This is Chapter 10 of my memoir: “The Imperfect Logic of the Heart.” The book is available on Amazon. I am reprinting it here chapter by chapter.
It started in a restaurant. Not what you would think. Not late at night. Not “the place to be,” just a restaurant that served a great burger and fries and a good pour after a hard game of racquet ball. I was there alone at a table. Not even sitting at the bar. There were only two girls at the bar and they were laughing and looked as if they had been friends since nursery school. The taller girl was very angular and quite attractive. The smaller girl was at first glance your typical Jewish yenta. We used to call them tits on sticks. Large breasts, no ass and skinny legs. And of course no “verbal holdback.” It went something like this: The smaller girl walks over to my table. Much cuter than I had noticed. Skin like a little china doll. I guessed mid 20’s (she was 32).
“My girlfriend would like to meet you.”
I respond: “That’s it? No “Hello my name is—and my girlfriend would like to meet you.”
She echoes: “OK, I’m Tamma. You know the rest.”
“What about you. Don’t you want to meet me?” I inquire.
“Tamma is already taken.”
“Okay I get it, I’ll meet your friend, but when Tamma is no longer taken, here is my card. Call me and we can have dinner.”
Seven days later, about seven in the evening on a Saturday night, while I am getting ready for a date with a friend of a friend from out of town, I get a call.
“Hi. Tamma is no longer taken. I’ll be over at nine.”
And she was.
She wore the same dress she had on at the bar, drove some yellow car I had never seen before (I think it was a Plymouth Arrow), told me to tell my date “something came up” and didn’t leave my side except for a few months until she died.
I was 16 years older than Tamma so, of course I felt blessed by her beauty, her youth, and her sexuality but those were not the things that lit the spark, the spark that almost killed me. There were other things. I used to be in shape and was a fairly decent long distance runner. I had begun again to see if I could restore my body to former greatness. I began with painful short runs, jogging in my immediate neighborhood and in the park just steps away.
Tamma smoked so many Winston Ultra Lights that I almost never saw her without one lit. We bought them by the carton, never the pack. One day, in the first week of her stay, after I discovered she did at least have a place to live, (the basement of her girlfriend’s house) she said that my running thing was pathetic and would end poorly with a back problem to supplement my knee problem. That her brother ran marathons and was quite good but would no doubt end up crippled from it as well.
I responded that with all those cigarettes she wouldn’t make it a hundred yards. That was why she was putting running down. She went to her car and laced up some yellow high-tops that had Tweety Bird and Sylvester on their sides and said” Let’s go, big boy.” And ran me into the ground.
Sometimes I’d catch her reading one of my books. Not the classics but not Patterson. She didn’t know I was watching. She would sit in a yoga like thing with her legs all tucked and the book in one hand and the cigarette in the other and I would watch the pages fly. Was she really reading or just turning the pages? She could read an entire book in a few hours and later, knowing that she had not seen me spying on her, I’d ask her if she ever read the book I saw her reading. She’d answer, “Of course,” and then answer all my questions. No one could read that fast. She could.
Her hair covered her beautiful face and so I suggested she would look even more beautiful if she cut her hair short. It wasn’t like I was Professor Henry Higgins attempting to remake her in some more upscale image. I just thought she might like a change and a chance to have her hair cut by an upscale salon. So with some reluctance she agreed and marched off with me to the joint that cut my hair. They were expensive but I loved the people there and did not feel threatened in the least by the “metro man” image I was beginning to cultivate. Nice haircut. Nice clothes.
So fearless Tamma, who usually had a running verbal banter, was suddenly silent as she sat in the boss’s chair and prepared herself to have her hair cut short. As he cut the first strand the first tear leaked, followed by the second. No actual crying, but at the conclusion, she studied herself for some time and then collected herself, I think with an awareness she probably never before had and announced:
“Damn, I look good. Okay I’ll let you buy me a few new clothes if you really still want to.”
She had never really had anything nice, and was fascinated to shop in a higher end store. I suggested that a few wonderful understated things were better than a closet full of crap. She was a good student except for shoes, where it was hard for her to abandon the “fuck me” style that girls were wearing for something a bit more reasonable.
Until the end, she never bought an article of clothing without me. She trusted herself in all things but not clothes. The truth was she looked great in anything she put on.
The only other act of change, I worked on Tamma was not done in a store. She worked for a securities broker who represented some of the richest people in town. He was brilliant but without morals. He had several mistresses and once told me he’d never run out of people he could cheat. He was right.
Tamma did all his dirt, which meant basically that she handled all the calls from the clients who wanted anything other than to buy stock and she did all the bookkeeping and record keeping, which was a substantial effort since computers were just starting to actually assist us a little but not much. Her boss truly appreciated her abilities but never rewarded her financially and she needed the job and needed to put up with his shit.
One day I picked her up for lunch, and she discovered that not only did her boss know me but that he fawned all over me. Obviously, after that, she somehow felt less intimidated by him and more comfortable at work.
I am not exactly sure how much time passed before Tamma asked if she could invite her family over for dinner. We had gone on a trip together to Mexico where she briefly described them. She had met my folks on a trip to Florida, so it seemed timely to finally “meet and greet” hers in person. They lived in an apartment complex only a few miles away.
Tamma had grown up in the same city as I, although I went to the upscale rich people public high school while she was one of only a few white kids in her high school.
I had a “gay” housekeeper who was not happy with her because she expected him to work. Pre-Tamma he did a little “straightening” and talked on the phone most of the day to his boyfriend who was a Marine recruiter. (I’m not making this up). I suggested to her that he could cook dinner for her family. Tamma said “No, I will take care of it myself.” I offered that “we could grill out and I would make steaks” when she surprised me with: “That wouldn’t work because we were going to have at least 30 people and I’ll do the cooking.” Well Okay.
We usually ate most meals out and Tamma never really expressed any interest in food other than sushi. I certainly didn’t know she knew how to cook. But then she was the oldest of four kids and her Mom was not functioning when she was young (she was schizophrenic) and dad worked (tool and dye shop), so she basically raised her two brothers and sister on food stamps and wits. Of course she could cook.
When her mom walked in the door, it was clear Tamma was a combo child. A little of mom and a lot of dad. Mom’s brain and maybe her feet and hands; the rest was dad.
You could tell that mom was once beautiful but now had a bit of that post shock-treatment look. Eyes not quite focusing as if the last acid trip was a little too intense. (Actually grandma, who was also there, I later learned, had received over 100 shock treatments in an attempt to regain her sanity.) Grandmother’s sanity was clearly intact. She was doing her best to market her granddaughter to me.
Dad looked a lot like Ichabod Crane of Sleepy Hollow fame. In fact, if you get hold of the Norman Rockwell version you can see his exact likeness. Tamma inherited his skinny legs and small head.
Her oldest brother was a younger version of dad and her youngest brother a male mom. Tamma’s youngest sister was a dead ringer for the comedian Sandra Bernhardt, (the comedian and Madonna buddy).
Grandma was with her third husband who she had picked up at a bus stop. This husband, who was the nicest in the whole crowd, was an heir to an underwear fortune but had managed to spend and lose most of his money. Grandma, the story goes, was waiting at a bus stop in Woodstock, New York when the poor fool happened by. Grandma flagged him down and never let go until he married her. Sounds familiar. Grandma’s first husband, the father of Tamma’s mom, was an expert at bankruptcy fraud and had apparently sexually abused Tamma’s mother.
The essence of his bankruptcy scam was to buy a business for more than it was worth with a little cash and a big note, and then sell off the inventory and fixtures for cash and default on the note declaring bankruptcy. Nice guy. Apparently he tried to abuse Tamma but she kicked the be-jesus out of him.
Tamma’s mother’s sister was there with her children. I won’t elaborate too much here but Tamma’s aunt was a distorted version of her mother. All the features had bled and spread. What was left was like plastic surgery gone awry. The uncle, who serviced vending machines, spoke in mono-syllables but seemed nice enough and earned points for sticking with his wife. His son has there. He was either Paul Bunyan or the ox but also a nice guy.
Some friends of the family somehow decided they were invited as well and made themselves at home. Tamma cooked pork filets in a red wine sauce and a host of other appetizers new to my palate but excellent. She did a great job for a beer crowd. What was disturbing about the “meet and greet” was the feeling that this crowd had a secret. That somehow I was the butt of a joke. I felt a little like Rosemary in the movie Rosemary’s Baby. Did they have something evil in store for me?
Tamma surprised me by understanding the basics of tax shelters. She also knew more about investment alternatives and the stock market than I did. I was the Series 7 broker but she had hands on experience and actually knew how to book trades and work the arcane broker devices used in the 80’s. She asked me why I wasn’t back in the real estate business if that had worked for me before. The answer again related to the kid whose ribbon broke typing during the bar exam. Tamma was right, I needed to get back in the game.
My investor group was now busy buying office buildings with my former partner who had helped me raise the initial Concord money. I decided that to restore my reputation in the “real” real estate world, not the tax shelter hybrid real estate world, I had to “go one alone” without investors.
A friend of mine who was also a broker suggested I consider apartment buildings in Shaker Square. There were two buildings that came as a set containing over 200 units. Shaker Square was a combination of three basic groups: the gay, the elderly, the professionals. After I was divorced for a short period I lived in the gay part on the west side of the Square. I had no idea at the time that it was the gay side until I had lived there for over a year and other tenants in the building invited me to enough parties that made it clear. The buildings I was considering were in the professional and seniors categories. They were owned by a guy of shady reputation, and although I bargained for a fair price I didn’t do enough homework.
I pretty much emptied my wallet and pushed every last dollar on the table to buy the buildings. Each month I barely met expenses. The trick was to own it long enough to slowly increase the rents without losing too many tenants to the increases and spending too much on improvements and repairs. I had to compete with other rentals across the street in Cleveland where the property taxes were lower than Shaker, but I had to buy my water from the City of Cleveland. And then the City of Cleveland surprised me with an unpaid and undisclosed $50,000 back water bill. I resolved this with the help of a good political friend and a bottle of single malt scotch. A bigger problem remained with the 24/7 payroll required to run the all night indoor garage. Since there were not enough parking spaces for everyone to park inside the building, and everyone wanted to park inside particularly in the winter, there needed to be a 24/7 attendant to jockey cars if necessary in the middle of the night. This burdensome addition to payroll could have been resolved if I was not in shock from the delicate balance between the income and expenses in the building. There were solutions I was not creative enough at the time to consider. I could have offered reduced rent to some tenants to park outside, but I was no longer thinking clearly.
In a short time Steven was living with me, while Marc stayed with his mother and Jon. My attempt at normalcy would have been easier if I hadn’t developed three herniated discs in my back. Steven managed to run an all-terrain vehicle I owned into a tree and needed serious face stitching, but overall there was peace with the kids and Betsy.
Tamma and I grew closer and more comfortable. Our social routine did involve lots of eating out and some drug use but we had a large group of friends and life finally seemed normal. The apartment ownership business, however, got complicated when I suspected and later confirmed that my on-site manager was stealing from me. But I had already decided the apartment was too much for my cash reserves In addition, Steven was going to college and the money that was saved for that got blown up in the Williamson flood disaster. So the buildings got sold and Steven went off to college.
Desperate for a new business as far away from real estate as possible, I bought part of a stun gun company owned by a Shaker policeman and a lawyer friend. What was I thinking? When it became time for Marc to go to college it became clear to me that if I was going to pay for two kids in college at the same time my, house had to go. With a few tears I said goodbye to my A frame.
Rhonda was my secretary years ago when I worked with Herb and remained my friend throughout her short life. I loved her for her honesty and compassion. I had few friends that I could confide in and cry to. She was my closest female friend. Tamma exceled at knowing the difference between shit and shineola and from the start suggested the stun gun idea was not going to work. But by then I was doubting her judgment since she was losing interest in working and drinking much more and using drugs regularly. Our friends were calling her Marni for her interest in Grand Marnier after already having too many vodkas with dinner. I told Tamma to tone it down. She’d smile at me and respond in her best New York Jewish accent:
“Ok, I better be good, or else! Who would have a girl such as myself?”
She was right about the stun guns. They were too controversial back then and the laws controlling this type of device were uncertain.
One night while partying at our favorite steak joint, Tamma and Rhonda introduced me to Andy. Andy was the poster boy for what you hoped your Jewish son would become. He had been working for the A ranked law firm in Cleveland and was a handsome, eligible bachelor on the east side of Cleveland.
Andy had an idea for a business as did I and we opened an office together to try and make both work. They were two good ideas but ultimately failed and set the stage for my move to Florida.
From the time our new business started until the time Tamma and I left for Florida, we lived in three new residences. After we sold the A frame, the thought of moving into a standard apartment building was too much of a slide to the bottom. Instead we moved into Herrick Mews an old Cleveland landmark not far from where my grandfather Deutsch’s home had been. Mews are old stables that have been converted into housing. Once Marc was accepted into medical school we moved to another apartment closer to the Medical School so Marc could live with us. It was on the third floor of an old but beautiful apartment building and required strong knees since it had no elevator. The woman directly below us held house concerts in her apartment and we enjoyed free concert quality classical music weekly. On Occasion we were able to feed Marc’s classmates and actually let Tamma’s sister live with us part time.
Eventually we moved to our last Cleveland home in Chagrin Falls and rented the penthouse overlooking the city in an area that used to house the TB hospital when higher altitudes were part of the cure.
Andy’s business idea was Smart Health Plus, a discount card you could buy that gave you pharmacy and dental discounts. We were undercapitalized and before our time. Similar concepts have since been successful particularly with regard to dental discounts. We sold the idea to a guy who traded television equipment for massive commercial airtime, and planned to flood the airways with commercials for the card. He actually used Betsy in one commercial but I don’t think he made a success of the card either.
My business idea was more complex. If you developed certain government subsidized housing projects, you were required to maintain reserves called “residual receipts and replacement reserves”. Over the years these reserves became substantial, but distributions were restricted by the rules and HUD only allowed a limited range of investment for these funds. The income on the reserves was taxable, although the funds could not be distributed. Most of these funds were held by mortgage companies and offered no benefit to the actual investment owners of the properties. Property owners were happy to pull these funds away from the mortgage companies and invest them privately if this was permissible. They also wanted to stick the middle finger to the mortgage companies if they could.
With the help of a Cincinnati company, Andy and I developed a mutual fund to invest these funds in a more profitable manor for the owners but still consistent with HUD rules. The Freedom of Information Act provided me with the names of all the property owners affected and I began to pitch them with some success.
When the details of what we were trying to do became widely known, the mortgage companies went nuts and did all they could to stop us. They eventually lobbied HUD to change its rules and put us out of business. We were finished. At least it was an intelligent, novel effort.
Three events then converged to send Tamma and me on our way to Florida. The first occurred while Steven and I visited my dad on his 80th birthday. Mom had arranged a party for their friends and a few relatives including, dad’s sister and her husband. About an hour into the party my dad confided in me that he didn’t know most of the people at the party. He was unusually quiet that night. Shortly after the party he was diagnosed with the first stage of Alzheimer’s disease.
Months later I moved to Florida to help out. When my mom initially told me dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease I argued with her.
“How do you know? Has he been properly diagnosed, by a neurologist, in addition to the family doctor?’
“Of course. Take him yourself if you want and ask the doctor anything you want.”
I did take him to the same neurologist my mom had already seen. I wanted my own Q & A opportunity. The doctor remembered my dad and did not look happy to see me or him.
Dad sat on the examining table and smiled at me, looking handsome as ever. When the doctor shined his light in my dad’s eyes my dad punched the doctor hard in the face. Diagnosis confirmed.
The second event was a visit from one of the Concord officers, David, who had a business proposition for me if I moved to Florida. I respected David and considered him an ethical, intelligent, major force in Concord’s success. He had recently been screwed over by Lenny and now was in business for himself.
The third event had something to do with Abe Lincoln’s disease or more properly Marfan Syndrome. Quoting Wikipedia:
Marfan syndrome (MFS) is a genetic disorder of the connective tissue. The degree to which people are affected varies. People with Marfan tend to be tall, and thin, with long arms, legs, fingers and toes. They also typically have flexible joints and scoliosis. The most serious complications involve the heart and aorta with an increased risk of mitral valve prolapse and aortic aneurysm.
Rhonda had cautioned me about her brother Steven. He was according to her “a bit of a snake”. He was a gay lawyer specializing in divorce, who somehow had inherited a bundle from a client under suspicious circumstances. Rhonda and Steven had lost their mother, whom I had met when Rhonda worked for me, to a sudden heart attack. They had also lost Steven’s twin sister to a motorcycle accident.
When Steven met Tamma for the first time he was shocked by how much he felt she resembled his late mother. Rhonda agreed. He was fascinated by her. Tamma loved Steven’s new attention and his ongoing party stoked by alcohol and drugs, which complemented her present temperament.
Steven’s doctor in Florida suspected he might have Marfan’s Syndrome. There was no direct test for this syndrome but it was called Abe Lincoln disease because a common profile was someone with extremely long arms and fingers. Steven flew to Cleveland to get another opinion from the Cleveland Clinic. I accompanied him, where they confirmed the diagnosis and scheduled Steven for open heart surgery to avoid his heart valves from splitting apart. It was suggested that maybe Marfan Disease had been the cause of his mother’s death.
Steven and his gay friend entourage came to Cleveland for the surgery and he then rehabbed at our apartment in Chagrin Falls. It was then that he reciprocated by offering us to stay with him in Florida until we found our own place.
The fact that Tamma now had an adoring friend made the move more attractive to her than before.
Tamma became unexpectedly pregnant. I was not thrilled but assured her that I would support any decision she made about continuing her pregnancy. She decided not to have the child. I am not sure what her thought process in making the decision actually was but I believe the abortion contributed in subtle ways to her decline. I think the procedure popped the imaginary bubble she had of a normal life. She was not going to be a mother, she was not going to be a career woman and she was no longer going to be the sole grownup in her parents’ and siblings’ life. Instead she would float without responsibilities and escape to the bizarre world of a Florida beach party.
One of our high priced physician friends performed the procedure in the hospital, costing about 20 times what it would have cost at a clinic, but I felt guilty knowing in my heart of hearts I didn’t want the responsibility of raising another child. I wasn’t that good at raising the ones I already had.
I needed to go to Florida but not for the party. I didn’t trust Steven and didn’t like his influence on Tamma, but then wasn’t I also sliding down the tubes? Weren’t my glory days over? Did my kids really need me anymore? I couldn’t consult with my brother because Larry was gone. Cancer took him and I wasn’t there by his side at the end. I felt very guilty that I had not made it to Florida before he died. Was all my love and empathy bullshit? And did I really want to stay with this woman who was drinking more and looking forward to a party I was not sure I wanted to attend? A party to which I was not even sure I was invited. Was it guilt now or love that held us together? I didn’t ask myself the right questions then because I really didn’t want answers. I was frightened of the truth. And during my confusion, throwing all logic aside, Tamma and I got married and threw the party of the year.
Tamma was planning a party for my 50th birthday. As the plans escalated, half kidding she said that the party was getting so elaborate that maybe we should finally get married at the party, get double use from the event. I had no thoughts on marriage again. I felt like my life was going to hell, we’re starting over in Florida, why the hell not. Tamma certainly wasn’t marrying me for my money. I was almost broke.
But then fortune smiled on me. My restaurant friend had his own disaster when his trendy restaurant was suddenly empty because of road closures and massive road reconstruction that made casual trips to his restaurant impossible. He confided in me that he would have to close and go bankrupt. During our conversation I asked him about his lease, hadn’t it just been renegotiated?
I discovered that his lease was assignable, very long term and actually now below market. I found a buyer for his restaurant within the month, largely because of the very valuable lease. Brad wanted to pay me in a trade.
The trade was the wedding reception.
We sent out our golden invitation tickets as if it were my birthday party. We had over 150 people invited, including my parents and some of their friends. Everyone showed up, including many who were not invited. As th e guests arrived for my birthday, we were getting married in the hotel lobby. It was great to see my parents and their friends. I have a recording of the wedding and party on my computer. I don’t have a recording of my mother berating me for a lavish party when I owed my dad so much money.
“Mom, I think dad has told it to you backwards. Can we discuss this some other time?”
My mom died believing I owed my dad hundreds of thousands of dollars. I never wanted to hurt her with the truth. Avoiding a fight with my mother as she approached ninety was worth a lot of money.
The Friday night wedding lasted until Sunday morning, when those that decided to book hotel rooms finally left. When Monday morning arrived I felt no different.