A Dream Come True
Over a decade of effort had come and gone and tonight Alex would celebrate. His budget: $50,000. Location: Las Vegas.
As he pulled the wrinkled and yellowing “Celebration Check list” from the pocket of his $5,000 suit, he felt the urge to pinch himself. Was this all really happening?
Luxury Hotel Suite: $1,500 per night –– check
Rental Car: Lamborghini, $1,100 per day –– check
Wrist Candy: Rolex Submariner, $12,000 –– check
Pocket Money: $15,000 cash (one hundred and fifty crisp $100 bills) –– check
Dining reservations at a 5-star restaurant –– check
Female Companion: The woman of your dreams –– big time check
As he read the final item on his checklist, Alex’s dream girl emerged from the hotel vanity. “Good God,” he said. Maria smiled as if to say “Yeah, I thought you might feel that way.”
Alex and Maria had met just a year earlier. She was looking for an affordable first home and saw one of Alex’s properties listed for sale. It looked perfect, so she scheduled an appointment. Expecting “just another potential buyer,” Alex’s jaw nearly hit the ground when she got out of her Ford pickup. Twenty-three years old, five foot six and with a body that no man could ever grow tired of admiring, Maria possessed the perfect combination of sexiness and class. That day, she’d worn jeans and a T-shirt. Today, she wore a black strapless dress that hugged her every curve. It didn’t matter what she wore; the effect on Alex was always the same.
“Are you sure you don’t want dessert before dinner?” she asked as she walked up to Alex and pressed her body tightly against his.
“Please, stop” he replied in a tortured voice. “You’re going to make me cancel our reservations!”
“OK. Have it your way” she said playfully. “But don’t eat too much…save some room for me.” She turned and walked away, fully aware that his eyes were glued to her every move. She enjoyed torturing him. She made a point to tease him a bit more in the elevator on their way to the hotel lobby.
“Beautiful car, sir” the hotel valet said as he handed Alex the keys.
“Thanks, man” Alex said as he slipped him a $20.
The valet noticed that neither Alex nor Maria had a ring on their finger and decided to take a risk. He leaned in closely and said, “And sir, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but your date has got to be one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen.”
“That’s supposed to offend me?” Alex replied. “Here’s a little something for noticing,” he said as he peeled off another $20.
The Lamborghini roared to life as Alex merged onto Interstate 15. According to Google Maps, the restaurant was over an hour away but the Lambo got them there in about forty-five minutes.
The maître d’ seated Alex and Maria after a short wait, and though everything about the restaurant was excellent –– the atmosphere, the food, the wine, the service –– Alex had no intention of dragging this part of the evening out. He had other things he wanted to get to ASAP. Specifically, he was extremely preoccupied with “dessert,” which he hoped to follow up with an unforgettable night on the Las Vegas strip…a night that, in turn, would be followed by the first day of the rest of his life. His life as a successful, but retired, real estate developer turned full-time novelist.
Once again, the Lamborghini made quick work of the distance between the restaurant and the hotel. Alex slid his hotel key card into the door, the light turned green and they entered. He was again taken aback by the beauty and the size of the suite. A standard hotel room would fit inside the foyer alone. “Man, this place is nice” he said. “Has to be fourteen hundred square feet.”
“I want to show you something nice,” Maria said. “It’s in my favorite room over here.” Walking backward into the huge master bedroom, she motioned with her index finger for Alex to follow. He stopped in the doorway as she walked to the foot of the bed. She turned to face Alex and said, “So, how’s your appetite?” Alex smiled as she slowly pushed down the right side of her dress, revealing just a little, then a little more, then a little more still until finally she pushed the fabric down far enough to reveal the first of two perfectly shaped breasts.
The look on Alex’s face made her smile, and she began the same strip tease on the left. Then, with her dress still wrapped around her midsection, she kicked off her high heels and began slowly pushing the tight black fabric down over her hips. Standing in only her panties and stockings, she lay back on the bed, propped herself up on her elbows, and gave Alex a look that said, “I’m waiting.”
In less than ten seconds, Alex had his shoes and jacket off. He quickly unbuttoned his shirt and began unfastening his belt. Maria watched in amusement from the bed. “Oh, my,” she said as his pants hit the floor. But just as Alex started toward the bed, the alarm clock on the side stand began to screech. Maria crumpled her face up a bit, as if to say “OK, that’s a bit of a mood killer.”
Alex hit the snooze button, but it didn’t work. He pressed it again, but the clock continued to screech away. Frustrated, he picked it up and looked for an off button, but no luck. Ten, twenty, now thirty seconds had passed, and along with the time, the mood was passing too.
Finally, he yanked the cord out of the wall, but even this didn’t work…The clock, completely dark, continued to wail in his hands. “What the hell?”
At first he thought the clock might have backup batteries in it, but he couldn’t find any compartment. Just as he was ready to smash it to bits, he turned to check on Maria. The noise was destroying more than the mood; it was making Maria harder and harder to see. First, she began to look blurry and pixilated, but then she disappeared completely.
A second later, Alex sat up straight in his bed, his alarm clock blaring away on his nightstand. He was back in reality, back in his mother’s basement; the only thing remaining from his dream was an embarrassing little bump under the covers.
“No, no, noooo!” He exclaimed, slapping his palms down on the mattress with increasing intensity. “Arghhhh!” he growled as he slammed his fist down on the alarm clock that had ruined it all. “DAMN IT!!!”
After his little tantrum, he saw the sign he’d hung on his computer exactly six months earlier. It simply read: “Write the book.”
Alex immediately felt depression pour over him. “Write the book,” he muttered in a dejected voice. “Sure. No problem.” He booted up his computer, opened up his “journal” file, and began typing his daily entry:
Well, I’ve been back home for six months today and I’ve accomplished exactly nothing. I was certain I’d have a rough manuscript by now…What a joke. I don’t have a single page typed or even an idea where to start. I’m pretty sure I’m beginning to hate myself.
He looked around the basement at the mountain of unpacked boxes and was struck by an insight:
I think I just realized why I still haven’t unpacked all this crap. It isn’t because I’ve got more important things to focus on, it’s because I’m too much of a coward to admit I’ve officially moved back in with my mother. Well, douche bag, it is official: You’re a middle-aged man living in your mother’s basement. The sooner you face that, the sooner you’ll be able to focus on those “more important things,” not the least of which includes writing the damn book!
Alex sat for a moment to consider the thought. It stung, but he knew it was true. He added a quick note to the journal:
Can’t move forward if I don’t face reality.
He reread the short entry, looking over some of the language he’d used: Douche bag, hate myself, nothing accomplished. …My how things had changed.
Just three years earlier, Alex was on top of the world. He owned real estate valued at nearly $7.5 million. Considering the fact that he’d bought his first duplex with a $10,000 loan from his mother, the words douche bag, hate myself, and nothing accomplished were farthest from his mind. He was well on his way to what had once seemed like a very ambitious goal: owning $10 million worth of real estate. Once reached, he planned to sell all his properties (except for his own house), pay off all his debts, and, with some luck, still have about $2 million left over. Living off the interest, he could finally begin the life he’d always dreamed of: the life of a full-time and, hopefully, best-selling author.
When Alex started out in 1997, he figured it would take him about twenty years to hit his target, but he made progress much faster than expected. By 2006, it looked like he could possibly cut his original timeline in half. (He was well on his way to controlling $10 million worth of real estate in just ten years!) This was due in part to a handful of idiots who were predicting a decline in real-estate prices. These doom and gloom guys were ignoring everything the experts had to say and kept warning of a “bubble” that was about to burst.
Alex had no idea what a ‘real-estate bubble’ was and, frankly, he didn’t care. All he knew was that the fearmongering was scaring some people into selling their properties for less than they were worth –– and he jumped on the opportunity. Using his existing properties as collateral, he borrowed and bought like crazy during 2006 and 2007.
“If I can continue buying at these low prices,” one journal entry read, “and if property values begin rising again as they have in the previous decade, I’ll be out in a couple years or less!”
Then came the crash of 2008.
By the time Alex realized what was happening, he was in big trouble. Nearly all of the homes he purchased during 2006 and 2007 were now worth less than what he’d paid for them. Worse, the homes he’d purchased from 1997 through 2006 (especially the earlier purchases) would have been worth considerably more than what was owed if he hadn’t borrowed against them for his 2006 – 2007 spending spree. Now, as housing prices plummeted, they too were in danger of becoming worth less than what he owed on them.
When the dust finally settled, all of the equity Alex had built up, in over a decades’ worth of effort, was gone. If he could have sold everything the moment he realized he needed to bail out, he would have escaped with a net worth of about $100,000. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to sell everything quickly. When his final property sold, he still owed the banks a total of $325,000. After he sold his own home –– the only real estate that he owned free and clear –– he still owed the banks $50,000.
That’s about where he was today. No home, no equity, living in his mother’s basement with a $50,000 debt hanging around his neck. All that remained of Alex’s hard work was a 1968 Camaro convertible and about $15,000 in savings that he’d managed to stash during the sell-off fiasco. His negotiated payments to the bank totaled $750 per month and he rented a storage garage for $250. These monthly expenses would exhaust his savings in no time.
“Can’t move forward if I don’t face reality,” he mumbled. “Can’t move forward if I don’t face…”
Alex’s soul-searching was interrupted by the sound of his mother’s voice. Every day, it was the same routine. She left for Dunkin’ Donuts at 10:30 a.m. and sat for two or three hours, drinking coffee and gabbing it up with “the girls.” However, before she left, she always yelled down to make sure that Alex was awake. Alex was never clear on exactly why she wanted to make sure he was awake. Most likely, she wanted to make sure he wasn’t swinging from the support beam with an “I-gave-up” note tied to his foot.
“Al – EX?” she called, her voice rising a few octaves on the second syllable. “Hon – EY?” she paused. “Are you up?”
“Yeah, Ma, I’m up” Alex yelled back.
“Oh, good. Honey, can you run to the liquor store and pick some stuff up for me? I’ve got a list. The girls are coming over tonight to play cards.”
“Yeah, Ma. Leave the list on the table.”
“OK. Thanks, honey. I’ll put it on the table.”
“OK, no problem.”
“See you later.”
Alex hated it when the girls came over. It was an impossible situation. If he didn’t come out of the cave to say hi, he felt like a loser who was hiding in the basement. If he did come up to say hi, he felt like a loser who should be hiding in the basement. Whenever he journeyed up, they always offered to deal him in and he always declined. They always offered him a drink and he always declined. It was just plain awkward.
Then, of course, there was Miss Hatzel –– Irene, as she liked to be called. She’d been single even longer than Alex’s mother, and she’d made it clear that she really enjoyed making Alex uncomfortable. “You can come and sit by me, Al, I won’t bite” she’d say. Or, if they’d all had a few drinks, it was, “Come and play with us, Al. I can sit on your lap.” The more overt the flirting, the more it made the whole gaggle of geese giddy with laughter.
These unfortunate and disturbing episodes in Alex’s life found their way into his journal on more than one occasion. The most recent entry read: “God help me, if I’m ever so beaten down that I feel compelled to hump Irene Hatzel, please somebody shoot me!”
Alex took a deep breath, cleared the unpleasant images that had cascaded into his mind, and returned to his journal. He wrote:
So, starting today, I am going to face reality. I’m going to unpack and sort out all this crap, I’m going to fully acknowledge my current situation, and then I’m going to get the hell out of this house before my mom and the cackling hens arrive to violate my sanity. Tomorrow, I will sit down and write no less than one page; whatever comes to mind. I won’t leave this computer until I have at least one page typed!
Feeling a little better, he closed his journal file and opened up Facebook. He had two messages from his buddy Ken. The first contained nothing but a video of large-breasted women jumping up and down on a trampoline in bikinis. Amazingly, the video was ten minutes long. (Alex watched about a minute of it.) The second message read: “monkey nugget iz playin at the sly fox tonight. the band is a chic magnet! call me when you get the message.” “Chick magnet” was one of Ken’s favorite terms.
“Sounds good,” Alex typed. “I’ll call you in a few.”
It wasn’t quite 11:00 a.m., so Alex had time to unpack and get ready before the Friday night mom-and-friends party started. He ran upstairs, took a leak, and grabbed a hard-boiled egg and a piece of toast. Fifteen minutes later, he called Ken.
“Yell oh,” Ken answered.
“Dude, it’s me.”
“I know it’s you. Says so right here on the caller ID: Barbara Watson. That’s you!”
“Nice one. Thanks for reminding me,” Alex replied.
“That’s what I’m here for, bro. So, you ready to get outta that basement and chase some ladies at the Fox tonight?”
Ken was thirty eight, but mentally he hadn’t changed a bit since the two of them were fifteen years old. When Alex wanted to blow off steam and escape the stress of being a grownup, Ken was the perfect person to call.
“Yeah, I’m in,” Alex replied. “But I need you to come over and help me unpack. I’ve got to figure out what I’m keeping, what’s getting tossed, and what’s going into storage.”
“Dude, you still haven’t unpacked? What the hell have you been doing for the past four months?”
“Six months,” Alex corrected.
“OK. The past six months. Are you just livin like an animal over there?”
“You going to help me or what?” Alex demanded.
“Oh maaan,” Ken whined. “I guess. But it’s going to cost you a six pack.”
“Fine. Pick it up on your way over.”
“Cool. I’ll be there in about an hour.”
“Hurry up,” Alex said. He knew that “about an hour” could easily mean three hours.
“All right, all right. I’ll be there by one,” Ken replied.
“All right, bye.”
Ken showed up at around 1:15 with lunch in hand –– a large Papa Johns pizza –– and a twelve pack of Budweiser. Unpacking and sorting boxes took a back seat to eating pizza and drinking. Predictably, by 3:15, the beer and pizza were long gone, but the mountain of boxes was not. By 5:30 p.m., they’d made a little more progress, but there was no way this job was getting done today.
“Dude, I gotta split soon,” Ken said. “I need time to get home, shower and grab a quick bite to eat.”
“Fair enough. What time you want to meet at the bar?”
“If we want a barstool, we better get there around eight. The band starts at nine, and by quarter after, it’ll be standing room only. This band is a chick magnet, and chicks draw dudes…The place is going to be packed.”
“OK, sounds good,” Alex said.
“Hey, sorry we didn’t get you unpacked,” Ken said, looking around the room. “You got way too much junk, dude!”
“Yeah, I know. No biggie,” Alex said in a resigned tone. “It’s been sitting here for six months. I don’t suppose another day will hurt anything.”
The problem was, he knew in his gut that “another day” was likely to turn into another six months. He didn’t want to unpack; he wanted to write the book, sell it to a publisher, and move out. He wanted his dignity back.