This is Chapter 7 of my memoir: “The Imperfect Logic of the Heart.” The book is available on Amazon. I am reprinting it here chapter by chapter.
The first time I visited New York I was only eight years old. I don’t remember anything about that trip except staying in a Times Square hotel where you could look out the window and see the Camel cigarette sign and smoke rings coming out of a smoker’s mouth. I visited Manhattan a couple of other times while working for the law firm. One time I stayed at the Ritz Carlton and saw Bing Crosby in the lobby and Pierre Salinger in the elevator. But another time I stayed in a less famous hotel with a friend who picked up a street hooker who he took to the room we shared. I hid under the sheets while she was there but heard her say she could take out her teeth if he wanted the best blow job of his life. I wrote about it at the time as I recorded so many other events in my life that made an impact:
I was not a fan of New York, but it was always fun for a day or two. My shopping center convention friend Lenny had been in Cleveland visiting his old roommate John from Kent State. He insisted I say hello if I was in New York. He wanted to talk to me about his new company, Concord Assets.
Their idea was to buy a freestanding K Mart shopping center and apply a crazy tax structure to it that would generate enormous tax losses in the early years. They would allow an investor to pay for his partnership interest over a period of time staging payments to correspond with the tax losses generated. If you paid $25,000 in the first year you would get $50,000 in losses which you could apply against your ordinary income. If the investment was $100,000 you would pay over four years and sign a note for the rest which the company could discount at a bank. You would have the best of both worlds, a strong underlying asset and better than 2 to 1 losses.
The losses were generated by applying the rule of 78’s to a mortgage. An outrageous idea. The rule of 78’s is often used in a car loan so that the lender is rewarded if you pay off the loan early. Amortization of principle is delayed to the later part of the term. Interest is frontloaded. If you want to know the details check with Wikipedia. Applied to a mortgage of 30 years it generates tax losses on steroids. Concord Assets (the new company) had a “more likely than not” legal opinion from a very reputable New York law firm, only proving that with enough money any legal opinion is possible (buyable). (When this approach was ultimately challenged by the IRS Concord won but the judge confirmed it was “perverse but legal).” Lenny gave me the offering memorandum for the first deal and I returned to Cleveland and reviewed it with one of my accountant friends. He loved it and said he could recommend it to some of his clients. I actually sold out Lenny’s first three deals in a few months and suddenly I was Concord’s hero. The commission was large enough that if I shared, sales were easy. An ethical accountant would disclose the fee arrangement and he would act as an offeree representative. A less ethical one would not disclose the payment to his client. Their ethics should have been, but were not at the time, something I worried about. It was legal. I could possibly be labeled a “pimp” but at the time I was not that hard on myself.
Lenny and his brother invited me to New York for the US Open in Queens. I had earned an obscene commission and they had a check for me. They were also trying to talk me into going to work for them. I knew that was a bad idea and quickly said no. I would never again be anyone’s employee.
Later that weekend they talked about rolling out the program across the country. Lenny’s girlfriend Sandy, who ultimately became his wife, was my new buddy. She was decorating their new apartment. The brothers were watching sports nonstop so I was ready to fly home. Sandy begged me to stay and go shopping with her. She had seen pictures of my condo in Cleveland and liked that style. We shopped and spent Lenny’s money. Later she lobbied me to work for Concord. She told Lenny they needed Walter Cronkite to sell in the Midwest not Lenny Bruce.
“Please Richard, we need you. Someone a little less Jewish.”
The deal I made with Concord allowed me to be hired as an independent contractor paid with an override fee on the gross sales of the company. Concord would provide an apartment in New York but I would only have to be there as needed. I could keep my condo in Cleveland and travel back and forth. Mostly I would be on the road for the company helping to close sales for the new salesmen, and be the “face” of the Company for formal presentations to broker dealers and accountants. If I had a title I don’t remember it, but the salesmen knew I could help them make money so I was treated very well by all of them.
Finding a furnished apartment reasonably close to the company offices in the General Motors Building on 5th Ave. did not appear to be an easy task. There were few apartments to be had and I was put on a waiting list. In the interim they made a deal for me to have an extended stay in a mini suite at Le Parker Meridien on West 56th. I stayed there over six months before I moved to an apartment one block from Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. The Meridien had a few interesting extras. Paul Schaffer of David Letterman fame seemed to show up every night to play piano and there was a bar on the main floor that attracted notables and high end escorts.
If you live in a hotel you eventually know the staff. I also knew the escorts, who would come to my room on occasion to shower. I never employed them or asked for a freebee. They did introduce me to a drug they seemed to love that was a white powder they snorted. Drugs scared me so I never really quizzed them about it or did it. I rediscovered cocaine later. None of these girls were trashy and all of them had other real jobs. The only notable I saw frequently during my stay was Dan Rather, who mastered walking through a room making eye contact with no one. Annie Lennox was alone with me in the elevator but out of respect and admiration, I employed the Dan Rather approach and made no eye contact with her.
My first week in the hotel corresponded with the Concord Christmas party. A day before the party Lenny said I had to skip the party and fly out to San Francisco to meet a broker who could potentially refer a lot of business. I called the guy to make arrangements. He said he was anxious to meet me but had decided to go to Cancun for Christmas. Could I meet him there?
So I spent Christmas with him in Cancun and he became a great source of clients. He didn’t like Concord’s deal much but liked to play tennis with me and hoped we could continue to meet periodically. Cancun did not live up to my expectations. It was essentially Miami Beach in Mexico.
I tried to hang in New York on the weekends, but most of the Concord people disappeared and I had too much alone time. Lenny and his brother stuck close to their high school buddies and played basketball or stayed in and watched sports. Concord’s HR person asked me nicely but firmly to please not date any of the women in the office.
I discovered a profound loneliness in New York, particularly on the weekends. I lived in one of the nicest sections of Manhattan, had money in my pocket and a limo if I needed it, but spent most of my time walking the streets through a sea of strangers. In Cleveland, if you met someone new at a restaurant or bar you would probably see them again some other time. Not so in New York. I was a regular in most of the Columbus Avenue restaurants, met a few nice people but never saw them again. Of course I knew the bartenders and waitresses but they had their own social world.
I had a strange encounter with Robin Williams in a restaurant on Amsterdam street in Manhattan, but that had more to do with Cleveland than New York. A few years earlier Robin Williams and Chevy Chase were in Cleveland doing a benefit for Howard Metzenbaum, a liberal candidate running for the Senate. Robin was less well known at the time. He had been fixed up with a girlfriend of someone I was dating at the time. We had a double date and spent the evening in a Shaker Heights bar. Robin was very shy, almost incoherent and stoked with an assortment of drugs. Not a pleasant person to try and engage in a social light conversation.
But years later in an Amsterdam Road trendy restaurant I saw Robin having dinner with Robert DeNiro. I noticed Robin staring at me while I was eating at the bar alone. He seemed struggling to remember how he knew this guy at the bar. Apparently the light bulb went off and he mouthed to me “Cleveland” and then put his finger to his lips in the sign that says “tell no one.”
I went everywhere alone in Manhattan and often escaped on the weekends to return to Cleveland and see the kids. If there had been a frequent flier program back then, I would still be traveling for free. This was pre-internet and pre-free long distance phone calls. I had a company calling card and encouraged the kids to call whenever they wanted using the code, but it was not the same as seeing them face to face.
I was living like a gypsy so there could be no long term relationship with a woman. I could, however, get laid. Alone in five star hotels with lots of cash seemed to make women traveling for business excited while they were also away from their real world and ready for a fantasy. Sex was becoming more and more impersonal and what I needed most was a hug from someone who really cared. I also needed someone to care about. To care for? Feeling sorry for myself I arranged a side trip to New Orleans to see Kathrine, who was now living there in one of her four homes.
Her husband was in Europe and I did my best to be respectful of their marriage, although I badly wanted to crawl back in bed with her. She took me to a new restaurant on Bourbon Street opened by an exciting new Chef Paul Prudhomme. I don’t remember the name of the place but do recall you had to wait outside until they were ready for you and then share a large round table with a bunch of strangers. I was not impressed.
I flew directly from New Orleans to what was to become a summer stay in Houston, Texas, courting the east coast transplants that were swimming in money and consequently new prospects for us. Against all company policy I ended up sleeping with our Texas sales representative. I knew this was a bad idea but I felt for the single mom who desperately needed my help to sell a product she really didn’t understand. I had never been to Texas and was amused by the zero lot lines and front yards of stone so different from the cowboy-movie expectation I had. The city’s nightlife parallel worlds allowed you to choose between Travolta’s Saturday Night Fever and/or Travolta’s Urban Cowboy. Did you want to be a disco dancer or a cowboy on a mechanical bull? I wanted neither. I wanted to go home.
When I went back to my Cleveland home, it was difficult for me. It was hard to know what the kids thought of their dad who was never around. I knew I was not a traditional dad but hoped they still loved me. My attorney friends in Cleveland, now advancing their legal careers, were building a future but couldn’t understand what my world was like. I was always second guessing whether I wanted to return to the practice of law and a more normal existence.
After traveling to most of the major cities in the United States and watching Concord grow to one of the largest strip shopping center owners in the country, I was looking to do something different.
I rarely went to Concord’s directors’ meetings and avoided the office as much as possible. By now all the salesmen were smiling and dialing on the new power drug called cocaine and rapping in a talking speed frenzy. I couldn’t deal with them when they were high.
I first tried this drug at a party Sandy gave. She opened a large powder puff and exposed this white powder, which she explained was the new miracle drug. It was the same stuff the escorts loved.
“Natives in Columbia have been chewing on coca leaves for centuries. It gives you energy without being addictive and there is no hangover.”
As far as she knew it was also legal. We had all taken Dexedrine in college to cram for exams. This was like that. No big deal. I tried it with little response except my nose itched. I later learned that the restrooms stalls in New York has been refigured to insure privacy for snorting. Cocaine would not be a problem until much later.
The business meeting included a discussion of the West Coast market. According to their latest information tax shelter sales were booming on the West Coast and we were without salespeople there. We needed a West Coast office. Lenny and his brother both looked at me.
“Richard. Please. You have to do this for us.”
“It will only take a few months.”
It took two years. This became another hurry up and move. I had an apartment full of things in New York, even though it was a furnished apartment. I had bought a new TV and stereo and bedding and dishes, coffee machine, the usual kitchen stuff.
I packed my clothes and told the bellman I had an unusual goodbye tip for him. Take anything you want in the apartment. I’m out of here. Keep it for yourself or sell it.