In my line of work I am frequently called to get into people's private financial affairs whether I want to or not. Some days I compare it to being a proctologist -- it can be interesting and fascinating, it's rewarding to be helpful, but some days it's also just a dark and uncomfortable place to be. But, you know, somebody's gotta do it.
So there I am sitting at Mr. and Mrs. Fleisingheimer's dining room table which looks a lot like my dining room table with its bits of paint and dried glue from the kids, except their dining room table was remarkably free of half-folded laundry.
Mr. and Mrs. F were perusing the docs laid out before them and there I was poised with my notary stamp ready to seal the deal for them. My stamp glinted in the sunlight streaming through the fabulous floor-to-ceiling windows.
Mrs. F broke the silence by saying, "My name isn't on this application." This small but astute observation sent us down a twisting and turning path through a forest of pointy brambles and spiderwebs across the face.
Mr. F's response was, "Don't worry about it because your name is on the mortgage." Without going into a lot of personal details, I can just say that this was not the best answer. The best answer would have been, "Yes, dear." An equally good answer would have been, "How can we modify these documents to your satisfaction?" Another good response would have been, "Can I get you a martini, sweetheart?"
But, no, that's not really how it all went down and I sat there for 15 minutes unable to avoid witnessing an uncomfortable marital negotiation from my ringside seat. I stared at my glinting self-inking stamp and wished I had something to stamp. Or that I was someplace else.
After a lengthy phone call to various financial wizards it was determined there were reasons why Mrs. F wasn't on the loan application. All of the reasons were normal, nothing heinous or terrible, just the facts of financial life when one spouse makes most of the money. And in my job I am also frequently called to help educate people about financial matters related to credit, loans and home-buying and this tendency to advise and educate is also, apparently, my Achilles heel. At least that day.
I say to Mrs. F as we are about the resume signing paperwork, "Do you work?" I know when the words go out of my mouth that this was the wrong way to word the question to a stay-at-home-mom.
I was immensely relieved when she didn't go reactionary on me and set me straight about the definition of work. She simply glanced over at me and said, "No." I heaved a heavy internal sigh of relief.
Too soon, of course. She set down her pen and looked over at me with pursed lips and said, "Of course I work. I work very hard."
Fully-prepared to engage in some frantic backpedaling, I apologized and said, "I should have worded that better. Of course you work. What I meant to say was, 'Do you have a quantifiable income other than the obvious value you provide your family by working inside the home?'"
She said, "No, I don't have a job that makes money."
Like a blind, nervous cow who can't see the quicksand in front of her, I plowed ahead knowing that surely soon I would be out of this mess and could get on with the business at hand. I thought it would help to lighten up with a little joking. I said, "Well, see now, you just need to allot Mrs. F an allowance for all that hard work she does."
Mr. F straightened up in his seat and squinted at me, saying, "What do you mean an allowance? She has control of all the money."
Mrs. F, if possible to look more irritated, looked more irritated and said, "We don't like that word 'allowance'."
"Mm. Well then, yeah. Okay."
We sat looking awkwardly at each other for about 5 seconds which seemed more like about 5 hours and then I shoved more papers at them to sign. Note to self: No more joking. Ever.
Finally we came to the end and surprisingly they were cordial, enthusiastically thanked me for my time and all those niceties you do when you're saying your goodbyes. Handshaking, small talk, smiling, offers to do more business in the future. A small miracle in the opinion of one who is frequently a big social bungler.
As I pulled out of the driveway, the gravel crunched beneath the tires of my vehicle. I stopped at the end of the drive and looked both ways up and down the highway. All clear. I turned east and headed back toward the office to see what other adventures I could get into. Little did I know one was coming just three hours in my future.