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Archive for September, 2006

Five

“Attention passengers, we are being held momentarily due to an explosion at the World Trade Center. We should be moving shortly.” A woman gasped. I was annoyed.

I was up early, after very little sleep. Lucy showered as I made coffee and woke the kids. As I showered, Lucy took over with the kids, putting clothes on Lillie, who clutched her blanket as she drifted in and out of waking. Jason helped Collie look for his missing shoe.

Lucy drove us to the preschool and I took Lillie inside. Once she was settled with her teacher, I sat back in the passenger seat and picked up my coffee.

“Wow, it’s nice out,” Lucy said. “Isn’t it nice today, boys?”

“Yeah,” Jason replied, weary. Collie didn’t answer. David Gray was on the radio. I turned it up.

We double parked near the boys’ school and took them to the yard for assembly. Parents were chatty as the school year began. We met up with people we hadn’t seen all summer. Yes, the new house is great, I said. No, we won’t always both be here for drop off, Lucy explained. This is just for the first few days; after that, Henry would bring in the boys.

We both wanted to be there to reassure Collie.

Jason was already in the third grade, and an old hand at the routines of his school. He was looking out for his brother, who was just starting kindergarten.

The year had got off to a bumpy start. Collie first days ended after lunch, as the five year olds were transitioned into their classes. For the first day, his dad had stayed with him. The second day, he was left alone with his class. The third day, he didn’t feel well, and so he stayed home with his dad.

It seemed like “school” was not one thing, but a whole bunch of different things. Collie tried not to be confused.

His mom and dad smiled and waved goodbye as he held hands in line with some kid he didn’t know. He couldn’t see Jason anywhere.

Lucy’s eyes were wet. “Aw, honey, he’s fine, mama,” I kissed her cheek.

“I know, I know.” She wiped her lashes, and noticed another mother doing the same. She caught her eye and laughed. “Crazy, right?”

“I can’t weep every day,” the mother replied. “I’ll get dehydrated.”

I walked Lucy to the car and kissed her goodbye. I walked quickly to the subway. I had missed one day this week, and I had a shitload to do. I was eager to get to work. Then I found myself stuck in a subway tunnel. Great. My luck.

The train lurched forward. I was two stations from my stop. I was also starving.

I climbed the stairs to the street, and waited for the light to change. I crossed the avenue and went into a bakery that was usually packed. It was empty. My luck!

I bought a blueberry muffin. I began to tear nibbles from it as I carried the bag. As I reached the next avenue, I could see the sidewalks packed with pedestrians, shielding their eyes and looking south. At the corner I turned to look, expecting to see, I don’t know, a jumper on a ledge or something.

“Oh my God,” I said. I turned to a woman. “What happened?”

“A plane flew into it, just a few minutes ago.” She was pushing a stroller. “I was just taking Ethan to his playdate when it happened.”

I looked down at the toddler, whose head was turned to avoid the sun. I looked back up.

It looked as though the skin had been torn from the side of the tower, far up. There was no sign of a plane, no smoke, nothing.

I watched for a moment, then decided to head to my office. As I walked the next block, I stuffed bite after bite of muffin into my mouth. Adrenaline was kicking in as I thought, okay, people are going to freak out, because people freak out. This is just like the time that airplane crashed into the Empire State Building, back in the forties, but no one will remember that.

What do we need to do?

At the next avenue, I joined another crowd looking south. Jesus.

People were shouting and crying. It had just happened.

The second plane.

Now, black smoke drifted above the towers.

Shit.

I walked the next block to my office. I found my colleague, a close friend, already at his desk. Our desks looked out over the avenue

“You know?”

“I know,” he said. “I’m trying to get the radio to work.” He fiddled with the CD player.

” . . . reports are now coming in of planes crashing into the Mall in Washington, DC, mere miles from the White House . . . ”

“Holy fuck!” I said.

He shook his head. “Incredible.”

“I was thinking of that plane that crashed into the Empire State Building.”

“No,” he shook his head. “This is like Pearl Harbor.” He was an historian. His brain made those connections faster than mine.

We listened to the radio. We went back outside. We ran into our employer, a man given to hysteria in the best of circumstances.

“This is it,” he gesticulated, pointing south. “We’re attacked. This is it.” He ran off to share his insight with others.

My friend and I just watched the towers smolder. “Were they fighter planes?” I asked.

“I don’t know, I didn’t see them.”

We watched. “I don’t get it. Did they bomb them, or was it kamikaze?”

“I don’t know.”

We watched. “How many people do you think . . . ?”

“Thousands. At the beginning of a weekday? Tens of thousands.”

A tower fell. People around us screamed.

I was stunned. If you had asked me if a tower would fall, I would have bet against it.

At that moment, if you had asked me if a second tower would fall, I would have doubled my bet.

Then the second tower fell.

It was over. People just stood there. That was it.

A man with a European accent turned to me. “I didn’t go there today.”

A fighter jet boomed overhead. I ducked, instinctively.

We went to our office. I tried calling Lucy. I tried calling the school. Nothing went through.

The radio kept repeating the same words. Nothing about the schools. Nothing about the subways.

The phone rang. It was Lucy. “Henry, you heard?”

“I saw it. Where are you?”

“I’m leaving my office. They are closing the schools. The subways aren’t running.”

“Okay.”

“I’m getting the boys. Can you meet us at the school?”

“If I’m walking, I won’t be there for a long time. You’ve got the car. We should meet someplace.” We agreed to meet at her father’s apartment. He was gone, but she had a key.

“Come with me,” I said to my friend. “Maybe we can get you someplace. There’s no subway.” I picked up my briefcase. I threw out my muffin.

We ran into my employer on the sidewalk. He was telling someone what he had seen. He noticed us. “Are you guys leaving?”

“Yes, I need to get my kids.”

“Okay,” he hesitated. “Yeah, I guess no one’s going to get much done today, so, yeah, you can go. See you tomorrow, okay? Early.”

“Thanks.”

At the end of the block, my friend turned to me. “He’s an idiot.”

I nodded, looking south at the smoke. “Yep.”

We walked north. Office workers were also walking. People spilled into the streets as vehicles dwindled. Some people stood impatiently looking for cabs.

A man came up from a subway station, covered in white dust.

We passed an electronics store. People looked in the windows. There I saw the first images of what I had witnessed.

We passed a clock. It wasn’t yet noon. I heard a woman laugh. It felt good, walking in this cool sunny day, when the city was still.

I found my family watching television. The same images. Collie burst into tears when he saw me. He ran to me.

I picked him up. At the sight of my crying child, my friend began to cry.

I carried Collie to hug Lucy and Jason.

We wanted to get out of the city fast, if we could, before the roads were closed. We offered the apartment to my friend. We drove home on empty streets. National Guard vehicles rumbled in the other direction.

For the next few days, I answered emails assuring people that we were fine. I was not dead. No one we knew was dead.

That night, Lucy got high and I got drunk, watching those same images.

For days afterward, Collie was very upset. He kept talking about what had happened. He had learned about it when the assistant principal assembled the students in the auditorium. She told the three hundred students, ages five to eleven, that school would be short today and everyone would wait in the auditorium for pickup. Some bad people had blown up the World Trade Center.

A kid near Collie said, “That’s where my mommy works.” Collie realized he wasn’t sure he knew where his daddy worked.

At age five, Collie was already very much someone who liked things to make sense. He liked rules. He liked knowing the rules, and he liked it when everyone played by them. When the kids played ball, he wanted to be referee.

This didn’t make sense. He couldn’t make it make sense. Too many things didn’t make sense.

He had lived in the city, and now he lived in a house.

He had a nanny, and then he didn’t have a nanny.

He went to kindergarten, and things were blown up.

Collie stopped going to the bathroom. He refused to eat. He had accidents and cried.

We found a therapist. His teacher helped. He got better.

This morning, as we waited for the bus. Collie looked at a newspaper box at the cover of USA Today. Under a headline about the anniversary was a photograph of President and Mrs. Bush laying a wreath at Ground Zero.

“Hey Dad, can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Why, baby?”

“Because the Colts beat the Giants. Peyton Manning beat Eli Manning.”

“Well, that’s interesting.” I put a hand on his shoulder. “You know, it’s also the fifth anniversary of nine eleven. You okay?”

“Yeah, Dad. That was when I was five. So can I have seventy-five cents?”

“Here comes the bus. Let’s get you to school, baby. You can read the paper tonight.”

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Man, Lesbians!

Bridget took us out to celebrate Lillie’s seventh birthday. We were a little belated in this, as the big day was last month. But Lillie didn’t mind. It just meant her birthday wasn’t over yet.

Per our custom, Lillie got to choose the restaurant. She opted for Patsy’s, where the pizzas are covered in fresh basil and cooked in wood-burning ovens. She can also order–if not readily pronounce—what she considers her “favorite pasta I ever ate in my whole life,” paparadella alla tuscana.

As we passed through a sidewalk art fair, Collie laughed at a painting of Yoda as the Mona Lisa, entitled Yoda Lisa. Bridget loved it too, and bought a magnet with a reproduction of the painting to give to Collie.

We also went bowling at Bowlmor, which, I realized, was exactly what we did for Lillie’s sixth birthday. The thing I most remember about that afternoon is my ex wife debating my exact height. My doctor and I agree with the height given on my driver’s license. Lucy is certain I am one inch shorter.

I am certain it’s a pointless thing to debate. Bring the measuring tape or drop it.

Bowling is among our favorite family outings. You can make as much noise as you like, you get to knock things over, and the grown-ups can drink.

At Bowlmor, you get the added attraction of waitresses in short skirts and fishnets. They call it “retro,” I call it “hotcha.” Puts a little extra wood in the pin, ifyuhknowwhutuhmean.

We always play with bumpers on the lanes, which, I have to admit, has tremendously improved my score. The kids will have to make adjustments as they mature as bowlers. For now, they use the bumpers like flippers in pinball.

Collie broke one hundred. Lillie achieved her two best scores, and even beat her brother Jason in one set. He was not in top form, as he was still hung over from a sleepover that apparently included very little sleep.

Afterward, we had s’mores at Cosi and made an excursion to Forbidden Planet, where I most certainly did not flirt with the ethereal blonde waif who checked my bags. We were just talking, that’s all.

Bridget would have teased me had she noticed, but you put that geek in a comic store and her blinkers go up. I could’ve balled the girl on the counter without Bridget looking up from the new releases.

Instead, I let the girl ponder her awakening interest in FILFs and busied myself with reading American Virgin.

Loaded with comics and action figures—it’s fun for me to watch Bridget struggle with the word “no” when the children ask for things, as it morphs faster than a speeding bullet into “maybe,” then “just one,” before settling into “yes, okay, get both”—the kids were worn out and ready to head home. Bridget went to retrieve her car from a garage. Wanting the children away from the garage entrance, I shepherded them down the sidewalk.

It was a lovely summer afternoon, and the sidewalks were full of Villagers, New York University students and protesters gearing up for the arrival of President Bush, in town to commemorate the anniversary of nine eleven.

I was watching people go by when I realized that the kids had found their own show.

Two young women braced against a corner, their bodies entwined and their tongues deep in one another’s throats.

Now, this presented a sticky wicket.

I hadn’t intended for the kids to see a live sex show, but here it was, and those girls were working for tips. The hands of the woman with the short cropped hair and tattoos were devouring the tanned skin of the long-haired brunette.

They were really going to town, and much too far gone on their way to notice three gawking children.

Lillie looked at me and giggled. Jason shrugged and rolled his eyes.

Collie stared straight at the women.

I didn’t want to make too big a deal of this by ushering the children away. But I did wish Bridget would hurry up with the car.

In the fullness of time, she drove up. The kids climbed into the car and began to buckle up.

“Bridget, there are two lesbians over there, if you want to see them,” Collie said, snapping his seatbelt into place.

“Wha . . . well, Collie!” Bridget sputtered, her ears not attuned to the sound of the word “lesbian” in the voice of a ten-year-old boy.

“Your gaydar is fully operational, I see,” I said to my son.

“It’s obvious, Dad,” he replied. “I mean, they were kissing.” He looked back to the women as we drove by. “Man, lesbians!”

I’m sure Bridget was glad to get past the public display of Sapphic affections. As she drove out of the Village, she put the lesbians out of mind and focused on traffic.

We passed a billboard showing a man wearing no shirt.

“Look, Dad,” Lillie pointed. “He’s got a six pack.”

Bridget guffawed. “Who are you people?” she laughed.

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Book the Potato

It’s the first Friday night of the new academic year. Collie and Lillie are being schooled in the fine art of playing hooky by “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” while Jason is sleeping over at a friend’s place after his third straight afternoon of after-school pick-up football in the park.

I believe my twelve-year-old son has matured into the peer socialization phase of adolescence. Or, to put it another way, I can’t be far from debating such venerated topics as, “I don’t have to do that! Michael’s mom never makes him do anything!

Collie wanted a pair of back-to-school shoes with wheels in the heels, called Heelys. Wheels are forbidden during school hours, but before and after, he pops them in and glides the sidewalks like the Silver Surfer. He will no doubt be discovered and spirited away by Shaun White, if Peter Martins doesn’t snatch him first.

Lillie’s second grade teacher, Ms. Lowenthal, happens to have been Jason’s fourth grade teacher. In the public schools, fourth grade social studies focuses on local history, a subject near and dear to my heart, so Ms. Lowenthal and I have had many discussions of New York City history.

Apparently, her interest carries over to teaching her new charges.

As we rode the bus home from school, Lillie said, “Did you know that so many Irish people died because there were no potatoes? Isn’t that so sad?” Her voice was a solemn whisper.

“In fact, I did know that,” I said. “Did you learn that in school today?”

Lillie nodded. “Ms. Lowenthal said that. She said a lot of people came from Irish because there were no potatoes there. And now they are all babysitters.”

I laughed.

“It’s true,” she insisted. “Four kids in my class have babysitters who are from Irish.”

“They are Irish, smart girl,” I smiled. “But they are from Ireland.”

“Ireland, right, right.” Lillie looked out the window. “Potato. Puh-TAA-to. Potato, potato, potato.”

“You like that word, huh?”

“It’s funny.” She paused a moment, thinking. “Hey Dad, how do they cook potatoes in Irish?”

“Ireland, honey. Well, these days, they cook them lots of ways. But back in the old days, I guess they boiled them or baked them. I think they made potato pies, maybe? Maybe they mashed them. They probably didn’t cook french fries or potato chips, because I’m not sure those things were invented yet.”

Lillie nodded, not really listening to my extemporaneous and unschooled lecture on potatoes and their history. She hummed, and then repeated, “Potato, potato, potato.”

She sat looking out the window as I finished and watched the streets go by.

“And Dad!” she suddenly exclaimed. “Did you know the world’s oldest lady lives in New York?”

“She does? I didn’t know that.”

“Yes! She’s so old and no one is taking care of her. Isn’t that so sad?”

“That is sad. Why wouldn’t anyone take care of . . . oh wait, do you mean Brooke Astor?” I recalled recent tabloid headlines about a lawsuit concerning the care of the aged philanthropist and socialite.

“Yes, yes!” Lillie replied, bouncing in her seat. “Book Astor.”

“I didn’t realize she was the oldest living woman, but yes, she’s very old—I think she’s a hundred and four or something.”

Lillie laughed. “That’s so old! Does she have any hair?”

“She had hair the last time I saw her.”

Lillie looked at me. “You know Book Astor?” Her voice was low and serious.

“Well, I’ve met her, yes. She was very nice.” I wasn’t sure how to explain that Brooke Astor has spent eight decades or so meeting everyone in New York City. She was bound to get to me at some point, even if she was just working her way through the phone book.

Lillie’s eyes were locked on mine. “Dad, can we please meet her? Please?”

When we arrived at home, Lillie asked me to Google a photograph of Brooke Astor.

“Is that your friend?”

“Yes, that’s Brooke Astor.”

Lillie looked for a moment. Then she scooped up Boo Boo and went off to zone out to television. When she grew bored, she arranged her stuffed animals into a classroom. She asked me if she could “borrow” two Idaho baking potatoes from the pantry.

With a red waterproof marker, she drew a face on each potato, designating one a boy and the other a girl. The girl potato was given a red dot on her forehead.

“Everyone, pay attention,” she said, holding the girl potato before her menagerie. “This is Book Astor, the world’s oldest lady. She is Dad’s best friend.”

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Boo Boo

The phone rang just before eleven o’clock on a Friday night.

Who could be calling at this hour? I wondered. Collie got to the phone before I did.

“Hello? Oh, hi Mom! . . . Yes, we are still awake. Dad’s letting us watch ‘Back to the Future Three’ . . . It’s good. It’s got cowboys . . . You are? You do? That’s going to make Lillie so happy! . . . Okay, bye.”

Collie hung up the phone and turned to his sister.

“Lillie, good news—Mom is bringing Boo Boo! She’ll be here in fifteen minutes!”

Lillie took her thumb from her mouth. “Boo Boo! Boo Boo! Me want Boo Boo!”

Collie patted her head. “Boo Boo be here very soon, baby,” he said in a singsong tone.

“Did you say your mother is coming over?” I asked from the door.

“Yes. She’s driving and she’s bringing Boo Boo for Lillie.”

“Well . . . great!”

“Can you guys please be quiet?” Jason asked, his eyes on the television.

“Sorry,” I whispered. “Prima donna.”

“I heard that,” Jason said.

“Bossy.”

“Dad, please!”

Now, this was a curious turn of events. Lucy never stops by, and certainly not at eleven o’clock at night. But it was nice of her to deliver Boo Boo, Lillie’s funky blue blanket and constant companion.

Boo Boo has been loved to shreds. It is barely held together by threads and knots.

Lillie considers Boo Boo to be a living creature that is sometimes, but not always, a dog. She speaks baby talk to Boo Boo, and often talks about her adventures with “him.” She sleeps with him every night, so she was unhappy to have left Boo Boo at her mother’s house.

Lucy called again to say that she was turning into our building’s driveway. Lillie raced for the door.

“Wait, wait, isn’t your brother going with you?”

“No, he’s watching the movie.”

“Hang on, then, and I’ll join you.” I slipped on my sandals and followed Lillie to the elevator. She bounced up and down as we waited.

“You are so excited to see Boo Boo,” I smiled.

“Yes, he’s been so lonely without me,” Lillie said. “Poor Boo Boo!”

I followed as Lillie raced through the lobby.

“Mommy! Mommy! Me want Boo Boo!”

“Hi, Lillie,” Lucy callled from the driver’s seat. “Hang on, let me open the trunk.”

“Hi, Lucy,” I said. I smiled at the man in the passenger seat.

He waved meekly from his open window.

Lillie and I joined Lucy at the open trunk. Lucy reached in and handed Boo Boo to Lillie.

Lillie put her head through the hole in Boo Boo’s center and draped him over her shoulders like a poncho. She wrapped a few loose threads around a finger and stuck her thumb in her mouth.

“I just washed Boo Boo and its not fully dry,” Lucy said. “You may want to put it in a dryer for a bit.”

Lillie shook her head and scowled. “No take Boo Boo.”

“Well, the laundry room is closed by now, but we’ll manage,” I said, stroking Lillie’s hair.

“Okay.” Lucy stood looking at me for a moment before tackling the inevitable. “Tom?” she called, her eyes still on me. “I’d like you to meet Henry.”

I crossed to the car’s passenger side.

“Howdy,” I said, extending my hand. “I’m Henry, nice to . . . now, don’t get up.”

Tom was already opening the door. He stood in front of me and took my hand.

He had a gray goatee, slumped shoulders and a potbelly.

“Nice to meet you, Henry.”

“Likewise.”

Lillie stood by, sucking her thumb.

“Okay, we’re leaving,” Lucy said, buckling into the driver’s seat. “Bye, Lillie!”

“Bye, Mom. Boo Boo says ‘bye’ too.”

Tom settled back into the passenger seat and closed the door. He looked back as Lucy drove off.

I waved.

I took Lillie’s free hand and walked inside, wondering if I had just met my ex wife’s new boyfriend.

I contained the urge to ask Lillie if she had ever met Mom’s friend before. It’s not proper to put children in the position of reporting on a parent. If she had met him, she didn’t register it.

I mentioned the encounter to Bridget.

“Dude, you so busted her!” she said. “Of course that’s her boyfriend. They must’ve had dinner or something in the city, and she was driving him back to her place in the suburbs. What did he look like?”

“Truth is, I barely got a look at him,” I said. “But enough to know that I’m way hotter.”

Bridget laughed.

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Re-Fi

Lucy shielded her eyes from the sun as she reeled off instructions for my weekend with the kids.

“Oh, and before I forget, you need to come to a meeting next Tuesday at four,” she said, her voice rapid and clipped. “It’s downtown on Water Street, can you be there?”

“I’ll have to look at my calendar, but I suppose I’m available,” I replied. “What is the meeting about?”

“The house. I’m refinancing it.”

“You are? Is now a good time for that? Wait, when did you decide to do this?”

“Yes, I got a good rate. So can you please come to the meeting? You have to sign some papers, that’s all. Please don’t make a big deal of this.”

Our divorce was final, but there were still some loose ends that needed tending. A number of these concerned our house.

The divorce settlement stipulated that Lucy would retain residence in our house, but I would remain co-owner until our youngest child’s eighteenth birthday—in the year two-thousand-seventeen—at which time Lucy would be required to sell the house or buy me out. I agreed to give over the title once the divorce was final.

It was a complicated arrangement, but the best we could manage. Lucy was not in a position to buy me out at the time we divorced, and I was not going to force her to sell the home she shared with our children.

The whole thing left Lucy perplexed and anxious.

Lucy’s rash decision to end our marriage was made in anger after she found herself unable to win a fight about a business trip I had been asked to make. She threw divorce at me early in the fight, as she had often done in the past. I thought she was being shrill. I told her it was foolish to hurl threats of divorce over so minor an issue. I made the business trip.

When I returned, she moved into the basement and refused to speak to me. After the children and I had endured several months of her stubborn fury, I agreed to move out at the end of the school year.

As our separation approached, Lucy’s mood changed. She seemed happy as she insulated herself in a fantasy of life without a spouse. As she saw it, life without me would be pretty good. She had a lovely pre-war home, three wonderful children, and a good career. The only aggravation in her life was the continued necessity of compromise with a husband who could not be entirely controlled.

One afternoon, she passed me in the hall. Her face was twisted with concern.

“Henry,” she blurted out. “I’m so afraid that when you move out, you won’t support me and the kids.”

I stammered reassurance that we would do what we had to do to keep the house and take care of the children.

As I reflected on her concern, I realized just how little she comprehended the reality of divorce.

Lucy apparently believed that her life would be exactly the same as it was, simply minus my presence. She would have full custody of the children and access to at least half of my income. In this scheme of things, I would go off someplace else and no longer be a problem for her. She would live the life we created together, without the aggravations of being with me.

I have to say, I was surprised that so intelligent a person as Lucy was capable of being so very naive.

But such is the ability of divorce to make idiots of otherwise competent people. Divorce stands out as the only life-changing decision made in anger.

Other decisions may cause nail biting, but when you decide which college to attend, what job to take, who to marry, which place to live, which medical treatment to undergo, and so on, you are generally capable of rationally balancing pros and cons in order to make the best possible choice.

Lucy, like so many others considering divorce, could not see past her own spite. She dreamed of getting me in front of a judge and proving, once and for all, for all the world to see, just what a bastard I truly was.

Her family advised her to calm down. Her lawyer told her she would not get the arrangement she sought. She didn’t care. She dug in her heels and steeled herself to fight to the bitter end.

The bitter end came more quickly that she expected, with a result she dreaded, and at a far greater expense than anyone anticipated.

She would have to share custody equally. She would get no financial support. And she would have to continue to compromise with me on issues concerning our house and children for at least the next eleven years. If she failed to do so, she could face legal consequences.

Lucy had allowed her rage to destroy her family. She spent a fortune she could ill afford. No one thought I was a bastard. She looked pretty stupid.

In the process, I learned this sage advice: if parents are considering divorce, they should sit down calmly to determine whether or not they can comfortably afford to buy and furnish a second home of comparable size within the same school district. They should ask themselves if they could continue to work together in the children’s best interests, because, as soon becomes apparent, if you think you spouse is a jerk now, just wait until you are no longer married and you still have to be parents.

If parents fail this litmus test, they should probably get over themselves and live up to their responsibilities.

When Lucy told me that she had decided to refinance our mortgage, I was irked that she had made this decision without me. Not only did it affect a property I owned with her, but within our relationship, I was generally the one who researched such matters and helped her to weigh options. She was prone to making sudden decisions without thinking through the consequences.

As witness our divorce.

Lucy was asking me to sign off on the mortgage as I stood there, hearing about it for the first time. She presented it as a done deal, while I had no way of knowing if this was a good or bad idea.

“Well, Lucy, I can’t say I’m opposed to the refinancing,” I said. “But I can’t sign papers concerning shared marital property without my lawyer’s advice.”

“Come on, Henry,” she said, exasperated. “Don’t make this difficult.”

“It’s not difficult. Just have the papers faxed to my lawyer. If she says it’s kosher, then it’s kosher.”

“Fine!” Lucy spit out. She turned and walked off.

I emailed my lawyer and told her to expect the papers.

Tuesday came and went. The papers were never sent.

I called Lucy to ask about the meeting.

“We rescheduled the meeting because you fucked it up,” she said. “I lost the rate we had, and so now we have to negotiate it again.”

“I didn’t fuck anything up. If you make decisions affecting me without my input, they aren’t really decisions, just proposals. If you send the papers to my lawyer, then I will . . .”

I stopped speaking, realizing that Lucy had already hung up on me.

A couple of weeks later, my lawyer emailed to say she had received the papers.

I’m not a real estate attorney, she averred, but it looks like a standard re-fi. I don’t see any reason not to sign.

I thanked her and forwarded the email to Lucy. “Looks like a go!” I added.

A week passed before Lucy responded.

Please be at the Water Street office Monday at four.

Ten words, including “please,” forming a complete sentence. Lucy was trying hard to be polite.

I arrived at the office to find Lucy already sitting in a conference room with a bank representative who introduced herself as Miranda Valdez. We shook hands and I sat down. Lucy and I were each presented with a copy of the refinancing agreement. Each stack was at least half an inch thick.

“All right,” Miranda began to explain. “If you open your copy to page three, you can see that the value of the house is . . .”

“Wait, wait,” Lucy interrupted. She pointed to me. “We’re divorced and I’m not comfortable discussing my finances with my husband—my ex-husband—in the room.”

“Well . . .” Miranda explained, “We are only discussing information that is in both copies of the re-fi agreement.”

“Still . . .” Lucy began. “I would prefer that Henry leave the room.”

“I don’t mind leaving,” I said, standing.

“Well, if you don’t mind,” Miranda said. “I’ll call you back in a moment.”

“Thanks, Henry,” Lucy said.

I went to the reception desk and helped myself to a paper cone of water. Of course, I knew the value of the house. We had just had it appraised during the divorce. But whatever.

When I was called back to the conference room, Lucy was signing at the indicated pages.

I began to read the contract.

I got no further than the first page. There was my name, next to Lucy’s, as cosigner on the loan.

“Excuse me,” I asked Miranda. “But doesn’t this put me on the mortgage?”

She looked at her copy. “Yes, it does. Is that a problem?”

“I’m afraid so. See, I’m not obliged to take on Lucy’s mortgage.”

Lucy blanched. “Please don’t make this difficult,” she said.

“I’m not being difficult, Lucy. But this is a problem. I’m not supposed to be on the mortgage.”

“You don’t have to actually pay it,” Lucy said. “Just sign.”

“I can’t sign a contract and simply not pay . . . “

“No, wait, he’s right,” Miranda interjected. “This is a mistake. But hang on, are you on the title?”

“Yes, he is,” Lucy replied, as if that settled the matter.

“Well, that also complicates this. If you are on the title, you need to be on the mortgage.”

“I’m supposed to come off the title, now that the divorce is final,” I explained.

“Yes, my lawyer is supposed to take care of that,” Lucy nodded.

“Okay. I think that needs to happen before we can do the re-fi.” Miranda stood up. “Hang on, let me talk to my supervisor. I don’t want to give you inaccurate information, and this is the first time I’ve encountered this.”

“It’s our first divorce, too,” I joked.

“Yeah, well, divorce is complicated,” Miranda said. “I’ll be right back.”

Miranda left us alone. I continued to read my copy of the contract. Lucy continued to sign hers.

“Did you want to authorize the bank to take payments directly from your account?” I asked.

“No, of course not,” Lucy said, not looking up.

“Then you shouldn’t sign page fourteen.”

Lucy flipped back to page fourteen. “I already signed it.”

“We can ask Miranda how to change that,” I suggested. Lucy returned to signing pages. “The kids are in after school?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“Okay.”

Ten minutes passed.

Miranda returned and introduced us to her supervisor, Jack Rollins. He shook our hands.

“Okay, so Miranda has explained your situation to me. Now, if I have this right, you two are recently divorced and you, Lucy, want to do a re-fi on your house. And you, Henry, are on the title now, but won’t be for much longer.”

“That’s right,” Lucy agreed. I nodded.

“Okay,” Jack went on. “In that case, we have to draw up another agreement.”

“Oh no, really?” Lucy said.

“Yes. See, this rate was set with the understanding that the owners were refinancing a shared property. But once the title is transferred, we need to set up a different kind of mortgage. Essentially, it’s as if the two of you are selling the house to a new owner, who happens to be one of you. Does that make sense?”

“Yes,” I nodded.

“But wait, will I get the same rate?” Lucy asked.

“Yes, you should, assuming that the title is transferred promptly. But unfortunately, there is a surcharge on the new mortgage. It’s going to set you back, say, depending on the value of house, about five or six thousand dollars.”

Lucy fell back. “We both have to pay that?”

“No, only the borrower is responsible, so it would come from you.”

“Oh no!” Lucy laughed nervously. “This is terrible news.”

“I’m sorry about that,” Jack said. “But you still come out ahead in the re-fi, so you will ultimately save money.”

“Okay, I guess that’s good,” Lucy said. “I have some questions, but are we done with Henry? I’d prefer it if he wasn’t here.”

Jack looked to Miranda. “Yes, I think he’s done. But we’ll need him to come back when we do the re-fi signing.”

“Okay,” I said, standing. “Lucy will let me know when that date is set. Nice to meet you, Miranda, Jack.”

We shook hands.

I waved goodbye to Lucy. She waved back.

She looked as though she might be sick.

Two weeks later, we returned to the office and signed the corrected forms.

Lucy now had a refinanced thirty-year mortgage on the house. She was still obliged to sell or buy me out in eleven years.

I left the office having ended my first stint as a suburban homeowner.

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