This is another installment of my memoir: “The Imperfect Logic of the Heart.” The book is available on Amazon. I am reprinting it here chapter by chapter.
He learned that if you held your thumb parallel to the horizon and counted the number of stacked thumbs it took to the falling sun, times twenty minutes, that was exactly how long he had until sunset. This was useful, on the beach of Negril, Jamaica if you needed to walk eight miles to the Rock House for cocktails before it was dark. Not Cleveland, Ohio dark where there were street lights and neon signs to mark your path, but Jamaican Negril dark where only the stars and whispers from shadowed faces were there to guide you. He points to a sky so graphically exact that it could be an observatory: “Delonn, isn’t that the constellation Orion?” The young Jamaican with the body of a Greek god responds:
“Sir Richard, in Jamaica we call that a bunch of stars.”
All the government of Jamaica required was his birth certificate and $20. He hoped he packed enough clothes and that he had the proper look for the yacht club. He grew up a country club boy. Surviving the minimal customs in Montego Bay, Richard exited the airport to a field of mules and dogs. Among the many cab driver solicitations he chose the driver standing next to the ‘54 Buick Roadmaster that reminded him of the family car as a boy.
“Irie then, Master Richard,” shouts his new driver friend Rashard.
“Welcome to Jamaica and the beautiful drive to Negril. Is this your first time?”
“It is, Rashard.”
“Do you know the yacht club in Negril?”
“Are there many boats there?”
Rashard lights a joint that would have made Cheech and Chong gag.
“No boats man”. What your friend tell you?”
The Northcoast Highway from Montego Bay to Negril travels around the coast for 50 miles and takes even the most aggressive cabbie two hours. Rashard got Richard to the yacht club in just under 2.5. As he dropped Richard’s two large bags on a pitch dark road after sunset, Richard assumed that a golf cart or something would take him the rest of the way to the clubhouse where he would find a Dewars. Instead he saw a sign on a shack not more than twenty steps from where he stood that said by way of a twisted rope: “Yacht Club.” Outside of the door stood some locals with yellow eyes who must have noticed his bewilderment and said: “You’ll need a Red Stripe.”
No electricity also means no telephone or hot water. Hot water was obtained for short periods through the pipes exposed to the sun next to the shower but that rarely lasted more than 30 seconds. To see in the dark you employed lanterns and so matches were at a premium. A Bic lighter was a gift from God. Long distance phone calls? A call to the States was an all day process. Only one hotel on the beach had an operator willing to tackle the hurdles and if you could afford it you still had to wait in the lobby most of the day to accomplish the call.
Richard had been staying at Ten Sing Pinn for three days before he met Delonn, 24 hours before his epiphany. Ten Sing Pinn was run by a Brit who owned an oversized ancient gas-guzzling Jaguar that seemed totally out of place in Negril. His cottages were for those who were “short of funds.” In other words, there were lots of very young people lodged in rooms about the size of Richard’s stall shower.
The Brit’s name was Nigel. He shared Richard’s love, if not skill, at backgammon. If Richard had not been humble he could have stayed at Ten Sing for free for the rest of his life on his backgammon bounty or rather on Nigel’s failure to master the doubling cube. After one particularly bloody backgammon massacre, Nigel offered Richard some magic mushrooms as payment. “You know they grow right on top of shit. Very powerful.” The non-pot-smoking Richard decided to try something new.
Why someone dares to drive with their hands off the steering wheel is a mystery. Richard never lost control. Ever. Until that night. Timothy Leary’s arguments not withstanding, this was not a good experience for Richard. It is one thing to see the world warped into bizarre distortions in the USA and quite another in Jamaica where it’s often difficult to not float into an altered consciousness merely from the presence of a less filtered nature. Stumbling down the road, commencing with the first person remarking to him; “Good mushrooms, eh?” he knew he was in trouble. As he became more and more uncomfortable in his skin, he thought that food might help. But Negril was shut down for food and actually even the bars were closed. In a full panic, he looked for help, a friendly face, an American he knew.
Suddenly finding someone he knew became the most important thing in his life. After what seemed like hours to him, he recognized no one. He felt more alone than ever before in his life. Exhausted, with no idea where he was he sat on the side of the road and laughed hysterically and then finally collapsed into a heap. He awoke with the sun to the bug-eyed stare of a very young girl.
“You alright, Richard?”
“Uh, huh. How do you know my name?”
“All the kids know Richard”
“But why?” he asks.
“You the white Rasta man. All that blond curly hair. The only USA guy who play with us. Let me get my dad to help you. He’s just inside. You know my daddy Delonn?”
His epiphany was that he could survive and maybe even thrive just by being himself. Just being Richard unaided by drugs or super powers was enough to warrant an audience with the world. Everything would be IRIE.
Before I could have a Jamaican epiphany, I had to resolve my relationship with Betsy and figure out how to make a living on my own. After a few years in the Shaker house and squabbles over money and some deception by both parties, it was clear that the details of our disputes were less relevant than the conclusion that our relationship needed to change. With hindsight I believe the word “divorce” was too harsh. We needed to become two independent separate entities that shared only one goal now: raising two kids. Later she might have said it was because I was screwing my secretary, and I might have said it was because she fell in love with her sewing machine; but even if both of those things were true, they were just symptoms of the greater inevitability.
The mechanics of our divorce were accomplished without argument. The vocabulary was different then but essentially we had an uncontested divorce and something like shared parenting. The kids were staying with their mother but I would live only a few miles away.
One of my brother’s old friends, who was also an attorney, had purchased, a large mansion with servants’ quarters and a guest house. He rented both. I leased the servants’ quarters and moved in almost immediately.
Since I had already been married and already had kids, my sole interest in women was simply to find some company to add to a limited social life. I thought I did not want a “live in” or anything approaching something serious.
My office was in my new home. My sole tools were a typewriter and a phone. The business transition was working better than the social one. The first recognition that my life without my children and Betsy was going to be challenging occurred on Thanksgiving. I deluded myself into thinking that I would be invited to have thanksgiving with Betsy and the kids. There was no logical reason for me to believe I would be asked to join them but I had made no other plans. I might have had other alternatives but I really didn’t search them out. One of my friends and his wife invited all those similarly disposed on turkey day to stop over, but for some reason I didn’t seriously consider this. It was Cleveland so the bars were open and I knew that was a possible end to my day. But what to do during the day when everyone was with family? I was never a football fan so I decided to go to a movie. Pick one, any one.
I knew nothing about Midnight Express but that is the movie I randomly picked. You know the one where an American student is caught smuggling drugs out of Turkey. Oliver Stone’s total downer. I left the movie needing a drink and a hug. I got the drink but not the hug.
As the hours slipped away at our neighborhood bar it finally occurred to me that the lemon in my vodka was not turkey and that I probably was not going to have a Thanksgiving dinner. What the hell, I would go to the losers party. But when I got there it was just the three of us having another drink with a turkey carcass completely picked over. I would plan better for the holidays in the future.
When I had the kids over to my new apartment, I actually had more fun with them than I would have had at home. They had my full attention. And they were young and I had toys, early versions of computer toys. But I would have to be more careful with them than I was at my old home. One afternoon when my new landlord was out of town we went swimming in his indoor pool. Normally off limits. The kids played until I decided to dive in and fly to the other side so quickly that I smashed my fingers into the other side of the pool. My index finger was bent back at a right angle to my hand. In my panic I just grabbed it and put it back in place. No further action was taken but I became more aware that when I was alone with the kids I had more responsibility than before.
Betsy seemed to be already setting up shop with her new love interest, Jon, who eventually would become her husband and still is today. I actually knew Jon before I knew Betsy. We both suffered together as children at our respective parents’ common country club, too long a drive from home with too little for us to do as children.
At this point I was just happy that Betsy had one “partner” to deal with. I had seen how too many boyfriends could be very hard on little children. I didn’t date many women who had children and if I did, I certainly would not wake up in the morning in their bed without having previously been introduced to the children.
I was in the real estate syndication business. Essentially what this meant is that I formed partnerships with investors to buy income producing properties. For my efforts arranging the transaction and then managing it I earned fees and a small equity participation in the deal. Before they changed the tax laws in 1986 it was easier to get high income investors to participate.
Any sixth grader would tell you that your profit is the difference between the money you take in and the money you pay out. In a real estate investment, depreciation is an “out” that you don’t pay for until you sell the property. So even if you have excess cash on the “in and out” basis, for IRS purposes you have a loss. Depreciation (not a cash expense) is still an “out.”
Before 1986 if you had losses from your investment you could apply those losses to offset your ordinary income. So if you had a $100,000 loss for tax purposes, were in the combined state and federal 50% tax bracket, and invested $50,000 the investment actually cost you nothing. You would have to pay up at the end when the property was sold but then the tax rate was lower (capital gains) and hopefully the property had appreciated for a net gain.
I had become an expert on the tax and partnership laws at the time. The problem was finding properties to buy and investors to invest. I started by approaching a shopping center owner I had met years ago with Sidney and asked him if he had anything he wanted to sell. He did not but he had a broker friend who I should meet. I arrived at our first meeting dressed in jeans and my cowboy boots, my new uniform now that I was my own boss. The broker asked:
“Should we wait until your dad shows up?”
When I told him I talked to me on the phone not my dad. That my father lived in Florida and was retired. He seemed disappointed. He did have a great strip center for sale that was my ideal model for purchase: grocery at one end and drug store at the other.
We arranged to meet again in another week after I had a chance to do a little due diligence. I discovered that his client’s asking price was too high and, from other brokers, that he hadn’t found much interest. Probably because one of his main leases was up for renewal and until that happened it was difficult to confirm a fair price.
When we met a week later the principal was there. I said I would pay his price but there were conditions. I explained to him my process. I put investor groups together and that it would take me at least 90 days to close. He said that was workable if I could give him a sizeable down payment. I had not a single investor in mind but had some ideas. I told him that if we could sign an agreement now, I could give him a very small down payment but would substantially increase it when and if his drug store renewed its lease which was about to expire. In my mind the worst that could happen was that I would only lose the small down payment if I couldn’t raise the money. The property owner knew I was overpaying and might not be able to close but probably decided he would have a better argument to support his price in the future even if I failed to close. He could then say:
“We had a buyer at that price but his financing fell through.”
My idea to raise the money was a long shot. I knew a very successful insurance salesman who had a strong client base of physicians. I explained to him the benefits for his clients to consider a private real estate deal. He was sold, particularly because I was going to share my fees, and he quickly lined up the investors. We were ready to go.
Two days before we were supposed to close, I was silently celebrating at the bar of my favorite neighborhood restaurant when the owner of the center spotted me and sat down next to me. He said:
“You know that center that you are supposed to buy in two days?”
“Yes, of course.”
“Well someone set off a bomb in the drug store, you know the store that just renewed its lease, and its burned down. My partner just called me. The fire department is out there now.”
We both got in the car and drove to the center. The inside of the drugstore was badly damaged but the structure of the center was fine.
We closed anyway. When the owner of the drugstore called me screaming that we were not moving fast enough, he had to start on his end of the repairs. I told him to forget it, read your lease. It is now terminated.
“Yes but we just elected to renew, we had an option.”
“I understand but there is more than 50% damage and we are electing to terminate.”
He knew what was really going on. We didn’t want to be stuck with his small lease renewal increase. We wanted market rent. After some negotiation we got what we asked for and made money on the insurance settlement. My business was off and running. Four more shopping centers followed and three farmer home loan deals, small apartment projects in rural areas financed through the Department of Agriculture.
I moved to two other apartments over the next two years and eventually bought my first home, a new townhouse in a new subdivision in an older neighborhood. I had found a very contemporary house I liked better but was told that it was in a redlined neighborhood and I would have trouble getting financing. Of course that practice is illegal but was widely the way of the world in Cleveland. I put a sauna in the basement of the townhouse, built a new fireplace and wet bar, and found a tradesman to stucco the entire interior.
There were other changes. My parents had moved to Florida. Larry had a colectomy to finally deal with his colitis. He was working now and in fact had a great job. Although he never went to college he was employed as an electrical engineer in a new field that had something to do with microwaves. I found out years later he had lied about his credentials. The forged credentials never became an issue until many years later when an insurance check revealed the truth. They just changed Larry’s title and were even more impressed than ever with his abilities knowing he was not formally educated. He was remarried now and doing great. Betsy seemed to have happily moved on.
I had arrived in what should have been a happy place. I was doing well, seeing the kids whenever I wanted, independent finally, out there dating a little and certainly not sleeping alone unless I wanted to, yet I was feeling incomplete and restless. I think with hindsight, I needed to be needed. I yearned for that codependent thing. And if you are looking for a human being to be your project it is never hard to find.
I had tried the disco scene, the neighborhood bar scene, the Quaalude scene, but never got close to finding someone I really felt I could share my heart with. I thought often of Kathrine but to my surprise she had married. A German guy from an old Nazi family that owned Volkswagen of Mexico among other things. I did meet up with her a couple of times over the years and tried to keep in touch by phone or email. Last year I learned that her husband had died and actually had another hidden family in Germany he never disclosed to her. Finally we fell out of touch. None of my emails were answered and old phone numbers didn’t work. I found out why when I discovered her obituary on the internet. I wasn’t even aware she was seriously ill.
I met a friend’s sister who moved back to Cleveland after a bad experience with her boyfriend. It was a love story with a bad ending. She was an inner city school teacher. I was very attracted to her and her story. We dated for a few months. I was happy with our relationship. She was not. I was a little sad about the rejection but she had flunked the Jamaica test so it would not have worked out between us. When, I took her to Jamaica she missed the magic looking for the absent disco.
I started a relationship with a waitress that proved sexually intense but intellectually stagnant. There are limits to great sex. Your first drink stimulates you, the second relaxes you and finally the third makes you want to go to sleep.
Every year I would go to the shopping center convention in Las Vegas to look for properties that I might buy. I never really got brave enough to buy something out of state but I did meet some of the famous real estate players. One of my Cleveland friends told me to be on the lookout for his old roommate from Kent State University who lived in New York. He was working for Benedict Silverman one of the old New York shyster wheeler dealers. Lenny was a big guy with a big personality but didn’t seem to understand how Benedict was screwing him. We had dinner and told college stories about our mutual friend. I had no clue at the time that he would play an important part in my life.
I am not sure what my kids thought was going on with me, and of course I could not know what their mother was saying, but I know they were relating to some of the part time women in my life. They loved the school teacher and had fun with the girl that set up a darkroom in my closet. At the time, it didn’t appear that my role in their life was a plus or a negative. What’s up with dad?
It’s hard to be a divorced father. You have to get over the desire to try and prove you’re better than whomever your mom is sleeping with and at the same time support your ex in her new life. Your kids are half of both of you whether you want to acknowledge it or not.
My youngest told me his friend’s mom was really hot. I saw her shortly afterwards at a parent teacher conference and agreed. Hot. She worked in a flower shop next to a restaurant I visited weekly. I introduced myself and bought a large potted plant, which she said she would personally deliver. That started our relationship. Dating my son’s best friend’s mom proved too potentially dangerous and we ended it. It started up again much later.
In the early 80’s Cleveland had begun to feel very small. The east side and west side had remained separate distinct worlds. Cleveland was a melting pot that didn’t melt. The west side had its Poles and Russians, downtown was Black and the east side for me was where the Jews lived. It was becoming more and more obvious to me that my life, while now fairly successful, was quite small. Every day was a little more of the same. I became active in a Farmer Home Loan program that expanded my business to the very small rural areas of Ohio, but those were day trips and I still felt geographically constrained and intellectually stalled.
Things changed with one trip.
a whim I had taken a new love interest to New York to see a play. She was a stewardess I had met in Jamaica,
who I particularly enjoyed since she had the ability to meet me anywhere with
her own free ticket almost whenever I called.
She had to fly out directly from New York to her hub in Atlanta after
the play. I had free time in New York. I called Lenny.