair in South Hill, Virginia.

I am thankful that I remembered to pick up my phone before leaving on my trip this morning.

I am thankful that my phone eventually connected to a wireless network in the I-85 rest stop in Warfield, Virginia.

I am thankful that I had sufficent Airvoice minutes on my phone to call/text/google everyone that I needed to call/text /google from the I-85 rest stop in Warfield, Virginia.

I am thankful for my friend Sara who said sure I can drive to South Hill, Virginia and pick you up.

I am thankful that my phoneless friend Sara’s friend that she works for gave her an iPad that she carries with her all the time now so when I send an email from I-85 asking if anyone is up for a Thanksgiving adventure, she gets the email even though she is out and about doing things.

I am thankful for my neighbor Avonia who heaped mountains of food on me and my friend Sara after we returned from our South Hill adventure.

And last but not least…

I am thankful that my thumb that I slammed in the car door while standing on the flatbed truck with my soon-to-be-towed car eventually stopped bleeding.

I hope that everyone is well and happy. And that your Thanksgiving thanks this year are less wide ranging than mine.

Bye Miss Kitty

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

So for a while I’ve been joking with friends about how my life feels like a TV show. I had been saying it was like a sitcom — there were two sets (The Scrap Exchange and Duke Gardens) and everyone on the show had to be somehow related to everyone else. Lately there’s been more drama so I’ve moved on to saying it’s more of a telenovela. I send updates to my friends entitled “Don’t Miss This Week’s Exciting Episode!”

Of course most of the drama has been coming from work. I know that many people might question my decision to spend $35,000+ on a graduate degree and then take a part-time job making less than $25,000 a year, but I get to sleep late (my work schedule starts at 1 p.m.) and, for better or worse, there is never a dull moment.

We have a weekly executive committee meeting where the admin folks can touch base on whatever important things have come up. This meeting happens at 1 o’clock on Tuesdays.

The Tuesday before last (5/16) I walked in to a discussion of the current employee drama which we had been dealing with for a few weeks. We have an employee who has been suffering through a series of seriously terrible life complications, the latest of which involved her losing her apartment. That day’s development was that she had secured a place to stay but her cat couldn’t stay there. She was upset. The cat was upstairs. We discussed options, one of which was for the cat to live at The Scrap Exchange. (Executive Director: “No.”) The next was for someone to take the cat. Deputy Director lives in very small house and already has cats. Operations Manager has two kids, including a 6-month-old baby, and is allergic to cats. Retail Manager and Executive Director both have multiple pets. Apparently all other possibilities that have been considered have pets or allergies — it turns out that I am the only person at The Scrap Exchange with neither.

I say, “Okay, that’s fine. I can take the cat.”

Have I ever had a cat? No, I have not. But I have lots of friends with cats and it doesn’t seem that complicated. I feel confident that I can handle this.

Now the cat that I was thinking the employee had was a cat that kept sneaking in to The Scrap Exchange and hanging out; on multiple occasions it was found in the Hall of Affordable Art (everyone’s favorite location at The Scrap Exchange). The employee now dealing with serial crises fell in love with the cat and took it home with her. This was a few months ago, pre-crises. It was a pretty sweet cat, and seemed chill, so it seemed like it would be fine for me to take it for a bit until the housing situation shook out.

After the meeting, Deputy Director tells Employee that I will take the cat, so they come down to the office with the cat and it turns out it is not the cat I was thinking of, a grown, chill, fully functioning cat. It is a little bitty kitten. Employee is like, “Thank you so much! Here she is,” and hands over the kitten. She tells me its name is Erica, named after her brother who was killed exactly a month before the kitten came into her life. In my head, I am thinking (a) man, that is a lot to put on a tiny little kitten, naming it after your dead brother and (b) I am not calling this kitten Erica.

[Side note: Somewhat unclear what happened to the other cat, its disappearance seemingly connected to recent breakup with boyfriend, I decided to not ask too many questions. The new cat apparently came in with a donation — details also unclear and I decided to not ask too many questions. Welcome to The Scrap Exchange. And welcome to my world where you go to work and come home with a kitten. This is definitely a sitcom episode.]

We got a box for the kitten to hang out in. We attached a string to the side of the box so we could distract her as needed while I tried to finish the work day. She slept for a while in the box, then realized she could climb out of the box, so she was able to explore the wide world of the office, then she curled up on the chair next to the desk I was working at and slept some more.

When it was time to go home I got her back in the box and took the box out to my car and was faced with the first challenge of figuring out how to get a box with a kitten in it into my car. I have a Miata. This was not a trivial task. But the box did fit once I angled it properly and I started to drive home and the kitten pretty much immediately figured out how to get out of the box. But there isn’t really anywhere to go in a Miata and she wasn’t freaking out or anything so I just let her wander around. Seemed safer than trying to figure out how to get her to stay in the box while I was driving.

We got home and I probably should have gone to get her food but I didn’t want to go out again and I’d cooked a chicken that weekend so I fed her some of that and she seemed to be okay so I decided that would be good enough for now. I also didn’t have a litter box and I had no idea how that was going to work, but she was so little that I figured if she did make a mess somewhere, it wouldn’t be that much of a mess, and I would just deal with it then.

She explored the house while I sat at the dining room table eating dinner and reading the paper. She liked jumping up on the somewhat unstable bookshelf I have attached to the wall, and at first I tried to get her to stop but I realized that wasn’t going to work so I took the books off. I could just imagine myself telling Employee that her kitten was crushed to death in tragic cookbook accident. Death by Julia Child. Not pretty.

I wasn’t paying all that much attention and she seemed to be staying out of trouble. Eventually I notice that behind me I am hearing paper rustling noises. I figure this is the cat checking out the pile of newspaper on the floor and the paper bag with papers ready to go to the recycle bin. But the paper rustling noises go on and on. Finally I turn around to see what’s going on and the kitten is working on making a little indentation in the bag, like a little nest. She finishes with that and curls up in it and goes to sleep. And I’m like okay that does not look comfortable. Is that really the best my house has to offer? Sliding off the side of a paper bag with newspaper in it?

cat sleeping on bag

Paper Bed

But whatever. To each his own. I let her be.

After I finished eating, I moved over to the armchair that lives in the corner of the dining room, where I often work with my computer on my lap. Miss Kitty wakes up and starts running around again. She likes to make a circuit around the room — up the chair, across the empty bookshelf, over to the papers, up the shelf, back to me and around the room again. This would be fine if the circuit didn’t involve running directly across my keyboard. Sometimes she would stop to hang out.

cat in front of computer

Lots of CTRL-Z action that night.

She eventually stopped the circuit and slept for a while on the shelf, then moved on to the back of the chair where she slept with her paw on my shoulder.

I got up to go to bed and wasn’t sure what I was going to do with her, I didn’t have a kitty bed or anything set up. I also wasn’t sure what she was expecting since I had no idea what she had been doing previously. Or even what you’re supposed to do with a kitten. Where do kittens spend the night? I guess I would find out.

She followed me into the bedroom and I got in bed and turned off the light and after about a minute I heard a little “Meow? …. Meow?” Which even I, a feline neophyte, could translate: “Where are you?”

I picked her up and put her on the bed. She curled up next to me and we went to sleep.

She pretty much left me alone the first night. She thought it was time to get up when it got  light out but I was like no we’ve only been in bed a few hours, it’s not time to get up yet. She went back to sleep.

I got up a little before my usual time and I played with her a little bit then tried to finish the editing work I’d been doing the night before. I called the office and said I’d be in late, I was trying to finish my edits, and I knew I would never get to them once I got to the office. Some things are just impossible to do there.

I went in around 2 p.m. and hoped for the best with Kitty by herself in the house.

I talked to Ann about trying to figure out what I needed for litter box. Fortunately we work in the Land of Abundance, so we went in to the retail store and Ann found a container that would work and gave me some tips on where to put it, etc. Total cost: $2.35.

I left work a little earlier than usual and came home to see how she did. Everything seemed fine.

I fed her some more of the chicken and she did the same thing she’d done the night before. She’d snatch a piece out of my hand and run across the room and huddle in a corner, eating it before anyone could come and take it away from her. She’d come back when she was finished and get another piece and run back to the corner. After the first few pieces she was calmer when getting more, but she still kept going across the room to eat it.

I took  her out on the porch to see if she wanted to explore, and she was happy to check out the porch but was not interested in the wider world.

I talked a friend who has cats into going to the grocery store with me. She came over and we went off and did battle with the pet aisle. Talk about paradox of choice, holy cow. But we picked out food and kitty litter and went home and got the litter box set up.

My friend was like okay now you put her in it. So we put her in the litter box and she stands completely still for about 5 seconds then starts scratching and puts out this HUGE poop. I was like man I wonder how long she was holding that for. Poor thing.

So now we had food and a litter box. We were set.

I was prepared to have her for a few days, maybe a week. On Thursday 5/18, I talked to Employee who said she should be able to take her back between June 1 and June 19. I was like “Oh! Okay.”

That is more than a week. I had to change my mindset a bit.

I quickly learned that kitties like to play. A lot. Her favorite activity was playing with a string (the one we taped to the box at work) or a shoelace. Endlessly fascinating! I would dangle it; she would attack. My favorite part was when she’d flip herself over trying to jump up and grab it.

She liked to play hide and seek, and to have me chase her. When I’d walk into my bedroom, she’d run ahead of me and run under the bed, then stick her head out from behind the blanket chest that sits at the foot of the bed. She’d sit at the corner of the bed, in the nook made by the chest, and wait for me to walk past, then run to the other side of the room, then back under the bed. Like playing peek-a-boo.

When I’d walk toward the bathroom, Miss Kitty would come with me. She’d wait for me in the hall, crouching against the wall just outside the door, and when I walked out she’d pounce at my feet, then run in front of me down the hallway.

All of it reminded me of my niece when she was little; she loved it when I would pretend to be a monster and chase her around the house. I’m going to get you! I’m going to get you! As she ran and squealed, looking over her shoulder at me clomping behind her.

My nights of extended sleep didn’t go so well after the first few nights. Kitty figured out that she could jump up on the bed on her own — it was like someone scaling a cliff in the movies, she’d get the edge of her claws over the top and … unhh unhh …  pull herself the rest of the way up.

If I lay very still,  she would give up quickly after I turned out the light, but in the mornings that strategy didn’t work. She was like okay time to play! Sometimes I could get her to stop by covering up everything and not reacting at all as she poked and prodded me. But in a few minutes she’d try again, tapping my cheek with her little kitty paw. Kitty was sweet, but I don’t give up my sleep for anything. Once I realized she wasn’t going to let it go, I’d pick her up and put her out in the hallway and close the door. Zzzzzz.

The first few nights she played a little bit rough, she scratched up my legs and bit my hands and arms. I worked on behavior modification and it got better, but I feel like she couldn’t quite get what the problem was. She stopped putting out her claws when she played. She would gently grab my arm before she sunk her pointy little teeth into it. I would say NO! STOP! NO BITE! And she would look so confused: Why person no want play? Hm. Will try again.

She just couldn’t get what she was doing wrong.

I did manage to get her to stop jumping up on the dining room table with the help of a spray bottle filled with water. She jumped on the table, I squirted her. She shook her head, turned around, jumped back down on to the chair. A few minutes later, she jumped up again. I squirted, she fled. She tried again a few minutes later. I reached for the bottle and she hightailed it off of there.

FACT: Kitties do not like being sprayed with water.

Our basic routine was that I would chase her and play with her after I got up, while I took care of house things and ate breakfast and read the paper, and then again at night after I got home from work. She would hang out in the dining room with me while I ate or worked or studied. Then after I went to bed, she’d spend most of the night in my room; I’d put her out in the morning so I could get a few extra hours of sleep.

On Thursday 5/25 I took a day trip to High Point. I’d been planning on taking the train — I love the train — but then the power went out at work on Wednesday so I had many unfinished work items to take care of, and at the last minute I decided I should drive so I could come home earlier. I didn’t want to be gone all day and then work all night, leaving Miss Kitty home by herself for 18 hours.

I left around 7:15 a.m. and got home around 5 p.m. I played with kitty for a few minutes then took a nap. Kitty let me sleep but got up on the bed once I was awake and wanted to play. I  got up and ate and played with her for a few more minutes then headed to my office.

I worked for a few hours to try to get caught up from the power outage and the day out of town. I finished late, and came inside and went straight to bed. I was tired. Kitty was not sympathetic. Kitty was like I’m sorry but you have not met Kitty Play Quota today. You cannot sleep until Kitty Play Quota has been met!

I put the pillow over my head. She snuck under and around it, whiskers on my face. She would not take no for an answer. I removed her to the hallway. She figured out that the door didn’t latch and she could just push it open. Back on to the bed. Play! Play! Play! I put her out in to the hallway and put a pile of books in front of the door. Checkmate. Zzzzzz.

Phone rang at 10:30 a.m. No message. Rang again. No message. Rang again, I got up to answer. Opened the door and Kitty sitting there. Did she sit there all night, in the same spot in front of the door?

Phone was kitty mom saying she got a place to stay and she could take her baby back. I made arrangements to meet her at 1 o’clock, before I went to work.

Got back into bed to wake up and let kitty try to play with me, launching herself across the bed at my head.

Did my morning stuff — shower, newspaper, breakfast — then got kitty things together and put it all in the car. Put kitty in banker’s box, which fit better in my car than the box I brought her home in, but which she also did not want to stay in once I started driving. Met up with kitty mom.  Kitty was okay for most of it but got nervous when I tried to hand her over. I put her back in the box and we did the transfer that way.

After thinking I’d have her for a few days or a week, and then trying to prepare myself for a month, it turned out to be 10 days after all. Kittens are cute. It’s hard not to get attached.

And I know there’s plenty more where she came from, but I’m not sure if I liked the experience enough to want to go through it willingly (as opposed to having it foisted upon me). I think I might like to sleep too much to have a pet.

But anyway this is my tribute to Miss (Erica) Kitty. May she live long and prosper.

Tax Day

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tuesday was tax day. I hope everyone got everything in and filed on time. I personally enjoyed the extra three days this year, because I do my taxes old school, on paper, and the last part — where I ink everything (I write the numbers in pencil to start, so I can fix my inevitable mistakes writing down the right thing on the wrong line, or the wrong thing on the right line), and make copies and take it all to the post office — always takes three times as long as it seems like it should, so I always end up running around at the last minute and then being mad at myself for running around at the last minute. That part is always the worst.

But this year, I was much better about it, and I was able to spread the painful part out over three days. On Saturday I reviewed everything and made sure I had printed all the right forms and transferred my numbers to the forms. (I have an Excel workbook where I can plug in everything, separate tabs for each of the forms I use, so if I make a change it flows through to the 1040 worksheet, and then I transfer that to paper.) On Sunday I reviewed my final numbers and made sure they added up properly on the paper. (Sometimes there are problems between the Excel numbers and the paper numbers, because Excel has dollars and cents, but on the form I round to whole dollars.) Then I did my state forms with the final numbers from my 1040. On Monday I inked them and got envelopes and made sure I had the right address for my Federal form, and then figured out my estimated taxes for 2017 to try to get back on track and all caught up again with my taxes. (I fell off the horse halfway through last year and just gave up, decided to deal with it all in April … $4,000 later, I am now caught up.)

Then on Tuesday — last chance! — my plan was to go to Kinko’s and make copies (which is a very important step if you do your taxes on paper, I forgot that one year when I first was starting … but I had faxed a copy for my dad to review, so he was able to send a copy of the faxed forms back to me for my records) and then go to the post office and mail them and I would be done.

My work day starts at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays so I figured if I left at noon that would give me plenty of time to hit Kinko’s then the post office then get to work.

I left a little bit late, around 12:20 p.m. and when I got to Kinko’s there was a line for the copiers. A line?? I was not expecting this. I do not go to Kinko’s much these days but I do not recall having to wait in line at Kinko’s. Then I realized that I’m usually at Kinko’s at like 10 or 11 p.m.,  so maybe that’s why.

It took a few minutes, but not too long, and I did get my copies made, but by the time I was done, it was 12:50 p.m., which meant that I had to get to work. I would have to take a break from work and go to the post office after my meeting.

So I went to work and had my meeting and did whatever else needed to be done, and I headed toward the door to go to the post office, having also picked up someone else’s tax forms that needed to be mailed. (He had done them online, but wasn’t able to e-file for some reason, and his housemate who shares my office was supposed to mail them for him but she had forgotten. I said I would take them with me when I took care of mine.)

Ann saw me leaving and asked if I was going for doughnuts (our code word for the weekly bank run, shhh don’t tell anyone) and I said I was going to the post office, but there was a post office near the doughnut bank if she needed to get something there and wanted to go with me.

So Ann and I took care of her doughnut banking and then went to the post office and we got there at 3:50 p.m. and there were like 10 people in line at the automated machine and about 20 people in line for the counters. And it wasn’t like they didn’t have anyone working, there were 4 or 5 clerks working.

Big day at the post office!

Ann was stressed because she was leaving on a trip the next day and she still had a bunch of stuff to take care of. Standing in line at the post office for 20 minutes was not on her list of things to do that day. I told her we should enjoy the break in the day, take some deep cleansing breaths there in the post office line.

Breathe in …. breathe out …

See, isn’t that nice?

I mailed my three envelopes (2016 Federal tax, 2016 State tax, 2017 Federal estimated tax; I’m going to adjust my withholding to cover the state taxes, so no envelope for that), and my friend’s two envelopes, which he did badly and ended up needing extra postage. (H­e put them in 9 x 12 flat envelopes instead of folding into a letter envelope; they each needed $1.19 in postage instead of $0.49, and he put two Forever stamps on but that’s only $0.98, so I spotted him the 2 x $0.21 = $0.42 so they could go out on time.)

Ann bought some Jimi Hendrix stamps. (I told her to get the Oscar de la Renta,but they didn’t have those.) And we were on our way.

And the original point of this post was not to give a minute-by-minute account of my day on April 18, 2017, but sometimes when I start writing, these things happen. We’re just going to have to roll with it.

The ACTUAL POINT of this post in the first place was to tell a story about something that happened to me in 2015 when I was getting my accounting degree at UNC.

The UNC law school runs a VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program to help students (and anyone else who wants to come to the law school for help) file their taxes. They recruited MAC students to participate, and this was definitely something I was interested in. I had experience with taxes, and taxes are stressful for people, so I wanted to be able to help out and make things easier.

You’d think that most students would have simple taxes but it was actually fairly complicated with the way tuition and fees are reported, and education credits that are available, and whether someone is a dependent or should file on their own. There were more things to trip you up than you’d think.

I had one couple who had bought insurance through the Federal exchange, and this was the first year for reporting that so it was all new to everyone, and they had the most complicated situation imaginable (without being self-employed … being self-employed and getting insurance through the exchange and being eligible for a subsidy is the most complicated situation imaginable).

They had waited to enroll until the last moment before being penalized, and then the husband had gotten a job halfway through the year that had insurance but the wife stayed on the exchange insurance for the full year. They had three Forms 1095-A and I thought I handled it properly but then I couldn’t get the system to take Form 8962 so I knew I’d done something wrong.

I ended up having to do a bunch of research and learning completely new terms like “tax family” and I finally got it figured out and submitted. After I had it all resolved I was talking to my tax professor about it and she said, “You probably know more about this than anyone else in this building.” And that was true, I probably did.

I did 4 or 5 sessions of VITA, and it was nice to be helpful, but I actually thought I might have been better off knowing less. Sometimes I felt like I was over-thinking things, I was aware of complicating factors that most of the time turned out to not apply, and it would have been easier if I hadn’t known anything about them in the first place because it turned out the same in the end.

But whatever. It was fine and I’m glad I did it.

However, there was one piece of information disseminated by the UNC Law VITA program that was simply wrong.

I was reading their little information sheet about filing, and we did the returns on computers using the IRS tax program, so almost everyone filed electronically, but they did include information about mailing your form for anyone who wanted to do that.

The information sheet stated that if you wished to file a paper form, you should mail it at least two weeks before the filing deadline so it would be in by the due date.

I hope that everyone who reads that statement is as horrified by it as I am. This is even worse than not knowing what a phone book is.

How can you not know that the deadline of April 15 is the date that your form needs to be MAILED, not the date it needs to be received and processed by?

How can this be?

I wanted to tell them about how back in the day post offices would stay open until midnight, and the late-night ­copy shops would be filled with last-minute filers making copies of their forms before running off to the late-night post office to mail.

I remember one April 15 riding my bike to Kinko’s then heading downtown where the main post office building was closed but they had a postal truck stationed outside with postal workers taking stamped envelopes and putting them in bins on the truck. It was such a relief to hand the envelopes over to someone, to know that I made it in under the wire.

Tax day was this shared experience, all of the procrastinators in America frantically filling out forms and running around copying them and finding envelopes and stamps and rushing to get everything in the mail. Everyone doing the same thing on the same day.

And now … not so much.

I guess it’s everyone sitting at their computer trying to hit the “send” button before midnight, crashing servers and such. Just not the same drama, if you ask me.

But anyway, I hope everyone finished everything and got it all in. And that no one had to wait too long in the line at the post office.