This should be a shark warning sign.

Banks in Sheep’s Clothing


I DIDN’T see Mark as much over the summer. He usually didn’t bother me when he was on a binge, and this one was epic. In six months he managed to drink, pop, smoke and plain give away every cent of his sixty grand. He lived like Scarface. Hell, he lived like a banker. But as the money dried up, he dried out, and reality hit Mark like a square of shingles. He finally brought up the subject of his finances to me. It seemed that shortly after mortgaging his house, he managed to lose his government assistance. If I understood correctly, it was because he no longer qualified financially, though I think it may have been that he forgot to fill out his paperwork for the year. In any case, not only was his money gone, but he had none coming in. In addition, he had a $500-a-month mortgage. What kind of fucking bank arranges a $500-a-month mortgage for a person with $800-a-month in income??

I considered it all for a while and tried to give him the best, most appropriate advice. “Sell your house before the bank takes it,” was the nutshell version. I hooked him up with Jackie, my favorite Realtor, who managed to get him an amazing price for the house given the condition and the fact that the market was beginning to teeter. She then proceeded to find Mark several places which he could buy outright and still have enough cash left over to put some aside for his daughter. He dragged his feet, not willing to commit to any of them, living in a motel on the brink of another colossal bender. Then a miracle. His ex-brother-in-law convinced him to buy a modular home in a decent neighborhood which I’d never heard of. He had enough dough, still, to buy a little car and a big TV. I begged him, or at least suggested strongly to put a chunk of the remaining dough into a trust for his girl. He liked the idea, but I didn’t see him much after that, so I’m not sure if he ever saw it through. He lived about an hour away from the neighborhood, and I was spending more time back east working on an old house in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania.

All’s well, right? Wrong. About a year later, Mark came to visit. His life had taken a bad turn. He’d squandered his remaining money, wrecked his car, took on dishonest roommates and somehow managed to lose his second house in two years. He was basically living on the streets, sleeping in the back of a friend’s camper-bed pickup. Because Pasadena was the only place he ever really knew, he came back to the old neighborhood to be homeless. He had a brother, and a sister, and a nephew, and an ex-wife that he could potentially have stayed with, but preferred to be here, on the streets. He visited a couple more times. Once telling me that he was bleeding out of his ass and that the hospital found polyps. I was in Pennsylvania in early 2009. On returning, I looked for Mark, asked others if they’d seen him. Nothing. I’ve meant to start combing the phone book for his brother. If I get lucky and reach him, maybe he’ll know what’s up. I suspect Mark might be dead. That’s morbid, but he didn’t exactly take care of himself. At 50, he looked every day of 70.

The garage, mid-flip.

The new owners of the house turned out to be amateur developer/flippers who were too blind to see the coming shit storm. After securing permits to demolish, two things happened: The Great Recession, and our neighborhood, the Historic Highlands, became a historical district. The flippers were doubly screwed and the house sat there for two more years before Fannie Mae took it back. And that’s where my wife and I came in.

That’s the shortish version of “The Ballad of Mark’s House.” Hope you enjoyed it. Next post will contain more working and less gabbing, I swear.