Thursday, October 13, 2011

Long Time, No Blog

At least on this page.

But on this one -- different story.

I'll be posting new items two-three times a week, so check back often. "Liking" the site on its FaceBook page wouldn't come amiss either.

Sunday, November 07, 2010


So the elections were a disaster and it’s getting chilly and we’ve lost an hour of daylight. I still feel pretty good. I’m pleased. I jazzed. I’m chuffed. I don’t like to use the h-word recklessly, but I would admit to feeling jolly these days, and I have a reason:

Alfie is now the fourth most popular name in the UK–well, England and Wales.

If the news hasn‘t reached you yet, it’s because the story got lost in the reportage: Some media, such as The Jerusalem Post, reported that Jack, long the most popular English name, was surpassed this year by Mohammed. It’s an interestng story in its chronicle-of-changing-times, sun-setting-on-the-twilight-of-the-embers- of-the-Empire way, but it only works if you allow all variants of Mohammed, such Muhammed and Muhamed, to count as the same name, which is a break Alaska was not willing to cut Lisa Murkowski. If you disallow spelling variations, the most popular English and Welsh male baby name this year is Oliver, which is what The Guardian reported. It's interesting, I guess, in a more-things-change-the-more-they-stay-the-same way.

The nut of the story, imho, is the Alfie surge.

In terms of popularity, my name got off to a great start in the seventh century, or maybe it was the eighth, with Alfred the Great. The Age of Alfred peaked in the late nineteenth century, when Oscar Wilde might have read aloud to Lord Alfred Douglas from the works of Alfred Lord Tennyson before his troubles with a pimp named Alfred Taylor and a blackmailer named Alfred Wood, among others, overwhelmed him, which happened not long before the death of Alfred Nobel.

Our cohort dwindled as the twentieth century droned on, but when I was born, famous Alfreds still walked the earth: Alfred Lunt, Alfred North Whitehead, Alfred Noyes, Alf Landon. Go to a show and you might see Alfie Doolittle or Alfred Drake. Go to a movie and it might be directed by Alfred Hitchcock or feature an indelible comic turn by Alfie Bass. Even so, the name was fading from memory, including my mother’s, who frequently forgot which name she’d selected from the short list, so called me by all of them: Arthur, Alfred, Alan and sometimes Judy. It was an easy mistake in those days of Arthur Godfrey, Arthur Murray, Alan Freed, Alan Shepherd and my sister, Judy.

I was lucky to avoid any of the weird variants temporarily in the air at the time. I could’ve been Alvin or Albin; once I met an Alynn, the poor bastard. I was at an audition recently and was asked if I like to be called “Fred.” Fred? Makes no more sense to my ears than my father’s occasional nickname for me, Pete. It was also his occasional nickname for himself. It was something I figured I’d understand when as an adult. Negative.

But now we’re back Of course, the signs were there all along: Bruce Wayne’s faithful butler, Alfred; Alfred Molina. And of course, the tectonic-plate-shifting success of Jude Law’s 2004 remake of Alfie. It was the original Alfie with Michael Caine that kept hope alive for Alfreds back in the sixties and, coincidentally, gave the diminutive form of Alfred the raffish cachet it has enjoyed ever since.

Unsurprisingly, I prefer the non-diminutive, full-Monty "Alfred" to "Alfie;" it is, after all, my name. Not that I don’t think Alfie is great. My sister always calls me Alfie and, when all is going well, my wife does too. But Alfred is my nom du driver’s license, credit card, etc. – occasions when you want a moniker that isn’t a nickname. Do not forget that “Alfred” means “council from the elves,” so "Alfie" suggests a counselor from the elves who is unusually, possibly bizarrely, elfin, a Special Needs elf. But maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

Clearly, many proud English and Welsh parents don’t share my concerns, so I offer a virtual toast of fellowship with my fellow Alfreds and Alfs and Alfies and Alfredos for that matter. We are the Alfreds (and etc.) we’ve been waiting for.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Carl Paladino has been relatively quiet lately. This interlude began after the Orthodox rabbi who claims partial authorship for the candidate's sharp indictment of homosexuality, homosexuals, the Gay Pride Parade and anyone tolerant of the aforementioned, especially if named Cuomo, withdrew his support for Paladino. The reason: Paladino's sort-of-but-not-quite apology for his remarks. Rabbi Yehua Levin noted with Runyonesque flair that the gubernatorial aspirant had "folded like a cheap camera" when confronted with the uproar his statements provoked.

No sooner was the press conference over than controversy about it began. The NYT Cityroom blog said he folded like a cheap lawn chair, not a cheap camera, which isn't nearly as good, imho. Either way, it was easy for Rabbi Levin to say. He's not running for governor and, although Jews are known for their disputative zest, the Reb doesn't look like he spends much time with people who disagree with him. Everyone in the room in which Big Carl made his speech, except for Big Carl himself, was dressed just like Levin, in duds required by the style dictates of a Jewish sect that is, quite literally, holier than thou, than me, than Carl, than anyone other than they, and they've got chapter and verse to prove it. Carl lingered sneeringly over the words "gay pride" and the boys-only crowd clapped and nodded as if of one mind, Levin's.

Rabbi Levin is entitled to his opinions, which include the view that permitting gay marriage in Israel would be worse than the Holocaust, and his followers are entitled to his opinion too. But if the Reb didn't realize that saying nasty things about gay people in New York City-especially in the wake of a gay student's jump off the GW and an attack on some young gay men that sure sounds like a hate crime-is not good strategy for a candidate already known for a distinct lack of polish, then Levin committed what even less devout Jews call a goyische kop. And that, as Martha Stewart, shiksa of renown, might say, is not a good thing.

The Rabbi was not content simply to withdraw support for his erstwhile amigo. He had more to say and he said in front of St. Patrick's Cathedral, apparently in hopes that Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan would join him in a sort of ecumenical homo smackdown. The Archbishop didn't show, no goyishche kop he, and here's where the story gets odd. The Rabbi averred that he was dining when he learned of Paladino's mea culpa (not the Rabbi's words, of course, but after all, he was in front of St. Pat's):

"I was in the middle of eating a kosher pastrami sandwich," Rabbi Levin said. "While I was eating it, they come running and they say, 'Paladino became gay!' I said, 'What?' And then they showed me the statement. I almost choked on the kosher salami."

Say what? He's eating pastrami, then he's choking on salami? What was he eating, a double-decker? Then why not say so? What about the pickle, half-sour or full? Maybe his sandwich transubstantiated: water into wine, wine into blood, pastrami into salami.

If that's the case, I think the Rabbi should thank G- - the mustard didn't turn into mayonnaise. Then he'd really be in trouble.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Readers of my recent posts know that my wife and I are locked in combat with our mortgage bank, which persists in creating false penalties to add to our mortgage bill. Last week, the day after the receipt from our certified letter to Jamie Dimon returned to us, we received a voice mail from Heather Yomboro of the Chase Home Finance Executive Office. Actually, she lavished two calls on us, which we couldn't return until the next day, by which time a Fedex from Heather had appeared under our door to the effect that if she did not hear back from us, Chase would assume the matter closed. After three months of studiously ignoring us, the Weasel demands action.

In 2008, the last time we wrote to Mr. Dimon, the fixer assigned to our case came from the Chase Executive Resolution Committee, which still sounds to me like a branch of the East German Secret Police, and indeed, our fixer would've been right at home in the Stasi, her humorless manner balanced between cool politesse and infuriating snottiness. Fortunately, I noticed that she bristled at being called Ma'am, so I called her Ma'am every chance I got.

Chase's Executive Office must be a pleasanter place that its Executive Resolution Committee; at least Heather Yomboro is a good deal pleasanter than Ms. Stasi was. She bore the good news that our September mortgage payment was finally accepted and our fraudulent late penalties removed. To our astonishment, she apologized on behalf of the bank for sticking us with the neighbor's water bill and acknowledged that the Tax Department "jumped the gun" on our July tax payment, paying it before it was due so we could be escrowed for being late. I pointed out that this is not the first time Chase has pulled this stunt, not even the second. She apologized for that too. Apologized! Be still my heart.

But even if Heather Yomboro is pleasant and courteous, she is still a Chase employee, so I was wary. And it turned out that the real reason for her call was that the bank is out of pocket for those improper tax payments. The NYC Tax Office, bless its stony heart, won't return their dough, simply crediting the funds toward our tax bill. So, Heather said, we must return those funds to Chase. Alternatively, she suggested, we could call the NYC Tax Office and persuade them to return Chase's money, then pay in our taxes ourselves.

Not a chance. Can you imagine the length of the phone tree I'd have to wait through in order to plead the bank's case? Well, Heather opined, "the real problem here is that the city won't return our money to us." I reminded her that the real problem here is her employer's relentless greed and procedural sloppiness. Heather reminded me that, heck, a bank is really nothing more than a group of individuals who occasionally make, you know, mistakes. If you say so, Heather, although I'm inclined to see your bank, at least, as a sinister cadre of weasels devoted to nicking every penny it can get by tooth, claw or sleaze.

I told Heather that before we would even consider paying Chase the money it can't get back from the city, we require a written statement of what we had discussed, included a listing of the various ways the bank attempted to defraud us: the water bill, the premature tax payment, the cooked up penalties. She agreed readily.

That was six days ago and no such letter has arrived. However, Chase did send us a check for eighteen bucks, compensation for the certified letters we sent to Jamie et al. I'd mentioned the cost of those letters to Heather and that our other attempt to get Chase's attention had failed. They sent us the check without even a receipt from us (good thing too because I still can't find it). It was a nice gesture, much more convincing than the Weasel's customary sign-off, which graces this letter too: "Chase's goal is to provide the highest level of quality service." Nice, but I doubt the sincerity.

As a public service, we offer some advice for all who have issues with Chase Home Weasel: Don't bother with the indifferent lugnuts of Customer Care or the unscrupulous bean-counters of the Tax Department. Write directly to Jamie Dimon himself, certified mail. In our experience, it's the only way there is to get the bank's attention, and he's probably got time on his hands now that he's sold his house. Here's his contact info:

Jamie Dimon
JP Morgan Chase & Co.
270 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Phone: 212-270-1111
Fax : 212-270-1121

Meanwhile, we await Chase's next missive while, of course, paying our mortgage on time.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Readers of my most recent post on Huffington know that the intransigent turpitude of Chase Home Finance, the bank which holds our mortgage, has driven me to consider legal options, but only in a blue-skying, dreamy sort of way. In practice, my main outlet for expressing my vengeful loathing for that gang thieving suits is referring to them as Chase Home Weasel whenever possible, a tactic about which my wife is understanding but tired.

Now it's coming up on four weeks since creamy-voiced JoAnne of either the Tax Department or Chase Customer Care--it wasn't clear which but she was much smoother than the usual Customer Care thug--led us to believe that our situation was about to be fixed.

Unfortunately, nothing has been fixed. Every day since our mortgage payment was acknowledged by email, we've received an email saying our payment has not been received.

So yesterday we sent certified letters, return receipt requested, the whole nine yards, to Chase Home Weasel Customer Care, the Tax department and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase and by extension, King of the Weasels. Here's what it said:

We have made repeated attempts to get Chase to correct the errors it has made and continues to make with respect to our taxes and water bills. Chase has thus far failed to respond. Our efforts have been time-consuming and expensive. We make this final effort in the hopes of resolving this matter. Once again, we point out the following errors:

  1. The property taxes you seek to escrow us for are not delinquent; they have been paid in full and in timely fashion.
  2. The water bill you seek to escrow us for is not ours. It is the water bill of our neighbor.
  3. Contrary to your assertion that our water bill was delinquent, it was and is not delinquent either.
  4. Contrary to your letter of June 28th, no correspondence has been sent to us by Chase Home Finance regarding “delinquent” payments for our property since December, 2009, the last time that Chase attempted to bill us for our neighbor’s water bill. (NB: All relevant documentation follows this note.)

These mistakes should not have been made by you in the first place. Chase’s failure to correct them promptly, Chase’s failure to respond to our repeated attempts to address this situation and Chase’s frequent reiterations of these same mistakes (Chase has attempted to collect our neighbor’s water bill from us every year since 2006), evidences something beyond negligence. Such behavior evidences bad faith. Please rectify this matter no later than c.o.b. October 15, 2010 or we will be forced to take the following actions:

  1. Bring an action in Small Claims Court to seek compensation for the damages you have caused us in both time and expense. We will subpoena the appropriate Chase employees and documents.
  2. Report this matter for investigation to the New York State Department of Banking, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, the Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General.
  3. Continue to report this situation on the Huffington Post, as Alfred Gingold has been doing since July 29th, also on FaceBook and elsewhere.

We continue to make our proper mortgage payments (principle and interest only) in timely fashion. We hope that you will now act in good faith to resolve this matter quickly without causing us any further distress. In order to contact us before October 15th, our telephone number is blah blah blah, sincerely, etc.

Wish us luck...

Wednesday, September 01, 2010


“Now the Irish, being a brave people and semi-amphibious...” – Clara Morris, Life on the Stage.

My friend Sam gave me a copy of Ms. Morris’ autobiography, coyright 1901. Googled her right away of course and learned she was an American leading lady of the 1860s and 70s and a precursor to the naturalism of Duse and the Method. This article has more information than the Wiki entry and is just plain fascinating, imho.

I had two auditions this evening, both for fey, campy, fruity, minty -- what can I say? -- gay roles. The characters' names were the tip-offs: Cedric and Clifton. What makes these names gay?

Thursday, July 29, 2010


Our mortgage bank says we have to pay our next door neighbor's water bill.

Last month, we got a letter from Chase Home Finance stating that we were delinquent in our payments. So Chase paid our neighbor's water bill and established an escrow account into which it plans to collect and store such money as it says we owe--at that moment, a cool $82.91, but increasing as Chase adds its "expenditures" towards our actual taxes and water bills, which we have already paid in what is referred to in mortgage circles as "timely fashion."

We were not surprised. This is the third time-the third time that we know of-that Chase has tried to make us pay our neighbor's water bill.

We refinanced with Chase in 2004 at a rate that was, and still is, pretty good, not to mention that it was and still is a fixed rate mortgage. Perhaps it's the fixed rate thing that gets under Chase's corporate skin, because unlike any of the eight other banks who've held our mortgages over the years, Chase keeps trying to make us pay it more money than we owe. The vehicle for this petty larceny is escrow for tax and insurance payments which are, to put it politely, enhanced.

At first, we had no problem with paying our taxes and insurance through Chase. We've had the arrangement with other banks and none of them ever tried to filch more than we owed, or at least not this obviously. My wife and I share bill-paying and check-writing duties, so neither of us noticed the creep of our escrow payments, nor did we connect it with the regular letters from Chase requiring notification of insurance, which we duly sent along. In 2006 we realized something was amiss; our monthly escrow payment was huge. There were phone calls, some of a highly emotional nature, with the affectless warriors of Chase Customer Care. Eventually a polite lady called to tell us in silvery tones that there'd been a mistake, can you imagine, something about unacknowledged notices of coverage, and that we'd shortly receive a check for $4000 and change-funds, we gathered, Chase had been hanging onto for our own good. We allowed as how we'd like Chase to waive our escrow requirement, so we could pay our taxes and premiums ourselves, and the lady told us we could do that.

What she didn't say was "if you dare." To Chase, a home loan with an escrow waiver is an unexploited resource, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Since this is the third time in two years Chase has created tax delinquencies that don't exist, we know the drill: We faxed a note to Customer Care illuminating our "concerns," pointing out that our address is not the same as our neighbor's, the water account number is different, the houses are different, the mortgages are different-you know, we're different fucking people. We included copies of the receipts for all the timely tax payments we've made. We referred to, but did not include, the last letter we sent Chase about our neighbor's water bill, from December '09, but we didn't mention the one we sent on the same subject in October '08, as we didn't want to burden Customer Care with too much to think about, much less read. And we ended stirringly by requesting, insisting, demanding that this escrow grift cease immediately.

Reliably, Chase took our remonstrance in stride and ignored it. Our new payment coupon already has a healthy chunk of escrow added, for taxes we've already paid and which Chase claims to have paid too, or intends to pay.

The last time this happened, in 2008, we went through a telephone gauntlet, repeating the story endlessly, receiving assorted "work case numbers," which were never recognized by anyone we spoke with, and collecting the names of every Customer Care Representative we spoke to, which got confusing because they only offer first names. And we continue to pay our principle and interest on time. No response. Zilch.

Eventually we sent certified letters, return receipt requested, to assorted Chase departments-Customer Care, Tax, Escrow Removal-and personally to David B. Lowman, CEO of Chase Home Finance, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the mother ship. We made our case, included our documentation and declared that if we did not receive satisfaction we would file reports with the Attorney General's Office, the CAC, the Better Business Bureau and Santa.

Lowman's receipt didn't come back to us for three months, so we were not surprised to hear Dennis Kucinich snap at him for Chase's spectacular foot-dragging on mortgage modification. Yes, foot-dragging seems to be the Lowman Way, except last April, when he told Barney Frank of the House Financial Services Committee hearing that aggrieved Chase mortgage holders should come to him with their concerns, then hot-footed it the hell out of there when a group of them actually did.

Someone evidently read the one we sent to Dimon, because we got a call from an oberleutnant
of the Executive Resolution Center (Orwellian, no?), who made it chillingly clear that the only way to get rid of the escrow was to pay it off. Could we find out if we're still paying for the neighbor's water? How about copies of the numerous delinquency alerts Chase claims to have sent us and we never received (maybe the neighbors did)? Not a chance.

Far be it from us to suggest that Mr. Dimon, a man the New York Times calls "a financial superstar" and Huffpo calls "The Most Dangerous Man in America," tells the troops to squeeze a few extra bucks out of non-risky mortgages. I mean, JP Morgan Chase controls 44% of the derivatives market, whatever that may be. $82.06 doesn't even qualify as chump change.

It's the principle of the thing, we suppose. Whether it's billions in dicey investments or just a few bucks of funny escrow, take a shot and if no one's the wiser, no one's the wiser.

It's very different from the attitude Matt Taibbi captured so brilliantly in his description of Goldman Sachs, the "great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, etc." Chase Home Finance is less squid than weasel: a rabid weasel, wrapped around my house, pointy little claws relentlessly poking-behind the sofa cushions, in our wallets, next door on the neighbor's water meter-for any spare change or folding bills it can sweep into its fetid maw before someone shoos it away with a broom.

It is a busy weasel. We thought paying our neighbor's water bill was a mistake too stupid to be anything but honest, but it turns out Chase pulls this stuff all the time. At the ample Chase Home Finance section on the Complaints Board Website, there's a post from a guy Chase is escrowing for taxes on property he doesn't own. On the Chase Home Finance Sucks Facebook Page, we read of a man escrowed for taxes due (and paid) for the year before his mortgage was taken over by Chase.

The Los Angeles Better Business Bureau awards Chase Home Finance an F for reliability, which makes us think Chase really doesn't give a damn what anyone thinks of it--which is exactly the attitude we would recommend to Chase if we were its therapist or mother. Perhaps it shouldn't be surprising, but it somehow is, that the same banks and bankers that thought big enough to drive the whole economy over a cliff also think--and behave--really, really small.

To paraphrase Lady Bracknell: To swindle someone once may be regarded as a mistake; to swindle the same someone in the same way repeatedly looks like a business plan.

I'll be chronicling this episode of our ongoing struggle to pay Chase no more than we owe it here. This time we're hoping to keep our postage expenditures down and to avoid hyperventilating on the phone. My prediction: they'll escrow us for David B. Lowman's water bill.
of the Executive Resolution Center (Orwellian, no?), who made it chillingly clear that the only way to get rid of the escrow was to pay it off. Could we find out if we're still paying for the neighbor's water? How about copies of the numerous delinquency alerts Chase claims to have sent us and we never received (maybe the neighbors did)? Not a chance.