Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Think It's a Good Omen

There was a bakery in our old neighborhood that Ash and I loved very much. It was literally just behind the apartment building where he lived, and when we first started dating, we went there at least once or twice a week, sometimes during the week (the bus that took us to law school stopped right in front of their door), and at least one weekend morning. When he moved a few blocks up the street and I graduated from law school, our trips became less frequent, but didn't stop entirely, especially when the weather was good and we could walk from Ash's place to the bakery, then from the bakery to a little park a few blocks further away. We would sit at a picnic table or on a bench, eating pastries, or if we'd been especially lucky that day, some of the much sought-after scones, and sipping coffee. Ash always tried to get a certain woman there to make the coffees because he said that it just tasted better for some reason-- a magic touch with the creamer and sugars, I suppose.

Then we moved to the neighborhood where we live now. And it's far enough away that we almost never made it back to the bakery in our old neighborhood. And then one day, I drove past on my way to church, and the bakery was closed. No warning, just poof, gone. It was one of those gasp-out-loud-and-nearly-hit-the-guy-in-front-of-you moments. We asked some of our friends if they knew what had happened to it, but they were as much in the dark as we were. Small details emerged over time, but nothing more substantial than the will-o-the-wisp of rumor: the baker was forced out when the building owners more than doubled his rent, the business had gone under, he'd moved to a nearby street... All of it plausible, but none of it confirmed.

A couple of months later, I drove past again, on my way to a Trustees meeting at the church, and the windows were covered with large sheets of paper. Large letters were painted on the paper, announcing that a new and exciting place would be OPENING SOON! with a DELI and a BAKERY and UNICORNS! Okay, maybe not that last one. Anyway, after the meeting, I asked our pastor if he'd heard anything about the fate of our beloved bakery. Pastor Fred is very involved in the neighborhood association, and he's also got a bit of a sweet tooth, so really, if anyone would know what happened, he'd be as likely a candidate as anyone. He told me that the baker had opened new premises maybe a mile or so away, in the border area between my old neighborhood, and a slightly sketchier neighborhood.

It was dark by the time the meeting adjourned, but the next Sunday after church, I drove over to the corner Fred had described, but I couldn't figure out where the bakery was supposed to be. Ash and I made a second reconnaissance trip, which involved me circling the block several times at the slowest speed that wouldn't result in getting honked at by other drivers with actual destinations while we both gawked out the window at the shops passing by. No luck.

I'd say we gave up at that point. Except actually, I didn't, because I would just google the name of the bakery and the baker every so often, hoping for a little article in some local newspaper or trade journal to either tip me off to where he went, or at least what had happened. And early last week, I finally hit pay dirt in the form of the neighborhood newsletter, which listed his new address and asked everyone to support him in his new location. I promptly googled the new address... and Google pointed me right to the corner we'd cased all those months ago. I could not understand it. We'd even pulled the car over to the side of the road so that we could take a closer look at the shops-- a closed Slovak bakery (no relation to our beloved missing bakery), an upholsterer's shop, a wedding shop, but definitely no sign of our missing bakery.

This morning, I went to church, and after services, I decided to take a little drive past the corner again. On the first go round, I started to stop and look, but a car was coming up behind me, so I went around the block again. I stopped the car near the corner and looked: closed Slovak bakery, upholsterer, wedding dresses. Disappointed, I started to drive away toward the highway.

That's when the baker crossed the street right in front of my car. He walked up to the door of the shop on the very end of the row and went inside.

I almost peed my pants I was so excited.

Back around the block again, park the car, walk up to the door, and push it open, heart pounding with excitement and anticipation... Holy Cow! It's our bakery! The woman behind the counter wasn't anyone I recognized from the old location, but the pastries in the case were definitely the same deliciousness, and there in the back was the baker himself. I cannot imagine what my face must have looked like. The woman behind the counter said "You look like you want to say something", and I burst out, "I can't BELIEVE I found you!!", grinning like a fool.

Not only did I find our long lost bakery, but they had Mohnschnecken! Oh, man, do I love poppyseed pastries. And they had one last cherry cheese pocket-- Ash's favorite. So here I am, on the couch in my snuggly fleece pants, drinking nice strong coffee and trying not to eat my last Mohnschnecke-- I want to save it for tomorrow, to start my spa day off with a special treat. This is a good start to thirty-two.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

In less than one hour, I will be thirty-two... or, as we are calling it at our house, "Thirty-too-good-to-be-true". I'm pretty excited, because my thirties have been getting better and better every year. And I have big plans for celebrating.

Tonight, I cracked open the very lovely bottle of wine that Luneray brought for our wedding. It is delicious, smoky and smooth, just the sort of wine I like, and Ash hates, which means it's all mine.

Tomorrow, we're going to dinner at a lovely restaurant that offers a chef's tasting menu that often features words like "goat cheese", "lamb", and "polenta". I've been drooling all week thinking about it. There is also a birthday flan waiting in the refrigerator.

And Monday, I am going to the spa where we had all our stuff done before the wedding. An entire day of pampering has been booked, beginning with a very long massage. This was actually my mother-in-law's suggestion, and she sent me a gift certificate several weeks ago. Ash arranged for the little spa treat to turn into a full spa day.

When I was thirty, I graduated from law school and got engaged. When I was thirty-one, I passed the bar exam and got married. I wonder what this year has in store for me?

Thursday, February 14, 2008


A new laptop has been ordered and should arrive in the next week or so. I hope it's much sooner rather than later, because this being a one-computer family really sucks, especially when my husband needs the computer for important job and Patent Bar stuff, which sort of, kind of trumps my "but I need to blog!" whining, I suppose.

Ash actually just started a brand new, shiny full time job. In one of those funny little twists, he's been hired as an immigration attorney-- a field in which he didn't have a particular interest, per se, but I certainly did. It's a very small firm, which means that he's getting excellent experience from the start. In fact, he'll be handling his first case in court next month. I'm so happy that he's getting this opportunity. It's going to be fantastic for him.

In other news, I have officially become a resident of Our Fair State. In the process of doing so, I have become convinced that this is, without doubt, the most bureaucratic state in the Union. We're talking French levels of bureaucracy.

For example: in order to get a driver's license, you must prove that you are a resident of the state. The way that you prove that you are a resident is to show two pieces of evidence from the following list: a lease, a mortgage, utility bill, tax document, W-2, or a weapons permit. As of September, when I wanted to actually take care of this, I could produce only the first item. Our utilities are included in our rent, so we don't have separate bills for them, and the cable is in Ash's name. And wouldn't count anyway, as cable and mobile phone service are not considered "utilities" by the Bureau of Motor Vehicles. So I had to wait until I received my W-2 for the year to get my driver's license changed, despite the fact that I had a lease and a W-2 from last year, because those are considered "expired" or out of date now. I took the documents together with my marriage certificate to the BMV. You have to go to a desk to get a number, take your documents to a second desk when your number is called, where you will fill out a form and show your documents-- and it should be noted that they did not look at my documents. They only glanced at the papers in my hand to see if they existed. I could have given them old worksheets from Spanish for Lawyers. Then you go to a third desk, where you answers some questions on a touch screen while a BMV worker yawns at a chair behind the desk. Just to be clear, the worker does not ask you the questions or in any way participate in this process. You read the questions on the screen and pick your responses from a list of choices. Then you go to a fourth desk where your picture is taken. A few minutes later, they give you a driver's license with a big, red "TEMPORARY" stamped across it. This is because your picture has to be run up against a database of some sort before your official driver's license is issued and mailed to you. Presumably they're checking to make sure that you're not a terrorist or something.

Getting my license plates has entailed multiple trips to a different agency (which, seriously, is still blowing my mind-- why are plates and licenses handled by two different agencies??), with a different set of required forms and proofs. It also took exactly four weeks longer.

Now, I just have to find the WD-40 so that I can get the screws loose from my old plates, and I will be totally legit! Hooray!

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Look, It's Not Personal, It's Just Business

One of the less pleasant things that I do in my job is to review customer requests for termination of their contracts. If the customer's agreement does not provide for an early termination, they are stuck until the end of their term. We don't generally let people cancel their contracts just because they change their minds or are having financial trouble. This is usually not something that the customer wants to hear, and sometimes they get quite upset. Occasionally, they even get a little huffy and rude, but the guy I talked to the other day really took the cake.

Unlike many of these requests, this guy didn't claim that he had the right to terminate. In fact, he admitted right at the outset that he did not have any right to terminate, but said that he was hoping we would offer him some sort of a settlement so that he could pay and be done with the contract. This is also something that we don't usually do, but sometimes we will offer a settlement based on the net present value of the remaining contract term, if the circumstances warrant. So I went out and got the approvals from our finance people, and I called the guy back to negotiate. As soon as I mentioned my opening figure, he got extremely angry. There was much bluster about how he'd been our customer for 39 years (odd, given that we'd pulled a credit report on the company and it was founded in the late 1980s) and he just can't believe that we do business that way-- because apparently in this guy's vast experience as a businessman lo these 39 years, insisting that people fulfill their contractual obligations just isn't done?

I explained to him again that he doesn't actually have the right to end his contract early, and asked him if he had a counteroffer. After yelling for a bit about how I never asked him that (ummmmm... I'm pretty sure I just did), he came back with a figure that would essentially amount to me letting him out of more than half the remaining term of his contract, so I advised him that such an amount was not even in the ballpark of what we were willing to consider. This set off a wave of increasingly belligerent "questions" along the lines of "Well, don't you feel bad doing this to me?" and (this one's an actual quote) "Is your conscience going to let you sleep tonight?"

Let's all take a moment to recall that we are not talking about me denying him a kidney transplant, or foreclosing on his house, or even repossessing his car. We're talking about my refusal to allow him to break a business contract that he entered into knowingly (and I was actually talking to the person who signed the contract, so it's not like he inherited someone else's bad decision or anything)-- and also that the total dollar amount of the remaining contract term is in the very low five figures. My car cost more than the amount that this guy was getting so angry over.

When I didn't break down in tears, apologizing for my lack of understanding for his feelings and offer to let him out right away, he threatened to "call [his] attorney". I guess he thought that would scare me into doing his will, but honestly, even if it weren't true that I, myself, am an attorney, he should have realized that a big company like mine has a whole stable of lawyers. My calm reply of "That's fine. If he has any questions, or if he needs me to forward him a copy of your agreement to review, please have him call me, and I'll be glad to provide him with the information he needs" was apparently not the response he wanted either, because he really started to lose his cool, and said to me "Well, if I treated people the way you're treating me, welllll... you'd just better get down on your knees and pray to Jesus for forgiveness."

Seriously? Are you kidding me?

One of my colleagues recently had a conversation that went something like this:

"I've reviewed your agreement with us, and paragraph 12 states that you cannot terminate for any reason during the initial five year term. You still have four years remaining in that initial term, so the earliest date that you will be able to terminate this contract is January 2012."

"Says you!"

Says you?? I would have been too flabbergasted for words. Ann, however, very dryly responded, "No, says paragraph 12 of your agreement."

Other customers have screamed and yelled about how their business is already failing and I should have more sympathy. I would dearly love to reply to these customers "I'm very sorry to hear that your business is failing. However, the fact that you have made some bad business decisions doesn't mean that I should make them. My company is doing very well because we don't make decisions based on feeling sorry for someone. Please explain to me how it would be a good business decision for my company if I to allow you to back out of your obligation to us. What's in it for my company if you get to break your contract just because you don't want to pay for it anymore? NOTHING. Which means that it would be a bad decision on my part. And I don't want my business to fail, so I'm trying to avoid making bad decisions wherever possible." However, in the interest of keeping my job, I usually have to be satisfied with saying things about "obligations" and "I need to make the best decision for My Company here, and I'm afraid that means we are not going to allow you to break your contract early." This may be professional, but it is not satisfactory.

I wish that I could skip this part of the job and deal strictly with document drafting, negotiating new contracts, and helping to develop the new training program.