This is Chapter 13 of my memoir: “The Imperfect Logic of the Heart.” The book is available on Amazon. I am reprinting it here chapter by chapter.
I rented our last townhouse where we would live together in Delray Beach. Once again I did this without Tamma’s knowledge. Her name did not appear on the lease and as far as the complex knew she didn’t exist. It was “don’t ask and I won’t tell you that my wife is an alcoholic occasionally visited by a crack dealer.” By now I had stopped trying to deter Tamma from doing anything damaging to her body. If she wanted alcohol I would get it for her. Whatever else she did was beyond my pay grade. If I didn’t get her alcohol she’d get it herself and risk another DUI or worse, an accident involving another car and or injury to someone innocent. And apparently her crack dealer delivered.
Tamma belonged in an institution. She was drinking more. I found a crack pipe I suspected was hers or one of her friends. She was showing signs of severe liver damage. If you gripped her arm too hard it would become black and blue. She had called the police more than once telling them I had beat her up. Of course, this was ridiculous and the police after they arrived saw the obvious, but she was black and blue and at least once they suggested I leave, at least for the night. I said I would but I just drove to the drug store a block away and when I returned she was asleep for the evening.
Our friend Eddie who we visited often in Naples, was also an alcoholic and had damaged his liver. His eyes and skin were showing the signs, the yellow tint, the buildup of bilirubin, the billboard for jaundice, liver failure and ultimately death. Tamma saw this and knew the risks for herself but was not deterred.
Fortunately work kept me sane. My small Detroit federal government property private REIT had now grown to public company status on the New York Stock exchange. This evolutionary process kept me very occupied and energized by the new experience and opportunity to be “among the living.” We had quarterly board meetings in Omaha and I had a daily “sourcing efforts” job looking for potential acquisitions. The board members were all interesting accomplished guys. One of them became my angel.
Our first introductory meeting of the new board members occurred at an old famous Italian restaurant in Palm Beach, Florida.
I have the “on time “disease and usually arrive early for every appointment. Frankly I was also nervous. I had spent too many hours alone with Tamma and wasn’t really sure my actual sane voice worked. By now the dialogue in my head was so advanced that although I was not audible I was frequently talking to myself. If I wasn’t sitting alone in my office, I was wandering the beach or riding my motorcycle alone with my thoughts.
There was a bar adjacent to the restaurant’s dining room and I considered a calming drink before the rest of the new board members arrived. There was no one in the bar except one well-dressed man alone at a table for two in the corner of the bar. He had a drink and I did not. So I asked him if there was a bartender working the room. “I’m very early for a meeting and I need a drink.”
“I am as well. Come join me, he’s actually on an errand for me. I requested a special bottle of scotch for my meeting.”
His name was Spencer and yes, he was one of the new board members, also punctual. I would learn he was a brilliant attorney with a Wharton MBA and a law degree from Villanova. He was also the underwriter’s control representative. His job was to make sure on behalf of the guys raising the money that the board knew what they were doing.
Spenser championed me. He knew I was the only one on the board who had actually owned and operated real estate. When he learned from my homework that our pool of potential acquisitions was much smaller than had been represented, he insisted that I also become involved with the day to day sourcing of properties. Although there were free standing GSA (Government Service Administration) properties, many of the government offices were in larger buildings with other tenants who were not GSA. Could we buy these buildings and still be true to our stated mission? The question was for me to figure out. The other board members were not happy with this arrangement but Spencer prevailed.
Spencer proved to be my first experience with an adult who actually was interested in helping me with no other agenda. I knew little about his personal life other than he was buying his dream home in Florida and had some health issues. He had survived Hodgkin’s as a younger man, a fact I was to learn much later.
The board had a Fourth of July party in Omaha, and as always I debated whether to take my wife. Would she self-destroy during the evening and embarrass herself and me. I weighed the risks and decided a trip anywhere would be good for her and she actually seemed excited to go. Ironically most of the board and wives were more inebriated than she. Tamma was on her best behavior but I did see her drift away to talk to one of the bartenders and by the end of the evening she appeared, at least to me, to be high on cocaine. Clearly none of the board noticed and I was glad to safely fly home at the end of the weekend without the need for explanations. Spencer knew my story and was always ready to listen. He was one of the few.
It was getting more difficult to live in the same apartment with Tamma. The kitchen on the first floor remained Spartan, well organized and spotless while the upstairs was a disaster. The disarray in Tamma’s mind had not transferred to the one place still sacred to her. She drank and did drugs but strangely followed the Michael Pollan rules and ate “real food, not too much, mostly plants.” She would eat steamed vegetables and drink herbal tea because “eating right was the thing to do.”
Tamma was rarely dressing now or leaving the house. She’d wear her K mart robe and slippers that a child would wear with a little bear at the toes. She was naked under the robe with her skinny legs exposed and black and blue marks everywhere. As if her liver were screaming: “Notice me, I’m dying!”
When I told her I needed to move out she was perched on one leg with the other foot firmly on her other thigh making a cup of tea.
“I don’t know why you have to move out and pay two rents. You know you’ll never divorce me. And besides, if you leave me who will have a girl such as myself?”
“Someone with lots of money who likes to do drugs.”
“And you never did drugs when you were my age? What a hypocrite. Cocaine, pot, Quaaludes. You did it all.”
I no longer wanted to battle back. I had given up on these contests. How could I continue to fight with someone who was in her bathrobe with a distended stomach, jaundiced eyes, a belly retaining fluids, and a failing liver.
The next week I took her to her four month follow up doctor appointment with Dr. Cohen. Somehow on this day, the reality of her physical condition overwhelmed me and I could not suppress my tears.
“What are you worried about, big boy?”
“If I die look at all the alimony you’ll save. And besides remember how short my life line is. Remember the palm reading. This was never supposed to be a happy ending.”
In the lobby I noticed all the patients I used to think were old at an age I would never have to reach. Getting old was something for others, not me. The geriatric army was in Cohen’s waiting room. They pushed walkers and stared into space with vacant eyes. How old were they? They were supposed to die eventually, not a young woman not yet 46. Not Tamma. Not me.
Tamma signed in at Harvey’s office and I told her I would wait in the hall. I really did not need to see the doctor. I would help her follow Harvey’s instructions for rehab and cure but she was on her own. If she wanted to get better, she had to do this herself. This lie sounded good to me and I marched outside. Twenty minutes later I poked my head back into the lobby and didn’t see Tamma. The receptionist said she was in with Harvey. I went back outside looking for a restroom. When I returned she was smoking a cigarette sitting on the ground outside his office in the open air hall.
“Well, I’m dead.”
“What do you mean? No more drinking of course. Did he say no smoking either?”
“No he told me I only have six months at most to live.”
I went charging back into Cohen’s office, ignored the receptionist and banged on Harvey’s door.
“Did you tell her she has six months left to live?”
“I did”, he says, “if she keeps drinking, which she obviously is doing.”
“If she’s living alone she will also probably bleed out in her sleep, too weak to call for help.”
“Well what if she has a nurse and does everything she is supposed to? Then what is her prognosis?”
“Maybe a couple of years. Her liver is very damaged. I’m sorry.”
Back out on the office deck where the smoker sits, apparently without an apparent care in the world, all I can muster is : “No, he did not say you would be dead in six months. Only if you keep drinking.” I ignored the rest of the conversation with Harvey about the two years. I was sure she never entertained that polemic. Hell, I could be dead in two years, I rationalized. So I hugged her and drove her home with a promise of a nice dinner. Like no big deal.
Once alone, I finally accepted the obvious, that she would not stop drinking and could die. So beautiful, so young yet so damaged. If she were to die what would die within me, or would the converse occur? Would I reawaken from the dead?
Tamma was not my only concern. My father had followed the normal Alzheimer track and passed away. I had a deal with my mother that he could remain home as long as he didn’t hit her. Once that happened she agreed he could no longer live there.
That day finally came. My mother tried to help him on with his socks and he struck her hard in the arm. I told her to call 911. She agreed but not until I arrived. I called and told the dispatcher the situation so they did not come with guns blazing. Actually they sent a young attractive policewoman, who my dad seemed to enjoy as she led him to the locked psych ward of the Broward County Hospital. “Memory care” facilities did not exist and it would take two months of our visits to a mental ward where my dad sat locked in a highchair for adults before we could get a nursing home to admit him. He lasted in the nursing home exactly two days before he had a massive heart attack and was rushed to the closest hospital in Fort Lauderdale. My mom and I were with him moments before he died. Still looking handsome as ever.
The new problem was the hurricane, which had knocked down power lines and left my mother alone with only emergency power for the hallways but no power for the refrigerator or stove. Gas pumps didn’t work at most of the gas stations. Without a generator to power the pumps the station was useless. Walmart had generators but also very long lines.
The trip to my mother’s and back was over 60 miles so gas would be a problem. I had to go there every day to check up on her status. My enormous tip/bribe came to the rescue at Walmart and I was able to beat the line. I ran an extension cord to the light socket in the hallway of my mom’s condo, where the generator kept the lights and elevator working. That saved the refrigerator and we played cards hoping things would power up. They didn’t until two days later but I went back and forth until things returned to normal.
Both my kids had their own trauma during this time, but I will let them tell their own stories now that they are both grown men with their own children.
Sometimes when I visited my mother if Tamma was sober I would take her along. Tamma loved my mother and on her last visit to my mom asked my mother if she could move in with her. Tamma said she could cook for my mom and they would be great company for each other. My mom told Tamma if she would stop drinking she thought it would be a great idea.
Now that my heart was being shredded I sought succor from Al Anon. Tamma always used the excuse to avoid AA that she was Jewish and that their higher power was Jesus and “what’s up with that.” The only preaching she respected was Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
“They’re okay. They’re not telling me to stop drinking, just not to drink and drive.”
“I can support that.”
My problem with Al Anon had nothing to do with the higher power business. I’d love to believe in God, I’m just waiting for evidence I can understand. What I couldn’t handle was what I perceived as a total lack of empathy. As a true codependent the idea of distance was not something I could understand.
At my first and last meeting, was a mother there whose daughter was pregnant and out on the street. What she yearned for was some compassion. Maybe a group hug. What she got instead, at least as I perceived it, was a lecture. I couldn’t endorse these tactics even if they were the right approach.
Spenser did not show up for our last June Fourth board meeting and I learned for the first time that he was ill. This surprised me since Spenser was always the first one in the gym in the morning at whatever hotel we were staying at. We would be on adjacent elliptical machines discussing the news or the day ahead.
I decided to visit Spenser at his new home in North Miami Beach and finally met his wife Carmen. I learned that his radiation cure for Hodgkin’s disease had now caused lung cancer years later. Apparently this was always a risk. A few weeks later Spenser was in a hospital bed in his downstairs living room with a large screen TV turned to CNBC so he could monitor his holdings. I never read “Tuesdays with Morrie,” but the following weeks until Spenser’s death were Thursdays with Richard and Spenser. He never once talked about his illness. I would arrive at the house and say hello to Carmen and then kick her out the door. She needed to take a break but never would have asked for help.
After many weeks of visits I learned that Spenser was no longer at home but had been readmitted to the hospital. Carmen was sleeping in the room with him. I told admittance to ring the room to see if I could visit. I told them I was a relative.
Spenser was surprised and happy to see me. While I was visiting a rabbi came to visit with a sad look on his face to see if there was anything Spenser would like him to do. Spenser said no thank you and when the rabbi left started to laugh. I said my goodbyes. Spenser was taken home the next day for hospice at home. He died a few days later. After Spenser’s death I got to know Carmen and understood how their marriage lasted almost 30 years. She had her own grace and warmth.
I couldn’t work at home with Tamma and so went looking for an office to rent. I thought downtown West Palm Beach would be fun. During my search I stumbled on Frank Speight. The same Frank I had met a few years before with David Bernard.
Frank’s office was in the Comeau Building on Clematis Street, the happening street in downtown West Palm. On the other side of the intercostal is snob city, Palm Beach where nothing much happens. Clematis street had the restaurants, bars and nightlife. His office caught my attention as I walked through the historic building.
His conference window opened to the arcade displaying a rendering of a hotel project to be constructed in Belize. Frank was in his office and I took the opportunity to become reacquainted. I told him I was busy with the REIT but looking for a place to hang out. My home office was boring. He had an extra office and said just come in whenever you want.
“No rent, it’s not being used. Maybe we can do some things together.” That first encounter would end a few years later with the following news report. You don’t achieve the following notoriety without having a larger than life personality.
Chief Executive Officer of International Stock Transfer Pleads Guilty in $3 Million Securities Fraud Scheme
BROOKLYN, NY—Yesterday, Cecil Franklin Speight, also known as Frank Speight, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit mail fraud and securities fraud for engaging in a conspiracy to steal over three million dollars from investors. Speight was the sole owner, officer, and director of International Stock Transfer (IST), a registered transfer agent with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) since May 2004. According to court filings and facts presented at the plea hearing, Speight stole at least $3.3 million from victim investors and used the proceeds to pay personal expenses, including purchases at Mercedes Benz, Nordstrom, Netflix, and Groupon. Speight faces up to five years’ imprisonment, at least $3.3 million in restitution, and a fine equal to double the investors’ losses.
The guilty plea was announced by Loretta E. Lynch, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, and George Venizelos, Assistant Director-in-Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation, New York Field Office (FBI).
“Rather than transferring capital to issuers, the defendant used the investors’ funds as his own, including financing his lifestyle in Florida. His victims, from the Eastern District of New York and around the world, were conned into buying bogus securities that were not worth the paper they were printed on. Now, he will be held to account for his crimes,” stated United States Attorney Lynch. Ms. Lynch extended her grateful appreciation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the agency responsible for leading the government’s investigation, and thanked the Securities and Exchange Commission for its assistance.
“Speight tricked his victims into thinking their money would be invested in high-yield securities, but he was essentially using their investments to fund his own lifestyle to the tune of several million dollars. People have the right to trade in an uncorrupted market, and today’s guilty plea is proof of the FBI’s continued determination to root out those who unlawfully interfere with this process,” stated FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Venizelos.
IST was founded by Speight in 2004 as a transfer agent registered with the SEC with offices in Palm Beach, Florida. Speight used “cold callers” and other means to entice victims into investing their money in allegedly high yield securities. Speight promised the victims a high rate of return if they invested in securities that were purportedly associated with IST. Speight and his co-conspirators directed the victims to wire their investment funds into purportedly secure attorney escrow accounts. Once the victims wired money to those escrow accounts, Speight typically stole the funds for his personal use, including the purchase of a Mercedes Benz automobile. Speight also withdrew over $350,000 of investors’ funds in cash.
Today’s guilty plea took place before United States Magistrate Judge Roanne L. Mann at the federal courthouse in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The government’s case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Jack Dennehy.
Moving into Frank’s office my only goal was to get out of the apartment. Tamma was getting worse and I could not sit home and watch her die. I talked to an attorney about a divorce. My concerns were the legal ramifications of her downhill slide. Tamma was spending faster than I could earn and beginning to be associated with some drug dealers. I couldn’t jeopardize my board seat with even the least bit of suspicion of less than stellar behavior. Frequent police appearances at the door could not be tolerated by a board member of a New York Stock Exchange Company. I told Tamma my plans but she was convinced I would never leave her. I assured her even if we were divorced I would always take good care of her. I was already feeding her and doing her laundry. She barely got out of bed. I was prepared to see her through to the end just not as her husband. We weren’t sleeping together and there was no physical intimacy between us. I wanted my own place for mental health. I think she believed me when I told her I would always take care of her.
After several months and several trips to Belize helping Frank with some of his new investors and projects, I decided to rent a condo from Frank that he had bought as an investment. The condo was in a new building in downtown West Palm, walking distance from the office.
I knew by then from our trips together that Frank was a bullshitter, but that didn’t make him a criminal. I wasn’t making any money with Frank but I liked the condo and its rent and loved the trips to Belize, which he paid for. The trips were like mini vacations from Tamma and my mother duty.
Belize, formerly British Honduras, was an interesting contrast from Jamaica. It was three countries in one. You could visit the jungle and Mayan ruins, you could bank in a sophisticated Central American English speaking city where the citizens were educated and compassionate, or you could go to one of the Cayes and enjoy some of the finest diving in the world and ride around in golf carts with high end tourist attractions.
Frank’s project was near the airport and made sense, and it might have been successful if he hadn’t stolen all the investors’ money and diverted it to his own elaborate lifestyle. By the time all of Frank’s misdeeds were discovered, I was no longer living in his condo because my mother had died. Meanwhile Tamma was living out her remaining short life on the beach.