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Murder by Mortgage: Foreclosed and Prepared to Die


It seems I’ve known Molly* forever, at least for the fifty six years that I have been married to my wife. My wife had met Molly in High School where they suffered the terrors of Mme Farley’s French class together. They became close friends: Molly, the fashionable but flighty odd girl, too tall, too talkative, and too needy, and my wife whose staggering beauty and self control commanded every room she entered, and whose kindness enabled her to embrace a girl whom others might have mocked and ignored. Their fellow classmate in those long ago Brooklyn days was Ruth Bader (Ginsberg) with whom my wife served on Boosters – a selective do-gooders club that the High School ran. Molly was then, as ever, not amongst the chosen.

We have lost Ruth Bader Ginsberg to the court but have kept in touch with Molly over the years except for a brief period during Molly’s early marriage to Joe, a man who verbally brutalized her, making it impossible to keep up our relationship since we would not willingly be witnesses to such abuse and knew no way to stop it. When she finally summoned up the courage to divorce Joe, or maybe it was the unfaithful Joe who walked out on Molly and her two young sons, we started seeing Molly again. Lest I diminish her charms, Molly had a gift for telling a great story in all its details, a memory that could be used as a search engine into the shared past, good looks that came with maturity, and a giggle, a generosity, and a warmth that marked her as one of nature’s good and charming people as well as an easy mark.

Yes, she talked too much, often digressing from her subject, with streams of anecdotes branching out of that river of talk, she loved too much and did so with the utmost indiscretion, spent too much on clothes for herself and meals for her friends, gave too much to charity, lent her money to needy sons, but she was Molly, a lifelong friend even as we saw in her the traces of Flaubert’s “Madam Bovary” – the romantic spendthrift who ends a suicide. In a month Molly, now in her middle seventies and in poor health will be foreclosed by the bank that holds her mortgage, leaving her with no money, no home, and nowhere to go. She has told us that she has hoarded her sleeping pills and plans to take her own life before she is forced out into the streets. And we tell her with all the pep talk we can summon here in New York, and send to her in L.A., that life is worth more than a condo in Los Angeles, California, that she must forget that crazy notion of taking her life and keep going.

Molly did not arrive at the point of suicide all by herself. It took an abusive mother, husband, and a selfish lover, hostile sons who learned contempt from their abusive father, as well as a stock broker and a bank to bring her to this point. Molly’s beautiful and well-to-do mother found Molly a disappointment from childhood since she did not inherit her own classic beauty, she found everyone except the beautiful and well-to-do fatiguing, and so between cruel jabs and critiques at Molly, she slept away her days with shades drawn in her peach painted Louis IV furnished bedroom. Her loving, elegant father who managed to become rich from a rough business that cleaned and recycled steel oil drums, tried to be the emotional support for his daughters that the mother could not be in her soft sadism, and when her parents died they left Molly and her sister a small fortune. The fortune, however, was ephemeral. The government sued the estate for the clean up of the acres where the drums were cleaned – lawyers and the state taking a large share of it. Molly, who had worked as a saleswoman at Filenes for many years to support her family, found herself facing the gun of the government as she tried to manage her life.

Then there was Frank, Molly’s lover of twenty five years, a man long separated from his wife, a top executive at a major Hollywood studio who shared Molly’s bed and took her to premieres and fine Hollywood eateries on the studio’s expense account. How often he would betray her in life with other women, and in the end, after she nursed him through his long, final illness, he betrayed her in death by leaving her out of his will. In fairness to Frank – and that’s hard - he might have assumed that she had some money from her inheritance. Soon one of her friends put her into the hands of her stockbroker son who put an end to that. The broker churned the stocks, drawing his commissions until the stocks – whose dividends she lived on - evaporated into dust. Once again Molly was a victim of her own blind trust that others would take care of her. Like Blanche Dubois, she put her hopes for salvation on the kindness of strangers. In the pre-feminist world in which Molly was raised, she was taught that passivity was part of a woman’s attractiveness, and that it was unfeminine to worry about finances. A man would be there to help you get through it all. Well, in her case men helped her to get through it all – that is, her money.

Desperate for money to live on, a few years ago Molly turned to her bank and was given a new mortgage on her handsome condo apartment which she had bought with a down payment from her inheritance – the one good investment she had made in her life. She remortgaged as her finances collapsed around her. Then came the day of reckoning when payments on the mortgage well exceeded her income. Requests for an adjustment in the mortgage – the famed modification were turned down and the foreclosure package was sent out to Molly. The bank made it clear that her social security was insufficient to pay the mortgage and she should go back to work. At seventy five with high blood pressure and numerous life-threatening ailments that demand was absurd. And cruel. She had years before given up her auto, could no longer drive a car which might get her to a modest job, and depended upon caring friends and neighbors to take her grocery shopping in the Los Angeles which is notorious for lacking public transportation.

One son, obviously considering her a total washout, a pain-in-the-ass, and a woman from whom he could get nothing now but complaints and requests for help (she paid for both sons college educations and gave this son sizeable loans which remain unpaid when he was in need) has apparently abandoned her. There must have been a reason – there is always that famous other side - but I personally don’t want to hear it. A kind and decent brother-in-law stepped in to act as her ombudsman with the bank, but the bank remained adamant in its demands. They will not modify her mortgage and she must soon leave her home of twenty years.

One of her sons and her sister – the one married to the caring brother-in-law - offered to give her a small allowance toward the paying of the mortgage, but the bank still found that insufficient. The reality was that Molly had an attractive property in a good area – one that the bank thought it could easily resell at a profit when the market showed signs of life – yes, the banks are secretly seeking out the best property for quick foreclosures - although when Molly tried to sell it previously in the crashed housing market she found no takers at the modest price she was asking, one that would have cleared her debts. She tried to get a roommate through Craigslist to share the expense of the apartment but nobody suitable appeared, All the replies were from out of the country, people who were seeking a place to live when they arrived – not what she needed now.

Recently, Molly asked to speak to a councilor at the bank spurred on by my wife who refused to believe that there was no solution to Molly’s problem. But when Molly inquired if no special allowance could be made for her age and health so that she could have a few more months to find a roommate to defray her expenses and pay her back mortgage, the bank replied that they could not discriminate in that way. All borrowers were equal. Could not discriminate? I am wracking my brain to understand that one. Translated in bank-ease: all were potential victims of the bank’s notorious lending practices: old, young, middle aged, sick and healthy. The age discrimination that stains our society was finally removed by the bank so that it could be an equal opportunity life destroyer.

So Molly is left with few choices. Where are the local congressmen and women for the Mollys they allegedly represent? As I write this Molly lives in a closed up apartment with a single fan running, her central air conditioner broken, unable to afford the repair to the system, using that fan and an open window to keep her going through the scalding California summer firestorms. She must move out when the Marshall comes to foreclose on her property in a few weeks--- but with no savings and her lack of income she cannot even rent a studio apartment without a co-signer so she must go into a shelter or live on the streets. She has chosen to take her pills and exit comfortably in her own bed.

It may seem hyperbola to some but to me the banks – despite all the new Obama guidelines - are deliberately ignoring the Mollys of the world and I will consider her suicide if and when it happens murder by fiscal institution. When Republicans speak of death panels for the aged they look at some fictional government health plan and fail to see that the banks – the archetype of Republican values - are acting as executioners of the old and the ill through their cold shouldering of mortgage modification policies and their grotesque heartlessness. Hang in there Molly. Help may not be on the way, but life is too good to give up because of those sons of bitches.

Postscript. My wife just advised me that Molly’s mortgage holder has spent less than three percent of the tarp monies given to it by our government in modifying mortgages, a low score for any bank. Something is seriously wrong with the monitoring of these loans to the banks, and the failure of the public money to come to the aid of the desperate borrowers. Since nothing can spark the humanity of these banks it’s time that the Obama administration brings accountability to bear upon them.

*Name changed for privacy.

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Contributing writer, Sherman Yellen, screenwriter, playwright, and lyricist, has won two Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award, first for his drama John Adams, Lawyer in the PBS series The Adams Chronicles, and later for An Early Frost, a groundbreaking drama about AIDS in America. His Beauty and the Beast was nominated for an Emmy and won the Christopher Award. Yellen was nominated for a Tony Award for his book for the Broadway musical, The Rothschilds. Yellen's other plays include Strangers, December Fools and Josephine Tonight! Sherman Yellen received a lifetime achievement award in Arts and Letters from Bard College.
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