Tuesday, June 30, 2009

ugly couch contest: vote! Who wins?

If you follow this blog, you probably know I've been searching the heavens for couches. I was wrong in my last post when I said I was looking for a couch all week. It's really been two weeks. Two weeks of scouring Craigslist for something clean, nice and affordable.

Instead, this is what I've found.

For you, dear reader:

The internet's ugliest couches:

Which couch makes you cringe the most?

First item: a wrought iron couch. What is this, a torture instrument? Sold as is (meaning no cushions) so good luck with that whole comfort thing.
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Obviously, this couch designer was inspired by the chunks in their recent stomach flu.
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I've seen worse. But they were asking $450 for this?
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TV on the blink? Now your couch can match the snowy, pixellated screen.
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This was the couch that inspired this entire entry. I can't decide if it's made from the fabric of a 1980s prom dress or the curtains of an extremely cheap motel.
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Someone was selling this? Really? I've seen better couches in the TRASH.
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This wouldn't be so bad if you were colorblind.
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All I can say about these couches is no wonder they were selling them.
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This one somehow seems incomplete without several pink flamingos.
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Ouch! Jail couch. My eyes!
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I don't even know what to say about this except offer my sympathies to its existence. Just like I don't want to put my ugliest web designs in my portfolio when forced to create something ghastly (like a yellow & red -- I'm not kidding -- site I made in my earlier days), the designer, owner, and future buyer of this couch all get my sincere condolences.
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This is someone's grandmother's idea of the perfect stain camoflage pattern. Not even cat vomit would show.
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This pattern is better suited to gift-wrap, not a couch!
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At least TRY to fluff the pillows a little better so they don't look so blown out!
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I can only imagine some poor design student got an F for this idea.
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Couches for the undead.
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I like how this one comes with a bottle of Febreze.
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This one might be ok if it wasn't missing the rest of its set. They advertised it as a loveseat and were asking $300. $300!!
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LAST ENTRY: the FAIL couch:

Here because although it is a nice-looking couch, it does NOT look very green to me.
Your votes?

Saturday, June 27, 2009

couchless, and the 5 stages of grief

Breathe. One, two, three breathe.

I am talking to myself, sitting cross-legged, palms up and humming; a soothing posture for one who has almost come across the couch deal of the century before it suddenly vanished.

Like an ideal date ending with mutual adoration but no followup phone call, I am bewildered.

I thought it was perfect.

I thought it was going to work.

I was in it for the long haul.

Heck, it wasn't even my idea, but they pursued me relentlessly until I gave in, my heart finally opening to possibilities I'd never before allowed myself to imagine.

I am trying not to picture the couch.

Its magnificent form, at once firm and yielding, beckoning... promising... delivering.

The world melting away in a single luxuriant moment amidst its plush fibers.

I push away thoughts of stroking its velvety fabric, fingers twirling lazy patterns as I lie enveloped in its cushiony embrace.

It's too painful. I cannot bear it.

. . .

Ok, I am exaggerating. Maybe the couch was covered in slime -- the post DID say it needed cleaning -- but they were going to deliver it. To my door. And it was cheap!

So, background. I have been hunting around for couches since we moved last week. All this hunting has taught me: Flagstaff is a black hole for nice used furniture. The keyword being "nice." Plenty of used pieces abound, if you're into furniture that looks like even godzilla's family discarded it.

Maybe it's the enormous student population, nabbing couches and regurgitating them 4 years later into another student's 4-year digestive cycle. Couches here are chewed like cud and they look like it.

Or at least the ones in my price range are.

So I expanded the search. I'm looking for something specific. I want a sectional. So I can seat lots of people. And I want it to have a sleeper sofa, so my friends have a less wretched place to sleep then the floor when they visit. And I want it to look nice. It cannot be hideous.

And it has to be comfortable.

The last time a sofa matching this description was available in Flagstaff was a month ago. And before that, none.

I paged all the way back in Craigslist time and verified, yes, this kind of couch is as rare as a sighting of the Virgin Mary on a grilled cheese sandwich (which, by the way, sold on eBay for $28,000).

So I expanded my search area. To Phoenix, Arizona, 2.5 hours away.

Yes, it was a crazy, impulsive thing to do. But I was curious.

We all wonder about the road not traveled. Could the perfect ______ be tantalizingly close only I do not know because I am not looking?

So I looked.

And I discovered something.

Phoenix is apparently the sectional sofa capital of the United States. Today alone, 136 ads were slapped up for sectionals looking for new homes.

And the prices! $40 to $1,000 or more, in every shape and size, with every option, every brand, some filled with down, some with recliners, others with sleepers, some with both. Some hideous, yes, but many, many in handsome neutral tones.

Impulsively, I called one of the ads. A sectional, for $250, beige microfiber, with a sleeper. And a recliner. Mmm, nice. But I was leery of the ad's flippant warning: "needs cleaning."

I told myself I would call just to ask. Like, was the couch sitting in a urine bath for 3 weeks? How many crusts of vomit needed scouring? Was it encased with bedbugs? Did a pet skunk reside inside? You have to ask about these things.

So I called.

The woman reassured me it was in good shape, but since she ran a home daycare, it had some spots that needed wiping.

Instantly, I imagined the couch drenched with urine and coated with vomit while kids tumbled over its surfaces like airborn dung pinatas.

I called my sister next, distressed. "Um, if someone has a home daycare, what does that mean for their furniture?" She has kids and understands this stuff.

She reassured me. "Most people are pretty careful and try to clean up messes right away when they happen. It's probably not as bad as you think. Plus babies wear diapers, they're not just placed on couches naked."

True, but I was still unsure. I don't like the idea of buying something sight unseen. I called around to see about renting a truck and getting down to Phoenix to see it in person.

Reality check. It's expensive renting a truck! Not to mention 5 hours wasted just for a simple look-see.

So I emailed a friend in Phoenix to see if HE would go sit on it in person. Maybe he could reassure me that it did not smell like a sewage containment facility or house families of mice and act as a hantavirus farm. But he was in NY and unable to sacrifice his time and jeans to a test sitting.

I texted the owner in Phoenix. "Sorry," I wrote. "We're having trouble getting a way down there."

I continued looking on Craigslist but my heart was no longer in it. Distracted, I put the computer down and began to clean.

Suddenly Phoenix texted back. "Look, we'll *bring* the couch to you if you pay gas."

Really? Now this changes things.

First I was extremely excited.

Then I was extremely suspicious.

What's wrong with the couch that they are willing to drop it off 2.5 hours away from their house? Is it radioactive? Is it embedded with grenades?

I called Phoenix back to discuss the couch's condition at length. She assured me there was no urine, vomit, animal hair, pests, uranium or grenades. She sounded honest. I decided to trust her based on nothing and said awesome, we'll take it.

We made arrangements. She texted me about looking for straps and said she would be leaving shortly.

I reasoned if this was somehow a mistake, Flagstaff's couch-eating swamp monster student population would swallow it up. I'd just relist it on Craigslist.

I cleared out space, putting away the folding table I'm using as a desk and emptied the living room to await couch nirvana.

And she stood me up.

Never called to say "nevermind, we sold it" or "sorry, it's not worth the time" or whatever. Heck, if she'd died en route at least she could have let me know. Not a peep.

I texted her once: "Are you still coming?" And then, two hours later, like a dejected lover finally getting the hint, I realized there was no couch approaching Flagstaff on the Interstate tonight. At least not for me.

I have finally finished cycling through the last stage of grief: acceptance. The denial, anger and sadness have dissipated. Like a zen monk who spent hours crafting a masterpiece out of sand only to erase it in a true detachment exercise, I am abandoning my fervent need for the perfect couch. I shall write on the floor instead.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flagstaff apartments for rent -- resources if you're moving here

Some of you asked me why it was so hard to find Flagstaff apartments. Why?? Because scammers have infiltrated the Flagstaff apartments section on Craigslist, slapping up photos of model-homes at extremely low prices, skewing my idea of what type of place you can get for how much.

There were a ton of "amazing deals" on Flagstaff apartments. They all wanted me to fill out a credit report before even talking to me.

"Demand has been really high for this! So fill out this FREE credit report online. And if you qualify, we'll get back to you."

Um, go to a strange website and type in my social security number? No thanks.

Then I started noticing coincidences in the Flagstaff apartments ads. All the Flagstaff apartments that looked swank didn't have local addresses. Or any address at all. A phone number was never included, only an email. And the ads were all overly accommodating. Pets? Horrendous credit? No problem! None of them had phone numbers, directions, or people I could actually talk to. Hmmm. Oh, and the ads often implored EVERYONE to apply. "No credit checks! We promise to love you no matter what. We just want your social security number!"

I started seeing the same photos reappear all over the Flagstaff apartments listing on Craigslist. I got suspicious and began doing a search on email addresses and/or text in the ad and suddenly found the same ads all over the country. The text was often edited but the photos were the same.

The New York Times writes about this in "Renters Get Swindled and Scammed":
"One of the most pervasive scams is a keys-for-cash gambit. Carried out online where almost all rental transactions begin these days, this ploy separates would-be renters from their money before they so much as set foot inside a dwelling. In this scheme, information and pictures from legitimate rental or sales listings are lifted from other sites and reposted under another name at an eye-poppingly low rent.

"Web sites like Craigslist warn of fraud in very large letters, but in the desperate search for an apartment, many otherwise reasonable people overlook the caveats."

[snip]

“Sometimes,” said Mr. Malin of Citi Habitats, “you meet someone at a building and they say they’re having trouble getting into the apartment that was in the listing, so they show you something else in the building and they get you all excited about the one you can’t get into, and ask you for cash on the spot without even a credit check or application.”

[snip]

"One of the most widespread and frequently undetected hustles nvolves collecting nonrefundable application fees from prospective renters.

"The grifters “have the keys to a vacant apartment and hold an open house there, not intending to rent to anyone,” said Bob Brooks, an agent at Century 21 NY Metro. “It’s usually a crazy deal, like a one-bedroom on Greenwich Street for $1,750 that should really be $3,100. So they get a hundred application fees because everyone who sees it, wants it. Application fees could be $50 to $250, but I’ve definitely heard of clients giving $500, or $1,000 or even a month’s rent in cash.”

"Many would-be renters never know that they have been deceived.

[snip]

"“Over the last couple of years, we’ve had a steady drumbeat of complaints from people who’ve been victimized and lost money, as well as from some who sniff it out in time and want to report it,” said Paul Bresson, a spokesman for the F.B.I., which runs the Internet Crime Complaint Center (http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx) jointly with the National White Collar Crime Center."
If you see something fishy on Craigslist, you can flag it. Many of these apartment ads do not stay up for more than a few hours before they're reported but that may be all it takes to get a few suckers.

Beware of giving out your social security number to anyone. You must see the apartment first, no matter HOW nice it appears. You have no idea if the train runs through the living room or if it's saturated in cat urine. (And trust me, train noise in Flagstaff can be a BIG problem, so you DO want to know about location.)

Here's some examples of SCAM Flagstaff apartments ads I saw (screenshots from Craigslist). Notice how beautiful (and cheap) they are??
click to enlarge

Flagstaff apartment inventory is not full of brand new, huge, cheap apartments, as these ads would have you believe. If you DO rent something new and/or remodeled, it's going to cost a LOT more than the ads above.

Here's a list I put together of resources to find an apartment in Flagstaff. I condensed it from notes gathered over weeks. I haven't seen any other site quite like this that lists all the Flagstaff apartments in one spot so wanted to post this and help others who are relocating to Flagstaff.

Flagstaff apartment resources:
  • Craigslist Flagstaff apartments for rent.

  • The Arizona Daily Sun classified Flagstaff apartments for rent.

  • Flagstaff-apartments.com -- these are 8 properties in Flagstaff owned by the same property manager. The lady speaking in each video is annoying so you might want to mute your volume before you visit this site. The pictures, however, are useful.

  • Flaglips.com -- These are all properties owned by Levitan Investment Properties (you can tell they have a sense of humor from the abbreviation "lips" ha). Most of these are in the desireable West side of downtown and seem ideal for students.

  • Pollack Properties - a local real estate place that lists private rentals. (This link takes you directly there.)

  • Sun Mountain Properties - same as above.

  • Dallas Real Estate - same as above two -- click on "Our Rentals" and scroll to long-term (those are cheaper). (Unless you want something just for the summer.)

  • Apartments for rent in Flagstaff - It was hard to find one place that listed all the actual apartment complexes, but this one comes close (it's ApartmentRatings.com). It has 39 listings and also includes reviews. Here's another link w/similar info from ApartmentReviews.com if you want to compare reviews of what people said about apartments in Flagstaff.)

  • Flagstaff info on CityData.com (scroll past the photos for demographics).

  • Flagstaff Chamber of Commerce relocation guide - You have to call to order the hard-copy version of this and it costs $15. Includes things to do in & around Flagstaff, the city's major apartment complexes and a good street map listing stores. (But you may not need it because I'm including much of this info here on my list.)

  • Flagstaff street map

  • Flagstaff calendar of events (it might take some time to load but you can scroll right to what's happening by date.) Includes what's going on in the area, as well as neat things to do & explore while here.
Flagstaff is broken up into an east side (near the mall) and a west side (near all the shops, restaurants and NAU).

The Flagstaff population is pretty small -- about 60,000 -- so traveling from one side to the other is no big deal but locals often say they almost never travel to the opposite side. Traffic down South Milton is unpleasant in the summer but nowhere near as bad as what I've seen back home in DC. (Depending on where you're coming from, this statement will either scare you or comfort you!)

If you're moving to Flagstaff, try to avoid the region around Blackbird Roost and 4th Avenue. Those are the ones that seem to appear in the police blotter for minor theft (things missing from porches, etc.). Crime in Flagstaff doesn't appear to be huge. It seems safer than other cities, but this area does attract some vagrants and I was told the city is now trying to police the woods & FUTS (Flagstaff Urban Trail System) to make sure no one sets up camp illegally. Another thing I didn't expect about Flagstaff was the very laid-back hippie-type of population. It's a fun town for sure.

I hope this was useful. Enjoy your move to Flagstaff!

If it LOOKS like a spider...

Here's what a freak I am about spiders. I will recoil from anything with an arachnoid shape. It doesn't even actually have to BE a spider. (Or, from yesterday's experience, even look like one.)

This was close enough:
Yes, an innocent cherry stem lying innocuously on the floor terrified me. (For a split second, at least, until I did the math.) But even then, I was still creeped out picking it up.

As if that isn't embarrassing enough, this disorder extends itself to an entire host of inanimate objects. And explains why I have a mental block against handling something as harmless as squiggly black lint. It's a wonder I did not need to receive trauma therapy after seeing THIS. (Warning: creepy spider alert. Check that. EXTREMELY creepy spider alert. You were warned!)

Thursday, June 25, 2009

random trip photos

Still cataloging the trip. Here are some random photos from Colorado:
We saw snow at 10,000 feet! This was in MAY, folks.
This hotel wins hands-down for guest privacy considerations during architecture and development.
Cripple Creek, Colorado. This guy needs some help with his lawn. Maybe his house too.
"Photography is not a picture of an object. It's capturing the LIGHT on an object." I read this somewhere and its true. And thus a blade of grass becomes beautiful.

And with fading light, the sky becomes interesting.
Next: Arches and the St. Louis Arch!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Part 2 of crosscountry trip

My favorite place may well have been the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Kansas. I don't know if you know this about me, but I am a famous art critic. And as such, I cannot help but appreciate good art whenever I see it.

Me, contemplating the enormous bronzed breasts smashed up against cattle fencing, symbolizing agricultural... bounty??
It's not just me, right?

Or maybe they are giant agricultural lungs, since everyone knows farmers sometimes wear their internal organs outside their body during extreme heat.

Moving on.

I not only appreciate art, but landscaping as well. This one was carefully cultivated by a proud master gardener.
The words are covering it up, but there are NO other plants in this bed except for this lush beauty. Clearly someone's crowning achievement.

The best part was the newly-opened National Poultry Museum!

This time I'm not being sarcastic. I love chickens.
400 year old stone chicken from China.

Why did I cross the country?

To see the Poultry Museum!

And also to see the Cummings Diesel plant in Columbus, Indiana. (Not necessarily in that order.)

This picture is for my dad, master of everything. He once repaired a cracked engine block from a diesel truck. YES, I said "repaired." Betcha thought it couldn't be done, but don't ever tell him that. "Impossible" does not exist in his vocabulary.

An exploding engine.

This might possibly be the only way I could understand how all that machinery fits together.

After Kansas, we hit Colorado! I watched the mountains approach and thought about the interrelation between geography and weather. No tornadoes once you hit the Rockies. (Or at least not as often as in Kansas.)

Our dear friends in Colorado.


And their adorable little kids: girl in front, boy, sleeping, in sling on dad's back.

We went to the Florissant Fossil beds in Colorado together to see fossilized stone in the shape of trees.

My, dear, how your eye has grown!

Then on to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.
This is a MEAN river. During the spring runoff, it can flow anywhere from 3,000 to 12,000 cubic feet per second (cfs). Just to give you an idea of how freaking powerful that is, a 700 lb boulder can be whisked away in only 5,000 cfs. Don't try rafting this baby.



Dan photographing a blue grouse booming on the side of the road.
It made a noise not unlike a heavy bass car stereo. In fact, I was annoyed, thinking, "how far away is that car!" when I suddenly realized it was not obnoxious music in the distance but Mr. Grouse.

Next: Monument Valley, Utah.
Monument Valley is owned by the Navajo.

This is for my nephews. heh heheh (cue Beevis)

I wonder how much land costs out here?


Landscaping at the Monument Valley Visitor's Center. Smart! No one is trying to grow a willow tree here. Yay. (You laugh, but I have seen willow trees in the desert. Specifically, Sedona.)
The sun sets.

Time to go.

We left Monument Valley and drove straight to Flagstaff, Arizona, about 3.5 hours. And now here we are!

Next: Arches and the St. Louis Arch. I just couldn't do it all in one post so it'll just have to be out of order.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Internet is connected!

Yay, I have a reliable internet connection for the first time in 7 weeks! I'll try not to dump everything all here at once but I have a lot to write about -- more of the trip across the country, our new apartment, products in the Skymall catalog that are a joke and how the train is making me insane. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 12, 2009

This actually happened to me.

Is this common or something? My girlfriend Mary and I were at Great Adventure in NJ when we tried to buy pretzels some years ago. The conversation went like this:
sullen cashier (avoiding eye contact): Can I help you.

us: Yes, we'd like to buy a pretzel!

sullen cashier: I'm sorry, we're all out.

us (gazing longingly at full case): You're out?

sullen cashier: yup.

us: Um, what are these, then? (pointing to pretzels.)

sullen cashier (looking surprised for a moment): Um. Those are just for display.

us: You can't serve these?

sullen cashier: no.

us: Are they bad or something?

sullen cashier: no, they're fresh. They were made not that long ago.

us: Are you saving them for someone else?

sullen cashier: Uh, no. They are just for display.

us: Are you closing early or something?

sullen cashier: no.

us: Will you have some available soon?

sullen cashier: no.

us: Isn't it misleading if you are displaying something no one can buy?

sullen cashier:
That was it. Pretzels were just not to be had there.

I always thought this was a singularly-bizarre experience until I saw the FAIL photo. Maybe it's more common then I thought?
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