Thursday, April 06, 2017

New Bamboo

Here are my new floors!

Getting them was crazy expensive, way beyond anything I had to pay back home just for refinishing hundred-year-old heart pine floors. If I had to do it again, I'd just go to Lumber Liquidators, get what's on sale and unlikely to last that long, and buy a table saw. How hard can it be? They can snap together if you buy the right kind.

I hired a professional off Yelp. It took me a few weeks to get there. I got an estimate from him initially and it was far too expensive, so I asked a guy working on a floor in a different unit in my complex. He was way more reasonable as he wasn't a company but rather the guy who did the actual work, but as I dug in and learned I needed to provide documentation including insurance to my HOA, and realized I couldn't take delivery of the floor personally without hiring some guys who stand near Home Depot looking for day labor, I came around to seeing the value of paying someone to run the whole thing. This isn't like when I worked at home. I can't hang around the house all day when managing a group in a deadline industry.

And the professional didn't do the work. His guys did the work. And he kept texting me "We" are doing this or that, and what he meant was "They" but I went along with it, because it seemed important to him that I believe he was somehow doing the actual work. He also asked me for a Yelp review at the end, as does everyone for everything now. I guess money isn't enough anymore.

He was incredibly keen to get paid--I can only imagine he's been stiffed in the past. Anyway, it made me nervous, like "What is he trying to hide about this floor?"

I liked the other guy a lot, but we had a communication issue. He texted me to call S&S Flooring for prices, because he couldn't speak English and I couldn't speak Spanish. That led me to a break-of-day trip to S&S Flooring on the LA side of the mountain, but that wasn't particularly promising, so I called the Valley one. The Valley one had a close-out of solid, real 5/8" bamboo (not the kind where it's on top of plywood or particle board) for $3.19 a square foot, so I jumped on that. Even the floor guy was surprised when the flooring showed up. I did real good.

Of course, I didn't really want bamboo. I'm worried about the fumes and I'd rather have proper hardwood, but a sale's a sale, and I have no plans to stay on this coast any longer than I have to, so bamboo it is.

The slate tile in the kitchen and dining area

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Ask Me How I Know

Here's what 22 boxes of solid bamboo flooring looks like.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

How Not to Buy a Ceiling Fan

1) Spend a week occasionally browsing online.

2) Spend a few days really digging around online.

3) Friday: make an appointment with an electrician to run the ceiling fan wiring on Wednesday morning. Realize you need a ceiling fan in a hurry. Dig around when you should be working, keep having to work instead, finally give up and decide to do it at home later.

4) Spend about half an hour looking online after getting home from buying a pendant ceiling light from IKEA. (Because I know how to party on Friday nights.)

5) Wake up Saturday morning and realize now that the floors will be bamboo, it would be nice to have bamboo ceiling fan blades. Quickly learn few of these exist, and after deciding it might be worth it to buy an expensive ceiling fan with bamboo blades, learn there is no way to have it by Wednesday morning.

6) Finally leave apartment when the agent trying to rent the place keeps bugging me to get in. Catch the La Brea bus to Lighting Expo. Be disappointed by the selection.

7) Stop at Orchard Hardware. Be disappointed by their selection.

8) Catch the next La Brea bus down to Pico. Walk to Lowe's. Decide maybe some of the Lowe's ceiling fans would be okay. Buy some WD-40 for the stiff mailbox lock.

9) Catch the La Brea bus to another disappointing light store. This one has a no photos policy, probably because they don't want word to get out their ceiling fan selection blows.

10) Stop for lunch.

11) Walk to Lamps Plus. See one you like--it's not in stock. But wait, there's one at the North Hollywood Lamps Plus, where you were last week!

12) Catch the La Brea bus to Sunset. Catch the Sunset bus to Home Depot. Nix all their ceiling fans.

13) Walk up to the Hollywood/Western Red Line. Take Red Line metro to North Hollywood.

14) Use some of the 18% left on your phone to learn the next bus from North Hollywood metro to North Hollywood Lamps Plus is not for 50 minutes.

15) Use some of the 17% left on your phone to get a Lyft to North Hollywood Lamps Plus.

16) Pick a ceiling fan that is not the one from La Brea, but is a completely different one, which is quite simple and you could have bought 40 times already.

17) Use some of the 12% left on your phone to catch a Lyft to Burbank.

18) Carry the ceiling fan from the Lyft to your condo, and then look at your phone, and learn from the 10% that if you leave RIGHT NOW, you can get the 155 bus to the Red Line.

19) Catch the 155 bus to the Universal Red Line.

 20) Catch the Red Line back over the mountain to Hollywood. Stop by Trader Joe's on the way home and glance at your phone--made it with 5% to go.

21) Later, wonder if maybe you should've just delayed the electrician and ordered the ceiling fan you wanted. It matches the new bamboo flooring you're getting delivered on Tuesday. Convinced yourself this is the right approach, and plan to return the one your purchased. Look up the one you wanted, click on options. Realize it's $500.

Maybe this was the right way to buy a ceiling fan after all. 

Thursday, March 16, 2017


Tonight, I went by the hotel around the corner from my new condo and picked up the keys.

From the bartender. Also the seller's real estate agent. 

Of course. And of course the co-publisher knows him. Why not? 

The seller was there at the bar, talking with her neighbors and her brother. She hugged me and asked me to take care of her plant.

"This is my brother. He found the condo nine years ago, when they first went on sale. I got first choice. I said, do I want a condo over an alley? He said...yeah, but it's a Burbank alley."

Everyone laughed. Burbank is so tame compared to its big sibling to the south.

The seller's got ten years on me, so she'd decided to buy a Winnebago and leave her job. She's off to a park in Alaska where she'll be a campground host for the summer, then who knows. 

I know a bit about that sort of life, and it seems both like a distant memory and like something scary and strange. It's funny how I can switch from wandering the back roads of Cameroon and Borneo to trudging to work every day without too much angst.

Well, maybe a little. 

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

In Contract

I'm sorry I've been neglecting you, but I have news.

I'm in contract to buy a condo in Burbank. I wish I could buy a 1920s vintage place in Hollywood, but those are rentals, not condos, so I was left with choosing between a DTLA loft (bad commute), a tiny bungalow out in Sunland (too far from non-work stuff), and a lot of beige apartments with low ceilings, vertical blinds, and stucco. I chose the best of those on offer and somehow, my ability to pass as a normal human got me past the gatekeepers.

It's too expensive and I will need to pull up carpeting and get a floor installed. I kind of wish I'd held out for a value place by the metro. I'm trying to convince BBF to come out and change all the light fixtures and replace all the hanging things on walls with new hanging things. I'm going to have to pull up the tile and replace it in the half bath.

But this really seems to be happening. And I'll be able to walk to work.

I may be getting carried away with my dedication to my job. 

Monday, January 30, 2017

Snacks and Avoidance

"I read your book proposal," my colleague said this afternoon.

She is working on a book, and I sent her a few book proposals so she could learn the structure of a book proposal.

I knew which one she meant. She meant the Curse of the Hippo book proposal. The book I haven't written yet. The book I don't know if I'll ever write. The book about the complicated break-up in Uganda, the long recovery across Kuwait and Cairo over two or three years.

I chirped something about hoping she'd sorted out how to write a book proposal, because my assistant was in the room, and she hadn't read the book proposal, and it seemed unfair for us to discuss something my assistant wasn't familiar with.

But really, I was avoiding talking about the topic. What's there left to say? In time, you forget. You lose interest in the other person, his attempts to cover up his digital footprint, his path through life. When you stumble over the photo of him ten years later, you don't wince. You just snicker a bit about aging, something happening to you as well.

I got off the train at Hollywood and Highland tonight, so I could go to the shoe store by the Chinese Theater. When I was trying on Pumas, I suddenly realized I was ravenous. Desperate for food, I quickly walked down Hollywood Boulevard toward home, mentally digging through my larder as I walked.

Cooking would take too long. I'd stop by the Indian carry-out at the bottom of my street.

That's where it hit me again.

In the summer of 2005, H.M. and I would head from Murchison Falls into the nearest town, Masindi. I'd set my laptop up in the Internet cafe, launch Fetch, and start uploading my color files to Marvel or Gemstone. The connection was so slow we'd leave the iBook running and go to the cafe next door for lunch.

The cafe didn't offer much aside from fried eggs and burgers, but they did have samosas. So once a week in the summer of 2005, I'd have samosas while uploading files. And now, I can't look at a samosa without remembering that summer in Uganda, switching back and forth between Murchison Falls National Park and my apartment in Bbunga, near Kabalagala on the Ggaba Road from Kampala.

Tonight, as I ordered the Bombay Plate to go, I thought about Uganda, those samosas (which were too spicy to be honest), and Herr Marlboro, and how time heals nothing, but it dulls it to where you are almost a little embarrassed you ever talked so much about it to your friends.

The cashier at the Indian carry-out interrupted my thoughts. "Anything to drink with that?"

"No," I said. "But do you have a samosa for me tonight?"

"Yes, of course."

He fetched two samosas. Just like in Masindi, you couldn't get one. You had to get two.

I took the samosa home, sat down in front of my laptop, and bit into it.

Too spicy, I thought with a laugh.

Friday, January 13, 2017


Friday. At the Universal City bus stop.
  • A woman of about 60, with long black hair and a cowboy hat, reciting a list of all the people who won't go to heaven. Seems the list includes people who drink coffee, dye their hair, and someone who made Marie Osmond cry.
Sunday. On the Sunset Boulevard bus.
  • Man: People think New York has weirdos. New York's got nothing on L.A. 
  • Woman: It's because this is a sanctuary city. All the illegal aliens take all the jobs.
Monday. On the bus I call the WB express, because it goes over the hill from the metro to Warner Bros in Burbank. 
  • Woman on cell phone: There's no deliverance ministry. Who's gonna get the demons out of the congregation?
And then there was that time a possum was stuck in the middle of Sunset Boulevard. See the sort of things you miss by not taking public transportation? 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Housing Update

That's it, I can hold back no more.

I've started looking at properties in LA.

How can we know if it's the right thing to do? In uncertain times, what happens to real estate? What's next for property when all is unpredictable?

I've read articles claiming some ability to see the future. Some are bearish, while others are bullish. I'm bearish--I see nowhere for interest rates to go but up, up, up. But there is a lack of clarity on what this means. When credit tightens, don't fewer people buy? Will that result in falling prices?

I can't foresee prices going down in Los Angeles, simply because there is a shortage of housing. LA has so many houses and not enough apartments--it just wasn't a thing here for many years. People stuck to suburban-style living in the middle of the city. The area has a long way to go before supply catches up with demand. Short of an earthquake or continuing drought, at least. And there's been a lot of rain lately.

There are really not enough condos in LA, and I'm no economist, but I'm sure this is because rents are so high right now. Why should a developer produce condos instead of rentals when rentals are such cash cows? Though I'm told there were financial incentives to developers to create rental properties, and these may eventually be converted to condo.

I went to look at a condo in North Hollywood right before the Christmas break. It was depressing--tiny, expensive at $299k, in a building that needed a lot of cheering up. But it's the best value I've seen around town, because it was by the metro. There's a supermarket, post office, movies, shops, buses to all over, metro two stops from the farmers market, a Y, a diner, and the prices seem likely to continue to go up as the movement now is to walkable areas with public transit.

I waffled due to its dowdiness, and it was gone by the time I decided to bid. But that's good, because I needed to do more research anyway.

It's been a month now, and I've learned a tremendous amount about the local market. I've looked at tiny houses, which they call "bungalows" here, and some of them were up on hills. I've studied Redfin and Trulia and Realtor sites obsessively, and I even sat down and worked out the point at which the cheapest condo costs as much as the least-pricey house, assuming they are both a reasonable commuting distance from my office. (FYI, it's between $325k and $350k, depending on the condo fees.)

I even rented a car and went out to Sunland, to La Crescenta, and to El Sereno, to Montecito Heights, to see what the commutes would be like from those spots.

Too much. The cost of the car overcomes the bargains to be had, and the sprawl of the Sunland area was a bit too much for me, though there is a bus to my office from Sunland.

The only houses that really make sense for me are between 400-700 square feet. You read that right. Crazy, isn't it? My first condo in Manhattan was 463 square feet. I can't imagine fitting a house into it.

It took me years to find my JC house, and I still can't believe I got it. I hope to nail this down sooner, while interest rates are still at historic lows, rather than later. I have to live here for work anyway. I might as well be building equity. 

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

We Win Again!

My vote put it over the edge!

Of course, the same day this happened, I concluded I could get a $500k house in Burbank for the same as a $300k house back home, due to property taxes, but hey, it's either going to the bank or the municipality. (shrugs.) 

Things You Don't Need