tamster

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.

Between the time we arrived in Florida in 1999 and Tamma’s death in 2007 we moved ten times to different rentals in various suburbs from West Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale.   With each move Tamma became more ill and our relationship more complicated.  Her mental and physical decline tested my failing talent to repair her and finally distorted our relationship from one of mutual support and love to a dysfunctional codependent nightmare.  The descent down the rabbit hole corresponded with a bizarre cast of characters, including minor and massive frauds and one suicide.

It started in Rhonda’s brother’s home. Our host, now completely obsessed with Tamma, spent his time complicating simple divorce and custody proceedings to insure maximum fees and devising new ways to impress Tamma.  He had acquired his mysterious wealth when one of his clients bypassed his son and left his money to his own attorney, who happened to be Steven.  Clearly this would be immediately suspicious but Steven had arranged for another lawyer to write the appropriate new will for this sole, one-time transaction.  The full story as to whether the healthy demise was legitimately intended or not was never related to me but I was certain I had figured out how the magic trick was or could be done.

Tamma’s party time with Steven encouraged me to find a new residence as quickly as possible.  Steven was not happy when we moved to the nearby suburb of Lake Worth into a single family house on a small, man-made lake at least 20 minutes from his home. The house included, no extra charge, a paddle boat useful for quiet contemplation in the middle of the night with a glass of wine, or for Tamma a glass of vodka and a joint. During the daylight hours several ferocious red ant hills were an unwanted add-on.

This was a great house for a young married couple with two kids in strollers and a dog, but isolated and boring for a guy with an office 10 traffic-filled miles away in Boca and a wife who only wanted to party with Steven, who was now 8 potential DUI miles away.

We did manage to make friends with a transvestite and his significant other who lived a few houses away.  This was not a lasting source of evening fun. When a bird managed to get in the house after about six months, clearly an evil omen, I decided to look for other housing, and with another two-month notice we were gone again.

I managed to answer an ad for a rental at a condo in Delray Beach called the Delray Beach Harbor Club.  The two story units were quite dramatic and overlooked the attached boat club, which also offered a swimming pool. Tamma was not a swimmer but she could park herself on the pool deck and soak up the sun while I rode my new bike a few miles to my office. Our new landlord had made a fortune selling junk on cable TV infomercials and was very fair with the rent.

I raised the money for our new venture called June Fourth while I was still in Cleveland.  The largest Cleveland investor quite reasonably insisted, since David was the key man, that we purchase insurance on David’s life.  We purchased a $ 1 million dollar term life policy on David and since the premium was so reasonable, at the same time, David decided to buy another $2 million dollar policy on his life for the benefit of his wife and two children not yet of college age.  As additional backup, I asked Lenny (who had now moved permanently to Florida) to invest in the new venture.  He assured me he would.  And based on his assurance and support I had felt comfortable making the move.  David’s relationship with Lenny was complicated.  As Concord had morphed into something different and basically downsized, David was not included in their future plans and was bought out.

Lenny backed out of his offer to invest almost the first week I landed in Florida.  I was now two months into June Fouth and began to understand why.  David’s concept was clever but not properly tested.  I had been under the assumption that he was “cash flowing” already and that his program, which involved a novel way for banks to earn CRA credits, was warmly received. The Community Reinvestment Act was designed to force banks to acknowledge their low income clients.  Banks being bank-like did everything they could to avoid this new requirement.  Basically David had a clever way for the banks to earn the credits without doing what they were supposed to do, make loans to low income people.  All they would have to do was flip loans.  Originate the loan and then immediately sell it.  Earn the credit but not the risk. David was ahead of the curve. A few banks that David had a personal relationship were receptive but that was it.

David had a former Concord associate working for him when I arrived, who was under the impression that he had an option to purchase 25% of the new company at a meager price per share, balancing his non-existent salary.  This was not my understanding or that of my investors. I confronted David and advised the employee it wasn’t going to happen.  He immediately walked out with the middle finger held high for both of us.

It became clear that June Fourth was going to be a rescue effort almost from the inception and that against my game plan for Florida, I was going to have to perform the rescue.  My immediate solution was to enter the crazy world of subprime mortgages.  Similar to David’s world but different since it had a retail component.

David’s office, which was now our office, looked more like a living room than an office.  There were a few desks and lots of books and couches.  An adjacent room, which he had rented for expansion (a crazy concept for an early stage company), had more traditional cubby hole offices that were for the time vacant.  It was in the expansion room that we ran a retail subprime mortgage business.

David had more stories to tell than anyone I had ever met, except my grandfather.  He was clearly very bright but there was a not so subtle bullshit about his rap.  He said he graduated from Yale but I was pretty sure it was a Yale summer three week course, not the actual degree.  Knowing David, that might have also have been an exaggeration. Possibly he just walked around the Yale campus one day, or like my brother’s approach, read about Yale in a book.  I knew a lot of lawyers who went to Harvard for three weeks in the summer for a continuing education class who put Harvard Law in their advertising material. David also confided in me that his dad had been an Air Force pilot, a war hero killed during WWII.  This also proved not to be true.

I didn’t socialize with David but knew he was into all the bullshit Palm Beach society happenings.  His wife went to the proper church and very few people knew David was Jewish.

Tamma was accompanying Steven during many of his court appearances and being paid as moral support or for organizing his case file, anything he could think of to keep her around.  I was actually beginning to welcome his attention because holding David’s hand and rescuing a company seemed task enough.  And Tamma was drinking more and sleeping less. And then to make matters worse, along came Bob.

I met Bob’s wife Janet before I met Bob swimming in our condo pool with her son.  A cute little boy in the water told me with some conviction that he could beat me in a swimming race.  I said sure let’s go at it and watched him paddle to the other side.  After I congratulated him on his win, his mother introduced herself. She was a very Boca West New York Jew, but nice. Eventually she introduced me to her husband, Bob, who had been working on his boat which was docked in our harbor.

I expected Tamma home within the hour and so invited them all to dinner.  We’d pick up some Chinese food and get acquainted.  Their boat at the Harbor Club accounted for their pool use.  Janet had told me they were in a business that had something to do with high end sunglass cases.

Bob looked like most of the better looking Italian guys that hung around little Italy in almost any Italian section of any large city.  He had a nice giggle to his laugh and was very friendly. And I was soon to learn he was a world class alcoholic.

Back at the office I hired someone from Cleveland who was already in the subprime mortgage business, and we began to market the ridiculous loans we all now know about. I also tried to buy Cash Back Mortgage in Cleveland but realized they had too much debt and I would not be able to properly manage the business long distance.  But we were up and running and had leased out some of the unused office space to a small broker dealer to help with expenses.

David was building a new house in West Palm Beach and had sold his Palm Beach Residence to pay for it. While it was being constructed David and the family had moved into an apartment building in Palm Beach.  David never showed me the plans for the new house but he bragged about the several hundred volume library his office would include.  I never counted David’s money but assumed he was spending at the old Concord rate, which he could no longer afford.

While I was struggling at work Tamma had gone doctor shopping for a psychiatrist that would keep her well stocked in her favorite drug: klonopin. a prescription sedative useful as an anti-anxiety and anticonvulsant drug.  Doctors prescribe klonopin to control or prevent seizures and reduce anxiety from panic attacks. Also known as clonazepam, this drug is a benzodiazepine—a class of drugs that is highly addictive.  Tamma was now eating them like candy.  Her first question to any doctor she called was: “Do you write?”  If they wouldn’t immediately prescribe her klonopin they were off her list.

Her new buddy Bob was hanging around his boat more often and Tamma was often hanging with him.  I was not jealous but rather relieved that she seemed happier to have a buddy.  I had gone with Tamma to a happy hour where the three of us were to meet up.  When we arrived Bob was drunk at the bar with his head down, half off the bar stool.   The manager was happy to see us and for us to remove the body. We took him back to the boat and called his wife to drag him home.

Bob was extending his drinking to later in the day and I was beginning to hear from the lady that controlled our gate to the complex that Bob and Tamma were beginning to attract the unfavorable attention of the management board of the condo association.  My landlord was also at odds with the condo association so he never passed this news to me, but I was beginning to become disgusted with both their behaviors even without this additional information.

When Tamma was drinking she was actually civil; when Bob got drunk he became belligerent.  We were at home one night when our friend the gatekeeper called us to say that Bob was at the gate. She would not let him in because he was drunk.  His response was to scream at her, and she said she watched him make a wild U turn into the shopping center and that she hadn’t seen him leave the car.  He was probably still in his car.

Tamma and I went looking for him.  When Bob saw me he jumped out of the car and started running. When I caught up to him I tried to get him into our car and drive him home.  His reaction was to take a swing at me.  I had had enough of his crap and grabbed him. I told Tamma to pop the trunk.  I don’t think she knew what I had in mind but she popped it.  I picked up Bob and threw him in the trunk, shut the lid, and told Tamma to call his wife.  We’d drive him home in the trunk. She begged me to come up with an alternative.  I said, “fine,” and drove him to a crappy motel about three miles away near the ocean.  I rented a room for him for the night and then opened the trunk by his room door.  He was passed out.  I picked him up, carried him to the room, dropped him on the bed, and left the room key on the nightstand. The motel, we noticed a few years later, was the same hotel where the 9/11 bombers had lived while they learned how to fly but not land.

As Tamma’s drug use and alcohol consumption were beginning to absorb her everyday life and spiral out of control, I hoped that a visit from her oldest friend and mother surrogate could bring her back to reality.  That visit did not go well.  Tamma was not interested in doing anything other than hanging out with a cocktail. Her friend gave up on her and went back to Cleveland.

When it became clear that the condo board had also had enough of her, my landlord said forget the rest of the lease.

“Wouldn’t it be best if you move out now?”

So I found still another townhouse to rent, this time in West Boca.  I moved all our stuff with the help of a couple of Jamaican movers, while Tamma remained drunk on the floor at the condo at the Delray Harbor Club.  Disgusted, I told her to just stay there if she wanted to and left her in the now empty apartment. A day later, without explanation of where she had been, she moved in with me.  We arranged separate bedrooms.  I was finally done (I thought) and I gave her an ultimatum.  Get some help. Start with a real psychiatrist.  I think now that might be an oxymoron.

Meanwhile my dad was well into the first phase of Alzheimer’s.  Things were different back then.  There was no such thing as Memory Care or day care.  Dad was home and slept with mom.  As things progressed we eventually had help during the day. Getting to understand what was happening to dad and mom’s reaction was a learning experience.  Sometimes there was associated humor.

Visiting mom and dad was a great break from the confusing life I was living in Boca Raton.  My parents lived in Weston, Florida on the alligator alley.  Next stop west was Naples. When the kids were young there were actually alligators on the golf course.

My mom, dad and I were all having dinner in our favorite little Italian restaurant, walking distance from the condo if you weren’t in your 80’s with Alzheimer’s.  Engaged in a lengthy conversation with my mother about nothing special I noticed that dad was no longer sitting with us.

“Mom, where’s dad?”

“He went to the bathroom.”

“Wasn’t that a long time ago?”

“You might be right.  You better go check on him.”

I found him inside one of the two stalls in the bathroom.

“Are you alright?”

No answer.

I opened the door to find my dad panicked. His yellow sport coat was fine, hung neatly on the side of the door but his green pants were no longer green.  My dad was a mess.

“Dad don’t move.  Just stay here I’ll be right back.”

I told mom about dad’s embarrassing condition and suggested I needed to go home to get him some clean clothes. She said, “There’s not time for that.  There’s a raincoat in the car.” I got the raincoat and grabbed the garbage bag out of the trash receptacle in the bathroom and stripped dad. He didn’t resist. I cleaned him up as best I could.  His socks had to come off as well. I helped him put his shoes on, and then the raincoat.  I grabbed his sport coat and watched the 83 year old beautiful man walk smiling out of the restaurant to the car.  My mom pretended like nothing happened and never mentioned it again and no one noticed the naked man in the raincoat with tie shoes and no socks.

I think mom was prepared for the worst having watched her son, my brother, die in her condo. You never survive completely the death of your child.

Larry had been living in Cleveland and working but became too sick for a full time job.  When his marriage ended he moved to Williamson and got a job running the technical part of Williamson’s sole radio station.  How my brother knew how to operate and maintain that equipment was a mystery to me.  When my dad bought his sisters out of the clothing store, Larry gave up the radio gig and managed it.  After the flood my dad had Larry supervise the reconstruction of the Schwachter Building. It was during this time that I finally had a chance to enjoy my brother’s unique perspective on life as his friend instead of his little brother.  We both complained about our dad.  My brother for being blamed about the day to day over the building transformation and my frustration with losing my money on what was a stupid plan from the inception.

After the building snafu was over and the building sold, my brother became very ill and came to Florida to seek better doctors.  The news was not good. Larry had cancer, which spread quickly. He stayed with my parents in hospice until he died.  Before that, Larry had driven up to Cleveland to visit old friends and stayed with me.  I was unaware of how far his cancer had progressed and regret I was not at his side in Florida when he died.

Months after Larry died we discovered that he had a life insurance policy.  The beneficiary was his divorced former wife, Kathy. Kathy wanted the money even though the beneficiary clause said “my wife Kathy” and she was not his wife and had not been his wife for many years.  I was particularly angry because I had paid for my brother’s divorce and the “one time” settlement to Kathy. We could not settle our dispute amicably, as in “lets split the money”, so I went to court and argued that divorce terminated any rights she had.  It was getting expensive for Kathy so she finally settled. The law is now changed in Ohio.  Her claim today would not be valid.

Larry’s illness was my father’s chance pre Alzheimer’s to make amends with Larry.  I can’t imagine what his death did to my mother.  She never talked about it.

Soon my life in Florida would get even more confusing.  David had a day marked on his calendar when his new house would be completed and he would finally close.  The money held in escrow from the sale of his first house would be transferred to the escrow agent to accomplish the closing.

Things at June Fourth had become more critical.  David could not meet payroll and I had already taken on some legal work to prepare for the end once it failed.  David had assured me, though, that June Fourth would be rescued by a sale.  He was negotiating with several buyers.  One of the buyers was Frank Speight, who would be a principal player in my adventures in the future.

As the days passed I began to press David for more details on how potential sales were progressing.  One day we went to lunch together to discuss more details and David drove so recklessly that I made him pull over.  He let me drive back to the office.

One week later, I arrived at the office and found a manila folder on my desk with a handwritten note.  “Here is information about your investor to move forward.”  Inside was the life insurance policy on David’s life.  The night before David had walked to a park bench near his temporary apartment and stuck a small caliber pistol in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  David followed the same path as his father, who I would learn had not died during the war but had instead taken his own life.

After condolences and further investigation I learned that the policy on my desk had lapsed two months prior.  Conveniently the policies he owned privately had not lapsed and had been paid for with June Fourth money.  I’ll never know if this was David’s way of saying “F you” or if it was an honest mistake.

Fortunately David’s wife’s attorney was from one of the very best old line Palm Beach firms. He understood the potential for the damage a prolonged lawsuit would have on his client and agreed to a reasonable settlement.  The settlement allowed me to pay off the creditors and restore the investors’ funds, including my stock value and a fee for my efforts.

David’s wife asked me if Lenny would loan her some money until the insurance proceeds were paid.  I said I would talk to him. I called Lenny and confirmed that the insurance proceeds would be forthcoming but he declined to loan her money and decided he couldn’t make it to David’s funeral.  David’s wife decided to have the funeral on a Jewish holiday.  I attended and at her request spoke since she had nothing planned.  She insisted on an open casket notwithstanding the bullet hole in his head. “Don’t worry, Richard, he looks wonderful.  It was a small caliber gun.”

If that suicide didn’t freak me out, Tamma swallowed a whole bottle of sleeping pills in what I thought was a real attempt. As I rushed her to the hospital, she said she was just pretending. I was not equipped for that type of humor.  The hospital “Baker Acted” her and two days later I picked her up after she was released.  She laughed at me and told me they could never keep her in a facility.  She knew all the tricks and could always get out.

During the next month, I spent time wrapping up June 4th and Tamma and I actually had fun spending a little bit of the money I got as a fee at the close.  I fooled myself into believing she had become the girl I married in Cleveland.  I bought her a new BMW convertible and we played in South Beach and the Keys.  I bought myself a motorcycle and we toured the beach.  Her good behavior prompted me to decide to move closer to civilization and when our lease was up we moved again to another apartment complex in Boca.  Tamma agreed to see the head of psychiatrics at the Boca Hospital.  I was hopeful that this was a new beginning.

 

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