Monday, April 26, 2010


I’ve had to do a bit of detective work recently, and all I can say is life sure would be a lot easier if banks would stop buying out each other.

It all began with a phone message from the title company that’s handling the title search and closing on our former residence. “I contacted your bank, Framingham Trust,” the woman said, “and there is no record that you ever paid off your mortgage.”

There was no question in my mind that we’d paid off our mortgage. In fact, we’d paid it off three years ahead of schedule, back in 1996. I still could clearly remember the day, mainly because my husband and I had gone out to dinner that evening to celebrate.

Somehow, however, I didn’t think the title company would accept my rave review of the Back Room Restaurant’s chicken tenders as proof that we’d paid off the mortgage. I needed solid proof, in writing, which I didn’t have. The bank had never sent us the promised paperwork to discharge the loan.

So I had no choice but to become a detective and track down the missing paperwork. After hours of research, I managed to find out that Framingham Trust had been bought out by Shawmut Bank, which had been bought out by Fleet Bank, which then had been bought out by Bank of America…or something like that. It made me wonder how the employees could remember where they were working from month to month.

“Good morning,” I imagined the employee answering the phone, “Framingh…no, I mean Shaw…, um Fleet?” (covering the phone) “Pssst! Hey, Lorrie! What bank are we this week?”

No wonder our paperwork was missing.

The way I figured it, Bank of America was the last bank to take over, so by the process of elimination, it should be the one that had our documents. I rushed over to the nearest branch…before the Bank of Brussels decided to take it over.

I was invited to take a seat at one of the desks, then the customer-service representative asked what she could do for me.

“Well,” I said, “I had a mortgage with Framingham Trust, and they were bought out by Shawmut, and…”

“Say no more!” she interrupted, smiling. “We are aware of your situation and are already working on tracking down your paperwork. If you don’t hear from us within the next five days, be sure to call us back.”

I was puzzled. “Who contacted you?”

“Some man,” she said. “He called this morning.”

I couldn’t think of any man, other than my husband, who would have contacted the bank about our paperwork. And I knew he hadn’t, mainly because when I’d left the house at noon, he was still in bed, snoring.

I contacted my real-estate agent, Walter, and asked if he’d made the call to the bank. He hadn’t. I called the title company and asked if they’d made the call. They hadn’t. My only conclusion was that the bank employees were clairvoyant.

So I decided to wait for five days as the bank employee had suggested, and see what happened.

Nothing happened, other than I wasted five precious days. I realized that the closing, which had been scheduled for April 19, wasn’t going to happen…not without the proof that we’d paid off the mortgage. Needless to say, the buyer of our house was less than pleased…and he told me so in no uncertain terms.

“The worst-case scenario,” my real-estate agent told me when I called to whine about the situation, “is that the bank will make you pay those last three years of your mortgage, which they probably think you still owe…with interest. Or you’ll have to hire a lawyer to handle things…which could take months.”

I didn’t like either option, nor could I afford either option. I called the bank.

“It’s the funniest thing!” the employee said. “Another person had the same problem as yours on the same day! What are the odds? That’s why I thought you were already being taken care of, when actually we don’t know anything about you or your problem!”

Leave it to me to pick the same day as some other poor schmuck who had a similar problem. So she took down all of the information and said she’d get back to me.

My husband and I spent the next few days wondering what we’d do if we had to face the worst-case scenarios that Walter had described and actually need to cough up a bundle of money to get our paperwork.

“Well, seeing it would all be the bank’s fault, not ours,” my husband said, “I suppose we could always rob it.”

Leave it to him to make jokes during a desperate situation. “You could never run fast enough to make the getaway,” I said.

“Oh, I’d be out waiting in the getaway car,” he said. “I’d send you in there to do all the robbing.”

Just as I was contemplating what prison would be like, the phone rang. It was the title company. The bank had just faxed our paperwork to them. Everything was all set. The closing was scheduled for the next Tuesday at 9 in the morning.

I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

That’s when my husband informed me he had a blood test scheduled for 8:30 that morning.

Even if I have to use a darning needle to draw his blood myself and then express mail it to the doctor, he is going to make it to that closing.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Last week, because I’ve been hearing so much about the price of gold escalating, I decided to have one of my necklaces – the only necklace I didn’t buy for under $10 in a department store – graded and appraised by a registered gemologist.

The necklace actually was one I’d designed myself and had a goldsmith make for me about 25 years ago. It turned out to be a pretty heavy piece, with 8.2 grams of 14K gold surrounding a quarter-carat diamond. Back in the 1980s, I’d shelled out over $300 to have it made.

Last week’s appraisal came back at $1,750.

“I’m going to put the necklace on Ebay,” I said to my husband as soon as I had the written appraisal in my greedy little hands. “I have worn the necklace only twice in the past 20 years. Why am I keeping it?”

“Because it’s one of a kind – a Breslin original,” he said, “You’re sure you want to part with it?”

To be honest, it was so thick and heavy, it looked like something Mr. T might wear. “Now that I know it’s worth so much money, I don’t dare wear it! Where would I wear it anyway? Out to pick up the dog poop in the yard? Out to dinner at Burger King? Besides that, we really can use the money.”

“Well, do what you want,” he said. “But don’t put the price so low on it, you’re practically giving it away.”

I put the necklace on Ebay for $500, which I thought was more than fair. Heck, the appraisal alone had cost me $50.

It didn’t get a single bid.

I dropped the price to $450. Still nothing. So I decided to advertise the necklace on Craig’s List. I listed it at my original asking price of $500.

It took a few days before someone finally contacted me. “My name is Ben and I want to buy your necklace,” the e-mail said. “Please call me.” He gave me a phone number with a Massachusetts area code.

I called the number and the man who answered had a thick accent that sounded Middle Eastern. “I have a gold refinery in New York,” he said. “I’m just north of Boston on business at the moment, so I can drop over and get the necklace this afternoon. What’s your address?”

I gave him my address and he said he’d see me in about 45 minutes.

About 15 minutes later, Ben called back. “I just want you to know,” he said, “that I’m going to remove the diamond from the necklace and give it back to you, then I’m going to take the gold and melt it down…so I’m only going to give you $100. Oh, and while I’m there, might you have any other jewelry you want to get rid of?”

At first, I was too shocked to speak. When I finally found my voice I said, “That necklace is special! I want someone to wear it and enjoy it, and maybe even hand it down through the generations as a family heirloom. I don’t want it ripped apart and melted down!”

“If you think you can get $500 for it, you’re a fool!” he said. “Jewelry has such a high mark-up, even my $100 offer is too much for it!”

I decided I didn’t like the guy…nor did I want him to come within 10 miles of my precious necklace. “I’m sorry,” I told him. “I have a guy on Ebay who offered me $250 for the necklace. I’d rather sell it to him.”

“I’m still coming,” Ben said. “By the way, are you single?”

That did it. I hung up.

“You gave him our address?” my husband asked when I told him what Ben had said.

“Well, that’s how you sell things on Craig’s List! People come buy the stuff in person. It’s not like on Ebay where you have to mail it.”

“But he could be some psycho!” my husband said. “You gave our address to a psycho?”

The minute he said the words, the phone rang. It was Ben again. “OK,” he said. “I’ll give you $250 for the necklace.”

“Sorry,” I said, “I already contacted the guy on Ebay and told him he could have it.”There actually was no such Ebay guy and no such offer, but I was desperate to discourage Ben from showing up on our doorstep.

“Too bad, sweetheart,” he said. “If I get there first, it’s mine.”

“It’s already been sold, I told you! There is no need to come here!” Again, I hung up.

Because our driveway is so long, we have a monitor halfway down it that sends a signal to the house when someone or something is approaching. A few minutes after my phone conversation with Ben, the monitor beeped. My husband and I turned to stare wide-eyed at each other.

Grabbing the pepper spray I usually carry in my pocket when I go hiking, I inched my way toward the window and peeked out through the side of the blinds. There was nothing out there but a big crow, flying back and forth in front of the monitor.

I barely had time to sigh in relief when the phone rang again. It was Ben.

“I’m only 10 minutes away now,” he said. “There’s a lot of traffic. This necklace had better be worth all this trouble!”

“I told you, it’s no longer for sale!”

“I hope you’re not trying to tell me that I drove all this way for nothing! I’m going to be very upset if I did.”

Suddenly my husband’s voice boomed from the background, “If you need me, honey, I’ll be in the hobby room cleaning my guns!”

Ben hung up. And he didn’t call back.

Still, I keep expecting him to pop up from behind a bush at any moment.

If he does, he’ll risk being de-pantsed by our two rottweilers.

Meanwhile, I’m still broke and I still have the necklace. I guess I may as well put it on…and go out and mow the lawn.