When Their Ship Comes In

That expression; “When my ship comes in”, dates to the Age-of-Sail. A businessman who invested in some mercantile venture in those days would receive his payoff after a vessel arrived from China or India or elsewhere bearing all manner of exotic and expensive goods to be sold for astounding profit. Of course, this assumed that the ship was not wrecked or had fallen to pirates or suffered any other of the many calamities that were common in those days. This expression is often used today to mean “Hopeful Waiting” or “Eager Anticipation”. In a cynical vein it could also mean the same thing as the somewhat more recent, but still antiquated expression, “The check is in the mail”.

We are in the process of selling a house. Our buyers closed on their old place last week, but their bank is holding up the final mortgage papers on our deal. The story is that everything is approved and ready to go – except that this bank requires that the buyer supply an affidavit verifying his employment between the years 2000 to 2010. For some inscrutable reason the buyer’s W2 data from that period (already supplied) is not sufficient. There is some tiny little bureaucratic Ant somewhere in the bowels of that bank who insists on seeing that specific affidavit form and nothing else. It is impossible for anything to proceed further without that all-important little check-box being checked off verifying the existence of the affidavit, though the paper itself will probably never be gazed upon again. Clearly, seeing that check-box filled in is what provides meaning and purpose to the Ant’s existence by giving the Ant absolute, if circumscribed, life-and-death control over other people’s lives like this. The Ant is obviously someone devoid of all human logic and probably not even of full normal intelligence. The rules are the rules and that is that.

Well, the “problem” is that the buyer’s employer from that period is not some big mega-corporation with dozens of staffers manning the HR department. It was a little local business run by one guy. The hold-up is that this guy has literally been out-to-sea on a vacation cruise – so you can probably see where I am going with this.

Our buyers are completely frantic because they already closed on their old place last week as scheduled, but thanks to The Ant we have been forced to postpone our closing twice now. This means that our buyers are technically “homeless” and they have apparently been sleeping in the basement of a (soon to be former) friend along with their young child. They had asked us if they could store “a few things” in our old house’s garage before the closing and we agreed to that. When I look in on Thursday that garage had every square-inch packed from floor to ceiling with all of the buyer’s worldly possessions. It is so full that I am quite sure that you could not fit an additional shoebox in there. They also asked us if they could have access to the house prior to closing “to start cleaning”, but here we drew the line and said “no” because if the worst happens and the whole deal completely collapses we do not want to be in the position of trying to evict “homeless squatters” from our property including some pitiful doe-eyed child before putting the house back on the market.

Well, to wrap the story-line back to its opening, our buyers are at this moment (on a Friday afternoon) literally standing on the dock of the cruise-line waiting for their ship to come in. The moment that the boat stops rocking they are going to pounce on the vacationing former employer, extract his signature onto the obligatory affidavit by any means necessary and break every traffic law on the books to rush it back to The Ant at the bank in the hopes that our closing might still be salvaged prior to the weekend commencing. They ought to have some sleazy TV producer with them too, because this sounds like a truly Amazing Race to me. In the meantime, my wife and I are standing by our cell-phones just in case they are successful, but though we wish them the best of luck we don’t have a great deal of hope.

Ah well, our buyer’s misfortune has at least provided us with enough amusement for an iota of solace, and they too will now have a story for their grandchildren. God bless all of you Ants out there.

“Spontaneous”? More Like Wishy-Washy

I admit that I like structure in my life. I don’t think that I am obsessive about it, but I like to know ahead of time what is supposed to happen and when it is supposed to happen and what will be expected of me in all of it. The only thing that I hate more than a last-minute change in plan is having no plan at all.

I recognize that there are a great many people in the world who are the opposite however. These folks scorn all forms of planning and preparation as being stifling, restrictive and somehow inhibiting to their creativity. These folks proudly proclaim themselves to be “spontaneous” or “free-spirited” as though it is a Good-Thing, but to me they are just indecisive and wishy-washy and supremely ego-centric because they usually believe that the world has an obligation to accommodate them when they finally do decide what it is that they want to do.

Nothing is better in my mind than to face a complex operation (either personal or business-related) and enter it with a detailed step-by-step plan and then have everything proceed exactly according to that plan. Smooth; Precise; Predictable – and Beautiful – these are the adjectives of a job-well-done and these are the words that produce pride and satisfaction for me. Even when the end result turns out OK, the ad-hoc and spur-of-the-moment offers no fulfillment for me. Whatever the outcome was, it was nothing but a random accident and unlikely to ever be reproducible. What is the point of that? Of course, I realize that Shit Happens as they say, and I like to think that I can “roll with the punches” as necessary – but only when truly necessary.

What set me off on all of this is that we are in the final stages of selling a house and the closing is supposed to be in less than 48-hours. We were just told by our agent that the buyer’s mortgage does not yet have all its “i’s” dotted and “t’s” crossed however and that the closing may need to be postponed for a day or two because of this. Seriously? You are spending this many oodles of money buying a new house and less than two days out you don’t have your shit together? Wow! This is also annoyingly disruptive to me personally because I have already arranged to take the original closing date off work (should I move it? Should I ask for a second day? if so, when?) and I also have another appointment pending that I now cannot commit to because the closing, which must take priority of course, is floating around up in the clouds somewhere. I suppose that another person would just go ahead and make the second commitment and then break it if the closing interfered – but that is the definition of being an asshole and I refuse to risk transferring my problem, irritating as it is, onto someone else in this way.


I notice that one aspect of Modern Life with its omnipresent cell-phones is a slow change in the way businesses interface with their customers. When a customer calls a business, especially if it is a follow-up for a specific individual or a previously open case, you are almost always asked to leave a cell-number so that the business/service person can call you back. There is an automatic assumption that you have a cell-phone, that you will have it with you and turned on at all times, that you will be available to take a personal call at any instant of the day and that a business calling back the customer at the business’s preferred time is just the natural order of the universe. The thing is; despite what a lot of people may think – it is enormously in-convenient for me as the customer to deal with call-backs, even if I do carry one of these cutesy little electronic toys in my pocket. This is because – you know – I actually work for a living.

I do not want to be interrupted in 15 or 45 minutes or at any other random point in the middle of a Mon-Fri work-day with a callback to my cell-phone for personal business. I am likely to be in a meeting, or in the bathroom, or deeply engaged in a work-activity, or even just sipping coffee on a break. Whatever it is that I am doing when the notion strikes the “service” rep to call me back, that other thing is almost certainly more important to me at that moment than the call-back is. I want to deal with this business when I want to deal with it. That – hard as it may be to grasp – is the definition of “customer service”. The reason why businesses push call-back like this is obvious. They can oversubscribe the calls they handle to the number of customer representatives that they have on staff and therefore keep their people’s productivity high because the reps are either talking to someone or calling someone back at all times – they are never just sitting there waiting for something to happen. While I appreciate the bottom-line business rational for this behavior – these businesses must think that everyone is stupid when they try to claim that this is a “feature” for the customer’s benefit and that I should like this imposition on my life because everyone else does. Well, I suppose that morons who are passionately in love with their cell-phones and looking for any excuse to pruriently whip them out and fondle them in public might like it – but the rest of us don’t.

Because of this attitude of mine, I rarely leave a call-back number with any business. I just tell them that I, myself will call them back when it happens to be expedient for me to do so again. In this day-and-age that usually astounds the representative on the other end of the line. They pause for a second or two as though processing this incredible and unprecedented concept and then they either argue with me about it or allow it to happen while sputtering disbelief. And what if the person I need is not available the next time I call either? Well, at least my callback to them has occurred at a self-determined and opportune moment in my day, and so it is no big-deal to me. I figure that sooner-or-later, by the laws of basic probability, I am bound to get through eventually. Even if this takes a few days and a dozen calls on my part – it is still better than receiving a call-back from the business because all of this happening when it suits me, the customer, and that is the real definition of “Convenience”.