Wednesday, September 1, 2010

A Crazy Mother, Death and Property Taxes: My First Economic Meltdown

There was a perfect storm of catastrophes ten years ago in my life.  I was living alone in my house, modeling, acting, and doing a bit of production work as a stylist.  My biggest client was ZCMI or Zion's Cooperative Mercantile Institute (owned by the Mormon Church) a large and successful department store that ran multiple daily ads in the two Salt Lake newspapers, the occasional ad in the big glossy fashion magazines like Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and ads on television as well as the inserts in the statements they sent out. They also provided a lot of runway work for models.  They put on some of the biggest fashion shows around and I had been for several years one of their favorites.  They accounted for 80% of my income.  I had a great agent and was doing well enough to begin investing in the stock market.  I'd been making enough money in the five years preceding 2000 to have a nice little stock portfolio.  I had five credit cards with very generous limits and very low interest rates.  I traveled (for work and for play). The Clinton years had been exceptionally good for me.  I, like many investors, was fond of tech stocks.  Then it all came crashing down.

The first catastrophic thing that happened to my happy life was the closing of ZCMI. There was no prior warning.  It happened quickly, like a beheading.  And it changed the opportunities for tens of thousands of people in so many different businesses in Salt Lake.  It was devastating for photographers and the people working with them, the TV production people who worked on those commercial shoots.  It was hard on agents and all the talent working on the shows, print ads, and TV commercials.  The people who did lights and music for shows lost major accounts.  Since I was a model in print, TV, and fashion shows as well as getting booked as a make-up artist and stylist, I was devastated.
A lot of the people who worked in the stores as buyers, department managers, sales staff, and custodial staff were in their forties and fifties, not yet old enough to retire but too old and too experienced to easily transition to other retail outlets without taking huge cuts in pay and jobs that didn't reflect their decades of work in the fashion industry. 

Then the tech bubble burst and I began to lose money in the Stock Market.  I hadn't been taking dividends out of the market but rolling them back into my investments.  At first I lost that money I'd been leaving in my accounts that could have been income.  Then I started losing capital and finally I pulled out of the Stock Market.  Work slowed to a trickle.  Bush was handed the Presidency by the Supreme Court and from that moment on my life became hell.

My mother, Maggy, went spectacularly crazy in Santa Barbara in 2000.  As her only child, I was informed she was my legal responsibility.  Part of her craziness was giving all her money to the guys running the scam called The Canadian Lottery.  The Feds and Mounties were investigating these crimes and asked for my help in finding out the name of the person Maggy was sending her money to.  I could account for only $100,000 that was taken out of her bank accounts in $25,000 chunks as cashier's checks wired to a mail drop in Canada.  But at least we had documentation that her identity had been stolen along with her life savings.  She'd started cashing checks from various secret bank accounts and hiding hundred dollar bills in books or behind photos or tucked in seemingly unrelated files in a file cabinet in her apartment in Santa Barbara. I only know this because after bringing my crazy, incontinent, mean mother to Salt Lake, I had to fly back to Santa Barbara, empty and clean her apartment and storage unit.  I had three days to do it without lights or heat or hot water in cold and rainy weather.  The utilities had been turned off before I managed to get her to Salt Lake.  I spent thousands of dollars on plane tickets between here and there, as well as car rentals and all of this was done while I hobbled on a painful freshly broken ankle and foot.  And during this time of getting her and most of her stuff from there to here, I lost thousands of dollars in bookings. My agent was frantic to get me working again.

Once I had her here, I had to be her full time caregiver because I couldn't afford to hire a skilled baby sitter to replace me,  or a nursing home.  My mother kept trying to run away, usually wearing only a skimpy sweater and not  another stitch of clothing with shit dribbling down the backs of her shriveled legs.  I changed all the locks, locked the gate, and held us both prisoner.  I had her in my care until I was bankrupt. I was so depressed and exhausted I could no longer get out of bed. I had to lock her in my room with me, since I couldn't let her out of my sight. After four years of caring for her, I was hospitalized for two and a half weeks and she went into a nursing home.

She died almost five years ago.  I'm still recovering from the financial ravages of that shit storm of misfortunes.  Taking care of my mother

Now I'm taking care of the house she left me and which I can't afford to live in.  And I'm not alone in this predicament given the current financial meltdown.

(the link is to my novella called: The End Of Life As We Know It)