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The Fabulous Adventures of Astera: Writer/Actress for Hire

Meet Astera (aka: me), a star in her own mind. Our plucky little heroine has embarked on not one but two difficult, low-paying career paths: writing and acting. Witness the menial jobs! The unreasonable demands! The quirky friends and family! And the glimmer of success just ahead! Through it all, Astera maintains her core beliefs: 1) She is destined to be fabulous 2) Everything is more fun with a cocktail.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Tale of Two Houses

So, Mr. Pink and I have been keeping an eye on real estate prices, because some day, when our net worth is positive instead of negative, we might like to buy a home. There are some encouraging signs--prices seem to be falling, even in our little beach community, and buyers have a wide selection of houses from which to choose. Of course, interest rates are rising, and "non-traditional" borrowers (like me) who don't have a steady income are unlikely to find competitive rates. We won't be buying a house soon, but it is still a goal.

The problem is, some prices still seem completely out of line with reality. For example, there are currently two houses for sale on the same street. They are even on the same side of the street, separated by just five houses.

The cosmetic differences are obvious. One home is vacant and plain. It has a somewhat neglected air. The paint is dull, the driveway is cracked, and the lawn is dead. The other home is filled with beautiful furniture and fresh flowers. The paint is bright and glossy, the lawn is a vivid green, and the home is trimmed with lovely fieldstone.

There are differences on the inside, too. The vacant home has worn-out floor tiles and chipped countertops. The carpets look a bit dingy, and the paint on the walls is a strange mustardy color. The other home boasts granite countertops, hardwood and travertine floors, and fresh, neutral paint. It also has stainless steel appliances.

But aside from the cosmetic differences, these two homes aren't so different. Both were built in the early 1970s. Both have fireplaces. Both have two-car attached garages. Both have views of a canyon. Both have similar floor plans, although one has an extra bedroom and a little more square footage. What really sets these two homes apart is the price.

The somewhat dingy bank-owned home has four bedrooms and two bathrooms and is approximately 1700 square feet. It's listed for $569,900.

The fixed-up home with the granite and the stone and the stainless steel has three bedrooms and two bathrooms and is approximately 1600 square feet. It's listed for $850,000.

Am I doing the math right on this one? Is this home really listed for $531.25 a square foot? Remodeling a kitchen and bathrooms and putting in hardwood floors couldn't possibly cost $280,000 for a 1600 square foot house, could it? So why is the price so high? Have we as a community so fetishized granite and stainless steel that we think homes with those features are worth astronomical sums of money?

Let's consider some of the other homes for sale nearby. There is a home a few streets over (in the same building tract) that also has three bedrooms and two baths, with 1600 square feet. It also has granite and travertine and crown moldings and cherrywood cabinets. It's listed for $599,000. Less than two miles away is a four-bedroom, two-bath house with 1900 square feet. It, too, has hardwood and granite, and it's listed for $649,900. At the other end of the scale, there is a home in a much nicer neighborhood with four bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths listed for $879,000. Then again, it has 2431 square feet of living space, not 1600!

So what makes this one little 1600-square-foot house worth $850,000? Absolutely nothing. It's not even in the realm of reality. I know it won't sell for anywhere near that price, if it ever sells at all. I mean, I hope the lenders have wised up and won't lend $850,000 on a house when others in the neighborhood are priced at $569,000 to $599,000 and may not even sell at those prices. What happened to comps? What happened to neighborhood values?

Well, I guess it's important to remember one thing: "Askin' ain't gettin'." And that's that.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Funk

My self-imposed deadline for finishing the first draft has come and gone. The first draft, alas, remains unfinished. Missing the deadline put me in a deep funk for a couple of weeks earlier this month, even if the deadline was, as Mr. Pink claims, "unrealistic." Our precarious financial situation also contributed to the funk, although my generous patron of the arts has provided much-needed relief.

Finally, the funk is beginning to lift. I'm spending more time writing, and I really only have a few chapters to go. Plus, I signed up for a great online class with the same instructor who was so helpful to me as I was beginning my novel. The class is helping me edit and polish what I have already written. Mr. Pink has been very supportive and encouraging, and I've been getting some positive feedback in class. So things are turning around.

What really made me shake off the cobwebs and laugh, though, was one of the most bizarre commercials I have ever seen. Ironically, the commercial was touting a remedy for the funk...different kind of funk than what I had, though. It featured a trucker and a monkey, and the trucker was talking about how his butt would get red and sore during long drives. The solution? Anti Monkey Butt Powder.

You have to watch a certain type of television to be afforded the pleasure of the Anti Monkey Butt Powder commercial. It doesn't air on Grey's Anatomy, say, or during the Olympic gymnastics trials. No, it was thanks to Mr. Pink's viewing habits that I saw this commercial. He watches car racing. Nothing so gauche as NASCAR, thank goodness, but he does follow Formula One, and he also likes the Moto GP motorcycle races. That's when the Anti Monkey Butt Powder commercial came on.

Anyway, I would like to thank the manufacturers of Anti Monkey Butt Powder for helping lift me out of my funk. And I am not the only one to have been charmed by the oddity of the commercial...this blogger also remarked upon the product.

Now that I have my own butt firmly planted into my desk chair, I may even have to buy some Anti Monkey Butt Powder. After all, according to the company's Web site, it is ideal for "occasions where you sit on your butt all day."

Remember, folks: "Don't let your buns get red, use Anti-Monkey Butt Powder instead!"

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Look Ma, No Hands!

Yesterday, California's hands-free cell phone law went into effect. Drivers can no longer hold their cell phones up to their ears while driving. Instead, they must use a headset. Now, I am all for this change, although I don't think it will do that much good. Studies have shown that talking on the phone while driving, whether with or without a headset, dramatically reduces drivers' abilities to concentrate on the road. Also, I find it odd that the law does not outlaw texting, checking email, eating, personal grooming, or other activities that require one-handed driving. Let me tell you, nothing is scarier than driving with the Pater Familias while he checks his BlackBerry every time his stupid email alert dings. Obviously, checking his email is much more important to him than ensuring the personal safety of his passengers.

I had a 60-mile drive yesterday to do some networking, and here are a few things I observed as I drove:
  • Several guys driving with their lean on, resting one arm on the rolled-down driver's side window. They were clearly too cool to drive with both hands on the wheel.
  • A woman brushing her teeth while driving. I have no idea where she planned to spit.
  • A man smoking and then tossing his cigarette butt out the window. What kind of arrogance does it take to view the world as one's own personal trash can?
  • A woman wearing headphones (yes, on both ears) and rocking out to music.
  • A blatant scofflaw driving with his phone pressed to his ear.
  • Someone reading the newspaper while driving. Yes, we were stuck in traffic, but even if we're crawling along at 5 mph, any sort of distraction can cause a rear-ender, which can then lead to a chain effect, and then, before you know it, there's a SigAlert for the whole freeway.
So, if we are going to enforce what some view as a "nanny law," why not take it all the way? Both hands on the wheel at all times! Then, the CHP could give just about every single driver a ticket, including me, when I take swigs from my water bottle. But there would be a bright side...all the extra income from those traffic citations could go a long way toward cutting California's budget deficit!

Both hands on the wheel--or else!