Thursday, December 17, 2009

Financial Freedom - good news

When I fuss about something I've got a duty to acknowledge something done right.

I just got off the phone with a young lady at Financial Freedom -- Cindy -- who obviously knew her job and how things worked.  She explained the process and the HUD (Gov-mint) rules they have to follow very well.  She answered all my questions and was quite pleasant to talk to. She even gave me her direct number in case I have future questions.

Results = 1

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Financial Freedom - no intelligence (Part 2)

The good news is I finally got the information I was asking for from FF.

The bad news is it included $3500.00 for "foreclosure expenses".  I immediately (within 30 minutes of receipt) faxed to the same person who sent the fax a series of questions about the supposed foreclosure. In my query I acknowledged receipt of the payoff fax.

This morning I get a fax from a Tia -- , claiming to be a "Loan Servicing Administrator" at Financial Freedom -- it's a form that totally ignores the history of my contact in this case and states she must have a "Signature authorization to release . . . ".  She got a worthwhile response:

First, you obviously did not read my inquiry or don't have the education to understand what I wrote. I ALREADY RECEIVED a payoff; my inquiry was to a component of that payoff.
Second, I am the guardian and conservator for (individual) I've sent the papers to Financial Freedom at least twice and am now receiving monthly statements. If you know how, I suggest you look. Thus, I've GOT the authority to ask.

I trust I've made myself abundantly clear this time and the information requested about the 'foreclosure fee' in the payoff will be forthcoming immediately.

If you still cannot assist, elevate this to someone with intelligence.
Guess I'm not on Tia's Christmas Card List!

Isn't it sad that with the centralization of our economy the people handling our financial records don't know how to think?

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Financial Freedom - no intelligence

I'm handling a guardianship where my ward has real estate with a 'reverse mortgage' held by Financial Freedom.  As a rule I do not like reverse mortgages but recognize they can be a useful tool in certain limited circumstances.

Well over a month ago I called Financial Freedom, faxed the Court Order appointing me, and asked them to send me some information.  I haven't heard from them at all.  This is not unusual -- in my opinion  Financial Freedom is among the top ten worst real estate loan servicers out there. Whenever I mention their name to a colleague doing Real Estate, Elder Law, or Probate, I get a groan in return.

The other day I went to their website to see about calling in; they have a utility called "Search Financial Freedom".  I entered 'Intelligent Individual" -- the response was "Results: 0"

Yep.  'nuff said.

Monday, December 7, 2009

A block too far

My daughter Allyson is in a wheelchair.  She's been in one pretty much all her 21 + years.  I've worked to encourage her to do her own thing - be independent - and I'm very proud of her accomplishments and independence.

Allyson can't drive, nor can she 'ride the bus' if she wants to go somewhere. I can't take her everywhere either.  So she relies on an outfit called RADAR, an acronym for Roanoke Agencies Dial A Ride. RADAR is one of two handicap public transportation services in the area; the other is CORTRAN, for County of Roanoke Transportation.  RADAR serves the Cities of Roanoke and Salem; CORTRAN serves Roanoke County.

What happens if you want to cross the border?  Apparently you can't do it!

Allyson recently joined Fellowship Community Church (FCC).  She loves it there, and they are very supportive of her.  FCC provides transportation as part of its ministry on Sundays; other days there are members who might be able to help but the folks at that church have day jobs they need to go to. They've got a function this coming Wednesday night and since she wants to go, she called RADAR and booked the trip.  RADAR called back and canceled.

The Problem:  Fellowship Community Church is about two blocks over the line into the County from the City of Salem. So RADAR can't take her according to the rules.  Funny thing:  RADAR has taken Allyson to Fellowship several times in the past. And gee, it appears that they use the same vehicles as CORTRAN.

Question:  Can a CORTRAN rider be taken to Roanoke City or Salem? If they can, why can't a Salem/Roanoke City rider be taken to a Roanoke County destination? 

The RADAR/CORTRAN/etc. website gives absolutely NO rules of where you can and can't go. Call them and they say that Roanoke Valley Metro sets the rules.  Go to the Valley Metro Site and nowhere do you find the rule that you can't cross the city/county line. Unless you're going to Tanglewood Mall, which is in the county. But forget about going to the doctor's office a block away from Tanglewood. And I haven't even tried to navigate the County's website for more information.

SO, if you live in Salem or Roanoke City and need 'paratransit', don't try to go to Roanoke County or get a job in Roanoke County. And if you live and work in the County and use CORTRAN, don't move to the city or you'll lose your job.

Valley inter-government cooperation?  Not for 'paratransit'. Of course, I'm not surprised.  Our governments hate the poor.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Deflating Pomposity - war story

Many years ago we had a state senator from Roanoke who was, shall we say, very enamored with himself.  He was also pompous.  The good news is he only served one term. The better news is that he provided several stories.

The Senator went through a "British" thing.  He wore a cape and a bowler hat and even had one of those silly tiny stick canes. This was complemented by his attempt at affecting a British Accent. Trust me, Henry Higgens would have seen through him in a second.  This story is about the beginning of the end of that phase.

Back in the day we also had air commuter service with Richmond - our state capital. One day my friend Harold was there with a client (I'll call him 'Irving') from the coalfields appearing before some agency.  After the hearing they were at the Richmond Airport waiting for their return flight when The Senator came by.  Harold, thinking he could get some brownie points with Irving, hails The Senator.

The Senator, seeing Harold (and Harold being a member of Roanoke City Council at the time) came over to chat.  "Harold, my good man, How awre you today?  You're looking jolly good you know."

Harold:  Just fine, Senator, I'd like you to meet Irving Puffuffnick; he's a client of mine and we've just finished a hearing at XYZ agency"

SEN: "Delighted to make your acquaintance, Irving. Tip Top Barrister you've got there"

IRVING:  "Good to meet you, Senator.  Are you from England?"

SEN:  "No, actually I hail from Roanoke.  Howeva, I did study at Ahxford (Oxford) for two years."

IRVING:  "Well, hell, I was in 'Nam for two years, but I didn't pick up THEIR accent"

The Senator terminated the conversation and moved away.  Shortly thereafter the cape, hat, and stick thing disappeared.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Door Repair underway

I had to appear in a case at the Roanoke City Courthouse today.  I'm pleased to report that the doors I complained of last week are now being repaired. Even more remarkable is that I counted two workers busy at their task WITHOUT three "supervisors" directing them.

I'm told by a lot of folks who work in the courthouse that they've complained for months about the doors. Heck, I grumbled for some time about them also before I sent my note to the City Attorney.

Isn't it a shame that the City of Roanoke can't seem to get anything done until there's a serious complaint about the problem? And that I had to send my complaint 'outside' the normal chain of command to get it the attention it deserved?


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Disgraceful Maintenance of Roanoke Courthouse

I know the City of Roanoke doesn't maintain anything worth a darn, unless maybe it's the City Manager's office. The City has a long history of building something bright and shiny and then not taking care of it.

Certainly the Courthouse maintenance is an embarrassing disgrace, and that's what I'm writing about. The courthouse has parquet flooring, and it's showing its age.  Parquet will pop up and the city will cover over it with a piece of carpet duct-taped around the missing area, or they'll block off a section for three or 4 months (happened on the stairwell) until they do an ugly patch job. About a year ago a huge pile of carpet squares was delivered to the courthouse to go over the parquet flooring. It's still piled. But this is just City of Roanoke Maintenance as usual.

Here's what's really ticking me off:

For several MONTHS, the 'automatic doors' used for Handicap Access on the west end (nearest the Mayor's private law office) have been broken. Periodically there are paper signs loosely taped to the door saying 'push', but they are usually torn or blown off in a few days. The doors require too much effort for a disabled person on a walker or in a wheelchair to open. Given that my daughter has been in a wheelchair all her life I'm particularly sensitive to access issues.

As I understand it, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that handicap accessible devices be maintained in working order.

While the thought of embarrassing the City of Roanoke and its manager (who is fortunately on short time now) with a public Americans with Disabilities Act suit is very tempting, I'm more interested in getting the problem fixed, now.

So I emailed my comments to an Assistant City Attorney I work with from time to time, and asked him to forward my concern to the appropriate powers-that-be.  I also suggested that they confirm to me by 4:30 PM this Friday (Nov. 13) that the repairs have been ordered and will be COMPLETED by November 30.  If so, I'll be quiet.  If not, I'll review how Rossiferous I can really be.

I'll let y'all know what happens.  This is why I moved to Salem - it woulda been fixed in a week.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Bank of America ain't bright, either

One of my best friends owns a lot in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He bought it as an investment; no comment on the wisdom of that investment. The only thing on the lot, other than scrub-grass and sand, is a small sign with his name and home town.

Bank of America holds the mortgage; payments are up to date (said friend is anal about paying on or ahead of time).

My friend just got a letter from Bank of America that they 'require flood insurance equal to the value of the improvements'. I offered to write a letter, freebie, in my calm, quiet, Rossiferous manner, asking just which 'improvements' should be insured, and for how much?

He's self-insured on the sign.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Why banks needed a bail-out

It's no wonder taxpayers are having to bail out the financial industry: they're stupid. They over-centralized their operations 'in the name of efficiency' and try to get the lowest paid people possible to do the job.

Case in point: I'm working with a family on an estate. I routinely verify all debts of the decedent that could be a claim against the estate and send a letter to each creditor (a) informing them that the individual died, (2) asking for certain information and (3) providing information about when (or even if) the account might be paid.

HSBC (Household Savings Bank) responded "In order to make changes to the cardmember's credit bureau we need written authorization and a signature from (the decedent). Then there's a "please refer to reference number 6781-07JUL09".

I faxed a Rossiferous response, as follows:

- - - - - - - -


My original letter dated June 15 is attached. Your 7-10-09
letter, attached, asks for her signature; she's dead so you
can't get it.

Your letter mentions her credit file; she's dead and doesn't

I suggest you have someone with a high school diploma or
better re-read my original letter and provide an intelligent

No wonder financial institutions need a bail-out. They
either can't read or are stupid.

- - - - - - - - -

Given my past experience with HSBC, I vote the latter.

It'll be interesting if they respond to my fax


Thursday, July 16, 2009

Gov Maintenance needed.

I know it's been a while. Been busy and on vacation. However, I just saw a quote from a friend of mine on a user-group I participate in (

It's a shame we can't maintain our government the same way we do our PCs. I'd start off with a full malware scan and then do a deep defrag with full optimization. If that didn't help I'd wipe it and re-install. It'd be well worth the downtime. "JustDave"

Couldn't have said it better myself.

The shame is that I feel the majority of Americans don't like their government in its present form. And it's getting too big for its britches.

I discovered 'science fiction' while at Woodrow Wilson Jr. High School and have read bunches of it. What's interesting is that a lot of things written 30-40 years ago are becoming reality now. The late Isaac Asimov wrote of a bloated Galactic Empire bureaucracy in the Foundation Trilogy (later series) and I'm seeing alarming parallels with Washington now. The problem is that there's no one able to fix it.

The Government needs 'down time' to reboot.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Phishing and Scamming - back at 'em

I'm a member of a software user group -- -- and "JustDave", one of my good friends there, struck back at a scammer/phisher. It's worthy of posting:

Earlier this week I got an email from a Ms. Philips, supposedly with an international courier company, notifying me that my certified ATM card in the amount of $450,000 had arrived and that all I had to do was to send her my banking info so they could take their $125 fee and deliver the card. Right.

I replied, thanking her for the notification and informing her that I had, in fact, already received the card. I told her that planned to buy lunch for the entire office and then take the rest of the day off to go pay off my mortgage and buy a new car. I also told her that if she would send me a link to her web site I'd make an online payment for the delivery using the card. I received a very confused, almost incoherent email back from her. I didn't reply. She's emailed me twelve times since then. Heh.

Great job, Dave!! Gotta remember that one! Add another beer to the tab!

On the more serious side, these folks have no shame and REALLY take advantage of the elderly who no longer know when they're being scammed. I'm guardian for a 90+ retired military clergy who is convinced he's won the Irish/German/Canadian/TimbuckToo lotteries and all he needs to do is send $100--$500-$2500, and so forth. Other than that he's perfectly sane and still preaches once or twice a month as a 'substitute'. He's blown through his live savings and incurred nearly $100,000.00 in credit card debt, spending over $200,000.00 with these bastards. 

If you've got elderly relatives, try to look over their finances to make sure everything is in order. If you see a problem, get to an Elder-Law lawyer at once. You can find one at NAELA.ORG.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Today I was happily working and some stuff for a project came in. It had bar codes all over it and I thought to myself "Our lives have become run by bar codes -- we ought to have bar code name tags."

And it hit me. An idea. ("Danger, Wil Robinson, Danger!")

I had a lunch today that would have Name Tags. So I printed my name tag - as a Bar Code. Yes, I wore it. My good friend Peter Vieth with the Virginia Lawyer's Weekly took a picture, reproduced here, and posted on the Virginia Lawyer's Weekly blog.

That it was a local Bar Association lunch was just an ironic twist. Bar codes for the Bar Lunch?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Mint Juleps

May 1. It's that time of year. The chili cookoff in Roanoke; a famous horse race in Kentucky. Planning and planting things, watching them grow. Every year at this time there's enough fresh mint for my favorite adult beverage: the Mint Julep. There are hundreds of ways of making them.

I make Mint Juleps the way I learned from my father, "The Colonel", whom my brother and I call "Pappy". Pappy retired as an Army Colonel, a rank he earned during WWII after his participation in the Ardennes Forest Offensive (also known as the Battle of the Bulge). Across Virginia he was always referred to as "The Colonel" and with that name on the other side of the state people knew who you were talking about. Growing up as the kid of a well known dad had its advantages and disadvantages. I learned early on that I'd best behave myself wherever I happened to be, 'cause word always made it back to him. Now I realize that was an advantage.

Pappy's voice still booms in my memory: "Ross: the ingredients are the key. You've got to use bonded bourbon ('bottled in bond', a government thing that means the stuff is at least 100 proof) and it damn well better be from Kentucky. Second, use very cold ice -- ice that's been in the deep freeze for over a week so it knows it's job is to stay cold, and it wants to! Third: pick your mint only when you're ready to make the Juleps -- over 10 minutes between picking and using and it begins to wilt and loses flavor."

Every time I made Mint Juleps, I also hear, "just as important is the ceremony of making the Julep itself -- people enjoy them even more when they watch you make them and you make it appear special." Pappy was right about that among many many things. I remember a college summer school geology course I took in Colorado. I had a high 'C' or low 'B' at the end of the course when we had our end of school party. The professor was there, I made Mint Juleps (with the ceremony) for him, and the 'C' moved to an 'A'.

The Colonel's Famous Mint Julep Recipe; Per Julep:
  • 3, 4" sprigs of mint, divided
  • 1 1/2 cups deep-freeze-cold ice
  • 3 teaspoons table sugar, divided
  • 100 Proof Kentucky Bourbon
  • Tall 8 oz. glass or, even better, aluminum tumblers.

  1. Crush ice in a clean dishtowel or canvas bag (I used to represent a bank and use an old money-bag) and pound it with a mallet or hammer until the ice is nearly pulverized.
  2. With a spoon -- your hand will warm the ice too much -- fill each tumbler about 1/3 the way up.
  3. Add a heaping teaspoon of granulated sugar and about 5 mint leaves (you can leave them on the stem).
  4. Repeat: another 1/3 tumbler of ice, then sugar and mint, and then ice to the top.
  5. Once the tumblers are full, take an ordinary iced tea spoon and hold it upside down by the bowl of the spoon and jam it up and down in the tumbler. This crushes the ice against the mint and sugar, gets all the flavor and oils in the mint flowing, and everything mixing together. Do this for 30 seconds or more.
  6. Add more ice to pack the tumbler firmly to the top. Finally, take the bottled-in-bond Kentucky Bourbon and pour it in. No, you don't need to measure the bourbon. As a practical matter, if you've done it right, the tumbler will take only (he says!) about 2 or at most 2 1/2 ounces of bourbon, which isn't that much for a serious bourbon drinker.

After pouring the bourbon, the tumblers should instantly frost over with a layer of ice on the outside. That's the first sign you've made the Mint Julep properly and means that it's well below freezing. Add a sprig of mint on the top of each drink as a garnish, put in sippin' spoons (ice tea spoons with a hollow tube for a handle; if you don't have them a straw will have to do), and serve with a napkin underneath. Hold it by the napkin so the frosted side isn't ruined by the heat of your fingers.

Aaaahhh!. Definitely worth being included in the top ten of life's pleasures. Be careful, though. Mint Juleps have teeth!

Thank you, Pappy. Here's to you and all you taught me.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Elder Abuse

One of my absolute hot buttons is when someone steals from an elderly person who cannot protect himself. Friday April 3, 2009, I appeared in such a case.

Five years ago, “Momma” (then in her late 80’s) had progressed to the point that she needed to live where she could be cared for – at first an “Adult Living Facility” (Assisted Living) and now skilled nursing care in a nursing home.

Five years ago ‘Momma’ was comfortable, financially. She had an annual income of $24,000; she needed $50,000 to take care of her needs and care. Her assets were almost $500,000.00 which, at $2300 per month, would have lasted over 25 years – much longer than her lifespan.

Today in court all we could determine was left was $22,000.00. Less than 5% of what was there five years ago.

I had obtained some bank and other financial records for the 15 months (back to January 2008) and reviewing that period I found that “someone” had used Momma’s debit card to the tune of $83,450.00 (that’s over $5500 per month) for such “necessities” as:
  • Cell Phones
  • Models – as in model cars, planes, etc.
  • Motels and restaurants within a 200 mile radius of here, including Dollywood
  • Booze at the ABC store
  • A membership in (she's now in her 90's!)
My role was to report to the court and protect “Momma’s” interests. I was fully prepared to do so and be “Rossiferous” in my approach to the daughter who had Momma’s power of attorney, and even more so to the daughter’s husband who also had access to Momma’s money. (By the way, husband claims there may be some identity theft – why, over 15 months, did they not notice that money was disappearing?)

I didn’t get a chance. Hizzoner the judge beat me to it. His questions were to the point and emphasized the pillage of Momma’s money. All I did was pitch the ball; he hit the homeruns.

Elder financial abuse happens every day to too many seniors. I’ve seen it too much. I’m happy to report the judge I was before today gets it, as do all the other judges I appear before on a regular basis.

President John F. Kennedy said “A society's quality and durability can best be measured by the respect and care given to its elder citizens."

If you see abuse, call for help. Adult Protective Services is interested. There’s also Elder Abuse Hotlines.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Stuff - redux

My office desk had reached critical mass. You know, that state where the piles are so bad even you can't find stuff. So I decided to 'tidy' it. Susan came to help.

What I had envisioned as an hour or so chore turned into a major 4+ hour project. 8 'billable' hours later (two lawyers!) my desk and workspace are much different and better.

I don't have a before picture -- imagine a pile of paper several inches tall; here's 'after'.

The big question is how long will it last? . . .

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Characters: Dr. C meets Councilman T

I like to tell stories; I've even built up a bit of a repertoire of some of my favorite stories. In fact, when I was teaching at National College (f/k/a National Business College) the students did evaluations of the instructors. I taught a two-term course, and the written comment from one student was "Mr. Hart's stories were great the first term; when he repeated them the second term . . . ". Well, I guess my repertoire is somewhat limited.

Anyhow, from time to time I'm going to put some of those 'stories' here. Some will be "War Stories"; others will be "Characters Encountered". Some will be my personal experience; others will be stories I heard and feel are worth retelling as the original 'author' is no longer with us. I'll change names to protect the departed.

We begin with a "Character" story. It involves "Councilman T" and a constituent "Dr. C".

I learned a lot about observing life from Councilman T. He could tell stories about his time on Roanoke City Council and those stories gave great insight on how to approach a local governing body about an issue. I also learned a lot of what NOT to say -- Elected officials absolutely hate when someone says "I'm a taxpayer and . . . " Guess what, genius, the elected official is probably paying more in taxes this year than you'll pay in your lifetime. The argument doesn't work.

One time about 30 years ago the City of Roanoke had annexed a bunch of Roanoke County. (don't ask about Virginia's screwed up local government system in which a City -- first class, please -- can and does tell the county that surrounds it to go to hell if it feels like it) A lot of people who had lived in the county found themselves proud citizens of the city but were still paying the higher rates for water and sewer service to the County's Public Service Authority. They felt that if they had to be in the City, they ought to pay the same as other Roanoke City residents.

Dr. C was an extremely vociferous member of this group. At one time he taught Economics at Roanoke College (he even taught my mother economics at the University of Virginia Extension back in the 1960's). Verbosity was a trademark. And he could insult with the best and treated most people as students -- even members of City Council. I had my share of contact with him in those days.

At any rate, one Council meeting Dr. C appeared and spent a good 10 or 15 minutes haranguing Council about the injustice of the water/sewer rates. Near the end (although Dr. C hadn't planned it as the end) Councilman T. asked what he later said was a basic question. Dr. C responded "The problem with you Mr. T is that you just don't understand basic economic theory".

To which Councilman T responded "That may be true, Dr. C.; as I recall when I took Economics at Roanoke College you were my professor".

At this point Dr. C decided he had said enough.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Procedure - epilog

Today in the mail I got the report from the doctor. Of course, since all my mail is directed to the office that's where they went. And Donna, my assistant, opens my mail to make sure that I don't mis-file anything.

So I'm working and she walks in with my personal mail and a grin. The report is on top. With today's digital photography, the report includes pictures. Don't worry -- even I have enough decorum to NOT post them!

Of course, "Clean as a Whistle" probably isn't the best description to use . . .

Monday, February 16, 2009

My "Procedure"

Friday the 13th; Great day for a 'procedure'. It's been five years since my last colonoscopy, so my good doctor decided I needed another. Besides, she thought I should have a gastroenterologist check out the fact I've got gallstones (see 'ballast')

So I get scheduled for the 'procedure'. And get the instruction sheet. There's good news and bad news: Good news is that the prep isn't as bad as it was five years ago. At least not quite. Bad news is it's still unpleasant.

I was given a sheet of instructions. Don't eat/drink anything 'red' for a few days before. Stop any blood thinners (e.g. aspirin) a week before. Get some laxative pills for the day before; get some 'goop' to drink from the pharmacy. Only "clear liquids" (carefully described) the night before the procedure; after much review it appears that Beer qualifies as a clear liquid. The only thing they don't tell you is make sure you've got PLENTY of toilet paper before you start. And get the softest you can find. Trust me on this. It's important.

The details of the prep would be called "too much information". Even I have a modicum of discretion.

On Friday, Susan came to pick me up and take me to where I was getting 'scoped. I arrived and was almost immediately taken back and given one of those wonderful hospital gowns. I put it on and waited my turn. And durn near fell asleep. Finally the anesthetist came to talk to me, and I was taken back to the procedure room and signed the final paperwork. From this point I don't remember a heck of a lot. I'll let Susan describe what happened from here.


There were two of us sitting in the waiting area -- another woman knitting a loooong scarf. The layout of the place had the recovery rooms fairly near the waiting area, and the walls were as thin as a cheap hourly motel. Pretty soon we heard hiccups. They "belonged" to the knitter's significant other. When the snoring started, I knew it was Ross. It continued for a while, then the door opened and the nurse had me move the car to the back door. As I pulled up, another man hurried out the door, crossed the parking lot and got into his car; just then a nurse came out "Stop Him . . . " and chased the car. Finally the man stopped, rolled down his window, and the nurse said "Can he leave now?" "Yes" was the reply. Turns out the man was Ross' doctor.

So I went in and was led back to the cubicle with Ross; of course I could hear him from the back door. I asked how long the snoring was going on, and told about 45 minutes. She said that when Ross woke up he could get dressed and leave. After a while the nurse returned, made Ross sit up and yanked out the IV which helped him wake some more. What a sight -- Ross in that half-gown medical thing, feet dangling over the edge of the gurney still woozy and swaying back and forth. At least he stopped snoring. She then left me to get him dressed -- a challenge on a good day -- I had to keep him from falling over while getting an undershirt over his head and his arms thru it, then get his shorts and jeans on, and socks, all the while pushing him back upright with either a free hand or using my head butting him in the chest. A You-Tube video would have been a hit.

The nurse came back as he got dressed and she on one side and me on the other hauled him to the car, poured him into the passenger seat and we left for home. Within 3 minutes he was snoring again.

When we got home, shortly after 3:30, Ross kind of stumbled into the house, peeled off his clothes and literally fell into bed. Since he hadn't eaten for 24 hours, I asked if he wanted anything; he asked me to make a simple cheese sandwich with mayo on white squishy bread, wolfed it down and was out for the next four hours.

I thought the "fun part" was over, but then there was Sunday night.

I 'woke up' around 7 or so, with vague, if any, recollections of the stuff Susan wrote. Not that I was full of energy, but I felt OK.

Sunday: after dinner we were watching a movie and I began to feel a pain in the upper central part of my abdomen. Near the gall bladder. I sort of bore with it to see if it would pass, but finally around 11:30 I woke Susan to tell her I thought my gallstones might be acting up. She went from a beautiful, peaceful sleep to wide awake in a half second. She gently probed my belly for tenderness (ouch) and about 12:30 we decided I ought to go to the ER. We went, and it was somewhat uneventful, although it was interesting to learn that the CT scan they did of my gall bladder was "interpreted" in Australia. Anyhow, the doctor determined that it 'must have been a digestive problem', gave me some Prilosec (tm) and sent me home where we arrived just as the alarm clock went off.

Good thing I was planning to take the day off.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rolling over some more

I just got a new toy. An iPhone. And my daughter Allyson got a new phone also. One of my oldest and dearest female friends commented about both on her blog.

ODFF is astute and her commentaries are worthwhile, well written and entertaining. Once in a while my perspective is different from hers; this is one.

It turns out ODFF and I have the same carrier – ATT. I’ve been with what is now ATT since the day Suncom turned on the switch in Roanoke. My contract was up for renewal. Given what I do, being able to schedule something whenever/wherever I am is essential. Setting a hearing while in court, setting a future meeting date, whatever, I don’t want to be double booking accidentally and then having to fix it.

My calendar software is a program called Time&Chaos (actually, I use T&C with an email module called !ntellect) available from It’s a fantastic program and recently got the ability to synchronize with various smart-phones including the iPhone. The iPhone can also get my emails so I can respond to clients and do other business while waiting for my hearing. So my purchase of the iPhone was a business thing, not really a toy thing. However, in spirit of full disclosure, I freely admit that its play capability is a plus.

Allyson has wanted texting for some time. Given her disability she has a very hard time staying in touch with friends, many of whom only text. (Grammatical purists groan at the thought of a noun – text – being used as a verb) So for her it was a natural upgrade. She got a phone with a QWERTY keyboard, not one of those ersatz press the 7 key 3 times to get an “R” thing.

I have to agree that texting is NOT conducive to ‘good spelling’. And that Allyson has a problem with spelling. Allyson has made wonderful progress working with ODFF in reading and it’s natural spin-offs, spelling and writing. “Texting” is controversial as a means of communication, with some scholars applauding it and others not. I’m leaning towards the good side – particularly as some of the text exchanges she’s had with me show writing skills she didn’t have a year ago (again, thanks to ODFF)

At any rate, Allyson’s 21 and can make up her own mind. She wanted to text, she helped pay for the change, so she can do it. Part of my job as a dad is to let her make her own decisions.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Contracts - Yellow Pages & others

It’s phonebook season. That time of the year when we are flooded with phonebooks from everyone who can suck advertisers into paying for the yellow page ads. I think I’ve received three or four, so far; generally I throw them away or recycle them. These ‘wannabe’ phone books try to beat the ‘official’ (i.e., Verizon in this area) phone book to the punch by being a month or two earlier.

As a business, I’m a Yellow Pages advertiser. I’ll advertise, some, in the ‘official’ version and it’s time to do the renewal. No changes, except 2 or 3 years ago the “phone company” spun off its telephone directory (Yellow Page) business into another company. And they sent a two page contract, with 22 numbered paragraphs in 8 point type for me to sign blindly – NOT!.

I’m a lawyer. (duh!) I read contracts before I sign them. My (then) wife was in the delivery room in hard labor hatching one of my kids, and I’m reading the fine print in the admission agreement. I’m in kidney-stone-induced-pain at the hospital (Read “Ballast”) and I’m reading the freaking contract. And editing it. And don’t get me started on Nursing Home Admission contracts (if you're not careful you could sign your personal life away to admit Mom!)

So, no surprise, I read the 22 paragraphs. And tinkered with it, striking out or changing stuff like.
  • ‘automatic renewal’ – if I want to renew for another year, I’ll let you know. Struck.
  • ‘late charges’ – general principals. Struck.
  • Collection costs and attorneys fees: Nah.
  • Waiver of Jury Trial – Hell no.
  • Compulsory Arbitration – Hell Hell No!
  • Governing Law is Texas: HELLO!! I’m in Virginia. The phone book is distributed in Virginia. They’re DOING BUSINESS in Virginia. (The irony is that Virginia law probably favors the fools more than Texas law.)

I left in a bunch of stuff that protects them and makes any claim I could dream up worthless. They’re gonna get a paltry $2400.00 for my year of advertising (at $200.00 per month) so it’s not a big deal to me and certainly not to them. Of course the rep called about the ‘changes to the agreement’ and wants me to call her back.


Sunday, January 18, 2009

You know you're getting old when . . .

Susan and I decided to make Chili and Cornbread, sit by the fire and watch TV today. Great Sunday activity.

My chili recipe includes beer and frozen cut okra. We needed some ingredients and so off to the store we went.

At checkout, with the beer, the clerk was running them through and of course there was the extra beep when the beer went across the scanner. The running total sign asked "Customer over 40?". Usually at this point cashiers are supposed to ask for an ID. I'm at the point of being flattered to be thought of that young. I've been known to respond "Bless you, child" or sometimes "Bless you, GrandChild".

Not today. The cashier didn't even blink but punched 'yes'.


Sunday, January 11, 2009


The word "Tidy" has never been part of descriptors used of me. Never.

I can hear the guffaws now.

George Carlin called it "Stuff". I've got a lot of Stuff. And I don't put my stuff where it should be all the time.

I like to think I'm better than I used to be - about putting stuff away, that is. I think it's an age defense thing; it's getting harder to remember where I left stuff so in self defense for the future it gets closer to where it belongs.

Sunday I was looking for something in my workshop (talk about the opposite of tidy!) and I KNOW it's in there. Somewhere.

Growing up, I marveled at my father's collection of stuff in his workshop. Stuff he had no use for, but might need it someday. And my (then) wife's grandfather died and we were going through his workshop and a lot of the same type of stuff was there. You know, old parts from electric fixtures; old plumbing faucets and so forth, parts from things broken that "might be useful someday".

Now that I'm in the middle-age 'plus' group I'm afraid I've got both of them beat.

And have a hard time finding any of it.

Friday, January 9, 2009

I'd rather be his Friend

Yesterday I attended the graveside service of a gentleman (I’ll call him “Jim”) for whom I’ve been guardian – and conservator – for several years. It was chilly and windy, and like a fool I left my overcoat at the office.

But the service was one of the nicest I’ve been to for years. The minister spoke and did his thing, then several of his friends spoke. I learned a lot about Jim I had never known. I wish I'd gotten to know him 'in the day'.

I do a lot of guardianship work – I act as a ‘guardian of last resort’ in many instances and currently am guardian for a number of elder people who have no one to watch out for them. Many of these people have Alzheimer’s type dementia; some have been in an accident and suffer brain injury; Jim drank and pickled his brain, and could no longer care for himself. Someone had to help and take action Jim would not like and to which he would object.

But Jim was very lucky and blessed – he had friends. Friends who visited him regularly in the nursing home. Friends who took him to lunch. Friends who brought him cigarettes. Friends who cared and remembered the good days.
At the hearing when I was appointed Guardian for Jim, one of his his longtime friends and his attorney appeared and testified about why he thought Jim needed a guardian. The judge asked “Would you like to be the Guardian?”

“No sir, I’d rather be his friend”.

May we all be blessed with friends who care as much as Jim’s did.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


A week before Thanksgiving I awoke around 5 AM to a pain. I thought it was indigestion or something.

But it got worse. Around 7 or so Allyson wanted to know where I was; I told her I felt bad – something hurt. Allyson called Shannon; Shannon later came over and ended up taking me to the Carilion ER.

After a bunch of poking and prodding, and a few x-ray pictures, we figured out it was a kidney stone.

It wasn’t my first kidney stone – I’d had one “two wives ago” as I told the ER Doc. Um, make that about 25 years ago. That first one was excruciating. Incredible. This one, on the other hand, was merely painful as hell. It went away – partly with simple Tylenol™

So the ‘imaging’ showed I’ve got kidney stones. Enough for a small parking lot. It also showed Gallstones. Ouch.

I went on home, made appointment with my urologist, primary doc, and started reading up on the durn things.

One Sunday evening about ten days later I told Allyson I felt another stone coming on and helped her get to bed early, just in case. It came; was painful but I toughed it out, and it dissipated about 2 so I could get some sleep. At 3 AM it’s brother decided to come out. Susan came over and took me to the ER this time and Shannon came to help Allyson. I ended up having Lithotripsy about 10 days after that to break up the stone hanging in my ureter (the tube between kidney and bladder). The remaining stones will have to be taken out a hard way (there are several methods) as they’re too big to ‘pass’.

At church Sunday I was talking to a friend (with whom I share initials) who had his gallbladder taken out a few weeks ago. We were discussing respective ailments, and were joined by other midlife-plus folks. After a few minutes I commented, to universal agreement, “Hey, we’re getting to be old farts. We aren’t discussing girls, sports, cars, children or grandchildren. We’re discussing ailments and the doctors we see. This is ridiculous!”

Let’s see now: Kidney Stones. Gallstones. Rocks in my head. I feel like Ballast.

Gee, being ‘stoned’ has taken on a different meaning than in my youth.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Public Service

[Note: the following is a letter I sent to the Virginia Bar News and was published July, 2008]

Last year I received one of four “Pro Bono” awards given by the Virginia State Bar for volunteering time and expertise to those who could not afford a lawyer. It was a total surprise – at the time I didn’t even know the award existed. I appreciate the recognition and receiving the award.

When I learned of the award, I thought, “What’s the big deal? I was just doing my job”. My guess is my three colleagues who also won the award feel the same way. We’re just doing our job.

And that’s it. That’s the Key: “Doing my – OUR – job.”

I am a third generation lawyer – my grandfather, his brother (at one time a Roanoke Hustings—now Circuit—Court judge), my father, my uncle, and now my cousin and I, were and are all lawyers. Our family has always worked to help others with their legal problems even if they couldn’t afford the fee.

Growing up in the 50’s and 60’s, I remember my father talking about getting a Legal Aid service started in the Roanoke area. Trying for funding, trying to get other lawyers to take on cases “pro bono” and the frustration of not enough money or lawyers to meet the demand. Through this, my father, Col. James P. Hart, Jr., taught me that it’s the duty of all lawyers to take pro bono cases in areas where we have the knowledge and skills to help.

So when legal aid makes a referral, and it’s an area I can handle competently, I’m going to take it. Given my upbringing, my job – my duty – is to accept it. Most of the time the cases aren’t hard and I know I’ve helped someone, which is a good feeling. Occasionally one gets a little wild, but that’s life as a lawyer whether or not there’s a fee.

My plea is to all lawyers: call your local legal aid office and tell them you want to help. Talk to them about the areas you can handle or are willing to learn. Agree to take two cases a year; Agree to do “Hotline” telephone advice for an hour every other month. Many legal aid agencies have “how to do it” guides for the routine matters such as a no-fault divorce. Their staff attorneys will answer questions and help if you get an unfamiliar rough spot.

Poor people usually don’t have complicated problems – they just have problems that need a little bit of a lawyer’s time. Give that bit of time.

It’s our job.