Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chim Chim Cherooo #4, "Wrong Shall be Right"

Note: We're having a tough time finding a small house or apartment that we can afford in Salt Lake. So this is 80% journey, 10% soapbox and 10% pity party. Just warnin' ya.

I'm beyond discouraged about what is happening to the basic American dream. Having never formally chosen a political party to side with, I don't even know who to blame. Knowing the diverse audience that constitutes "my  readers" I usually try to steer clear of political topics, I even banned the Mitt Romney/Orrin Hatch ads that kept appearing on my blog so that people wouldn't think I was ready to vote. I'm not even close. After the school year we've just had, and the housing debacle we are currently going through, I'm ready to punch them all in the chops. I want to get in a boxing ring with Barack AND Mitt...and right before I charge at them, (grab their hair and bonk their heads together) I will tell them this story:

I had to take out student loans to become a teacher because my dad was a teacher too. A great one. (You needed him. He taught American History.) Despite working a job through college, I paid for my bachelors degree in monthly installments for ten years AFTER I graduated. It was worth it. I was a working, tax-paying citizen for all ten of those years. That's why student loans exist. Then as soon as that degree was paid off, I went back to school and got a masters degree, oh yes...I was just a high school teacher so I had to borrow money for that degree too.

I was 34 at the time. I was living with my mom and I wanted to have my own American Dream, even if I wasn't married, and was raising other people's kids. I deserved the American Dream as well as anyone else. So I "sold" my teacher prep periods so that I could afford a house. Which means that I taught classes instead of getting a free period to prep/grade papers/catch up/sew costumes/build sets, etc... I never got to breathe during the day and I was now taking all that undone work, home. But to my own home. I picked up some soft money doing student council and an extra musical. Ironically, I was able to make the payment, but I was now living... at school.

After seven years, I couldn't do it anymore. With the promise of an easier job, I moved to St. George, got married, (surprise!) and after just one year, I readied myself to leave Tuacahn and go with Andy to grad school. BUT...Andy got an offer to teach at Tuacahn, for a year..."put off grad school and get out of debt for a while..student loans, etc..." It was a great offer and we took it. Andy turned out to be a great teacher and he loved the kids.

We lived in a little apartment and would have been fine, but then we went to a home show ( It was like going grocery shopping when you're hungry. Just don't do it. The desire to have our own house overwhelmed us. We had been looking for ten months but even with our combined salaries, we could not find a house in our price range that we wouldn't have to flip the ghetto. (St. George is second highest in Utah for cost of living) We wouldn't mind flipping a house...I know how to use every kind of drill and saw...measure twice cut once...and I could personally paint the Statue of Liberty in about three hours, but when? Drive two hours each way to work?

Finally, we found a group of town homes that we liked in Washington, about 30 minutes from work. They were $222,000, but they were brand new, 1 minute from the freeway entrance and called "Bristol Park." It sounded like we were about to move into a fancy 700 year-old, British neighborhood. As if Shakespeare himself lived there. Perfect for two kids with degrees in Shakespeare. Whatever.

They were on the small side, 1500 square feet, which is small in Utah, and we were planning on having at least eight kids... (heheheheeeee...used to be funny) but it would be a great starter home. A starter home that morphed into a giant, festering, cancerous disease thanks to decisions made by S.O.M.E.O.N.E. D.U.M.B  and not me. Was it Bill? George? George W? Ben? Fannie Mae? Freddie Mac? Barack? WHO THE HECK CAUSED MY HOUSE TO LOSE SO MUCH VALUE IN SO LITTLE TIME?

Rhetorical! Just rhetorical folks. I don't want an answer. I'm nothing if not patient. I will want front row seats at that person's jury in the next life when all is revealed. And a five-gallon bucket of my dad's tomatoes. The ones that are so ripe they feel like a water balloon when you pick them. Those. (Add reverberation to your voice when you say that...and give it a button with a good satanic laugh.)

I digress. Oh yes...speaking of digression...

We bought the little town home on a 30 year fixed mortgage. We never missed a payment. We had a normal loan. But we did not have amazing credit because one of us (the younger one) had only just finished college the year before. In order to get the loan, we were forced to carry private mortgage insurance, which we found out, nearly every person in St. George, who did not co-sign with their wealthy parents, was given in 2007. It's almost as if THEY KNEW what was about to happen. DUN dun dun. Did they?

Well we didn't. We were newlyweds with great jobs, love, faith, hope and complete ignorance on our side.

We signed our loan in March of 2007 and by July...a new sign was being posted in our neighborhood that new town homes in Bristol Park were being built for $189,000. August...$179,000...December, "Give Yourself a Christmas to Remember in Bristol Park for $169.000!" ... and so on...until it finally stabilized at (gulp) $129,000. In fact, one of the units that was built at the same time as ours, was sold recently for $122,000. Exactly $100,000 LESS than what we paid five years ago. In further point of fact, we've paid almost exactly that on our loan so far. We've paid what a new one cost to build.

Going back to Barack Obama.

We knew within six months of purchase that we were going to be stuck in St. George forever with this bloated town home on our backs. We felt like we had made several huge mistakes in our young married a row. So we tried to have more babies...epic fail, and work much work. The joy of early married life was fleeting. Within two years, I felt as if I had dragged my husband into hell. Like I had played a mean trick on him.

It was just after we saw the prices start to tumble that it was time to vote for President. It was also about then that I realized I was not going to be a good fit at Tuacahn. I had voted for George W. But this time, I voted for Barack. I will not lie. I needed hope in CHANGE because I was freaking out. The depression started eating us from the inside and we had a couple of yucky years of self-loathing. We went to therapists who prescribed for a us some fancy happy pills, a sit down talk with our boss and "vacation time." All very good and easy to say...But when? A little hope from the economy would sure do us all some good right now.

Then one night, er...morning, I was shopping at the Hurricane Walmart. I love that place at 2AM. Just me and bunch of silent stockers. I was looking for some matching t-shirts that I needed for a show we were doing in Disneyland that week. My phone rang. It was Andy. When I had dropped him off at home on our way home from work (and on my way to Walmart), he got the mail as usual and there was a letter. He told me to sit down. I raced over to one of those shoe benches (that have the mirror) and sat down while he read me a letter that he said was "from Barack Obama."

I imagined that they were going to have us over for desert in the rose garden. The only two straight people in Utah that voted for him.

But it was SO MUCH better than that.

I had been such a diligent pay-er of my student loans for the last N.I.N.E.T.E.E.N. years, that he was going to forgive the last $1000 that I owed on my MFA. It was done. My education now me. I was so happy that I had voted for him that I nearly shouted "I voted for President Obama!" out into the Walmart abyss. But I would have been lynched.

But instead, I started crying so hard. Right there under the shoelaces. I felt like Jean Val Jean getting his yellow ticket of leave. I can finally empathize with Willy Loman! Nineteen years I had spent being a productive tax-paying citizen because I borrowed my education. That feeling, the feeling of owning it, finally, all of it, was like nothing I can fully explain. The fact that in one piece of paper, someone recognized my hard work  and was lifting the remaining burden from me, caused every exhausted emotion I had to burst forth from it's bitter prison and be released. In the Hurricane Walmart.

Cut to the chase, Jan. The people are done reading. The usual blog word limit has been reached.


We had been getting job offers for a long time. But  I always said no because of the house, and because I felt obligated to Tuacahn. Then our parents had some health set-backs and I hate being so far away from them. SO WE SAID YES to a job offer closer to home. And THEN, after we said yes we said, "what are we going to do about the house?" It was such a bold move. Huge for me. I was that desperate.

Well, the absolute honest thing to do in my mind was to keep paying $1800 a month to the bank for the next 24 years and live at home in my mom's basement. We could visit St. George for free. Too bad we would no longer have free Tuacahn tickets. We could do a bankruptcy - "everyone is doing it" they said, but we were not "bankrupt" as I understood the meaning of the word. I felt like that privilege should only be used by people that had suffered huge setbacks in their lives. We were not suffering in a life or death kind of way. I had heard of people that stopped paying their mortgage just to get the attention of the bank so that they could do a "short sale." Stopping my mortgage payment seemed ludicrous to me! But when we tried to refinance the house, the bank would not give us the best rate, because we had never missed a payment. Why would they let us pay less, when they knew we were able to pay the whole thing? Even if we refinanced it, no renter in Bristol Park was paying more than $850...(We had been ballsy and walked around and asked.) We could not afford to pay a mortgage in SLC and one in St. George. We are not getting more money in Salt Lake. Quite the contrary. But some things are so much more important than money.

And that's when we decided to put it in God's hands. He lead us, after an exhaustive search, to the sons of one of our dearest friends, who also happens to teach at Tuacahn and also happen to have been brought up like us. Her kids are the number one realtors in St. George. One of them is a banker who has been in many church leadership positions. They set up a meeting and let us ask them what we needed to do. They talked to us for an hour. They taught us. They told us about private mortgage insurance and they said that they had both walked away from homes because they had no other choice. They gave us three real life options, and all of them were rocks and hard places (in my old-fashioned brain). They told us to pray about our decision. We had hesitated for so long, now we needed to act fast.

So last week we stopped paying our mortgage.

I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. Then calm. Then joy. Tears. Packing. I was looking over my shoulder for someone to come and cart us off to jail, but no one did.  We called Wells Fargo to tell them that we could no longer afford to pay our mortgage and a very nice lady said "Okay! We'll make a note of that. Thanks for calling." No biggie to her. B.I.G.G.I.E to me.

My only concern was that I was honest with my fellow men. The bank will not lose money on our house because of the mortgage insurance we paid all those years..and they will get our house back and can sell it to someone else...again... they will double their money off my bad luck and ignorance. Once I understood that, or a version of that and could take that step backward...we were finally able to move forward.

Please...this isn't advice. I still don't know what is right or wrong. Will I ever? But I figured there must be other people out there that are staying put because they are terrified of the future. It's just that the rules are so different than they were when we were growing up.

There are no rules right now, they have told us. One of our kind realtors said to me "you remember in the scriptures where it says, in the last days "wrong shall be right and right shall be wrong?" I did. "Welcome to the last days," he said.

We have been looking for a house in Salt Lake to rent for the last two months straight. People in Salt Lake know that rental properties are hard to come by because now no one is moving. The inflated rental prices of homes, where they will allow us to have Gus and Lily, are out of our reach. Maybe we will end up in my mom's basement after all. It seems we can't catch a break in either direction. It's the most incredible conundrum. Feels like we're chasing the American Dream in a vicious circle. One of us is going to have to sell all our preps...ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh! WHO, what, when, how did this happen? Stop the world, I want to get off.

So now...when people call and ask me who I'm voting for, I just say "Jesus. I'm waiting for Jesus to come and straighten out this whole mess." One lady started laughing, then when I wasn't laughing, she hung up. She probably said "Yikes! She's one of those Mormons!" And today I don't care. My quote will probably go up on some call center bulletin board as one of the top ten craziest things a caller has ever heard. It's probably number one. Which is good. I'm competitive that way. 

My vote, though seemingly small, is one of the most valuable things I own in the abstract. My knowledge (which I now also own) is the only thing I'm going to take with me to the next life. I'm going to spend a lot of time increasing my knowledge before I vote next time. I want to know a couple of things before I consider who to vote for in November. Because I will vote and I will be vocal about it.

Number one: You need to find a way to pay teachers more (so they can afford a home) without burdening them with more students. Who is going to make it so that American teachers, some of the brightest, best minds (and wills) in the universe, don't have to fight with McDonald's over who serves more customers per day? For the sake of America, for the sake of the future of the free better hope someone can fix that problem, quick, or the 5% of you that own the world, will be feeding the world because they will not be prepared to lead this world through crisis. Find me someone that can make classrooms smaller (not just K-3) and I'll put their ad on my blog. 

Number two: I need a home closer to my work place (gas prices!). One day, once I repair my credit, I will want to buy another home. I will want to put down roots. I want a family home like my parents have. So I will vote for the person that fixes the housing problem, so that people like me, people that wear out their lives teaching your children, ...YOUR FUTURE, folks...can have a slice of American Pie like everyone else. 
(Don't forget the cops, firemen, garbage men and small business owners - the protectors, servers and creators.)

My point and I do have one...and I stand really tall on my soapbox today screaming it

It seems that we treat American teachers like they are a dime a dozen. I'm not. Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful that I have a job. But that wears thin after...what...200 years or more? When did the American culture of education "pile 'em higher and deeper" begin? How far do test scores and abilities have to go down before it counts for real? I'll never live in a fancy house to prove my worth and I can't impress you by being on your foundation or driving a Mercedes. The last pair of jeans I bought was from...Walmart. Yet I have stayed at school long after my contract hours to make something special happen for your give them my extra time because there are so damn many of them...without being paid for that time for 22 years now. Why is my time...less valuable than your money?

I know I'm not alone. There are millions of us looking for homes and millions coming toward us. Please fix the housing problem. At least we have my mom's basement and some don't. Thanks mom and dad for your back breaking work over the years to pay for your house even when it was hard.

And Jesus..because I know you read my blog...if your presence will help solve these issues before more people suffer...we are faithfully waiting. 

God bless us everyone.