All articles, tagged with “the outer colonies”

the hunt, redux

I am, once again, apartment-hunting in San Francisco. It is even more awesome than last time.


Subject: your 4br listing on craigslist
From: "Dr. Memory" 

Hey there.  My wife and I are very interested in taking a look at this
unit; when is a good time for you to show it?

-Dr. Memory
 (phone number)


From: Val Robertson <>
Subject: Re: your 4br listing on craigslist
To: "Dr. Memory" 
Date: Fri, 3 Feb 2012 06:10:22 -0800 (PST)


I got a contract job in an engineering company for a construction project as
part of the structural engineers to build a highrise building in West Africa. I
am a Building tech specialist, so my accommodation period in Nigeria will be
about 4 years, so that's the reason why i am renting out the unit. I do not
intend to make profit out of it all i want is to find a good and clean person
to take good care of the place. I`m the owner of the unit and it is furnished
but if you want you can make use of your furniture's and help keep mine in the
storage locker which is situated both in the unit and in the building and these
does not attracts any funds.

The monthly rent am requesting for includes all utilities (water, electricity,
Internet, cable, 1 parking spots, air conditioning, dishwasher, garbage
disposal, microwave, refrigerator, stove, laundry in-suite, washer and dryer)
the monthly rent you will be paying includes all this and they will be taken
care of as soon as you pay your rent.

Everything in this unit is functional and in good working conditions. Once you
started staying in the unit and there is any case of any repairs which is as a
result of normal faults like leakages, you will get in touch with me and i will
get it fixed, i am in possession of the keys to the Home which makes hard for
you to view the unit. You can move into the unit when you receive the keys but
the only problem is that am the only person who has the keys but i hope that we
will be able to reach a compromise on this.

ADDRESS TO THE PROPERTY: 1034 Delaware Street, Berkeley CA 94710

The lease is month to month , 6 month or 1yrs and can be renewed ~It can be
rented furnished or unfurnished ~ You will have to take good care of my unit
Utilities are included in the rent ~Pets Allowed Any further questions please
contact and get back to me for the pics of the unit and the application form.
Thank you for your interest and i`m awaiting your response.



Date: Fri, 3 Feb 2012 10:07:43 -0800
Subject: Re: your 4br listing on craigslist
From: "Dr. Memory" 
To: Val Robertson <>

Val: this sounds like the deal of the century!  In Jesus' name, I am most
happy to have met you.

I would be happy to pay you the full year's rent in cash, as I have
recently come into a large sum of money left to me by Maryam Abacha, the
widow of General Sani Abacha, ex-military Head of State of the Federal
Republic of Nigeria who died on the 8th of June 1998 of heart problems.
Since you are in Nigeria you are undoubtedly familiar with how generous the
Abachas were with their estate!

Madam Abacha left to me the sum of 30 million dollars US, out of which I
could easily fulfill the terms of your lease.  As you are currently
residing in Nigeria, you would be the perfect person to help me secure the
transfer of these funds from the Central Bank of Nigeria to my accounts at
Citibank NY.  I would like to hire you to be my agent in this matter, for
which I will pay you 15% of the total funds once they are transferred.

If you are interested, please respond immediately.

-Dr. Memory
 Global Skunkworks Investments, LLC
 San Francisco, CA

So far no reply, but I live in hope.

how to amuse my local salesmen and neighbors:

Walk into a furniture store with a folding luggage cart and a set of bungie cords. Walk out with a 6ft by 3ft wooden bookshelf rolling behind you. Carry/lug/roll the bookcase a mile down Valencia street. I haven’t seen so many wide eyes since the last time I wore a suit on BART.

In Manhattan, this wouldn’t really raise any eyebrows: the collapsable luggage cart is a vital part of the urban warrior toolkit there, and it’s not at all unusual to see people using them to move everything up to 10k-BTU air conditioners, coffee tables and the odd refrigerator. Here not so much apparently.

(Of course, having gotten all butched up by moving furniture using only muscle and simple physics, I found out at the end of the trip that it’s physically impossible to get the damn thing up the stairs by myself: the entryway is just too narrow. Oops.)

rattle and hum


Well now. I’ve never seen a building do that before. Especially not from the inside.

What was “that?” The Wave, apparently.

This sort of thing will shake a man’s faith in “solid” objects.

attention, fellow nerds

The California Extreme 2007 vintage arcade videogame and pinball exhibition is this weekend in San Jose. I’ll be going down on Saturday morning to bask in the nerdly goodness of it. Anyone care to join me? I can provide a lift for at least 2 people.

The Hunt

The one year anniversary of my coming to this strange little city passed mostly without comment in this venue. That may change in the near future, or may not. But a friend of mine who is about to move here from L.A. asked me in email what the apartment-hunting process had been like for me, and that reminded me that back at the end of that experience, I’d promised to do that publically.

So here, briefly summarized, are the things I learned from my apartment hunt in San Francisco:

  1. More than anything else: preprint your own application form, and make a dozen copies of it so that you can hand it on the spot to the landlord of any place you like. What you want is a stapled packet that includes, for each person who’s going to be on the lease:
    • Contact information (name/address/phone/email)
    • Social Security Numbers
    • Name and contact info of current and last employer
    • yearly income
    • photocopy of 2 pay stubs if possible
    • Name and contact info of current and last landlord
    • Name and contact info of 2 personal references
    • a copy of your credit reports (you can get this from
    • pet info: how many, what kind, and the magical phrase “willing to provide pet damage deposit”

    You want to do this because time is of the essence here: you’re going to be seeing 4-8 places a day, and if you have to stop each time to fill out someone else’s form, you’re going to miss appointments (and get wrist cramps), and if the landlord has to wait to run your credit report or for you to fax him/her your paystubs, s/he’s just going to give the apartment to someone else. (Trust me on this: I got passed over for two excellent apartments because I hadn’t figured this out yet.) If you see an apartment you like, you should be able to just whip out the packet, sign it and hand it over with a smile in one fluid motion.

    If anyone’s curious, I can dig up the form I put together in MS Word for this purpose: I managed to get all of the above information (minus the credit report and pay stubs, obviously) onto a single sheet for two people.

  2. Prepare to have your time wasted. A lot. You’re going to need to be very very zen about this process, or you’re going to go to jail for assault and battery (and possibly arson). The jury will be sympathetic, but will convict anyway. Landlords, real estate agents and building managers are all-too-aware of the fact that this is a sellers’ market and will act accordingly: they will show up late or not at all, the descriptions of the apartments in the ads will resemble the actual apartments in ways that could be charitiably described as “fanciful”, they will forget to call you back, and occasionally refuse to take your application for reasons they’ve made up on the spot. There’s no helping it, so you just have to suck it up.

  3. Cozy” means “tiny”.

  4. Rental agents here are, as far as I can tell, 100% useless if you’re not already a dot-com millionaire. I called 4 of them and got exactly zero leads that were even within laughing distance of my price range. Craigslist is the way, the truth and the light: check it every morning and every afternoon, print out the listings that look good, and start making phone calls.

  5. On a weekend, you are racing against the clock and against every other apartment-seeker in the city. Plan accordingly: on Friday night, you should have printouts of each listing you’re going to be visiting, in order, and unless you know the city really well you should use Google Maps to print out directions from each one to the next. The two most productive days I spent apartment-hunting, I had a stapled stack of papers that alternated between craigslist listings and Google Maps printouts.

  6. Private one-on-one showings of apartments are rare: open-houses are the rule (especially on the weekends), and for an even remotely desireable apartment they will be a mad scramble. Show up early. It’s not at all unusual for the first person in the door to hand the landlord an application and a deposit check. You want to be that first person, every time. (Hat tip to for reminding me of this one.)

  7. You can live in San Francisco without a car. You can not effectively apartment-hunt without one, unless you are hunting only in a single neighborhood. (And maybe not even then: “The Mission” covers a lot more ground than you think.) Rent a car for the weekend, or borrow a friend’s.

  8. Have a pet? You have a problem. “No pets” seems to be the default position of most SF landlords: I got rejected from half a dozen places because of my cats; I shudder to imagine what happens to dog owners. Some persistance helps here though: offering a pet damage deposit (basically the cost of replacing the carpets in most places) and a happy reference from a previous landlord will occasionally change people’s minds.

  9. In SF, places with parking are rare. Be prepared to pay extra and hunt longer if that’s a concern. This is probably less of an issue in the eastbay, where parking is plentiful but public transit is (more) atrocious.

  10. The more time you can devote to the search, the better: it took me about 2 months of weekending to find an acceptable place. The ideal thing would be to spend 2-3 weeks non-stop of seeing places every day.

  11. Don’t despair. It was a long and arduous trek, but at the end of it we found a place that we like in a neighborhood we love.

story structure

Exposition: submitted two questions to Doctor Hal.

Rising action: was rewarded with two shots of Fernet

Climax: two shots of fernet plus three beers equals ouch ouch my head oh lord this was a bad idea.

Denouement: I was not quite drunk enough to get into Chicken John’s bus to drive to Santa Rosa to return the driver’s license he’d found in the Haight last week.

Moral: Ask Doctor Hal is every Wednesday at 12 Galaxies. You should come next time.

the yellow(ing) wallpapercarpet

A small addition to the list of things that my dream apartment/house will never, under any circumstances, have:

Wall-to-wall white carpet.
Seriously, who thought that putting this stuff into any kind of living space was a good idea? Even if my cats didn’t regard horking as a competitive sport (and they do: the world finals are usually held at 3am), the normal grind of boots, food droppings and sloshed drinks — which in an apartment with wood or laminate floors is cause for nothing more than a grumbling grab for the paper towels — is guaranteed to turn this stuff into a calico quilt of ugly.

After four hours with a rental steam cleaner, I’ve got it looking… mostly a bit better than it was when we moved in. Yes, the landlord allegedly had it professionally cleaned before we moved in. I conclude from this that either he hired incompetents, has a higher tolerance for weird stains on carpet than me, or that I’m just more persistent at this than sane people.

Dear brilliant friends who live in homes with carpet: how the hell do you deal with this? Lots of area rugs? Just ignore it? Hire professionals? Buy your own steam cleaner? I’m all ears.

greetings, earthman

I have discovered a foolpoof way to get stared at as if you are from Mars:

  1. Get dressed up for dinner at a fancy restaurant.

  2. Take BART to aforementioned restaurant.
Both of these things are apparently just not done: I was one of maybe three men in the entire restaurant in a jacket, and Miranda and I were both attracting double-takes all the way there and back.

…which was kind of ironic, since we’d spent Sunday at Dore Alley (mom, don’t click that) and took Muni there with me kitted up in full Village People regalia (including, god help me, chaps), and attracted significantly less attention.

Live and learn.

play it again, sam

I left my heart in San Francisco.

And also, apparently, my pants.

file under: sheesh

Our old apartment in Manhattan was a bit of a rarity in that it had a seperate dining room. Now, by a stroke of what could be called luck if you were charitable, when I finally moved in with Miranda, I was the owner of a six-seat dining set, so we were occasionally able to use the dining room to entertain medium-sized crowds.

…but the disclaimer about luck was intentional: this thing was, to be blunt, ugly as sin. It was a circa-1976 glass-top table, with a base made of brass-finish tubing and faux oak, and six chairs also made of the same metal tubing, with hideously ugly brown-with-gold-tints upholstery. It was everything awful about the 1970s asthetic crammed together: one look at it, and you could just see it all sitting on deep green shag carpeting, while people with bad facial hair did lines off it. The only reason I had it at all was that my apartment in boston had needed a kitchen table, and a co-worker at BBN had been willing to sell me the entire set for $75.

Physically acquiring the thing was an adventure in and of itself, involving strapping the tabletop to the roof of Jeremy Behrle’s Toyota Corolla with bungie cords, and then driving down Route 2 into Boston desperately holding on to the glass with our hands out the side windows, because the wind kept nearly successfully ripping it off the roof of the car.

In any case, our new apartment in San Francisco, while about the same size in square feet, does not have a dining room at all, and is no place for a table that does not collapse, fold down, lose leaves or preferably all of the above. So I’m trying to get rid of it, and did what I assumed was the obvious thing: put an ad on craigslist. I asked for $150 in the spirit of utter optimism, figuring I’d quickly come down to $75, then $50, then eventually put it in the free stuff category.

By tuesday, the ad had produced only one response: a weirdly irate woman writing to complain that she couldn’t see the table well in the pictures. And true enough, they’re crappy pictures, but due to all of the boxes yet to unpack, we don’t have the space to actually set the table up in the apartment right now. Since there was nothing I could do for her (and I didn’t care for her tone anyway), I just deleted her mail and ignored it.

Today, I got another mail from the same woman:

From: Karen_Alexander@(elided).com
Subject: dining table

You need to show THE TABLE!! Your picture shows only people eating!! I might be interested in the table but cannot see what the heck it looks like or anything! Please give measurements and show a better picture if you want results.

thank you.

This e-mail and any attachments are confidential. If you receive this message in error or are not the intended recipient, you should not retain, distribute, disclose or use any of this information and you should destroy the e-mail and any attachments or copies.

Well, it’s certainly good to know that this was a confidential email! Okay, score one point for ‘s assessment of the bay area mentality, I guess. My response:
From: “Dr. Memory”
To: Karen_Alexander@(elided).com
Subject: Re: dining table
Reply-to: postmaster@(elided).com

Your incredibly constructive suggestion was already noted and given appropriate consideration the last time you sent it to me. Don’t feel obligated to do it a third time.

In the sprit of unsolicited kibitzing which you seem to enjoy so much, allow me to suggest that COMMANDING people you have never met before (with a mix of all-caps and multiple exclamation points no less) to help you is unlikely to produce particularly useful results.

There are, however, ways to get the things you want without needlessly pissing off the people you’re trying to get them from. For instance, someone with a smidgen of manners (not you, in other words) might have said something like:

“Hi, I think I might be interested in your table, but I don’t get a good sense of its size or looks from the pictures in your ad. Do you have a better picture, or at least the measurements?”

Addtionally, someone possessed of some meagre deductive skills (again, someone other than you) would have read the text of the ad and inferred that the reason there was no carefully posed photo of just the table was because I had just moved and there is no room in my new apartment to set it up. They would have made this clever deduction mostly because that’s what I said in the ad, so actually it wouldn’t be deduction at all, but merely “reading comprehension”. (But again, clearly a skill possessed by someone else.)

In short, thank you for your timely reminder that craiglist’s reputation as a magnet for the desperate, clueless and deranged is well-deserved, and that the common garage sale is far underrated.


The reply-to was probably a little mean. I wonder if she’ll notice it?