Tuesday, May 27, 2008

41.6 Days...

...until I get on the plane. I feel like I've been in Baghdad for ten years. The rest of the world has faded to the flickering images on AFN News. Four dollar gas? Doesn't seem real. This painfully prolonged primary season--same thing, it feels like a foreign film. The idea of getting into the car and going to the grocery store sounds about as plausible as hopping into the ole space ship for a quick jaunt to the moon.

You know how when you go to a long matinee, when you get out and the sun's setting, it feels like a surprise that time just kept marching on while you drowsed in the cool dark? That's what the International Zone feels like--someone else's movie. But when I emerge from the theater this time, it's a full 20 pounds lighter--how's that for a double feature?

Reading over the last several posts, it's a bit amazing how much weight things have here--that drama with Jessie felt like it consumed my days because we have no external lives here. There's no going home at the end of the day--I live three floors up from where I work, five floors up from the gym, and about a hundred yards from the chow hall. Most days, I don't leave this one little area. It can feel like prison.

Speaking of the drama, by the way, it all actually worked out for the better--I made other friends, and I'm actually much happier now than I was when I limited myself to that little clicque. We do more stuff--there are dodgeball games, nights out meeting with others, dinners at this little place we discovered, hanging out with people from outside the organization. I'm having much more fun and it's made the days brighter to have a wider circle.

I guess it took divorcing that dynamic to realize how much I'd grown to dislike it--I never shook the feeling that she viewed me as the Queen's Subject and once I saw it clearly, there was simply no going back. And really, that whole thing with the silent treatment followed by the self-righteous presentation of the laundry list of my flaws, the most egregious of which (besides the one that was a full-on lie, an accusation that I'd done something I would never do and screw you for thinking I would) was the way I greet a room? The more I've thought about it, the more amazed I am that someone in their right mind would think that bullshit would ever fly in a friendship.

I'm friendly to everyone involved, but I don't seek out their company, and they don't seek mine. And that's about all there is to it, no hard feelings.

Monday, May 19, 2008

USDA Zone 7B

I have exactly 49.5 days left here, and I'm knocking around the web, looking at gardening sites. I hate that I get there so late in the game--I'll have to skip in to the local nursery to see what I can even plant that late.

I have all kinds of plans for how to get my 1.5 acre lot to look amazing. Vegetables and all manner of blooming things. The previous owner, a relative by marriage, did a great job with the immediate vicinity of the house--I have gorgeous azaleas, vinca, crepe myrtles, and iris all over the front. The west-facing back, though, is a blank slate. I have visions of flowerbeds all along the back of the screened-in porch and along the garage/mother-in-law apartment. Vines will cover the fence and I will choose a fast-growing tree to screen out the loud neighbors with the dangerous, unruly dog.

I also have a weird little side lot that is right now just open grass, bordered by crepe myrtles and pine trees, that would be perfect for the vegetable garden and all manner of other little things. Right now, it's just kind of wasted--it's not in the fenced-in part, so the dogs don't run around in there, and it gets full sunlight. If I had more money to put into it, I'd turn it into an English-style garden with paths, a gazebo, and a thousand different plants and shrubs.

I'm creating the beds for the back when I get back, and plan to take Felder Rushing's approach--keep it seasonal, just put different things in there for late summer, fall, and winter, then plant it like crazy for next spring.

The more I think about it, the more excited I get...after all those years of deploying and moving around, living in barracks and tents and every shithole in Asia and South America plus the American Southwest, where I couldn't get anything I liked to grow, I'm finally in a place with a big yard and limitless options. I'll be there for at least three years and will actually get to see the whole thing grow and change from year to year. It's been so long since I've been able to garden--the last time was 1996, in Athens, Georgia, where I tilled a square in the middle of a kudzu patch and had gorgeous corn and tomato plants taller than I was. It was an amazing garden and I loved puttering around in it, pulling the surrounding kudzu vines off the corn every day, weeding, watering, harvesting.

So now I own this adorable house in Mississippi and can get to work without the specter of a deployment looming. This is the third house I've owned. The first was in Watertown, New York, which would have been a great place to garden...if only I hadn't spent the entire time I owned the house deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. I loved that little house. I already mentioned why the Arizona house was a no-go. And really? Disliking the desert pushed me out of there--I hated never getting rain, the weather looking the same all the time, the lack of discernable seasons, and the fact that none of the plants I grew up with will grow there, despite my best efforts.

So in exactly 49.5 days, I get it all back, in abundance.

The other thing I really look forward to--wearing all the adorable sundresses I've snapped up over the last month or so, gorgeous wrap dresses from Athleta and three sort of 1930's-looking, classic sundresses from Territory Ahead, which is normally WAY too hippie for my tastes. I wore my blue wrap dress here a few days ago and people couldn't believe I wore a dress in Baghdad. Why not? I sit at a desk all day, I'm not out there in battle rattle getting shot at anymore. After being here over a year this stint, it feels wonderful to dress like a girl from time to time.

And why do you think Arab men wear those man-dress things, the dishdasha? Because it feels about ten degrees cooler in a dress. Plus, it just plain feels good to wear a dress.

After eight years of dressing like a man all day, every day, I'm finding that since I left the Army, I've gone more and more the other way--I never used to wear dresses and skirts, and now I can't get enough of them. I have a closet full of heels. I'm trying to shed my old tomboy self and embrace all things feminine...and it feels wonderful. Why did it take me so long to figure it out, that dressing and looking like a lady is the most powerful thing in the world?

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Free Harley

Well, I got my staggering loss down to $23,000 by refusing to pay closing costs for the buyer. It's still more than I would pay for the Harley Softail Delux I've wanted since learning how to ride in 2005. I just gave away a Harley.

I flip-flopped for a couple of days after shit-ass Citimortgage refused the short sale. Apparently, if you behave responsibly and stay current on your payments, you get no help at all with the loss you're taking up the rear--I offered to split the difference, and they wouldn't even consider it. If you stop making payments, however, they'll work with you and forgive all that money. So I cancelled my Citibank credit card (I owe exactly ZERO on credit cards); they'll never get another dime of my money. I did the math--if I rented that goddamn house out at a monthly loss, it would take THREE YEARS to equal what I'm losing on the sale. AND I could have claimed both the loss and the interest on the mortgage on taxes. There's no other way to look at it--this is a devastating loss. It amounts to a full year of law school expenses.

But here's the thing--I'm free of it. Not only that, but my gut is telling me that keeping it would end up costing me more than $23K in the long run. One bad tenant could easily do that much damage. And the way things are going out there, the values could drop further--those asshole builders, they keep on building, even though there are HUNDREDS of vacant homes there. It will take many years for the population to catch up to the inventory of homes. Drive down any street, and you'll see dozens of houses for sale. The town is in trouble, and I may be getting out on the cheap, all things considered.

Not only that, but there is a very large population of contractors (Dept of Defense, not builders) in town whose incomes are starting to drop precipitously. Defense contracting is beginning to seriously constrict--people are having to take pay cuts, move every few years, and/or find another profession. And we have no way of knowing how the next Administration will handle contracting. Any way you look at it, the gravy train has slowed, and may soon stall out completely.

It's a good time to get out of it. And it's a good time to unload that house, even at that price.

And at least I HAVE $23K to lose. If not for my prodigious saving, I would not be able to sell the house, period. Turns out, if you can't cover the loss in cash, the title company will not allow you to sell. I'd be looking at missing payments, possibly foreclosing, and ruining the near-800 credit score I've worked so hard to achieve and maintain. I own the house I live in, I have ZERO debt outside that one mortgage, and when I graduate law school, I won't be in the same sorry shape so many new attorneys find themselves in--tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in the hole, and having to accept the highest-paying job they're offered, not necessarily the one they want.

We also moved the closing date to June 13 in order to save me as much interest to the mortgage company as possible. I've never been so happy to lose so much money--this house has been such a horrible burden, almost since the day I bought it. I will never buy a house in a new town again. It pays to rent first and take the time to figure out if you even LIKE it there enough to buy. And I will certainly never buy a house before selling the old one again. So this whole thing is a big learning experience--expensive lesson, but it didn't ruin my credit and I can fully recover from it.

The relief I will feel for the next three years is probably worth it, anyway.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Ladies and gentlemen, after almost eighteen months on the market, I have finally sold that goddamn house in Arizona.

I have never been so happy to lose so much money in my life. I will write a check at closing for about $25K, which sets me WAY back on law school savings. I'll just have to find a way to make it work. It's tax deductible, but what folks don't seem to understand is that when you claim a $25K loss on your taxes, it ain't like you get your $25K back. You get the FEDERAL TAXES on your $25K back. So I'll get about six grand of it back.

I'm asking the bank for a short sale. I don't think they'll go for it, as I've never been late on a payment, but it's worth asking...and threatening to just not pay them the rest.

But even if I eat the full $25K, I can live with it. After getting ripped off by the first roofing company and watching the roof collapse, destroying the entire interior, living in a hotel for ten weeks, then getting ripped off by the construction company that handled the rebuild, fighting with the insurance company for months, then getting ripped off by two landscapers, one handyman, and even the cleaning lady, I am done with that house and that town.

All of the above people, by the way, have already dealt with the State of Arizona in court, or are still pending trial. I'm not kidding--I went after every last one of them by pressing charges with the Registrar of Contractors, who are more than happy to nail people to the wall. Arizona has the highest rate of complaints against contractors in the entire nation. Just ask the roofer who will never get a license again, has a huge judgement against him and a brand-new criminal record, then got hit by the IRS for tax fraud and the Social Security Administration for contracting to tear down a roof while getting disability for a bad back. He's still in jail. The handyman who stole my washer and dryer while I was here in Iraq (I swear I'm not making this up) is pending trial.

The town of Sierra Vista, Arizona, is populated by criminals, creeps, swindlers, shitty contractors, and lunatic Jesus-freak neighbors who called the cops every time I sneezed in their direction. I sincerely hope that the buyers have six Harleys, eight kids, and twelve barking dogs. I hope they make that jerk miserable.

That house is jinxed and the town is hostile. I came to hate that house (even though it's gorgeous), my neighbors, and the town, and it's worth $25K for me to just be SHUT of it, forever. I can now say I have no ties to that wretched place and the wretched people who populate it.

We close June 30, which means that when I get on the plane to come home on July 10, it will be minus the weight of that 2300-square-foot albatross.