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O’Connor is American Book Fest Award Finalist

Congratulations to friend and blog-contributor Steve O’Connor whose book This Is No Time to Quit Drinking: Teacher Burnout and the Irish Powers was just named a finalist for the 2020 Best Book Award in the Fiction/Cross-Genre category by the American Book Fest.

Steve was up against some tough competition as the Cross Genre Fiction webpage reveals.

Here’s a synopsis of This Is No Time to Quit Drinking:

Ah, the unfortunate Bartley Hannigan. Teacher burnout is just one of his problems. There’s also his disintegrating marriage, the inheritance of a haunted property with its uninvited bibulous guest, a psycho poet with a fatal attraction, the arrival of an Irish banshee hunter with poor personal hygiene, his sudden passion for a stripper, and eventually, the hit man on his trail. But as the gypsy said, this “shit-storm” will lead to either a higher plane of understanding—or sudden death. Either way, Bartley can hear his train a comin’, and he’s ready to jump aboard and ride the winding rails to the last stop, because he’s done with the bullshit! Done!

And to paraphrase the title, This Is No Time to Quit Buying Books, so consider buying this one (available in paperback or Kindle).

New Story by Jerry Bisantz

LEAVES, AND OTHER
MASOCHISTIC VENTURES

By Jerry Bisantz

The majestic Maple. The over -arching Oak. The beauty of these amazing trees are one of the reasons we fell in love with our house so many years ago. Sentinels of Suburbia, they tower over our house, one in the backyard, one in my neighbor’s front lawn. Over 200 years of growth represented in their stately branches. Lending shade in the summer, glorious new growth in the Spring, they proudly stand against the worst that nature can hand them and continue to give comfort and beauty to a world of concrete, cars and noise.

And then: Autumn.  Yeah, Autumn.  And …

LEAVES, SO MANY LEAVES!!!!

It’s 9:00 AM. After a reasonably healthy meal of Quaker Oats (adding raisins, the only way to eat them) I head out to my garage. The quest begins. THE RAKE. I gotta find the rake. I lift the garage door, and I hear the scrambling of my new tenants, two squirrels. I have tried to get rent from them, but to no avail.  I do what I always do… I bang on the side of a metal garbage can to scare them, as my mind always leaps back to that scene in National Lampoon’s Christmas, certainly don’t want to pull a “Julia Louise Dreyfuss,” a squirrel leaping on my face. I bang loudly, they scatter to the back of the garage. Oh, well, something to deal with later.

After much swearing and searching I find the rake. It’s under the tarp that I used to put under my tent when I last went camping. A perfect place for it, I think. Now, grab the large plastic garbage can with the wheels. I will put the paper leaf bag in said can so I will have a little stability as I push the leaves down. I have 24 bags. That should do it.

Now,  the most important part. My i -phone. I simply MUST have music while I work. I plug my ear buds in, hit “songs”, hit “shuffle”. The dulcet tones of Van Morrison comes on, assuring me that I am very lucky indeed, to be on the “bright side of the road”.

OK, armed with my rake, my bags, my tunes, I am ready to do a real man’s work. A job that has been passed down from generation to generation. Attack mode is assumed. The reliable scraping sound of the rake somehow seems to blend with Van and all is good. But, oh, my God. There are so many

LEAVES

I won’t look, I will just rake.  If I look too much I will get overwhelmed. I feel like Sisyphus, it looks like I will never get anywhere. I rake, I pick up, I jam, I rake, I pick up, I jam, I rake some more. The leaves are dry, and I begin to feel that asthmatic clutch in my throat that happens every year. Is it the Oak? Is it the Maple? Well, one of these suckers kills my breathing, an allergy I have had from childhood. It’s hot, and sweat begins to drip into my eyes, blurring my vision.  Rake, pick up, jam, rake, pick up, jam, rake, pick up, jam.  New  bag, open that sucker up.  How come they never want to open easily? I have to reach further into the bag than I possibly can.  My arms are not long enough. I finally open one up, force it into the garbage pail, I reach down, and take a huge scoop of leaves in my rake, put it into the bag, but the end of the bag folds over as I start to empty the contents, spilling my nice pile onto the driveway. Bend down, Jerry. Rake, pick up, jam, rake, pick up, jam.  I have a great vibe going. Paul Simon is telling me that he has a Kodachrome camera and my music cuts out. The ear buds have become unattached. I remove my garden gloves, grab my cell phone, and drop it into the bag of

LEAVES

The music cuts out, so I cannot hear where it fell. It’s gotta be on the top, surely it couldn’t have fallen too deeply into the bag? I reach into the bag. Feel around. No phone. This is ridiculous. It’s gotta be there. I mean, come on! I just dropped it! I continue to feel around. No phone. Sweat pours down my face. My eyeglass lenses are actually streaked with it. Do I really have to go into the house and call my phone? Really? No, it has to be here, somewhere. I gently pour the contents of the

LEAVES

Onto the driveway. I run the rake through the contents that have spilled all over.  Nothing. OK, fine! Fine! If that’s the way it’s gonna be, that’s the way it’s gonna be. I rip off my glasses and set them on the side of my porch ledge. Can’t see a goddamn thing out of them anyways, they are so sweated up. I run into the house.  My wife is in the kitchen. “Sharon, will you call my phone?”

“Why?”

“Just do it, please!”

“Why, did you lose your phone again?”

“Just do me a favor, and call, OK?”

“You lost your phone again, didn’t you?”

“Honey, JUST call my phone, OK? I will run back outside.”

I run to the pile collected next to the plastic can.  I hear a vague buzzing sound.  Great. I left my ringer off.  I run my fingers through the

LEAVES

Listening and smoothing, spreading the leaves in a long line along the driveway. I still cannot find my phone.  I run back inside, use my house phone, dial the number feverishly, set the phone down, sprint back outside, listening for that dull throbbing sound of my cell phone buzzer.  Is this it?  It’s got to be…

GOT IT!!! I have found the phone. Thank the Lord.  OK, the hell with music, it’s a nice day. Just me and the sweet Autumnal  sound of the rake. Who needs music on such a nice…

what the hell is that? That sound???

My back neighbor has fired up his leaf blower. Is there anything on planet Earth as obnoxious as the sound of a leaf blower? My neighbor, great guy that he is, has every power tool ever invented. A real “Man’s Kinda Man”, he drags them out at every opportunity. He’s always working on something. Fixing. Doing. Scraping. Hammering. Climbing. Sawing.

I hate him.

I get a call on my cell phone, now carefully placed in my back pocket.

“What ya doing”, comes the voice.

“Raking leaves”

“Oh, that’s nice, a great day for it.”

“Yeah, and the good thing is, no wind at all.”

“Well, I won’t keep you, have fun raking.”

“Yeah, a lotta fun, talk to ya later.”

I hang up the phone. One second later the wind kicks in. One second. One… lousy SECOND . . .

the pile of

LEAVES

begin to scatter all over the yard, literally eliminating the work I have already done. The trees begin to drop more leaves in earnest. I look at my cell phone to call my friend back to commiserate over the irony of my last remark.

I can’t read the cell phone.  My glasses aren’t on. I walk over to the edge of the porch, where I had placed them.

Not there. My eyeglasses are not there. The wind. The goddamn wind has apparently blown my eyeglasses into the

LEAVES

Now, here’s trouble. Expensive progressive, invisible multifocal lenses in my Ted Baker frame somewhere in a pile of… I won’t write the word, not now. Can’t bear to say it, even. I carefully walk around, sliding my foot slowly. The last thing I want is to scratch my new lenses.

No eyeglasses.

I mean, how far could they possibly fall? The wind wasn’t that strong. Now, on my hands and knees, perspiring through my shirt (and what the hell is that all about? It’s November and I am boiling) I am gently, very gently moving these brown, paper thin gifts from hell. How long have I been looking? Five minutes? It seems like an hour. I mean, this is a pair of expensive eyewear! I keep expecting to hear a crack when I take a step, a lens crushing beneath my foot. I move  a barrel out of the way, I gently rake a spot. Another spot. Another spot.

I look up at the sky, I curse the heavens, I swear as loudly as I can and throw the rake to the side. The wind picks up, the sun finally comes out. I see a dim refection off to the right, a spot that is simply not possible, yet, there they are! My eyeglasses, sitting gently on a pile of

LEAVES

Settling the eyeglasses back on my nose, I proceed. Rake. Pick up. Jam. Rake. Pick up. Jam. Change the bag. Rake. Pick up. Jam. Rake. Pick up. Jam. Change the bag. You get the picture. The wind continues but I learn that if you put the barrel on the downwind side the contents may actually fall in when you jam.

A full hour later I am finished. Exhausted. Need a strong drink. Maybe illicit drugs. Heroin might do. I look at them all. Twenty  four bags all.  Full. Proud. Very  proud.

I have lined the bags up against the wall of my house.  On Thursday night the good city of Lowell will pick them up and I am done.

I wake up the next morning. I look at my yard.

It is filled with

LEAVES

When these damn trees finish shedding their appendages, it will be Thanksgiving. Who knows how many more bags need to be filled.  But, I think, when it’s done, it’s done. No more worries at all. The yard will be clear. All those beautiful bulbs I planted will be able to punch through the ground, and I will be able to see them.  I mean, it’s not like I really have to worry about

SNOW

Protecting Your Home Title from Theft

Screenshot of YouTube ad for home title protection service

This article originally appeared in the November issue of the Merrimack Valley Housing Review.

A number of homeowners have recently called the Registry of Deeds to ask if the title to their home is safe from online theft. Because my own social media stream has been filled with ads from a company called Title Lock, I understand why they are calling. The ads usually begin with something like this: “Alarming FBI report shows hackers can steal the title to your home in minutes – without you ever knowing it.” For $14.99 per month, Title Lock will provide its “basic protection service” which monitors your title and notifies you if anything is amiss.

So is this a legitimate concern? Well like most things related to real estate law, it’s complicated. First, your “title” is not a thing. Instead, it is a legal opinion based on a review of all the records at the registry of deeds about who owns or has a legal interest in a particular parcel of real estate.

That said, here is the scenario contemplated by Title Lock and its competitors, at least as I understand it: A wrong-doer creates a deed that purports to transfer ownership of your property from you to him, forges your name on the deed then forges a notary public’s signature and stamp on the deed; and then records this forged deed at the registry of deeds. Next, the wrong-doer applies for a mortgage that uses your property that now appears to be in the name of the wrong-doer as security for the loan. The lender consults the registry records, sees that the applicant owns the property, grants the loan, and records a mortgage in the name of the applicant (not you) that encumbers the property. The wrong-doer/applicant never makes a payment and the lender eventually begins foreclosure proceedings against the property. The wrong-doer likely listed his mailing address as something other than the property address so you, still living in the house and unaware of all this, would not get any notices of the foreclosure until one day when an auctioneer showed up on your front steps to sell your house at auction.

Sounds pretty scary – rightfully so – but under Massachusetts law, a forged signature does not convey ownership so the forged deed would be void as would the new mortgage that is being foreclosed. The real risk is not that you will lose your property, it is that you will be saddled with the hassle and cost of proving to everyone that you did not execute the forged deed. Because of all the layers of forgery involved (your signature, a notary’s signature) it would not be very difficult to prove that, however, the burden would be on you to initiate the lawsuit needed to determine that.

Whenever a document is recorded at the registry of deeds, we immediately add the names of anyone listed on the document and the address of the property involved to our computerized index. Much like the index at the back of a textbook, the registry index is the key to finding relevant documents in the registry of deeds records.

What this Home Title Lock service purports to do is to continuously scan the registry of deeds index and anytime your name appears on a newly-recorded document to then notify you of this fact. Because the registry of deeds index is online and freely available to anyone, a homeowner concerned about this could periodically enter his or her name in the registry website and perform an identical check. That would take about 30 seconds but it would require you to go to the website on a recurring basis.

Also, several registries of deeds in Massachusetts already offer a similar service for free, however, most registries (including this one) are not yet able to offer it. When the pandemic struck we were in the process of selecting and installing an entirely new computer system with many advanced features including this automatic monitoring capability but its deployment has been delayed because of the pandemic.

In any case, whether you paid for Title Lock, had a registry-provided automated alert, searched the registry records yourself, or just waited for the auctioneer to show up, you would be in the exact same position: having to initiate a lawsuit to expunge the fraudulent deed and proving that the deed was forged. As I said, it should not be too difficult to prove the forgery but you would still bear the cost of hiring a lawyer to handle the matter. Title Lock does offer an enhanced “resolution service” to help with this but I am not sure of the cost and coverage. Also, some title insurance policies would cover this, but some do not – you have to read the fine print. (Most people obtain title insurance when they buy or refinance the home but since it is hardly ever used, few people are familiar with it).

All this begs the question what does the registry of deeds do to prevent the recording of forged deeds? The answer is not very much but that is a public policy decision made at echelons of government high above the registry. Specifically, our land records system relies on documents being rapidly recorded. If the registry were to have to investigate every signature on every deed to determine whether it was a forgery, the recording process would grind to a halt and the multibillion dollar real estate economy would be severely disrupted.

While the incidence of this type of fraud may be on the rise, it is still very rare. In my 25 years as register of deeds, I’ve never encountered a case where this has happened. There have been a couple of forged deeds, but they involved family members or friends of aged and incapacitated homeowners, not an anonymous interloper on the internet.

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