Tag Archives: NJ

Don’t You Want My Business?

I’ve been living in the suburbs almost two years and one of the things I’ve learned is that there is always something to do, fix or decorate.  While my husband and I try to do some of these things on our own, there are many times we need to call in a professional to help.

When we moved into our home in the summer of 2011, we joined Angie’s List hoping it would help us find reputable, reliable contractors. That year, we received a handful of estimates from the many workers we reached out to. This year, it’s been like pulling teeth to get people to complete an estimate.

In the last two months, we have had nearly seven contractors come to our home for various projects we’re thinking of executing. I’ve waited at home during the day for them to show up or my husband meets with them on a weekend. We take time out of our day as they do theirs. However, with at least five of these contractors, we have had to reach out to them repeatedly to get the estimate they promised to send us “in just a few days.”

One construction company never sent an estimate. We followed up a week later and they never responded. We waited another week before calling back and finally got the estimate the following day, but with one of the projects missing. When we called and emailed them, they simply ignored us. A landscaper failed to send us an estimate after two full weeks. After numerous follow ups, we finally received the document but had some additional questions; we got no response to any of them until three weeks later (after we reached out to check in…again). Believe it or not, this happened with a lot of the contractors we tried to work with which was beyond frustrating.

For an economy we hear is still in the toilet, you’d think people would want this type of business. My husband and I are surprised by the lack of service we have received, especially since we chose to work with contractors recommended through Angie’s List. I asked one of the contractors who came by (who actually provided us an estimate in a timely manner) why we were experiencing this from people we hoped to hire. He told me contractors are good at their job but horrible at following up, providing estimates and dealing with administrative tasks. He said when they have a staff to do this, you usually get better service, but when it’s just them and the few guys who work for them, you shouldn’t be surprised having to back pedal for estimates and get answers to your questions. Seriously?

Needless to say, if you know a reliable contractor who is looking for work in New Jersey, we’re still looking!

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From Simple Power Outage to Mall Shooting

The other night I was at the Livingston Mall returning a handful of Christmas gifts when the lights went out. At first, everyone thought it was a momentary outage and continued on their way. I happened to be in H&M and was heading for the exit when I decided maybe I should stay put until the lights came back on. It could only be a matter of moments, right? Wrong.

I waited near the store’s entrance for about five minutes, fidgeting with my phone, looking through what else I had to return and which store I’d head to next. People didn’t seem too discouraged by the lights being out; they pulled out their phones or pocket flashlights  to light their way as they continued shopping.

Initially, I wasn’t fazed by the blackout and figured I would keep on shopping like everyone else. That changed quickly as my mind suddenly reverted back to the recent mall shootings in Oregon and Newport Beach after the lights still hadn’t come back on. Then I got scared. What if someone cut the power and was running through the mall with a gun, targeting holiday shoppers? It was a busy time of year, the mall was packed and crazier things have happened. I decided it was time to leave.

I headed to the nearest exit where my car was parked when I noticed Macy’s was closing its door gates. It seemed strange that they were essentially locking down the store to shoppers which made me even more anxious to get out. Luckily, they were letting customers out (just not in) and I made it safely to my car.

Getting out of the parking lot was horrendous but I knew I was likely safer in my car than the mall. Why did I need to be in a dark mall anyway – there was no power – I couldn’t purchase or return anything, and it was pitch black? As I drove home, I saw at least 10 first responders, from ambulances to firemen to police, speeding toward the mall, igniting my curiosity. I felt anxious, wondering if something was really going down or if the recent craziness of our society made me think a simple power outage was something much more dramatic.

Turns out a transformer blew and the mall closed for two days. There was no shooting, no imminent danger, just loss of power. I felt silly thinking it was something grander and more grotesque than the loss of power, but honestly, going anywhere these days sometimes makes me think twice. With school shootings, movie theater murders and people being gunned down at shopping malls, these type of assumptions are sadly becoming the norm.

Hurry Up and Wait

“Hurry up and wait!!” Those were the words of my esteemed disaster response director when I worked for the Red Cross. Hurricane Sandy, we’re hurrying up and waiting.

We tried to be smart and prepare early, starting on Saturday. We didn’t prepare as well as we thought, because by Sunday, we were back out again buying supplies. We kind of missed the boat on that one. We hit seven ATMs before we were finally able to get some cash since the machines were out of money. The supermarket was out of bread, water and milk. Gas stations ran out of gas and Home Depot was bare of hurricane supplies like drains, lanterns, batteries and flashlights; though that wasn’t a huge surprise. 

Before 3pm ET, we got the call that work in New York City was shut down and the transit system, including the subway, PATH, MTA, and NJ Transit were closing until further notice. Wall Street would not be trading, the first time its closed since September 11, 2001. And we just got word that the Holland Tunnel is also closing this afternoon. 

For the last two and half days, we have done our best to secure the house and our belongings. The outdoor furniture was taken inside and the cars were moved into the garage. We sealed the basement to prevent flooding, brought up all our personal items and stacked the washer and dryer on cinder blocks.  We cleared all the leaves from gutters nearly three times and stored away the fire wood to make a fire when we lose power. The flashlights have all been tested, the candles are ready to burn and the food and water are stored. We’ve done everything we can to prepare for Sandy. 

I have lived in Jersey my whole life and have never seen anything like this. When a snow storm is on its way, of course, the shelves are bare of food and supplies, but that is what we have come to expect. People get nervous and you work to prepare.  We laugh about it, saying it’s just a storm, not the end of the world. But this preparation is one that I have yet to experience. Even working in the disaster field, where you see this kind of response more frequently, didn’t prepare me for when it would happen in my own town. 

So now what? As our trusted disaster response director Bill used to say, “We hurry up and wait,” for the worst, knowing we prepared as best we could for an impending disaster. Stay safe and heed the warnings my friends. 

The Sounds of Silence

When I was younger, I couldn’t wait for my parents to get out of the house.  I loved being home alone and having the place all to myself. These days, when I go to visit, I’m scared to be there without them!

For the last 10 years, I have resided in Hoboken. I’ve lived on a busy street, across from a hospital and under a lounge, so I’m used to noise and clamoring outside my window. When I head to my parents’ place in northwest New Jersey, the stillness scares the hell out of me.

Growing up on a mountain, I became conditioned to weird noises and random animals that would traipse around our yard. However, I never expected to be scared out of my wits being there alone.

Last summer, I stayed on the mountain while my folks were traveling. I probably called them at least 10 times to describe the creaks and noises that kept me from sleeping. Looking out the window though, there was no life; it was nothing but street lamps and dead silence, everything was so desolate.

During a recent visit, I was awakened by a red fox. While I have never seen the creature, its screams are that of someone being raped or murdered. The first time I heard it, I thought a woman was being brutally tortured. The screams were terrifying. I ran and woke up my family, ready to get the axe in fear of our lives. I was then informed, “We hear that all the time, it’s the red fox.”

I was beside myself. How could these noises come out of an animal that is leisurely hanging around our yard? Apparently, this is typical in areas where my parents reside. It was then that I realized I am now a trained city girl and despite my best efforts, the mountain gal in me is disappearing (and scaring me to death!).

When I moved to the city, I grew to accept the sounds of sirens and loud bar patrons throughout the night. Gone are the days of lifeless streets at 1 a.m. and the calls of nature. To me, a peaceful night consists of lingering noises out my door, assuring me that I am not alone. After a weekend at my parents, I’m afraid of what will happen when my husband and I up and move to the ‘burbs!

To hear the red fox, click here.

How My Accountant Screwed Me (Three Years Later)

My husband and I recently received a letter from the state telling us we had a tax deficiency. What the hell was that? The only deficiencies we knew of were iron deficiencies and the like, so needless to say, we were baffled.

As were read the less than informative documentation the state provided us with, our eyes were drawn to part that said we owed the state $320…from 2007!

Yes, this was a letter that was sent to us in September 2010 about our taxes from April 2007. Governor Christie must really be ramping up on getting Jersey’s money back!

We called our accountants, Weintraub & Associates, who we had used jointly since we got married, and who my husband and his family had been using for decades. We figured they’d handle everything and pay any fees and penalties, and likely pay the tax owed. Don’t HR Block and Jackson Hewitt make those promises?

Apparently it was our accountant’s screw up. Something in their software that they didn’t cross check since new policies came into play caused the error and now we’re the ones who have to pay. Graciously, they offered to pay the $13 penalty fee. Are you friggin’ kidding me?

We have gone to them for years, our families have gone to them since before we were born, and they want to pay $13. What a slap in the face! After battling it out, we got them to pay the interest over the three years (which they wanted to credit to next year’s tax bill), but were still responsible for the actual taxes due.

Concerned about the glitch, I asked them to check the returns from other years we had worked with them. Turns out, 2007 wasn’t the only year they botched.

We now owe over $500 dollars to the State of New Jersey. I’m not opposed to paying the state what is rightfully theirs, but I am angry that I trusted this firm with my finances and livelihood and they took my money. (Don’t forget, I was unemployed for parts of 2007 and both me and my husband were without jobs for almost all of 2009.) and did such a thoughtless and careless job. They never even said they were sorry.

The owner of the firm, Howard Weintraub, reluctantly agreed to pay our penalty and interest for 2007. We’re still waiting on 2009. We want our money back from one, if not both of the years they did our taxes or have the company pay what we owe. It’s only right. We paid for a service that was delivered poorly and incorrectly. He refused, was arrogant to both me and my husband, and took zero responsibility for the mistakes he and his staff made.

There was no way we could have known that this was done incorrectly, and even though it’s  frustrating and annoying and disheartening, and we’re unexpectedly out all this money, we’re glad we know now because this could have gone on for years. Anyone know a good accountant?

City Mouse vs. Country Mouse

It’s been a beautiful weekend. It’s one of those weekends that reminds me of why I love living in Hoboken. I have the ability to do so many things in this little square mile of a town and the sun beating down on me makes everything just that much better.

I’m a city girl. I think I became that way because I grew up on a mountain where you had to drive everywhere. I endured snowstorms and bad weather which held me captive in my home for days, because, and rightfully so, my parents did not want to drive in torturous weather, nor could they. There were only chain restaurants to eat at and they were all at least 20+ minutes away. There weren’t many places to hang out as a kid and not much to explore, unless you really liked nature or had a license.

I finally landed a job after college and commuted to the city from my mountainous home which was hell. I couldn’t wait to move, just for the pure joy of a normal commute. I came to Hoboken in February 2002 and have never looked back.

I love that I can walk to eclectic restaurants and discover new food. And if I decide to drink too much, I can walk or take a cab home for $5. I can hop into the city in 15 minutes or less. I can do my food shopping across the street and if I forget something, I can run right back out and pick it up. Just this week, I had an interview in the city, came back, went for a run along the Hudson River, popped into the bar my girlfriends were hanging out at, grabbed a water to quench my thirst and got back home just in time to enjoy the nice weather with my man. What more could a girl want?

My husband on the other hand, he’s kind of a country guy. He’s been in Hoboken longer than I have, but when he came out of work on Friday, he complained about the city smog, longed to grill a steak in the backyard we don’t have and swing in his hammock connected to our non-existent trees. He wants a home, more space, a driveway. I understand and want some of those things too, but I don’t know that I am ready to give up some of my favorite things just yet. This weather certainly doesn’t help his case.

I know we’ll find our dream home when the time is right and I finally land a full-time gig. I will likely have a less-than-desirable commute again and the grocery store won’t be as convenient when I forget the lentils for the lentil soup. So until then, I will savor in all of Hoboken’s delights until my country mouse takes me out of the city. As long as I’m with him though, I know I’ll be OK!

Help! My Portfolio Has Been Hijacked by City Hall

In September, I interviewed for what I thought was an amazing job. It was for the public information officer position in my hometown of Hoboken.  I met with our interim mayor at the last-minute, over a holiday weekend, and thought it went fabulously. She took my portfolio and asked for my references.

She said the position needed to be filled immediately, but weeks went by and there was no follow-up. When I checked in, I was told interviews were still being conducted. I was cool with that. The job market has changed drastically and it’s not the same finding a gig today as it used to be. Whereas two years ago, you may have gone on one or two interviews within two weeks, these days, you may go through three to five over a two month period.

As the weeks progressed, I heard nothing. Ok, I thought, maybe the position was on hold while she was running for permanent office; maybe it was canceled due to lack of funding; or perhaps it was filled internally. Whatever the case, it would have been nice to have received a follow-up, but better yet, to have gotten my work back.

I called and emailed the mayor’s office for weeks with no response. The mayor had given me her personal email but my attempts proved unsuccessful.  I left messages with people in her office who promised they would relay my concern about my portfolio but still no movement. I reached out to the mayor’s aide who at one point said he’d get me my stuff by the end of the week, only to be forgotten about.

HELP! My press portfolio is being hijacked in city hall! Ok, I am being a bit dramatic here, but seriously, I brought great samples of my work to this interview because it was something I wanted; I truly wanted to impress. In this economy, it’s sin that anyone would ignore repeated attempts to get someone’s work back. Being too busy is not an acceptable reason. I’m a resident (an unemployed one at that!) of your community; please, show me a little respect!

I shouldn’t have to write a blog to get my work back, but maybe it will work.