The life modification process
The possessions of my life consist of the following items.
Inside the 10×12 room I currently occupy, there are: Two framed, original pen and ink drawings. Two 16×20 oil paintings. One desk. One chair. One pen holder with: 13 pens, one scissors and one flashlight. One laptop computer. One desk lamp. One twin-sized bed. One brown club chair. Two bicycles — one carbon fiber, one aluminum. One bicycle pump. One picture of my daughter, son and his girlfriend, and my granddaughter. One small wooden table near the bed. Two empty bottles of vodka — one Effen, one Hangar 1. Two martini glasses. One framed Elvis Presley 45rpm gold record (Are You Lonesome Tonight?). One laundry hamper. One can of shaving cream. One of each: razor, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant. Tooth floss. Six bottles of vitamins. One towel. Fifteen pairs of shoes. Six pairs of jeans. Approximately 20 dress shirts. One red trash can. One Haliburton briefcase. One machete (for that moment when I read one too many unsubstantiated Benghazi memes and opt to cut off my own head). One prosperity Buddha (irony not lost).
Not counting the miscellaneous items in the desk, there are three drawers with socks, T-shirts, shorts and other clothing items. For the record, I do not own the dresser.
Outside this room, there is: One Krups coffee grinder. One stovetop espresso maker. One toolbox. One mountain bike. One motorcycle with riding gear. One Hyundai Sonata. One box each of: Trader Joe’s High Fiber Cereal and Honey Nut Chex (I’m a guy — we always have cereal).
The rest of my belongings are in four pods currently warehoused in Simi Valley. The above remnants are the only physical evidence of a very different life I had seven months ago.
At that time, I was living in a 3,800 square foot Tudor-style home on one of the better streets in one of the better neighborhoods in Glendale. An inventory of that home would be utterly ridiculous, so let’s just say I had a lot more original art, a collection of Eames chairs and other mid-century modern furniture, a bar filled with fine liquor, wines and glasses, flat screen TVs and nice stereos everywhere, plus a whole lot of other shit one accumulates during a six-year run in Corporate America.
For those who don’t know, people in Corporate America buy a lot of shit to help them forget the fact that they’ve sold their souls to the devil. Self-loathing is a real motor of economic growth. We in those ivory towers call it shop therapy. Had a bad week? Come back Monday with a Coach bag. The boss reamed you? Tom Ford sunglasses are a nice salve to rub on that gaping sore spot.
My personal lord and savior was Bev Mo — that’s where paydays would often find me stocking our cumbersome oak bar with Dickle Rye, Ketel One, Aperol and some naughty 14-year-old single malt scotch.
Fuck you, don’t judge. Remember… this story began with me alone in a 10×12 room.
We had a huge pool, two fireplaces, a covered lanai filled with lush plants and outdoor furniture, a living room with a 15-foot vaulted ceiling, a library and a master suite with a Jacuzzi bath. Hell, we had a live-in maid for six years. She sucked ass at cleaning and never did anything other than vacuuming and light dusting, but we had one nevertheless.
So why did it go away?
Did you ever see the movie, “The Big Short?”
If you didn’t, here’s the 10,000 foot synopsis: Shrewd investors anticipate, bet on and ultimately cash-in on the collapse of the housing market as a result of the default of millions of high-risk, bad loans.
Two nights ago, I saw it for the second time on my little laptop screen. The first time I watched it, I must have been more focused on the acting and less on the story — most likely a subconscious defense mechanism. But during this second viewing, with a fever and achy body dropping my defenses, I was struck by the full impact of the story line. I suspect that is why I needed to exorcise myself of this topic. And why I have taken the machete out of the room.
About eight years ago, my girlfriend got this big beautiful albatross of a home in her divorce settlement. She qualified for one of those shitty sub-prime loans. I remember being unable to figure out how she was able to qualify given her income, and ultimately advised her not to do the loan.
“Sell the house and walk away with a bunch of money,” I said more than a few times. “Live stress-free for awhile.”
But she was an optimist and believed in the value of real estate. She likewise believed in herself and her ability to make the payment. But that payment was relentless and the time finally came when she had to seek a loan modification with her lender, Chase Bank.
For more than two years, she went back and forth with Chase Bank in a demented game of cat and mouse. She hired a so-called “expert” in the loan modification process. Every month, upon the advice of her hired hand, she’d fax paperwork, stave off foreclosure and continue the process. And every month, she would receive letters from Chase Bank assuring her that they were reviewing her modification request with the utmost due diligence.
And then one day the cat got bored. I started receiving calls from attorneys informing me that we could fight the recent sale of the house and not have to lose it.
I deleted the first two calls thinking they were just hawks looking to make an offer on the house. But after hearing the third voicemail, I knew something was different. Sure enough, earlier that day, Chase Bank sold the house to a group of Armenian investors at a foreclosure auction. We would later find out that those investors quickly sold the property another three times in the same day. Investors make this move to make the title extremely difficult to contest. And as we also learned, once the title is perfected, your legal options are drastically diminished.
In an instant, we went from believing Chase Bank was reviewing the modification in good faith to negotiating rent with the new owners so we could stay in the house through Christmas. It took seven years, but the burst of the real estate bubble in 2008 had finally touched us personally. In this case the definition of “touched” is more like “dating Bill Cosby.” You’re fucked before you even know what happened.
Ironically, just two days before the house was sold at auction, we had finished landscaping the entire front yard using $6,000 in funds available through a turf removal program. In a bigger twist of irony, the new owners tore out the drought tolerant landscaping and drip irrigation and put the sod right back in — presumably to raise the curbside appeal. Evidently, nothing says “investment” these days like the promise of an enormous water bill.
But the biggest irony was the letter my girlfriend received from Chase Bank more than a month after her house had been sold at auction. It said they were reviewing her modification request with the utmost due diligence.
My girlfriend sought the advice of some of the most experienced real estate attorneys in Beverly Hills and their advice was unanimous. Fight the bank and maybe recover something, or just walk away with the excess funds that would be due to her as a result of the sale at auction.
So, she paid a few months rent to stay in the house that she once owned, we packed things up, gave more things away, locked the door and turned toward the next chapter in life. In the end, her belief in the value of real estate paid off. She walked away with a remarkable profit on the sale — something even the expert lawyers said was unprecedented in a foreclosure sale. And she finally got to live stress-free — as I had told her to do so long ago.
As for me, I walked away with three months free rent and the above-itemized list. I rent a room in the home of some close friends, and for the last six months we’ve been working on a promising business venture whose startup has benefitted from us being in close proximity. When I look at the big picture, I believe this is the higher reason the shift in my life took place. I am exactly where I am supposed to be right now.
Sure. Over the last six months there were some moments of sadness and even more of reflection. My girlfriend and I no longer live together, and while that seemed temporary when we first moved, it feels more permanent as time marches on. Having the flu this weekend reminded me of the benefits of a bigger bed (sick in a twin bed sucks ass) and some other creature comforts that currently reside in storage. But the house, like all its contents, were just things. And fortunately, I’ve never been one to become attached to stuff. Some day, I’ll open those four pods and it’ll be like Christmas to the power of 10. My art! My Eames chairs! My electronics, the bourbons, my collection of martini glasses… they’ll all be there! And won’t that be fun?
Until then, I look for the lessons this moment in my life teaches me. I value what I have. Despite the downsize, there’s a roof over my head, clean water, a refrigerator, a steady job and the anticipation of more good things to come. I’ve always landed on my feet and I have every reason to believe that continues.
As my mother always said, “If you can fix something, why worry? If you can’t, why worry?” She guides me still.
And not that I hold a grudge or anything, but for the rest of my days I think I will be doing my financial business someplace other than Chase Bank.