An Unexpected History Lesson

It almost fills me with pity not to have taken photographs of the 150-gallon heating oil tank that stood in the basement near the front windows. That glorious Diesel-like essence that hung around the air down there, along with the dark, greasy stains on the tank and areas of the surrounding concrete were something to behold.

Pity not to have recorded it for posterity.

Soon after moving in, I watched the price of oil cross the $100-a-barrel threshold. Not having any faith in the idea we would be seeing irresponsibly cheap oil in the near future, I decided to switch to gas heat. Luckily for me, Keyspan, the local gas company, had decided to capitalize on the competition's soaring prices and was offering a financing deal I thought too good to pass up.

The big, bulky oil tank seemed too large to fit through the standard-sized basement door. I wondered how it would be moved. Maybe I could paint a fireplace on its side and hang Christmas stockings beside it. Or put a curtain around it.

As it turns out, I didn't have to worry about it. The gas company had arranged for a scrap metal dealer to take care of everything.

Like a modern-day traveling circus, Joe and his employees pull up in a truck loaded to the hilt with a staggering array of, well, metal. It was like the trash compactor scene in "Star Wars." The men descend upon the oil tank like locusts, proceeding to slice it in half across its equator. They cut that part into smaller pieces and carry it outside.

Joe looked as if he had just crawled out of a furnace. Soot covered his face. His hands were caked with dried oil, which I noticed when he looked for a lighter with which to light his cigarette. (I don't generally allow smoking in my house, but this character was too compelling not to watch with as little interference as possible.) Oh, and he spoke like a Hollywood version of a New York City cabbie.

In between barking orders sprinkled with insults at the few workers emptying the tank and scraping oil off the sides, Joe explains he grew up in Bushwick when it was predominantly inhabited by his German ancestors.

"Yeah, even one of the main streets through Bushwick was called Hamburg Avenue," he said. "Of course, after World War II broke out, all the Germans demonstrated in support of the Nazis and the mayor at the time had the street name changed to Wilson Avenue, after President Wilson."

Naturally, I went looking to read up on what Joe had said, and he was, essentially, correct.

You never know where your next history lesson will come from.

It's Been A While

It seems amazing that it feels like just yesterday I was pointing out what a nightmare OneWest Bank was in dealing with my attempt to refinance my home — and the topic of this blog. Yet it was just a hair's breadth more than five months.

So much has happened with house and home since my last update, I hardly know where to begin.

Stay tuned.


Avoid OneWest Bank At All Costs

I just finished writing letters to my mortgage bank, OneWest, and my representatives. Here is what I said:

OneWest Bank
Attn: Customer Service
888 East Walnut Street
Pasadena, CA 91101

To Whom It May Concern:

I am writing to request the refund of my mortgage refinance application fee in the amount of $600 and to register my extreme displeasure with your organization’s handling of my account, as well as to point out what appears to amount to fiduciary dereliction of duty (or perhaps “predatory nonlending”).

Faced with a declining property value on my home, I first sought to refinance my home through IndyMac Bank in December 2008. After IndyMac was seized by federal regulators in the subprime mortgage meltdown, I was reassigned a variety of loan processors (Matt Goodwin and Joel Morrison) who failed to inform me in a timely manner of several documents necessary to close the refinance loan, thus causing me to miss the crucial deadlines. In early May, OneWest Bank loan representative Heather Howard informed me she was the new loan officer assigned to my case. Ms. Howard proceeded to keep “updating” me with increasingly longer time estimates as to a possible closing, and eventually stopped responding to my e-mail and telephone queries. The last I heard from her or anyone at OneWest Bank was an e-mail note she sent June 4, despite repeated e-mail attempts on June 11 and June 24 and several voice mail messages.

Meanwhile, OneWest Bank continues to reap the benefits of its inaction and failure to offer either loan modifications or straightforward FHA refinancing despite the fact that I have qualified for such a program. It raises the question of what OneWest, as well as the banking industry at large, is doing with taxpayer-supplied federal funds specifically earmarked for this purpose.

My refund check may be mailed to the above address.

I also sent a copy of the letter and the following to each of the following lawmakers: Sen. Chuck Schumer; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand; Sen. Christopher Dodd; Rep. Barney Frank and Rep. Nydia Velazquez.

Dear [Lawmaker]:

I urge you to hold the banking industry responsible for its catastrophic failures in creating the recent subprime mortgage meltdown and demand accountability for the taxpayer funds that have been provided to a myriad of institutions, especially the newly profitable and federally subsidized Goldman Sachs.

To highlight how it affects an average voter — and homeowner — I am enclosing a letter to my mortgage holder, OneWest Bank (formerly IndyMac Bank, which was seized by federal regulators). OneWest Bank has benefited from its own inaction by failing to offer either loan modifications or straightforward FHA refinancing despite the fact that I have qualified for such a program.

It raises the question of what OneWest, as well as the banking industry at large, is doing with taxpayer-supplied federal funds specifically earmarked for this purpose. This, I believe, amounts to fiduciary dereliction of duty (or perhaps “predatory nonlending”).

Thank you for keeping the public interest — and NOT corporate America — a priority.

While I don't expect much to come from a single letter — especially after Marco sent me this — we'll see what kind of responses are forthcoming.


Welcome Back, Wood Floors

I envisioned something close to this when I first stepped into the house, but actually seeing it come to fruition is quite another thing.

It was great to see that the linoleum I ripped up on Christmas Eve hid something worthwhile.

The bare wood floors made the room feel much airier, even though there wasn't much to define the space. They even tempted me to leave them bare, which I might've done if it were a more rustic space overall.

So pretty, I thought.

Still, I'm tempted to do something out of the ordinary, such as painting them white, as seen in this Door Sixteen post. Maybe I'll save that for the kitchen, which still has that awful blue-green linoleum tile.


Doorway Decisions

Dinner plans didn't get in the way of more demolition I had planned.

"I'll be there in 20 minutes," I said. "I just have to take down a wall first."

Deciding to widen the opening between the front (living) room and the den was easy. I wasn't particularly crazy about the hexagonal shape it appears to have sported previously, but it's an improvement over this short, narrow doorway.

I could keep going and take it all down, but where does it end? Do I take down the entire wall?

Thankfully, I realized I'd have to give it some thought, postponed the decision and made it to dinner on time.


Goodbye, Domino

Domino magazine, one of my favorite publications, announced its closure today.

Here, Apartment Therapy and Design*Sponge weigh in.

What a shame.

Although with the economy the way it is, I'd be surprised if we even remembered such a vestige of good times a year down the line.

The magazine was always an inspiration for me (along with the color feature at House Beautiful) and a source of comfort during some of the madness I've faced regarding my own renovations.


Surprises Underfoot

What you don't know can hurt you.

While it was, at some level, tempting to leave the existing floor in place and deal with the squeaks and cracks in the ceramic tile, my vision for the place has largely been reductive. (That is, to remove elements, materials and structures that detract from the building's spirit, for lack of a better word.)

Stripping away all the green, faux marble-pattern ceramic tile would reveal relatively intact hardwood along with a wide array of minor flooring disasters. (Even ThisOldHouse.com cites "blue-green vinyl" as a no-no.) But there were still surprises.

The first was a strange, lead pipe with an attached container that looked like a car's muffler, but smaller. It was torn on one side and squashed — and it wasn't attached to anything.

The second unexpected finding was the absence of a few floorboards, which allowed the viewing of this metal bladder-like object. It appeared to be some sort of water or heating pipe, although no longer in use.

Sometimes I think the place is more suited to "Unsolved Mysteries" than "This Old House." Maybe I should call a TV producer.